“And things like these” (v. 21) indicates that the list is only a sampling.
The sins in this list were common and no doubt characterized some of the people in the Galatian church before they professed faith in Christ. True saving faith in Christ involves repentance, a turning away from one’s sins, and a daily battle against them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Apparently some in the church were continuing in their sins and not seeking to forsake them. Whether from ignorance of biblical teaching, backsliding, or lack of true conversion, this was a serious issue. This is why Paul, in the sentence immediately following this list, delivered a sober comment on these behaviors: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21).
In Galatians 5:22–23, Paul shifts to happier thoughts, saying, “But the fruit of the Spirit is …”
In what follows he gives nine characteristics of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of a born again believer. Unlike the word works (of the flesh), fruit is singular, indicating that the nine characteristics are part of a unified whole and are not separable. In other words, a believer doesn’t have some and not others, though their relative strength may vary.
Love, by which Paul means the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). The Greek word is agape. This is a responsive love that evokes in us a love for God and a desire to please Him. Worship, wholehearted surrender, and obedience are at the heart of pleasing Him. God’s love also produces in us a love for our neighbor, a servant love that is rooted primarily in the will and acts for our neighbor’s best interest and highest good. As Paul says in Galatians 5:6, the only thing that matters in the Christian life is “faith working through love,” and in Galatians 5:13, “through love serve one another.” This humble, servant love was the dominant characteristic of Jesus’ life and is to be so for His followers. In a very real sense, the other eight characteristics of the Spirit are expressions of this agape love.
Joy flows out of the awareness of God’s gracious favor to us and the hope of living with Him and His Son and all His children in the world to come. Hope for the future is a key part of joy and is an anchor that keeps us from being blown to and fro by the many and varied circumstances of life and the hard times that sometimes overtake us. Unlike happiness, its worldly and elusive equivalent, joy does not depend on favorable circumstances.
Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the deep abiding peace of God, the sovereign and almighty King of creation. It is grounded in the assurance of God’s rich mercy and personal love for us, shown supremely in His saving us by grace alone, through Christ alone and not by our works. This produces a tranquil heart that is at rest in God. And it impels and enables us to be peacemakers, to pursue peace with others, including those in our family, community, church, and beyond, and across all ethnic, racial, political, and other barriers that separate and divide people.
Patience, also translated as long-suffering, is chiefly a matter of forbearance with other people and of not being easily offended. This particularly includes people who displease, irritate, provoke, or mistreat us—including those who persecute us. Steadfast endurance with difficult people and circumstances is the idea. Such patience illustrates the patience of God and is a powerful witness to others.
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