By Mary Beth Odom
There are some passages that I read and revert back to my legalistic mindset–viewing them through my old, dusty pharisaic lenses. Galatians 5: 16-25 is one of them. I found myself running down the list in verses 19-21 to feel better about myself, then feeling defeated before I even finished reading the list of the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) I am to bear in verses 22-23. Ugh. How can I miss the whole point and beauty of this passage? Didn’t I just read a few verses back that Christ has set us free? As a “recovering legalist” (as my friend so cleverly calls me), I must lean in, and brush aside anything that clouds my view of what Christ has done for me, what His Spirit does in me.
Paul knows better than anyone as he distinguishes between his former life of “righteousness” according to the Judaic law (Ch.1) and his new life in Christ (Ch. 2). With strong language, in chapter 3, Paul clears up any question of justification by any other means than faith in Christ. This is the gospel lens that I must put back on. So that when I read the extremely contrasted desires of the flesh against the fruits of the Spirit, I can rest. I am still called to action, to walk and live by the Spirit, but I am not called to produce or conjure up this Christ-like fruit by my own effort just as I cannot inherit the kingdom of God by my own effort. I can walk with rest in His righteousness. Milton Vincent helped me understand this coupling of rest and our call:
“The Gospel encourages me to rest in my righteous standing with God, a standing which Christ Himself has accomplished and always maintains for me. I never have to do a moment’s labor to gain or maintain my justified status before God! Freed from the burden of such a task, I now can put my energies into enjoying God, pursuing holiness, and ministering God’s amazing grace to others.”(The Gospel Primer, p 20)
Verse 24 reminds me that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Those desires that once enslaved me have been crucified with Christ. My life now comes from the Spirit, and it is the work of the Spirit that produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in me. What a beautifully opposing contrast (vs. 17). I’m grateful for a God who is truly patient with me when I lose sight of this and return to that yoke of slavery (5:1). Time to throw those old lenses to the curb. I must let this passage direct my gaze upward to a holy God, to his Son who fulfilled the law perfectly on my behalf, and to his Spirit who has a beautiful work to do in me. Then as I am walking with the Spirit, as I read a passage like this, I can rest knowing that my ability to bear this Christ-like character and fruit is only by his work and by his Spirit overflowing in me.
Mary Beth Odom has been married to her husband, Dave, for almost 12 years. She is the mother of four children, one girl and three boys. She has been a pastor’s wife for 8 years, and has now embraced the new role of a church planter’s wife. They are in the process of planting Redeeming Grace Church in Franklin, Tennessee this fall. She enjoys writing about what God is teaching her through marriage, parenting, and serving the church.
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