Let’s begin today by reading Galatians 5:16-26. These verses are Paul’s mini-sermon on the flesh and the Spirit.
Even though we’ve covered all nine of the fruits of the Spirit, we’re not actually done talking about these fruits for a couple more weeks. In verses 23 through 26, Paul gives us some additional insights about the fruit of the Spirit. Today we look at the last phrase of Galatians 5:23. After listing the fruits, Paul wraps up by saying, “against such there is no law,” and those few words pack a couple really important messages for us!
First, I want to consider the word “such” that is used in this phrase. It is a word that means “things like this,” or “similar things.” The word is used a few other times in the Bible. To give just a quick example, when Jesus was preaching one day, and some children were brought to Him for a blessing, the disciples tried to stop them. What happened next?
When Jesus said this, He was not saying, “These specific children are the ones who inherit the kingdom of heaven.” Instead, the specific children in front of Him became a sort of example, a prototype of those who belonged to the kingdom. “Look at these children,” He is saying, in essence, “and recognize that the kingdom of heaven belongs to all who are like this.”
Everywhere the word is used, it is used in the same way: “such powers,” “such parables,” and “the Father seeks such as these.” The specific instances given are used as an example of a broader category.
So when we read the list of fruits, and then see “against such things,” we ought to recognize that, in all likelihood, we’ve been given an incomplete list. Paul didn’t intend us to look at this short list of nine character qualities and say, “This is the sum total of the character work that God is doing in my life.”
What is the larger category of character qualities Paul is talking about? They are the qualities that reflect the nature and character of God as displayed in the life of Christ. They are the character qualities that the Spirit of God is working to build into our hearts, in order to spill out in our deeds and words.
There are plenty of examples of this sort of quality to be found in Scripture, and I’d like to give you just a sampling of them. Perhaps, when our study in the book of Galatians is complete, we’ll come back to these and consider them further.
One of the first passages I thought of that lists qualities like these was in James 3:17:
Like the fruit of the Spirit, we find that the qualities listed here do not originate with us, but with the heavenly work of the Spirit; it is the wisdom “from above.” Indeed, we can see a few of the fruits of the Spirit listed here: goodness (purity of heart), peace, and gentleness are represented.
But in addition to these, we have some other qualities that ought to reside in the heart of the believer: reasonable, merciful, impartial, and sincere.
Or perhaps we could look at Romans 12:9-18, which covers some of the same ground as Galatians 5:22-23 and James 3:17, but also includes some extra qualities.
Did you catch several qualities we’ve already talked about? In addition, we have these: fervent, prayerful, generous, and hospitable.
Also, we find both rejoicing and mourning. These two seemingly contradictory qualities are listed back-to-back in a single verse. Rejoicing is closely related to the fruit of joy, but to be sad and weep may seem a bit surprising as a quality to be recommended and commended. The context is to weep when others weep. Being sad with someone and for someone is in keeping with the fruit of love. Our empathy for the troubles of others brings a tear to our own eyes, and that tear of sadness is honoring to God. Jesus Himself wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus.
Of course, if we include mourning in this list of “such things,” that might cause you to think of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” And, having thought of that, we would do well to realize that the qualities in the Beatitudes are also “such things.”
I won’t read those verses; we’ve already explored them in other messages, but later you can pull out your Bibles and read Matthew 5:2-12, and you will discover a list that sounds remarkably close to the passages we’ve already read.
So here is my own list of “such things,” just from these few passages: reasonable, merciful, impartial, sincere, fervent, prayerful, generous, hospitable, joyful, and sorrowful. Are these worth exploring in more depth? Absolutely!
These, and many other passages spell out for us the heart qualities God longs to build into our lives. As we pray for God to re-form our hearts into His image, we also ought to include these qualities in our prayers. They may not have made it into Paul’s “fruit of the Spirit” list, but certainly they fit the category of “such things.”
Now that we’ve talked about the phrase “such things,” it’s time to look at what Paul had to say about the nine qualities in his list and all the others like them. His statement is: “against such there is no law.”
I remember that as a child I was expected to memorize Galatians 5:22-23, and when I did, I saw that phrase “against such there is no law” as just a bunch of words tacked on to the end of the list. I didn’t understand what it meant, and I certainly didn’t consider it closely enough to wonder, “Why would Paul bring up the subject of the law here?”
It does seem like a change of subject to start talking about law when we’ve just been talking about qualities of the heart. But now, having been through a study of most of the book of Galatians, we know something that I didn’t realize when I memorized that verse outside the context of the entire book. What we know is that the entire book of Galatians is about the law. More specifically, it’s about our freedom from the law. Remember that theme verse from the beginning of chapter five?
Remember the struggle the Galatians were having. They were being told by some legalistic Christians, “You must do X and Y, and you can’t do Z, if you want to please God.”
In most cases, these were things that could be found in the Old Testament law of Moses, like circumcision, laws regarding cleanliness and diet, and the rituals of Judaic religion. In addition to these things, they would have faced some “slippery slope” sorts of laws. Let me explain what I mean by that. The Pharisees and other religious leaders were deeply concerned with religious purity, and whenever they feared that the law was not precise enough, or strong enough, they would strengthen it with their own commands, just to safeguard people from breaking the law.
You may remember from our study on the fruit of goodness that the Pharisees rebuked Jesus and His disciples for not washing their hands before the meal. The actual command was related to priests washing hands and feet before offering sacrifices in the temple. But the religious leaders were afraid the priests would become careless, and not follow that law, so they strengthened the law to include everyone, and make it happen before each meal, figuring that this would force the priests to keep their hands clean.
The combination of the laws and the traditions was a heavy burden upon the shoulders of the Galatians. They were largely gentiles and would not have been familiar with laws and traditions that had been piling up over the course of thousands of years.
These believers were faced with the conflicting messages of freedom and law. If they listened to the Judaizers, they would spend their lives just like the Pharisees – examining every action with fear that it might be a violation of one of God’s laws, or that it might lead to a violation or that it might violate a traditional standard of behavior. They would fear bringing God’s wrath down upon themselves through an action or an inaction. And to make matters worse, they might violate a command without even knowing they’d done it, unless they spent their lives scrutinizing every minute detail of the law.
It is into this mindset that Paul exclaims, “There is no law against these qualities!” In other words, stop living in fear that you will violate one of God’s laws, or the traditions of men, through action or inaction. Instead, focus your attention on these qualities that God is building into your lives! If you live a life that is filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control, you don’t need to worry about everything else; everything else falls into place!
Here's another way of looking at it. Consider this promise that God made to Israel in Jeremiah 31:
Isn’t that a glorious promise? A day will come, God says, when you won’t need the law to be written on stone tablets, because I will be writing my law on your hearts!
This is the work that the Holy Spirit of God is doing day by day in our lives – writing the true law of God in our hearts. The more deeply those laws are written, the more confidently we live. We can cast aside the fear the Galatians struggled with and live in the assurance that God is doing a good work in our lives, and through our lives.
We will explore this idea in more depth in the next couple weeks, as we wrap up Galatians 5.
Lord, we give You thanks and praise for the good work You are doing in our lives, writing the law of Your character on our hearts. May You receive all glory and praise and honor for what You do in us and through us. Amen