24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
When Paul says that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, he’s clearly talking about something more than just changing our behaviour. Again it will be helpful to look at Romans, this time 6:6-7. Our sinful self with its passions and desires was crucified with Jesus. As one preacher pointed out in relation to this verse, crucifixion is a slow death. As we’ve already seen, there’s still a battle going on between the Spirit and the desires of our flesh, but our flesh is dying; we are being set free from it. We belong to Jesus.
I found it interesting that it’s those who belong to Christ Jesus who have crucified the flesh. Of course, in the context of everything we’ve been talking about, it’s God working in us that causes and enables us to crucify the flesh, but we’re not just passive observers. We carry out the crucifixion of our flesh. I guess the question to ask ourselves in light of this verse is: have I done that? Have I crucified the flesh and am I walking by the Spirit? What do my actions have to say on the matter? Can people see the fruit of the Spirit beginning to develop, or do my works suggest the desires of the flesh are still alive and thriving in our hearts?
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Apparently the phrase “walk by the Spirit” here is a different verb than in v16. The word Paul uses here has the sense of walking “in step with” the Spirit, like walking in line behind a leader.
This is Paul summing up. He assumes the Galatians know that we live by the Spirit (as he did in Chapter 3: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”), and therefore he calls them to walk in step with the Spirit, to be perfected by the Spirit, not to return to the flesh under the law as the Judaisers had been trying to persuade them to do.
But not being under the law doesn’t mean we don’t put any effort into our Spiritual walk. We are called to actively walk in step with the Spirit, in a way that glorifies Christ. And it seems Paul was particularly concerned about the way the Christians in Galatia related to one another…
26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
The word “conceited” isn’t part of my everyday vocabulary, so I googled the definition and it came up with “excessive pride in oneself”.
Then “provoking” and “envying” are more common words, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to clarify their definitions too, so to “provoke” is to “stimulate or give rise to (a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one) in someone”, while “envy” is the “desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable thing belonging to (someone else)”.
This whole passage has been about walking by the Spirit rather than putting yourself under the law. If you think you’re under the law, it means you think you’re earning something by your performance. Now if you think you’re performing well under the law, you become conceited and you think you’ve earned the right to get things your way. And if you have a church full of conceited people who all think they deserve to get their way, they’re going to provoke each other. And not everyone is going to get things their way, so the ones who think they’ve performed well under the law and haven’t got their way are going to envy those who seem to have received the blessing they thought they’d earned.
To provoke someone indicates that you feel superior to them; it involves identifying their weakness and using it to make yourself feel better. Perhaps you think someone else’s understanding of doctrine is inferior to yours, or you think someone is not as zealous for evangelism as you are, or they’re struggling with a particular sin or addiction that you would never fall into, and you find ways to let them know that you’re better than them. It basically means you’re arrogant.
Envying indicates feeling inferior to others; other Christians seem to have more exciting gifts than you do, or their ministry is seeing more success, other churches seem more vibrant and are growing faster than ours. You wish you had what they have, and deep down you think you deserve it. Essentially you feel self-pity.
Both arrogance and self-pity are forms of conceit. How do we avoid becoming conceited and provoking and envying one another? We walk by the Spirit, not under the law.
Living under the law leads to conceit because it leads us to think how blessed we are depends on our performance, and hence we either look down on those who evidently haven’t performed as well as we have, or we envy those who’ve been given the reward we thought we’d earned but haven’t received.
Walking by the Spirit works against conceit by continually pointing us back to Christ and the gospel of God’s grace. It works against arrogance because we’re all sinners undeserving of God’s love, and it works against self-pity because God loves us whatever we think of ourselves, or what anyone else thinks of us.