God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003



Paul here squashes any possible accusation that he teaches it is okay to sin, forestalling any 'let's continue to sin so that grace may abound' (Romans 3:8; 6:1) reaction to his teaching on Christian liberty in Christ. Christians are free from the law as a means of justification, but they are not free to live how they please: God's commands are still valid. It is the responsibility of every believer, along with every other person on earth, to:

  • love God
  • and love the neighbour.

Rather than being liberated by the Gospel from the morality and instructions for living contained in the law, the believer is empowered by the Gospel to live in increasing conformity to these laws.

Indeed, on a deeper level, it is only the believer, liberated by the Gospel from a self-centred, self-preserving, self-justifying keeping of the law, who can keep these laws within their intrinsic intention: a God-centred, God-focused life that seeks to praise, honour and glorify God because he is God. As the Scripture says: 'everything that does not come from faith is sin' (Romans 14:23), and 'without faith it is impossible to please God' (Hebrews 11:6).

So Paul says: 'you were called to freedom, only not freedom as an opportunity to the flesh'. There are two references here to intention or direction leading to outcome or result.

  • We were called with the intention that freedom would be the outcome.
  • That freedom has its own intention/direction/purposed outcome.
  • The intended result/outcome of our freedom in Christ is not that the flesh will have occasion/opportunity to operate independently of God,
  • Rather, the intended result, the outcome to which this freedom is directed is that we should, through love, serve each other. Such a love expresses the whole of God's law.

True Christian liberty sets us free to be truly for the other.When we trust in Christ we are set free from the need to trust in ourselves, and therefore from the need to 'love' our neighbour in order to gain or maintain our own justification. Karl Barth writes:

'No more must I dream of trusting in myself, I no longer require to justify myself, to excuse myself, to attempt to save and preserve myself. This most profound effort of man to trust to himself, to see himself as in the right, has become pointless. I believe - not in myself - I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.' (Dogmatics in Outline, p18).

In this freedom of faith we have been liberated to be wholly for God and therefore wholly for the neighbour . It is not without significance that Paul chose the word 'douleuete' - 'serve, be a slave to, be in bondage to' one another. This totally committed loving/serving of the other is set in direct opposition and contrast to interpreting/using Christian freedom as an 'occasion' for 'the flesh' and using Christian liberty as an excuse for licence to do as we please.

In contrast to this liberation to love that goes hand in hand with the true Gospel, the perspective of the false teaching, which made distinctions between people on the basis of performance of ritual law, has destructive effects:

'If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.'

It is actually the false teaching, not Christian liberty, that, at a foundational level, 'indulges the sinful nature' or 'gives occasion to the flesh', by making people focus on their own righteousness, by putting distinctions and divisions between people, by creating occasion for superiority/inferiority, judgement, condemnation and guilt.


More extensive study: for more extensive study on this contrast see the Studies in Romans on this website: Study 11, Study 12, Study 13 and Appendix.

We will assume that by 'the flesh' ('sinful nature' in NIV) Paul is referring to human nature disconnected/living independently from God - what we are in ourselves, apart from Christ. We will also keep in mind what Paul has said in the preceding verses, that the intention of Christian liberty is not to provide an opportunity for 'the flesh' to take over, and that it is the false teaching rather than the gospel, that actually gives the flesh such an opportunity.

Paul here makes a number of statements:

[1] If you live by the Spirit you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. [If you walk in the Spirit you will not complete/fulfill the desires of the flesh.]

Here Paul contrasts the two arenas: we are either living/walking in the arena of the Spirit, or we are living/walking in the arena of the flesh.

In the arena of the Spirit (which is the Kingdom of Jesus), people are saved by grace, through faith, not by works, the operating principle is that of grace, and the effective means of justification is the righteousness of Christ.

In the arena of the flesh, (which is the dominion of darkness), people stand on their own two feet in the presence of God, dependent on their own merit for the declaration of righteousness, because the operating principle is the law of sin and death.

All Christians are actually in the arena of the Spirit, but people who, like the Galatians, have allowed themselves to be deceived by a performance-based perception of salvation, still have, or have slid back into, the mindset of the arena of darkness, where the operating principle is not grace, but the law of sin and death. Thus they see themselves as still under the law.

This has two effects: firstly, that they will be constantly provoked by that law to want to sin, and, secondly, that they will constantly be striving for a personal righteousness that will make them qualified to gain merit in God's sight - forcing them to compare and contrast themselves with others, encouraging feelings of superiority or inferiority, and condemning and destroying others in the process.

This desire of the human nature to indulge, promote and justify itself is outlawed, inappropriate and disempowered in the arena of the Spirit. If we are living 'in the Spirit' we have disassociated ourselves from the desires of the flesh. These 'lusts of the flesh' may be overt immoral lusts, or they may be the subtle but powerful desire of the flesh to see itself and its actions as righteous, meritorious and significant.

[2] The flesh and the Spirit have contrasting desires, each conflicting with the other, with each making it impossible for the desires coming out of the other to be implemented.

Using the kata sarka/kata pneuma concepts from Romans as headings we will itemize firstly the contrasts made in Galatians up to this point, then the contrasting lifestyles set out in 5:16-26.

The facts about the two ways of relating to God and each other:

Kata sarka - according to flesh - facts
Kata pneuma - according to the Spirit - facts



Grace is set aside

Fallen away from grace

Called by the grace of Christ

Called by his grace

Grace maintained

The promise given through grace







Freedom in Christ



Separation between Jew and Gentile

Unity between Jew and Gentile

Neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female - all one in Christ








Coercion to submit to Jewish customs and observation of the law for justification

No one will be justified

No one justified before God

Law can not impart life

Obligated to obey the whole law

Justification by faith in Jesus Christ

Righteousness credited because of faith

Gentiles justified by faith

The righteous live by faith

By faith - confident expectation

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has value








Christ died for nothing if righteousness can be gained here

Died to the law/crucified with Christ

Baptized into Christ

Clothed with Christ






Christ is of no value

Alienated from Christ

Christ lives in me

I live by faith in the Son of God





Trying to gain the Spirit by observing the law

Trying to attain the goal by human effort

Spirit received by believing the message

We receive the promise by faith

What was promised is given through faith in Christ to those who believe





All who rely on observing the law are under a curse

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law




Prisoners of sin

Prisoners of the law/locked up

No longer under the supervision of the law







Subject to guardians and trustees

In slavery under the basic principles of the world

Under the law

A slave

Will never share the inheritance

Sons of God through faith in Christ

Heirs of the promise to Abraham by faith

Received the full rights of sons

The Spirit of God in our hearts cries 'Abba'

A son and heir







Did not know God

Slaves to non-gods

Know God

Are known by God





Enslaved by weak and miserable principles


Burdened with a yoke of slavery


Set free for freedom



The lifestyles expressed in and/or appropriate to these two mindsets:

Kata sarka lifestyle/mindset
Kata pneuma lifestyle/mindset


Gives opportunity to the flesh to express itself

Serves one another in love



Bites and devours each other

Destroys each other

Loves the neighbour as onself



Walks/lives by/in the Spirit - that is under the direction and authority of the kata pneuma mindset, in sync with the mind of the Spirit

We live by the Spirit




Does not bring the mindset of the flesh to expression/fulfilment



Is in opposition to the desires of the Spirit

Is in opposition of the desires of the flesh



The flesh makes it impossible to do what the Spirit wants to do

The Spirit makes it impossible to do what the flesh wants to do



[By inference} are under law.

You are not under law



Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.


Idolatry, witchcraft

Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy.

Have crucified the flesh and its passions and desires


Drunkenness, orgies


Do not inherit the kingdom of God

[By inference] inherit the kingdom of God


We should keep in step with the Spirit - that is, we ought to live in line with the mindset of the Spirit



Conceit, provoking each other, envying each other are outlawed - they are entirely out of place in this kingdom



C.1 What should happen when a Christian is caught in some sin? [1-2]

  • Those who are 'spiritual' should restore him - that is those who understand the mindset of the Spirit.
  • Those who are spiritual should restore him - that is, should repair, mend and perfect him.
  • In a spirit of gentleness and humility - that is, not judgmentally or critically or harshly so that he feels condemned and rejected, and not from an attitude of having achieved perfection yourself, but in such a way that the love and forgiveness and grace of Christ are lavished upon him in the same way as God has lavished it upon them in Christ.
  • But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted - that is, be sure you have no pride in your own ability not to sin, or in your own personal merit, for you yourself might find yourself under pressure to sin or to give up.
  • Carry each other's burdens - bear, take the full weight of those burdens of sin that weigh the other person down; the person who knows that he is justified by faith is not threatened by another's sins; he can bear them, and he can bear with them from his perspective of grace, for he has ceased to view himself and his neighbour on a performance basis. They will not cause him to cut himself off from the sinning brother, or to hold his sins against him as if they were unforgiven, as if he were still relating to God on a performance basis.
  • And in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ: he carried the weight of our sin upon himself so that we can be forgiven; mediate that same grace and forgiveness to each other; take the load of their sin - don't cut them off because of it - and count it nailed to the cross. Remember grace reigns and forgiveness rules in the arena of the Spirit.

Sin is to be dealt with within the context of the arena of the Spirit, in keeping with the operating principle of grace, and from the standpoint that being 'spiritual' does not exclude the possibility of being pressured to sin.

C.2 How does one view one's own actions? [3-5]

  • The gospel reveals that everyone is 'nothing' - the gospel has identified us all as sinners without a leg to stand on in the presence of God. In ourselves we are: powerless [Romans 5:6], sinners [Romans 5:8], dead in trespasses and sins [Ephesians 2:1,5], enemies of God [Romans 5:10], with absolutely no possibility of gaining merit in God's presence by observing the law [Romans 3:19,20].
  • In Christ, if we think that we are 'something' we deceive ourselves . The Spirit-led [kata pneuma] mindset gives no significance to ourselves and our performance. In the kingdom of Christ - in which every genuine believer is a member - Christ is everything. We are complete in him [Colossians 2:10], not in ourselves. We are not in this kingdom because of our actions or our righteousness, but because of his actions and his righteousness. There is nothing that we can boast about [Romans 3:27,28], no reason for us to think ourselves superior, nor to consider ourselves inferior - our life has ceased to have any meritorious or demeritorious significance [This is the significance of the 'I no longer live, but Christ lives in me' of Gal 2:20, and the foundation of genuine Christian liberty.].
  • Each one should test his own actions ... It is inappropriate to compare ourselves to others, and gauge that we are more ... or less ... than another, and on that basis become either proud or despairing because of that comparison. If any comparison is to be done it is this: that we look at our own actions and test them against God's standards, against the example of Christ, against our capabilities, against our maximum potential - and, if we have done our best, we can rejoice in that [the word translated 'take pride' is variously translated 'boast', 'glory', 'rejoice'.] This involves no putting down of the other - something that comes from a self-focused [kata sarka] mindset.
  • Everyone will bear his own burden ... We are each responsible to God for our own lives - for the way we obey him, in our circumstances, with our talents and abilities and knowledge. To compare ourselves to others and to think that thereby we are better or worse, more spiritual or less spiritual, is to make a judgement based on ignorance, and totally contrary to the kata pneuma mindset.

C.3 Is there any difference between the teacher of the gospel and those who are taught? [6]

  • No. They share together in all the 'good things' of the Gospel. The only distinction is that of teacher and student. They both have in Christ all the spiritual blessings that heaven has to give. They are both complete in Christ.

C.4 Does the according to flesh/according to the Spirit - kata sarka/kata pneuma - difference really matter? [7-8]

  • Yes. Don't let yourselves be led astray from the truth and deceived.
  • Yes. 'God cannot be mocked': literally, 'you can't turn your nose up at God' [mukterizomai - to contract the nose in contempt]. To embrace the false teaching with its dependence on human performance for salvation is to treat God's provision of salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ with contempt and scorn. To do so puts one in a precarious and dangerous position.
  • Yes. A man reaps what he sows . If you 'sow into the flesh' you will 'reap out of the flesh corruption, ruin, decay' : that is, if you give into the false teachers and spend your life trying to build up a flesh-based [performance-based] relationship with God, you will, out of that flesh - that human nature disconnected from God - reap destruction: the judgement, condemnation, punishment that is due to all who do not fully keep all the commands of the law. If you 'sow into the Spirit, out of the Spirit you will reap eternal life. ' That is, if you give your life over to the Spirit, walking by the Spirit, living by the Spirit - not trusting in your own righteousness but in the righteousness of Christ revealed by the Spirit and united with Christ by the regenerating ministry of the Spirit - you will reap eternal life.

C.5 Isn't this sufficient reason for 'doing good'? [9]

  • The certainty of future life with God is sufficient reason for not getting tired of 'doing good' and not giving up. In the context of the false teachers, who were giving the Galatian Christians a bad time, including persecution, Paul's encouragement here is significant. It would have been so easy to give in to the false teaching and put oneself under the performance-based mentality. In the long term, however, it is 'doing good' - keeping hold of the true Gospel - that will 'reap a harvest' : the harvest of sure and certain eternal life.

C.6 What should our attitude be to each other? [10-17]

  • Whenever we have the opportunity we should labour for the good (that is the meaning of the Greek) of all people, especially that of believers. [In the context of the difficulties/persecution resulting from the Judaisers, this would mean keeping on in the truth and keeping on affirming the liberating Gospel at every opportunity, regardless of those difficulties/persecution, because freedom in Christ is the ultimate good.]
  • The false teachers, in contrast, were motivated by their own desires when they tried get the Galatians to submit to circumcision as a condition for salvation. They were not working for the good of the Galatians but for their own self-focused ends: [1] they wanted to make a good outward impression; [2] they wanted to avoid being persecuted for the cross; [3] they wanted to boast about the Galatians' 'flesh' - that is, the Galatians' submission to circumcision as a conditional for salvation. [This imposition of the law of circumcision on the Galatians was despite the fact that the false teachers themselves did not obey the law.]
  • Paul expresses the wish [6:14] that he may never seek glory in such a way, that his only 'boast' will be the cross of Jesus Christ . By Jesus, by his cross, he is 'crucified' to any recognition 'the world' might give: it means nothing to him and he doesn't care what it thinks. He is not impressed or influenced by the mentality or mindset of 'the world' - which is the mindset of legalism, of a performance-based relationship with God.
  • The world gives credit to our 'flesh' - in this case, to circumcision or uncircumcision. In Christ neither of these mean anything - they are irrelevant, they have no significance, they can't do anything, they do not have the strength to do what the false teachers claim.
  • In Christ the only thing that is significant is 'a new creation'. This is the same phrase as Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 5:11-17:

'So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view (Greek = kata sarka). Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.'

In this text the 'he is' is not found in the Greek: it is simply: 'if any one is in Christ - new creation.' Paul teaches that he has stopped looking a people according to what they are in themselves as it appears to human observation of their actions. He used to look at Christ that way, but he doesn't do so any more - that changed on the Damascus Road. Now, he says, rather than look at Christian's actions and access them on that basis, he sees them only 'in Christ', and in Christ it's a whole new set up, a whole new ball game, a whole new way of perceiving a person, a whole new world. This is what he is speaking of in Galatians 6:15 when he says 'neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything: what counts is a new creation.'

  • That is how we should treat each other: not with the mindset of the world, but with the mindset of the new reality of life in Christ Jesus. Not kata sarka where every action is either meritorious or demeritorious, but kata pneuma where our performance has no saving significance at all.
  • Mercy and peace are on all who conform to (or march within) this boundary/rule/canon, and on the Israel of God.
  • 'From henceforth - let no one cause me any trouble': that is, concerning this issue. 'I bear in my body the marks of Jesus' - Paul here states that the scars on his physical body are evidence of what he has suffered for the preservation of the true gospel of Christ - these marks, not the mark or scar of circumcision, announce to the world where he stands.
Discussion Topic # 12: Which verses from Galatians 5:13 to 6:18 do you find most significant in helping you to live by the principle of grace rather than the principle of law?
Discussion Topic # 13: Identify circumstances in which today's Christians need to learn to 'bear each other's burdens' and to 'labour for the good' of others in the way Paul speaks of in 6:2 and 10.