For the postmodernists all truth is relative. As Glodo explains, “For postmoderinism, truth is not to be found but, rather to be created. What is true is what one believes to be true. Reality is not to be perceived so much as to be conceived or constructed (Machael J. Glodo, “The Bible in Stereo: New Opportunities for Biblical Interpretation in an A-Rational Age,” The Challenge of Postmodernism, David S. Dockery, ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995], p. 109). For them perception is the only “reality” that there is. There is no object reality “out there” for one to know and experience. Their views arose in opposition to modernism’s claim that for something to be real it must be experienced by the senses, smell, taste, sight, hearing or touch. Empirical evidence is what establishes the existence of reality.
Not surprisingly, then, postmodernists hold the same view regarding morals. For them morality is an entirely relative matter. Veith observes, “Postmodernist ethicists look neither to absolutes, as Christians do, nor to empirical considerations, as the modernists do, but solely to the individual’s choice” (Gene Edward Veith, Jr, Loving God with all Your Mind, rev. ed. [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003], p. 78). He says further, “In questions of sexual morality, genetic engineering, euthanasia, and every other issue, postmodernists believe that whatever a person chooses is right for that person, and only intolerance and ‘imposing your morality on someone else’ are morally wrong” (p. 78). In fact, as MacArthur says, “Traditional virtues (including humility, self-control, and chastity) are openly scorned, and even regarded as transgressions, in the world of postmodernism” (John MacArthur, Why One Way: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002], p. 14).
However, the biblical view stands opposed to all of this. According to Phillips, “Through divine revelation God’s signifying word (illumined by the Holy Spirit who inspired It ) assumes that reality may be understood, though in part, by the human knower, and that reality is larger than that which can be ascertained by empirical methodology” (p. 140). Certainly, God’s Word sets forth a standard of conduct by which all believers must live. In no other place is this more clear than in the Book of Galatians. In fact, one of its passages contains a specific lists of sins which they must avoid. By example if not by argument, Christians can point the way for their fellows in a confusing world in the area of ethics. In this article I want to focus on that plain pathway. It includes both walking in the Spirit and overcoming the works of the flesh. This discussion will also compare today’s dilemma with that in Galatia and set forth a definition of genuine freedom for the believer.
The Galatian Situation
Not unlike in today’s world, in the area where the churches of Galatia were located, two systems of thought vied for the loyalties of believers. The one was Christianity in its purest form as Paul propagated it. The one was that of Judaism. It advocated a syncritistic approach to molding truth. Its false teachers called for the addition of the doctrines of Christianity to the existing theology of Judaism. This is much the same as what African theology seeks to do today. The claim is that Jehovah revealed Himself to the Jewish people through the Law of Moses. At the same time He made Himself known to Africans through their traditional religions. Then when Christianity came along there was yet another layer of truth. What Africans need to do, then, is to add all of it together to form a system with the good elements of all three in one religion.
The conflict in Galatia resulted in no small amount of infighting among believers in the area. Judaizers contended that all followers of Christ must abide strictly by all of the teachings of Moses. Even though Jesus had died for their sins, they were still bound by the law. The opposition declared that the coming of Christ freed them from the Law of Moses. As the apostle wrote he saw two dangerous trends in it all. First, the churches in the area could end up being disintegrated and being destroyed. Second, true Christian believers could go off on a tangent with their emphasis on the “freedoms” that were theirs.
A Definition of Freedom
Paul has used most of his letter up to this point in combating the errors of Judasim. Now, addressing himself more to the believers enjoying their new-found freedom, he seeks to set the limits of the term for them. Christian liberty did not grant them the privilege of flaunting their freedom in the face of the Judaizers. It did not give them a license to indulge their sinful nature. They could not disregard the moral precepts in the Law of Moses. He wrote, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:13a). Rather, their freedom in Christ carried with it a requirement for self-control through service to others in love. As the apostle explained, “Serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:13b, 14).
Further, the current in-fighting over Judaism in Galatia must cease, lest they kill one another off. Chiding them as a father might his quarreling children, Paul wrote, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other(15). He pictured them as fighting like dogs among themselves with a real danger that they might kill one another off.
I recall a District Superintendent’s letter to a church with similar problems as those in Galatia. In it he, like Paul, warned of the danger of devouring one another. As to the extensive gossip which he determined was at the root of their difficulties, he concluded that some had taken a bag of feathers on one side of town and ended up with a full-blown, live goose on the other!
The Pathway to Freedom
Of course, the apostle knows the value of peace among the churches of Galatia. He has addressed that earlier in his letter. However, by no means does he promote peace at any price. At the same time he cannot neglect the serious dangers associated with the promotion of antinomianism among them. The “no-law” people must be addressed further as he continues his letter.
Walking in the Spirit
They absolutely must turn their backs on the sins of this world. To do so requires that they stay full of the Spirit. Paul declared, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (16). Allowing the power of the Spirit within to work in one’s life produced the desirable fruit that both God and man enjoy. Hendriksen observes, “It takes the tender leaves of early springtime to rid the oak tree of the remnants of last autumn’s withered foliage. It is only the living that can expel the dead. It is only the good that can push out the bad” (William Hendriksen, Galatians, Vol. 8 New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968], p. 214). At the same time Paul implies the opposite of this truth as well. Fail to yield to the Spirit and you will gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Any garden left untended will automatically produce weeds.
Then to be truly led by the Spirit puts a believer in a place where he is no longer under the law. This is not at all the same, though, as to say he can now disregard its moral teachings. Rather, he lives so far above its requirements that the law never touches him. He has no need for the policeman to draw his gun and shout, “Don’t rob that bank!” He lives on no such low plane. As Paul explained, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (18).
Thus regular “re-fillings” of the Spirit are a necessity rather than a luxury. One must periodically experience the “renewal of his mind” as a new wave of the Spirit sweeps over it. In another place Paul wrote, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Rom. 12:2). Such experiences not only make clear the will of God but also provide the impetus for doing it. As the apostle goes on to plead, that, since we enjoy the blessings of the Spirit, then let us live according to His dictates (25). To walk in the Spirit is the only guarantee that one is not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh.
Overcoming in the Struggling with the Flesh
At the same time, believers must win the battle in the conflict between flesh and Spirit (17.) Paul clearly declares the fact of its existence (17a). The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. These are contrary the one to the other.
Its Reality: Regrettably, Norman Grubb denies the very existence of the Spirit-flesh conflict. He was son-in-law to C. T. Studd and wrote a biography of him, having served as a missionary to the Belgian Congo under him. In Yes I Am he has a Chapter entitled "Humans Have No Nature." There, after discussing the reformed and holiness positions on what to do about the Spirit-flesh conflict, he writes, "But I am saying that the true revelation of the Bible is that we have no nature. We're not created to have a nature, but to be containers of a 'deity nature'. . ." (Norman Grubb, Yes I Am [Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1982], p. 39). We are but vessels, containers through which either God or Satan express themselves. His next Chapter concerns "The Only Two Natures."
E. W. Kenyon, considered by many to be the father of the Confession Movement, holds similar views (E. W. Kenyon, Identification, Fullerton, CA: Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society, Inc., 1968) (E. W. Kenyon, The Hidden Man, Fullerton, CA: Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society, Inc., 1955). He taught that man originally possessed the nature of God. However, when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden he lost his deity and took on the nature of Satan. Therefore, he must be born again. At that time he becomes once again a being in a class with God. It is for that reason he, like God, can speak creative words of faith. Thus what he “confesses” means everything.
Necessity of Victory in the Conflict: Paul's view of man stands diametrically opposed to that of Grubb and Kenyon. After declaring the ever-present conflict between flesh and Spirit, the apostle then gives the obvious implications of that fact (17b). Since the carnal nature constantly seeks to express itself, the believer cannot always do everything he might have a momentary desire to do. In Romans 6 Paul declares that in such conflict the believer must "reckon" himself dead to sin. He does so by not yielding any part of his being to be used as an instrument for an outward expression of inner sinful impulses, however temporary or persistent they may be. In this way he crucifies the flesh and its lusts. Later in this chapter Paul sums all of this up saying, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (24). MacArthur comments that neither here nor in other passages by Paul does he “mean to imply that the crucifixion analogy carries the idea of total death, in which all influence ceases. Sin was still a reality in his life, and so was the temptation of the world. But there was a sense in which the power of the old self and the world was broken. Those influences no longer dominated him” (MacArthur, p. 170).
Again, though, the power of the Spirit within makes possible the reckoning process (18). The one who is led by, walks in the Spirit needs no law, set of rules to keep him on the right pathway in life. He simply lives above what most lists of “dos and don’ts” require.
Still, in order to get to heaven believers must live above sin, which Paul names in 19-21. Obviously, he does not here contradict his protest elsewhere that Christians are saved by grace and not by works. McKnight recognizes that Paul’s combat with “works” is not a challenge to those who preach that believers must live holy lives. He writes, “. . . when we say Paul taught that justification was not by works, we need to clarify which kind of works he had in mind” (Scot McKnight, The NIV Application Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervon Publishing House, 1995], p. 21). Most of the time the apostle speaks against efforts to find salvation through works of the law, including circumcision and animal sacrifice. He never spoke against “works of the law” with holy living in mind.
Avoiding Sins of Immorality: Certainly, believers cannot engage in sins of immorality and go to heaven; these include adultery, fornication (Greek, porneia), uncleanness (full of impure thoughts which lead to impure actions), and lewdness (lasciviousness, lack of restraint, abandon, not caring what man or God thinks about one's sexual misconduct, including homosexuality) (19). Concerning the terms fornication, sexual immorality and uncleanness, impurity Anders writes, “Sexual immorality is a broad term covering fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. Impurity is also a broad term referring to moral uncleanness in our thought life, speech, and actions (Eph. 5:3-4) (Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, Vol. 8, Holman New Testament Commentary [Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999], p. 64).
Avoiding Sins in the Social Realm: Further, neither can believers allow sins of the heart any outward expression; included here are hatred, jealousies, envy (despite for others because they have what one wishes he had), and selfish ambitions. The Lord also requires that they live clean lives in relating to fellow human beings; this includes being free from outbursts of wrath, contentions, dissensions, and certainly murder (including the taking of one's own life).
Avoid Sins in the Religions Realm: Believers must also stay on the right track religiously; they cannot entertain heresies nor engage in idolatry or sorcery.
MacArthur reminds his reader that sorcery translated pharmakeia from which obviously comes the English word pharmacy. Then he explains that: "it came to be used primarily of mood- and mind-altering drugs similar to those that create so much havoc in our own day. Many ancient religious ceremonies involved occultic practices in which drugs were used to induce supposed communication with deities, and pharmakeia thereby came to be closely related to witchcraft and magic” (John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians [Chicago: Moody Press, 1987], pp. 161, 162).
Avoiding Sins in the More Personal Realm: Finally, though they live under grace rather than law, followers of Christ cannot engage in the more personal sins of revelries (wild parties) and drunkenness. When Paul closes with "and such like," he makes clear that his list of sins is by no means exhaustive.
The apostle’s final word on the necessity for believers to live clean lives ends with, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (21b).
Hendriksen suggests, “It should be observed that although according to Paul’s argumentation it is not possible to gain entrance to the kingdom of God by means of what were deemed to be good practices (law-works), it is definitely possible to shut oneself out by evil practices” (Hendriksen, p. 222).
Certainly, then, God’s Word sets forth a standard of conduct by which all believers must live. In this article I have shown that in no other place is this more clear than in the Book of Galatians. Chapter 5 of the book contains a specific lists of sins which they must avoid. By example if not by argument Christians can point the way for their fellows in a confusing world in the area of ethics. In the paragraphs above I have focused on that plain pathway. It includes both walking in the Spirit and overcoming the works of the flesh. This discussion has also compared today’s dilemma with that in Galatia and set forth a definition of genuine freedom for the believer. Unless the man of God demonstrates these truths in his life he is not likely to make the gospel attractive to many in a postmodern generation.
Glodo, Machael J. “The Bible in Stereo: New Opportunities for Biblical Interpretation in an A-Rational Age.” The Challenge of Postmodernism, David S. Dockery, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995.
Grubb, Norman Yes I Am. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1982.
Hendriksen, William. Galatians, New Testament Commentary, Vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968.
Kenyon, E. W. Identification. Fullerton, CA: Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society, Inc., 1968.
Kenyon, E. W. The Hidden Man. Fullerton, CA: Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society, Inc., 1955.
MacArthur, John. Why One Way: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002.
MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians, Chicago: Moody Press, 1987.
Veith, Gene Edward Jr. Loving God with all Your Mind, rev. ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003.