by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



As current Jewish commentator David Stern explains it, in contrast to the fruit of the reborn spirit, the product of legalism and Judaizers’ teaching has led to “feuding, fighting, becoming jealous, getting angry, selfish ambition, dissension, intrigue, and envy.[1] [2] With the Church being a light in the world, the salt of the earth, and a window into the heart of God, maybe we can see why the world is not overly anxious to join us and adopt our lifestyle as children of God. They see enough of this type of behavior in their own culture. There is no need for them to add the burdens of mandatory church attendance, Bible reading, and self-help or feel-good sermons, especially when those who preach it don’t practice it themselves.

I remember during the first weeks of Army boot camp at Fort Carson, Colorado, our platoon sergeant took us out for the first time to march in formation. At first, we looked like a prison gang with everyone out of step and, in some cases stepping on each other’s feet. But the sergeant taught us to keep in step with his cadence of, “Left … left … left-right-left; left … left… left-right-left; hut, two, three, four; hut, two, three, four.” Each time he said “left or hut,” our left foot was supposed to hit the ground. Before long, we began to look more disciplined and less confused.

That was until we met another platoon of recruits coming the opposite way. Their sergeant was also calling out cadence, but not in sync with ours. So, as we passed each other, we needed to tune out the other sergeant to stay in step with our own. It was a daily event, with more and more platoons passing us in the opposite direction. Therefore, our platoon leader got an idea. One of the soldiers in our squad was a drummer in his high school band. The sergeant secured a drum for him.

After that, whenever we marched and encountered another group, our drummer would beat the cadence we all recognized, and we had no trouble staying in step. I can still hear it to this day: “tat-ta dum, tat-ta dum, tat-ta dum, dum, dum; tat-ta dum, tat-ta dum, tat-ta dum, dum, dum.” There was another aspect to our marching, not only to stay in step but stay in line. Each soldier was to follow the commands from the sergeant to keep in step and in line with the soldier beside him but also to remain in step and in line with the soldier in front of him.

To blend this illustration with Paul’s admonition to the Galatians, he was encouraging them to disregard the cadence called by the old sinful-self, and stay in step with the tempo of the Holy Spirit. He is our guide, our counselor, our companion on this journey. Not only march to the rhythm of the Spirit but stay in line with our fellow Christian soldiers.

Geoffrey Bingham (1919-2009) envisions Paul now drawing the threads together of his whole comparison of Law and grace, of flesh and Spirit. “If we live in the Spirit” – the “if” is not that of doubt, but rather “because.” The Spirit is the new principle of freedom.[3] We have crucified the flesh and its sinful tendencies – then we are done with it, and let us live as those done with it! Now, it is only the life of the Spirit. Thus, it naturally follows that we will walk in union with the Spirit. His is a new way of living. It takes walking, that is, behaving, obeying, performing under the influence of the Spirit. By the Spirit of sonship, led by the Spirit.[4] Notice that the thought here is corporate “us” – it is walking in line, in a file, keeping one behind the other, and being of necessity in step with each other.[5]

It requires active participation in the guidance and discipline offered by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word. We may see other paths to follow, and even want to set our own pace; we may want to speed up or slow down, do a right-left, instead of a left-right turn. God gives us free will to make that choice. But you can stay in line when you tune out other voices and focus only on the cadence of the Holy Spirit. After all, He knows where you are going and the best way to get there; He knows God’s purpose for your life and how to get you in step with God’s will.

Paul addresses this tendency of getting out of step with the Spirit by cautioning the Galatians not to give in to self-pride and become spiritually conceited. Looking back at verse fifteen, it appears that this was one of the biggest problems challenging the Galatian congregation. It came when each believer tried to outdo the other in their quest for self-imposed holiness. They attempted to put on outward purity while festering with sinful pollution inside. This type of spiritual haughtiness could only lead to provoking anger and jealousy among themselves.

The grammar Paul uses suggests that he saw this as a form of provocation. It didn’t happen by accident or some casual encounter. It was pursued vigorously as a challenge to others. It was as though they were in a contest and wanted to be declared the winner. They wanted to demonstrate their spiritual superiority and thereby cause others to feel morally inferior. The believers in Galatia saw each other as rivals, each one trying to surpass the other on God’s exclusive list of “Saints.” As a result, they all became honorary members of the devil’s list of “Aints.”

I agree with what C. S. Lewis said about how the devil laughs when we become proud. “He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride.” [6] When sinful-self still has a seat at the table, still has a vote on decisions to be made, and always gets attention when it cries about being neglected and not treated fairly, such falls can occur. Our sinful-self cannot be appeased or soothed into obedience. Instead, we should prevent it from giving any input whatsoever.

I once watched an episode of “Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” on the National Geographic Channel. He showed an elementary method of instilling obedience in a dog by achieving submission to basic commands. It starts by creating a positive learning environment, so the dog enjoys pleasing its master by obeying the commands it receives. The owner is then able to attain many goals with their dog over a short period of dedicated training.

Cesar noted that all dogs need an active lifestyle, which allows the owner to exercise their dog’s mind and body properly. It is just as crucial for small breed dogs as it is for large breed dogs. Sometimes, because of their smaller size, many owners overlook their little dog’s bad behavior. Also, they do not put in as much time and energy into training their small breed dogs as they should. This lack of training can lead to many behavior problems that include aggression, disobedience, and incessant barking.

If this is true of animals, how much more does it apply to human beings? To grow and mature, we need to be in a positive learning environment with an active lifestyle. Our spiritual oneness with The Anointed One loves to worship, praise, and honor God; it wants to show how serving the Father and our Lord Jesus The Anointed One out of love is exciting. It desires to be like Jesus and adopt His characteristics and virtues.

When this is ignored, just like an animal, the believer will revert to the old ways and develop behavioral problems. Paul’s heart was aching over this development among those he preached to and taught even while fighting illness and physical handicap. No wonder he refused to give up until he helped them see the truth.

Once the old nature knows who’s in control and that you are determined to stick with the Spirit, it will bow and become obedient to your commands. It can be brought under control, but only by a made-up mind and a spiritual oneness with The Anointed One that will not give in to temptation. Remember, even if we do fail to meet God’s expectations for our lives, as Christians, we are not breaking Mosaic Law. If anything, it only makes God more determined to help us win the victory by providing more and more opportunities to do so.

Think of it this way: if a runner doesn’t complete a race, the runner didn’t break any law; he or she simply didn’t have the strength or will to finish. He or she may be smart enough to go to the coach and confess, “I didn’t have what it took; I can see, now, I didn’t fully commit myself; I lacked the will power to give it my best, and give it my all.” If the coach can work with them and help them become more devoted to winning, how much more will our Heavenly Father treat us with love and understanding when we go to Him and confess our need for more spiritual strength and resolve?

[1] See 5:20-21

[2] Stern, David H. (1992-10-01). Jewish New Testament Commentary

[3] 2 Corinthians 3:17

[4] Romans 8:14

[5] Bingham, Geoffrey C., The Epistle to the Galatians, New Creation Publications Inc. Adelaide, Austral, 1982, p. 50

[6] Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity, Published by Samizdat, 2014, Bk. II, The Great Sin, p. 69

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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