Galatians 5:13-24 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. In verses 19-21a (printed below) the apostle Paul presents a partial list of “the works of the sinful nature.” What are your observations about the items on this list?

Now the works of the sinful nature are well known, such as: sexual immorality, moral impurity, debauchery, (20) idolatry, witchcraft, hatreds, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, (21) envy, drunkenness, orgies, and other such things (Galatians 5:19-21a)

The list does not only contain actions that are contrary to the holy law of God, it also contains sinful attitudes (such as hatred). This is in keeping with our Lord’s definition of sin as presented in such a passage as Matthew 5:21-28. The list not only condemns such notorious sins as immorality, witchcraft and drunkenness, but also the more “socially acceptable” sins, such as jealousy, selfish ambition and divisiveness.

2. What does Paul present as the contrast to “the works of the sinful nature?” See verses 22-23a (printed below)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, integrity, (23) meekness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

“The works of the sinful nature” are the actions and attitudes naturally produced by men in their state of sin (note Matthew 15:19-20, where the Lord Jesus declares, “out of the heart come forth evil thoughts.”) In contrast to “the works of the sinful nature,” in verses 22-23 the apostle presents “the fruit of the Spirit;” that is to say, the attitudes and attributes produced by the Holy Spirit as He works in the life of the Christian. As Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him, he is the one who bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing.” Note: just as the Christian is saved by grace, so, too, does the Christian live out the Christian life by grace (note Ephesians 2:10).

3. According to verses 13,16-17 (printed below), what does the old sinful nature desire to do?

You were called for freedom, brothers, only do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the sinful nature to express itself; rather, serve one another with love…(16) Now I tell you, walk by the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the sinful nature. (17) The sinful nature lusts for what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the sinful nature, for they are in conflict with one another; consequently, you cannot do the things you desire. (Galatians 5:13,16-17)

According to verse 13, the sinful nature desires to establish itself in the Christian’s life. The apostle warns that we are not to allow our Christian freedom to become “an opportunity” (literally, “a stronghold”) for the sinful nature—i.e.; a base of operations from which it can assault and drive back the life of godliness. The old sinful nature wickedly seeks to take Christian freedom and pervert it into a base of operations from which to carry out its evil activities. According to verse 16 the sinful nature desires to fulfill its lust in the Christian’s life; the apostle writes, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the sinful nature.” The sinful nature desires to have its impulses and passions indulged and have those sinful actions become habitual practices which form into an ungodly life style that will eventually meet its just reward of punishment (note James 1:14-15). According to verse 17, the sinful nature desires to “sabotage” God’s will for the Christian’s life. The sinful nature desires to prevent the Christian from doing the will of God (verse 17c).

4. What does Paul tell us is the way to prevent the old sinful nature from accomplishing its desire (see verse 16 printed below?) What does he mean?

Now I tell you, walk by the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16)

According to verse 16 the way of victory is to “walk by the Spirit.” The Christian must yield to the Holy Spirit’s will and direction; note Psalm 23:1a, 3b, “The Lord is my shepherd…He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Furthermore, the Christian must rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to successfully combat the sinful nature; note Zechariah 4:6b, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, declares Jehovah of hosts.”

5. In verse 24 what does Paul say about those who belong to Christ?

Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature along with its passions and lusts. (Galatians 5:24)

In verse 24 the apostle declares, “those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature along with its passions and lusts.” Victory is presented here as an accomplished fact: the sinful nature was crucified (past tense). It is victory that belongs to the Christian because of his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. When one puts his faith in Jesus he becomes spiritually united to Christ, becoming joined to Christ in His death and resurrection (note Galatians 2:20). The truth of this verse must cause the Christian, as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, to view his relationship to his old sinful nature in a radically new and different way. He must no longer view himself as being a helpless victim of the sinful nature who must inevitably yield to its demands. He must recognize that he now shares in the victory the Lord Jesus won over the sinful nature. Note: the victory of Christ should progressively transform the Christian’s attitudes and actions as we yield ourselves to His Holy Spirit, allowing Him to apply the victory of Jesus to every part of our lives. This process is known as “sanctification.” It is a process that will be fully and finally accomplished only when we enter into glory.