The Holy Spirit in Galatians 5-6

I am scheduled to teach an elective adult Bible class tomorrow morning, March 21, 2021 at The Sanctuary UPC in Hazelwood, Missouri, where Mitchell Bland is pastor. We will study the references to the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5-6, drawing insight from my book The Holy Spirit: A Commentary.  The book is published by the Pentecostal Publishing House and is available at,, and as an Apple Book. I plan to post the video from the class session no later than Monday, March 22, 2021. The study guide for the class follows.

The Holy Spirit in Galatians 5-6

March 21, 2021

Daniel L. Segraves, Teacher

Twitter: @danielsegraves

[1] In his use of the account of Ishmael and Isaac to illustrate the radical contrast between the law of Moses and the New Covenant, Paul identified Ishmael as one who was born “according to the flesh” and Isaac as one who was born “according to the Spirit” (Galatians 4:29). This again defines the nature of the two covenants. The law was a fleshly covenant; the New Covenant was a covenant of the Spirit.

[2] The distinct and irreconcilable contrast between a law approach to God and a faith approach is seen in Galatians 5:1-6. Those who embrace faith have found liberty. Those who opt for law are entangled with a yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1; 2:4; 4:3, 9, 24, 25). Although circumcision was required under the law, those who are circumcised for religious reasons in the era of the New Covenant receive no profit from it. Instead, since they have chosen to follow one commandment of the law, thinking there is some benefit in doing so, they are now “a debtor to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:2-3). That is the nature of the law; it is all or nothing. There is no benefit to keeping selected commandments. But those who attempt to be justified by law, an impossible task, have fallen from grace. They are estranged from Christ. On the other hand, those who are people of faith wait eagerly “through the Spirit” for the hope of righteousness by faith. They will not be disappointed.

[3] Galatians 5:16-25 brackets what it means to walk in the Spirit. Both the opening and closing verses include the phrase “walk in the Spirit.” To walk in the Spirit is the precise opposite of fulfilling the lust of the flesh: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:17).

[4] The word translated “lust” refers to strong desires or cravings. The desires of the Spirit and of the flesh are so completely opposed to each other that they cannot be reconciled. Those who walk in the Spirit—that is, they yield to the desires of the Spirit—cannot at the same time yield to the desires of the flesh.

[5] To be led by the Spirit and to be under the law reveal the opposite poles of human behavior. We must keep in mind, however, that the behavior that results from being led by the Spirit cannot be achieved by sheer willpower. It does not come from self-discipline. Anyone can choose to behave in a certain way, at least temporarily. But that is not necessarily the result of a life transformed by the Holy Spirit. Good behavior is no sure sign of regeneration. The fruit of the Spirit is just that; it is the Spirit’s work in one’s life.

[6] The behavior of those who chose not to be led by the Spirit but to relate to God on the basis of law is predictable. The fruit of the Spirit has precise counterparts in the realm of the flesh. Indeed, the ongoing context in Galatians suggests that where we see references to “flesh,” the undergirding problem is “law.” This begins, at least in Galatians 3:2-3, where Paul posed the question, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law . . . are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” The statement “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” suggests that if you are not led by the Spirit, you are under the law (Galatians 5:18). There is no law, however, against the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).[1]

[7] The statement “If we live in the Spirit” in Galatians 5:25 is a first class condition, affirming the reality of the condition. Some translations render this “since we live in the Spirit.” This is an accurate translation. Since we have received the Spirit (Galatians 3:2), we should walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). The Spirit within us is sure to desire those virtues described as the fruit of the Spirit. As we yield to the desire to love, to be joyous, to be peaceable, to be longsuffering, to be kind, to do good, to be people of faith (i.e., to trust God, regardless of the circumstances of life), to be gentle, to practice self-control, we will be led by the Spirit; we will be walking in the Spirit. If we have no desire for these things, but instead desire and continually yield to those negative impulses described as “works of the flesh,” we must, at the very least, seek to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, for “he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:8).


The fruit of the Spirit contrasts with the works of the flesh, which are apparently the result of efforts to relate to God on the basis of law.

[1] For a shorter list of the fruit of the Spirit, see Ephesians 5:9.