16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The Apostle Paul wrote the New Testament letter to the Galatians in order to counter false teaching that this early church had quickly embraced. Judaizers were preaching a false doctrine that Gentiles must submit to Mosaic Law before they could experience salvation through Christ. This teaching was contrary to the doctrines of grace and justification by faith alone in Christ Jesus. In the letter we see Paul rebuking the audience (Ch. 1), reminding the audience of his apostolic credentials (Ch. 1 & 2), reemphasizing and explaining the doctrine of justification (Ch. 3 & 4) and describing how to apply this doctrine practically as believers (Ch. 5 & 6).
In Gal 5:13-15 Paul teaches the first century audience that they are free from Mosaic law but that this liberty should not be taken as freedom to fulfill the desires of their flesh. Paul then reminds the audience that they are called to love and serve one another. Through this love they fulfill all moral requirements of the Old Testament law. In Gal 5:16-18 Paul tells the Galatians to walk in the Spirit so that they do not fulfill the sinful desires of their flesh. If they are led by the Spirit they will no longer be bound by law but will fulfill the law as the Spirit would produce fruit in them. The final two paragraphs contrast the works of the flesh with the fruits of the Spirit. This meant that the Galatians should be mindful of the works of the flesh and instead, walk in the power of the Holy Spirit that had been given to them upon salvation.
One difference between the Galatian audience and the New Testament church today is that we do not believe we should follow Mosaic Law in order to receive salvation through Jesus. We do not have Judaizers today and we are not being taught that adherence to the Old Testament Law is necessary. We believe that salvation is by the grace of God as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ. We believe that salvation is not a result of our works (Ephesians 2:8). One additional difference is that the New Testament church today does not question the position of Paul as an Apostle.
The theological principle in Gal 5:16-18 is to be led by the Holy Spirit constantly. There is a war between our flesh and the Spirit of God in us. We must allow the Holy Spirit to lead us. If we do, we will walk in love and bear fruit. Instead of being bound to living under rules and regulations ̶ the law, we fulfill the law as we walk in the freedom the Spirit gives.
Today we can find ourselves trapped in the snare of legalism and moralism. As a result, we become prideful, judgmental and loveless. Or we mistake the freedom from the law as a means to continue in sin. The end result is a burdensome, false Christianity that does not result in love, but rather a ladder to holiness that can never reach the top. Where is the freedom in that? How do we walk in the Spirit? We spend time praying, meditating on His word, committing it to memory and in fellowship with other believers. If I awake in the morning full of worry, I can choose to take on the day with that worry or I can turn to God’s word in Philippians 4:6-7. I can also write down the promises I find in His word so that I am ready to combat my flesh. This allows the Spirit to lead in my life and it builds my faith. If we constantly allow the Spirit to lead us, we will be full of love, bearing fruit and winning the war against the flesh, not by our actions, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.