“The desires controlled by sin do not want what the Spirit delights in. And the Spirit does not want what the desires controlled by sin delight in. The two are at war with each other. That’s why you are not supposed to do whatever you want.” Galatians 5:17
I function better with clear expectations. My children also thrive when they know exactly what I am asking them to do. Of course, for all of us, this doesn’t mean execution is perfect, but self-control and correction thrive when we understand what someone defines as helpful, successful, or obedient. This doesn’t say that we always all have the same boundaries, but many are.
Before reflecting specifically on one verse in Galatians, it’s important to know the context of this book in the New Testament. Paul is writing to a young church in Galatia. Chapter 5 begins with a reminder that freedom is an option. Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
NT Gateway.com provides this clear summary:
“Paul’s letter to the Galatians is concerned with whether the Christians of Galatia are right to be circumcised and obey the Jewish law. The letter begins with a greeting (Galatians 1:1-5), which notably lacks his usual thanksgiving for the letter’s recipients. In Galatians 1:6-2:21, Paul briefly refers to the situation in Galatia, and gives an account of his “conversion” (or, better, “call”) and his confrontation with Peter over whether Jews should eat with Gentiles. In Galatians 3:1-5:12 he proceeds to the main issue, the question of whether Gentiles should obey the Jewish law, especially by being circumcised. In Galatians 5:13-6:18 he provides ethical guidance to the Galatian churches, and a concluding blessing.”
As new believers, the Galatians were being given conflicting boundaries to live within. Peter and Paul were teaching them about the same Jesus, the same God, but their views in the details varied. This is the beginnings of denominations within modern day protestant churches. And it leaves believers just as confused today as it did back then.
One of the most challenging things we need to do as Christians is to discern whether we are hearing God establish an individual, personal boundary or if we the conviction God has laid on our hearts is for all those who call Jesus Lord and Savior.
Desires controlled by sin vs. What the Spirit delights in.
Paul reminds us all that delight is situational. God delights in that which brings him glory. Humility, obedience, faith. God does not delight in sin. In this passage specifically, Paul seems to point the Galatians back to the beginning of God establishing boundaries.
The Ten Commandments establishes boundaries that go against flesh desires. For the first time, the Israelites were given specific words to reflect the moral conscience God created us all with.
Paul pulls back the layers of sin in Galatians 5:17 and offers a narrow focus amongst the arguments of circumcision and sacrificial food. Personal conviction is God’s way of calling us to live within boundaries for us. We may never fully understand why one person can have an occasional glass of wine even though God has made it clear we are to personally abstain. But overarching boundaries still exist.
The Ten Commandments establish what the Spirit delights in as well as that which are desires controlled by sin. Murder, stealing, adultery those seem pretty straightforward, pretty black and white. But the first command, You Shall Have No Other gods Before Me, well, that’s a personal command. Our “gods” will vary individually because we will have different temptations.
When it comes down to it, we aren’t supposed to do whatever we want, we need to strive to do that which delights God because when we are delighting God, we are not sinning.