Do you struggle with something that you wish you could be rid of? All of us do. We have our own special forms of behavior that don’t help us but hurt us. The other day I was reading Galatians and this line stopped me cold: “This is what I mean, walk by the Spirit and there is no likelihood of carrying out the craving of the flesh.” (5:16). *
That’s the answer to all our bad behaviors: Walk by the Spirit. St. Paul doesn’t tell us to sign up for a self-improvement course or to develop our own program of action. Those things may help, and by all means go for them if you so desire. But the way we can change and grow spiritually is to walk by the Spirit. If we do, we simply are not going to carry out the craving of the flesh.
In other words, the Holy Spirit is the source of grace and strength. The Spirit acts in us and as St. Paul will soon add, we need to let ourselves be led by the Spirit and to live in the Spirit. Of course this is not to deny our free will or that we need to cooperate with grace. But instead of thinking it’s all up to us, we have the Holy Spirit to help us.
Paul then goes on to contrast the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. He lists 15 works of the flesh. For Paul, the flesh (sarx in Greek) is unredeemed humanity, that is, humanity without Christ. The “works of the flesh” include sexual immorality but go far beyond that. In fact, Paul only mentions three sexual sins (fornication, immorality, sensuality). Most of the other sins have to do with offenses against the community, like anger, jealousy, hostility, strife, selfish ambitions, etc.
But then he mentions the fruit of the Spirit, manifested in nine ways: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.
If we focus on those things we can go a long way on our walk in the Spirit. Next Friday (May 15) the novena for Pentecost begins. I hope to post something each day on the nine ways we can show forth the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, along with a prayer. On Pentecost may each one of us receive a more abundant outpouring of grace and the Holy Spirit!
*The translation is from Frank Matera’s commentary on Galatians in the Sacra Pagina series published by Liturgical Press. It’s a great commentary.