But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities , strife, jealousy , outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness , faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:18-25)
Desire is perplexing. On the one hand, if we don’t have something like desires animating us then we’re inert matter. It’s hard to believe that we’re motivated primarily by thought, which in turn creates emotions and intentions and the will to act. We are animals after all, and other animals seem to move themselves around in the world apparently without the benefit of consciousness. On the other hand, the New Testament seems antagonistic to desires, regarding them as the source of sinfulness. So what’s the Christian praxis for dealing with desires? Does the Spirit give you the strength to suppress desire, enabling you to live by thought or morality or some other higher motive force? Does the Spirit redeem desire, removing its corruption and restoring it to its natural and good function? Or does the Spirit replace desire with some other motive force?
So far in Galatians 4-5 Paul has been contending that the Law as a list of dos and don’ts was meant to function as a kind of nursemaid. But it’s essentially a slave morality, an outside force that restricts freedom. When Christ sets people free then the Law becomes pointless. Paul even contends that the Law is counterproductive, instilling an awareness of what isn’t permitted which stimulates the desire to do the forbidden thing.
Paul frequently contrasts faith with works, where “work” (ergon in Greek) means effort expended for the purpose of making oneself morally good. Paul regards these efforts at self-sanctification not only as useless but as contrary to the Gospel. Here in Galatians 5, though, “deeds” (ergon) refer to recognizably sinful acts: immorality, impurity, sensuality, etc. If these are the things people do when they’re out of control, then why does Paul call them “works”? I think Paul is saying that, within the slave morality of the Law, moral and immoral acts are equally unnatural and non-spontaneous. The Law simultaneously stimulates the desire to self-justify and the desire to transgress. The resulting sense of conflict and futility makes everything an effort. It’s the life of a slave.
But, says Paul, this futility isn’t necessary. Christ set the Galatians free; they’re no longer slaves but heirs. In Dostoevsky’s famous novel Ivan Karamazov concludes that if God is dead then everything is permitted, that all things are lawful. Curiously, Paul contends that just the opposite is true: if the Spirit sets you free then all things are lawful (I Corinthians 10:23). Has the Spirit put God to death? No, but the Spirit did put to death the slave morality of law-desire-transgression that had come to be identified with God
So now you have a free people, heirs with Christ of the Kingdom. What moves them? The Spirit, says Paul. So again, does the Spirit renew the desires and passions, freeing them from their enslavement to the futile moral economy of the Law? Is the Spirit an alternative means of controlling the inner animal passions, replacing the outer Law with an inner restraint?
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Based on this statement it sounds as though the Spirit kills off the animal wants and passions, replacing them with a different “engine.” And that engine is the Spirit, God Himself. Whatever once motivated the person to feel and to act and to decide is now gone, replaced by an outside force that takes possession of both body and soul. And this is freedom? Sure, it’s easy to do the right things now: goodness just happens, like fruit growing on a tree. Still, it sounds more like complete slavery to me, like the Borg, the pod people, zombies, the undead. No thanks. I think I’ll stick with Ivan Karamazov’s path to freedom.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll see if Paul is able to redeem himself and his version of freedom in chapter 6.