How does a Christian keep away from sin and grow in Christ? I place those two statements together because they are married – they belong together as simultaneous actions. In Galatians 5:16-26 Paul gives the answer to both. He begins by saying we should, “Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (v. 16). If the Christian’s life (their thoughts, words, actions, desires, etc.) are in step with that of the Holy Spirit (by obeying Scripture, spending time listening to the Lord, praying, worshiping, etc.) then they will not long for, crave, or desire sin. Simply put a desire for God purges out a desire for the things of this world and sin. Paul clearly states in verse 17 that the sinful nature of a man desires the exact opposite (what is contrary) of what the Spirit wants for that man. This is like a spiritual tug of war on the Christian man. He wants to do right but sinful desire is pulling on him. But Jesus defeated sin. That’s why it is so important to be led by the Spirit (v. 18). The Holy Spirit counsels (John 15:26), teaches (John14:26), convicts of sin (John 16:8), leads (Romans 8:14), reveals truth (John 16:3), strengthens and encourages (Acts 9:31), comforts (John 14:16), helps and intercedes (Romans 8:26), searches (1 Corinthians 2:11), and much more. Aren’t you glad we have the Person of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers to lead us into all truth (John 16:13) and away from sinful desire? The verb tense in Galatians 5:18 literally tells us, “If we are continually led by the Spirit” implying the constant need of the Spirit’s activity and work in our lives. We are utterly dependent upon the ongoing presence, power, and provision from the Holy Spirit.
Paul lists the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-20 and contrasts them with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: 22-23. Interestingly, Paul changes from using the word “works” of the flesh to “fruit” of the Spirit I think to note the growth and abundance (fruit) one has in the Lord verses the devastation of sin at work in our lives. He makes the two lists in explanation of the conflict in verse 17 and to emphasize the command in verses 13-15. Paul liked lists. These were not exhaustive lists of sins or manifestations of the Spirit’s activity in one’s life. Paul’s point was certain things had no place in the life of Christians and certain things should be manifest. Notice the huge difference in the lists (and the person who claims Christ). The acts or works of sinful nature are obvious (clearly seen, undisputed, recognizable) – sexual sins like prostitution, lust, homosexuality, adultery, fornication; moral impurity; debauchery, which is excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures like drunkenness, drugs, etc.; worship of idols (anything you place before God); hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like (or anything like these in this list). The end of verse 21 is meant as a strong yet loving warning from Paul, “All those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” He had warned the Christians of these lifestyles before. He boldly says those who habitually practice, not occasionally commit (which also is sinful), these lifestyle sins emphatically is not in the Kingdom of God and should not think they would inherit it either. Their lifestyle now as Christians should be that of Christ. They are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 is one we all desire and possess as we walk in the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. You can have these as believers in Christ as they are not optional or only for selected Christians. They are the fruit of a life lived in Christ. Christians should live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit (v. 25). This means obeying, listening, and following the voice of the Holy Spirit. The fruits are His as they are named fruits of the Spirit. But He will give them to His followers as we crucify the flesh (v. 24). And in our gain of these fruits it drives out conceit, strife, and envy in the body of Christ (v. 26). I encourage you to submit yourself to the Lord and His Spirit and find the life that truly is life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).