Paul continues his assault on the theology of justification by works. He lays it bare by saying people trying to earn salvation are “under obligation to keep the whole Law.”
Said another way, say salvation is the top of a mountain, 3 times the size of the highest peak on Earth. God says, “To get there, you can either climb up yourself, without food, water, tools, or first aid — or you can take this free ride in my private jet with luxury accommodations. The free will choice is all yours.”
Yet there are teachers trying to convince these early Christians to pick the long, slow, doomed walk up the side of that hill. No wonder Paul is upset enough at them to suggest that they castrate themselves. He also warns of the dangers in letting sin and false doctrine in the door by using the leaven analogy. Just a little bit spreads throughout the bread and body of the Church.
So instead of complicating a believer’s life with a long set of rules, he simplifies things (and raises the bar even) by saying to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I love this approach because if you give people enough laws, they will find loopholes and justify their sinful actions. Give them a overarching goal that is both inspiring and unattainable? That will keep people focused on self-improvement forever.
I say it is unattainable because we are sinful humans made of flesh. But we have the Holy Spirit to help us get closer to that level of sanctification that God desires for us. The more we walk by the Spirit, the more we oppose the sinful flesh.
After Paul so accurately summarizes the Law with one sentence, he understands that people still need guideposts and reference points to show them the correct path. So instead of reverting back to laws, he gives examples of bad (deeds of the flesh) and good (fruits of the Spirit) behavior. Even the names are contrasted. Deeds are things you do. Fruits are a natural outflow occurring (because of the Spirit).
The two lists are intended to contrast each other and the items even line up to prove this point. (Table copied from here)
Deeds of the Flesh
Fruit of the Spirit
Outbursts of anger
|And things like these
Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God
|Against such there is no law
Heirs according to promise
The bottom line seems to be: Walk by your own merit, and you’ll fail miserably. Walk by the Spirit, and you cannot hope to fail, you will thrive regardless.