Those who belong to Christ live a new life and are guided by the Spirit to produce the Spirit’s fruit of love in service of one another.
If the opening verses of Galatians 5 call Christians to a new glimpse of freedom in loving service to the neighbor, these verses are an answer to the question “How can these things be?” A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church says, “Live by the Spirit.” These words bracket verses 16-25 as both exhortation and indicative promise. As such, they speak of Paul’s bold assertion that, by the power of the Spirit, the new life of the Christian is not just some future possibility but a present reality; it is founded and confirmed in the Spirit’s continuing present guidance. Negatively, being led by the Spirit means no longer to be under the law (5:18; see also 3:25). Positively, it promises the very practical gifts for the restoration and sustaining of community that constitute the “fruit” of the Spirit (5:22-23). In a poetic listing shaped by concerns for symmetry and number, Paul lists nine virtues (nine being a symmetrical, square number) empowered by this singular “fruit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The list is followed immediately by cryptic reminders of the contrast between life under the law and life in Christ: “There is no law against such things” (verse 23) and “those who belong to Christ Jesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity have crucified the flesh” (verse 24). In the following verses (Galatians 5:26-6:10), Paul further sketches what this life in the Spirit might look like in the nitty-gritty realities of “bear[ing] one another’s burdens” in community.