Galatians 5:16-17 starts out:
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.Ok, I get that. Spirit good, flesh bad. The flesh is why we do bad things even though we love Christ and want to serve Him. All right.
Then verse 18 comes in and drops some knowledge:
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.Here is one of those tricky concepts I have trouble grasping. The law makes sin known. If we break the law, we are sinning. Now the Spirit guides us to do good and follow Christ, which fulfills the law. Yet, though we FULFILL the law, we are not UNDER the law. What's the distinction?
And here's the part where I learned something new:
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery,[c] fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders,[d] drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
The key is that these are the WORKS of the flesh and the FRUIT of the Spirit. These aren't things to strive for or against. These are the products of our walk: a walk in the Spirit or a walk in the flesh. No one tries to create the perfect apple directly. They tend the tree as best as they can, and the result reflects it.
So, instead of striving to create these fruits--instead of trying to uphold the law--I must tend my relationship with God. I must strive to be with Him, or more appropriately, I must strive to be open and receptive to His efforts to be with me. Those verses about how God is the Vine and we are the branches make a lot more sense in this light.
This is probably an obvious point to a lot of people, but for someone like me who is a big fan of rules and regulations and knowing which side of the fence he's on, it's difficult to admit that I can't follow the law and that I can't be good. Not on my own. It's a fruit of a healthy relationship with God. And that is something with which I have trouble. But I can keep trying!