Galatians 5:19–21 is not an exhaustive listing of the works of the flesh, and verses 22–23 are likewise selective. Passages like 2 Peter 1:5–7 give spiritual fruits not found in Galatians; thus, we need to study all of Scripture in order to get a full record of the traits that define those who live by the Spirit.
Those who have crucified the flesh (the remnant of opposition to God within) walk in the Spirit and bear His fruit. In fact, all who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh, Paul reminds us (Gal. 5:24), but the Greek verb here tells us this crucifixion is both a past event and a lifelong effort. James Montgomery Boice’s comments on Galatians in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary illustrate how this can be the case (vol. 10, pp. 499–500). True, Jesus defeated evil at Calvary, ending sin and death’s dominion. Yet just as a man nailed to a tree can live for days, gasping for breath despite being as good as dead, so too can our lingering sin rear its ugly head at times. On these occasions we must nail the flesh back to the cross, as it were, refusing to yield to temptation. Martin Luther writes, “The faithful…so long as they live here crucify the flesh; that is to say, they feel the lusts thereof, but they obey them not.”
Luther adds that walking according to the Spirit is being armed with God’s Word, faith, prayer, and the sacraments that we might not yield to the flesh. Moreover, cultivating a humble attitude is also essential to walking by the Spirit, as today’s passage indicates (vv. 25–26). Meekness and humility — not viewing oneself more highly than one ought and the refusal to boast in one own’s abilities or be jealous of others — has always marked those in whom the Spirit dwells (Num. 12:3, 17). Furthermore, these characteristics remain among those the world finds least desirable. Politicians are too proud to admit their mistakes, philanthropists boast in their generosity, but Christians must exemplify humility, not envying others and repenting toward the Almighty and one another when they sin. Indeed, a life of repentance and faith evidences the leading of the Holy Spirit, for those who are humble before the Lord are those to whom He gives the grace of salvation (1 Peter 5:5) and, consequently, the gift of His Spirit (Gal. 3:2).