One minute Paul says anyone who tries to earn their way to heaven by obeying the law will die. An then he goes on to say don't obey the desires of your sinful nature. OK, I'm confused. Do we put "faith" in Jesus, or do we "work" on trying to stop sinning? Which one?

Galatians 2:16: ". . . by the works of the law no one will be justified" (NLT).

Galatians 5:18: ". . . but when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses" (NLT).


Galatians 5:19-21: ". . . when you follow the results of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immortality, impurity, lustful pleasure, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God" (NLT).

Its like he tells us it's impossible to obey the law because we are sinners through and through. Therefore put faith in Christ who died for those sins and love one another. But then, he says don't sin, or you won't inherit the kingdom of God. I'm confused.

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    I think the question title is badly formed. It is far too broad. Now, the question description tells me that you are really looking for an interpretation of Galatians 2:16 and 5:19. In that case, you may want to narrow your scope to a denomination. – Double U Apr 6 '14 at 20:14

Colossians 1;17 And he is before all things and by him all things consist.

We are a most feeble lot on our own, with Christ nothing is impossible.

2 Corinthians 4;7,11,16

7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

11 For we which live are alway, delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

16 For which cause we faint not; but through our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.


Since there are really two questions here, let me address them separately.

Do we put "Faith" in Jesus,


One thing to remember is that in the book of Galatians, Paul is primarily responding to those who are trying to take the basic Gospel: believe in Christ and repent of your sins, and add circumcision as a requirement for salvation.

Because Paul is responding to those adding circumcision as a gospel requirement, he is working to demonstrate that we cannot be saved by law keeping. In doing so, he points out that the law, rather than being the way we are saved, is instead a pointer to Jesus, who is the One who saves us (Galatians 3:24 -- then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.)

or do we "Work" on trying to stop sinning?

Well, yes and no. No in the sense that we don't try and "stop sinning" in order to be saved, for that ultimately leads to us trusting in our own work and law keeping rather than Christ. Our calling is to trust Christ and know that as He indwells us, we should see His power killing the sin in our own lives and making us more like Him.

To summarize one of Paul's points throughout his letters: the power of the gospel is that it frees us from the dominion of sin. In turn, the gospel makes us slaves of righteousness, and as such, we are being conformed to the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit. (Quick references: Romans 6:1-23, 8:28-30, Galatians 5:22-24) The use of the law in this respect is that it shows us what righteousness looks like in day to day lives, and so we have a guide to show us what that conforming will look like (or for those familiar with the terminology, the 3rd use of the law).

In this sense, the Christian can make use of the law, not as the basis by which he justifies himself, but as a lens to see the perfect work of Christ more clearly.


I would answer your question/questions this way. The book is framed by Paul by basically asking the question who is going to lead us? The Spirit through Christ, or the Law through flesh? It is one or the other, they are mutually exclusive (Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.) and operate by different paradigms.

It is key to view your question through more of the passage than just a few verses. He says:

Galatians 5:16-26 "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that you would. But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law."

Notice the contrasts mentioned. Spirit verses flesh. Spirit verse Law. Now he gives a general overview of what flesh, if left to its own devices, goes for:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envying's, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

It's not like we have no standards at all, we have moved from law to the giver of the law, Christ himself. Not a lesser standard, but a different one.

But he doesn't stop there. He is using that as a furtherance of his argument of flesh/law verses Spirit/Christ for dominion. He goes on to contrast that list with the other one when he says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is **love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: *against such there is no law*.**

So, here Spirit fruit is contrasted with law again. Then he gets to his point, he says:

And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

It is a done deal, flesh/law is done, now we are under Christ/Spirit leading...so we should walk like it.

The point is, those who do those horrible things will not go to heaven because the assumption is that those people who do those things are still in the flesh following after the Law rather than being in the Spirit following after Christ ("Romans 8:9:But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."). The book is set up to deal with the idea of a Christian going back under the law after coming to Christ.


Galatians is an interesting letter. Jesus warned his disciples about the "leaven" of the Pharisees. This letter is written to Christians who are just starting to go down this road. Christians who work hard to not sin are in danger of the same sort of spiritual blindness that the Pharisees had due to self-righteousness.

The question should not be "do we do it all or do we do nothing". The question is, "what does God want us to do". The answer is that truth brings us to humility and through humility God is able to give us more grace. Our "work" is not so much doing good, as it is drawing nearer to our Savior so that his work can be done through us.

James 4:6-10 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

A continual cry to do and be "good" often ignores the plight of many Christians who are entangled in the flesh and the world. Often such brow beating only amplifies the frustration of trying to live the Christian life by the power of the flesh.

There are not many Christian teachers who can point the way towards walking by the Spirit which is the only way to live the Christian life.

Galatians 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.


Your words: "Its like he tells us it's impossible to obey the law because we are sinners through and through. Therefore put faith in Christ who died for those sins and love one another. But then, he says don't sin, or you won't inherit the kingdom of God. I'm confused."

Your implied either/or, above, needs to become a both/and, since both statements individually are true. They are not in opposition, however. It's a matter of kiwi and kumquat. Let me explain.

Perhaps by distinguishing between our spiritual standing in Christ and our spiritual state in Christ would help to clear things up.

STANDING and STATE: After Christ and Before Christ (AC versus BC)

  • Standing: our position in Christ. Once a person is in Christ, s/he becomes the righteousness of God in Christ. Think of our standing as a legal or judicial construct in which God as our judge declares us not guilty. Better yet, since we are already prisoners chained to sin, God as our judge pardons us. Our standing before the judge, then, is transformed from being condemned to being not condemned.

    Even better yet, as defendants who have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt to be guilty of a capital crime, we are awaiting execution. The judge steps in, however, and pardons us, at which time we are released from prison and are allowed to live out our lives without being imprisoned again for the same crime. (Here is where the analogy breaks down, however, in that if after being pardoned we are accused of committing another crime--even a capital offense, we still face imprisonment if found guilty. If you detect the old bugaboo of eternal security versus eternal insecurity, you're very perceptive!)

    Once we are in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17), we cannot be un-pardoned. If we could, that would mean God can somehow go back on his word and undo a promise he made about his gift of eternal life in Christ. God's gifts do not come with strings attached. Out of gratitude for the enormity of his gift, however, we are eternally indebted to God for his gift. Since there was no way we could earn his favor, we express our gratitude in the way we live our lives, working out our own salvation If a person who claims to be one of Christ's bears no lasting fruit, however (and there are various kinds of fruit bearing), then perhaps s/he was never one of Christ's. That is not for us to speculate, however, since

    "The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 'The Lord [, only,] knows those who are His' . . ." (2 Timothy 2:19a NASB Updated).

    Rather than speculating on who is saved and who is not saved, we are better off taking heed to ourselves and our own progress in Christ:

    "'Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness'" (ibid., v.19b).

    Of course, the leadership within a local church is to be on guard both for false teachers who are not of Christ and true believers who may be caught in a trespass (see Galatians 6:1). The former are to be exposed, refuted, and silenced (see Titus 1:9 ff.). The latter are to be restored by spiritual persons within the local fellowship in a spirit of gentleness and humility (Galatians 6:1).

On the other hand, there is our spiritual state as we walk with the Lord.

  • State: our day-to-day walk with Christ, once we are in Christ. Our state can vary from day to day, hour to hour, and sometimes even minute to minute. We are still capable of slipping back into our old way of life, which Paul (in particular) calls "walking in the flesh."

    ". . . so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:4 NAS).

    Think of walking along an unpaved road or path. If you're not careful, you might just stumble on an uneven patch or trip on the exposed part of a rock buried beneath the path. Well, the Christian life is a journey along a path that leads to life. There are many hindrances on the way, however, which is why the apostle John tells us not to deceive ourselves by thinking we can reach a point in our journey when we become incapable of stumbling into or being tripped up by sin. The good news is that through confession of sin we can be cleansed, get back up, dust ourselves off, and continue on our journey (1 John 1:8-10).

Is our standing in jeopardy when we slip into sin? No. Is our state in jeopardy? Yes. Think of our standing as our acceptance in Christ. Once we are in Christ we needn't worry about reverting to our unregenerate standing before a holy God. This is because God has imputed (again, a legal term) Christ's righteousness to us because at the cross our sin was imputed to Christ--a double imputation, if you will.

Think of our state as our day-to-day fellowship with Christ. Since we will (and God expects us to) battle with the flesh all our lives, we will at times allow the flesh, that anti-God proclivity within us, to master us. The challenge is to master the flesh with Christ's enabling and his Spirit's empowering. Even though the flesh sometimes masters us, as we grow and mature in Christ we should detect, in looking back, how far we've come. We should see a definite upward pattern, which means we are progressing in the ongoing process of sanctification. Sanctification is not the same as our initial salvation; it is, rather, the practical outworking of our salvation.

"Work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).

In conclusion, your question, to me, seems to conflate our standing in Christ and the state of our walk with Christ. The former becomes a reality when we trust Christ for our salvation. Like Abraham of old, we believe (trust in, put our confidence in, exercise faith in) God, and God counts our belief as righteousness.

The latter, which follows our conversion (or regeneration), is a reality which has its ups and downs. Neither our standing nor our state can be accomplished in our own strength. By pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, so to speak, we are able neither to save ourselves nor to live a victorious Christian life. God's gift of saving faith is just that: a gift, and we receive it by faith. God's gift of victory in Christ is just that: a gift, and we appropriate that gift by believing that our God-enabled efforts will be rewarded one day at the Judgment Seat of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:10 and 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

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