In the following Excerpts from Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, Gordon Fee addresses
various aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Christian life. The topics of ethics,
walking in the Spirit, the Fruit of the Spirit, and the Spirit against the Flesh do not say
everything that is to be said about the subject. But these topics do represent cornerstones
from which each student discovers, lives out, and ministers the Spirit-driven Christian life.
Salvation has to do with both getting in and staying in. To get saved means to be joined to
the people of God by the Spirit; and to be saved means to live the life of the saved person.
We are brought to life by the Spirit so as to live the life of heaven on earth, also by the
Spirit—walking in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, sowing to the Spirit. The Spirit who
implants the faith by which we believe (2 Cor 4:13) is the same Spirit whose fruit in our lives
includes faith (Gal 5:22), meaning now “faithful walking in God’s ways.” Merely optional
righteousness is unthinkable (Fee 1996, 97-98).
Two issues, therefore, confront us…First, that Christian ethics is not primarily an
individualistic, one-on-one-with-God brand of personal holiness; rather it has to do with
living the life of the Spirit in Christian community and in the world. As with getting in, Paul’s
accent here falls heavily on the community. His concern is with the local church as the
people of God in their city. Hence most of his instructions to them are in the second person
plural, with the whole church in mind. But these instructions are expressed in such a way
that they are experienced and obeyed at the individual level. For example, the command to
remain filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 is addressed to a community setting in which
believers teach one another with various kinds of songs….
The second issue is that ethics has to do with life in the Spirit, not life disguised as such
though really a continuation of life under law. In saving us through Christ and the Spirit, God
has created an eschatological people, who live the life of the future in the present, a life
reflecting the character of the God who became present first in Christ and then by his Spirit.
As the renewed presence of God, the Spirit, having given life to his people, now leads them
in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Fee 1996, 99).
….the new covenant, by means of the life-giving Spirit, is written on “tablets of human
hearts” (2 Cor 3:3); its rite of “circumcision” is by the Spirit and “of the heart” (Rom 2:29).
The gospel and its ministry are accompanied by a much greater and more enduring glory,
the ministry of the Spirit himself (2 Cor 3:8). The new covenant is life-giving, because its
content, Christ, is administered by the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that we behold—and are
being transformed into—the glory of the Lord (2 Cor 3:4–18). The promised new covenant
has replaced the old, and the gift of the Spirit proves it.
Essential to this view of things is Paul’s understanding of the gift of the Spirit as fulfillment of
the new covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:31–34, which had come to be read in light of
Ezekiel 36:26–37:14. The reason for a new covenant was the failure of the old to produce a
truly meaningful righteousness, a righteousness coming from an obedient heart, rather than dutiful observances—as though God’s people could be identified by circumcision, the
observance of days, and food laws. The Old Testament itself is abundantly clear that God’s
intent with Torah was for his character to be revealed in the way his people worshipped and
lived, hence the crucial role to be played by the Spirit. The Spirit, promised as part of the
new covenant, would produce the righteousness the former covenant called for but failed to
produce. The Spirit has now been experienced by Jew and Gentile alike, and that quite apart
from Torah. Thus the Spirit, as the eschatological fulfillment of the promised new covenant,
plays a central role in Paul’s argumentation whenever Gentile inclusion, Torah-free, is the
issue (Fee 1996, 100-101).
Thus the Spirit is central in Paul’s ethics, first, because there is no such thing as salvation in
Christ that does not also include righteousness on the part of God’s people. They are not
saved by doing righteousness—that is unthinkable, since righteousness as behavior is the
product of the Spirit’s empowering, not a requirement of obedience in order to get in. But
for that very reason ethical life is also required, because both getting in and staying in are
the work of the Spirit, and Paul sees no division between the two.
Second, the Spirit is essential to Paul’s ethics because truly Christian ethics can only be by
the Spirit’s empowering. That is why Torah observance does not work; it may make people
“religious,” but it fails to make them truly “righteous,” in the sense of reproducing the
righteousness of God in their lives. Spirit people not only want to please God but are
empowered to do so. This is also why Spirit ethics starts with a renewed mind (Rom 12:1–2;
cf. Col 1:9; Eph 1:17), because only in this way may we determine what God’s will is and thus
be pleasing to him. The mind renewed by the Spirit leads us to understand that love must
rule over all; and only by such a renewed mind may we discover how best to love. There is a
time for speaking and a time for silence, a time for taking another’s load on oneself and a
time to refrain from that for the sake of the other’s growth. Only dependence on the Spirit
can enable us to know what is pleasing to God (Fee 1996, 104-105).
Walking in/by the Spirit
The central role of the Spirit is most clearly spelled out in Galatians 5:13–6:10, where with a
series of verbs modified by the phrase pneumati (“in/by the Spirit”), Paul urges the
Galatians to “make a completion” (3:3) by means of the same Spirit by whom they had been
converted. They are commanded to “walk in the Spirit,” and promised that those who so
walk “will not fulfill the desire of the flesh” (v. 16); such people are “led by the Spirit,”
attested by “the fruit of the Spirit” (vv. 22–23), and are not under Torah (vv. 18, 23). Since
they “live by the Spirit” (= have been brought to life by the life-giving Spirit), they must also
“behave in accordance with the Spirit” (v. 25). Finally, only those who “sow to the Spirit” in
this way “will reap the eternal life” that is also from the Spirit (6:8).
Two things are clear from this passage: that the Spirit is the key to ethical life, and that Paul
expects Spirit people to exhibit changed behavior. The first instruction, “walk by the Spirit,”
is the basic command in Paul’s ethics. The verb “to walk” was commonly used in Judaism to
refer to a person’s whole way of life. Paul adopted it as his most common verb for ethical
conduct (17 occurrences in all). All other commands proceed from this one. The primary form that such walking takes is “in love” (Eph 5:2; Gal 5:6), hence love is the first-mentioned “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22; cf. 5:14; Rom 13:8–10).
There are also some things that Spirit ethics is not in Paul’s letters. On the one hand, Spirit
ethics is not simply an ideal, to be achieved by those few who are truly “spiritual,” as over
against some who are still “carnal” or fleshly. The empowering of the Spirit belongs to all
alike. Paul would have as little patience with a view that allows for people to be “justified
sinners” without appropriate changes in attitudes and conduct….
On the other hand, Spirit ethics is neither ethical perfectionism (life without sin at all) nor
triumphalism (plastic smiles that convey perpetual victory in all circumstances). Life in the
Spirit is ethical realism, life lived in the already/not yet by the power of the Spirit. If
someone is overtaken in a trespass, the rest of God’s Spirit people restore that person
through the Spiritual fruit of gentleness (Gal 6:1–2). One who has brought grief to Paul and
the community by his opposition to Paul is to be forgiven and thus restored (2 Cor 2:5–11)
The key for Paul lay with the Spirit as a dynamically experienced reality in the life of both
believers (Gal 3:2, 4) and community (3:5). Paul’s expectation level was high on this
matter because for him and his churches the Spirit was not simply believed in but was
experienced in tangible, visible ways. If our experience of the Spirit lies at a lower level, we
must resist the temptation to remake Paul into our image and thereby find comfort in a Paul
that did not exist. Paul’s answer was “walk in/by the Spirit,” and he assumed that such a
walk was available to those who had already “experienced so many things” of the Spirit (Gal
5:4). He does not tell us how to do that because such a dynamic life in the Spirit was
presumed by him (Fee 1996, 106-108).
For Paul, “holiness,” that is, walking by means of the Holy Spirit, has two aspects. On the
one hand, it means abstaining from some sins—absolutely. Since in Christ believers have
died to both sin (the flesh) and the law, they are to serve God “in the newness of the Spirit”
(Rom 7:6). They must put to death the former way of life (Rom 6:1–18; 8:12–13; Col 3:5–11),
portrayed in Galatians 5:19–21 as “the works of the flesh,” which refers to life before and
outside Christ. Such a life is no longer an option for the new people of God, who indeed
have become a people by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. Paul, therefore, understands
“putting to death” the works of the flesh as the empowering work of the Spirit (Rom
On the other hand, “holiness” also (especially) means the Holy Spirit living in believers,
reproducing the life of Christ within and among them, particularly in their communal
relationships. To do otherwise is to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph 4:30), who by his
presence has given them both unity and mutual growth. For this reason, Paul’s most
common language for the people of God is “the saints” (= God’s holy people). They live
differently in their relationships with one another, and are empowered to do so, because
they are Spirit people, whatever else they may be (Fee 1996, 111).
-Compare and contrast Fee’s description of salvation with a typical description of salvation given
at an evangelistic altar call.
-Describe how the Holy Spirit makes godly living possible.
-How is living obediently by the Spirit different from living legalistically?
-Describe aspects of Paul’s word-picture “walking in the Spirit” that occur to you. Who is
walking? What does the path look like? With whom are we walking? What is the duration of the
– In what way does “walking in the Spirit” capture the essence of Christian life?
The Fruit of the Spirit
[S]ome general observations about the list of fruit in its context in Galatians might prove
Although Paul sets out the fruit of the Spirit in contrast to the preceding works of the flesh, he
does not thereby intend passiveness on the part of the believer. After all, ethical instruction
elsewhere comes by way of command, calling believers to active obedience. What we must not
disregard is the element of the miraculous. In Paul’s ethics we walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16) as we
are led by the Spirit (v. 18). The Spirit produces the fruit as believers continually walk with the
The essential nature of the fruit is the reproduction of the life of Christ in the believer….the
Spirit is in fact the Spirit of Christ. We are not surprised therefore that many of the words Paul
uses to describe this fruit are used elsewhere of Christ. In Ephesians 4:20 he speaks of ethical
life in terms of “learning Christ.” The fruit of the Spirit is simply another way of talking about our
being “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son” (Rom 8:29).
It is misleading to refer to this list as the ninefold fruit of the Spirit. The list is intended to be not
exhaustive but representative, just like the preceding list of vices in Galatians 5:19–21. Paul
concludes both lists by referring to “such things,” meaning all other vices and virtues similar to
these. All such lists, including the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 and of charismata
(“gifts of the Spirit”) in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, are written for the occasion and tailored to their
contexts. In this case, they have been fashioned to address the conflict in the Galatian
congregations (see Gal 5:15 and 26). This also means that a full discussion of the fruit of the
Spirit would need to spread a wide net to include, for example, the further items mentioned in
Colossians 3:12–13 (compassion, humility, forgiveness) as well as specific applications like those
in Romans 12:9–21.
These fruit cover a broad range, including all manner of attitudes, virtues, and behavior. Every
aspect of Christian life, across the broadest possible spectrum, is the work of the Spirit. Fruit
include the experiences of joy and peace within the believing community; attitudes such as
gentleness, forbearance, and self-control; and behavior such as love, kindness, goodness, and all
others consonant with these.
To reiterate from chapter 9 above, this list of Spiritual fruit is not intended to regulate Christian
behavior by rules of conduct. Because truly Christian ethics are the product of walking and living
in the Spirit, there can be no law (Gal 5:23); nor may we turn Paul’s ethics into a new law. Rather
these fruit are pointers; here is what one who is being conformed into Christ’s image will look
To bring this discussion full circle, most of these items have to do not with the internal life of the
individual believer but with the corporate life of the community. While it is true that individuals
must love, work toward peace, express forbearance, kindness, and goodness, and be
characterized by gentleness, in Pauline ethics these virtues characterize God’s relationship
toward his people. The Spirit bears fruit in our individual lives for the same purpose, to be
toward one another the way God is toward us (Fee 1996, 114-115).
The Spirit Against the Flesh
The people of God, who walk according to the Spirit, live in bold contrast to flesh-walkers.
Their minds are set on the things of the Spirit (their minds have been renewed by the Spirit,
after all); in place of hostility to God, they live in peace; and instead of death, they know life.
That this is the conflict Paul describes is made certain in Romans 8:9, where he addresses his
Christian readers: “but you,” he says, “are not in the flesh [in the sense that the flesh-
walkers in vv. 7–8 are], but in the Spirit [a whole new way of existence], since indeed the
Spirit of God dwells in you.”
But Paul also recognizes that life in the Spirit is not just a stroll in the park. So in Romans
8:12–13 he applies all of vv. 1–11 to their lives, by reminding them that by the Spirit they
must continue to kill that to which they have already died (the already/not yet again). They
were formerly controlled by, and thus under obligation to, the flesh. Their new obligation is
to the Spirit, to walk in his ways, led by him (v. 14). Life in the Spirit is not passive; nor is
obedience automatic. We continue to live in the real world; we are, after all, both already
and not yet. Therefore, the imperative for the already is walk in/by the Spirit. That assumes
that we live in a world very much controlled by the flesh; but it also assumes that we now
live in that world as different people, led by the Spirit and empowered by the Spirit to
produce the fruit of righteousness, rather than to continue in the works of the flesh (Fee