Jan Lambrecht, «The Right Things You Want to Do. A Note on Galatians 5,17d», Vol. 79 (1998) 515-524
We can assume that the Spirit-filled Christians in Galatia want to do the right things. To be sure, they are in need of admonition and exhortation. In a realistic way Paul reminds them of their somewhat fragile condition. He points to the eschatological tension between the "already" and the "not yet", between the indicative and the imperative. They are still in the body, yet they live in this world. Some of these Gentile Christians are attracted to the "works of the law". But, as Paul has been arguing at great length in this letter, that is not a solution. On the contrary, the Spirit alone constitutes the really "empowering presence". Therefore, "if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (v. 25). It would seem that Gal 5,17, properly understood, fits very well into this context of admonition.
included, too, fleshly tendencies and spiritual aspirations are continually in conflict 9. A difficulty with this proposal is that it assumes a change from Gods Spirit as described in 4,6 (and probably also in 5,16.18.22 and 25) to the human spirit in 5,17, although, of course, the presence of the Spirit in us cannot but transform our spirit 10.
b. Fleshly Desires
A number of interpreters prefer to take the expression "whatever you would" as pointing to the evil desires of the flesh: even Christians are tempted over and over again; even they may want to follow the cravings of the flesh. Paul does not repeat the verb e0piqumei= in v. 17b. This verb, it is argued, should not be supplied since in v. 17a it is used in a negative sense ("to lust"). As in Rom 7,7-8 it most probably refers to fleshly sinful "covetousness" 11. The presence of Spirit in the Christians strongly opposes the flesh. This opposing drive frustrates those fleshly desires on the condition, of course, that one "walks by the Spirit" or "is guided by the Spirit": see vv. 16 and 18 12. It must be recognized that this understanding does fit the context of 5,13-24. In v. 17 itself, however, there is nothing which indicates the victorious action of the Spirit. The verb e0piqume/w of v. 17a is mentally supplied almost spontaneously in v. 17b 13 and, therefore, in both clauses its meaning is most probably neutral ("to desire"). Moreover, it would be rather strange that what the Galatian Christians want is always evil and wrong. Are we, therefore, left with the mutual opposition of flesh and Spirit as defended in the first proposal? The answer is: not necessarily.
c. Spirit-Inspired Wishes
Some commentators take the expression "whatever you would" the other way round: it perhaps refers to the good desires, to the urging of the Spirit. In their view Paul can hardly assume that, with its opposite desires, the flesh makes the activity of the Spirit unsuccessful since the immediate context militates against such an understanding. The repeated exhortations force us to suppose that a life guided by the Spirit must and can be lived in a Christian community 14. But then the question should