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.
1 Cor 6,7 is equally appropriate. The same, I presume, applies to Gal 5,17d 28.
The content of a# in v. 17d remains general and vague, even if, as we believe, that content is positive. Moreover, the present tense of the verb in the subjunctive (a4 e0a\n) qe/lhte points to continuation in the future; by itself the verb qe/lw may have either a neutral or a negative or a positive direct object. All this is true. In Gal 5,17d, however, Paul speaks to the Galatians in the second person plural "what you want". One can, it would seem, correctly assume that as Christians they want and wish to do what is right, not "whatsoever they would".
This is confirmed by the parallel passage in Romans 7, even though here the "I" is not yet a Christian. There can be no doubt that in Rom 7,15.18.19 and 21 the "I" wants what is good and right: see a0gaqo/n (v. 19) and to\ kalo/n (v. 21). The "I" delights in the law of God (v. 22). With regard to evil (kako/n, v. 21) Paul explictly states that he does not want it: see ou0 qe/lw in vv. 16.19 and 20. Because of the presence of the relative pronoun taken up by the determinative pronoun (see also ga/r) Rom 7,19 is very instructive: ou0 ga\r o4 qe/lw poiw= a0gaqo/n, a0lla\ o4 ou0 qe/lw kako\n tou=to pra/ssw 29. Even the preconversion "I" only wants to do what is good 30. Earlier in Rom 7,15-16, the context fills the double indeterminate o# unequivocally with two opposing ideas: wanting what is good, not wanting what is wrong. The "I" wants only what is right.
What is then the flow of thought in Gal 5,16-18? After the commandment and the ensuing assurance of v. 16, the grounding clause of v. 17a emphasizes the fact that in their Christian existence, as long as they live in the body, the desires of the flesh remain dangerously active 31. Verse 17b then completes the one-sided picture of v. 17a: there is, of course, also the contrastive urging of the indwelling Spirit. In v. 17cd Paul adds: the opposition of flesh and Spirit is so strong that without a