Walk By the Spirit
Topic: Life in the Spirit Passage: Galatians 5:15–5:26
I pray that God will enable me to speak in such a way this morning that will enable you to have a greater experience of walking in the Spirit.
The message of these verses is: The Spirit is greater than the flesh! And the Spirit is greater than (or superior to) the law. These are amazing truths, so amazing that many people do not really believe them to be true, at least, for them. BUT, through the Spirit, you CAN walk free from the desires of YOUR flesh! The Spirit is more powerful than your flesh! Kennneth Wuest said, (We don’t walk after the flesh, or in the way of the law.) “The way we walk is like “a highway above them. It is a highway of freedom from statutes AND from the sinful nature, a highway which is a faith way, a dependence upon the Spirit”.
We all experience desires or impulses to do, or say something that is evil, unloving, or ungodly. Ruth Graham was once asked if she had ever thought of divorcing her husband, Billy. She said, “I’ve never thought of divorce but I have thought of murder”. We stopped at HyVee after church on a Wednesday night and Cindy asked me to pick up some all natural peanut butter while she went and got some other things. I got the peanut butter and then tried to find Cindy. I was tired and wanted to get home. For 30 minutes I looked up and down every aisle and couldn’t find her. I got more and more impatient, and when I finally saw Cindy, I had the impulse to throw the peanut butter jar at her!
I did not do it, because I was in HyVee and because the Spirit led me to better responses. But the point is we have thoughts, impulses, desires to do things that are ungodly and unloving. So how can we be given freedom in Christ?
If we gave people complete freedom in our society, that wouldn’t work. People do bad things. If there were no laws, people would drive 120 miles an hour, they wouldn’t pay taxes, they would cheat, steal, take advantage of their neighbor. Just look at what happens when law enforcement breaks down in the aftermath of a hurricane!
So how in the world can Christian freedom work? Won’t Christians hurt other people, and dishonor God? Maybe the church should lock people down under the law, and keep people under control! Maybe we shouldn’t even proclaim a message of freedom at all, and hope no one reads books like Galatians or Colossians or Hebrews.
Because there IS a problem with Christian freedom; it’s called the flesh, or the desires of the flesh. It is sinful desires or lusts. It is the desires of our old nature, desires that CAN STILL be inflamed and given into.
There is not one of us, no matter how much we love Jesus, or have been filled with the Spirit, who does not understand that at times we can be pulled to think, or act in a way that is completely contrary to the things of the Spirit. So, in verse 13 Paul sees the need to say, “You, brothers, were CALLED TO FREEDOM…..Only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity to gratify YOUR FLESH, but through love, serve one another”.
Prior to this verse, everything Paul has said in this letter, is all pro-freedom. Now we have the first warning about something that COULD be an abuse of this freedom. It is the flesh.
We are given more big clues right here about what the flesh is. It is self indulgent. It is NOT love, it is NOT serving others, it is thinking about ourselves and indulging our own passions, and desires without considering the interests and needs of others. It is that impulse that think how can I satisfy myself, instead of... “How can I bless those around me”.
So Paul tells us the flesh needs to be dealt with, so that freedom can be used to love one another.
Now, beginning in verse 16 Paul gives the antidote to the flesh. He tells us HOW Christian freedom can work in imperfect people like us. “So I say, live by the Spirit and you will never fulfill the desires of the flesh”. Or “you will NOT fulfill the desires of the flesh”. Wuest translation: “But I say, through the instrumentality of the Spirit habitually order your manner of life, and you will in no wise execute the passionate desire of the flesh.” This is a great truth!!! Highlight that verse! This is the answer you have been looking for!!There is a way to live in victory over the flesh!! The key to the problem of the flesh is the Holy Spirit. It is by walking by the Spirit, that the sinful and self-centered passions of the flesh are overcome.
The biggest issue for many of us here this morning may be, “Do you believe this?”. When the Israeli spies went into the land promised to them, they saw the giants there and 10 of them said, “We cannot defeat these guys! They are two big for us. We felt like grasshoppers in their sight!” But Joshua and Caleb said, “Do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them and the Lord is with us, do not fear them”.
Some people view the sins in their lives and in their past, as too big and powerful to overcome. Like the 10 spies, they say, I cannot have victory over these sins! They view their sins as overpowering them. But, like Joshua and Caleb, we are to say the LORD has dealt with our sins, and the Spirit is with us, let us go take the land. Let us go in and life the new life to the fullest, in the power of the Spirit!
To magnify our struggle with sin in a way that causes us to believe that sin has a stranglehold on us and we can never be free from it, is very much like the attitude of the 10 spies who looked at the promised land and said, we can’t do anything about these people, they are too big and strong for us.
We acknowledge the conflict is real! But to talk as if we just remain in this defeated state, doesn’t fit with Paul’s teaching here at all. Dan Duncan said, “It is a daily struggle, a mortal struggle, but the struggle is not a stalemate. The flesh, what we are by nature, is strong. But the Spirit, not the human spirit, but the Holy Spirit, is stronger and is prevailing”.
In order to live a God-pleasing life, people often want a set of steps or to-do lists, or check lists. Well here is really the ONE thing you need on your check-list. Keep in step with the Spirit. It is NOT by steps or lists or laws that we overcome the flesh but by the Spirit.
Colossians 2:20 “If you have died with Christ to the basic principles of the world, why are you submitting to its decrees as though you still lived in the world? ‘Don’t handle this! Don’t touch that!’ All these things will be destroyed because they are based on human commands and teachings. These things have the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion, humility and harsh treatment of the body, but they have no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”.
There are no rules, no matter how harshly you impose them upon yourself that can stop the flesh. Only the Spirit can stop the flesh. As you trust in the Spirit, as you yield to the Spirit, and you keep yourself in tune with the Spirit, the flesh cannot WIN! This is God’s answer to your problem with your tongue, to your problem with anger, to your problem with critical or judgmental thoughts, to problems with impure or unclean thoughts desires. The Spirit is God’s answer to your problem with despair and negative thinking and inability to get along with your spouse or others.
There is no law that can produce the kind of love and joy and peace and kindness that we are called to in Christ. Only a power or life that comes from the inside of you could do that. The Spirit is fully able to deal with your flesh!
Verse 17 “For (or because) what the flesh wants is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit wants is opposed to the flesh. They are opposed to each other and so you do not do what you want to do”. The flesh wants things that go against the Spirit. The Holy Spirit wants things that go against the flesh. If you don’t walk continually in the Spirit you will find yourself doing something that you really don’t want to do, saying things you really don’t want to say.
So… Be prepared for conflict. Your flesh WILL have desires, impulses, thoughts that oppose the Spirit. These may be different for each person. One person may feel the flesh pull toward sexual sin, another person may struggle with fear of the future, another person may experience the impulse toward anger or impatience. But we all experience this spiritual conflict between the flesh and the Spirit.
Being aware of evil desires or evil impulses is NOT in itself sin. There is not something wrong with you spiritually because you experience impulses that you know are evil.
Now, if we only had this one verse, we might think that we are just totally doomed to perpetually falling to the flesh. But, while it is always a fight, THIS IS NOT AN EQUAL FIGHT! The Spirit is greater than the flesh! Those who walk by the Spirit will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.
This faith is really important. If you believe in your heart that you are trapped by a sinful attitude or practice, then guess what? You will be bound by that thing as long as you live. IF you acknowledge the struggle is real, BUT you also believe by walking in the Spirit you can live in the qualities of the Spirit instead of the qualities of the flesh, then you are on you way to freedom.
AFTER reminding us that the Spirit and flesh are in conflict, he said in verse 18, “BUT if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”. You have the option to be led by the Spirit! You really do! To be led by the Spirit means he is already there, out front, leading. You choose him to be your guide in all you do. He teaches you and directs and empowers you, so by following his lead, you overcome the flesh.
I’m not teaching sinless perfection. We never fully arrive. BUT we do not have to live in a perpetual defeat! We can walk after the leading of the Spirit. And that is exactly what Paul says here!
“If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law”. You would think Paul would say but if you are led by the Spirit you will not be dominated by the flesh. But he already said that. So he adds “you are not under law”. If you are led by the Spirit you are free from both the flesh and the law.
Again the answer to the sinful desires of the flesh is NOT the law, but to be led by the Spirit. It’s not the Law that's our guide. It is the Holy Spirit!
He leads you in a way of living, that is completely different than being under the law or laws. A Spirit led person does not need to fret about keeping the law with all its rules and regulations. He produces his fruit in your life and as Paul says later, “against such things there is no law”. He leads you in a way of living, that cannot be condemned by the law, what law is there against joy, love and peace!
The Galatians were being seduced to go back into laws and traditions of Judaism, losing sight of the completed work of Christ to save, and the sufficiency of the Spirit of Christ to sanctify. Again and again Paul says, “That’s wrong!”. “If you let yourselves be circumcised (for some spiritual reason) Christ will be of no benefit to you!”. In Colossians 2 Paul said, “Let no one act as your judge regarding food or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day. These things are a (mere) shadow of the things to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” To get side tracked into all these things is to lose sight of Jesus, and the Spirit and our single focus on love.
Well how do I know what is flesh and Spirit? How do I know what motions and inner workings to give myself to? Is this the Spirit or the flesh. Paul says, “It’s not that hard!”. Verse 19 “The acts of the flesh are OBVIOUS (you can’t see the flesh but you can see what it does): sexual immorality, impurity and promiscuity, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of anger, quarrels, conflicts, factions, and envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and things like that!”. This is not a complete list! All this kind of stuff. All that causes strife and creates divisions, and hurts people, all that is sexually immoral, everything like that, is the flesh.
All that is what Jesus came to set you free from. Revelation 1:5 “To the One who loved us and RELEASED US FROM OUR SINS”. We are set free from our sins by his blood, and by the Spirit placed in our hearts.
Verse 21 “I warn you, as I warned you before that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”. The power of the Spirit, in a real Christian, is such a dominant force that Paul says if you habitually practice the deeds of the flesh, you are not among those who will inherit the kingdom of God.
So Paul acknowledges the reality that Christians experience the conflict that comes from lusts of the flesh. BUT also is adamant that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. And also says that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with it’s sinful desires.
What does a walk in the Spirit look like? How do I know what the Spirit is moving and working and speaking in me. Paul says, I will help you with that too. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control”. And I think Paul would also add here, “And things like that”. These are the things the Holy Spirit is leading you towards.
I would like to go over each of these but we can’t this morning. But let’s take faithfulness just for one example. If you are walking in the Spirit you will become a faithful person, faithful to the Lord, faithful to the Lord’s people, faithful to your spouse, your friends. The same is true with love and joy and peace, patience and all the others. Walking with the Holy Spirit, will bring forth these fruits in your life. And this is the life that is free. There is no law against these things!!
Verse 24 “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it passions and desires”. To crucify means to put to death. Jesus was put to death by crucifixion. Our flesh, with its sinful desires, was crucified with Christ. We are to view ourselves that way. And the practical outworking of that is, when we feel sinful passions or desires we immediately reckon them to be crucified. We renounce them as dead and gone. We give them no place. We do not yield to them. We give them no opportunity to live on!
It is very revealing that Paul says, all who belong to Christ Jesus HAVE crucified the flesh. Knowing Jesus Christ in a real way, will move you to turn against the sinful passions and desires of the flesh. It just does! When you belong to Jesus, you don’t want the old life any longer. When Jesus Christ comes to dwell in you by his Spirit, the flesh is doomed! It is crucified. You crucify those passions because the presence of Christ in you is moving you and empowering you to do that.
AB Simpson “When your old self comes back, if you listen to it, fear it, believe it, it will have the same influence upon you as if is were not dead; it will control you and destroy you. But if you ignore it and say: “You are not I, but Satan trying to make me believe that the old self is not dead; I refuse you, I treat you as a demon power outside of me, I detach myself from you”; if you treat it (the flesh) as a wife would her divorced husband, saying “You are nothing to me, you have no power over me, I have renounced you, in the name of Jesus I bid you hence”, lo the evil thing will disappear….. and you will find that Christ is there instead, with his risen life, to back up your confidence and seal your victory.”
*You should not focus on evil thoughts or impulses as though they have power over you or are irresistible. But you should immediately reckon yourself crucified with Christ, consider that in Christ, you have crucified the flesh with it’s sinful passions.
Verse 25 “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Don’t take one step away from or apart from the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives you a witness of his presence. (If you are born of the Spirit) You are conscious of The Spirit in your heart. You have some experience of love and joy and peace and you say I never want to leave this! I chose to live in this place, to keep in step with the Spirit. I chose to look to the Spirit, to trust Him to bear his fruit in me in this situation, in place of the desires of my flesh.
Verse 26 “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another”. Paul leaves us with a final warning of what happens when we do not keep in step with the Spirit. We become petty, proud people provoking and challenging each other, living in jealousy and envy and conflict.
The Spirit is greater than the flesh. And the Spirit is greater than (or superior to) the law. Through the Spirit, we walk free from the flesh, AND we walk free from the law. Kennneth Wuest said, The way we walk is like “a highway above them. It is a highway of freedom from statutes AND from the sinful nature, a highway which is a faith way, a dependence upon the Spirit”.