Walk by the Spirit | Galatians 5:16-26
Brian Hedges | December 3, 2017
So this morning turn in your Bibles to Galatians, the fifth chapter. We’re going to be in verses 16 through 26, so the second half of this chapter, Galatians chapter five. As you perhaps have already noticed this morning, a running theme through the readings in our service and through the songs that we’ve selected this morning is the Holy Spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit, and that’s true also of the passage we’re reading this morning.
So Galatians chapter five; the second half of this chapter mentions the Holy Spirit five times, and it really is a passage that’s all about life in the Spirit. Paul begins by telling us to walk by the Spirit, and then he ends the passage by telling us to keep in step with the Spirit. So this morning we’re going to talk about what this means. What does it mean to live life in the Spirit? Let’s read the passage, Galatians chapter five, verses 16 through 26.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
This is God’s word.
So this passage is all about the dynamics of spiritual life, of life in the Spirit, and it’s actually a passage we’ve looked at many times over the years. As I was working on this this week I was going back and looking at things I’ve said in the past. In fact, a number of years ago (this may have been two or three years ago, I guess) we actually took ten weeks or so to work through the fruit of the Spirit. We looked at these one by one, and that’s a very valuable thing to do.
We obviously don’t have time to do that in any detail this morning, so this morning we’re going to take a more general look at this passage and just try to uncover some insights about what it means to be people who live by the Spirit and who walk by the Spirit. I want to give you three of these, three things that characterize the life of someone who walks by the Spirit. Okay? A life that is in the Spirit is marked by conflict, by growth, and by grace. It’s:
I. A Life of Conflict
II. A Life of Growth
III. A Life Under Grace
Let’s take each one of those.
I. A Life of Conflict
First of all, a life of conflict. This may not sound like good news to you. “You mean, if I live a life filled with the Spirit I’m going to have conflict?” Yes, that’s exactly right. The Spirit, when he begins to work in a person’s life, starts by disturbing you. He starts by upsetting things. He comes in as a spirit of conviction and he starts to deal with your heart, he starts to deal with your life. The Spirit, when he begins to work, starts making you feel dissatisfied with yourself, and it leads into this clash, this conflict, and it is a conflict with the flesh.
You can see this in verse 17, perhaps a little clearer in the NIV, which reads, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” So there’s this conflict, and it’s a conflict between the flesh and the Spirit.
Now, we have to understand what Paul means by “the flesh.” He doesn’t simply mean the body or bodily appetites, which we might often think; when we think of fleshly appetites we think of the body. That’s not what Paul means by flesh. By the flesh Paul means what we are by nature. He means everything that we are or can be apart from the Spirit, apart from grace, apart from Christ.
John Stott says, “The flesh stands for what we are by natural birth, the Spirit for what we are by new birth, the birth of the Spirit. These two, the flesh and the Spirit, are in sharp opposition to one another.”
So this is what happens: when the Spirit indwells us, when the Spirit regenerates us, when the Spirit comes into our lives, the Spirit starts working to change us from the inside out, and he immediately comes in opposition to the flesh. That can, of course, include disordered bodily desires and appetites, but it can also include, as we’ll see in this list of the works of the flesh, it includes more emotional and mental and relational and spiritual kinds of sins as well. So he’s really working on all of these things.
The arena of this conflict is the arena of desires. It’s a conflict of desires. The desires of the Spirit versus the desires of the flesh, and you could see this in both verses 16 and 17, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh, for the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
Now it’s interesting that this word “desires” is a neutral word. It can be a word that is used in positive ways, but it often has a negative connotation, and the word has a prefix that intensifies the word. So Tim Keller has drawn insight out (maybe you’ve heard him talk about this), that it’s an over-desire. It’s a desire in over-drive. So it’s not merely desires for bad things, but it’s also desire for good things that are too important. It’s desiring good things too much. It’s desires that get disordered; they are inordinate desires.
So, any natural desire we have can actually become a desire of the flesh. Any natural desire that we have that may be good in and of itself, such as a desire for marriage or a desire for children, or a desire for success, or a desire to be liked by other people. There’s nothing wrong with any of those desires in and of themselves, but when they become really important, when they become too important, when they become an over-desire, then it’s disordered, then it becomes a problem, and these are exactly the kinds of things that drag us down. We feel weighed down by these kinds of desires, and even non-Christians can understand this and can see this.
There is a contemporary musician that we hear a lot in my family because my son really likes this guy; his name his John Mayer. He’s actually a really good musician, and he has a song called “Gravity” that goes like this; he says,
“Oh, I’ll never know what makes this man
With all the love that his heart can stand
Dream of ways to throw it all away.”
And then the chorus goes like this:
“Gravity is working against me,
And gravity wants to bring me down.”
There’s the picture! Here’s someone who has all the love he can desire, but he’s thinking of ways to destroy it all, to throw it all away. He’s self-sabotaging, right? He’s doing things that actually undermine his happiness. Why does he do this? He does it because of gravity. He does it because there’s this downpull of desires that are disordered.
Well, that’s exactly what Paul’s talking about, the desires of the flesh, and these desires then manifest themselves in certain works. Paul, I think, is very deliberate in his use of language here, contrasting works of the flesh with fruit of the Spirit. You’ll remember, if you’ve thought much about this letter to the Galatians, that over and again Paul has aligned flesh with the law. The realm of the flesh is the realm of the law, the realm of the law is the realm of the flesh. He’s aligned these two things together over and over again, and so I think it’s deliberate what he does here when he talks about the works of the flesh. You see this in verses 19 through 21.
There are 19 things on this list; we’re not going to look at them in any kind of detail, but just notice that they break down into four basic categories. There is, first of all, what we might think of as sexual sins, or sins of immorality, the first three things on the list: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality. Those things are pretty obvious.
Then follow two sins that have to do with religion, and with false religion in particular: idolatry and sorcery. And then you have a long list, and it’s the longest list here in Paul’s vice list; it’s the longest sequence, and it’s a list of sins that have to do with interpersonal relationships. This is what might be surprising, that these are works of the flesh: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy. These are the kinds of sins that catch everybody.
You might say, “Well, I’m not an idolater and I don’t really have problems with sexual sin,” but I bet you have problems with something on that list. Most of us at times either struggle with fits of anger or jealousy or with envy or conflict in relationships, and Paul says these are works of the flesh.
And then the last two are social sins: drunkenness and orgies. That word “orgies” carries the idea not so much of a sexual orgy, but of a drinking party. It’s the idea of the party animal, the person who’s socially in these kinds of contexts.
These are the works of the flesh, and then follows a very serious warning, and we need to not pass over this too quickly. Look at verse 21, the second half of the verse; Paul says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is really serious.
What Paul is saying is that a person’s life who is dominated by the flesh rather than by the Spirit can have no assurance of salvation. There can be no assurance of salvation if your life is dominated by the flesh.
Now, he of course does not mean that these sins cannot be forgiven. He doesn’t mean that, because he gives a very similar list in First Corinthians chapter six, verses nine through 11. He names off a number of these sins and says, “These folks will not inherit the kingdom of God,” and then he says, “and such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” So of course you can be forgiven; of course you can be changed. That’s what the gospel’s for, that’s why Christ came, that’s why the Spirit works, is to change us from these things.
What Paul is saying is that you can’t live life in these sins without repentance, content, cease-fire with sin, no striving, no conflict, no warfare against them and have any assurance that you’re actually going to heaven, any assurance that you’re actually a saved person.
So what do we do? We need to go to war. You go to war. That’s what the Spirit does. The Spirit sends you to war against your sins, against your flesh. You can see the shape that that word takes in verse 24. This is yet another reference to the flesh, verse 24; Paul says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Now that’s shocking kind of language, maybe not as shocking to us because we’re used to it, but you remember in the first century crucifixion was a shocking thing. It was a scandal that Jesus had been crucified; crucified Messiah, that’s a scandal. Crucifixion was a term that Cicero said should be “far removed from any person’s lips,” you know, any decent, civilized person should never even utter the word “cross” or “crucifixion.” This is a scandalous term, because it was such an abhorrent form of execution, and Paul chooses that term to say, “This is what you do to your flesh.” “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
I think it shows us something about the nature of the battle and also something really important about the power for the battle.
Here’s what it shows us about the nature of the battle. Notice that Paul does not say you stab the flesh, you beheaded the flesh, you pushed the flesh over a cliff, you poisoned the flesh. He uses crucifixion. And what was crucifixion? It was a long, drawn-out process of execution. That’s what dealing with our sin is like; it’s a gradual process of death. [Crucifixion] was a process where the victim was weakened, gradually weakened as he lost blood, as he lost strength, and eventually would die through basically suffocation.
John Stott describes it as “pitiless, painful, and decisive.” It was pitiless; it was reserved for the worst of criminals. It was painful, because it was, of course, execution through torture; and it was decisive, so that once someone was nailed to the cross they didn’t come down again! It was a death sentence.
That’s what Paul says we have to do with the flesh. It’s a death sentence on our sin. He actually describes this as something we have done. The tense of the verb - he’s not so much telling us what to do as he’s telling us, “This is something that if you belong to Christ you’ve done this. You have made this decisive break with sin; you have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Now of course, in other passages he tells us this is an ongoing process, that we are to put to death the deeds of the body. This is not something you ever quit doing, but it’s something that if you’ve come to Christ you’ve already said yes to Jesus, no to sin, and then you live the rest of your life learning how to live that out, right?
Now, at first glance this conflict, this struggle may feel discouraging. I mean, to hear about this may be discouraging. It may be a little bit disturbing. If there is no struggle, if there is no conviction of sin, if you just indulge every sinful desire or every sinful emotion and there’s no struggle whatsoever, [that is] reason to be concerned.
But also, in kind of an unusual way, this can be pretty encouraging. Because let’s say that you blew it this week. Let’s say that you sinned and you felt really badly about it. You felt badly enough about it that you started praying harder. You felt bad enough about it that you needed an assurance of God’s grace, so it sent you to your Bible. You indulged the sin, but you were so disturbed inside you can’t live with yourself, and so you started dealing with it. It actually got you to be serious in your pursuit of God. God came to you in that moment, convicting you.
That should be an encouraging thing. If you can sin without any disturbance, that’s a problem. If when you sin the Holy Spirit comes after you, that’s a good sign. A life of conflict is a life of struggle; that’s what it’s like, crucifying the flesh.
And then this image also shows us something about the power for winning the battle. I think this is really important, because you can’t read Galatians 5:24 without thinking of what Paul’s already said in Galatians 2:20 when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It’s the same word, Galatians 2:20, as he uses in 5:24, except in 2:20 it has this prefix “with”: “I have been crucified with Christ.”
It is a co-crucifixion, and this right here is the power for dealing with all sin. It’s not power that we just muster up out of our willpower. It’s not a strength that we find in ourselves; it’s strength that comes to us by virtue of union with Christ, being identified with Christ, being co-crucified with Christ. It’s power that comes to us from the cross; it’s a real power from outside of ourselves that actually works to bring transformation to our lives.
Listen to what J.I. Packer said in relation to this: “The root of holiness is co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Jesus Christ. We need to realize and remember that the believer’s holiness is a matter of learning to be in action what he already is in the heart. In other words, it is a matter of living out the life and expressing the disposition and instinct, that is, the new nature that God wrought in him by creating him anew in Christ. Holiness is the naturalness of the spiritually risen man, just as sin is the naturalness of the spiritually dead man. In pursuing holiness by obeying God the Christian follows the deepest urge of his own renewed being. His God-ward - better, Father-ward - love, loyalty, and devotion form the motivational image of the risen Christ, who lives to God. We could call it his Christ nature or his Christ instinct. Any idea of holiness is manful refusal to do all that one most wants to do must be dismissed as the unregenerate mind’s misunderstanding.” Get this: “True holiness, springing as it does from what the Puritans called ‘the gospel mystery of the sanctifying work of God,’ is the Christian’s true fulfillment, for it is the doing of that which deep down he now most wants to do according to the urging of his new, dominant instincts in Christ.”
Power from the cross! You’re crucified with Christ. That means you’ve crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, but that gives you new power. This is not merely a seven-step program or ten-step program or whatever. This is not merely self-improvement. It’s not. You are connected to a divine source of power and energy that will not leave you alone if you’re a Christian, and will surely, as you set your faith on Christ and him crucified, will surely bring virtue from Christ to help you deal with your sins. A life of conflict, a life of struggle.
II. A Life of Growth
As we engage in that struggle, it of course produces growth. So here’s the second thing: life in the Spirit is also a life of growth. This is where you see the fruit of the Spirit, verses 22 and 23. Let me point out four things about this growth.
(1) First of all, it’s organic. It’s organic growth. Organic growth, that’s growth that comes from the inside out, it’s not mechanical; there’s a living source behind this growth. That’s why Paul, I think, contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.
Have you ever seen a tree standing there trying really hard to bear fruit? It doesn’t happen, does it? It doesn’t, because there’s a naturalness to it. The fruit is born as the tree absorbs the nutrients from the soil and from water and as sunlight comes and all these processes work together. You know biology you know how this works, right? That’s how the fruit is borne.
In the same way, there is this organic, natural, inside-out kind of process that leads to this fruit. It’s the fruit of the Spirit. I think that distinguishes it not only from works of the flesh but also from what we might call counterfeit fruit. Big difference between counterfeit fruit that you might, say, set on your kitchen table as decoration and real fruit. They may look the same; in fact, the counterfeit fruit on the outside might even look better, you know, really polished, shiny apple. But you try to bite into it and you get a mouthful of Styrofoam. Very different than a real apple with maybe more imperfections, but there’s actually substance. There’s real fruit, good taste, because it’s alive. That’s what the fruit of the Spirit is like. This is something real, and it’s organic, produced by the Spirit from the inside out.
(2) This growth is organic; secondly, this growth is holistic, h-o-l-i-s-t-i-c, holistic, carrying the idea of it’s well-rounded, it’s symmetrical, it deals with all of us.
So some scholars have made a lot out of the fact that Paul uses the singular fruit (the fruit of the Spirit) and then lists nine qualities. He does say the fruits of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit. I’m not sure if the grammatical basis for that is sound. I mean, that may or may not be what Paul has in mind. But the theological principle, the insight, I think is right, that when the Spirit works in our lives he works on everything. When the Spirit works in our lives he’s working to produce fruit in all these different dimensions: our relationship with God, our relationships with one another, our relationship to ourselves. He’s changing the way we are oriented to God and to our world and to ourselves, and that means that the fruit-bearing, the change, the growth, is comprehensive. It’s affecting everything at once.
So that helps us distinguish true spiritual growth from merely personality traits. I mean, there are some people - so, the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace - there are some people who are peaceful by disposition. But that peacefulness by disposition might not be marked by an equal joyfulness. I mean, here’s someone who’s maybe really laid-back, and they never get upset, but they never get excited about anything either, you know? They’re just kind of even-keel all the time.
Well, that kind of peace is not fruit of the Spirit; that’s just an easygoing personality. But when you have peace and joy together, when you have a person who can really be enraptured with joy in God but is really unruffled by the insults of others, that’s a spiritual combination.
Or self-discipline or self-control; that’s the last on this list, self-control. Well, there are lots of people who have self-control. There are lots of people who have what you might call self-discipline. I mean, they’re people who spend an hour a day at the gym, you know; they have two per cent body fat… Don’t you just hate people like that? There are people that are extremely self-disciplined; you know, they organize their days down to the minute, but if those people are not driven by deep joy in Christ that leads them into their self-discipline, sometimes those people can be very rigid. They can be really hard to get along with.
But when you have self-control that is actually driven by the Spirit, it’s a self-control that has flexibility in it, it’s a self-control that has joy under it, it’s a self-control that’s marked by love in its external demeanor towards others, not by judgmentalism. You see how when the Spirit works it brings all these qualities together and brings them together at the same time, so that there’s this comprehensive, massive, across the board kind of transformation. So that’s what I mean by holistic growth.
(3) Number three, this growth also impacts our relationships. Notice how the fruit of the Spirit is framed (or really, this whole section is framed) by verses 13 through 15 before, and then verse 26 at the end. In verses 13 through 15 (we looked at this two weeks ago) Paul says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” One of the great one anothers of Scripture: “Through love serve one another. The whole law is fulfilled in one word: you shall love your neighbor as yourself, but if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not being consumed by one another.”
Remember, Paul is concerned about a church that is being divided by heresy. It’s a divided church. There are problems in the church; there are factions in the church, there is false teaching in the church. That accounts for verses 26, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” He frames everything he says about the work of the Spirit here by these one another commands, I think showing that the Spirit works in a relational context, and that when the Spirit works he’s working on not just our private spirituality (me and God); he’s working on how I relate to other people.
So the fruit of the Spirit is going to show itself up in the way you treat your spouse, the way you treat your children, the way you respond to your parents ,the way you treat your brother and your sister, the way you respond to your roommate, the way you interact with people in your small group. It’s going to affect those things; it’s going to change you on the relational level. That seems to be very clear in Paul’s focus here.
(4) And then here’s the fourth thing about growth: this growth involves our cooperation. It involves our cooperation. You see this in both verse 16, “Walk by the Spirit” (that’s a command), “Walk by the Spirit.” Walk, of course, is a common metaphor for live in Scriptures. The Old Testament is full of language like walking in the law of the Lord. It’s interesting Paul doesn’t say that; he says, “Walk by the Spirit,” or, “Walk in the Spirit.” And then in other places he’ll say, “Walk in love,” or, “Walk as Christ walked,” or, “Walk in light.” But here it’s, “Walk by the Spirit.” But it means there’s something for us to do. There is a response, there’s cooperation, and then in verse 25, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
So this means that we have to participate. The growth is organic and it’s from the inside out, but that does not mean you’re passive. It does not mean there’s nothing to do. You do need to grow, and you need to deliberately grow, you need to intentionally grow; you need to plan to grow. Listen: we’re one month away from New Year’s, right? And I know New Year’s resolutions have a bad rap, and I understand that, because you start them and then you break them like two weeks in.
But that should not keep Christians from planning and from thinking, and New Year’s is a great time to do that and to plan how you are going to grow this next year. You do it humbly, you do it depending on God’s grace, you do it not making vows or resolves or promises that you might break, but you do it with a godward orientation. “God, I want to grow in my understanding of your word, I want to grow in prayer, I want to grow in serving others, I want to grow in relationship with you and with other people, and I want to grow this year more than I grew last year.” That should be our heart, that should be our aim. You should be thinking that way, because growth involves our participation.
J.I. Packer, again, is very helpful on this. I’d recommend, by the way, his book Keep In Step With the Spirit; that’s where both of these Packer quotes come from. Packer said that “holiness teaching that skips over disciplined persistence in the well-doing that forms holy habits is week. Habit-forming is the Spirit’s ordinary way of leading us on in holiness. The fruit of the Spirit itself is, from one standpoint, a series of habits of action and reaction.”
Holy habit-forming. That’s what we’re to be about.
So what does that mean? What do we need to do, then? Here’s application, the second point. Well, first of all, you just have to be honest about where you need to change. You have to identify, and maybe as we read through that list of the works of the flesh a couple of those were in red letters for you. You know, the lights are going off and you think, “Okay, that’s a problem for me.” You need to identify it.
Or you read through the list of the fruit of the Spirit and you might say, “Well, I think I’m basically a peaceful person or maybe a kind person, but self-control - I’m lacking there.” Or vice versa. You identify the areas that need to change, and you have to be honest. That’s first.
Secondly, pray. I know this is prosaic; I mean, this is the most simple, basic, Christianity 101, and you might even get tired of hearing sermons that say, “You just need to pray to change.” I’m not saying just pray, but do pray. I think it was John Bunyan who one time said you can do more than pray after you’ve prayed, but you can’t do anything before you’ve prayed. Really. You can’t do anything apart from prayer if you’re doing it in dependence on God’s grace. So you have to pray.
Here’s the reason why you need to pray: even though when you pray you might feel like you’re just speaking to the air, you’re not. When you pray you are tapping into a source of power from outside yourself. When you pray you’re asking God to do something, and if you’ve been at this transformation process for very long, as I have, and not nearly as far down the road as I want to be, frequently feel discouraged by my failures, by my ongoing, indwelling sin - I frequently feel that way, and if you feel that way, you hit a point, 20 or 30 years in or so, where you kind of start to realize, “I can’t do this. I can’t be like Jesus! I want to be more like Jesus, but I cannot do this on my own. I need help!” So what do you do? You pray. You ask God to do something in you and for you.
So you identify the problems, you’re honest about it, you pray, and then fruit has to be cultivated. So you cultivate. You cultivate. In fact, in the next chapter, Galatians chapter six, Paul says, “Sow to the Spirit.” He says, “Those who sow to the flesh will reap corruption; those who sow to the Spirit will reap eternal life.” What is sowing? Well, that’s planting seeds.
You know, my dad used to be a farmer. Farming is hard work. I mean, he was up early and working late, long hours, hard work. There’s the planting season and there’s the watering season, and there’s the season in Texas where you go out and you hoe the weeds out of the cotton fields. I did that when I was a kid. That’s hard work.
But that’s a perfect analogy for what the spiritual life is like. You have to sow; you have to plant seeds. You have to water, you have to fertilize, you have to grow. You have to weed the garden. You have to put effort into it, but it’s not self-dependent effort, it’s effort that you’re doing prayerfully. So you use the means of grace, you read your Bibles, you pray, you meditate, you talk to other believers, you engage in small group life together, you come to worship and you come to the Lord’s table and you don’t sleep in just because it feels easier, because you know that you need something from God, so you’re cultivating, cultivating; day in, day out, week in, week out. That’s how you grow, and life in the Spirit is life of both conflict and it’s a life of growth.
III. A Life Under Grace
And then thirdly, finally, we’ll just take four or five minutes on this: it is a life under grace. It is a life under grace. Now, Paul does not use the word “grace” in these verses, but as you know the whole book of Galatians is about the gospel of grace. Paul opposes this impulse to lean on, to rely on the works of the law, and over and again he comes back to it being by grace, by grace through faith. He even goes so far as to say if you embrace circumcision, if you accept the law, doing the law, you’re trusting in the law, then you’re cut off from Christ, you’re fallen from grace!
So it’s a life under grace, and that means several things. This is what I want to do, just flesh that out for you. What does it mean, a life under grace? What does that mean? Let me give you three things that it means, really quickly, okay?
(1) Number one, to be under grace means I belong to Jesus. That’s first. It means I belong to Jesus. Look at verse 24; just don’t miss this: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” You belong to him! That’s a really gracious thing, to belong to Christ Jesus.
It means that I’m in this relationship, I’m in this divine relationship with God through Christ, and everything that the Spirit does and all of the growth; all of that flows out of this relationship that you have with Christ Jesus. There’s the longing there.
I think it connects right back to the idea of union with Christ that we’ve talked about in this series. You might think of Galatians three, verses 26 through 29, where Paul emphasizes this again and again. He’s using language of being in Christ, and then he ends with language of belonging to Christ. Verse 26, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one on Christ Jesus, and if you are Christ’s…” If you belong to Christ! That’s what he’s saying. If you belong to Christ, “then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to the promise.”
If you belong to Jesus, you have the promises, and that’s what grace is about. It’s about belonging to Jesus, about this relationship with Christ. That’s first.
(2) Number two, to be under grace means I am free from the law. I am free from the law.
Alright, so we’ve talked about this in past weeks, so I probably don’t need to say much, but I just want to underscore two places in this paragraph where Paul strikes the note again. Look at verse 18: “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” Right? He says it right there. There is this contrast between life in the Spirit, life under the law. Mutually exclusive, it seems like in Paul’s view.
And then again, when he lists off the fruit of the Spirit in verses 22 and 23, he ends it by saying, “Against such there is no law.” Because, as he’s already said in verses 13 through 15, liberty or freedom is the freedom to love, and the freedom to love, when we actually love one another, by love we serve one another, we fulfill the law. So the Spirit accomplishes what the law always intended, but not by putting us back under the law. It’s rather by this inside-out approach, where the Spirit taking up residence in our hearts begins to produce the fruit that the law never could produce. So that means, practically, that we are not under the law; we are in the Spirit. There is grace, there is freedom there.
I do want to read you one more quotation, this one from John Bunyan. I’ve learned a lot about the law and gospel from John Bunyan, and mainly from this allegories. I’ve given you a lot of the stories from Pilgrim’s Progress in this series. This is not from the allegory. This is from Bunyan’s little treatise The Christian and the Law, and it’s very Luther-like in what he says, but I think it’s helpful, and a helpful directive for those of us who have a tendency to bring our conscience back under the law. Listen to what Bunyan says.
“Wherefore, whenever thou who believest in Jesus dost hear the law and its thundering and lightning fits as if it would burn up heaven and earth, then say thou, ‘I am free from this law. These thunderings have nothing to do with my soul’. When this law with its thundering threatenings doth attempt to lay hold on thy conscience, shut it out with a promise of grace. Cry, ‘The inn is took up already, the Lord Jesus is here entertained, and there is no room for the law.’ Indeed, if it will be content with being my informer and so lovingly leave off to judge me, I will be content.” That is, the law can show me what’s wrong with me, but it’s not my judge. “It shall be in my sight, I will also delight therein, but otherwise I, being now upright without it, and that, too, with that righteousness with which this law speaks well of and approveth, I may not, will not, cannot, dare not make it my savior and judge, nor suffer it to set up its government in my conscience, for by so doing I fall from grace and Christ doth profit me nothing.”
You’re not under the law; you’re in Christ. You’re in the Spirit. Don’t let the law rule over your conscience; you live under grace, free from the law.
(3) Number three, finally, we end on this. To be under grace means I am alive in the Spirit. It means I belong to Jesus, it means I am free from the law, it means I am alive in the Spirit.
Verse 25, “If we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Notice that living by the Spirit comes first. I have never met a child who learned to walk before it was born, and I’ve never met a Christian who learned to walk by the Spirit before he was born in the Spirit. You have to be born in the Spirit; you live by the Spirit, and then you keep in step with the Spirit. It’s the spiritual life working itself out in the walk. That has to take place. It has to be the Spirit at work.
And when we are alive in the Spirit, what that means is that just as we have grace, just as we have Christ, just as we have the resource of prayer, we have an inner resource if we have the Spirit. We have someone living inside of us who’s convicting of sin, who’s prodding us to growth, who’s pointing us to Christ, who’s reminding us of grace. We have someone inside of us who’s living his life out through us.
A lot of you know I like to golf, and I am not very good. You can’t be very good at golf unless you golf twice a week, or spend lots and lots of hours practicing, and I don’t have time or money to do any of those things. So every once in awhile I get to go. I took a trip to Texas a few weeks ago, and I played four times in four days. It was really fun, and one day I had a score that I was just modestly happy with, because it was about 15 or 20 strokes under what I would have expected.
I’ve thought sometimes, “Who’s the greatest golfer of all time?” A lot of people would say, maybe, Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus I think has a good case for it. One of my favorite golfers is the old golfer Bobby Jones; maybe you’ve seen this wonderful movie about Bobby Jones. But I kind of have a fantasy. I wish there was something called a “golfer transfusion,” where I could get hooked up to a Jack Nicklaus and all of his golfing skill, all of his agility, all of his talent, all of his muscle memory could just be transfused into my body and I could go golf like that. You know, I would love to be able to break 70. I’d love to be able to break 80. Well, it’s not going to happen.
But let me tell you something: in the spiritual life, you get something like that. You get something like that. You’re not left to your own resources, because you have the mind of Christ, you have the Spirit of Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life, and he did it in the power of the Spirit, and the same Spirit who empowered Jesus every step of his human life, that Spirit now lives in your heart, and as you rely on him, as you trust in him, as you walk by the Spirit, as you keep in step with the Spirit you will not gratify the desires of the flesh, you will bear the fruit of the Spirit, you will grow in Christlikeness. So, trust in the Spirit. Let’s pray.
Gracious Father, we thank you so much for what you’ve done for us in Christ, and we thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit. Paul tells us in this wonderful letter that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law so that we might receive the promised Spirit,” the gift of the Spirit, and we thank you for this gift. We pray that you would help us to walk by your Spirit. Help us to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Help us to grow and perhaps even today to take some time to do fresh inventory about where we need to grow, but not falling back on our own resources, but rather looking Christward, looking to the Spirit to carry us along in this process, to help us, to move us forward.
Father, I pray for any who are discouraged this morning with the pace of their growth, the rate of their growth. I pray that right now you would encourage them that you are at work and that whatever degree of resonance they have felt in their heart this morning that itself is a fruit of your Spirit. I pray that you would take the word and that you would use the table, use everything we’re doing here together, and then use what we do privately in our own homes this week, use all of that to help us sow to the Spirit, cultivate this spiritual fruit so that we will become more like our Lord Jesus. Meet with us now as we come to take the bread and the juice, we pray it in Jesus’ name, Amen.