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True Spirituality (Galatians 5:16-26)

November 18, 2012 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: When Jesus Isn't Enough (Galatians)

Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 5:16–5:26

When Jesus Isn’t Enough (Galatians)

True Spirituality

Galatians 5:16-26

(One Truth: Walk in Truth)

November 18th, 2012

I. The Rise of Spirituality

Listen to the following excerpt from a news article written last year:

Oprah Winfrey'sinfluence on the mind, body and spirit of viewers of “The Oprah Show” is hard to overstate. However she has been curiously hesitant to talk about the influence and importance of religion during the show's 25 year run… Apparently realizing that [religious] arguments…have the potential to become hostile and alienating to large segments of her audience, Oprah has made a point throughout her show's run of establishing definitional barriers in order to talk about "spirituality" while separating it from the "R" word.

“Spirituality”. “Religion” is bad, but “spirituality” is good, right? Maybe you’ve noticed how popular that term has become. And even more telling, maybe you’ve recognized how nebulous that term has become. What is “spirituality”? I think it can mean, and for most, is supposed to mean, a whole bunch of different things.

But if we are followers of Jesus, we have to be extremely careful when it comes to words. We need to define our terms, especially when it comes to a word like spirituality. Oprah has defined what she means when it comes to spirituality. But her beliefs are very, very different from what the Bible teaches us about true spirituality.

Let's explore this idea more by looking together at Galatians 5:16-26.

II. The Passage: “Walk by the Spirit” (5:16-26)

As we continue forward in our study of Paul's letter to the Galatians churches, we see in the final verses of chapter 5 that Paul is continuing to confront a particular kind of false teaching that has crept into this network of churches. Certain teachers had apparently come from Jerusalem and were influencing many in the church with this idea that to be a good Christian, one must first be a good Jew. And according to these men, being a good Jew meant keeping the Law of Moses (circumcision, kosher food law, and other moral and ritual rules). And so acceptance before God was being connected to how well you kept the Law.

But we've also discovered last week that some in the church seemed to be going the other direction. They were not choosing law over grace. They were choosing grace, but viewing grace as some kind of license to sin. This group might have been saying things like, “If Jesus died for all my sins, then it doesn't really matter whether I sin or not, right?”

In light of Paul's warning in 5:13, these people wanted to use their freedom in Christ as an opportunity for the flesh, that is, as an opportunity for their own sinful desires.

So it may have been that the tension between these two groups was beginning to escalate in the churches of Galatia. The Jewish-influenced faction was saying, “We need the Law in order to provide guidance and protection and restraint in the face of these sinful desires.” But the grace-twisting group was on the other side saying, “No, these sinful desires don't really matter. Live how you want. Jesus has set us free.”

A. The Third Way of the Spirit (5:16-18)

But listen to another way, to the “third way” that Paul describes in verses 16-18...

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. [17] 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. [18] But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Paul is saying here, “No, you're both wrong.” There is another way. There is the way of the Spirit.” Instead of trying to live under the restraints of the Law, they should “keep walking” (the verb is a present imperative); “keep living” by or in the Spirit

And if you do that...guess what? ...you will not gratify, you will not fullfill or bring to completion the desires of the sinful nature. Paul even emphasizes this point by using a double negative in the Greek of verse 16: if you are walking in the Spirit...you will “ou mey”...you will no never gratify the desires of the flesh.

And why is that? Because the Spirit of God is diametrically opposed to the desires of the flesh, because the desires of our flesh are diametrically opposed to God's desires for us. Do you see that? We may want to obey God, but the flesh is opposed that desire. (won’t get frostbite in PHX in August; won’t die of heatstroke in ND in January; hot and cold opposed!)

And if you are led by the Spirit, and not your sinful nature, then you are not under law. The presence and empowering of God's Spirit is an indication that we have been set free from the shackles of human effort and from the condemnation of the law.

B. The Harvest of the Spirit (5:19-24)

But notice how Paul continues to explain the difference between the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh. The diametical opposition of the Holy Spirit of God and the sinful flesh of mankind is clealy seen in terms of what these two realities produce in our lives. Look at verse 19 through 24:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity [hostility], strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] 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. [22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. [24] And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Notice what Paul is doing in verses 19-21. He is spelling out for both groups (the “law against sin” group and the “license to sin” group) ...he is spelling out for all of them what a life of fleshly gratification looks like. And he is doing this to warn all of them (just as he warned them when he first preached to them...to warn them) about the dangers of the flesh.

Some might avoid the overt sins of sorcery and sexual immorality, but they are still living in anger and jealousy and with a divisive spirit. Others may be knee-deep in wild parties and sexual sin, but they are twisting God's grace in order to justify their actions. Whether they are nurturing pride or seeking pleasure, the flesh is still at work.

And either way, Paul wants them all to see that such things are against the Spirit of God, as he already established in verses 16 and 17. And if they are “against” the Spirit, then those who “do such things (v. 21) will NOT inherit the kingdom of God.” In Greek the verb “do” is what's called a “present participle”, and so those who “are doing” such things refers to those who are regularly characterized by these sins.

But notice the diametical opposition of the virtues described in verses 22 and 23. Look at what the Spirit of God produces in a person's life, look at the fruit, look at the (I like this word) harvest He brings about in the heart that is set free by grace through faith: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control.

When a life is characterized be these kinds of things, there is no need for law to restrain. Remember what Paul said in verse 14 of this chapter: love (the first word in this list) actually fulfills the law. The Law is against the flesh. But the Law is fulfilled in the Spirit.

And how is it possible for the Spirit to produce such a harvest in your life or in my life? Verse 24: because those who truly belong to Jesus have been crucified with Jesus, just as Paul talked about in 2:20. And to be crucified with Christ means that our old self has been killed, that old life in the flesh, that old self ruled by our passions and desires. (the gospel!)

C. The Pace of the Spirit (5:25, 26)

And it’s from this starting point that Paul calls them to keep going. Notice how Paul comes full circle in verses 25 and 26:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. [26] Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Even through your old self has been crucified, even though we have died with Christ, you now live by the power of the Holy Spirit. And if we now live because of the Spirit's work, shouldn't we continue to live according to the work of the Spirit?

The phrase Paul uses here is “let us...keep in step with the Spirit”. The word he uses here is a word that means “to walk in a line behind a leader”. Paul uses it in Romans 4:12 when he speaks about “walking in the footsteps” of Abraham's faith. It was a military word to describe troops marching together. And so if we are “keeping in step” with God's Spirit, then we will not be “biting” and “devouring” one another in pride and jealousy (the very things he began warning them about in verse 15).

III. Walking, Following, and Keeping in Step

Now we just looked fairly quickly at eleven very ‘dense’, eleven very rich verses. And we could spend more time, for example, doing a word study of every vice and virtue listed in verses 19-23. But I think anyone who hears those verses understands the broad brush strokes that Paul has used there. And if we understand those brush strokes then we need to understand the overall thrust, the main point Paul is trying to get across in this passage.

And I think that main point is introduced in verse 16, and then reemphasized in verses 18 and 25. What Paul is talking about here is true spirituality: walk by the Spirit… if you are led by the Spirit… let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

The only spirituality that is of any real and enduring value is the spirituality that comes from the Spirit of God. Paul makes the point very clearly in I Corinthians 2:12, 13…

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. [13] And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Apart from Christ, and in our flesh, there is only “the spirit of the world”. But the “Spirit who is from God” opens our eyes and makes us truly “spiritual”. And Paul wants the Galatians to live in that amazing reality.

Now when we talk about walking by, or being led by, or keeping in step with God’s Spirit, the immediate danger is to take this idea to one of two extremes: either we move toward mysticism and are waiting for the Spirit to prompt us about which cereal to buy, OR we are over-correcting in response to mysticism and making the phrase “walk by the Spirit” just another way of saying “walk according to God’s word”.

You see, if we follow the path of mysticism, our goal becomes passive surrender. And if we follow the path of over-correction, our goal becomes active control. But “passive surrender” is what some of the Galatians are already struggling with. The only problem is they are surrendering to the flesh and passive about God’s word.

But “active control” is exactly what many of the others Galatians are struggling with in regard to the Law. Remember, Paul is calling them to ACTIVE obedience (walk, be led, keep in step), but he is also calling them to a PASSIVE posture in relation to the Spirit’s leadership.

What exactly does this mean? I think we could put it this way: Walking by or being led by the Holy Spirit is living by faith in the gospel, trusting that a gospel-centered life is only possible through the guidance and power of God’s Spirit. (2x)

This is what Paul was talking about in 5:6…For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. That’s the Spirit-led life: “faith working through love”. It’s about me trusting that God has given me new life because of His love in Christ, and then living in response to that, trusting the Holy Spirit to empower that new life in me in order to love like Christ.

Think about this in light of two images that God’s word uses to describe the Holy Spirit: fire and wind.

Legalism is about you trying to make fire with two wet rocks, working, working, working in the hope of creating some kind of spark. And on the other side, license (or grace-twisting) is when you feel free to embrace the darkness and the cold.

But when you are walking by the Spirit, you are trusting that God has put fire inside of you; fire to power you with God’s strength, fire to refine you with God’s conviction, fire to warm you with God’s love, and fire to guide you with the light of God’s word. Yes, we can’t separate the work of God’s Spirit from the work of God’s word. As Jesus said in John 14:26: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Or we could say that legalism is about you try to row your way to God across the stormy seas of sin. And on the other side, license (or grace-twisting) is about simply allowing the boat to be carried…wherever; to be tossed about.

But when you are led by the Spirit, you are trusting that God has turned your rowboat into a sailboat, and that His wind is always blowing in order to drive you toward himself; a ‘jet stream’ of grace!

And so what is Paul telling them here? He’s telling them not to quench the fire of the Spirit by relying on their own efforts; He’s telling them to put up, to raise the sail of faith in the gospel, faith in what Jesus did through His death and resurrection; faith that Jesus did exactly what we could not do in order to make us right with God. Remember what Pal has already said about the Spirit in 5:5…For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

To keep in step with the Spirit means trusting that we are right with God. Remember what Paul has already said about the Spirit in 4:6… And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Brothers and sisters, this is true spirituality. There is no other. This is true spirituality! What a comfort knowing God is at work inside of me...that it's not up to me! It's not up to us. It's not then about my performance. But I am accepted by God through Jesus. And what that does in me is produce a life that mirrors or reflects that reality. Do we always walk by the Spirit? No. We can struggle with doubt and go back to our own efforts.

But look at that list again in verses 22 and 23. That list flows from faith in the gospel. Remember what Paul wrote earlier: The life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (2:20) So when Paul says “walk by the Spirit”, he means the same thing as “I now live by faith”.

You see the harvest of God's love in your life flows from the fact that you have received the undconditional love of God through Jesus. The harvest of joy in your life comes from the fact that the gospel guarantees you a happy ending. The harvest of peace in your life flows from the fact that no one can ever take you from Christ; nothing can tear you away from Him. So peace is produced in your life because of that.

Patience is produced in your life when you realize that God was amazingly patient towards you when you were in your sins, that He bore with you, that He bears with all the sin of this world. And when you receive that patience from Him, his patience flows out of you.

Kindness...if you understand that extent of God's kindness toward you, his goodness toward you, how could you not show such kindness and goodness to others?

Faithfulness...we are faithful because we know it all depends on God's strength and God's grace, and not our own wisdom, cleverness, or efforts.

Gentleness. God softens a heart once made hard by sin, and He does that when he breaks a man or woman throught the truth of the gospel.

Self-control. Because Christ died that we might no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised. Our desire now is to control our actions and attitudes and appetites in order to submit those things to God for His glory.

Do you see the connection between “the fruit of the Spirit”, the harvest of the Spirit, and faith in the gospel? Don't go home today and try to will yourself to be more gentle and more faithful and more patient. It's not the fruit of human effort. It's the “fruit of the Spirit”.

And the Spirit is operating when my eyes are fixed on Jesus and His gospel.

Is this what you want in your life? Don't be ruled by law. You can turn the OT and the NT into books of law. But when the Spirit is at work in you, you delight to do God's will.

Let's pray that God will do His work in us through His Spirit.

[Let’s pray]

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