The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky, on the 28th day of January 2018, during the evening service:
The Day Peter Parker Was Transformed
Spider-Man is without a doubt my favorite, and probably the best super hero there ever was and will be. You probably know his story. He was a high school student in New York when the bite of a spider exposed to radiation grants Peter Parker all sorts of different powers such as super strength, the ability to shoot webs from his hands, and have “spidey-sense” (which enables him to be aware of danger). That day transformed Peter’s life.
As the story goes on, Peter’s Uncle Ben who is unaware of his powers tells him these famous words before he dies, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Spider-Man had the choice to either restrain his powers, or unleash his powers for the good of others. Many times he restrained his powers and his friends and family suffered, but when he did use them, many people were saved from death at the hands of villains. It seemed like everyday there was a new villain in New York City, and I’ve always wondered if that was just a coincidence.
But since high school, Peter Parker was transformed, and was given an unbelievable power. We have a picture of what has happened in the Christian’s life from this story. We as believers in Christ have also been transformed and the Person who lives in us has incredible power. He is the Holy Spirit who teaches and helps us (John 14:26; Rom. 8:26), He is the Holy Spirit who convicts (John 16:7-15), He lives within us (Ezekiel 36:26-27; 1 John 4:4), and He is the Spirit who empowers us (Rom. 15:13).
However, when we decide to restrain His power, we fall into sin and we have no power to be obedient to God. But when we access His power, we can overcome sin and we will be given the strength we need to carry out God’s commands in obedience to Him.
That’s where our text from Galatians comes in. It teaches us that in order to unleash the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives, we must walk by the Spirit of God in order to overcome sin , and have the freedom from self-effort and power to live in obedience to God. Let’s see how this happens. The best place to start is with the text.
The Text: Galatians 5:16-18, ESV
16 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.
I. The Command to Walk by the Spirit (v. 16)
Notice first the command to walk by the Spirit. The idea in this verse is that if we will walk by the Spirit, we will overcome our sinful desires.
That’s what Paul tells the Galatians. If they walk by the Spirit, they will not carry out their sinful desires. Notice that Paul gives a command and a promise in v. 16 saying, “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
A. The Command: Walk by the Spirit
First let’s look at his command: “walk by the Spirit.” We’re going to see first what this means. Paul tells the Galatians to walk by the Spirit of God. And really this term “walk” carries an interesting meaning. It was a Hebrew term that described one’s life, someone’s conduct, someone’s “walk of life.” We are familiar with this in the Old Testament:
“For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him” (Deut. 11:22).
“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’” (Jeremiah 7:23)
This Hebraic term is used repeatedly in the Old Testament to picture one’s life. And life is a lot like walking isn’t it? Walking is something we learn to do. We are taught as a toddler how we are to walk. That’s how life is—it’s something we learn how to do. We learn how to interact with people, develop relationships, get jobs, have families, and so on.
Walking is also step-by-step. Life is a lot like that. It’s just one day at a time—one small step at a time. We learn one thing one day, and another the next. So we understand walking in the Scriptures as talking about our conduct, conducting one’s life, living step-by-step just like walking.
So Paul tells the Galatians to live step-by-step “by the Spirit.” Walking by the Spirit is a continuous, regular action. It is a habitual way of life. It is submitting every step of our daily lives to the Spirit’s control, so that He can move us forward in our Christian lives.
Now, already we live by the Spirit because He gives us new spiritual life. Everyone remembers what Jesus says to Nicodemus about this (John 3:3-6). This religious ruler talks with Jesus at night and Jesus tells him that he must be “born again” to enter the kingdom of heaven. Nicodemus is puzzled at Jesus’ statement, thinking that he means one must go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time (gross right?). But Jesus tells him that He is talking about spiritual rebirth that happens through the Holy Spirit. So it is with every believer: it is by the Spirit that we are born again. We were once dead in our sins, spiritually dead, and unresponsive to God because of dead state (Eph. 2:1). But the Holy Spirit makes us alive, and He takes what Jesus did on the cross and applies it to us. So theologically speaking, we already understand that we live by the Spirit as a believer.
But why then are we also commanded here to live by the Spirit? I thought we already did? Well, we do, but Paul implies here that there is action required of us. We are still to walk each step of our lives empowered by the Spirit. That’s what Paul means when he says to walk by the Spirit.
Think about it. We take many “steps” every day. We make a choice whether or not we will pray and read the Bible in the morning. We make a choice to call other drivers something non-Christian. We make a choice to minister to someone or stay quiet and do nothing. We make a choice to fall into temptation or resist it by God’s power. Every step we take needs to be guided by the Spirit in this walk we call life.
B. The Promise: Overcoming Sin
There’s a wonderful result from walking by the Spirit. Paul attaches a wonderful promise onto this command saying that when we do walk in the Spirit, that if we will make the effort to walk by the Spirit, we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 16b).
There is no negotiating here. You will not gratify the desires of flesh if you are walking by the Spirit. These desires of our flesh are what remains of our sin nature. Yes Christ redeemed us, and yes we are new persons in Christ, but we are not entirely free from the presence and power of sin—and sin has power through our desires. The Bible has much to say about the desires of the flesh:
“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14).
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
We will be fighting our old sin nature until the day we pass from this earth and are glorified with the Lord in His eternal presence. But until then, we are in a constant fight.
The only way to overcome the desires of our flesh is to submit each step of our daily lives to the Spirit. To walk by the Spirit. This is ultimately the only way to overcome our sinful desires. There are no other solutions or ways. For some problems, there is only one solution—and this is one of them.
There was a man once who didn’t quite understand this principle of having only one solution to a problem. You may have heard his story. He was a hardworking man who really liked hamsters and snakes as pets. He went to his local pet store one day and bought a well-trained hamster and a well-trained snake. They were so well trained that he decided to let them run free throughout the house as he carried out his daily tasks. One night he came home to find the hamster missing, but the snake very content. He thought the hamster escaped through a hole in the door, so he patched it up, went to the pet store and bought another hamster. He lets them run free again, comes home the next night and the hamster was gone, but the snake was doing just fine. He thought the hamster might have fell through a hole in the floor, so he patches the hole. Day after day he purchases another hamster at the pet store, thinking that they’re all disappearing because of holes in his house. He was trying to solve the problem of his hamsters going missing with all the wrong solutions—there was only one solution to his problem, to get rid of the snake that was turning his hamsters into snacks!
And that’s the way it is with overcoming sin – there’s only one solution overcoming sin in our lives. Often times we try to solve the problem of sin in our lives with the wrong solutions—trying harder, committing ourselves, saying to ourselves, “Never again will I sin in this or that way.” But the only sure solution to overcoming sin is by walking by the Spirit of God. The flesh cannot be tamed, it cannot be reformed, it cannot be trained, and it cannot be improved—but it can be overcome by walking by the Spirit. I wonder if you’re walking by the Spirit today?
If you don’t walk by the Spirit, Paul says of you in Romans 8:7-8, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
II. The Reason to Walk by the Spirit (v. 17)
We’ve seen the command to walk by the Spirit, but why is it so important to walk by the Spirit? What’s really at risk here, if anything? And for that matter, who’s to say we can’t walk by the Spirit and commit sin at the same time?
Paul answers in v. 17 by giving us the reason to walk by the Spirit. The idea in this verse is that we must walk by the Spirit because there is a conflict taking place within us between the flesh and Spirit—and we cannot claim neutrality (we can’t be walking by the Spirit and by the flesh at the same time).
There is a real conflict going on that you are a part of. You’re in this because you’re a Christian—you have been saved by the grace of God, God has redeemed you, He has made you a new person and even given you a new heart—but sin still lives inside you. There is some of you that is unredeemed until you will be glorified in His presence one day. So until then, we will continue to have a deadly conflict of desires taking place in our hearts. Paul explains this in v. 17.
Listen to Paul in v. 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.” Paul tells us why it is so crucial to walk by the Spirit, because there’s a war going on!
A. Desire vs. Desire (v. 17a)
He says “[Walk by the Spirit because] 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.” Paul says there is a conflict of desire taking place. It is not a cosmic battle between the flesh and the Spirit somewhere out in space, but a battle between the flesh and the Spirit for your desires.
It is a real, deadly, costly, conflict of desire against desire taking place. And do you know where your desires are located? Your heart. Here’s the thing about the conflict: It’s not happening somewhere outside of you. It’s not happening in the world. It’s not even the flesh coming to you and fighting the Spirit. This conflict is much closer than you might think. In fact, this conflict is closer to you than the Bible in your hands—this conflict is happening in your heart.
“Guard your heart!” says the writer of Proverbs. Why? “for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). This conflict is happening inside of us. It is happening where our affections lie, it is happening on the throne of our emotions and intellect. You need to know where it is taking place or it will be as destructive to you as terrorism. That’s the thing about the war on terrorism. We never know where it’s going to be. When the Twin Towers were attacked, we didn’t know it was going to happen. When shootings from terrorists take place, we never know it is going to happen because we don’t know where the terrorists are. They are hidden. Don’t let the same thing happen to your heart. You know where this conflict of desire is taking place. If you are ignorant to this fact, it will be as destructive to you as a terrorist sneak attack.
It is a conflict of desires. Paul says that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit.” Even though we’re saved, what remains of our old sin nature still has desires from time to time. We aren’t completely free from those desires. And those desires crave things that are contrary to the Spirit of God. The flesh wants to stifle the Holy Spirit’s work of making you more and more like Christ. The flesh is that which says, “This sin will never hurt!” “Haven’t you done enough for God today?” and things of that nature. Not once has the flesh ever benefited you in your walk with God. Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:33).
I hope you realize that this conflict is taking place, because the only thing worse than a real, deadly, costly conflict taking place is not knowing that it is taking place. The only thing worse than a conflict is not knowing that there is one.
The Holocaust was an atrocity that we did not know was taking place when it was taking place. We had no idea that conflict was going on. Jews fighting for their lives against the Nazi Regime. Communication was almost prehistoric compared to what we have today and there was no way to know that it was going on. When the USA discovered that it was happening, countless lives had already been lost. We didn’t’ know that conflict was taking place, and it caused great damage and many lives were lost. And it’s the same way with this conflict taking place in our hearts. It’s already dangerous that a conflict is taking place inside of you, but if you don’t realize that it is—it is much more deadly. A conflict you don’t know about is the worst kind of conflict.
But notice too, that Paul says the Holy Spirit has desires against the flesh. The Holy Spirit has desires, too. He desires what God desires, for He is God. He wants you to be like Christ and be a purified servant set apart for His purposes. The flesh is completely opposed to that in every sense. So what are we to make of this conflict?
B. We Cannot Be Neutral (v. 17b)
Paul tells us about the results of this conflict in v. 17b: “for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” He adds, “these are opposed to each other.” And that is very clear. The flesh is set against the Holy Spirit in every sense, and the Holy Spirit is set against the flesh in every sense. What the flesh wants, the Holy Spirit hates. What the Holy Spirit wants, the flesh hates.
But what happens because of this opposition and conflict? “to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Paul says that it keeps you from doing the things you want to do. You can’t do what you want to do, because you are either doing what the Spirit wants you to do, or you are doing what the flesh wants you to do. You are not free to be neutral and do the things you want to do. The flesh and the Spirit are fighting each other and their power and influence determine the direction of your choices and decisions—you don’t. You can only do what the flesh or the Spirit wants. You are either controlled by the flesh or by the Spirit.
It’s like taking a long road trip driving down a two-lane interstate road. You never stop driving. You may change lanes to go faster, avoid traffic, or avoid an accident, but you are in one lane or the other. That’s the way it is with the flesh and the Spirit. At all times, you are driving in one lane or the other. You might be driving in the lane of the flesh or the lane of the Spirit, but you will never stop driving. You are in one or the other. You cannot be neutral in this conflict. You are feeding one and starving the other. You can’t feed both at the same time, nor can you starve both at the same time.
III. The Results of Walking by the Spirit (v. 18)
We’ve seen the command to walk by the Spirit (v. 16), and the reason to do so (v. 17), and I realize at this point that we may be tempted to despair because of what Paul has just said about this conflict of desires taking place in our hearts. What hope do we have for overcoming the desires of the flesh? We have great hope. Notice what Paul says in v. 18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
Paul is saying, “Yes, there is a real, deadly conflict taking place, but if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” “Under the law?” It seems like Paul should have said, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the flesh—you are free from its dominion to serve and fulfill the desires of the Spirit.”
But he doesn’t say that. He says that the Galatians are not under the law if they are led by the Spirit. What does he mean then? It seems to interrupt the flow of this passage, but it doesn’t. To understand this, we need a bit of a history lesson.
Law to the Israelites
God gave the Israelites a unique code of law to direct His people in their worship, their relationship with Him, and their social relationships with one another. It served many purposes: to establish them as a nation, to set them apart so they could reflect God’s glory, and finally to show the people their need for Him, thus paving the way for the Christ to fulfill the whole law and take the punishment for transgression against the law.
The people could never keep the whole law. They had no heart transformation in order to do so. So they were promised throughout the OT that a Messiah would come and change their hearts—and many placed their faith in this Messiah who would come.
These promises culminate in a passage in Jeremiah:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
They looked forward to that day when God would write His law on the hearts of His people, when they would be transformed and enabled to carry out His laws.
The Spirit to God’s People
That day came when Jesus ascended after His death and resurrection and the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers in Acts 2. This is the Holy Spirit who would enable them to carry out the laws of God and overcome sin. The old system of self-effort, and not being able to keep the law is one sense of what Paul means by “under the law,” here. It is pre-Christian system of trying to be obedient to God’s laws with no desire or power to do so.
But you’d think after Pentecost the early Christians would know that the Holy Spirit enabled them to do the commands of God and overcome sin right? Wrong. A group of Jews known as the Judaizers came in teaching that you must follow the law of Moses to be saved, and that the only way to overcome sin is by keeping the law. They were trying to solve an internal problem by external solutions. They taught that the law was the only safeguard against sin. They had infiltrated the Galatian church to whom Paul is writing, and Paul is telling them: “If you are saved, you should be walking by the Spirit—and if you are walking by the Spirit you will be led by Him—and if you are being led by Him, then you are not under the old system of law—you are not required to keep the laws of God by your own effort, but you have power to keep the laws of God through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence!”
That’s what Paul means by not being under the law. We might think this is irrelevant. But we do the same thing that the Galatians had a problem with. We think we can overcome sin by our own self-effort. We think, “Things are going to be different this time.” We lie awake at night and say, “Never again.” “Never again will I lose my temper, never again will I get on that website, never again will I take a drink.” We try harder and harder and make more commitments, but we are believing the same lie as the Galatians if we think that there is an ounce of strength in our flesh to overcome sin and carry out the commands of God.
“But,” says Paul, “if you are led by the Spirit,” you can overcome sin and carry out the commands of God. Notice that Paul emphasizes the leadership of the Holy Spirit here. It is not being led by Him for tough decisions, but we will be walking by the Spirit as such a habit that He leads us every day. If we’re walking by the Spirit, then we will be led by Him—led by His power source. Every step enabled and empowered and guided by Him.
Having the Spirit’s presence in our lives means two things:
1.) The ability to overcome sin. The Spirit of God enables and empowers us to trump over the presence of sin in our lives by His conquering presence (vv. 16, 18). Before we were saved, we had no ability or desire to overcome sin, but now we have both, thanks to God the Spirit who lives in us.
2.) The ability to carry out God’s commands. The other side of this coin is that we have the power and ability to do God’s will revealed in the Bible, as we continually submit to His power and leadership in our daily lives.
Paul is telling the Galatians that they are free from self-effort in trying to overcome sin and to carry out the commands of God. I learned about this great truth in a humorous way a few years ago. I was praying outside (it’s always good to pray outdoors right?) and I was saying something like, “Lord, I pray You’d help me to overcome sin by Your power today. Lord, if I think for one second that I can overcome sin and do Your will by my own strength,if I think that I can do this on my own, then I’m going to . . .” And before I could finish my prayer, I slipped on something outside and fell flat on my back. I just laughed after that, and said, “Lord, thanks for that reminder.” Beloved, please understand that the same thing will happen to you if you attempt to overcome sin and do God’s will by your own self-effort, you will fall flat on your back.
If we are led by the Spirit we will have the power to overcome sin and the ability to do God’s commands.
IV. How Can We Walk by the Spirit?
We’ve unpacked this wonderful passage verse-by-verse. So far we’ve seen that we should walk by the Spirit so we can overcome sin (v. 16), then we saw that the reason why we should walk by the Spirit is because there is a deadly conflict taking place in our hearts (v. 17), and finally that we are free from trying to please God by our own efforts (v. 18). But how does one walk by the Spirit? We need to know how. I have a few suggestions.
1.) Acknowledge Your Helplessness. You need to recognize and acknowledge that you need Him and His power to overcome sin and do God’s commands. I’ve heard it said before, “God won’t put on you more than you can handle.” That’s not in the Bible, you know that? If you could handle it, why would there be a need for the power of God? The first step in walking each step of each day by the Spirit’s power is to recognize that you need Him to guide your steps. We cannot overcome sin and be obedient to God without Him. Remember Jesus in John 15 where He says, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5)? You know what you can do apart from Christ? You can sin. But you can’t be obedient to Him and overcome sin. Realize that you need Him, and acknowledge it before Him. God saved us by the Holy Spirit and He will sustain us by the Holy Spirit. Acknowledge your helplessness.
2.) Trust His Power. This goes hand in hand with #1. If we realize we are helpless, then we must also realize that He is our Helper—and we must trust Him. We may despair and think that God is done with us when we are stuck in habitual sins or feel like we’re not progressing in our faith—but that’s where trusting His power comes in. God is not done with you! “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). We must acknowledge that we need His help and power, and then believe that He will grant it to us.
3.) Allow Him to Control Your Thought Life. There is a close correlation between our thought life and mind with walking by the Spirit. If there is a conflict of desires, and desires are in our heart, and the only way to get to the heart is through the mind, then we need to think on the things that would be pleasing to God. That’s how spiritual growth works and that’s one way walking by the Spirit works. What is going on in your mind funnels down into your heart—influencing your decisions and desires. We need to be thinking His thoughts, and allowing Him to control what goes on in our thought life. And what we’re thinking is revealed by how we live. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8). You need to get the word of God into your heart, but the only way to do so is by getting it first into your mind—this happens by reading and studying it.
4.) Thank Him for the Victories. When you do overcome sin, praise God in prayer. When you are obedient to the Lord by His power, lift up those hands and sing Him a song. “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting” (Psalm 147:1).
5.) Do It Step-By-Step. All of these things must be done step-by-step. That’s what walking is. It’s not running or jogging. And sometimes walking gets hard—it can be tiresome. But constantly and daily we must acknowledge our helplessness, trust His power, submit our minds to Him, and thank Him for those victories.
Peter Parker’s Greatest Regret
Unfortunately, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man chose sometimes failed to use his powers. Many of his friends died because he didn’t use his powers in the right ways and at the right times, and many times he was defeated by villains. But nothing hurt Peter Parker as much as the death of his Uncle Ben, which he later learned was his own fault.
Spider-Man was trying to make money by wrestling large opponents in a local fighting ring. When he felt like he was underpaid by the owner, he walked away angry. As Spider-Man leaves, a man robs the fighting ring owner and Spider-Man lets him go because he felt cheated. Later that night Uncle Ben dies by a gunshot from a car thief. Later on, Spider-Man discovers that it was the burglar that he had let go in the fighting ring.
Spider-Man lived with the consequences and damage of not using his powers to do good. And this principle applies to us in our relationship with the Holy Spirit. If we are not living step-by-step by the Holy Spirit’s power, it will cause great damage to our relationship with God, our relationships with others, and our witness and effectiveness to our lost and dying world. Are you walking by the Spirit today?
This message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church in Ballard County, KY on the 30th day of August 2015.
This question comes from Galatians 5:16 where the apostle Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The idea in this verse is that if we will walk by the Spirit, we will overcome our sinful desires. So it is imperative that we discover what it truly means to walk by the Spirit.
This term “walk” carries an interesting meaning. It was a Hebrew term that described one’s life, one’s conduct, or someone’s “walk of life.” This is repeated throughout the Old Testament in various passages like these:
“For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him” (Deut. 11:22).
“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’” (Jeremiah 7:23)
This Hebraic term is used repeatedly in the Old Testament to picture one’s life. It’s another word for living or life. And life is a lot like walking isn’t it? Walking is something we learn to do. We are taught as a toddler how we are to walk. That’s how life is—it’s something we learn how to do. We learn how to interact with people, develop relationships, get jobs, have families, and so on.
Walking is also step-by-step. Life is a lot like that. It’s just one day at a time—one small step at a time. We learn one thing one day, and another the next. So we understand walking in the Scriptures as talking about our conduct, conducting one’s life, living step-by-step just like walking. So Paul tells the Galatians to live step-by-step “by the Spirit.”
Walking by the Spirit is a continuous, regular action. It is a habitual way of life. It is submitting every step of our daily lives to the Spirit’s control, so that He can move us forward in our Christian lives.
Now, already we live by the Spirit because He gives us new spiritual life. Everyone remembers what Jesus says to Nicodemus about this (John 3:3-6). Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born of the Spirit” in order to enter the kingdom of God. This is what happens at conversion. When we trust Jesus by faith and repent of our sins, the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life. It is by the Spirit that we are born again. He takes what Jesus did on the cross and applies it to us—the Spirit gives us life. (Rom. 8:11)
So although we already live by the Spirit in this sense, then why are we commanded here to live by the Spirit (or walk by the Spirit)? Because there is action required of us. We take many “steps” every day. We make a choice whether or not we will pray and read the Bible in the morning. We make a choice to call other drivers something non-Christian. We make a choice to minister to someone or stay quiet and do nothing. We make a choice to fall into temptation or resist it by God’s power. Every step we take needs to be guided by the Spirit in this walk we call life.
There’s a wonderful result from walking by the Spirit. Paul attaches a wonderful promise onto this command saying that when we do walk in the Spirit, that if we will make the effort to walk by the Spirit, we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 16b). There is no negotiating here. You will not gratify the desires of flesh if you are walking by the Spirit. These desires of our flesh are what remains of our sin nature. Yes Christ redeemed us, and yes we are new persons in Christ, but we are not entirely free from the presence and power of sin—and sin has power through our desires. The Bible says that the desires of our flesh are not from God, we should avoid them, and abstain from them because they wage war against our own souls (1 John 2:16; Rom. 13:14; 1 Pet. 2:11).
We will be fighting our old sin nature until the day we pass from this earth and are glorified with the Lord in His eternal presence. But until then, we are in a constant fight. The only way to overcome the desires of our flesh is to submit each step of our daily lives to the Spirit. To walk by the Spirit. This is ultimately the only way to overcome our sinful desires. There are no other solutions or ways. Often times we try to solve the problem of sin in our lives with the wrong solutions—trying harder, committing ourselves, saying to ourselves, “Never again will I sin in this or that way.” But the only sure solution to overcoming sin is by walking by the Spirit of God. The flesh cannot be tamed, it cannot be reformed, it cannot be trained, and it cannot be improved—but it can be overcome by walking by the Spirit.
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The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on March 16th, 2014:
We are going to look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians this morning and how Paul felt about the problems that they were facing. Galatians was one of the problem churches of the New Testament. They had been born out of Paul’s missionary efforts and had become a church—but a crisis has hit this church of Galatia. It’s important that we read about the crisis that hit their church because there isn’t anything that makes us any different from them today. So let’s get into this text.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Do you see what is missing here? Not that the Scriptures are inefficient and lacking, but there is something missing here that is usually found in Paul’s letters. Let’s take a look at all of Paul’s letters to the churches of the NT and see if you can find out what is missing here in his letter to the Galatians:
To the Romans: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Rom. 1:8).
To the Corinthians: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4).
To the Ephesians: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Eph. 1:16).
To the Philippians: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Phil. 1:3).
To the Colossians: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you” (Col. 1:3).
To the Thessalonians: The first letter, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Thess. 1:2). The second letter, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thess. 1:3).
As soon as we read the first few verses here, we notice that there is no thanksgiving. Of course I don’t mean the holiday, Thanksgiving, but there is no expression of thankfulness for these Galatians like there is in the rest of Paul’s letters to the churches. Paul expresses his thanksgiving to all the churches to whom he has written, except for the Galatians.
But not so with these Galatians. Paul doesn’t waste any time addressing the problem and says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (1:6).
It is Astonishing to Turn Away From the Gospel
First Paul tells his Galatian readers, “I am astonished.” This is his expression—and it wasn’t a good astonishment either. It was astonishing to Paul that these believers were turning away from the gospel. The idea here is that it is astonishing to turn away from the gospel!
The gospel isn’t a genre of music, it’s not a lofty idea in literature, it’s not something that only theologians argue about, folks the gospel is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The gospel is the greatest thing that God could ever offer you—and to turn away from it is astonishing.
The gospel is what reconciles us to a God whom we have offended (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). The gospel not only individually transforms, but it corporately unites (Rom. 15:6; Eph. 2:14-18) . The gospel is received by individuals but the gospel grafts you into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:16). The gospel is how you are made right in God’s sight (Rom. 5:1, 8:30; Gal. 2:16-17, 3:24; Titus 3:7). The gospel is how the wrath of God was absorbed for you (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2). The gospel is how you are free to serve God (Gal. 5:1; 1 Peter 2:16). The gospel is what sets you free from the power of sin and death (John 8:36; Rom. 6:7, 8:2). The gospel is what’s worth living and dying for (Phil. 1:21).
The Gospel Brings You to God
The gospel is what brings you to God. You see, God is the ultimate goal. You see, everything that the gospel accomplishes is really to remove the obstacles that are blocking your way to God. Through the gospel, the obstacles are moved out of the way so you can get to God. In justification—sin is out of the way and only Christ’s righteousness is seen (2 Cor. 5:21). In substitutionary atonement—the debt is paid—here’s the warrant for your rightful arrest and it has listed on it “The soul that sinneth shall surely die” but instead of us paying for it, God nails that warrant through the hands of His Son, thus canceling the debt against you (the debt is out of the way). (1 Peter 3:18)
In redemption, God purchases you for Himself. You are His possession. “For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20) In setting you free from sin, you are free to serve God—enabled to serve and honor Him (John 8:36). In giving you eternal life, you will be in a place where you will never depart from God’s presence (Revelation 5:9-13).
All that God does is in the gospel is to bring you to Himself. He is the ultimate, final, highest and greatest gift of the gospel. And to turn away from this gospel? That’s absurd! Yet people are doing it every day. The world counts the gospel as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18), as folly. And apart from the grace of God leading you to faith, you will naturally hate the things of God. So you will naturally turn away from the gospel if you aren’t redeemed.
It is true that people are turning away from the gospel and this is a most astonishing thing, but are we living our lives in such away that demonstrates the worth of the gospel so that people will see what a mistake it is to turn away from the best thing God could ever offer you? Let’s make sure we are demonstrating to the world the worth of the gospel by our lives being transformed.
Turning Away Can Be a Christian Problem
Paul says here that it is astonishing to turn away from the gospel, but he also says more about the problems for these Galatians: “. . . you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (v. 6b). It’s also interesting to note here that Paul says they were quickly deserting Christ and His gospel. This means that not much time has passed since the Galatians had believed in the gospel. Not much time had passed since their conversion, and now they are quickly deserting Christ and His message. More specifically, they were deserting “him who called you in the grace of Christ.” They are not just turning from a doctrine or a teaching. But if they were “called [into] the grace of Christ,” then this indicates that these Galatians were believers.
If they weren’t Paul would not have said that they were “called [into] the grace of Christ.” Because that’s how salvation happens for people. God calls you to repentance and faith in His Son, Jesus Christ—and everything, everything, about salvation is dependent on the grace of God. So this problem of deserting the gospel and turning to a different gospel can be a Christian problem. Nothing has happened that makes them any different from us today. What was the “different gospel” that they were turning to? The teaching of justification by works.
We as Christians are suspect to fall prey to “quickly deserting” Jesus Christ and the message of justification by faith just like these Galatians. If the Galatians were, why wouldn’t we be? Their reason for quickly deserting Christ was that there were some who troubled them. It was people who were within the church. They weren’t being infiltrated by some religion in a distant land. They were being deceived by those called themselves Christian “brothers” (Gal. 2:4). They were Judaizers who were within the church trying to teach that justification is by works—in this case, keeping the law. Paul reveals throughout this letter that this is what the Judaizers were trying to teach.
Today we are not likely to hear a church member say that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. Something like that should easily turn on a red light for us, but we do have an epidemic in the church today. Many of us become Christians and then we fall into this “do-it-yourself” mentality. We believe that God gives us grace to be saved, but after we are saved, we fall into a type of thinking where we actually believe that we must do more service to gain more of God’s approval. For some reason, we start to believe that God’s approval and acceptance of us.
This was exactly the problem for the Galatians.
But according to the gospel, there is nothing you could ever do to gain more approval in God’s sight. Nothing. God’s approval and acceptance of you is totally and completely based on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His work specifically of justification. Justification is the brightest facet on the gospel diamond.
What happens in justification?
1) Christ takes your sin, like making it His own—charging it to His own account, though He never sinned. That way, in God’s sight it is as though you had never sinned to begin with.
2) But the other side of that coin is that God credits Christ’s righteousness to your account. Christ takes your sin and in exchange gives you His righteousness. That is how we are accepted and approved of in God’s sight. Oh God wants that for us! “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
You can do nothing to add onto that. You can do nothing to take away from that. What about if you gave away all your money to the poor? Wouldn’t that make Him love you a little bit more? Absolutely not. What if you went to live on the foreign mission field with another people group, a different language, and stripped away from your family? Absolutely not. What if you went one full-week without a single, lustful thought? Absolutely not! God’s approval is based on this: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). And Romans makes this truth explode with brilliance: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4).
In Christ, there is nothing you can do that would make God love you any more than He already does. He loves you because He loves you. And in Christ, there is nothing you have done that makes Him love you any less.
Do not fall into the mindset of “works-righteousness.” Embrace the gospel’s truth of justification by faith. You will wear yourself out trying to gain more of God’s acceptance. In fact, the Scriptures say that you will become a slave to “works-righteousness” if you think that obedience is earning God’s approval: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
What should be the driving force behind obedience to God then? We are seeking to please Him every day. We are seeking to be more obedient today than we were yesterday. But we should be seeking to be obedient to God because we want to. The proper response to receiving this “so great salvation” (Heb. 2:3) is joyful sacrifice to Him regardless of the cost. Christ paid the greatest cost at Calvary, and we will want to joyfully give our lives in service to Him because He is worth losing everything and anything for.
Make sure you check your motive for obedience to God. Are you motivated by thinking that God will approve of you more? Or are you motivated because you want to make much of Him in every part of your lives? Are you motivated to serve God because you want to see Him glorified, magnified, and lifted up? Are you motivated to serve God because you want people’s attention to be drawn to Him?
No Other Gospel
We have seen that it is astonishing to turn away from the gospel, and that we as believers today are easily subject to fall into the mentality of “works-righteousness” but that we must not, for that is not the gospel at all. Paul continues his argument here and defends the gospel by saying: “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (v. 7).
In this verse, Paul says that what they were turning to was not really the gospel at all. He refuses to recognize this heresy as a “gospel.” This “different gospel” was the product of “some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
Paul states the truth that there is no other gospel. And there isn’t.
There is no other message on the face of the planet that teaches that God completely forgives sin based on the final sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is not another message in this world that has endured the test of time, death, persecution, and struggle. The message of the gospel is the final triumphant message in the world—and there is no other gospel. There is no other good news like this good news.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Christ is the only way to God. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is not a way. He is not a good way. He is not one out of many ways. He is the way. And there is no other way that you could ever reach God by your own efforts, by your own works, by your own good intentions. The only way that you could ever get to God is through Jesus Christ. There is no other gospel. No other way.
This is quite contrary to the belief today that there are many ways to God. I read in a story once that there were these two religious leaders talking about their religions. One of them was a Buddhist religious leader. The other was a Muslim religious leader. And they said, “You know, when it comes right down to it, our religions aren’t really that different. Some minor details at the most are what make us different. Really we are trying to reach God at the top of a mountain but we are going up that mountain different ways.”
Folks, the message of the gospel is that God came down from that mountain to meet sinners like you and I. We do not climb a mountain different ways to get to the same God. The foundational, life-transforming message of Christianity is that God came to you. Because you couldn’t come to Him. The Bible says that we are born haters of God (Rom. 1:30), sinners by nature and dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:3), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), not seeking Him (Rom. 3:11). There is no way on earth we could ever get to God on our own. But thank God Jesus paid a debt that we couldn’t pay! He lived the life we could never live! And He died in our place, He paid for our sins, He bought us with a price, He justified us in God’s sight, and He absorbed the wrath of God that we deserved.
Imagine it this way: If you and I were standing about a hundred yards away from a dam of water that was ten thousand miles high and ten thousand miles wide. All of the sudden that dam was broken and a surging flood of water comes crashing down at us. But right before it reaches us, the ground in front of us opens up and swallows it all. Folks, at the cross, Christ drank the full cup of God’s wrath, and when He downed the last drop, he cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). All who turn away from sin and have faith in Jesus Christ have can have their sins totally forgiven though this gospel.
Some Who Trouble You
But again, the problem was from those who wanted to distort the gospel of Christ. And there are many today who are deceived by “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). Don’t think that you are immune to being easily deceived folks, the Bible says that the devil can even disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
But how will we protect ourselves against “different gospel[s]” as Paul says here if we barely spend time in the Bible? Folks, if Sunday morning and possibly Sunday night is the only time you get a feeding of the Word of God, then you are as vulnerable to false gospels as a baby lamb is to a roaring, hungry lion.
If you are not arming yourself with the Bible, meditating on the Bible, memorizing the Bible, studying the Bible, reading the Bible, then you will be “tossed about like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:16). Often times, when we have revivals we get our hearts set on fire for Christ and have a rekindled passion for the word of God. But if we we’re growing in our maturity and knowledge of God’s Word like we should be, then we wouldn’t have to depend on events like these to get revived!
These events are great, but we need to realize that clear knowledge of God is the kindling that sustains fires of affection for God. Theology matters. The study of God matters. Because if you have a low view of God, then your worship of Him will be low. But if you have a high view of God, then your worship of Him will be high. We need to strive for maturity in our faith—and study God’s Word to defend ourselves against what is not true or right.
For years people have tried to cheat the US Treasury Dept. by producing fake bills and attempting to duplicate currency. But you know how the US Treasury Dept. recognizes counterfeit bills? They know the real thing. And we will be utterly defenseless against heresies and false teachings if we do not know the real thing—the Word of God.
Will you take the time to arm yourself with the Word of God? Will you take the time necessary to read, study, and memorize the Word of God in order to recognize “different gospels?” Dive into Bible study and trust that God will help you discern what is right and what is wrong. Just plunge into Bible study on faith.
Paul has expressed that he is astonished that these Galatians are so quickly deserting the gospel. Then he defends the fact that there is not another gospel, but the problem is with “some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (v. 7), now Paul reinforces his argument by saying: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (vv. 8-9).
Paul says that “even if we” meaning himself and his missionaries, preach a different gospel, let him be accursed. What was the gospel that Paul and his missionaries preached? The gospel of justification by faith. This is clear throughout this letter. In fact, a theme verse to sum up Paul’s argument is Galatians 2:16: “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
It’s interesting that Paul uses himself and his missionaries as an example here. “Even if we. .” Paul extended that curse to himself and his missionaries if they had preached a different gospel. That means that his message must never change or deviate—because the truth of the gospel never changes. There is nothing you can add to it, nothing you can take away from it.
Paul says that anyone, even an angel, that preaches a gospel contrary to justification by faith, is to be accursed. Paul doesn’t mean “let that person be excommunicated,” like if someone is preaching to you a different gospel, kick him out of your church. It can’t mean that. Paul says that “even if an angel” preaches a contrary gospel, let him be accursed. Angels can’t be excommunicated from a local body. The phrase means “let him be delivered up to the wrath of God.”
Why? Because to preach a different gospel meant to reject the gospel—and if you reject the gospel you bring God’s curse upon yourself. Don’t read over these verses and yawn and then turn the page. What these Judaizers were doing was forthright damnable. If they taught that keeping requirements and keeping laws was the way to be justified in God’s sight, that justification is not based on the finished and final sacrifice of Christ on the cross and you must receive that justification by faith. . . then they were:
1) Presenting a “road of salvation” that actually leads to death. Because no man will be justified in God’s sight by works. Paul says elsewhere in this letter “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
2) Denying the claim that Jesus was the Messiah. The Old Testament Scriptures promised that the Messiah was the One through whom God’s saving purposes would be accomplished.
Paul says that if they do that they are anathema. When a person is anathema he is cut off from Christ (Rom. 9:3) and doomed to eternal punishment. Paul says that because this justification by works is the way that leads to death. The way that leads to eternal punishment—because works will never be enough to gain God. They only way to do that is through faith in Jesus Christ.
I just shriek in my heart when I see these televangelists who are preaching the prosperity message and these people are just eating it up! These false teachers are under the anathema and so are the They are “amening,” singing and dancing. And why? Because God has apparently chosen to bless you with nothing but financial wealth? I tell you what, I don’t need that folks. I’m rich enough through the gospel!
This damnation isn’t just for these false teachers described in these verses. This goes for anyone who rejects the gospel. John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Paul even uses the same word in 1 Cor. 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed.”
Meditate on the Horror
We need to think deeply about the horror of rejecting the gospel folks. We are too occupied with work, television, and worldly things that we hardly think about the real damnation that people will experience if they reject the gospel. We need to think about the anathema the way a child hears his first peal of thunder, or the way a child feels his first earthquake, or suffers his first storm at sea.
1) God’s wrath is real and we need to be sharing what Christ did about this wrath with everyone we meet. We need to have a real concern for them because the whole world is under God’s curse if they do not trust in Jesus Christ to be their Savior. C. H. Spurgeon said, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!”
2) We need to meditate on that from which we have been saved. That if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ on the cross and God’s grace extending to us who are totally undeserving of His mercy—then we would face the full wrath of God for our sin.
Ponder these things. Allow them to humble you.
The Servant of the Gospel is Not a Servant of Man
Paul has expressed his astonishment for the Galatians giving allegiance to another gospel, which Paul says is no gospel at all. He tells them how serious it is to distort the gospel’s message. And now, Paul concludes this passage of Scripture by asking a few rhetorical questions. Questions that have obvious answers: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (v. 10).
Paul isn’t asking this question in regards to justification. Because God’s approval was already his through Jesus Christ. The reason Paul says this here is because of what he said above. He has said some things that will not win him very many friends. He says that those who preach a false gospel are accursed. Paul realized that it doesn’t please very many people to hear the pronouncement of damnation. Paul is talking this way because pleasing people (telling them what they want to hear) is much lower on his list of priorities than serving Jesus Christ.
There is too much at stake for Paul to talk lightly about this problem of swearing allegiance to something else other than the gospel—it’s a life or death situation. If the gospel is twisted then Christ’s work on the cross is dishonored. If the gospel is twisted, then the way of salvation for sinners is blocked. So, Paul must oppose the perverting of the gospel with all his might—whether it pleases people or not.
Seeking to Please God
The meaning here is not that if more people are displeased with you, then you are more spiritual. Paul’s aim was never to take people out of the equation. He didn’t want to alienate people (1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 15:2). It is good to “please people” when it means that pleasing them is a means to their salvation and it builds them up in the faith for God’s glory. But when the gospel is at stake, and we are in situations where our faith could be compromised, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I now seeking to please God or man?” For Acts 5:29 says, “We must obey God rather than men.” When you are tempted to hide your faith ask yourself this question.
Paul indicates here that he lives for God and for God alone. How thrilling is that? You don’t have to worry about pleasing one person here and another person over here. You only live to please one person—God. That challenges every aspect of your life. When you live to please God, everything you do relates to pleasing Him. Should I see this movie? Read this book? Make this purchase? Take this job? Go out on this date? Marry this person? It is so freeing to know that there is one person who is to be pleased in every decision of our lives—Jesus. Sometimes pleasing Him will please others. Other times it won’t. Other times it will cost you dearly—but anything is worth losing when you know you have a God that you can never lose. A God that is infinitely worth more than anything this world affords.
The shining truth of this passage is that there is one, and only one gospel. It is astonishing for one to turn away from this gospel—because you are turning away from God, and away from grace in Christ. It is not only astonishing, but it is tragic, damnable, because the person who rejects the gospel is accursed and cut off from God.
But on the other hand, if you embrace the true gospel—the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for your justification—not only are all your sins forgiven by God, but freedom will come into your life because you will live to please one person—Jesus Christ.
The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 26th day of May, 2013:
I was sitting in McDonald’s parking lot one afternoon right after I finished eating a crispy chicken BLT and I was in the car with my Bible. I had just finished reading a chapter in the Book of Acts and as I sat in my car, I had this thought cross my mind:
“In my judgment, Revelation is not the scariest or most startling book in the Bible. Though it is quite graphic in its description of judgment, I believe the Book of Acts is the most startling. Why? Well after reading it for so long, I have been truly astonished. Chapter after chapter, verse by verse, letter by letter, constantly I am left wondering, ‘Have we missed something in the church in America?’ Why isn’t the body of Christ living like this? After pondering this, I realized quickly that it isn’t something we have missed, but rather Someone: the Holy Spirit. And then great horror begins to build within me because I fear where our churches are going to be if we continue to neglect the Holy Spirit. What will be their condition if we continue to do so?”
I believe the Holy Spirit has been forgotten. I’m not joking. “From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten.” (Forgotten God, Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski. 2009 by Francis Chan) I know you wouldn’t dare deny His existence, but I’m willing to bet that there are millions of church-goers (and maybe even you) who cannot say confidently that they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. That is a tragedy.
One of the greatest problems in presenting our faith to people and especially in preaching is overemphasis and under-emphasis. In other words, placing too much importance on one issue and not enough importance on another. Balance is essential. I am not saying that the there should be more emphasis on the Holy Spirit and less on other important issues, but I am saying that He is clearly being tragically neglected. My focus through this message is to explain the person and work of the Holy Spirit and to show one of the most significant ways we are respond to Him. I hope that within however long we are here in this meeting together, that we will allow God to reverse our tragic neglect of the Spirit. Without Him, people work, think, plan and operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results. But when believers operate through the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. Only when we work through His strength will we accomplish God-sized results.
“16 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. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, 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.
25 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.” (Galatians 5:16-26 ESV)
It is always important and necessary to look at a few facts about the entire letter before we dig into this specific text. Why is that? Because Galatians (like the rest of the Bible) was written in another language, in another culture, in another time, to another people. Before Galatians has meaning for us, it had meaning for someone specific. When we discover these facts, great insights are made available to us and we can then properly grasp the meaning of this text.
So who was the author? The Apostle Paul. He was originally writing to the churches in southern Galatia, founded on Paul’s first missionary journey. This church was a problem church. It isn’t like the church “in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1) or “at Philippi” (Philippians 1:1). When Paul was writing to those two churches (at different times) he doesn’t mention any heresy that he is trying to confront and doesn’t call out any problem within the churches. But as for the Galatians, a crisis has hit the church. The church came into being as a result of God’s Spirit at work in Paul’s proclamation of the gospel (3:1-5; 4:13-15). But within the short space of time since Paul left (1:6), the church has been visited by false teachers whom Paul calls those “who trouble you” (1:7) or “those who unsettle you” (5:12). And Paul was writing to refute these false teachers called “Judaizers.” The Judaizers basically taught that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish law in order to be saved. Paul also was writing to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ.
This passage that we are looking at isn’t the first mentioning of the Holy Spirit in the letter to the Galatians (3:2, 14; 4:6), but it is Paul’s declaration to live by the Spirit’s power. However, I think it is important to get a firm grasp on who the Holy Spirit is, what He does, and what He is like before we see how we can respond to Him by keeping “in step with the Spirit” (5:25).
- The Trinity
Now before we begin to grasp the Holy Spirit, it is important to make sure you have a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about the Trinity. I have heard all of the popular descriptions of the Trinity. The egg: the shell, the white stuff, and the yolk. I have heard about the three forms of H2O (water, ice, and steam). While these serve as simple metaphors for an unexplainable mystery, the fact is that God is not like an egg, or three forms of water. God is not like anything. He is incomprehensible, incomparable, and unlike any other being. “He is outside our realm of existence and, thus, outside our ability to categorize Him” (Forgotten God, Chan with Yankoski. p.66). Two concepts that will help you grasp the Trinity are the Incomprehensibility of God and the Knowability of God. You might think I am riding on a hobby horse right now and you may be right. But I hope to clear up any misconceptions you may have about the Holy Spirit and the only proper way to do that is to correctly define the Trinity, and to correctly define the Trinity (carefully and biblically) we must first examine certain concepts that will help in our understanding of this great doctrine. I am not attempting to completely explain the Trinity; the church in times past has been severely embarrassed due to oversimplifying something that cannot be oversimplified!
a. The Incomprehensibility of God
The more you know God, the more you want to know God. And in the quest to know God, it is vital to understand just what it means to really know Him. Methods, expectations, and attitudes in studying theology are determined by one’s definition of “knowing God.” Central to understanding this is the fact that God is both incomprehensible and knowable.
Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand Him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend His whole being. The following passages show this:
“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3 ESV)
“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV)
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34 ESV)
Others are Job 42:1-6; Psalm 139:6, 17-18; 147:5; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 Timothy 6:13-15). These verses teach that not only is God’s whole being incomprehensible but each of His attributes–His greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, and judgments–are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we never know everything there is to know about God, we can never know everything there is to know about even one aspect of God’s character or work.
Why is God Incomprehensible? The main reasons for God’s incomprehensibility are: (1) God is infinite and His creatures are finite. By definition, creatures depend on their Creator for their very existence and are limited in all aspects. Yet God is without limitations in every quality He possesses. This Creator/creature, infinite/finite gap will always exist. (2) The perfect unity of God’s attributes is far beyond the realm of human experience. God’s love, wrath, grace, justice, holiness, patience, and jealousy are continually functioning in a perfectly integrated yet infinitely complex way. (3) The effects of sin on the minds of fallen humans also greatly inhibit the ability to know God. The tendency of fallen creatures is to distort, pervert, and confuse truth and to use, or rather abuse, it for selfish ends rather than for God’s glory (Rom. 1:18-26). (4) A final reason God can never be fully known is that in His sovereign wisdom God has chosen not to reveal some things: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). Many would label it unloving for God to decide to withhold some information from His people. Yet, as with all good fathers, God’s wisdom leads Him to refrain from answering all the questions His children ask Him, and this contributes to His incomprehensibility.
In heaven, God’s incomprehensibility will no doubt be lessened when the effects of sin no longer ravage minds and when He will most likely share some of His secrets. However, God will always be infinite and humans will always be finite, so He will always be beyond human ability to know exhaustively.
What are the implications of God’s incomprehensibility? Well, because God can never be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that they will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of His incomprehensible greatness! God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. The Trinity and other core teachings of the Bible are profoundly mysterious; believing them requires that you have a robust affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God. Now rest a moment and take all of that in.
b. The Knowability of God
The incomprehensibility of God could lead to despair or apathy in the quest to know God, but the Bible also teaches that God is knowable. While God can never be exhaustively understood, He can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently. God is personal, has definite characteristics, and has personally revealed Himself so that He can be truly known. The multiplication of grace and peace in our lives is dependent on knowing God (2 Peter 1:2-3), and this knowledge provides sufficient resources for life and for becoming the people God wants us to be.
Knowledge of God in Christ should be our greatest delight (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). It is the basis of attaining eternal life (John 17:3); it is at the heart of life in the new covenant (Heb. 8:11-12); it was Paul’s primary goal (Phil. 3:10); and it leads to godly love (1 John 4:7-8). God will never be known absolutely, but we can know things about Him that are absolutely true, so much that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of Himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. No one will ever be able to say He lacked the necessary revelation to know God and to start living as God intends.
What are the implications of the knowability of God? Well, God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not to live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what He demands of His creatures. This increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that He is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about Him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is heresy at all! On the contrary, because of His gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so we can understand Him as He has revealed Himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor Him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know Him and please Him with our lives.
The Trinity (continued)
Now that those concepts are hopefully grasped, let’s proceed to the doctrine of the Trinity. The biblical teaching on the Trinity embodies four essential affirmations:
- This one God eternally exists in three persons–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
- These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.
- While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical
(At this point, if you are still angry with confusion, re-read the concepts on the Incomprehensibility and Knowability of God above)
The differences among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the way they relate to one another and their role each plays in accomplishing their unified purpose. The unity of nature and distinction of persons of the Trinity is helpfully illustrated by this diagram:
Scripture attests to the Trinity. Look at Matthew 3 where Jesus was baptized. You have the [God the] Son, Jesus, being baptized. You also have the Spirit “descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (Matt. 3:16b) and the Father saying from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v. 17). Look at the formula for baptism in Matthew 28 when Jesus gives the Great Commission. And there are many other Scriptures (Deut. 6:4; 2 Cor. 13:14; John 14-16). Here’s the bottom line: the doctrine of the Trinity is well beyond human ability to ever fully comprehend. However, it is central to understanding the nature of God and the central events in the history of salvation, in which God is seen acting as, in effect, a tripersonal team. Biblical Christianity stands or falls with this doctrine.
Holy Spirit 101
The Holy Spirit is a fully and completely divine person who possesses all of the divine attributes. God the Spirit applies the work of God the Son. The Spirit’s distinct role is to accomplish the unified will of the Father and the Son and to be in personal relationship with both of them.
The Spirit comforts (John 12:26; 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). The Spirit teaches (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:13). The Spirit speaks (Acts 8:29; 13:2). The Spirit makes decisions (Acts 15:28). The Spirit grieves over sin (Eph. 4:30). The Spirit overrules human actions (Acts 16:6-7). The Spirit searches the deep things of God and knows the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11). The Spirit determines the distribution of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:11). The Spirit interprets and brings human prayer before the throne of the Father (Rom. 8:26-27). The Spirit assures believers of their adoption (Rom. 8:16). The Spirit bears witness to and glorifies Christ (John 15:26; 16:14). The Holy Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). He is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10). He is omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10-11). The Holy Spirit is omnipotent (Luke 1:35-37) and He is holy (Rom. 1:4).
Walk in the Spirit
Now that you hopefully have a grasp on the Holy Spirit, how are you to respond to Him? Our text in Galatians tells us of one significantly important way to do so. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (5:16) The only way to conquer the flesh is to yield to the Spirit. Walk by the Spirit implies both direction and empowerment; that is, making decisions and choices according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and acting with the spiritual power that the Spirit supplies. To “walk” in Scripture regularly represents the pattern of conduct of all of one’s life.
“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.” (v. 17) Paul acknowledges that the Christian life is a struggle–a war between the flesh and the Spirit. He describes two forces at work within us–the Holy Spirit and our evil inclinations (the flesh). Paul is not saying that these forces are equal. The Holy Spirit is infinitely stronger, but we are weak. If we rely on our own wisdom, we will make wrong choices. If we try to walk to in the Spirit by our own human effort, we will fail. Our only way to freedom from our natural evil desires is through the empowering of the Spirit.
Now let me give you a bold warning: This “walking in the Spirit” thing will cause you to make some serious changes in your life. You’re going to have to turn off that TV and open your Bibles. You’re going to have to walk away from that argument and get in your closet and pray. You’re going to have to shut off that computer, get off of Facebook, and study your Bibles. You’re going to have to get up an hour earlier to pray in the morning before you rush off to work. I’m not against any of the activities that we consider “normal” in our generation today, but if we want God to do something big in our lives, we’re going to have to submit to Him more than we do now. You won’t get anywhere with God without submission. The problem is that most of us are okay with Jesus doing some touch-ups in our lives, but He wants to completely transform us. Anything that is in your way of fully surrendering to the Spirit and walking in Him, you need to abandon it. Recklessly abandon anything that may hinder you from allowing God to do all that He has purposed to do through you.
Conclusion: Acts 4:13
Looking at Galatians 5:16-26 we can clearly assume this fact: what you feed will live and what you starve will die. Feed the life of submission and allow God working-room within you and Christ-like characteristics will flow through you (vv. 22, 23). Starve sin and “walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (v. 16). Feed the life of rebellion and sin and your light will be hidden under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). Now a few books earlier in the New Testament, we have the book of Acts. It is all about what God can do through Spirit-filled believers. Read through it sometime and just drink in every word.
My prayer is that your changed life would produce this kind of astonishment: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 ESV, emphasis mine).