Tag Archives: Spirit

The Preservation of Christian Unity (Eph. 4:2-3)

The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky, on the 28th day of October 2018, during the evening service:


profile pic5Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their two dogs, Susie and Aries.

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You Have an Inheritance (Eph. 1:14)

The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky, on the 28th day of October 2018, during the morning service:


profile pic5Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their two dogs, Susie and Aries.

You Are Sealed (Eph. 1:13)

The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky, on the 21st day of October 2018, during the morning service:


profile pic5Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their two dogs, Susie and Aries.

War of the Soul: Empowered to Fight Through Walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18)

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.

QUESTION: What Does it Mean to Walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16)?

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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Ephesians: Not a Brick Temple—Never That Simple

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 28th DAY OF January 2014:

Introduction—Inevitable Union

There are certain consequences to becoming a believer. One of those consequences is that you become a part of the universal church of God. This is something that happens inevitably—you cannot prevent it from happening. You cannot become a believer and be alone in your walk with God. You cannot have a relationship with God and then sever your relationship with other believers. The Christian life, then, consists of two dimensions—horizontal and vertical.

1) The Christian’s life is vertical because of God.
2) The Christian’s life is horizontal because of God’s people.

These two dimensions interact with each other, and in fact, define each other. Every move you make towards God will affect other believers. Every move you make away from God will affect other believers. You can’t even budge without creating a butterfly effect on the church.

The Text

“19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Strangers and Aliens

In the first verse, Paul says, “So then,” meaning he is getting ready to tell his Gentile readers about the results/implications of Christ’s reconciling work (2:14-18). As a result of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross, so then this is what happens: “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19). Paul’s Gentile readers had been strangers and aliens in relation to God’s people: “. . at one time you Gentiles in the flesh . . . were . . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” (vv. 11-12). But now, their position has changed dramatically. They have a privileged place in God’s new community.

They are no longer strangers and aliens. Now there are some of you out there who are Sci-Fi fanatics, and when you read this you immediately said, “Oh ho! Aliens do exist!” Now even though cosmic aliens do not exist, maybe understanding why we call those green guys aliens in the first place will aid our understanding of what Paul means here. Aliens are those outside earth, according to those with superstitions. And the term is used often times to describe those who come into the United States from an unknown country—illegal aliens. Interestingly enough, the Greek term for aliens here is paroikos, meaning “foreigners.”

For the case of these Gentiles, they were strangers and aliens because they were separate from Israel and her God. But because of Christ’s work on the cross by dying for both of them, these Gentiles would not be transformed into a Jew, and those Jews would not be transformed into Gentiles, but these sinners are transformed into a new being—which makes a new community—the church. What’s more is this: they are not even second-class in this new community, but they are now “fellow citizens with the saints.” That is, with all believers. And even more they are “members of the household of God.”

You are Not What You Once Were—But So Much More

Here’s the way the logic works: You are not what you once were; you are so much more. You are no longer something, but you are now something else. Paul in this chapter has always coupled those two ideas together. He doesn’t ever tell us what we were without telling us what we are now. And he never tells us what we are now without telling us what we were. Throughout this chapter we see this pattern:

1) In Ephesians 2:1-5, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. . . [But because of God’s great love, He gave us new life and] made us alive together with Christ.”

2) In Ephesians 2:12-13, “You were . . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

3) Also in Ephesians 2:14-18, you were two separate peoples (Jew and Gentile) but now through Christ’s death, he has “[reconciled] us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (v. 16).

4) And here: “You were foreigners to God’s people, but now you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19).

From this verse (and the theme taught in this chapter), we draw out one of the beautiful mysteries of the Christian life—we are not what we once were, but we are so much more. In salvation, God doesn’t just make you good. God doesn’t just make you a better person. God doesn’t even just do a few touch ups. He completely replaces what you were—He transforms you, then piles more on top of that. But as Paul teaches here, it is more than that. With that transformation, a baptizing happens that is unavoidable—you may have not wanted it to happen, but it is inescapable. You may have not even been taken through the baptistery yet, but this baptism happens at conversion: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). You do not become a new person and remain as an individual—as a “lone-ranger” Christian, but you indeed are now “citizens in God’s heavenly kingdom, and children in His household.

We Belong

Throughout our lives, let’s face it: We have all felt times when we didn’t belong. We felt unaccepted and inferior. At some point in our lives, we just develop some drive to identify with somebody, some group, or some important cause—even if it is only a sports team. I remember when I was in high school, we would sit in the gym before breakfast—and you could best see the different groups during that particular time. Everyone wanted a place to belong—you had your “All A Students” sitting together with their top dollar clothes. You had your tough guy group who would boast about how much they lift in the gym. You have your gothics, listening to their blaring heavy metal with headphones and wearing dark clothes. And you had your gossip girls. Boy they were a lot of fun to hear in the morning: “Oh no she didn’t girl!” or “I know she was not looking at me!”

But that drive for a sense of belonging is enormous. Why? Because when we identify ourselves with a group, it makes us feel important. Like we are a part of something important. Our text tonight tells us that we do belong. And nobody, and I mean nobody, should feel like an outsider in the church. Like they don’t belong. The people need to know that they do belong. We belong with God’s family. We live in God’s household as members of His family—yet at the same time, we as a body are a house in which God lives and dwells (v. 22). Everyone in this house are family with us.

The Church as a Family of Faith

The church as a family of faith should have the feel of family. What do families do? They care for each other, they are committed to each other, they confront each other, and they sustain each other. “As believers in Christ, we are incomplete without the rest of his body—the church. And the church is incomplete without us. We need others, and others need us” (Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist). A sense of family should shape everything about our church life. A sense of family should shape our worship. Worship should not be like a production we watch; rather it should be like a family experience—because that is what it is. The people of God in the worship of God for the glory of God.

Worship—Let Go and Boogey

We shouldn’t be embarrassed to let loose in our worship. In the Old Testament, we read that David’s first wife, Michal, despised him because he was “leaping and dancing before the LORD” (2 Samuel 6:16). She was embarrassed because of his bold expression. They were married and she was embarrassed about his expression of worship—we are brothers and sisters in Christ, so how much more should we feel comfortable expressing our true selves in worship? I don’t know about you, but I am comfortable around my family. I can do anything around them. Laugh and cry. And we shouldn’t feel closed in when we worship God together, we are worshiping Him as a family—and a worldwide family too. There are secret churches who are meeting underground right now, who are worshipping the Lord in another language and tribe. So don’t feel embarrassed to let loose when you praise your Lord. Still, our worship should be orderly and well done because even the angels are observing our worship (1 Cor. 4:9). But we should be comfortable together.

A Sustained Household

If because of Christ’s reconciling work, strangers and aliens are made into citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, then how is that household sustained? It is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (v. 20). Paul has been painting an image for his Gentile readers. First of a people—“citizens” and “members of God’s household.” Now here, as being built on a foundation. As logic would follow, this ‘household’ would need to be built on some type of foundation.

The Apostles and Prophets

What does that foundation consist of? “The apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” There is some debate about what “apostles and prophets” means here. But Paul doesn’t mean here Old Testament prophets. He is talking about those who have received God’s revelation of Christ. Old Testament prophets prophesied about the coming Messiah, but He wasn’t revealed to them personally—like the apostles and prophets who walked with Jesus. “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4-5). The prophets of the New Testament were very similar to the apostles. But the point Paul is making here is this: You Gentiles are built on the right foundation. You are built on the foundation of God’s revelation. God’s revealing to them of the mysteries of Christ is the source of their foundation.

The Right Foundation

When you are constructing a building, you usually start with the foundation. But as you know, it’s not good enough to just have any old foundation—you have to have the right foundation. You can’t build a brick house on some weak, thin timbers. And the church of God is built on the right foundation—the Word of the living God. Paul was referring here to the revelation that was given to these apostles and prophets—and we have that completed revelation, consisting of 66 books right here in our hands: the Bible.

Revelation: General vs. Special

You see, the only way we could ever know God is if He made Himself known—and He did. He would have to do it that way. There is no other way we could figure Him out. There are two ways in which God reveals Himself to the world:

1) Generally. Creation—it tells us that God is, but it doesn’t tell us anything about His Triunity, or compassion, etc. (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-20)

2) Specially. God has also revealed Himself in a personal way—through the Bible. Also through Jesus, as Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word (John 1:1). But if it weren’t for the Bible, we wouldn’t have the accounts of the gospels to tell us about Jesus.

The Church is Built on the Foundation of the Word of God

The church is built on the foundation of the Word of God. It is where we go for instruction, it is where we go for training, it is where we go for rebuke, it is where we go for guidance (2 Tim. 3:16). Equally important, is obeying that Word of God as we read it. If the church doesn’t embrace the Word of God and obedience to that Word of God as its foundation, then that church will crumble faster than a stale cookie. Jesus talks about how important it is to hear His words, but to do them too: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24-27).

Christ is the Cornerstone

In the latter part of this verse, Paul also assures his Gentile readers that the foundation is held together by Christ because He is the cornerstone. Isaiah 28:16 reads, “therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” This reflected current building practice in which the laying of the cornerstone marked the beginning of the foundation. But not only the beginning of the foundation. Here, Paul doesn’t just say, “You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus being the cornerstone.” It’s interesting that Paul says it this way instead: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Paul not including ‘and’ right here indicates that it’s obvious that this foundation and this community would crumble to pieces if it weren’t for Christ being the cornerstone that holds all of it together. That’s what “cornerstone” means in the Greek here: akrogonianios. It holds together.

The Church is Centered on Christ

Christ holds the church together. Some communities can exist for a variety of reasons, but the Christian church community exists because of Christ and His work and purposes. What distinguishes Christianity apart from other religions is that it is centered on the death, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus. Centered on the only man in any religion who ever claimed to be God. So everything we do in church life—our rituals and traditions—are to draw attention to Jesus Christ. We observe the Lord’s Supper to exalt Jesus. We baptize to exalt Jesus. We tithe to exalt Jesus. Let’s make sure that everything we do in our church life is done in a way that draws attention to God’s mighty Christ. If it’s not done to exalt Christ, it will not last. It will waste away with this perishing earth—“Only one life twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Being Joined Together

The components of this image Paul is painting that we have now: 1) People and a household consisting of those people (v. 19). 2) A foundation, with a cornerstone holding it together (v. 20). 3) And now a structure, as v. 21 reads, “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Paul is telling his Gentile readers here that through Christ, when all of these elements are “being joined together,” it grows into a holy temple in the Lord. You see, Paul doesn’t say that it “has been joined together,” or “when it was joined together.” But when it is joined together, it grows.

Paul doesn’t just mean here when the living stones (the people) are joined together that it grows—He has already dealt with how Jew and Gentile were reconciled/joined together through Christ’s reconciling death (Eph. 2:14-18). Why would he need to restate that? He means that when there is union of all of these elements, it grows. What’s more, Paul says it “grows.” Not “has grown,” or “when it was grown.” This means that this new community is always growing—it is a continuing process. Paul uses the same language later in this letter: “5 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15, 16).

The Church Grows

When you are working on a building project of some kind and you have all the components—the concrete for foundation, the plywood and studs for the walls, the insulation, and the roof material, etc. A building is not completed if all of those components just sit there without being joined together. And when all of these elements are joined together in union, where the people of God realize that they belong to the household of God, and build their lives on the revelation of God, and center their lives on the Son of God, then there will be growth—no doubt.

The church grows in two main ways—in faith and in number. There needs to balance between the both of them—but this growth will not always happen right in front of your eyes. God often times works “behind the scenes.” Probably because when we finally see what God has been up to, we are weak at the knees with humbleness and adoration. But still, God calls us to be obedient to Him even when we are not sure of the results or we cannot see the result.

Dwelling Place for God

Paul has built up tension to reveal this climax. It’s like the high-point of the energy for this text. You are no longer strangers and aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Alright that’s awesome. I’m now who I once was but I am a member of the kindred of God. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. Okay we’re getting closer here. The energy is increasing—so not only am I not what I once was, but I am built on a firm foundation—the right foundation and it is held together by Christ. In whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. We’ve almost made it to the top and Paul crowns this chapter: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v. 22). Paul tops off this chapter by telling his readers they are being built into this place where God lives by His Spirit. The Greek term for “dwelling place” means habitation. Dwelling place here means the same thing as “holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21).

What is ironic about this passage of Scripture is this: The imagery Paul has been using here, pertains to constructing a physical building with all of its components—but what Paul is saying is just the opposite—the church is not a building. It’s not a brick temple. It’s not pews, walls, and lights—it’s the people of God where God dwells by His Spirit.

A Lady Who Despised Church

I was in an Agriculture class one day in high school, and I was talking with one of the substitute teachers about the Christian faith. We soon got on a discussion about church. And I’ll never forget what she said: “I don’t believe in organized religion. That’s why I don’t go to church.” I thought, ‘Lady, the church is an organism!” And that organism has needs, desires, and that organism has pains and sufferings—but that organism is made up of the body of Christ—the people of God.

Don’t you know somebody like that? Don’t you know that there are people who refuse to come to church because they lack an understanding that the church is the people of God? Let’s show them who we belong to. Let’s show them that we are indeed the “dwelling place for God by His Spirit.”

Closing

Let us heed to the Word of God to us tonight. If we are hearers of the Word and not doers—“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23-24). Let no one be deceived, take this Word from God and obey it.