Live By the Spirit

Title: Live By the Spirit

Text: Galatians 5:16-21

Time: March 27th

This week we’re getting into the more well-known and famous passages of the Book of Galatians, dealing the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. We’ve covered a lot of ground in this biblical book by Paul the Apostle, and we’re only weeks away from completing it – although we probably won’t finish it until after Easter because I definitely want to give some Easter sermons next month. But today, we’ll be talking about such things as being led by the Spirit and resisting the sinful nature. I’ll also explain what it means to live by the Spirit and not by the law – what that really means, not what it sounds like! Because whenever you hear someone say, “Oh, I live by the Spirit, not by the law,” you’d better watch out because nine times out of ten they are try to justify living in sin. But in this passage, there really is a sense in which the Christian is called to live by the Spirit, or focus on being led by the Spirit, not focus on the law or trying to give one’s full attention to obeying the law. I’ll explain that today, because it takes some explaining in order to get it right. I’ll also try to explain the passage here in Galatians that says those who live by the sinful human nature or the sinful flesh will not inherit the God’s kingdom. On the surface, that might give the false impression that we aren’t saved by grace but instead by works – but that’s not what it’s really saying. I’ll explain that further today. So as you can see, we’ve got a number of different questions that are raised by the passage for today in Galatians. Let me read the passage, Galatians 5:16-21 (read). As you can see, the most famous part of this passage is the list of works of the flesh. I’m sure we’ve all heard the list, or we remember reading that list before. If you look at the list of works of the flesh, you’ll immediately identify a number of items that you are familiar with, sins that you’ve committed before. I hope you haven’t committed all of those sins, but even if you have, thank God, the blood of Jesus can cleanse you from all of them as well. But the point that the Apostle Paul makes here – and which we’ll see as I explain in detail – is that we don’t have to live with those sins in our life if we open ourselves up to being led every day by God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will inspire us to rise above our sinful, selfish human nature and live a life far beyond anything we could achieve with our own human effort. It’s the difference between getting across a lake using a rowboat or a sailboat. I’ve been in both and let me tell you, it’s a lot easier and more enjoyable using a sailboat than a rowboat. Paul wants to show us how to live our Christians lives as people sailing in a sailboat rather than rowing in a rowboat. So let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of this teaching.

First, live by the Spirit and you’ll not fulfill the works of the flesh. Galatians 5:16-17, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Now we all know about original sin, how Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, how their single act of rebellion against God poisoned the whole human race, generation after generation all the way up to our time today. We, all of us here and everyone else who has ever lived, has felt the effects of the Fall, because we and everyone else has a sinful nature, we sin and are sinned against. Now the works of the flesh described here by Paul are those activities we carry out as a result of our fallen, sinful nature. I’ll talk more about these when we cover the list Paul gives, but to give you an idea – sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies. That’s the list Paul gives, but there are many, many more examples. Now notice all of these are basically an expression of selfishness. But if we live by the Spirit, if our soul is oriented around God and not self, we won’t carry out or fulfill these works of the sinful flesh. It’s natural and normal to be self-centered. For example, a little baby, a sweet as they usually are, as cute as they are, usually are very selfish, or self-centered. Their whole world is usually centered upon themselves, what they want, how they feel, for example. They will cry over anything and everything. Why? Because they are selfish. They want what they want and want it now. Now we adults are just like that, only we’ve gotten good at covering up our outward self-centeredness so that we don’t seem impolite or rude. But our natural tendency is to towards selfishness. But when we surrender our soul to God by faith in Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. Now we have a power that can overcome our own selfish, self-centered tendency, so that we can turn away from ourselves and turn toward God and towards loving others. If you’ve had a conversion experience as a teenager or adult you know that things change because you suddenly find yourself wanting to read your Bible or share the gospel with others or go to church or pray or serve the Lord, which normally would run against the natural desire. Normally, we what only what is good for ourselves, but when the Spirit comes we find ourselves wanting what is God’s will first. That’s the miracle of salvation, and it comes about because the Holy Spirit is operating in our lives. The Spirit overrides the selfish or sinful nature within us. Praise God we don’t have to live the Christian life in our own power; we’ve got the Spirit’s power to help us. But there’s more.

Second, if you live by Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” Now here’s where a lot of people are confused. I mentioned last week that Pastor Jay Bakker is a very confused man who thinks that because we are saved by grace that we are basically given a license to sin. That’s wrong. We aren’t given a license to sin, but we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Now what the passage means when it says that if we live by the Spirit we aren’t under the law is that if we are truly being led by the Spirit we can forget duty or obligation to follow the law and rely on inspiration of the Holy Spirit to inspire us to obey the law. Let me give you an example. If you are learning to play a musical instrument, there are rules and techniques to playing that must be learned. If you learn to play the piano (by the way, if there is anyone who would like to play the piano or organ here at the church, we are still in need of one), but anyway, if you learn piano, for example, you’ll learn all kinds of techniques and rules and it will take practice and drills. But hopefully, there will come a time in your playing of the piano that you can actually forget about all that and just play the music. In other words, there should come a point in your playing the instrument, whether it’s a piano or guitar, for example, that you stop consciously thinking about things like, “Am I holding the instrument properly? Is my technique proper? Am I following the rules of playing? Am I doing things correctly?” There should come a time when you lose yourself in the music, forget about the rules or technique of playing, and just relax and play music – and enjoy playing the music without any conscious effort. Ok, now in the Christian life, that’s what Paul is talking about here – “If you are led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the law.” Or in other words, if you are inspired and caught up in the Spirit with your life, you can just go about living your godly Christian life without consciously trying to be good or keep the law, because you’ll naturally obey God and keep the law as led by the Holy Spirit. After all, the Spirit is the HOLY SPIRIT – the Spirit of Holiness. If you are truly led of the Spirit you will be holy, not unholy. Paul doesn’t mean that you aren’t supposed to worry about holiness or following God’s will as expressed in the Bible. He means that if we are staying in close fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit we’ll be inspired to obey God internally not externally by law. We’ll be obeying the law without even thinking about the law. We’ll be obeying the law not out of duty but out of delight, not because we “ought to” but because we “want to.” The Holy Spirit will lead us from within so much so that it seems like we’re doing just what we want to do. It’s the difference between doing something because we want to, not because someone tells us to. Now I’m not saying that there won’t be times when we’ll need to do something we don’t want to do – there will be times when we have to do things we don’t want to do, due to our old sinful nature or selfishness fighting for control. But a mature Christian will more and more want to do what they should do and less and less what they shouldn’t do.

Third, those who live in the flesh won’t inherit God’s kingdom. Galatians 5:19-21, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like; I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” As might be expected, that pastor I was taking about, the one who wrote that new book I saw in the bookstores, Jay Bakker, he says that the last phrase doesn’t mean eternal life in heaven, but enjoying the good life here on earth. He doesn’t like it because it sounds like someone can miss salvation or be lost because they carry out the works of the sinful flesh. Well, Jay Bakker is confused again, because Paul really does mean that people can miss being saved, can miss out on eternal life, because they continue in the works of the sinful flesh. But that doesn’t mean someone can lose their salvation by slipping into sin or stumbling or falling into sin after they are saved. No. Again, we are saved by faith alone not by obedience to the law. But what does Paul mean then when he says that people who carry out the works of the flesh won’t inherit the Kingdom of God? He means that these sins, along with all other sins, lead a person to eternal separation from God, hell and damnation. Sin is serious. Unless a person is saved by the cross of Christ, they are lost, forever. That’s why Jesus came to save us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” John 3:16. Who shall not perish? Whosoever believes in him? Who? Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus by faith alone. That’s what saves us. So then why does Paul seem to say whoever does the works of the flesh shall be lost? Because unless Christ saves you, unless the Spirit comes to live inside you, you will carry out the sinful, selfish works of the flesh. Once the Spirit comes into our lives, we might on occasion or once in a while, fall into sin including the works of the flesh, but that’s only temporary, only a fall, not a lasting, permanent place where we live. We’ll be convicted of sin, we’ll repent of it, we’ll pick ourselves up and get back to following after Jesus. But a person who isn’t saved, who doesn’t have the Spirit inside leading, convicting, guiding them, they’ll just live in the works of the flesh because that’s all they’ll know. If the Spirit is inside of you, you won’t live in sin, and/or if you do, you’ll be convicted of sin and you won’t find any peace until you obey the Spirit inside you and repent and recommit your life to Christ and obeying God’s will. But the non-Christian won’t have any probably living in sin or living with the works of the flesh. In that state, they won’t inherit the Kingdom of God, they won’t be saved, they won’t go to heaven – unless they repent and trust Christ for salvation.

But this brings up the tricky situation of an apparent believer in Christ, a so-called born again Christian who seemingly has no problem living in the works of the flesh. What about that situation? Let’s look at the list again, of course, there are more included in this list than mentioned, but let’s look at the sample list Paul lists. “Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” We obviously don’t have time to take each one individually, but let’s just look at a few. Sexual immorality, for example. Is it possible for a born again Christian to commit the sin of sexual immorality? Sure, I’m sure it happens all the time. Or what about drunkenness? Can a truly saved person commit the sin of drunkenness? Yes, I’m sure that happens too. So then why can Paul say that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Because there’s a difference between living in these sins and falling into these sins. A truly saved person could fall into any of these sins at any time, but if they are truly a child of God they’d better feel convicted of the Holy Spirit, they’d better repent of their sins, and they’d better recommit themselves to following after God, or else they’d better think about whether they are truly saved. There are a lot of people who claim to follow Jesus but don’t follow Jesus. There are too many people who say they are saved but show little or no evidence that it’s true. These people better not think they can simply make a profession of faith by mumbling some words at some point and that saves them. A saved person has the Holy Spirit living within them. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Holiness, which means, if they have the Spirit of Holiness within them they will be led to be holy. If they aren’t led to be holy, they may not have the Holy Spirit in them. And if they don’t have the Holy Spirit in them, they aren’t saved  (Romans 8:9) – despite all their claims. A truly saved person won’t live in immorality or witchcraft or drunkenness or in any of the other sins. That doesn’t mean they might not fall into temptation and sin in these areas, but when they do they will eventually get right because that’s not where the Holy Spirit will let them stay. Now there are some Christians who simply don’t know right from wrong, or never learned that it’s wrong to do certain things, so they need instruction in holiness. But once they learned right from wrong, they’ll keep away from what is wrong and do what is right. There are some Christians who are doing wrong and know it; if they are truly saved, then it’s just a matter of time before they come around to repenting and reforming their life. It must be, because the Holy Spirit will lead them out of their sins. But if someone can live content and at peace in their sins, even after they’ve been warned by fellow Christians, if they can continue on continuously, then guess what? They weren’t really saved after all, because the Holy Spirit won’t stand for that. The Holy Spirit will lead us into holiness. The Holy Spirit will lead us away from sin. Or else he wouldn’t be doing his job – and he always does what he’s supposed to do, and leads us to do what we are supposed to do. Let’s pray.

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