The Long War
Galatians 5:16-25 • Steve Hatter •
Good morning…..it is my privilege accept duty in the pulpit this morning as Pastor Jeff is away this weekend…..
My sermon title is The Long War…..The Long War…..this title represents my attempt to capture both the severity, and the lifelong every day nature of the Christian’s war within the heart….the battle between flesh and Spirit….a battle that indeed rages within us, and will continue to rage within us until God is through sanctifying us, and takes us home to glory……
So, if I do well this morning, I think you’ll see why The Long War works as a descriptor….but let’s begin our time together with a Word of Prayer…..please pray with me……
Heavenly Father, I pray that our message time this morning would be fruitful as we open your perfect Word. I pray this would be your message to those assembled here, and by the power of your Spirit, hearts would be open to receiving Holy Scripture. Lord this message is lifted up to you as an act of love, obedience, and worship, and I pray that I would neither add to, nor take anything away from your perfect truth for us this morning…..in Jesus name, Amen
Please open your Bibles to the New Testament Book of Galatians…..specifically, Galatians, Chapter Five, verses 16-25…..We’re going to look carefully at this passage in the Apostle Paul’s inspired epistle, written to the churches he had planted in Galatia……And of course we trust it comes to us inerrant by God’s grace and providential care over the millennia.
As you find the passage in your Bibles, allow me to offer up an introductory allegory that may help set a proper tone of seriousness as we begin our examination of a sobering subject….the daily Christian war that characterizes our sanctification……
Sanctification is a doctrinal term describing God at work in and through the regenerate Christian….the regenerate Christian, living short of glory in a yet-sin-cursed world, but working out his salvation in fear and trembling as Paul exhorts in Philippians 2:12….It is God achieving His perfect will in and through us, while we fight daily against the temptations of the flesh, and for the strength, power, and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the metaphor……It was a very cold, winter day. A large animal carcass, resting on an ice floe, floated slowly down the great Niagara River towards the immense and powerful Niagara Falls. A majestic Eagle, flying overhead, spied an easy meal below, and descended upon it.
The bird began to eat, but as he did, the current of the river began accelerating the ice floe—almost imperceptibly at first—toward the towering falls.
Of course, this mighty eagle could, at any time, stretch forth his great wings and fly to safety…..He could, at the very brink of the falls, leap to the safety of the air, as he had done a thousand of times before…….So, he continued to feed. He wanted to grab all he could in the time that he had. As he feasted his mind and body on what had come so easily, the water of the river began pushing the floe faster and faster and closer and closer to the falls, until the roar of the falls began to echo throughout the canyon. The eagle gorged, waiting to fly off until the very mists of the falls began rising above his head. Finally, he stretched forth his wings to fly.
But unknown to him, his talons, sunk in the frozen flesh of his prey, had also sunk in the ice of the floe and had frozen in a manner anchoring him, if only for a few critical moments, to an unanticipated fate…..he struggled, trying to free himself as the raging water raced him to the precipitous drop of the falls, but alas he could not….. the floe, with eagle attached, hurtled over the falls and into the chaos of rocks and froth below. The eagle had waited too long to choose flying to freedom over feeding his appetite.
Well, that is a tragic image I’ve planted in your minds, but we live in a fallen, therefore dangerous world …. And we make decisions and choices every single day as travelers in this fallen world, all of which produce outcomes……consequences. And everyone, Christians and unbelievers alike, wants good outcomes, so everyone is searching for how to achieve those good outcomes.
As Christians, we trust in the truth of the Gospel and Holy Scripture to give us right understandings and the decision framework we need…….and our lesson offers truth and warnings with that truth…..and when God’s Word warns us, we should pay close attention! let me read our Scripture now:
Galatians 5:16-25 …..“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,[d] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[e] 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.
Well, this is a deep passage that most, if not all of you, are probably familiar with ….. but here’s the thing…..I’m also guessing that in that familiarity, your mind goes more easily to the “fruit of the spirit” part, than to the works of the flesh part…..
……a lot of good Cristian households…..my own included…..probably have some form of a framed “Fruit of the Spirit” wall hanging or such……
By contrast, however, I’m guessing not too many of you have the works of the flesh framed and on prominent display in the warmth of your home…….but I want you to see this morning that the sanctifying doctrinal truth of this passage only emerges with proper emphasis on, and understanding of, both realities…..the works of the flesh AND the fruit of the Spirit.
So we’re going to spend some time unpacking the unpleasant “works of the flesh” part before we end with magnificent hope for believers in Christ Jesus……We’re going to travel a parabolic path…..downward first to see the everyday battle and the consequences defeat can bring, and then soaring upward again in hope, as we consider not just the situational fruit the Christian can bear in this world through the power of the Holy Spirit, but also the wonderful progression of God conforming us to be like Christ.
So let’s begin our parabolic ride……..This passage, rightly discerned, invokes a sense of contrast, of conflict, of opposing forces, of alternative outcomes.
And this makes sense because Paul’s letter to the churches that he had planted in Galatia was written to them in a time and context of deep and painful doctrinal conflict emerging within the fledgling assemblies….
Paul wrote to the Galatians to counter Judaizing false teachers who were undermining the central New Covenant doctrine of justification by faith alone.
These false teachers, boldly ignoring the express decree of the Jerusalem Council, were spreading the dangerous teaching that Gentiles must first become Jewish proselytes….or converts…. And therefore submit to all of the Mosaic law……before they could become followers of the risen Christ……Christians.
Paul was shocked by the Galatian’s openness to this damaging grace-plus-works salvation heresy……and so he wrote to confront them and to, among other things, vigorously defend justification by faith alone.
So, this epistle, in its aggregate message from Chapter One through the ending Chapter Six, brought dire warnings of the consequences of abandoning essential truths of the grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, Gospel.
As an interesting side-note Paul’s letter to the Galatians is the only epistle Paul wrote that does not contain a commendation to the church…in other words, Paul didn’t include something positive or nice in his salutation to his readers….as was his style ….and that rather obvious omission reflects how urgently Paul felt about confronting the ongoing defection…..and how determined he was to defend the essential doctrine of justification.
So, we have a context of conflict as we look at in the entire epistle from a 30,000 foot view……and see explicit conflict……an ongoing war in the heart, if you will…..between right and wrong ….. between truth and error….between sin and righteousness…..between good and evil…..indeed, between flesh and spirit…….as we fly low to the text in this particular passage.
So, let’s fly low to the text now, starting in verses 16–17:
“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.”
It’s important to see right away that Paul is addressing believers here….. the genuinely converted…..who are…….beneficiaries of saving faith….
They are, those who God called……..who by grace, responded through faith in the Risen Christ……and who are permanently “sealed by the Holy Spirit” and indwelled with the Holy Spirit by God’s sovereign action at conversion.
Ephesians 1: 13–14….says this…..
Let’s read that verse carefully: 13 In him (Jesus) you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
2 Corinthians 1:1–2 puts it this way: “21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee!
So Paul is addressing converted believers……Moreover, believers are, again by faith alone, JUSTIFIED…..which means what exactly?
Well, justification is a legal term …..Justification is the legal description of….now listen carefully……the permanent transaction……..wherein a believer’s sin guilt is credited to Christ on the Cross…..while Christ’s righteousness is….in exchange…credited to that believer. If you are a Christian, we believe, and by faith we are justified, that was Paul’s audience in Galatia, and that is you and that is me today….
And so, to put it all together, this exchange…this breathtaking act of grace alone—commonly referred to as “the great exchange”—is permanent salvation.
Turn quickly to Romans 3:21–26: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”
Three things should jump off the page to you in my reading of this this verse: One--the centrality of God in salvation—His grace, His sovereignty, His action….two--our response is to believe…..faith alone, And three, the entire point is to bring God glory.
Now, with permanent salvation comes another incredible promise…….which is God Himself, operating as the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, taking up residence in the believer’s now faithful, sealed, saved heart……to do what?? To inform your life and your doctrine throughout the rest of your temporal life…..and all with the astonishing goal of conforming you to be like His Son, the second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, because this brings Godhead….Father, Son, and Spirit, glory!
So, this is all very good news, right? Good news indeed!…..εὐαγγέλιον….yoo-ang-ghel'-ee-on in Koine Greek…..So what’s the problem? Why the tone of conflict in this epistle? Why the warnings about flesh and Spirit warring……and the follow-on distasteful list of works of the flesh in today’s passage?
Well, even given our permanent salvation, and the gift of the Holy Spirit now indwelling our hearts, Scripture tells us we still have a big, big problem to contend with while yet in this fallen world……and that problem is our sin nature…..we have to contend with our flesh, the inheritance we have from Adam who fell. We have a flesh nature that produces desires in us to sin with the goal of elevating or pleasing ourselves …. And when we sin…..which is transgressing against God’s standards, and His Holy and Righteous nature……we produce consequences, or works, of the flesh that are negative,
Paul’s narrates his own struggle in Romans 7, verse 19 when he says: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…”
So verse 16 says: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Right off the bat, Paul gives the answer to denying the flesh……it is walking by the Spirit, or, as it says in Ephesians 5:18, it is “to be filled with the Spirit.” How do we do this?
John MacArthur said it this way: “to be filled with the Spirit is to is to be under His total domination and control…... It requires the death of selfishness and the slaying of self will….to be filled with God’s Spirit is to be filled with His Word. And as we are filled with His Word, it controls our thinking and action.”
Now, you have to see that there is intentionality demanded here…there is judgment and decision-making going on as the believer weighs life’s situations and circumstances and makes choices in the exercise of free will……and at face value, you could be tempted to say, “ok, no problem, I’ll just walk by the Spirit with a little help from John MacArthur!”
But intentionality—at least in our own strength it would seem, is not enough…….because verse 17 supplies the essence of the long war….verse 17 says: “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.”
Hmmmm, now if verse 16 motivates, verse 17 quickly turns to a daunting, if not exhausting feel, doesn’t it?
What is the power source to fight and win? Is it our own strength? Is it our own way? Well, I want to show you that our own strength will always fail us, but that complete dependence on God will always lead to victory.
Maybe I should repeat that….. own strength will always fail us, but complete dependence on God will always lead to victory.
Look at verse 18…..there is a really important declaration there that assures us of what???
That as believer’s “we are not under the law!” This means as we fight our sin nature and happen to fail
…..God still sees Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. Our sins are paid for in full. Look at the wording…. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
Now….. here is a crucial truth: You cannot be led by the Spirit if you are not a believer….if you are not sealed by the Spirit, and indwelled with the Spirit…..and therefore justified by faith alone…..you are under the law…..
And if you are not a believer and under the law, you are what? You are dead….dead in your trespasses and sins. As it says in Ephesians 2:1: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—”
Put bluntly, a spiritually dead person cannot walk by the Spirit…………
So, we’re at an important crossroads in the message. If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, the authentic savior of the world, the words you need to hear this morning are summed in the second half of verse 21, where Paul emphatically warns the reader…… “I warn you,” he says, “as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The kingdom of God is made manifest in eternity with God. Not inheriting the kingdom of God means both physical and spiritual death for the unbeliever, and eternal separation from God………………………..
So please, if you’re here and you are not a Christian, or if you are not sure, please trust that God sovereignly brought you here today and that you have heard the truth of the Gospel…..Romans 10:17 says: “17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” You are hearing God’s word today and it is no accident…it is His sovereign will for you. Come by faith and be saved!
Well, let’s look now at verses 18 through 21 in terms of what they mean to the converted Christian, the justified believer that was Pauls audience in Galatia…..
“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.”
So we know as believers we can choose to walk by the Spirit, and we are, by grace, not under the law….permanently….so we have to ask, can a Christian really do such works as these?
This is an ugly list, we would all agree. Why is it here in the passage?…..Well, we know….if we’re completely honest…that sadly, yes, we, as believers, are all still capable of succumbing to not just one or two, or maybe a few of these fleshly desires that will produce flesh works, but that we are susceptible to choose any or all of these desires of the flesh, and it all manner of degrees.
Let me show you why this is true and hence why Paul’s inspiration included these flesh desires in the passage……the sinful nature that is within us as one author put it…. “wants us to be our own savior and Lord.” This is what I was referring to when I asked about living the Christian life on your own strength.
The Greek word for flesh is sarx, and the sarx-heart of the unbeliever, as we’ve already said, functions under law; it rejects the free gifts of Christ’s righteousness, and continues to seek its own way, its own salvation…..and you’ll see this everywhere on Superbowl Sunday.
However, this same writer asserts, the sarx, or flesh pull on the Christian heart, the desire underneath all the believer’s sins—the motive for our post-conversion disobedience—is always, at its root, a similar fundamental lack of trust in God’s grace or goodness, and therefore, a desire to protect and guard our own lives through a slightly more sanctified self-salvation than that of the unbeliever.”
Let me repeat that……the sarx pull on the Christian heart, the desire underneath all sins—the motive for our disobedience—is always a lack of trust in God’s grace or goodness, and a desire to protect and guard our own lives through self-salvation, which is synonymous with pride …..this is the root problem …… we know better than God. I like that explanation…..actually I don’t like it because it hits my own heart and it is convicting…..but I wholly agree with it.
Well, in light of the Christian’s battle…the Long daily War between flesh and Spirit within our hearts….emanating from confidence in human effort…..pride…..which is a failing to fully trust God to give us what is best and sufficient, and instead, seeking to protect, or add something to, our lives through self-salvation motivations, I want to make this assertion:
There is a path that pride leads the Christian down and it is this: We want things God has not given us…..we believe we can and should go and get them apart from God’s guidance or power……we make choices and bring consequences…..and these consequences are the works of the flesh!
let’s wade now into this long list of unholy desires and consider the consequences they produce when we choose the path of pride…..beginning in verse 19:
“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.”
Logically, the list breaks out into sin categories, if you will…..
The first sin category is unholy sexual desires…..which includes, as you can see, sexual immorality or porneia in the original Greek….Porneia means sexual intercourse between unmarried people. Next is impurity, which means unnatural sexual practices or relationships. And lastly you see sensuality—which is uncontrolled sexuality or debauchery.
Now, there is probably a temptation to say, as a Christian, you are not talking about me in regards to these things…..but here is where I want to challenge all of us …..God gave those uniquely created in His image—that’s us, human beings—God gave us an indescribable gift called sex.
His purpose for the gift is to bring forth life……..His design for the experience of the gift is to bless a man and a woman, beautifully created in His image and sovereignly brought together by Him….there is incalculable blessed physical, spiritual, and emotional connection in His design……Finally, His obedience standard for protecting the gift from perversions reflects its dignity and God’s holiness as the designer.
Moreover, God’s purpose, design, and standards are all clearly explained to us in His Word, inerrant Scripture.
We are without excuse!!
Jesus said Himself this in the Sermon on the Mount captured in Matthew 5:27–28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
So, you see is a continuum offered in Christ’s counsel, wherein lusts fed, even for short moments that do not necessarily produce actions, are violating God’s standard and blocking our fellowship with Him and therefore, our growth in Christ.
I am not saying that temptation is sin….I am saying that feeding temptation because we want more than what God has given us, is sin…..where are those lines crossed?
I would say that in our Spirit-led conscience, we know…..but we should not quibble with God over such degrees……its undignified to do so…. the dignity of our relationship with Him shouldn’t be one of “where is the line and how do I figure out how to get right up to it, but nor cross it?” That is childish, undignified…. It should be in terms of Isaiah 1:18 that says… ““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.”
I love that…. “come, let us reason together”…..there is immense dignity in that offer…..
So, even though our culture is hyper-sexualized and temptation aggressively comes after us, I am arguing that we are never helpless victims….and if we see our sarx desires for sexual satisfaction outside of Scriptural boundaries as emanating from pride…..as emerging from within us because we are tempted to believe God isn’t good or trustworthy as it relates to what he has, or has not given us, in the category of sex, we’ll see the problem in a dignified way and want to run to the Spirit.
We’ll want to do as John MacArthur encourages, and I’m quoting…. “to be filled with the Spirit, which involves confession of sin, surrender of will, intellect, body, time, talent, possessions, and desires….”……and we have to do this daily! It is not a one a week, once a month, or once a year check and reset……Sexual purity must be considered in the long daily war that we have to acknowledge and fight in full submission to, and dependence on, God!
Is the church in America following John’s advice? No, not really very well……let’s be blunt with some statistics….according to ConquerSeries, a ministry dedicated to helping Christians run from pornography, here are some claims they make regarding the culture at large…..
- Over 40 million Americans are regular visitors to pornography, or porn, sites.
- The porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined. It is also more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC.
- Nearly one half of families in the United States reported that pornography is a problem in their home.
- Pornography use increases the marital infidelity rate by more than 300%.
- Children are exposed early…..Eleven is the average age that a child is first exposed to porn, and 94% of children will see porn by the age of 14.
- Over half of American divorces involve one party having an “obsessive interest” in pornographic websites.
Here are some stats closer to home because they account for what is likely happening in the Christian Church:
- 70% of Christian youth pastors report that they have had at least one teen come to them for help in dealing with pornography in the past 12 months.
- 68% of church-going men view porn on a regular basis, and it’s a higher percentage within the 18-24 age grouping
- Women are struggling as well: 1/3 of women aged 25-and-under search for porn at least once per month.
- Only 13% of self-identified Christian women say they never watch porn – 87% of Christian women have watched porn.
- 57% of pastors say porn addiction is the most damaging issue in their congregation. And 69% say porn has adversely impacted the church
Whether these statistics are perfectly accurate, I can’t say, but I’m guessing they’re accurate enough for all of to agree this morning that our sin nature is shockingly real and worthy of Paul’s warnings in Galatians 5.
Ok, sex, always a tough one to bring up……let’s look now at the other categories found on the list…..Verse 20 gives us two words having to do with religion: idolatry and sorcery….
What are these? Do Christians pursue these today? In the context of this passage, Paul is referring to specific occult and pagan religious practices…but the sins are certainly relevant today…….Idolatry is providing an inadequate substitute for God, and sorcery is faking the work of the Spirit.
As Christians, when we start to desire something that God has not given us so badly that we start to look to experience over truth to justify our behavior or choices, we’re likely headed down a bad path toward idolatry or sorcery.
Modern False Teachers tell us we can have health and wealth in this life with enough faith. They tell us we can be miraculously healed from ailments and disabilities with more faith…..they tell us we need some wild experience added to our sealed saving faith to truly be holy…..We need to be wary of these things and ground every aspect of our life and doctrine in God’s inerrant Word that we have in our hands!
Next on the list we see eight descriptions of how the flesh desires seek to destroy relationships: “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…..”
Here we a category see destructive attitudes……envy, jealousy, and anger….and we also see the fruit of those destructive attitudes…..strife, rivalries, dissensions, divisions……These are social sins that disrupt the community Christ intends for the church. These are the things that foment discord and division in the church family……And discord and division hamstring ministry and stunt Christian growth.
God calls His church to unity, folks…..a church split is just a tragic outcome, but it happens all the time. Consider these Scriptural calls for unity …. And these are just a few representative ones that emerge from a huge volume of unity verses in Scripture:
1 Peter 3:8 says: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
The Gospel of John says this in chapter 17, verse 23: “23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
And finally Philippians 2:1–3: “ So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Paul’s emphasis on the sins of discord is clear….he lists more of these sins than those in other categories, and I think these are the most pernicious and pervasive in the life of the average Christian.
And again, they arise when we want things that God has not given us, so we go after the people that we think are responsible, vice accepting God’s perfect will for us.
Well let’s finally look at the last two on Paul’s list of the desires of the flesh…..drunkenness and orgies….
These are sins of substance abuse. The orgies referred to in Paul’s day were not sex orgies as the term is used in our day, but were drinking orgies. Now the loss of control that resulted from drinking certainly led to other unholy things, but these terms from the text are pointing to the dissolute lifestyle, to either escape from reality choices people make or to seek spiritual revelation not possible when sober. Either one is wrong and dangerous.
Well, again, God promises to provide all we need because He loves us……He died for us. Go back to your salvation and the assurances of it. So we do not need drugs or alcohol to find peace or respite, at least in a manner that replaces God, if only for a little while…..but lots of believers reach for these solutions in season of stress and pressure, and in so doing move away from the very source that can truly help them. There is nothing like God’s peace, which He promises to give freely…..so let’s use this idea now to transition off the grim list to the beautiful list….the fruit of the Spirit!
We’ve hit the bottom of the parabola….the vertex or turning point for you math Whizzes out there….and as we climb, let’s begin with a promise…..
God promises victory in the long war as we fight on a day-to-day war footing. Victory is measured in two forms…..in the short run, its the fruit of the Spirit. It’s what godliness produces. The fruit is both reward for choosing rightly and evidence of winning…… In the long run—the second measure of victory is our glorification. Someday we’ll cross the finish line and God will say, Well done good and faithful servant!”
So there is a path here that is the opposite of the earlier path I described that leads to the works of the flesh….remember how I said “We want things God has not given us…..we believe we can and should go and get them apart from God’s guidance or power……we make choices and bring consequences…..and these consequences are the works of the flesh!”
This is a path is one of total trust and dependence on God. Pride is crucified! There is no self here……Our desires are governed by trust in and submission to the Holy Spirit……such submission results in righteous intentionality……good choices….and these good choices yield not only beautiful fruit, but also and sanctification. We’re bearing fruit while be being conformed to the example of Christ over a lifetime.
Look now to verses 22 and 23: “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.
Here we see a grouping of nine Christian graces, as commentator John Stott, to whom I give credit to much that follows, describes them in his book, The Message of Galatians…..
Three of these graces….love, joy, and peace…..seem primarily to concern our attitude towards God. For if we count ourselves as truly converted Christians, our first love should be for God……Our chief joy should be in God, and our deepest peace should be with God.
Thinking of love, joy, and peace rightly requires an intentional God-centeredness, rooted in ongoing relationship….and by ongoing relationship, I mean daily investment in that relationship. We have to read and mediate on God’s Word, we have to pray, we have to be in fellowship, confessing to one another……as Pete Johnson would say, have you read your Bible today? Said another way, a God-ward heart is necessary to the realization of authentic love, joy, and peace….God does His part, but we have to do ours on our side of the relationship!
Next, patience, kindness, and goodness form a grouping of social virtues that are man-ward more than God-ward in their direction. Patience is choosing longsuffering towards those who aggravate or persecute…..kindness is choosing a Christlike disposition or temperament after His example to us……and goodness is what we choose to say and do….our speech and actions in relation to others.
Finally, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are self-ward, if you will…..Faithfulness is a description of the Christian’s consistency and reliability. It’s hanging in there, being true blue, loyal, dependable, unwavering through thick and thin….…..gentleness is the humble meekness of Christ…….Jesus said this of Himself in Matthew 11:29: “29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” …….
And, Paul, following the example of Christ exalts meekness in 2 Corinthians 10:11, when he says: “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away.”
Now faithfulness and gentleness are both aspects of God inspired self-mastery or self-control, which concludes the list. These are the opposite of ceding control to other passions, like sex, divisions, drugs or alcohol.
So with God-ward love joy, and peace, with man-ward patience, kindness, and goodness, and self-ward faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we see the starkest of contrast to the much longer negative list of fleshly desires, which Paul accents with the last words we see in verse 23: “against such things there is no law.” This is a beautiful way of reminding the readers that the law curbs, deters, and restrains….but no deterrent is needed for the fruit of the Spirit.
So, we’ve looked at the works of the flesh and now, the fruit of the Spirit……and it should be clear that flesh and Spirit are in continual conflict with one another.
So how do we fight and win this long daily war between flesh and Spirit? What is the path to victory?
Well, as a career military officer I think perhaps considering the battle between flesh and Spirit in terms of a military mission might be helpful.
We have a clear enemy and that is our own sin nature, with pride being the root threat. We must resist that specific enemy with an every-day plan, and not divert time and energy against other things that serve as distractions. Verse 24 says that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” In this long war, our Christian duty is to crucify the flesh…..to nail it to the cross every single day. It cannot just be avoided or ignored, it has to be killed….crucified.
We should trust we have the support and resources we need to win, when we pursue our duty. Just as I had the weight of the US Air Force behind me in combat, we Christians have the weight of the God of the universe behind us in this fight. God has guaranteed it in your salvation…..So your past, though important in your path to salvation, is no longer a drain on your future. You are free of it and are supposed to look forward, just as I did when I commissioned in the Air Force. I was in and moving forward on mission.
We’re also equipped to fight and win….The Holy Spirit is our daily command authority and God has provided effective mission support and weapons of war…..prayer, Scripture, the church with its preaching, teaching, and accountability. Moreover, the correct approach to levering this support and wielding the weapons is humble submission and dependence.
And then in the fray of life….the fog and friction of war…..individual battles lost do not mean wholesale defeat in the long war! Remember, God promises victory! There is actually immense opportunity in failure and defeat to come back stronger and with greater clarity so as to how to not make the same mistakes over and over again. We just have to see it that way. We should never see ourselves as victims and we should never give up, because God has promised to finish His work in us! Look at Philippians 1:6….it says: “6 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!”
I assert that all that I just gave you under the military approach describes the exhortation Paul gives in verse 25: let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Trust in divine enablement always….in an ongoing way….and never in human choice or the effort flowing from human choice.
Let: me end with another sentiment from John MacArthur who said in a sermon on praying without ceasing:
If I as a Christian live in a perpetual state of personal insufficiency, a perpetual state of recognizing
my dependency on God, if I live continually thankful for everything He does for me, continually
repentant over my sin, continually expressing my love for others, that is going to flow in unspoken
prayer to God, and it’s also going to cause God to open the sluice gates of blessing, which will result
in my joyful response. And so we are not just to rejoice always, but we are to take the path to that
rejoicing, which is the path of unceasing prayer, which results in blessing, which results in joy.