November 5, 2017

The Gospel Fight

Galatians 5:16-25

Last week Paul expounded on one of the central themes of Galatians–Christian freedom.   He instructed the Galatians to stand firm in the freedom that Christ earned for them, but later warned them not use their freedom as an “opportunity for the flesh.”  That is to say, that the Galatians (and all who are in Christ) are free from sin, but not free to sin.  We’ve been set free from the dominion of sin whose slaves we once were.  But we don’t use that freedom to continue sinning.  In this vain we might ask ourselves What is the relationship between the believer and sin?  Do we have reason to doubt our salvation if continue sinning?  In the last half of chapter 5 Paul shows the reality of our battle with sin and how to gain victory.

#1 There is a battle!

16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For 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. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Galatians 5:16-18

In verse 16 Paul gives us a command with a promise.  First, comes the command.  We’ve been set free from the law.  We are under grace.  And so Paul says we must now walk by the Spirit.  Some versions of the Bible will read “live by the Spirit” but the ESV’s translation “walk by the Spirit” is a more helpful rendering of the Greek.  We are to walk  by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Secondly, Paul holds out for us a promise.  If we are walking in step with the Spirit we will not give in to the cravings our sinful nature.  Paul is implying here that even when we are full of the Holy Spirit, we will still feel the pull of the desires of our flesh.  He is even more explicit in the next verse.  The desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are in opposition to one another.  What does this mean?  It means we can be full of the Holy Spirit, seeking to walk in step with Him, and yet still the desires of the flesh rage on.

Do not be surprised, then, when you feel this battle of the sinful nature against the Spirit. Pluck up your courage, and comfort yourself with these words of Paul, which tell you that it is impossible to follow the guiding of the Spirit without any hindrance by the sinful nature. The sinful nature will resist you so that you cannot do what you would gladly do….Therefore, when you feel this battle, do not be discouraged, but resist in the Spirit and say, “I am a sinner, and I feel sin in me, for I have not yet put off the sinful nature. But I will obey the Spirit and not my sinful nature, I will by faith and hope lay hold upon Christ, and by his Word I will raise myself up and will not do what my sinful nature desires.”  —Martin Luther, Galatians Commentary, p.270

Sin can surprise us in many ways, but we should not be surprised by its presence. True, Paul tells us that if we are in Christ the old has passed away and the new has come (c.f. 2 Cor 5:17).  True, Jesus says we have the Holy Spirit (c.f. John 14:16).  And yet even after regeneration and second birth there is still in us the remnants of our sin nature.  We have both a “new man” who is being renewed in the image of Christ and an “old man” who has not.  And so there is a continual battle within us.  And when we feel this battle raging on, we need not be full of despair.

Anyone who does not understand that this battle continues even after coming to faith in Christ, will certainly be full of despair when he continues to feel the effect of his sinful nature.  We can look at it this way.  In our justification the penalty of our sin is forgiven and we receive a new nature.  Throughout our sanctification the power of sin is being weakened as we grow in our new nature.  Finally at our glorification even the very presence of sin will be forever banished from us and we will live solely in our new nature.

#2 There Are Two Ways the Battle Could Go

19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:19-23

Paul casts two visions for how this battle could go.  We will either walk according to our sinful nature or walk according the Spirit.

First, Paul presents a long, but not exhaustive list of what happens when we walk according to our sin nature.  John Stott divides this list into the realm of sex (sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality), the realm of religion (idolatry and sorcery), the realm of society (enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy) and finally he realm of drink (drukenness and orgies).  And apparently Paul could keep going as he says “and things like these.”  He gives a stern warning saying those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  This is a stern warning to those who practice these things to amend their ways!

Secondly, Paul shows us what it looks like to walk in step with the Spirit.  It is interesting that he uses the phrase “works of the flesh” to describe our sin nature but uses the phrase the “fruit of the Spirit” to describe our new nature.  First notice that the word fruit is singular.  It is singular because all of these things come into being together.  For instance, I cannot grow in love without also growing in kindness.    Secondly, we should remember growing fruit is a process.  No one plants an apple tree on Sunday and expects applesauce on Tuesday.  The fruit of the Spirit takes time.  Finally, we should remember that bearing fruit requires roots.   Jesus tells us that if we abide in him we will bear much fruit.  We cannot bear the fruit of the Spirit without being rooted in Him!

#3 How to Win the Battle

24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.  Galatians 5:24-25

So far Paul has established that even (or we might say especially) in the life of a mature Christian there is a battle between the sin nature and his new nature.  When we give in to the cravings of the sin nature we commit the “works of the flesh,”  but when we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, we bear the “fruits of the Spirit.”  The important question remains: How do we not reject the flesh and walk in the Spirit?  Paul says it in verse 24 we crucify the flesh.  A few things to notice about this verse

  1. Crucifying is something we do, not something that is done to us.  When Paul says in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ,” it is clear that he is the recipient of the action.  I have been crucified.  But here in chapter 5 Paul’s use of crucify is active.  He says those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh.  This is an action for us to take! Jesus called us do the same when he tells us to take up our cross daily and follow him (c.f. Luke 9:23).  Simply put, we have a role to play in our sanctification.
  2. This seems quite obvious, but notice that Paul uses the word crucify not the more broad word kill.  There is a big difference.  There are many ways someone might be killed but to be crucified was an extremely dishonorable way to die.  The victims of crucifixion hung naked and exposed while they painfully waited for death to arrive.  This is what Paul calls us to do to our flesh.  In the Old Testament when the great reforming king Josiah cleansed the land from idols, he not only removed the idols but he desecrated them by grinding them to dust and scattering them over the graves of the idolators themselves (c.f. 2 Chronicles 34:1-6)). Why?  Isn’t it enough to simply remove the idols?  No.  By defiling the idols he gained assurance that they would  not easily be picked back up.  Friends, you and I must not only put our sin to death, we must defile it.  We must crucify it and hold it open to disgrace.
  3. Crucifixion was slow and painful process.  This is after all why the Romans chose crucifixion.   As we seek to put our sin nature to death it will be a long process.  And it will not be complete until we die or Jesus returns.

So we no longer live by the flesh but by the Spirit.  And we if will live by the Spirit, Paul says we must walk by the power of the Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit within us, who empowers us to do crucify the flesh.  This is how we win the battle.   By keeping in step with the Spirit we slowly strangle our flesh.   And as Paul as already shown, this leads not to a life of drudgery but one that is characterized by things like love, joy and peace.

Discussion Questions from Pastor Dave

Read Galatians 5:16-17. In these verses, Paul describes the spiritual warfare that every believer faces between the Spirit and the flesh. Why is it so necessary to depend on the Holy Spirit? The Westminster Confession of Faith calls this battle, “a continual and irreconcilable war…yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome [the flesh]; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Do I have this growing desire for holiness?

Read verse 18. How does the Holy Spirit free us? How does the law enslave us?

Read verses 19-23. Notice the contrast between the word “works” of the flesh versus “fruit” of the Spirit. Why do you think Paul chose these words? How many of the “works” are revealed primarily between people? Which of these do I need to put to death in my life? How many of the “fruit” are exhibited in relationships? Which of these do I need to pray for more of in my life?

Read verse 24. How can we take comfort in knowing that we belong to Christ Jesus? What does it mean that we have “crucified the flesh?” Remember our October memory verse (Gal. 2:20). See also Romans 6:6 and 6:14. What passions and desires must I give over to Jesus to be killed?

Read verse 25. Living by the promptings and power of the Spirit is the key to conquering sinful desires. How is this experience like a toddler learning to walk with a parent or a youth learning to dance from an experienced teacher?

Read verse 26. What is the opposite of conceit, provocation, and envy? Is there room for more of these in my life?


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