August 13, 2012
(Gal 5:16 ESV) 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
1. Look back at the earlier lessons dealing with the Holy Spirit. Based on those, what does “walk by the Spirit” mean? (Eze 36:27)
(Eze 36:27 ESV) 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
It’s allowing God to give us his Spirit and submitting to the Spirit’s work within us. It’s not obedience as much as having an obedient heart produced by God’s Spirit. This way, we’ll obey from the heart — which is far more valued by God than mere obedience.
2. If “flesh” refers to the body, then Paul would seem to be saying we should not eat or drink! What does “flesh” really refer to? (Look ahead to Gal 5:17-21.)
“Flesh” is our fallen nature, that is, our inclination to sin, even our tendency to sin when we desperately don’t want to sin.
And when Paul speaks of the conflict between the spirit and the flesh, the pneuma and the sarx, he certainly isn’t referring to a conflict between the non-material element of the person and the material element. As has repeatedly been pointed out, most of the ‘works of the flesh’ in Galatians 5.19-21 could be practised by a disembodied spirit (jealousy, etc.). So, too, when Paul thinks of the pneuma at work he does not restrict its operation to non-material activities. …
Thus, for instance, sarx, flesh, refers to the entire human being but connotes corruptibility, failure, rebellion, and then sin and death.
(Gal 5:17 ESV) 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.
3. At first glance, it’s surprising to read Paul discussing our not doing what we want to do. Why would we do anything other than what we want to do? Don’t we normally act the way we want to act?
Well, no, we don’t. We want to remember our spouse’s anniversary, and yet we forget. We want to have the will power to skip dessert, and yet we eat dessert. We want to never, ever lose our tempers with our children, and yet we lose our tempers.
As important as it is to want to do right and be good, it takes more than good intentions. The will is weak.
4. Paul seems to see a war going on within us — between the Spirit and flesh. Is this an accurate picture of your own mind? Does it make sense?
It’s exactly how life is. We want to evangelize as should, be on time to church, and study our Bibles daily, but we don’t.
(Gal 5:18 ESV) 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
5. What does “led by the Spirit” mean?
Read Isaiah 63:1-14, which concludes with —
(Isa 63:14 ESV) 14 Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.
The reference is to the exodus from Egypt. Isaiah credits God’s Spirit with leading the people through the desert to the Promised Land.
Of course, the Israelites were led by the Spirit to receive God’s Law on Sinai. Paul, however, says that this new leading removes the need for a Law from the top of a mountain. After all, now God writes his laws on our hearts and minds himself.
6. Who are “led by the Spirit”?
7. What does he mean by “not under law”?
It’s not that we get to be lawless. Rather, it’s that God no longer judges the perfection of our understanding and obedience to the law. He judges our hearts — as our hearts are being transformed by the Spirit.
Rather than being about whether we’ve attained perfection, the question is the direction in which we walk.
In the exodus, the Israelites weren’t told where to end their journey; they were told where to make camp the next day. God led them day by day until they reached the Promised Land, not by pointing to the destination, but rather pointing to the next step through the wilderness.
8. Is he saying that all Christians are not under law? Or that Christians can attain to a level of holiness that puts them outside the law?
Not at all. Even those Christians in whom the Spirit glows dimly are saved and are led by the Spirit. Their problem is not a lack of leading but a lack of following — and at some time, the risk of losing the Spirit and so their salvation.
But until we fall away, we are led by the Spirit and not under law. We are judged perfect despite our imperfections — by virtue of the work of Jesus.
(Gal 5:19-21 ESV) 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
9. But I thought we were saved by grace! How can Paul damn to hell Christians who engage in these acts?
Remember: the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. To Paul, these particular sins violate either faith or love to the core.
God is not arbitrary. These acts aren’t sin just because. They are sin because they deeply violate the core of what it means to be like Jesus — and how God wants his children to act.
You see, many of these sins are sins against community, that is, the sorts of sins that destroy a congregation. And a key part of the gospel is God’s desire to form his children into an alternative community that lives together in love.
10. Does any of this sound like church?
Sadly, yes. But that’s likely why Paul mentions them. “Enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy” are all the sorts of sins that can destroy a congregation.
11. When is a dissension or division justified within God’s church?
In the truest sense of those words, never. These things are sin.
Division is indeed a basis to expel someone from the church. Discipline of members by the church’s leadership is clearly taught in the scriptures.
(Rom 16:17 ESV) 17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
(Tit 3:10-11 ESV) 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
(Gal 5:22-23 ESV) 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.
12. Why does Paul use “fruit” as a metaphor? What is it about these virtues that is like fruit?
Fruit tastes good and nourishes. Fruit refreshes.
And fruit grows because of its essential nature. No one has to tell an apple to grow or an apple tree to produce apples. Trees don’t bear fruit out of fear or to obey a command — but because that’s their nature.
Paul’s point is that it should be the essential nature of a Christian that he bears such fruit. It shouldn’t require superhuman effort or willpower. It should be how we naturally are.
For example, in Matthew 25, Jesus described Judgment Day in terms of sheep and goats.
(Mat 25:34-40 ESV) 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Notice that the sheep cared for those in need even though they didn’t realize they were serving Jesus himself in so doing. They weren’t seeking a reward. They were being true to their natures — as transformed by God’s Spirit.
13. Does this sound like church?
Yes, it does. The church is filled with people being transformed by the Spirit. Some are new Christians, mere babes in Christ. Others are mature and laden with fruit. Some are struggling with spiritual disease and unfruitful because their energies are being drained by all sorts of competing demands.
Therefore, the church is never going to attain the ideal — not as long as we’re bringing in new members and raising children in the faith. There will always be the immature in the faith (praise God!).
14. Why add “against such things there is no law”? So?
One reason those led by the Spirit are not under law is that, because of the Spirit, they will not break the law (while acting under the Spirit’s leading). They will, rather, live lives of faith and love, bearing sweet fruit to God.
15. Have you ever been in a class on the fruit of the Spirit that entirely ignored the Spirit’s role, making these virtues the fruit of our study and hard work?
We Americans are all about self-sufficiency and doing it all by ourselves. God sees his children as needing to rely on his Spirit and on each other to make it. Therefore, sadly, we tend to diminish God’s role and try to carry the load entirely by ourselves.
Indeed, we sometimes turn the fruit of the Spirit into commands to be obeyed to earn our way into heaven, when Paul’s point is nearly the opposite. These fruit are the result of submission to God’s work within us through the Spirit — not our own efforts.
16. What does the Spirit contribute here? Why bring the Spirit into the discussion?
Paul says these virtues are fruit of the Spirit. Therefore, we gain them, not by putting up billboards and reading self-help books, but by submitting to the Spirit’s work within us.
We have to submit, of course. God won’t overwhelm our wills. We must choose. But if we choose to truly be God’s children, then God will help us through his Helper.
(Gal 5:24 ESV) 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
17. Really? Do you still find yourself, as a Christian, still having fleshly desires? If so, what on earth is Paul really saying? Don’t forget —
(Gal 2:20 ESV) I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
God promises to give us a new heart and to write his laws on our hearts and minds. He promises to circumcise our hearts, so that our hearts bear the mark of God himself. All this comes by the Spirit.
But this won’t happen 100% until the Second Coming. We’ll still have to wrestle with temptation and sin, with laziness and a lack of motivation in this life. But we’re promised the help we need to make it to the end.
Grace makes up what is lacking. Even though we’ll all resist the Spirit at times and won’t always bear fruit as we should, it’s enough that we possess the Spirit and try to walk with him.
It’s the trying that matters. The struggle proves that we’re trying to grow in Christ. The struggle means that we’ve not given up. And so long as we’re struggling to do better, God forgives our failures.
(Gal 5:26 ESV) 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
18. What does “conceited” have to do with the present discussion?
Paul recognizes that it’s the nature of legalism to become conceited — to hold oneself up as superior because of his superior works.
This can come from the right or the left, even from doing truly good works. If I declare that I deserve heaven because of all the souls I’ve brought to Christ, even if I’ve saved thousands, I’ve divided God’s church by declaring that those less holy than me are damned.
But when we realize that none of us deserves our salvation, that we’re all saved by grace and only grace, then we can no longer feel superior.
19. Why refer here to “provoking” others?
The word translated “provoke” can also mean to “challenge” or even to “irritate.” The idea is that legalism leads to conflict in the church as one person insists on his way, his rules, his demands, adding rules to faith in Jesus.
Love, of course, does not provoke. But arrogance and selfishness certainly do.
20. Why refer to “envying” others?
Paul may be speaking of the false teachers’ envy of him. Or he may be speaking of the feelings of inadequacy that come when we rely on works for salvation.