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LIVE BY THE SPIRIT

Galatians 5:16-5:26
Key Verse: 5:16

As we studied last week, God’s children have the glorious freedom in Christ Jesus. In order to bear this amazing blessing we are to stand firm in faith against legalism, including the message of circumcision, which is salvation through human achievements. They are also not to indulge the sinful nature of the flesh but to serve each other in love with the freedom given in Christ. It is not easy for anyone to overcome one’s flesh. In this passage Paul clearly presents the way to overcome our flesh. That is to live by the Spirit. This is also the way to overcome legalism. Then in this passage Paul compares the acts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit so that we may be serious about how to live, whether live by the flesh or by the Spirit. So this passage is the continuation of how to stand firm in Christian freedom and actually a clear teaching about how to live as Christians, as those who are justified by faith in Christ Jesus.

First, by the Spirit, not by the flesh (16-18). Look at verse 16. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” In ESV, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Who can overcome the desires of the flesh? Man has basic desires of flesh, desire for food, desire for sex, desire for success and fame and wealth in the world. These desires are not necessarily wrong. The problem is with our sinful nature inherited from Adam. In the sinful nature these desires become excessive without control and abnormal. People try the desires in wrong ways and indulge in these desires and become enslaved. No sinful human being can overcome the desires of the sinful nature. But here in verse 16, the command, “live by the Spirit” is followed by a promise, not by another command, “don’t gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” When we live by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. What a promise! Without Christ Jesus, pleasure-seeking or fun-oriented life seems to be the best lifestyle in the world with the gratification of the desires of the sinful nature. But there is a better lifestyle in Christ, that is, to live by the Spirit. Living by the Spirit is not just the better but the best, better than all others to those who have found it. It is incomparable and matchless. Verse 16 says, “…live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

Then how can we live by the Spirit? Living by the Spirit first of all requires constant awareness of the Spirit’s living in us. As we studied in Galatians, we received the Spirit when we believed what we heard, the gospel (3:2). And in 3:14 “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” Christ’s redeeming us is related to our receiving the promise of the Spirit. And in 4:6, “Because you are (his) sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” Indeed through faith in Christ Jesus now the Holy Spirit lives in us. While on earth Jesus promised to his disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with them and in them (Jn 14:17). Romans 8:11 says, "The Holy Spirit who is living in you," and 2 Timothy 1:14 says, "The Holy Spirit who lives in us.” The Holy Spirit, the holy, almighty and eternal God dwells in me. In the Old Testament, God dwelt in the holy tabernacle. No one except the high priest was permitted to approach the Most Holy Place. Now this God dwells in me forever. This is really a mystery, a miracle. Although we cannot fathom this wonder fully, we need to be aware of the Spirit’s presence constantly so as to live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit. He is our best life companion, counselor, comforter, true helper and guide. He guides us into all truth.

Living by the Spirit is closely related to living by the word of God. Jesus said in John 6:63, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” Jesus also said in Matthew 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” This is the reason God commands us to meditate on the word God day and night (Ps 1:2; Jo 1:8). A Psalmist confessed, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to you word…I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:9-11). Romans 8:6 says, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” Our battle is a battle in the mind. In this battle our mind should be controlled by the Spirit through his words. So Jesus wanted his disciples to let the word of God remain in them (Jn 15:7). To obey the word of God is critical in a Christian life. The obedience to God’s word is the love language of the Holy Spirit. When we ignore or disobey God’s word, the Holy Spirit in us is grieved. Then we cannot live by the Spirit and cannot walk by the Spirit.

To live by the Spirit we also need to pray. Through praying in repentance we can purify our hearts and desires. Jesus said to his disciple to ask God for the Holy Spirit, saying, “…how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13) We can ask God for the filling of the Holy Spirit. Acts 4:31 says, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” God will bless those who wake up at dawn and pray earnestly for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Before praying with many practical prayer topics, we should pray earnestly for the fullness of the Holy Spirit itself. And we should learn to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Eph 6:18).

In verse 17 Paul explained why we have to live by the Spirit. It says, “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.” The flesh and the Spirit are in conflict in regards to what each desires. The flesh desires to please itself. The Spirit desires to please God. The flesh desires immediate gratification with fleeting pleasure, which is followed by much suffering. The Spirit desires eternal joy, which comes through spiritual struggle. What the flesh desires leads to the ruin of one’s body and soul. What the Spirit desires leads to eternal life. Their purposes are opposed to each other, and the consequences of each are opposite. They cannot coexist. They are in conflict with each other.

We do not deny that there is such a thing as moral conflict in non-Christian people, but we assert that it is fiercer in Christians because they possess two natures—flesh and Spirit—in irreconcilable antagonism. Since we received the Spirit and the Spirit lives in us, this conflict began and is ongoing. It is true that people in the world do not seem to struggle like Christians. But this is misleading. They do not struggle because they already belong to Satan. They are like dead fish floating downstream. But Christians have been made alive by the Spirit. We are like live fish who must swim against the currents and waves. In fact those who have this conflict show that they are alive. As those alive by the Spirit, we are called to live by the Spirit. To live by the Spirit we should reject what our flesh, sinful natures, desires. Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth.” Peter also said in 1 Peter 2:11, “Dear friend, I urge you…to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”

Look at verse 18. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” What a statement! It is because when we are led by the Spirit, we are keeping the higher law. If living under the law is compared to driving a car, living by the Spirit, taking an airplane. Here we see that if we live by the Spirit and led by the Spirit, we can overcome legalism as well as licentiousness caused by our flesh.

As Christian, those who are justified by faith alone in Christ Jesus are presented with a wonderful lifestyle, that is, to live by the Spirit. We should know that this is not an advice, but a command. In the book of Galatians this can be the most significant command among several other commands, as it is written, “I say, live by the Spirit.” May we keep this command in our hearts very personally.

Second, acts of the flesh; the fruit of the Spirit (19-26). Now Paul compares the acts of the flesh, sinful nature and the fruit of the Spirit so that we may be more discerned and directed to live by the Spirit. He first spells out the acts of the flesh clearly. Look at verses 19-21a. “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

Paul says that the acts of the flesh are obvious. They are not hidden but apparent; they are not vague but very clear. When one lives by the flesh, these obvious acts will follow. They may be produced unintentionally. But they are clearly revealed through one’s speech and behavior. If we see the acts of the flesh in our lives we must conclude that we lived by the flesh. We cannot make any excuses and we cannot claim ignorance. We cannot say, “I didn’t mean to do it,” for it is the inevitable result of living by the flesh.

We can categorize these acts into three groups: moral (sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, drunkenness and orgies), religious (idolatry and witchcraft), and social (hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy). The words “and the like” mean that there are more than what Paul listed here, such as ingratitude, pride, self-glory seeking, lying, stealing, murder, violent assault, greed, gluttony, heartlessness, mercilessness, and so on, and so forth.

Why did Paul mention sexual immorality first? Sexual immorality may have the most serious effect on one’s personal life, family, community and nation. Historically, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed when their society became overwhelmed by sexual immorality. The word “Sodom” came to express a kind of gross immorality. The fall of Rome was not primarily the result of external enemies. It was a result of corruption in people’s hearts due to sexual immorality. These days many people have become numb to such sins, like pornography, adultery, fornication, and homosexuality. But we have to realize that these are serious sins before God which will lead to the destruction of our society. Sexual immorality is often followed closely by idolatry. So it is not surprising that our sexually permissive society has seen a rise in witchcraft and interest in sorcery, vampires and werewolves. It is significant that in Paul’s list, sins which destroy communities are most numerous. Those who hate others, sow discord, and make factions may think they are a little better than the sexually immoral. But the consequence of their sin will be the same.

Then Paul said in verse 21b, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Since God’s kingdom is a kingdom of godliness, righteousness, and self-control, those who indulge in the works of the flesh will be excluded from it. For such works give evidence that they are not in Christ. And if they are not in Christ, then they are not Abraham’s seed, not “heirs according to the promise.” Not to inherit the kingdom of God is the most serious consequence of living by the flesh.

Now Paul mentions the fruit of the Spirit. Look at verses 22-23. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are not the fruit of any human good heart, but the fruit of the Spirit. Paul uses the word “fruit” in regard to the Spirit, as opposed to “acts” of the flesh. The work of the Spirit differs in character. It is not subject to the law of cause and effect. Rather, it grows endlessly and limitlessly, like fruit on a well cultivated tree or plant. When we live by the Spirit, the Spirit produces in us good fruit. Here is a cluster of nine Christian virtues. We can categorize the fruit of the Spirit in three ways. Love, joy and peace are in relation to God. Patience, kindness and goodness have to do with others. Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are in regard to ourselves.

The first fruit mentioned is love. This love is “agape,” that is God’s love, which has a divine quality. In the past we did not know what true love was. Though we tried to love and be loved, we only understood erotic love or brotherly love. Relationships based on these kinds of love never satisfied our souls. However, when we were touched by the love of God through Jesus sacrifice on the cross, we began to know what true love is and were able to love others (1 Jn 3:16). This love is not self-centered, but understands and seeks the good of others. This love blesses others according to their needs and always builds up; it never tears down. This love is the mark of Jesus disciples (Jn 13:34).

The joy and peace the Spirit gives are different from the pleasures of sin and worldly peace. The joy the Spirit gives is like a spring of water welling up in our hearts. This joy enables us to overcome sorrow and grief and leaves no regret. The peace the Spirit gives comes from a right relationship with God. No one can take away this peace. This peace is like an undercurrent. We can have this peace in our hearts no matter how turbulent our situation may be. When we have peace in our hearts, we can become peacemakers.

Patience or forbearance is absolutely needed in relationship with others. Some people suddenly burst out, after anger has accumulated for years, and say, “Do you know how long I have endured this? I cannot tolerate it any longer.” This is not forbearance. Forbearance means that nothing accumulates in ones heart, and that he or she can endure endlessly. Kindness is happily doing favors for those in need. Goodness refers to ones inner motive and ability to discern what is truly good and do it for others. Faithfulness and trust are the same word in Greek, “pistis.” When we live by the Spirit we become faithful and trustworthy. It is good to find a marriage candidate who has the fruit of faithfulness. Gentleness refers to the humble exercise of power. Spirit-filled believers have real power to love and serve others. But they do not use this power like worldly rulers. Rather they are like Jesus who did not break a bruised reed, or snuff out a smoldering wick. Self-control is the power to control oneself, such as ones emotions, body, mind and so on. There is no law that forbids good virtues (23b). So we can bear fruit abundantly and limitlessly. If we live by the Spirit we can bear the fruit of the Spirit so that our lives become fruitful and happy. We enjoy the kingdom of God in this world and inherit the kingdom of God in the age to come.

When we think about all the fruits of the Spirit, it becomes evident that this reflects Jesus’ character. When we live by the Spirit, we can bear the image of Jesus. This is God’s ultimate purpose for each of us. In the past we bore the bad fruits of sin when we lived by the flesh. But now, when we live by the Spirit, we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Everybody wants to bear good fruit, not bad fruit. No one wants to end his life meaninglessly without good fruit. The problem is how can we bear good fruit? There is no way to bear good fruit except living by the Spirit. When we live by the Spirit we bear good fruit more and more. We can live a blessed life with overflowing happiness.

Now Paul stresses further the importance of struggle against our flesh, sinful nature to live by the Spirit. Look at verse 25. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” When Paul said in 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I longer live, but Christ lives in me” he talked about his union with Christ. This is applicable to all believers. We should reckon it as we believe that Christ died on the cross for our sins. Yet, here when Paul said, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires,” it demands our deliberate struggle against our flesh, sinful nature. In this struggle, those who belong to Christ are the subject. We are actually to take the flesh with its passions and desires and (metaphorically speaking) nail it to the cross. We do this remembering Jesus who was crucified for our sins. When some jealous, or proud, or malicious, or impure thought invades our mind we must kick it out at once. This kind of struggle is a process to live by the Spirit.

Now Paul nails down the essential Christian life of living by the Spirit. Look at verse 25. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Living by the Spirit is daily living by the Spirit, taking every step in the Spirits leading, like tying our feet with the Spirits feet.

And Paul said in verse 26, “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” Conceit is vainglory and self-importance. It is when we have self-conceit that we provoke others in superiority and envy others in inferiority. We should fight against high or false opinion of ourselves to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.

In this study we learn that living by the Spirit is the wonderful Christian life and it requires an avoidable battle against our flesh, sinful nature. Most importantly we need to be aware of the Spirit who lives in us and make every effort to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit having his words in our hearts and in prayer so that we can bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

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