Our section of Galatians is titled, “Life by the Spirit.” This is the ninth of a little series in a book which has been challenging, and I hope helpful series. Because it is not easy to be a Christian, I hope that you might say, “What a friend we have in the Holy Spirit. What a friend we have in Jesus. What a friend we have in the Holy Spirit.”
It is not easy to be a Christian because we are full of sin, we’re full of unbelief, the world is deceptive, clever, hostile to Christ, the devil sets traps for us. It is not easy to be a Christian.
And on top of this, often the non-Christian seems to be completely happy and free, and the Christian is kind of chewed up with an inward battle and wonders whether we’ve tortured ourselves with some kind of Christianity.
Whereas others in our city and community have just thrown off all the shackles of any acknowledgment of God and seem to be getting away with everything and happy and free, what are we doing?
There is some truth to this because the Christian has a unique conflict going on in the heart and the battle is the conflict of the Spirit and the sinful nature. The non-Christian doesn’t have this conflict. It’s a unique Christian conflict. The Holy Spirit within our hearts is battling the sinful nature within us.
So the unbeliever has a kind of an occasional good versus bad struggle, but the believer also has this His will or my will battle going on with him. And we, therefore, might ask ourself what sort of freedom we’ve really come into if we’ve come into a brand new conflict.
We’ve seen in Galatians that Paul is concerned because God is concerned that His people be really free, and not just be free, but stay free and not suddenly tip off the bridge into legalism, you know, be tied up with knots that I must somehow please God and finish the gap between me and God, which is, of course, ridiculous. Christ has bridged the gap.
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The other danger, of course, is we fall off the other side of the bridge into what’s called license or carelessness, where we say to ourselves every now and again, “Well, it’s all covered. I might as well do what I want. Nothing really matters.” And if you don’t know that temptation, bless to you, because I think every believer does.
The poet, W.H. Auden, put this quite crassly when he wrote once,
“I like to sin. God likes to forgive. The world is admirably arranged.”
It’s a very pernicious thought, that, isn’t it? And I realise that when I think like that, that all ideas of a gracious relationship with God have faded a long way away.
Now, what Paul has been doing so far in Galatians, he’s been arguing for our freedom. And he’s done it really in three stages. The first stage is an argument from history. He says to the Galatians, “Do you know what happened to me? Do you know how God saved me? Do you realise I was taken from being a Pharisee and a law keeper to being a really free Christian?”
The second half of his argument is from Scripture. The Apostle says, “Do you realise, Galatians, that God has always planned to save people by grace and to have them live in grace, and not be caught up in laws or license?”
The third part of his argument is, “I’m now asking you, Galatians, have you been transformed? Is there a change? I’m not asking you if you’re perfect. I’m asking you whether the battle has begun and whether you’re conscious of the Spirit and the sinful nature and whether you’re conscious of the freedom of no condemnation and whether you’re conscious of having a Heavenly Father, who’s God, and having a saviour called Jesus and the Holy Spirit indwelling you and changing things. I’m asking you whether you’re new.” The argument from transformation.
The Holy Spirit comes by believing in Jesus. The day, the minute, the second you put yourself in Jesus’ hands, He puts His Holy Spirit into your heart and you are changed. Whether you feel it or not, there is a new life inside you.
This means that the Spirit begins to do what the law can never do. The law, which is like a book of rules which stands outside us and over us, has, first of all, been dealt with by Jesus at the cross because He’s paid all the condemnation for that book. And then, by the Spirit, the book moves into our hearts. So there is actually a new inclination to love God and love His people. It’s not perfection, but it’s newness.
I’ll give you an example. If you go to the supermarket, and you’re pushing your trolley down the aisle, and you see a sign that says, you know, “You’re being watched on a camera,” or another sign says, “Don’t steal,” and another sign says, “Shoplifting is a crime,” what’s going to cause the Christian to shop without stealing?
It could be that you’ll say, “I don’t really want to have people go through my bags and find something. It could be that I don’t want my reputation to be ruined by stealing.” But actually, the Christian is going to be…he or she should be thinking, “I’m under the leadership of Christ. I don’t need a sign on a wall to tell me not to steal. I don’t need the fear of having my bags gone through not to steal. I’m actually keen to please Him.”
And if you did find at the end of your shopping, somebody was going through your bags, you might find yourself saying to the person, “You know, you won’t find anything in my bags unless someone else has put something in there. You won’t find anything in my bags, and it’s not because of the sign on the wall or the cameras or anything like that, I actually am keen to please Christ from the heart because I’ve been changed.”
Let’s look at Paul’s argument in Chapter 5, verses 16-26. He doesn’t want us to be burdened. He wants us to be free. He’s told us that Christ has died for us. He’s told us that the believer has a brand new life, and he now asks us in verse 16, live by the Spirit. You see the same phrase in verse 25, “Keep in step with the Spirit, live by the Spirit.”
What does it mean? I suspect this is something that we forget. I suspect that a lot of our Christian life is quite lonely and self-promoting and self-fueled because we forget. We must live by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit. It’s another way of saying we should walk with God, we should walk with Christ, but we should remember this emphasis that He is at work in us to help us. That’s why we’re very blessed.
Calvin puts it like this, “As the life in a body,” we might say the breath in a body, “does not sit idly, but gives movement and vigour to every part, so the Spirit of God cannot fail to give outward effects.” Okay?
You’ve got life in your body, it’s causing you to sit and eventually stand and walk out, but the Spirit within also animates and gives vigour to your Christian life. So you and I may feel actually quite sort of underwhelmed by the effect of God within us, but day to day, He is going to bless us with spiritual vigour because His Holy Spirit lives within the real believer.
One of the ways the Holy Spirit will do this is that He’ll cause us, when we decide to walk down a path which is pretty stupid, to see that it’s a disappointing and foolish path. And when we decide to walk by grace down a very faithful path, He will confirm it and give to us the peace and joy that goes with that path.
Friends, what we need to be doing is we need to be saying, “As surely as the Father has adopted us, and as surely as the Son has washed us, the Holy Spirit has given us a new life.”
And the Galatians needed to know this because the Lord didn’t give them life, an extra ritual wouldn’t give them life, and sin, falling into sin won’t give you life. It’s only the Holy Spirit who will give you eternal life.
What we need is a wise relationship with God, which says to Him on a regular basis, “I believe, Heavenly Father, that You are for me. I believe that You’ve chosen me. I believe that Christ has washed me. I believe that the Spirit has indwelt me. I’m now asking that You would please help me and strengthen me as I depend on You because I would be insane to think that I am alone in the universe when You’ve made promises and proves that You are my Father, my Saviour, my Spirit indweller, and I would also be insane to think that I can live the Christian life on my own. So I’m asking that You would help me.”
What you will discover is that the Holy Spirit is keen, as a friend, to inwardly strengthen and help you. I think we fail to appreciate this and I’m reminding you from this passage that we should start appreciating Him.
So it’s not a weird thing. This is not a mysterious thing. This is walking in the light, but we’re basically saying, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Trinitarian God, help me live the Christian life.”
You notice that God does take the initiative. He’s the one who sent His Son to die for us. He took the initiative, but we crucify the sinful nature, which means that we take up our cross. He leads us by the Spirit, He initiates, He prompts us, but we respond and follow, and we would have no hope if He did not initiate because we’re sluggish. But, friends, we’d have no progress if we didn’t respond.
Learn to think of the Christian life as not just God above in Heaven and Christ above in heaven. That is, of course, wonderfully true, but learn to think of God’s Spirit within, giving vigour. He has the ability to tame our ungodliness. He has the ability to nurture godliness. It’s wonderful. Praise God for that.
That’s why we sing in some of our hymns,
“Breathe on me, breath of God. Fill me with life anew that I may love what Thou dost love and do what Thou wouldst do.” Or,
“O Comforter, draw near. Within my heart, appear and kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.”
So that’s the first thing, live by the Spirit. Now the second bit, which comes from verse 17 in our section, is that there are activities going on inside us which are natural sinful nature and supernatural Holy Spirit.
So my second point this morning is natural and supernatural activities. Verse 17, the Christian struggle. The sinful nature desires what’s contrary to the Spirit, the Spirit, what’s contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so you do not do what you want.
This is a blessed battle. If you’ve been sinning and you’re not happy, praise God. You see, the Holy Spirit is probably frustrating your plans because the battle of the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit is a sign of life. It’s a sign that God is at work. He’s for you. He’s at work in you. He’s bringing you through to the likeness of the Lord Jesus.
Tim Keller points out that we have desires for the wrong things, we know that, but we also have other desires for good things. So we get obsessed about things which are quite good in themselves, but then we over desire them and they become idolatrous.
The family is a good example. Those people who hear that family is good and then make family everything and everything has to give way to this new god called family. The same with fitness, the same with work, the same with food, all these good things which so easily become the thing. And, of course, that’s idolatrous and they will fail us. It’s dishonouring to God, it’s unhelpful to us.
God, in His mercy, has given us His Holy Spirit who will help us desire what God desires. And I want to read you a little paragraph from a book by Jim Packer called “Rediscovering Holiness,” which is one of the most striking things I’ve read for a long time, and every now and again, I remember it and I think to myself, “What an extraordinary truth this is.”
See if you can follow this. This is what he says. “God has so changed our nature, that is, the Christian nature, that actually our heart’s deepest desire, the dominant passion that rules and drives us is a copy, faint, but real, of the desire that drove our Lord Jesus.” God has so changed our nature that actually our heart’s deepest desire, the dominant passion that rules and drives us now is a copy, faint, but real, of the desire that drove our Lord Jesus.
When you become a Christian, if I could put it as crassly as this, God puts His Holy Spirit into the very base of your heart so that His influence is going to move up and have the dominant effect. It’s going to have the most profound effect.
If your heart is like a house and there’s a good and bad battle going on in there, it is as if God has put a tree under the house, which is going to burst through the house and produce the fruit of the tree.
When you think and feel every now and again that actually your sinfulness is the dominant force in your life, the fact of the matter is that the Spirit is the dominant person in your life. It’s a very great blessing from God. So the Spirit frustrates the sinful nature.
Have you discovered this sometimes? Have you ever planned something that’s really dopey and stupid and God has frustrated it? Ever prayed in the morning, “Lead us not into temptation,” and then thought, “I think I may walk into temptation. I’m feeling like temptation,” and God doesn’t let you walk into temptation? It’s wonderful. It’s frustrating, but it’s wonderful.
And the sinful nature grieves the Holy Spirit, but cannot overpower the Holy Spirit. Well, look at verses 19 to 21 with me and you’ll see… I’m going to give you now 15 examples which are here of the activities that are generated by our sinful nature.
Someone has categorised them like this. There’s 3 are that sensual, there are 2 that are superstitious, and there’s about 10 that are social. So the three sensual ones… And, again, please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the sinful nature just means sex. There’s only three of them here.
The first is immorality. That’s general sexual disobedience. Impurity, that’s a kind of uncleanness, moving well out of the bounds that God has dictated. And the third one is debauchery. That’s where things get really crass or depraved. So there’s a little decline going on there.
Then there were two that are superstitious: idolatry, the false gods, and then there’s witchcraft, which is to be really anti-God. But then, interestingly, 10 social acts of the sinful nature, 4 that are angry, 4 that are divisive, and 2 that are kind of like beer fest, drunken orgy types.
Now, I’d love to spend time on these, although it’d be pretty discouraging, but there they are, four angry works of the sinful nature, four divisive works of the sinful nature, and two that are kind of drunken party types. We can guess that this was probably pretty relevant for the Galatians because they had moved, you remember, from grace into this kind of factious, fighting one-upmanship.
And, again, this is not the full list, these 15. You see in verse 21, “…and the like.” In other words, this is a representative list of what we’re capable of producing. Now, friends, I remind you again, we’ve talked about this in the past, but we need to recognise, and I’m sure you do if you’re a realist, that we can produce these 15. Just give us the right circumstances, and we’re capable of coming up with all 15.
The seeds of all the sins of all the world are in my heart, and they’re in your heart as well. Doesn’t it shock you every now and again what you’re capable of? Don’t you sometimes think to yourself, “Well, at least I don’t have this sin,” and then quite soon, down the track, you’re conscious of that sin? You think to yourself, “Well, I never get angry. I’m a very peaceable person,” and then you get outraged.
I was reading a biography of Donald Barnhouse, and he had to have major surgery, and one of the members of the congregation did the surgery and said to him afterwards, “You know, I was holding your heart in my hands.” And Barnhouse, who was a very blunt man, said, “And did you realise that it is deceitful and beyond cure?” So he knew himself pretty well.
Those who continue in these things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That is, the person who’s quite committed to these, that is, it’s become habitual, you’re settling down with these things. “That,” says the Apostle Paul, “will be fatal.”
He’s not talking about the lapse, he’s not talking about the occasional failure. He’s not even talking about the regular battle with some of our most difficult sins, where we fall and repent, we fall and repent.
He’s talking about the time where we get to the point of saying, “I don’t really care about that. That sin can stay.” “They may be in us,” says the Apostle Paul, “but they’re not to be above us.” They’re not to get our approval. They’re not to get our support. We’re not to marry these sins and live with them.
By contrast, verse 22, 23, the fruit of the Spirit, absolutely delightful. Our sinful nature produces acts, but the Spirit produces fruit. The acts are what we do, the fruit is what He does. There are nine famous, nine pieces of fruit.
And the fruit, the word “fruit” in the Greek is singular, so it’s like the nine sorts of segments of a mandarin, and they’re incredibly attractive, they are desirable. Who would not want to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, humble, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled? Who would not want to be?
And God’s Spirit produces this fruit in the believer, and He does it, as one of the commentators says, gradually. That’s why it’s lovely to watch Christians make progress, and if you can’t see progress, sometimes we do see progress in you. The Holy Spirit produces this fruit inevitably and symmetrically, and he transforms us into the character of Christ. We may not feel it, as I say, but that’s what God does.
And that lovely old story of Charles Simeon who was an Anglican Minister in the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s, and he was an eccentric sort of character. He was single and needed a wife really to knock some of his weird edges off him. And he had lots of weird mannerisms.
And he went to visit a very godly man called Henry Venn for fellowship. And Henry Venn had three daughters. And after Charles Simeon left, the three daughters burst into fits of laughter that this guy had been so strange.
And wise old Henry Venn asked one of his daughters to go out to the garden and pick a peach from the tree, which she did, which was, of course, green and hard. And Henry Venn said, “This peach is green and hard, but given a little time, some seasons, some water, some sunshine, it will become a very sweet and delightful peach. And Mr Simeon, under the influence of God’s Spirit, will also turn into a very godly and gracious man.”
And he did. A lot of the strange eccentricities disappeared, a lot of the character faults were subdued, and Charles Simeon became a very, very saintly man, so much so that when he died, the whole of Cambridge closed their shops, the universities, and they all met on the street to farewell him because he’d made such a big impact. And God is at work in every believer to subdue the flesh and to promote the Spirit.
These nine fruits are not natural. You may think, “Oh, I’ve got them,” but that could be your temperament. These are supernatural. And if you want to know what Jesus is like, read Galatians 5:22-23. If you’ve got bad views of Jesus, remind yourself that Jesus is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, humble, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled, and that’s the character that God is moving His people towards.
And this strange phrase, Verse 23b, that there is no law against this fruit. It’s a funny thing to say, isn’t it? Nine fruit and there’s no law against them. What the Apostle means, I think, it’s a masterful understatement, is that this fruit need no restraints. You don’t need to put any fences around these fruits. The acts of the sinful nature, they need restraints, but the work, the fruit of the Spirit does not need any restraint.
Well, I want to finish by just talking to you about the freedom to fight. This is my third and last point for the last couple of minutes, free to fight. You may be wondering whether there is any freedom in your Christian life at all.
Again, your non-Christian friends seem to be enjoying themselves, and you’re tied up in lots of guilt and in struggles. So are you really free? That’s the question. The Apostle Paul would come and take this pulpit, and he’d say, “If you’ve put your faith in Jesus, you are absolutely free.”
You’re not only free from condemnation because Jesus carried that away for you, but you’re free in the fellowship and family of God. You’re as much loved as any member of the family of God. You’re accepted, you’re washed, you’re adopted, you’re indwelt, you’re assured, and you’re free to fight.
The unbeliever hasn’t a clue that there is a spiritual battle. The unbeliever hasn’t a clue that there is an eternal battle. The unbeliever just sails merrily along thinking, “One day I may take God seriously,” not realising that they’re getting harder every day of their life. And the believer has been wonderfully set free from that error, danger, and has been brought into the great freedom of Christ.
So when you see the lies that are around you, you’re able, by the grace of God, to battle. You’re not forgetting that Christ paid for all your sins. You’re not falling back into rules to try and win God’s approval. You’re not falling into carelessness. It’s a big issue for us, isn’t it? Pious in church, completely forgettable once we’re out of here.
And so much of the sins present to us as if they’re water for the fire and they actually arrive as taps. We think to ourselves, “If I just do this, it’ll be great,” and it fans the fire even worse than before.
So what are we to do since Christ has died for us and the Spirit has begun to live in us? We’re to remember that we’ve set ourselves to follow Christ. That’s always going to be costly. This needs daily repentance. And then we’re to walk with God since His spirit gives us spiritual vigour. And we’re to seek His help, not trying to live the Christian life alone.
Do not be too proud or too fearful or too doubtful or too forgetful, but walk with Christ in the power of the Spirit. Put your legalism away as if Christ did not bridge the gap, but He did, put your carefree sins away as if those sins are better than Christ, and they’re not, and walk in the freedom and the fight of Christianity with great joy, peace, knowing that the past is covered, God in His fatherly love is with you, and the future is absolutely assured.
What a friend we have in the Holy Spirit. He is our life giver, He is our comforter, He is our provider of gifts and graces, and He is our helper every day and every hour of every day.
So, friends, I’ll finish by saying this to you, you can forget everything that I’ve said this morning, but it will remain true, we need the help of the Holy Spirit, and He is absolutely keen to give it. What a friend we have in the Holy Spirit.
Let’s pray. Father, we give you great thanks that you have sent your Son to take the condemnation. We thank you that you’ve sent your Holy Spirit to give us newness of life and we pray that you would strengthen each one of us today and every day.
Thank you for Your Holy Spirit so deeply working in us, bringing to perfection the fruit of the Spirit when we see Christ face to face. We pray that You would keep us, strengthen us, help us, and use us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.