Follow the Spirit! – Galatians 5:16-26
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 25, 2013 AM
I like some of the new features of smart phones, especially the ability to use them as a GPS whether you are walking around town or driving to a destination. However, one has to be careful not to completely trust in the directions they give, because they still can lead you down someone’s driveway or to none existent places. Kind of like the car commercial a few years ago where the guy was following the vocal directions from his in-dash GPS and it tells him, “Turn left…” he immediately does and runs into a building, a then as the dust and debris settles the robotic voice continues, “…in 500 feet.” Not all guidance is necessarily good guidance.
Christians have access to the best possible guidance as they exercise their freedom in Christ. Unfortunately, many believers sometimes confuse Christian freedom with the liberty do anything they want, and then garner God’s forgiveness. They do not know—or they do not care—that they are free but only to follow the Holy Spirit’s leadership. Not surprisingly, they may become experts in several or more of what Paul called “works of the flesh”. They follow their own lusts, not the Spirit. They show little evidence in life of the fruit of the Spirit. God wants His people to avoid all works of the flesh and to focus on developing all aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. For this reason, He wants them to follow the Spirit’s leadership. Let’s see what Paul teaches us this morning as we learn to follow the Spirit…
READ: Galatians 5:16-26
Believers face the constant temptation to follow culture’s permissive influences. Many are the voices urging self-indulgence and insisting, “anything goes” and “if it feels good, do it.” We need to hear the Spirit’s voice giving spiritual, moral, and ethical direction. Paul gives us the antidote to poisonous behavior: following the Spirit’s leadership. He contrasts the Spirit to the flesh and highlights the conflict between them. He reminds us to…
I. Walk by the Spirit! (Vv. 16-18)
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Galatians 5:16-18 NIV)
1. Paul quickly states, “So I say, live by the Spirit” and the reasoning is obvious to him because when you do, “you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” We forget that when we come to Christ, He saves us for eternity but not out of infernal bad habits. This is why Jesus would warn his followers to, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5 NIV) The words literally translated are, “keep on walking.” As a believer walks through life, he should depend on the indwelling Holy Spirit for guidance and power. But the Spirit does not operate automatically in a believer’s heart. He waits to be relied on or trusted in guidance. The believer must learn to hear and heed the Spirit’s voice because when they do, they “will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Too many believers constantly fight within themselves daily whom they will follow and then wonder why God is not more active in their lives. He cannot be and will not be if you continually decide to follow that which is contrary to His nature! “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.” Point in fact, “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Never forget, dear child of God, every Christian is a walking civil war. Flesh and Spirit are in perpetual conflict; they are diametrically opposed to each other and vie for dominance in believers’ lives. This is where your guilt comes in, you follow the lusts of your sinful nature, the Spirit within you knows you should not be doing what you are doing, and you then sense the guilt. It is unrelenting warfare for control of believers’ lives! The Spirit strives to prevent believers from giving in to evil; the flesh tries to thwart the Spirit’s work. However, Paul reminds us, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law!” Trying to be “good enough” in order to assuage your guilty conscience places you back under a life of trying to live under the law, rules and regulations instead of the freedom of the Spirit. The answer: Walk by the Spirit!
EXAMPLE: What temptations arising from your lower nature do you face? How does the Spirit help you overcome them? Paul maintained strongly that only following the Spirit’s guidance could enable people to overcome evil and experience the freedom of grace. The inner struggle between believers’ old nature and the Spirit would continue, but following the Spirit’s leading—walking with Him—would empower them to be victorious. We are to let the Spirit guide our living. We must cooperate with Him. Each day presents temptations and challenges. The warfare between our old natures and the Spirit continues. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s prompting and to rely on His power to help us overcome persistent pulls to evil. Through His power we can avoid doing what displeases God. We are to walk by the Spirit!
Paul goes on to present a catalog of “the works of the flesh” so these believers could be forewarned. He repeated what he had told them when he was with them: People with lifestyles marked by works of the flesh are not part of God’s kingdom. He warns us to…
II. Avoid ungodly conduct contrary to the Spirit! (Vv. 19-21)
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. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NIV)
1. Paul tells us bluntly, that, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious!” Paul listed what the flesh produces by naming three sexual sins: immorality, impurity, and debauchery! The first was a general word for illicit sexual activity—sexual intercourse before and outside marriage. The word can mean “fornication” or “prostitution” and often is translated “adultery.” How sad in our day and age where folks think they can skirt God’s grace and the hurt of divorce by having sex outside of marriage! Paul says it is impossible! The second word “impurity” refers to material dirt, defilement, moral filth or lewdness! It is the aspect of not caring what you do publicly or privately; literally, dirty thoughts and lifestyle! Much of the Internet today produces this kind of behavior through pornography, sexting, or openly flaunting sexual activity in public. Jesus severely warned, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:21-23 NIV) Paul had also warned, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10b-11 NIV) Far too many play a dangerous game with the grace of God thinking that what they think or do has no consequence on their spiritual lives, Paul warns otherwise! In fact, it can lead to all kinds of ungodly activity: “idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like!” Dear child of God, do you constantly struggle with any or all of these? Perhaps you have forgotten, as the Galatians had, that a life lived this way leads to guilt and a weak faith. In fact, Paul suspected that those who constantly battled with these things may not have truly committed themselves fully to Christ, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Does your daily thoughts and life depict your faith? If we are to follow the Spirit, we should avoid ungodly conduct contrary to the Spirit!
EXAMPLE: With what attitudes of the old nature do you need the Spirit’s help to overcome? The world today encourages, exemplifies, and instructs us to daily indulge our sinful nature. It goes so far as to barrage us with the notion that if we do not, we are out of step, living in the past, or phobic. That we may suffer from some kind of psychological disorder because the rest of the world says anything goes anywhere anytime! However, if we let the Spirit guide our living, we will avoid doing what displeases God. We will model sexual purity for a perverted society in which moral guidelines are being erased swiftly. The Spirit will enable us to bear witness concerning authentic religion, will help us avoid destructive attitudes, and will help us reject consumption of drugs or alcohol in order to have a “good time.” If we are to follow the Spirit, we should avoid ungodly conduct contrary to the Spirit!
Finally, Paul teaches us that the Spirit’s activity in Christians produces a cluster of virtues that gives explicit evidence believers belong to Christ. Paul exhorts believers to “follow the Spirit” and then gives us three examples of what following Him calls for. He teaches that believers will…
III. Display the fruit of the Spirit! (Vv. 22-26)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:22-26 NIV)
1. Paul doesn’t leave us in spiritual despair but reminds us what, “the fruit of the Spirit” is. The word fruit refers to virtues only the Spirit can cultivate and bring to full growth in believers’ lives. Human nature apart from God can only perform works; only the Spirit can produce fruit. Note that the word fruit is singular. Genuine believers exhibit a cluster of virtues characteristic of living in the Spirit. The first is love. Paul chose the word “agape” because it does not carry the primary element of emotion or affection. Agape is God’s kind of self-sacrificing love: determined good will that acts for others’ best interests. “Joy” differs markedly from happiness. Happiness depends on favorable circumstances. Joy is a deep celebration of relationship with God no matter what the circumstances are. The gladness of being held securely in God’s grace empowers believers to face life’s challenges. “Peace” is much more than absence of conflict. The word has the idea of wholeness and well-being under God’s rule that issues in spiritual calmness in the face of difficulties. “Patience” means “longsuffering.” It conveys a slowness to become angry. We would say it is the capacity to “put up with a lot.” “Kindness” is gentleness, thoughtfulness, and consideration in dealing with others. It is not sentimentality. It has the sense of being agreeable, obliging, or pleasant. “Goodness” is “moral excellence,” but it is much more. The word carries the idea of active generosity and compassion toward others—of doing more than justice requires. We might define goodness as kindness in action. “Faithfulness” is honesty or loyalty in relationships with others. It is the quality of reliability; people can count on believers. “Gentleness” conveys the sense of strength under control. It was used of animals that people tamed and disciplined to carry riders or pull loads. The Spirit enables Christians to exercise disciplined strength in relating to others. “Self-control” is mastery over emotions, especially over sensual desires. It is the spiritual strength to discipline self, to impose self-restraint. Self-discipline issues in moral purity. “Against such things, there is no law!” In fact, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” And Paul ends his instruction by reminding us that, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” We are to follow the Spirit, not our emotions or the world’s desires because when we do, we will display the fruit of the Spirit!
EXAMPLE: Which virtues in the cluster of the fruit of the Spirit are most evident in your life? Which are underdeveloped? What will you do to allow the Spirit to produce a more complete harvest? If we let the Spirit guide how we live, we will exhibit characteristics that please God. The fruit of the Spirit will be evident in our inner spiritual lives, in our interactions with others, and in our conduct. We not only will avoid works of the flesh, but we also will advance toward the goal of spiritual maturity, which leads to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control!” In following the Spirit, we will display the fruit of the Spirit!
We have learned from Paul what it means to follow the Spirit in our lives. We are to walk by the Spirit, avoid ungodly conduct contrary to the Spirit, and to display the fruit of the Spirit!
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 28 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.