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The Spirit and Growth

Galatians 5:16-25

Memory verse: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

Context

The gospel message must include information about the Holy Spirit. Remember that Jesus told Nicodemus, a Jewish expert in the law, that he needed to be born again of water and the Spirit if he wanted to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5)? Nothing that this Pharisee had done in all his life was enough to bring him to the kingdom. Only the work of the Spirit could do that. Jesus then said that only those who believe (in the Son) may have eternal life (John 3:15). So, the work of the Spirit is to open the eyes of people to see Jesus as King and Saviour, and that believing, they can have eternal life. The Holy Spirit kicks off the Christian life.

In our previous two sermons (God willing) we have heard who the Holy Spirit is (God) and that the Holy Spirit is the giver of life. In today’s study we will use Galatians 5:16-26 to examine the Spirit’s work in our Christian growth.

The New Testament book of Galatians is a letter by Paul the Apostle to the Christian church in Galatia who, having received the gospel of Jesus Christ, were apparently returning to old religious practices (Galatians 6:12) – observing special religious days and seasons (Galatians 4:10-11) and reintroducing circumcision (Galatians 5:12). Paul is worried for them that they will forfeit their eternal life because of false teachers who try to persuade them to return to observing the law. In Galatians 5, he explains how living free from the law does not equal free from holiness since Christians walk in step with the Spirit of God.

Observation

Structure

  • 16-18 The Spirit and the Flesh are in conflict
  • 19-21 The Fruit of the Flesh are…
  • 22-25 The Fruit of the Spirit is…

16-18 The Spirit and the Flesh are in conflict.

“…walk by the Spirit…” It is clear from Galatians 3:2-5 that the Spirit mentioned in comparison to the flesh refers to the Spirit of God (Galatians 3:5) rather than the spirit of a person. We are not simply being told to live the way your own spirit drives you but to live and act influenced by the Spirit of God.

“…desires of the flesh.” It is more likely that the whims and passions of the human spirit is aligned with this word ‘flesh’. “‘Flesh’ describes humans in their opposite-ness to God in their opposition to God. It’s talking about people who haven’t been born again by the Spirit.” (Petty, S. Little Black Books: The Holy Spirit, Matthias Media, 2012, p55). This simple definition matches the statement by Paul that the Spirit and the flesh are in conflict. If the flesh were simply our bodies, then the Spirit of God would not dwell in us. The word is still useful since it picks up the passions and desires that seem to go hand-in-hand with a physical body such as sexual immorality and drunkenness – even hatred feels like a fire brewing in the flesh!

“…desires what is contrary…” Both the Spirit and the flesh desire or strive or are passionate for something and both desire what the other hates. To listen to one is to ignore or disobey the other. “They are in conflict with each other.”

“…you are not to do whatever you want.” This must not be confused with having to do what you don’t want – like living in the Spirit will always go against our wants. Paul has stated clearly that the Spirit and the flesh are in conflict and so we must choose which way to go. Doing whatever you want will often be in sync with the flesh while at times, we may make a choice which happens to work fine for the Spirit. What Paul is saying, however, is that we must choose to listen and obey the Spirit of God. That is what we need to want.

“…if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Again, this is not to be confused with abandoning the law outright. Paul’s case in its context is that living by the Spirit of God will pursue God’s desires without the need of any written law or code or commandments. We will not need a textbook since we have the Spirit of God!

Paul’s message in verses 16 to 18 is that we are to distinguish between things we do and the nature of God. The path ahead for us all is to follow the Spirit rather than anyone or anything else. Pursue the way of the Spirit of God. All other pursuits are worldly and in rebellion to Him.

19-21 The Fruit of the Flesh are…

“The acts of the flesh are obvious…” You can see the flesh in action easily. This is an interesting statement in today’s climate. Is it politically correct to say that impulses that people have are in conflict with God? Is it politically correct to call a sin evil? Paul lists things that are obviously out of sync with the Spirit and he is confident to say that it is easy to pick. Perhaps it is not politically correct to judge people out loud, but we can judge ourselves and discern rebellion in others quite plainly. We can see the rebellion against the Spirit in action clearly.

“The acts of the flesh…” The list which follows contains a fairly obvious list of sin. ‘Debauchery’ or ‘licentiousness’ describes an indulgence in sex or drugs or alcohol. ‘Hatred’, ‘jealousy’ and ‘envy’ all relate to an inward desire for another person’s demise. These are what the desires of the flesh produce and so the word ‘acts’ and ‘fruit’ seem to be working in parallel. The fruit will operate out of instinct and reflex when not put under control while the Spirit will not take control of a person but produce a different kind of action. The person is always performing the acts but some are reacting to their own desires and impulse while the saved are listening to the Spirit.

“…and the like…” The New Testament does not give lists in order for us to make more tablets of commandments. Instead, they are given as examples and illustrations to make a greater point. The point is that the acts of the flesh are obvious. If the Spirit of God is working in you, then it is obvious.

“…those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Everybody sins (1 John 1:8-9). But the person walking by the flesh will be characterised by these things. Ephesians 2:8-10 make it clear that we are saved because of what God has done for us in Christ and that he promises to work in us to be like Christ. An unrepentant person will demonstrate their allegiance to the flesh and their rebellion against God. Such a person will not inherit the kingdom of God.

It is possible for a person to be “Christian-ised” and be brought up to reject fleshly things while in the company of others. The Spirit of God, of course, knows the heart of a person and unless they turn to Christ, they too will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22-25 The Fruit of the Spirit

“…the fruit of the Spirit…” See the comment under ‘acts of the flesh’. The Spirit does not act on our behalf but produces fruit in us. Our actions are the result of listening and learning and growing through the Spirit.

“…fruit of the Spirit is…” The list here is in contrast to the acts of the flesh. It is a singular fruit and all of the virtues are to be built up in parallel. 1 Corinthians 13 expounds on the first in the list as an overarching chief of the other items listed.

Love – chooses others first and shows no favouritism (1 Corinthians 13). It is perhaps the best word we have to describe God (1 John 4:8)

Joy – is a gift to those whose names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20)

Peace – is also a gift from God through reconciliation between us and God and between one another (Ephesians 2:14-18)

Patience (forbearance), kindness – demonstrates the nature of God toward sinners (Romans 2:4; 3:25)

Goodness – is what we are saved for (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:17)

Faithfulness – is to stand firm in the faith as well as to be trustworthy (Hebrews 10:23; 3 John 3)

Gentleness – promotes love and graciousness to others (1 Peter 3:15)

Self-control – is a direct response to the gospel of God (Titus 2:11-12) and the road to love (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“Against such things there is no law.” As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8 – love never fails. There are no restrictions or limits to the extent that these virtues can and should go! The law never speaks against love, joy, peace etc. These are all virtues of the Christian life for those who are walking with the Spirit. Each of these are to increase in the Christian as they grow in their trust in God and love of Christ. Furthermore, there is no need for law when the Spirit is obeyed – the law is obsolete when you have the spirit – this is true freedom from the law when we pursue life in the Spirit.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh…” We work in response to the call of the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the flesh. You cannot belong to Christ and not be putting to death the deeds of the flesh. You cannot successfully put to death the deeds of the flesh unless you belong to Christ. The surrender of your life to Christ is more than knowledge of the gospel. It is an ongoing work between you and the Spirit to kill off the desires that are obviously driven by the flesh. Since the flesh and the Spirit are in conflict, we need to destroy what is in conflict with the Spirit. This is the Spiritual warfare that matters first in the Christian life.

“Since we live by the Spirit…” Note that we don’t strive to have the Spirit or gain the Spirit once we put on love and peace etc, but that having the Spirit already, we shall listen to the way of the Spirit of God and be conformed to his will and influence. We do not summon the Spirit to us by doing good work or worship or intense prayer. No, the Spirit is the gift of God to all who believe in and trust the Son of the Father.

“…keep in step with the Spirit.” This is our eternal partnership! We do not live by rules and laws that need legal experts to interpret and find loopholes. Rather, we live by the Spirit who is love, and is patient, and is joy. He knows exactly what to do in every situation and we need to pursue listening to Him and obeying Him.

Meaning

Christian growth does not concern learning rules, nor keeping traditions, but rather listening to the Spirit of God who lives with us. Two masters are at battle within us, the flesh and the Spirit. They are in conflict with one another and cannot be friends. Feeding the impulses of the flesh works against spiritual growth and is inline with all who are excluded from the kingdom of God. Responding to the Spirit of God is what people in the kingdom do and produces Christian growth. Christian growth is about partnering with the Spirit of God.

Application

  • Topic A: Keeping in step with the Spirit. This involves listening and obeying and discipline. It requires meditation over the word of God to know God and know His Spirit. Many may say that they hear the Spirit of God speak to them when they pray. Even so, how can you discern the difference between the voice of God and your own random thought or even an influence of a lying spirit? We know God by knowing his word. Talk together about how to go about this. Share your own practice of bible reading and prayer. Challenge one another to not simply read the bible but to engage with God continuously.
  • Topic B: Putting to death the deeds of the flesh. What obvious acts of the flesh do you struggle to kill off in your life? This can be a very hard conversation to have in a group, so it may be better to talk in triplets. Pray for one another about these things and be sure to talk not only about what needs to be put to death and how, but also what life giving gifts of the Spirit do we have to combat it. Examples include prayer, love, remembering the promises of God which bring peace and joy.
  • Topic C: Speaking words of the Spirit to one another. Verses 24 and 25 talk about those who belong to Christ and live by the Spirit. When we are together in Growth Group and at church, what conversations can we have to encourage Spiritual growth? Consider how we steer our conversations away from things the flesh is at home with and on to content and manners in step with the Spirit.

Prayer of the Week

Spirit of God, guide us each day to think and act as children of God and heirs to the Kingdom of God. Help us to be conscious of your presence and your desire to shape us as those who belong to Christ Jesus. Give us strength and resolution to put to death the ways of the flesh and give us love, joy and peace in Jesus’ name. Amen.