Category Archives: Maturity

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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.

Mark 8:31-38

Losses and gains – crosses and chains

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36

Context

This week’s study is on the topic of Christian maturity. It does not fit into a series of other studies and yet it does naturally follow on from our focus on mission and proclaiming the word of God to the world around us. When you come to Christ to be saved, then what? If salvation is by grace alone, is there no change required from us? If there is change required, since repentance demands it, what does that change look like?

In Mark’s gospel, the author wants to outline to us the good news about Jesus the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Right in the middle of the book, after 8 chapters of hearing clues about who Jesus is, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the promised King of God (Mark 8:27-30). The disciples, who had given up everything to follow Jesus and learn from him, could now see that Jesus is God’s chosen One. Their eyes are opened and Jesus is ready to let them in on the rest of his plans!

Observation

Structure

  • 31-33 The concerns of God
  • 34-38 The concerns of a Disciple

31-33 The concerns of God

“…began to teach them…” This is the primary concern of Jesus to his Disciples – that he teach them. Indeed, Jesus’ ministry is focused, not on healings and miracles but on his teaching.

“Son of Man” To be a ‘son of man’ is simply to be human (Daniel 8:17) but this title echos back to Daniel 7(:13-14) where the Son of Man is described as deity – one who will come to rule over everything. Jesus clearly has in mind someone great prophesied about. He is teaching his disciples about the plans of God.

“…must suffer many things…” Jesus is explaining what will happen as he knows it. Isaiah 53 is one place which predicts the Servant King’s sufferings but Jesus is being more explicit than what the Old Testament foretold in any singular place. Jesus knows that he is going to the cross.

“…looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.” Although Peter’s rebuke appeared to be in private, Jesus made no attempt to keep Peter’s rebuke quiet. Peter was not proposing what they ought to have for dinner but that Jesus ought to abort the mission God sent him to do.

“…concerns of God…concerns of men…” Although Peter was able to see with clarity that Jesus is the Christ, he doesn’t see what God intends to do. Peter doesn’t know the future like Jesus does but his heart is on show here. Avoiding conflict or preserving one’s life is not the primary directive. Following God wherever he will lead is primary.

“…Satan…human concerns.” Notice how tightly bound these two forces are. If we are not for God, we are against him. Call it man versus God or Satan versus God. If you are not for God you are against him.

This section concerns God’s plans for Jesus to go to the cross. The following passages expound this plan of God to give us life through the cross of Christ – Colossians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28; Colossians 1:15-23 (esp. v19). God’s plans and concerns are for the Christ is to bring salvation by way of the cross. But what is God’s intention for the disciple?

34-38 The concerns of a Disciple

“…the crowd…along with his disciples…” Jesus moves from a private moment with his 12 to a moment to teach anyone who is willing to listen.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple…” An open invitation is given. Jesus is about to teach anyone who is willing to listen how they may become a disciple if they want to.

“…must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Three parts of the same lesson. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. It means to be a learner of him. The only way to do that is to put to death our former selves and learn all over again. Our lives are no longer to be the centre of the universe. Our minds must be set on opportunities to love others sacrificially. The New Testament writers talked about this as dying with Christ. If we want to be a disciple of Jesus, we must die with him. So, three things: let go of survival instincts, go where Jesus sends you, and learn from him. Sound attractive? Well, gospel logic is the reverse of the world’s logic and Jesus talks about that next.

“…save their life will lose it…loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark Twain apparently once said, “it ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” The context of that quote probably served a different meaning but Jesus says things often that are not difficult to understand – they’re just outrageously challenging. If I want to live and have life, I need to trust Jesus and let it go. If I don’t want to trust Jesus nor have anything that he is offering, then I will instinctively live for me. This doesn’t mean I’ll be totally selfish and a bad person. I may be very kind and considerate of others but ultimately I will seek to survive and thrive and be true to me. The Christian worldview is that God is the creator and I am his creation; that I have sinned and fallen short of his expectations; that Christ has paid my debt to God and expects no repayment; that for me to have life, I must live for Christ.

“…gain the whole world?” If our treasures are here in this world then that is what our hearts will be set on and the best we can get is exactly what we’ve hoped for – treasure here. Even Solomon saw that life was meaningless without God.

“…forfeit their soul?” Those ‘crossroads’ stories of selling your soul to the devil in exchange for fame and fortune come to mind. Jesus is giving us the same message in different ways: seeking heaven now on your own terms discredits you from eternal life. To forfeit something is to make you disqualified. You can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24).

“Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The irony of what Jesus is saying here must be pointed out. He is telling us that there is nothing more precious than your soul – your inner being. So, take care of it by losing your life. Let God be your salvation. Jesus is telling us to sacrifice our own life to make Jesus King but that by knowing that Jesus is King, we sacrifice our fleeting life for the sake of our own soul.

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words…” Here is the gospel: our boldness and surety in Jesus today is our forecast for the future. How does being ashamed of Jesus and his words play out in life? Awkwardness to talk about him? A hidden faith?

“…in this adulterous and sinful generation…” This is describing an age rather than a demographic like Gen X. This world, since the beginning, have demonstrated adultery and sinfulness or wickedness. This is the opposite of what Jesus is calling his disciples to be. He says deny yourself while the world says be true to yourself.

“…when he comes…” Jesus is not thinking of his current arrival into the world, but of his second coming. He has eternity in mind. Mark 9:1 may have the resurrection and cross in mind as the coming of the kingdom of God, but in Mark 8:38 he describes coming with the holy angels.

The concern for Jesus’ disciples is to hand their lives over to him. Jesus makes his simple point over and over again in these 5 verses in multiple ways. If you want to be embraced by Jesus then embrace him now and do away with everything else. Being a disciple, follower, learner of Jesus is an all in commitment. If a person is concerned for their soul, then entrust it to Jesus to be taught, shaped, exercised and saved. Read these New Testament verses on this subject: Romans 6:1-14 (esp. v1-4); Colossians 3:1-4 (and the rest of the chapter); Ephesians 2:1-5; Luke 14:25-33.

Meaning

God’s concern is to save people through the death and resurrection of Jesus and he calls on us to share the same concern for ourselves. Following Jesus is a radical and complete commitment. If we want to be a disciple of Christ, we must follow him completely, unashamedly and faithfully. We forfeit our souls when we share the same concerns the world has.

Application

  • Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). Jesus said that anyone who is ashamed of him and his words are disqualified from the kingdom of heaven. Discuss how these statements affect your life. What are some examples of being ashamed of Jesus and what are some examples of being unashamed?
  • Do you think of yourself as a disciple of Jesus? Discuss what a modern day disciple of Jesus looks like. Is it possible to be a Christian but not a disciple? Matthew 28:18-20 may help this discussion.
  • The concerns of God or the concerns of men. How do we foster lives which are bound up with the concerns of God?

Prayer of the Week

Dear God and Father, thank you for the concerns that you have for the people of this world and the desire for us to see our greatest need which is in Jesus. Help us, we pray, to lose our lives and be concerned for the things that you are concerned about. May we love Jesus dearly, obey him yearly and follow him clearly. Amen.