"Walk in the Spirit"
(Delivered Sunday, May 18, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
We are continuing this morning to lay a biblical foundation for our study of the Ten Commandments. We've been thinking about some of the principles that are important for a New Testament understanding of the commandments; and we will bring this foundational portion of our study to a close today by looking at a final principle.
I'm excited about this last principle, not only because it's taken from one of my favorite passages of Scripture, but also because of the practical and life-transforming potential of what this passage teaches us. Listen closely, and you'll see that it has a very important connection to the Ten Commandments. In Galatians 5:16-26, the apostle Paul writes;
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace patience longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another (Gal. 5:16-26).
This passage contrasts two different principles under which a man or woman can live. The life lived under the principle of the flesh (that is, under the principle of our own human efforts, expressed through a body that is habituated toward sin), is being contrasted with the life lived under the prevailing power and influence of the Holy Spirit. And of particular importance to our study of the Ten Commandments is what Paul says at the end of his description of the things that the Holy Spirit produces in such a life - what Paul calls the "fruit" of the Holy Spirit. He says, "Against such there is no law" (v. 22). That's what connects this passage to our study of the Ten Commandments. Another way of expressing what Paul is saying is that we cannot live a life that is in conformity to the law of God in our own power; only the Holy Spirit can live such a life through us. And the wonderful news is that the life the Holy Spirit lives through us - as manifested by the fruit He produces through us - is one that is in perfect conformity to God's law.
Before we can begin to study the Ten Commandments and rightly understand their place in our lives, I have felt strongly that we need to look at this passage together. Paul's teaching about the "fruit of the Spirit" gives us a final, very crucial principle in this foundational portion of our study.
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So far in our study, we've made several assertions from the Bible about God's law as it is expressed in the Ten Commandments. Let's review these previous principles before we examine this last one. First, we've established that the law was never given to make us righteous through our obedience to it. So many people, sadly, make the mistake of believing that it was. Instead, we've discovered from the Bible that God gave the law, not to make us righteous, but to condemn us as guilty sinners because of our violation of it. As Romans 3:20 says, "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin."
So, the law puts us in a terrible situation. It makes guilty sinners out of us. It reveals the truth to us - that we stand condemned before a holy God and worthy of His righteous wrath; and that there's nothing we could ever do to remove the guilt of our sin and make ourselves righteous in His sight. What then can we do? This leads us to the second principle: that the law's condemnation forces us to accept the only solution to our problem that God offers. It makes it necessary that we cease trying to make ourselves righteous by our own efforts, trust in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and be declared righteous by God's grace through faith alone. The condemnation of the law takes away all other options; and it thus makes it absolutely essential that we place all our trust in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness, and in His righteousness for our justification before God. Paul said, in Galatians 3:22, "But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."
But what happens to us after we have placed our trust in the cross of Jesus? What then is our situation with respect to God's law? The third principle is very good news, because it affirms what Paul has said in Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus ..." Once we've trusted Christ, the condemning power of the law has accomplished its purpose, and the law ceases to condemn us. For Paul to say that there is now "no condemnation" for the believer is the same as saying that he or she now stands 100% righteous in God's sight.
The law's condemnation makes it necessary that we trust in the cross of Jesus; and having trusted in Jesus and having been placed by faith "in" Him, the law no longer condemns us and we stand "justified" before God! Affirming these first three principles about the Ten Commandments is almost like proclaiming the gospel, isn't it?
And by the way, I must stop here and say something. It would be a terrible thing to interact with these monumental truths from God's word, and yet never have personally responded to the implications of them. Be honest: Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ? By asking that, I mean the following: (1) Have you acknowledged that you have broken God's law, and that you stand condemned by the law as a sinner worthy of God's wrath? (2) Have you acknowledged that you have no hope to be released from the guilt of your sins apart from God's mercy? And (3) have you placed a conscious, intelligent, personal trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God's only Son, on the cross for your sins? One of the reasons God gave His law is to bring you to the cross of Jesus for salvation. What a mistake it would be to study the law, and yet fail to respond to one of the most important things it seeks to teach us! If you have not placed your trust in the cross of Jesus before, I sincerely pray that you will do so today.
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So then; in Christ, the law no longer has any power to condemn us. We are no longer under law, but under God's grace. And these first three principles affirm how the law is used by God to lead us to justification by faith in Christ. But now that we are declared righteous in Christ with respect to God's law, how are we then to live? Are we to live in disregard to God's law? No! Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law, but rather to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). The fourth principle affirms that we who have been declared righteous by grace are to live a life consistent with our position in Christ. We are now to view the law of God, not as a means of achieving righteousness, but as a picture of how we - as grateful people who have been redeemed from sin by God's grace - are to now live in the righteousness God has imputed to us by grace. "For this is the love of God," the apostle John said, "that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Are you glad God has saved you by His grace? Are you grateful to Him and do you love Him for giving you His righteousness as a free gift? Then you are to show your love and your thankfulness by keeping His commandments.
And the fifth principle teaches us that it is through active love that we are now to live a life of conformity to the law. We are to keep God's law - not by once again placing ourselves under enslavement to the law's written list of rules and regulations - but by actively serving one another in love. The Bible teaches us that the law is summed up under the principle of love. Paul said, "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: OYou shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:13-14).
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There's a review of the first five principles we've studied together. Now before we consider the sixth and final principle, stop and think for a moment what it would take for us to "love" others in a way that would be in keeping with the law. What kind of a person would you have to be in order to do that. I would suggest that you would have to be a very remarkable person indeed, because you would have to be like Jesus. Only Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, was able to live a life that pleased His Father; and only He could serve others in love in a way that was in keeping with the requirements of His Father's commandments.
Think about "the fruit of the Spirit" that Paul described in our passage this morning. If you look carefully at it, you'll discover that the fruit of the Spirit is nothing less than a description of how Jesus lived. The fruit of the Spirit is "love"; and Jesus exhibited perfect love to us and said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 14:34). The fruit of the Spirit is "joy"; and Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). The fruit of the Spirit is "peace"; and Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).
The fruit of the Spirit is "patience"; and no one was as patient as our Savior as He walked upon this earth. He exhibited such perfect patience that the apostle Paul could think of no higher way to bless His readers than to entrust them to "the patience of Christ" (2 Thess. 3:5). The fruit of the Spirit is "kindness"; and no one was as kind as our Savior; because He was God's own expression of kindness toward us. The Bible specifically reminds us of God's "kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7) - that is to say, Jesus is the very "kindness of God" to us. The fruit of the Spirit is "goodness"; and no one sought our good as much as Jesus did. The Bible promises that the "good work" God has begun in us will be brought to full completion "in the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).
The fruit of the Spirit is "faithfulness"; and who was more faithful than our Savior - whom the Bible presents to us as one who is "faithful and true" (Rev. 19:11)? The fruit of the Spirit is "meekness" or "gentleness"; and who was more meek than the One who could have asked His Father for twelve legions of angles to come and rescue Him from His enemies when He was being betrayed to His death - but did not? (Matthew 26:53)? Who could be more meek than the One who left His throne in heaven, became a man, and "humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8)? The fruit of the Spirit is "self-control"; and who could have demonstrated more self-control than our Savior, who "for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross" (Heb. 12:2); and who, speaking of the Father, could say, "I always do those things that please Him" (John 8:29)?
Do you see? Paul's list of the fruit of the Spirit is nothing less than a portrait of Jesus Christ. And this leads us to our sixth principle. All that the previous five principles have led us to is something that we are absolutely powerless to do. Left to ourselves, we could never serve one another in love in such a way as to fulfill the requirements of the law. No one but Jesus has the power to do that. But that's where the ministry of the Holy Spirit comes in. Our ability to live in a way that fulfills the requirements of the law is only by the indwelling Holy Spirit; who Himself lives the life of Christ through us - the life that perfectly pleases God. The indwelling Holy Spirit produces in us His fruit of "love, joy, peace patience longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control". And because these qualities describe the nothing less than the very life of Jesus - the only perfect law-keeper that ever lived - being lived through us, Paul could say, "Against such there is no law."
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We said earlier that it would be a tragedy to study the condemning aspect of the law and yet not, as a result, trust in Christ. Well; having trusted in Christ, it would be another terrible mistake to no think that it is in our power to keep that law and sanctify ourselves by it. This sixth principle teaches us that it is not in us to keep the requirements of God's law through our own efforts; but that we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to life the life of a law-keeper through us.
Let's look at this passage a little more closely and see how Paul works this principle out for us. First, we see that ...
1. WE CANNOT, THROUGH THE EFFORT OF THE FLESH, FULFILL THE REQUIREMENTS OF GOD'S LAW (vv. 17, 19-21, 26).
If you look through this passage, you'll see how Paul expresses this. He says, "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (vv. 16-17).
What does Paul mean by "flesh"? The first thing it would make us think of, of course, is our physical body; and that's certainly a part of what Paul means. But along with the idea of the physical body, Paul also means the principle of sin that permeates that body. "Flesh" is a figure of speech for the totality of our outward selves - an outward self that is so contaminated by the fallenness of original sin that, wherever "flesh" is, sin is also present.1 No matter how much I may wish in my inner man to keep God's law, and no matter how much I may resolve in my spirit to, through my own efforts, to keep God's commandments, I simply cannot do it. The flesh won't let me. I'll perhaps make some progress; but then I'll sin and ruin it all. Paul described this terrible struggle in his letter to the Romans:
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law [that is, a principle of operation] that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law [that is, again, a principle of operation] of sin which is in my members (Rom. 7:15-23).
Every one of us can identify with that description of the principle of flesh warring in us, can't we? And look again at this morning's passage and see what the flesh produces! Paul says that the works of the flesh are "evident" - that is, plainly revealed; and he goes on to make a list in verses 19-21. How could we hope to keep the law of God through the efforts of our fleshly selves, when the works of the flesh are described by such things as "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outburst of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like ..."?
Paul warns that those who practice such things are far from living the life that pleases God! Rather, he says that those whose lives are characterized by such things "will not inherit the kingdom of God". But because of the principle of sin that abides in us, the flesh cannot do otherwise. Do you remember that we're to fulfill the requirements of God's law by serving one another in love? But look at what Paul says, in verse 26: "Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another" - quite the opposite of serving one another in love. But such things are what the flesh produces. If we seek to please God by the power of the flesh, all we'll end up producing is the "works of the flesh." We can never please God by living in the power of the flesh.
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There's no hope for us to live a life that is pleasing to God through the efforts of our flesh, because we are in a body that is still contaminated by the principle of sin. The flesh brings a touch of sin into everything it tries to do. It simply cannot keep the law. In fact, it is contaminated by a principle of sin that aggressively wars against the law of God. We will feel that war - that struggle - within ourselves until we leave these fallen bodied behind and are glorified like Christ. Until then, we're simply incapable of pleasing God through the power of our flesh.
But the good news is that God has not left us to keep His law through the power of the flesh. He has placed a new principle in us - one that is able to live the life that pleases God through us. God has placed the Holy Spirit - the Third Person of the Trinity - in us; and ...
2. THE LIFE THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT LIVES THROUGH US IS IN PERFECT CONFORMITY TO GOD'S LAW (vv. 18, 22-24).
Paul develops this point in two ways in this passage. First, notice that Paul says, in verse 18, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law". By this, Paul means that the man or woman who is led by the Holy Spirit is not under the law's condemning power. This is because the man or woman who is led by the Holy Spirit has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them; and the Holy Spirit only dwells in those who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior (Rom. 8:9). Therefore, whoever has trusted Jesus is led by the Spirit and is no longer condemned by the law. Listen closely to what Paul wrote, after having described that terrible struggle of the flesh against God's law:
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-4).
And secondly, after listing the fruit that the indwelling Holy Spirit produces in the believer's life, Paul makes that wonderful affirmation: "Against such there is no law". In other words, the life that is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit is a life characterized by that which is in perfect conformity to God's law. The Spirit-led believer doesn't need to fret over the letter of the law - with all its rules and regulations - any longer. In fact, the believer has been released from the impossible bondage to the letter of the law; and has now been set free to be led by the Holy Spirit - who Himself keeps the law through us!
Suppose someone were to be brought into perfect conformity to the Ten Commandments. How would they live? What would their life look like? Well; they would allow nothing else in first place but the one true God. They would never bow down and worship a false image of God, or ever misused His name, and would always honor His special day. Jesus summed all this up for us by saying, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38). A person who lived like that would show that they, indeed, truly loved God.
And Jesus summed up the remaining commandments with the phrase, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (v. 39). And so, someone who was brought into perfect conformity to the Ten Commandments would honor the authority figures God places over him or her, would never take-away from the life of someone else, would never violate the covenant of marriage, would never take someone else's property, never bear false witness against another, and wouldn't even "want" what God gave to someone else.
Suppose such a person lived in consistency with God's law. How would you characterize the product of their lives? You could very easily describe their life in nine words: a life in which is perfectly expressed the qualities of "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." And the reason is that "against such there is no law".
Such was the life that Jesus lived. In our own power, we cannot live such a life. But praise God that He places "the Spirit of Christ" in us (Rom. 8:9). And He lives the live of Jesus in us - a life of perfect conformity to God's law; a life characterized, not by the works of the flesh, but by the fruit of the Spirit.
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This leads us, then, to the main command of this entire passage; "I say then: Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh" (v. 16). We can conclude that ...
3. TO THE DEGREE THAT WE "WALK IN THE SPIRIT", WE WILL BE LIVING IN CONFORMITY TO GOD'S LAW (vv. 16, 25).
Paul is using the word "walk" as a figure of speech. Your daily conduct - your everyday conduct - can be characterized by where you put your footsteps throughout the day. Therefore, your "walk" is your daily conduct; and to "walk in the Spirit" is to allow the Holy Spirit to guide your conduct wherever you go and whatever you do throughout your day. His prevailing influence is to direct all areas of our lives and to be the empowering force in all we do.
How are we to do this? Obviously, the place to begin is by being sure that you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior. The Holy Spirit only produces His fruit in the life of someone in whom He dwells; and He only indwells the one who has believed on Jesus and trusted in His cross. But assuming that we truly have trusted Jesus Christ as our Savior, and as a result are genuinely indwelt by the Holy Spirit, I believe Paul tells us in this passage how to allow Him to produce His fruit in our lives.
There is a negative and a positive aspect to walking in the Spirit. First, you'll notice in verse 24 that he says, "And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." Just as a gardener has to clear the soil of rocks and weeds and other things that hinder growth, so we also need to turn away from the sinful habits and practices in our lives that hinder the Spirit from producing His fruit in us. We do this by "crucifying the flesh" - that is, we "put to death" the demands of the principle of sin within us by keeping away from those things that tempt us, and by refusing to gratify the sinful passions and desires that scream out for gratification. Instead of "gratifying" the lusts of the flesh, we "mortify" them. Crucifying the flesh a life-long and ongoing task; but we must be faithful to do so, or we will be willingly harboring sin in such a way as to hinder the Spirit from producing His fruit in us.
Now, that's the negative aspect of walking in the Spirit. Second, as a positive aspect, you'll notice that Paul says, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit". And here, Paul is using a different word for "walk" in the original language than he used in verse 16. There, he used the basic word for "walk"; but here, he uses a military word that means "to be drawn up in line"2. Figuratively, it means to line up with or conform one's self to a standard. It would be as if we were soldiers who march to the drum-beat of the Holy Spirit. I think that the New International Version has translated this verse best: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."
So, when we read in the Bible that we are to behave in a certain way, and the Holy Spirit is calling us to conform to the standard of God's commandments as expressed in the Scriptures, we're to obey Him - trusting that He will give us the supply of "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" that we need. For example; when the Bible commands us to love someone who is unlovable to us, we're to obey the Holy Spirit's call - trusting Him to give us the love of Christ for that person. Or when the Bible commands us to be good or kind to an enemy, we're to obey the Holy Spirit's call - trusting Him to give us Christ's own power to be good or kind to them. And as we walk in step with the Spirit, He lives the life of Jesus through us - and thus fulfills the requirements of God's law in us!
This negative/positive dynamic of walking in the Spirit is very much like what Paul says in Ephesians 4:17-24;
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:17- 24).
To "put off the old man" parallels the idea of crucifying the the flesh with its passions and lusts; and to "put on the new man" parallels the idea of keeping in step with the Spirit. This is what it means to "walk in the Spirit" in such a way as to allow Him to produce His fruit in our lives.
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So; as we begin to study the Ten Commandments themselves, let's be sure that we understand that God wills for us to live in conformity with them. He saved us in order to bring us into holiness. But let's also understand that He does not mean for us to conform to the law in our own power. By the strength of our flesh, we will never live in a way that pleases God. Only Jesus Himself could live such a live. But we will walk in a manner that fulfills the requirements of His law - and the very life of Jesus Himself will be lived through us - if we walk in the Spirit. He will produce His fruit in us; and "Against such there is no law."
1BAGD, third edition, p. 915.
2BAGD, p. 946.
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