“The Overwhelming Power” – Galatians 5:14-26

driving down streetWhen you went out on the road this morning you probably didn’t observe some things in the world is around you that have a PROFOUND EFFECT on your day. On my drive each morning, I see neighbors walking their dogs (and a few dogs walking my neighbors!) Some people are manicuring their lawns, cutting, raking, cleaning, edging and the like. I may pass some joggers, bicycle enthusiasts and walkers who are out and about to exercise their bodies and get some fresh air. Driving down the road, I will no doubt encounter some of our world class Floridian drivers – people who seem to want to make the point that no one should put stress on the engine by actually depressing the gas pedal.

One of the interesting parts of that daily journey is that is MASKS a problem. You and I have encountered an issue so frequently along the way we may not even see it. We pass by unaware, because we have grown accustomed to the world around us. Here is a thought: Everyone driver you passed today was a DUI – “driving under the influence” of SOMETHING. Though each person got out of bed with their own idea about what they wanted to accomplish, they are, in fact, being “driven” by inner desires, ideas and influences that were pressing them to act on their plans for the day. According to the Bible, everyone is being driven by something. Most of the people we meet in the world are under the influence of their flesh – simply doing the things that make sense to them, because they are following a variety of hungers and desires the world would call “natural”. Of course, a significant problem with that “natural” view is that it underestimates and even ignores the truth that after the Fall in the Garden, man’s nature was marred, and so were his natural desires. When the umbilical cord that connected the life flow of God’s Spirit in them was cut in an act of mutiny – a state was initiated that is referred to in the Bible as being “dead” in spirit – with no particular connection to their Creator. The Bible refers back to that time as the “fall of the flesh” and presents fallen man as alive in body, but estranged from God and His purposes.

If you look further into the Bible, it cautions that others around us – the vast majority – are equally dead in spirit, and have been placed under the domination of the “prince of the power of the air” – the enemy of the Creator. The Bible refers to these people as “under the world’s system” – a temporary state in which rebellion against God and reliance on self looks completely normal. In that system, God is a crutch made up by weaker men, while self-reliance is touted as maturity. When the Bible mentions things like “love not the world, nor the things in it” – this influence is being mentioned. We are not called to eschew cute puppies and force ourselves not to enjoy a sunset –that isn’t the “world” about which the Bible is speaking. The world system is a fallen system that operates in a perpetual state of rebellion that is so common and so entrenched, it looks completely normal this side of the Garden of Eden’s mutiny.

Look even deeper, and you will find religious people who are “under the influence of the law” – deeply committed to their daily actions because of something they believe to be the “right thing to do” (moral and religious obligation), in spite of the fact that they have no real attachment to their Creator or His purpose for them. These are people who follow the tradition of their religion and hope God thinks they are fine because they are faithful to that tradition. Their religion brings them comfort in this life, even if it has no effect on the next. God doesn’t offer truth, then put value on the shades of false thinking. He sent His Son to provide a bridge to God, and because of that is not particularly open to other ways people are trying to erect their own bridge. Every religious effort is an attempt to cross the chasm of separation in a way that ignores God’s sacrifice – another expression of rebellious self-reliance. Still, many are being driven by an influence of religious fervor – especially if you drive on Sunday morning.

In contrast, there are a few (and on Sunday morning perhaps more people than usual) that the Bible says are being led through life under the dominating influence of God’s Spirit. Their lives are reflecting the fruit of the connection to God. Today we want to move in close and see how they do that, and discover how our own lives can be pulled into that way of living. We want to talk about people who are ‘DOMINATED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD’. Even more, we want to examine what the critical differences are between followers of Jesus who are walking in God’s power, and those who began a journey with Jesus, but are now walking in the power of the flesh.

Let’s review two truths we have seen many times, just to make sure we are on the “same page”:

• First, there are two kinds of people in the world – those who know God, and those who need to know Him. We mean by this there are those who have a personal relationship with God through Jesus, and there are those God desires to come to that place.

• Second, there are two kinds of believers in the world – those who are honestly attempting to allow God’s Spirit to dominate their thinking and actions, and those who need to start or re-start doing that. By this, we mean that there are those in relationship with Jesus who are not allowing God’s Spirit to direct them, but are making their own choices of direction in daily life. They know Jesus as Savior, but they don’t let Him control their goals, choices, etc. because they claim the position of their own lordship in relation to their choices.

Cutting through all the clutter, it seems the defining difference between the two believers is really one issue – their effort to surrender or their choice to keep leading themselves. The last portion of Galatians 5 deals with that in succinct terms.

Key Principle: The mature believer isn’t interested in trying to do what doesn’t honor the Savior in the name of freedom, but learns to let the empowering of the Spirit bear the fruit of the Spirit.

In our series on “myths” of the Gospel – popular sentiments that are NOT true, there is an eleventh myth that keeps “popping up” in daily life…

Myth #11: The Law is simply now to love! All that detail does you no good, because it all has been distilled in Jesus to “Love your Neighbor”.

Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only [do] not [turn] your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the [statement], “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

Did Jesus really wipe out any need for me to deliberately make efforts to deal with my daily walk before God? Some people think so. The pop version of Christian freedom seems to be that we can choose to do whatever we want as a child of God – because Jesus took away all moral obligation to DO anything to be pleasing to God. Here is the problem: Jesus provided “JUDICIAL SATISFACTION” for our sin, paying completely for all of it. For the follower of Jesus who has placed his or her faith in Christ alone for salvation, we don’t get into Heaven through any effort we make on any level. Our door pass was completely made possible by Jesus and His sacrifice. The problem is, many believers stop thinking clearly at that point. Entry to God’s Kingdom m ay be fully paid, but the New Testament makes clear that our entrance brings with it the expectation of behaviors appropriate to the new house and new family to which we now belong. Look at Paul’s instruction to the Galatian believers:

Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only [do] not [turn] your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

The question behind the statement

Paul opens with a response to a simple question: “What is the full purpose of our freedom in Christ?” Was the relationship to God through Jesus’ sacrifice ONLY about our eternal destiny as individuals, or does it have implications in our lifestyle, practices, choices and behaviors today?

Paul argued in the first part of the chapter that the point of the Law of God in the Torah was not for God’s people to destroy one another by consuming each other in the arguments over the Law. He added in this section another truth – the point of freedom from the atonement law was not in order for us to spend our time and resources on ourselves. It was costly and time consuming to obey the Torah standards that marked atonement law. Without the need to raise a lamb for sacrifice, without the requirement to go before God with constant sin offerings – religious life just got a whole lot simpler and cheaper. The problem is, that isn’t true. God still wanted His people to look to Him for direction on everything they did, and everything they owned. Failure to do so was, in effect, adopting standards without the objective they were ever intended to produce. Freedom was given to produce a community of God-loving and God-fearing people! Freedom was to give people a new way to serve God – by serving each other! Paul continued:

Galatians 5:14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the [statement], “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

The Law was given for more than making one right before God – it was for community formation. It was to bring about peace, long life and deep relationships between people. Moses wrote as much in Deuteronomy 6, but many seemed to have forgotten that part. Harming one another was unlawful, unloving, and outside the character of one who truly wanted to serve God with all their heart. Paul made the point that even in freedom from the atonement law – the same is still true. God wants people who not only VALUE SALVATION but in daily practice VALUE EACH OTHER in relationship. He poured His own Holy Spirit within us to make the practical standards of walking with Him a matter of following the leading of that Spirit. Paul then made clear a warning: when we follow the Spirit, we do that which is unnatural to the fallen man and his flesh.

A spirit-filled life is a disciplined life – not a lazy “do what is natural” life. It is to behavioral choices what diet and exercise are to any one who desires to train for successful athletic performance. Though I am born of the Spirit, I have much of the value system of fallen man still coaching my thinking – and it must be dealt with by God’s Spirit through God’s Word. Flesh wars against spirit like a disciplined diet wars against a hungry stomach.

Here is the truth: I don’t WANT to discipline my life. I want to SLEEP IN when I should get up. I want to eat WHAT I WANT WHEN I WANT – and let’s not even TALK about exercise. When you think about the Spirit-filled life, it ISN’T an excuse for laziness – but it is a battle against flesh thinking that CAN BE WON because the Spirit lives WITHIN ME! Look again at verse 16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Obviously, walking by the Spirit is something that I CAN do, and something that can be measured by whether or not I am living “under the influence” of satiating the desires of the flesh.

“What is the Spirit-Filled Walk?”

Paul elsewhere makes the claim that “Now, the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty or freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:6, 17). He says that because the Spirit of the Lord is in us, we are now free to walk with Him without any constraints. We are free moral agents when it comes to pleasing God. We are released from allegiance to perpetual sin (Romans 6 makes this argument completely), and we are no longer compelled to walk according to the flesh as we were before the Spirit of God was planted inside us and God was completely satisfied with us having put on the righteousness found in Jesus.

First, note in verse sixteen that walking by the Spirit’s direction is not passive. The issue isn’t simply talking about walking in the Spirit, nor sitting in the Spirit – it is making my life choices form the pattern of a walk.

Second, note that walking by the Spirit is not running. It isn’t achieved through endless, exhausting activity. It isn’t about harder work for God so that we will become more spiritual.

Third, note in 5:17, that walking by God’s Spirit isn’t a license to indulge my leftover fallen natural desires. Paul could not have said it more clearly: 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

A lecturer was once invited to speak to a religion class at a private high school on the topic of Christianity. At the end of his talk, an athletic-looking, street-wise student raised his hand and asked, “Do you have a lot of don’t in your church?” Sensing that the student had a deeper motive, he answered, “What you really want to ask me is if we have any freedom, right?” Yes, he nodded. “Sure, I’m free to do whatever I want to do,” he answered. The student’s face reflected his disbelief at what the man said. “I’m free to rob a bank. But I’m mature enough to realize that I would be in bondage to that act for the rest of my life. I’d have to cover up my crime, go into hiding or eventually pay for what I did. I’m also free to tell a lie. But if I do, I have to keep telling it and I have to remember who I told it to and how I told it or I will get caught. I’m free to do drugs, abuse alcohol and live a sexually immoral life-style. All of those “freedoms” lead to bondage. I’m free to make those choices, but considering the consequences, would you really be free?”

Were I speaking to that student, I think I would have continued to make yet one more point. The issue of freedom is that I can now PLEASE GOD in my daily choices, and that is something a mature believer should HUNGER TO DO. Babies care about themselves to the exclusion of others. They cry when they are hungry to get you to FEED THEM. They fuss about a wet diaper because they don’t have the ability to relieve the discomfort without your help. All of us get older, and some of us GROW UP. “Growing up” literally means “seeing past MY NEEDS” and looking to the benefit of others. Mature believers grow up and see the benefit of pleasing God as its own purpose, and its own reward.

Fourth, if you look closely at 5:18, it is clear that walking by the Spirit isn’t simply mimicking the laws God gave in the past. In fact, it is more complex than that. Walking by the Spirit is accomplished when I recognize the principles behind God’s laws of the past – identifying what God really cared about in each situation. Paul said: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” for at least two reasons:

1. People from Judea were telling them the way to walk with God was to walk in the Law – but that was short-sighted. The issue wasn’t simply: “What did God say to the Jewish followers of the past” – but the much more complex “What does an unchanging God truly care about” as revealed in those past situations. The new situations of people as they spread across the globe would have pulled the Law apart. After all, it wasn’t possible by the time of Paul for EVERY JEW to go to Jerusalem three times a year from everywhere they lived, in spite of Deuteronomy 16:16. It isn’t possible to keep a sacrifice without a Temple – so parts of the Law were forcibly suspended by circumstance.

2. The freedom of following God is found in the insertion of His Divine standards inside the human heart, and God uses inner transformation as the modus operandi of the whole New Covenant, just like He promised Israel in Jeremiah 31. We have a LAW WITHIN, and the Spirit whispers it into the ear of every submissive son or daughter of God. With the whisper, comes the empowering to be transformed. That is a BETTER PLAN! Telling someone that it’s wrong to do this or that doesn’t give them the power to stop doing it!

The War Within

Look at the WAR WITHIN YOU as a believer for a minute. In Galatians 5:19-21, God makes clear the works of the flesh are all ABOUT ME taking care of ME (at least my perceived needs). Here we have a list of fifteen deeds we can be drawn into – all of which displease God and enslave us:

Immorality: porneia; illicit sexual activity or intercourse, or essentially using body for self-pleasure without regard to the proper use of the gift of sexuality.

Impurity: akatharsia; uncleansed living, living with unbridled desires that are not corrected. Thisn is literally about living in a withdrawn state from God, because you refuse to yield to His cleansing and have the relationship restored. It is hiding in guilt and isolation from God, because you don’t want to stop doing what you are doing.

One of the shocking things about the day in which we live is the arrogance, sheer aggressiveness and verbosity of those walking in sinful practices…There is an old story about how a mountain lion felt so good after eating an entire bull, he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter tracked the sound and shot him… The moral of that story: When you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

Sensuality: aselgia; shameless hungers for self-fulfillment. We see this in people who openly make life about their pleasure and walk about thinking that way of seeing life is fine with God! Today, a great many Christians are in fact, sensual thinkers.

Idolatry: idolateria; things pertaining to idols or unbridled desire for money. Anything that comes between you and a relationship of intimacy with God is considered an idol.

Sorcery: farmakia; the use of anesthetizing drugs or “highs” from them. This is a byproduct of the immature person who needs to feel good constantly without regard for the effects of their behavior on themselves or others.

Enmities: echthros; someone openly hostile and energized by deep-seated hatred. It implies irreconcilable hostility, with actions prompted by envy or hatred.

Strife: eris; wrangling and dissention. This is the notion that causing troubles between people will reposition me into a better place in the relationship with one of them.

Jealousy: zélos; to want what has not been granted to you. We involve ourselves in this when we obsess over things that we don’t possess that others seem to have.

Outbursts of anger: thoomus; boiling over passionate lashing out verbally or physically. We buy into this when we claim to be a victim of our own emotions, as in: “It’s not my fault, they all make me so mad!”

Disputes: erithia; electioneering, manipulation for personal gain. This is using people so that we can get what we want out of them, without regard for their intrinsic value.

Dissensions: dikhosetia; to force a wedge between to divide.

Factions: haheresis; factions like Pharisees or Sadducees that operated to undercut each other without regard to those wounded in the process. It is what happens when we believe our point is more important than the other person is!

Envying: fthonos; to plot the downfall because of jealousy. This is a product of jealousy, with the mixture of revenge, as in: “You are going down sister!”

Drunkenness: methay; intoxication. This is a life that buys into a lie that “I can’t face my problems” and settles for the dulling effects.

Carousing: komos; from the Bacchus festival; late night revelries that include boisterous displays. This is a demonstration of the modern epicurean motto: “Life is short and I want to have as much fun as I can!”

All of these items are about ME. MY PLEASURE. MY HAPPINESS. MY STATISFACTION. MY NEEDS. MY WANTS… and they stand in direct contrast to the “other person centered” lifestyle taught in the Scriptures.

I want to be very clear so that you will be equipped to understand the changing sounds in the world around you. As Biblical influence wanes in our society, the understanding of maturity and adulthood is also changing. What the Bible makes clear as “infantile behavior” the world will increasingly laud as “adult behavior”. Here are places you will see this trend:

• Youths cannot be denied their desire to have sex when they feel it is appropriate. God’s Word: It isn’t right unless it is within the context God says it is supposed to happen, period. Any other approach will rob the picture of intimacy, break the proper bonds of the family, and add disease, weakness and affliction to our society. Both physical health and mental health needs will increase.

• Advertising everything with sensual and sexual overtones is increasingly thought of as both “appropriate and normal”. There are commercials for everything from fragrances to underwear that would have been deemed pornographic just a short time ago.

• Competitors are routinely stealing blue prints, formulas and even whole product lines as it begins to sound like the “rough and tumble of today’s business”. Really? We used to call it “theft”.

• Lie to people to get them to buy into your legislation. Some people will call it “smart politics”. We used to call it simply “telling lies”.

• When people include beer bashes as a “natural part” of college life, they surrender the argument that adulthood is about building controls on your own away from parents.

Note the end of this selfish shopping list. Paul wrote at the end of 5:21: “…which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Look at those words. Paul claimed that ACTIONS AND BEHAVIORS could show the reality of a person’s true walk with God. Today’s American Christian all too often wants nothing to do with that kind of thinking. In a world centered on individual rights and liberties almost to the exclusion of community responsibility, this is foreign thinking. This shocking claim is that there is, in fact, a connection between how I live and whether or not I truly belong to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Let that soak in for a moment. Paul actually claims that people who truly have Jesus as their Savior make choices to walk a different path than they had when they came to Christ.

The Bible teacher inside me won’t let this go without a question: Is that true of YOUR LIFE? Are you consciously asking God to help you walk differently than you did in your old life choices before you knew Jesus?

A Fresh Wind

At this point in the letter, Paul lifts up the readers. He reminds them that God imparted His Spirit to us, and give us a breath of fresh air in the reminder of God’s work in us. He offered a picture of the life “produce” of one dominated by the Spirit of God:

Galatians 5:2 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Paul reminded the Galatians that following the Spirit wouldn’t put them in conflict with the Law of God – it would help them see the principles of that Law clearly. Look at the nine fruits that are perhaps quite familiar to Bible students:

Love: agape; acting to meet needs of others without expectation of personal benefit.

Joy: kharah; the resolute assurance of God’s recognition.

Peace: iraynay; confident rest in God’s promises.

Patience: makrothumia; distant boiling. A transportation safety report suggests that the annual cost of people running red lights in the United States is reported to be about seven billion dollars. The average amount of time saved by running a red light is. 50 seconds.

Kindness: kray-stot-ace; akin to moral integrity; comes from a potter’s word for in “usable” condition.

Goodness: agathós – inherently (intrinsically) good; as to the believer, the term describes what originates from God and is empowered by Him in their life, through faith.

Faithfulness: pistis; living by the vision of what God says is true, a Biblical world view. Norman Geisler, as a child, went to a VBS because he was invited by some neighbor children. He went back to the same church for Sunday School classes for 400 Sundays. Each week he was faithfully picked up by a bus driver. Week after week he attended church, but never made a commitment to Christ. Finally, during his senior year in High School, after being picked up for church over 400 times, he did commit his life to Christ. What if that bus driver had given up on Geisler at 395? What if the bus driver had said, “This kid is going nowhere spiritually, why waste any more time on him?” Max Lucado, God Came Near, Multnomah Press, 1987, p. 133.

Gentleness: pra-ootace; mild disposition, meekness (or “gentle strength”) which expresses power with reserve and measure.

Self-control: engratia; mastered one’s own desires. Plato used the term as “self-mastery”. It is the spirit which has mastered its desires and its love of pleasure. It is used of the athlete’s discipline of his body (1 Corinthians 9:25) and of the Christian’s mastery of sex (1 Corinthians 7:9). Secular Greek uses it of the virtue of an Emperor who never lets his private interests influence the government of his people. It is the virtue which makes a man so master of himself that he is fit to be the servant of others. (William Barclay). He further states: Self-control is that great quality which comes to a man when Christ is in his heart, that quality which makes him able to live and to walk in the world, and yet to keep his garments unspotted from the world. It is akin to Proverbs 25:28 (GWT) “Like a city broken into is a person who lacks self-control,left without a wall”. John Maxwell writes: “In reading about the lives of great people, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves.” There was an office sign that read: “If you could kick the person responsible for most of your troubles, you wouldn’t be able to sit for a week.” Former Tonight Show host Jack Paar stated: Looking back, my life seems to be one long obstacle course, with me as the chief obstacle.

The Antidote Offers Healing

Look at these words of Scripture from Galatians 5. 24 “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Paul makes the BOLD CLAIM through the Spirit’s initiation of the text claiming: If we truly belong to Jesus, He has provided in HIS BLOOD the empowering to DIE TO SELF. One man’s blood injected righteousness and power to conquer the selfish fever.

Gordon Curley offered this story from the twentieth century that may help illustrate this point:

In 1927, in West Africa, a blood specimen was taken from a native man named Asibi, who was sick with yellow fever. A vaccine was made from the original strain of virus obtained from this man. In fact, all the vaccine manufactured since 1927 by the Rockefeller Foundation and health agencies derives from the original strain of virus obtained from this one man. Carried down to the present day from one laboratory to another, through repeated cultures and by enormous multiplication, it has offered immunity to yellow fever to millions of people in many countries. Through the creative imagination of science, the blood of this one man in West Africa has been made available to serve the whole human race. In another, more important way, the blood of another Man has been made to serve the human race.”

Here is the truth: You don’t have to serve the flesh, you have been injected with Jesus and His Spirit. Now the real question… What will you DO with that information?

The mature believer isn’t interested in trying to do what doesn’t honor the Savior in the name of freedom, but learns to let the empowering of the Spirit bear the fruit of the Spirit.