Walk By the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26)
16 "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do 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 And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." Galatians 5:16-26
Over the course of this letter to the churches in first century Galatia, the argument being made by the Apostle Paul is that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, and this is the gospel. Jesus Christ has died for our sins and conquered death by rising again from the grave. Whoever believes in Him is forgiven. Jesus is enough. The work of Christ is sufficient. If someone comes to you preaching Christ plus something else equals salvation, they are preaching a different gospel. For the Galatians, they had been seized by the Judaizers into believing we are justified by faith plus works. The work of Christ was not enough, they thought, and I need to keep these works in order to be saved.
This of course was not the message that Paul first preached to the Galatians when he came to them. He said in chapter 1 verse 6, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel, which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ." This new gospel was as good as no gospel at all. In fact, Paul said in verses 8 and 9 that to believe such a false gospel would lead not to life but a curse. The worst curse—the judgment of God.
As we considered last week, Paul said, "I wish that those who unsettle you would go the whole way and cut themselves off from the body of Christ instead of dividing it with false teaching." Sound doctrine always unite. Bad doctrine always divides. As we read last week in verses 13-15:
"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another watch out that you are not consumed by one another."
And now verse 16: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." To "walk" in something is a Hebrew figure of speech for how one lives their life. So another way to say this would be, "Live by the Spirit." We see multiple comparisons to walking in the faith throughout the New Testament:
- Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
- Colossians 2:6, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him."
- 1 Thessalonians 4:1, "Brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more."
- 1 John 1:7, "But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
It is a very common pattern among professing American Christians to live life one way on Sunday, and then to live life a completely different way during the rest of the week. When I was in high school, we used to make fun of our friends and even some of our teachers who were Catholic. They lived like the devil during the week and then went to mass on the weekend to get pardoned by the priest. It would be several years later before I realized I was living my life the same way, just with no priest and fewer smells and bells.
The Bible calls this hypocrisy—calling yourself a follower of Jesus but living like you're a follower of Satan. Saying you're a citizen of the kingdom of God, but behaving like you are perishing with the rest of this fallen world. You haven't been saved from your sins. You're still dying to do them. If there's no difference with the way you live your life and the way your unbelieving friends live, examine yourself to see if you're truly in the faith.
Some people will excuse sinful living—whether it's their own sins or the sins of a loved one they don't want to believe is headed for hell. They will say this is an opportunity for God to show more grace. They might quote Romans 5:20, which says, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more!" Or Romans 6:14 which says, "You are not under the law but under grace!" But neither of these passages are a license to sin. "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more," means that you were once dead in your sins and your trespasses, but by the grace of God you have been made alive in Christ Jesus. "You are not under the law but under grace!" means that you will not be judged by the law you previously have broken, but you will live under the grace of God which we have in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6:1-4 says, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."
Verses 15-18 say, "What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness."
The Spirit says we are to "walk in newness of life" and "obedience leads to righteousness." We come back again to this understanding of what it means to walk by the Spirit, and walking by the Spirit means obedience. Obedience to what? What are we supposed to obey? The Law of God. But wait, didn't we just read that we are not under the law, but under grace? That does not mean the Law no longer applies to us. Quite the contrary! It means the Law has been applied to us! Here is what I mean by that.
In Jeremiah 31 beginning in verse 31, God talks a new covenant. "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke… For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
These words exactly are repeated again in Hebrews 8:8-12 showing that they have been fulfilled in the people of God, His church, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 21:3 says, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God." This people God will put His law within us, and write it on our hearts. This is the work of the Holy Spirit of God within us. This is walking by the Spirit—walking according to the commandments of God.
In his commentary on Galatians, Ronald Fung, professor of biblical studies at China Graduate School of Theology, said the following: "The guidance of the Spirit can be experienced as a reality in the life of the believer, a sign that Jeremiah's prophetic word about the new covenant has been fulfilled. In Old Testament times, the Israelites knew God's law as an external code, but in the New Testament dispensation, the law of God is set in His people's understanding and written on their hearts. God's will is now an inward principle, the result of the leading of the Spirit within the believer."
Consider also these words from the Lord in Ezekiel 36 starting in verse 25: "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you [a soft heart]. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."
Same thing that was said in Jeremiah under the promise of a new covenant: "I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." The Law of God has been written on our hearts through the Spirit of God that is within us. In this way, the Law has been applied to us. It hasn't been abolished. That should be very clear considering we just read in Galatians 5:14, "The whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Do you believe you are to love your neighbor? Then you believe the Law of God still applies.
Now, let me make this emphatically clear once again—salvation is not by the Law. "Honor your father and your mother," will not save you. "Thou shalt not murder," will not save you. "Thou shalt not commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet," will not save you. You are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. We read in Galatians 3:10 that everyone who relies on works of the law is under a curse, and in verse 13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." So do not think I am talking out of both sides of my head—saying in one instance that you are justified by faith and in another instance that you are justified by the law.
Romans 3:20 says, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." It is through the hearing of the Law of God that you became aware that you had sinned against God. But now having called upon the name of Christ and received His forgiveness, He has written His commandments upon your heart, and your love for Him is expressed in your obedience. As Jesus said in John 14:15 and 21, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, He it is who loves me." Those who love God will keep His commandments, not because they save you, but because He has saved you.
Romans 8:3-4, "God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them." Romans 13:8-10 says, "Love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."
Jesus came to fulfill the Law, and now as His follower with he Holy Spirit of God in your heart, you fulfill the Law when you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:40, "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets."
In his book How Does God's Law Apply to Me? R.C. Sproul wrote the following: "Has anything changed about God that we would disregard His directives? Is His word still law? Is He still as sovereign as He was in the Old Testament? Is the God of Israel and of the New Testament church a commandment-giving God? His word is law, and His law is His word, because His law expresses His will. And that will, that law, is sweeter than honey (Psalm 119:103)."
Note that Dr. Sproul said, "His law expresses His will." When it comes to obeying the directive to "Love God, Love People," we are not free to interpret that as, "Love God in whatever way you are comfortable worshiping, and love people the way the culture says love is supposed to look like." We are to love God the way He says He is to be worshiped, and we are to love others the way Jesus said for us to love.
In keeping the word of God, we walk by the Spirit. But Galatians 5:16 says more than just "walk by the Spirit." It says, "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."
We will flesh this out (pun) a little bit more when we contrast the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. They are opposite sides of a divided highway. You cannot be on one side headed in one direction and be in the other lane headed in the other direction at the same time. If you walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Your orientation must be in the direction of God. If you are facing God, the world is behind you. If you are facing the world, you turn your back on God.
I read to you earlier from Romans 8:3-4. Let me pick up that passage again in verse 5: "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God."
Note there that those who are in the flesh cannot submit to God's law. Continuing in verse 9: "You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."
Imagine that! The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is the exact same power that you have within you. This power has strengthened you, raised you up, brought your dead spirit back to life. You have been raised from death to life by the Holy Spirit of God. If that is the power you have dwelling within you, don't you think you have the power to resist the temptations of the flesh?
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that everyone here should be living in perfection, and if you aren't perfect, then you're not a Christian—that's not what I'm saying. But don't hear me saying, "Christians still sin" as an excuse to excuse your sin. Jesus said, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect," and God has said in both the Old and New Testaments, "Be holy as I am holy." What this means is that you should be growing in holiness. You are not falling back into sin or old patterns. You are growing in newness of life.
Now, though the Scripture does use the word "growing" to describe our progress toward holiness, we might hear that word and tend to take a very passive approach to our spiritual maturity, thinking that it will just happen as naturally as the grass grows. I know that would certainly be the case for me. I can very easily and complacently sit back and think that spiritual growth will just happen. But my friends, resisting temptation, growing in righteousness, being a pillar and buttress of the truth, taking every thought captive and making it to obey Christ, breaking down strongholds and everything that is raised up against the knowledge of God, fleeing from Satan and drawing near to God—this is spiritual warfare. It's less compared to watering your lawn and more comparable to taking up arms.
You know the instruction to put on the full armor of God, right? What does the Scripture say? Ephesians 6:10, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."
Kim Riddlebarger of Fuller Theological Seminary says the following: "The sinful nature is not eradicated at the moment of regeneration, but the sinful nature is cut off from its source of life. It will slowly but surely whither and die. But though a defeated foe, it will nevertheless fight a determined guerrilla war until we die or until Christ comes back, whichever comes first."
We are fighting a spiritual war daily, and this battle is walking with the Spirit. Consider it your marching orders. This isn't like a brisk walk through the Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge. It's a wild frontline battle. While an unbeliever is comfortable with their sin, Christians regularly struggle with indwelling sin. But do not be discouraged or intimidated by this image of spiritual war. For we have been promised in Scripture that the battle belongs to the Lord. Victory is not in your ability to resist temptation or be holy, remember. Victory is in Jesus.
We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 15, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."
If we are abounding in the work of the Lord, we are walking by the Spirit. We are not gratifying the desires of the flesh. Returning once again to Galatians 5:17, "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."
Now what does this mean, "to keep you from doing the things you want to do"? If you're going after the desires of your flesh, you might want to do what is pleasing to God. You might say you love God and you want to do all that is according to His will. But you won't do it. Your desire is to satisfy your fleshly appetites, not take up your cross and follow Christ. You would rather have sexual immorality rather than purity, divisions with other people rather than reconciliation, anger rather than love, intoxication rather than being filled with the Spirit, the idols you've raised up rather than Christ. So you might want to please God, but your heart wants what your flesh wants, and it keeps you from doing the things you want to do. As Jesus told His disciples, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Now let's turn it around the other way. If you're walking by the Spirit and doing the things of God, you won't do what your flesh would want you to do. The very idea of it disgusts you. Sin is gross to the believer that truly desires holiness. You don't even like to think about it. Some people love the memories of past sins. They might remember something sinful they did and savor it, like sucking on a tic-tack. But not the person who walks by the Spirit. They want to think of their sin as God thinks of sin. It makes them sick.
So instead of sexual immorality, which is any sexual pleasure outside of the marriage covenant, you want to submit your body unto the Lord as a living sacrifice. You hate the idea of holding a grudge against anyone, especially a brother or sister in the Lord. You desire to be reconciled. You are not easily angered but rather self-controlled. You are patient affliction. You do not keep a record of wrongs but forgive others. You are faithful to the Lord because you know He has been far more faithful to you. Whatever the flesh wants, you don't do it, because the Spirit of God compels you toward Christ. Galatians 5:18, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law."
And in case you haven't picked up on it, I've already taken the liberty of contrasting the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: "Now the works of the flesh are evident," Paul says. That means, we who have the Spirit of God know what the works of the flesh are. If the Law of God has been written on our hearts, and our desire is to please our Savior, we hate the very garment that is stained by sin, and we will want nothing to do with these works:
"Sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
This is not just a matter of saying, "Hey, don't do gross things." These works of the flesh are condemnable. A person who lives their life in such a way will be destroyed in judgment. Notice that the first one, two, three, possibly four works all have to do with sexual immorality, as well as the last one before Paul says, "and things like these." Meaning, there are more sins that could go on the list, but this list is still quantifiable.
Sexual sins are the surest manifestation of someone who is selfishly gratifying the desires the flesh. Consider that the month of June has been designated "Pride Month." Everyone understands why, right? It was on June 26, 2015 that the U.S. Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed for same-sex couples. Therefore, June is "Pride Month." It's very interesting that in their perversity, the LGBTQRSTUV movement was so willing to confess how truly prideful they are.
And that is what sexual sins are—they are nothing but prideful self-seeking, with no regard to anyone but the appeasement of the flesh. In 1 Corinthians 6:18-19, we read, "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."
As for these other works of the flesh, "idolatry" is desiring anything above God. In Colossians 3:5, Paul says covetousness is idolatry. Sorcery would not only include witchcraft, fortune telling, or communicating with the dead, it would also include taking drugs that alter the mind. The Greek word is pharmakeia, from which we get the word "pharmacy."
Enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, all seem pretty self-explanatory. Now, I've taken the liberty of going with the New American Standard translation of Galatians 5:21, inserting the word "carousing" in place of the word that the ESV uses. Those of you who have the ESV Bible, you know which word I'm talking about. I've done that for the sake of young ears in the congregation.
So we contrast the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. Now notice that it's "fruit" of the Spirit, singular, not "fruits" of the Spirit. We have nine things listed here, but it's described as singular fruit. You don't get to pick and choose which of these you want to be good at: "Oh, I think I'll try a little love and joy. I like those things. I think I'll leave the patience to someone else. Self-control isn't really my thing." You can't do that. These are the gifts of the Spirit, this is the fruit of the Spirit. The person who is walking in the Spirit, also known as a Christian, must exhibit all of the fruit of the Spirit, not just some of them.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love," love the way that God defines love, sacrificial love, putting others needs ahead of your own. "Joy," which is not dependent upon mood or circumstances. You rejoice in the Lord always. "Peace," a peace that surpasses all comprehension, according to Philippians 4:7. It is peace with God, the forgiveness of sins. And that peace will manifest itself in showing peace toward others—not causing or dwelling in division, but letting the peace of Christ rule in your heart.
"Patience." It's the first descriptor of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4. "Love is patient." We're not quick to fly off the handle with one another. We're not demanding responses right now. We're patient. "Kindness." That seems pretty self-explanatory. Not quarreling with one another. Not calling each other names. Not looking down on one another, or thinking more highly of yourself than you out to think. Instead you show no partiality and associate with the lowly. "Goodness." You take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness. You abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good, what God says is good.
"Faithfulness." Faithfulness to Christ, faithfulness to His word, faithfulness to one another. You are steadfast an unmoving in your faith. You persevere under trial. You're still going to be a Christian 10 years from now, only more mature than you are now. "Gentleness," similar to kindness. You're compassionate toward others. Considerate. Kindness is more active and gentleness more passive, perhaps. Kindness, you are looking for ways to compliment and encourage others. Gentleness is the way you respond to others or your circumstances.
"Self-control," means that you are able to resist temptation. You do not give in to the passions of your flesh. You are not easily seized or taken in by wild ideas or conspiracies. You have a sound mind. You are temperate. And Paul ends this list of the fruit of the Spirit by saying, "Against such things there is no law." Another way of saying this is something that was said earlier: "Love is the fulfilling of the Law."
Verse 24, "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." This is like something Paul said earlier in Galatians 2:20. "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
Verses 25 and 26: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another." We are completely content in Christ our Savior, sufficient for our every need. We're not trying to add something to Christ in order to attain satisfaction or salvation. You are saved by grace through faith. And that is enough.