Five hundred years ago the Reformation started. It fought for Grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, on the basis of Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. And if you are still not sure how much that means after an entire series of Galatians, then I definitely have not done my work well. But maybe today I can remedy that and show you how this works in everyday life. The Reformation freed the church from manmade rules, and pointed the church to Christ again, showing the Christian the complete freedom that was found in Him, and the life that flowed from Him. Not a life of fear, of condemnation like the Catholic Church taught. Not a life of competition or who could get the most merits to get to heaven, but a life where all Christ’s merits are yours already. Not a life of praying to everyone except Christ, because he is seen as the scary judge, who would condemn them. Not the life of buying your way into heaven. But the life of freedom in Christ. A life where you have been given all, just so that you can give it all away. A Christ empowered life creating communities of life, of unity, of love. A life, unity, and love filled with His Spirit’s presence.
“You, my brothers, were called to be free.” You were chosen and bought with the blood of the Son. God went to the slave market of sin and death and called your name. He said, “I will pay for your freedom.” I have broken the chains of sin that bound you, I have broken that fear of death that hung over you. Walk out into the sunshine. Walk out of this prison, and enjoy the freedom of a whole new world. “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature;” walk through the doors of freedom, and do not let yourself be dragged into slavery. If some sin comes along and wants to employ you, say no. Because I did not set you free so you could live like a prisoner, like a slave, I set you free so that you could be free in me. I am your master now and as I have served you, you should now serve one other in love.
“Serve one another in love.” Or better yet, “be slaves to one another in love.” Luther, 3 years after “starting the reformation” wrote “The Freedom of the Will.” If you have never read it. Do it! It’s great. It starts like this. “A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all.” Opposites, you would think. But in Christ it’s not. Place yourself at the service of others, and say, “all that I have is yours”. I want to care for you, uphold you, and lift your name high. Can you imagine what this would look like if every one of us wanted this for each other? Not because I have to – but because I love you, as Jesus the Messiah has loved me. Serve one another in love.
Love. This one little word, love, captures the essence of the entire law. As he says in verse 14, “The entire law can be summed up in a single command (or word), ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Here is a one- word summary of the law and prophets. One word that summarizes half of the Bible. God is Love. It can be summarized in one sentence, and yet it cannot be contained in all the books that have ever been written. Love. It was defined in the one act of Jesus on the Cross, and it will take eternity for his children to live it out. Love. This love is nothing less than the divine love of God found in Spirit filled children of God, which transforms communities.
Let the Spirit of Christ breath the love of Jesus into your life.
- Kill the Sinful nature
- Live by the Spirit
Kill the Sinful nature
The sinful nature, or the “flesh”, is the enemy of love. He hates it when you put yourself in service to others. When you love them and care for them as much as you love yourself, feed yourself, clothe yourself. The sinful nature always sees you in competition with those around you. And when you are in competition you want others to fail, or at least not do quite as well as you.
They were eating each other alive so to speak, by their words and actions. Paul warns them, “If you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed.” They were going at each others’ throats like a bunch of wild animals. First, they bit their prey, and then they ate their prey. But, in the end it was not the prey that was being killed, but themselves.
It is like a drug… the more you take, the more it will slowly kill you from the inside out. You might feel stronger temporarily, but the high won’t last. Satan will try to tempt you with his drugs of power, and money, and influence. And it will make you feel good, but trust me, the high won’t last. It will only end up destroying you because these drugs were produced in hell itself. The only antidote to a drug that comes from hell, is the one that comes from the height of heaven -the Spirit of Christ.
As he says in verse 16, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” This is great counseling advice. When you are trying to quit drugs, the worst thing to do is constantly think about how you are going to quit. What you need is a distraction, something or someone to take your eyes off the sinful nature. This is what the Spirit of Christ does, he turns our eyes away from the sinful nature and creates new desires within us. In Christ we can form new alternative patterns of existence in communities, formed by the Spirit of Christ.
Will it be easy to fight the beast, absolutely not! This is a war, a battle for the soul of humanity. For each one of your souls. You will be tempted by a frustrating person at work to lash out rather than show patience. You will be tempted to then blame it on lack of sleep. You will be tempted to think that it is more money you need, not more of Christ. You will be tempted to be so busy you have no time for your family, or friends, and if you do then you definitely don’t have time for God. I could go on.
This is a battle for eternity – eternal death or eternal life. Everything that the Spirit is, is everything that the flesh is not. They are opposed. Two complete opposites. Like black and white. “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Have any of you had that experience? I know I have. Do what I do not want, and then totally regret that later, and think, “What have I done! I am such an idiot!” That is the sinful nature. It is strong and powerful. Don’t underestimate it. I think this song from Johnny Cash captures it.
The beast in me
Is caged by frail and fragile bars
Restless by day
And by night rants and rages at the stars
God help the beast in me
Sometimes it tries to kid me
That it’s just a teddy bear
And even somehow manage to vanish in the air
And that is when I must beware
Of the beast in me that everybody knows
They’ve seen him dressed in my clothes
If it’s New York or New Year
God help the beast in me
The BEAST can be anything- Drugs, Sex, Anger, Violence, your pet peeves, etc. In this song it mainly refers to the SIN that lives in each one of us. The song explains how our control over our sin is often weak and can be triggered by the slightest events. “He is caged by frail and fragile bars.”
The sinful nature with its two allies, the world and Satan, tries to convince you that what you’re about to do isn’t really dangerous. Even though it may be deadly.
“Sometimes it tries to kid me that it’s a teddy bear
And even somehow manage to vanish in the air
And that is when I must beware
Of the beast in me”
The only way in which we can conquer this beast is if we have God on our side. “God help the beast in me.” Once the Spirit makes a home in your heart, you are a new person, and that sinful nature is only “out dressed in your clothes.” He is pretending to be you! But that is not who you are! That beast has been dealt a fatal blow for all who have faith in Christ, and you have been set free to starve that beast. How do you starve him? By walking in step with the Spirit.
Paul says in verse 18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” The law had no power to break the sinful nature – again and again we saw that in the Old Testament. The law judged them, but couldn’t change them. We needed something more, we needed something different. That is where Christ stepped in, and did the work for us, and then worked that work in us through his Spirit.
In the following couple of verses Paul gives expression of how to identify the beast, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Now we won’t be able to look at all these in detail but when we look at this list, we can see that 2000 years really has not changed that much. Whoever said that the Bible was not relevant anymore needs to look at these sins, and look at the world around them. Not only is the world full of them, but some of these acts are glorified. This is the way of death.
The emphasis in this list is on how NOT to live in a relationship with God and neighbor. This list shows what Paul was worried about in the Galatian churches. He lived in a society where self-advertisement, rivalry and public competition were normal in everyday life. It was all about personal honor, how far you made it up the popularity ladder. As Cicero a politician who lived around that time, said, “By nature we yearn and hunger for honor, and once we have glimpsed, as it were, some part of its radiance, there is nothing we are not prepared to bear and suffer to secure it.” Is that not our culture too? The culture to be recognized, to be known. To be seen by men.
Dear church what are you living for? Where are you in your journey, are you still in it for yourself? In your work for yourself, in church for yourself, in your family for yourself? are you living for the flesh? Paul’s warning is a strong one in verse 21, “I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, if you live for the world then the inheritance does not belong to you. You are not a son or daughter if you live like this. The verb for live indicates habitual action, not an occasional lapse. He is not talking about a Christian who may fall occasionally, he is talking about those that are dominated by sin. Who are hardened in sin. Who would rather live to be popular than live to serve others.
The flesh represents the whole of human experience untransformed by the Spirit. Dear ones, this includes life under the law. Or any form of legalism. Manmade ways of salvation could not create life, because of the power of sin. Brothers and sisters, only in the Spirit of Christ can we forge an alternative pattern of existence.
Live by the Spirit
Through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection he has unleashed a new creative energy in believers, a quality of social commitment called love. No longer under the old Torah, but committed first and foremost to Christ’s conforming love. What Paul is about to describe as the gospel way is integral to the good news. This is good news for all of us, because through the Spirit we can love our neighbor, no matter how diverse, we may eat with them no matter how different. You cannot separate the first chapters of Galatians from these. If you believe that then you WILL live like this. If you don’t, then you never really believed. One of the primary things that is birthed out of Christ’s work is a new community unlike any this world has ever known – united in Christ.
These are non-competitive communities, ordered by a new kind of worth, worthiness in Christ, that show what Christ did to the world. We love not based on social status, symbol, money, ethnicity, gender, beauty etc. What Paul is about to describe is the expression of the Good news. You see the good news is useless, ineffective, and pointless unless it takes place within communities whose behavior shows its uniqueness.
You have been born again by the Spirit. New Birth means new life. New life means a new way of living. This new way of living is empowered by the Spirit. Walking with and by Christ. We have to fill our lives with new goals, new purposes, and new ways of interacting when we become Christian. This way is laid out for us in verse 22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no law.” O only if we could live these out as quickly as we could memorize them. We know all of these, probably heard sermons on these. But live them!? God help us! Live in us with your Spirit! We need you! What the law cannot do, only God can do.
Imagine you see two apple trees in the distance. Both look great and full of apples. As you come closer the first is full of fruit that has received life from the tree, but on the second you see that each apple has been carefully tied onto the tree, to give the idea that it is a healthy apple tree. Every apple placed just so, so that it looks like any other. We can all see how useless this is in an orchard. But do we see that it is useless trying to fake it till we make it with the Spiritual tree? You cannot produce this fruit by working harder, being more dedicated. But it will quickly become clear that it is not spirit grown fruit, attached to the life- giving trunk of Jesus Christ. Spirit grown fruit issues out in worship and it expresses itself in new created communities.
The highest goal of our existence in Christ is not self-knowledge, or individual perfection, that is part of it, but a community formed by a pattern of behavior issuing in the fruit of the Spirit. Framed by a Western worldview, we’re prone to understand spirituality as a private pursuit between us and God. But the Bible reveals the fruit of the Spirit as something demonstrated through relationships. We walk by the Spirit when we love our neighbors as ourselves. We walk by the Spirit when we show kindness to the friends who betrayed us. We walk by the Spirit when we demonstrate patience with our children. Spirituality never goes into hiding. A living faith is a social faith, a faith that binds. This is not a personal individual thing we believe, we believe that all things must come under the lordship of Christ. Your heart, your daily work, your family, your church, your city, your country, the economy, the government. Christ is Lord of it all, and here in the Church is the expression of Christ’s government on Earth.
The Christian must look different than the world. Paul says in Verse 24 “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Have crucified! Have executed, says Paul in the most dramatic way I can think of. It has happened, but that doesn’t mean sin is gone… that old miser dies hard. But it had better mean that he is feeling the heat, because you are filled with his archenemy the Spirit! And the Spirit hates sin! How seriously are you dealing with sin in your life? And don’t come back to me and say you don’t have sin which is bad enough for you to deal with it that viciously, that it requires crucifiction. We all struggle in this fight together. Everyone in this building sins. The question is do you HATE it. Because normally we don’t do stuff we HATE.
Maybe another question is better: How passionately are you trying to walk in step with the Spirit? Is your walking aligned with the direction that God is taking the church. “Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.” It is like a military march where everyone is marching exactly to the same beat, the legs go up and down all together, the arms swinging as one. So the church marches to the Spirit’s beat. That beat unifies the church so that we walk as one. One body of Christ.
Just a few take-aways.
If you have not understood, here it is in plain English and Afrikaans. A Christian is different than the world. A Christian community is a contrast community. It is not a coincidence that our culture is starting to look the way it does, with its music, movies, and tv. Your environment makes you who you are. And we are all products of this world, unless we are born from above and can rise above it. I am not saying it’s wrong to listen to this music, or watch a movie, but know what you are listening to, know what it is to have a Christian worldview, and critique the worldview of this age. Not to rail against it, but to be an influence for Good, for change within this world. To be salt and light. How else will you be able to have an intelligent conversation and share the Christian perspective?
Second, this takes discipline. It takes keeping your head about you. Living Consciously. Thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it. It will take prayer. The fruit is not just plopped on you as a huge Christmas present, the fruit of the Spirit comes through a habit- forming lifestyle. Prayer is one of those habits that can change your entire outlook on life. Take traffic as an example, which is bad here. What if rather than shaking a fist, or getting frustrated, you prayed for the people in cars around you. Or rather than standing in the supermarket impatiently tapping your foot, you quietly pray for those around you. What if we started to fill the places where we went with prayer: the Supermarket, Frans Conradie Drive, the N1 highway, Checkers, the mall. First of all, it will be easier to be kind, loving, gentle, self-controlled with these people, secondly, God works through prayer. Our live change is by grace just like our salvation is by grace. Let’s treat it that way, by not trying harder, but depending more on Christ.
We can’t do good unless we’re heavenly minded – unless we are Sprit filled. Only there do we find the reservoir of grace, overflowing for undeserving sinners like you and me, inviting us to jump in and join in the everlasting praise of our Creator, Redeemer, and Helper.