“Led by the Spirit”

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:16-18)

Before looking at our text today first let us look at the foremost command that Jesus gave to the scribes and Pharisees during His ministry. “Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31) I want to focus for a moment on the second commandment in these verses, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Just prior to our text in Galatians Paul said this in his letter to the Galatians. “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. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14) Our Lord has called us into freedom and we are to use that freedom to serve one another in love. It only makes sense that if we are called into God’s Kingdom that we are to be loving, as God is love.

We love ourselves in that we give great attention to our own well-being. As we care for our self we are also to give that same attention to others. This is a difficult attitude for us to have, as not all the others are always likeable to us. Yet, we are to express the same love and concern for their welfare as we have for our own. This is the command that we have from our Lord. This then is the Christian life caring for others as we care for ourselves. This is a hard thing to do and even is contradictory to the worldly opinion of life. Yet, try as we should, it is hard and often seeming hopeless to live that command out.

The Apostle Paul went on in his letter to give some encouragement as to how we can accomplish fulfilling the command of Jesus and all of His commands as well by the words of our text. The secret to our Christian life is found in Paul’s statement “led by the Spirit.” As we are we often try to do things our self and that is a positive in our life but the truth is that the Christian life was not meant to be accomplished in our own power. If that were possible then the Law could justify us. Living the Christian life is accomplished by walking in the Spirit of Christ, which was given to us when we accepted Christ to rule our lives. Our Christian life is not our work but our surrender to the power of Jesus living through us and being led by His Spirit.

It may seem beyond us to wake up in the morning and start our day saying I am going to walk by the Spirit. How can we even do that when we are constantly plagued by the desires of the flesh? The flesh has a fatal attraction with this world as most of its pleasures come from this world. It is a battle and often we fail in the fight against the fleshes desires. One insight Paul gives us is in verses 18, “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” Paul here is not telling us to follow the Spirit but to be led by the Spirit. It is not our work, not our effort, because we are not following but are being led by the Spirit. Therefore if the Spirit is leading us then it is the work of the Spirit and not ours. A pace horse sets the pace and the rest must follow in effort to keep up. But if you ride the horse and give him free reign, then your progress is from the work of the horse. To be led by the Spirit we hitch ourselves to the power His Spirit and go wherever that power takes us.

Let us look at verse 22 and 23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) If the Christin life is a life of love, joy, peace, and so forth, then being led by the Spirit must mean that the Spirit will bear the fruit in us. Again this is not our work but it is the work of the Spirit. We bear the fruit of the Spirit by allowing Christ to live through us. Jesus Himself told us this in the Gospel of John. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5) Our responsibility then is to keep our self in step with our Lord and not let ourselves be cut off from the flow of His Spirit. It is an act of our will to give the Spirit free reign and it is an act of our will to keep our selves connected to the flow of the power of the Spirit.

For the Christian we can see that there is no other way for us than to submit to the lead of the Spirit to govern our actions. The first reason is that remembering that the flesh is at odds with the Spirit and desires evil things. In verse 16 we see that we can overcome these fleshly desires by being led by the Spirit. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

The flesh is not only meat and water. The flesh by itself is not evil but is controlled by “I” or our ego. “I” left in my own stead will try to satisfy me with whatever “I” want with the exclusion of God’s mercy. To better understand let us look at two verses together. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20) In the first verse (24) the flesh has been crucified along with its desires. But the flesh of itself is not evil, in fact God created it and His work was very good. In verse (20) “I” have been crucified and a new “I” has been created. The new “I” does not live in the desires of the flesh but lives by faith.

The flesh and its “I” ego feels the emptiness and seeks not to satisfy its emptiness by faith or depending on the mercy of God. The flesh strives to satisfy its own desires by its own power to fill its emptiness. “Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” (Romans 8:7) The flesh is unwilling to submit to the will of God’s authority or rely upon His mercy. This is the inner conflict that rages on within the inner man. “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.” (Verse 17) Victory over this inner conflict can be won when we are “led by the Spirit.”

Paul closes this text with “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” Freedom from being under the law does not mean that we are not to strive to fulfill the law with our obedience to the law. The Christian fulfills the law when obeys the command of Jesus, as we read in the Gospel of Mark. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” As Paul wrote to the Romans, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4) So we fulfill the law by our submission to being led by His Spirit.

If we were left to accomplish this in our own strength it would be like we were underneath the law and having to climb a ladder to reach the top. By allowing the Spirit to do His work in us it becomes a joyful experience. When we allow the Spirit to lead us we no longer are under the punishment or the oppression that the law requires as His Spirit produces love that we may be reflectors of the image we were created in, God. As we have fulfilled the whole law as Paul told us earlier in his letter to the Galatians. “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

To free ourselves from the battle of the flesh with our spirit we are to be led by the Spirit of God. His Spirit will foremost produce the fruit of love. The love for God and the love for our neighbor. Being led by the Spirit frees us from being under that law as the fruits of the Spirit fulfills the law that we love God and we love our neighbor. Walking in the Spirit allows the fullness of love to overflow in our lives. Love conquers the emptiness that drives the flesh and it spills out in acts of love which fulfills the law. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant January 19, 2017

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