“Walk 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)

As I have this opportunity to speak with you this week I want to add to the discussion that the Pastor has been leading us on this month of January. The Pastor is trying to give us a new way of thinking in terms of the image that we were created in. In Genesis chapter 1 we read that man was created in the image of God the Creator. “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) We were created in the image of the perfect society of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If man had remained righteous he too would have lived in a perfect society here on earth. I have always looked at being in the image of the Creator as having a free will, the ability to reason, and having the intelligence to be creative as God the Creator. All of that is true, but, if we are in the image of God, then we are to be reflectors of God the image that we our created in.

Man was created with the purpose to glorify God. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Meaning that as a reflector of Him in all that we do should point to God who created us. In all that we find here in the world to do we should do as if we were doing it for the Lord. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Colossians 3:23) Those who are around us will see the joy that we have and will see the God we serve living through us. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, as citizens of the perfect society, all that we do should point to the God that we serve. Thus the image that we bear will always point to the original, God.

For me this is a revolutionary thought. This thought also creates a problem for me in the way that I live my life and possibly for your life as well. We are spiritual beings living in a physical body while we sojourn through this world. It is an unending struggle for us who desire to live a life in the righteousness of our Lord as we set our minds to the destination of God’s holy Kingdom. As we travel along striving to stay on the narrow path we stumble and fall in the shadows that so easily pull us astray. The world is filled with the attractions that we can see with our eyes and we sometimes lose sight of that Kingdom that we can see through our faith in God’s Word. If we remain faithful and rest in His Word we too as our Savior shall overcome this world. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians gave them some encouragement as to how we can accomplish a victorious journey through this wilderness.

In the Church of the Galatians there were Jewish members and there were Gentile members. The Jewish members were brought us by the Law of God and believed that salvation could be obtained by strict adherence to the Law. The problem is of course is that complete obedience to the Law of God is not possible for man to do. Paul teaches that we are not saved through obedience to the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ. These two positions in the Church was causing conflict in the Church and Paul wrote to the Galatians to bring them into a like mindedness. In the fifth chapter of Galatians we find a group of verses that I find helpful in my constant battle with my physical self the flesh.

Looking at our text today we read, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” How can we with so much opposition within and without fulfill the commands of our Lord? I believe the secret Paul shares with us is in his statement “Walk by the Spirit.” Being the creatures that we are, given the ability to reason and create, we find ourselves all too often saying to ourselves “we got this.” Surely there are many in this world who have greater will power than I and they also have a boastful spirit that thrives on their own accomplishment. The truth is no matter how strong our will power is in the end we still will fall short of the glory of God for the measure that we must achieve is that of our Lord Jesus Christ. If there was within our own capability to obey the whole law of God, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to suffer the cross, as the law could justify us. But we all know this is not true as we are often held captive to the desires of the flesh. But Paul tells us if we “walk by the Spirit we will not carry out the desires of the flesh.”

I confess that I may wake in the morning determined to “walk by the Spirit” only to find myself in the day constantly tempted by the desires of my flesh. My flesh has a fatal attraction to the pleasures that can be found in this world. It is a battle and I often fall to the worldly desires of my flesh. Paul tells us that this is the war that we must continually wage against our physical self and our spiritual being. “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.”

The flesh is only meat and water and it is a creation of the God we serve and by itself is not evil. As on the sixth day after God had finished all His creation is said it was “very good.” Genesis 1:31) The evil in our flesh is controlled by our ego. “I” left in my own stead will try to satisfy “me” with whatever “I” want with the exclusion of faith in God’s mercy. The flesh and its “I” ego is what feels the emptiness and seeks to fill that void not by faith or depending on the mercy of God. The flesh seeks to satisfy its own desires on its own power to fill the emptiness that it has. As Paul wrote to the Romans. “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 not willing to submit to God’s authority or rely upon His mercy. This is the inner conflict that rages in the inner man that Paul is speaking of. “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.” The Christian life was never meant to be accomplished by the power of the Christian. Paul is telling us that accomplishing the Christian life is “walking by the Spirit”. Victory over the flesh is won by walking in the Spirit of Christ that we received when we accepted the rule of Christ in 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.

To better grasp the point of what “I” is let us look at two passages that Paul wrote. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) In this verse the flesh has been crucified along with its desires with Christ.

In the Old Testament the law of circumcision was given to Abraham. It was the cutting away of flesh to signify living in the Spirit of God and forsaking the desires of the flesh. In Galatians 4:24 I see this as the New Testament circumcision. As we read in Paul letter to the Colossians. “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:9-12)

Then in the next verse, “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 this verse “I” has been crucified with Christ and a new “I” has been created. The new “I” does not live in the desires of the flesh but lives by faith. This is done in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. It is a renewing of our mind, a renewing of our ego, “I.” “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Paul states this in verse 18. “But if you are led by the Spirit.” Paul 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. If the Spirit is leading us, then it is the Spirit’s work and not ours. A pace horse in a race sets the pace and the other houses follow. They all must work to keep up. But if you ride a horse and give him free reign, then your progress comes from the work of the horse. To be led by the Spirit we hitch ourselves to the locomotive of His Spirit and go wherever that power takes us.

To point to the work of the Spirit let us look at verses 22-23. “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) It is the fruit of the Spirit, not our fruit. If we are being led by the Spirit, then He will bear the good fruit in us. We bear the fruit of the Spirit by allowing Christ to live through us. Jesus made the point to His disciples in this statement. “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 15:5) 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.

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 he obeys the commands of Jesus, as we read in the Gospel of Mark. “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.”

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.

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.

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. Then what we are bound for and someday soon shall be in the perfect society that God created in the beginning. “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 29, 2017

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