The God who transforms - Galatians 5:16-26

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 2nd November 2003.

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I am sure most of you will be familiar with the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde ,by Robert Louis Stevenson. But are you aware of these immortal words which that story contains and which touch upon the paradox of human nature?: 'Man is not truly one, but truly two'. We all know what it is like to feel that moral struggle within, don’t we? Like a tug of war between two persons- wanting to do what is right and yet at the same time being drawn to what is wrong. That is what the tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde illustrates.

Dr Jekyll is a respectable London doctor and is both kindly and religious. In the course of his research he discovers a drug which changes him into a repulsive, malevolent dwarf, whom he calls Hyde. It is in this persona that he performs all sorts of immoral and deplorable acts as he sets off on the rampage in the cold dark streets of Victorian London. Jekyll becomes aware of these deeds and while ashamed of them finds he is addicted to the experience of his alter ego. So both at one and the same time he disapproves of what he is doing and yet finds himself enjoying it. And at one point, the struggle become so intense that for a period Jekyll is able to abstain from the drug, but eventually he weakens and the result is the committing of a brutal homicide. Eventually the evil side of his personality becomes so dominant that he finds himself permanently wedded to the character of Hyde. And in a desperate attempt to escape arrest for murder, he commits suicide.

Now what we have here is a serious attempt by Stevenson to penetrate and understand this internal battle which is common to the entire human race. You see, no matter how respectable, or religious or charitable we may appear on the outside there seems to be a beast hidden away on the inside. Am I not right?

Now at first sight it appears that this is precisely the experience Paul is describing here in Galatians 5:17, 'The sinful nature (lit the flesh) 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.' So then is this Paul's version of the story of Jekyll and Hyde? Well no not really. For you see, Stevenson is describing the internal struggle experienced by the non-Christian which led him to despair for at the end of the day the monster destroys him, Hyde triumphs over Jekyll. But what Paul is describing is something quite different .He is actually depicting the battle which rages in the life of the Christian. So lets take a look at this battle to discover the role that God the Holy Spirit plays within it and the fact that we worship a God who alone transforms.

First of all we have the nature of the battle. The protagonists in the conflict Paul describes are 'the flesh' (our fallen nature with which we are born) and 'the Spirit' (who indwells us because we are born again). Stevenson was simply talking about the conflict between the flesh and our moral sense and so was inevitably pessimistic, the non-Christian may win the odd battle but can never win the war. As Oscar Wilde said: ‘I couldn't help it. I can resist anything except temptation.'

But you see, according to the Bible the Christian has something ,in fact someone inside him who makes all the difference in the world and that someone is the Holy Spirit. The war Paul speaks of is, if you like, between Mr Hyde, Dr Jekyll plus the Spirit of Jesus. We now have an ally we did not have before we came to Christ. And that is why when it comes to making moral and spiritual progress, the Christian can actually afford to be optimistic -it will happen.

You see only Christians can know this conflict for only Christians have the Spirit of Christ inside them. That is why the Christian will often experience an internal struggle more intensely than before his conversion and sometimes it worries him. You see, the non-Christian gets used to losing, so it is much easier to come to the point of giving up, following the line of least resistance, developing bad habits which at one time may have shocked us, we soon learn to live with them until we hardly notice them at all. But the Christian is never allowed to give up, the Holy Spirit will not let him settle down to an uneasy truce with sin ,he will always be spurring the Christian on , making him feel uncomfortable with those tendencies towards self gratification ,reminding him that it is from these fallen inclinations that Christ has come to rescue him and that he is not the person he once was because he now has this other person inside him . Now that is what this supernatural personality is doing to you if you are a believer, the Spirit of Jesus, slowly reproducing within you the image of Jesus.

But you say, ‘How do I know which side is winning at any given moment? If the truth be known I feel as if I am losing most of the time?- one step forward and two steps back’ Is that you're experience? It certainly is mine. But is it correct? Well , this brings us to our second point as Paul tells us how we can properly gauge the progress of the battle.

First of all in v 19, he says, ‘the acts of the sinful nature are obvious’. This not an exhaustive list but these acts do fall within three broad categories which are signs when the sinful nature is gaining an upper hand in our lives. First, there are sinful indulgences, the unrestrained pandering to our bodily appetites-sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, drunkenness and orgies would fall into that group. And our society knows only too well how to fan the flames of these. Take the sex instinct for example. No one has put this better than C. S. Lewis writing back in the 1940's: 'If anyone says that sex, in itself is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But of course, when people say, 'Sex is nothing to be ashamed of, they mean 'the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.’ If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips... we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favour of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales resistance. 'One wonders what he would say today nearly 60 years on. Now do you see why you need a supernatural person within you if you are going to have any hope at all in overcoming this sort of thing?

But then there are what can be called occult practices- idolatry and witchcraft, which would have been linked in Paul's day with orgies and drunkenness. Now by virtue of Paul listing these means that it is possible for a Christian to get caught up in this sort of activity. Behind all of these is the attempt to control- by passing reasoned human choice either through drugs, curses booze or sex, so that people and circumstances can be manipulated. Without being melodramatic this can occur within seemingly Christian contexts as with so called faith healers like Benny Hinn for example who as far as I can see uses hypnotic techniques to get people to do all sorts of extraordinary and bizarre things and then claim it is of the Holy Spirit when in fact it grieves the Spirit. We are not get mixed up in that sort of thing-people are to be treated with dignity and respect, not dehumanising manipulation -that is occultish.

But what about the other things Paul mentions, which can be termed disruption of relationships- hatred, discord, jealousies, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, factions, envy? Well, these are the respectable signs of the flesh and by that I mean these are the ones which can don a religious guise and be all the more destructive for it. How do you destroy a church? Simple :Stir up envy. promote jealousy, engage in back biting- and it works every time.

But God has a remedy for all of these natural sinful tendencies and it is known only to the Christian -it is the work of the Spirit which produces the fruit of the Spirit-and what a contrast! v22: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control’. Against such says Paul 'There is no law', by which at least he means that you cannot legislate for them. They are inner qualities of the heart, evidence of a spiritual and moral renewal from within. No amount of government or religious legislation can ever produce them but only the glorious Spirit of Christ, for they are the qualities of Jesus himself aren’t they? Can you think of anyone who was more full of love than Jesus? So full of joy and peace than him? There certainly was no man who walked this earth who was so overflowing with goodness and faithfulness . He was gentle too and totally self-disciplined. The very qualities which marked off the incarnate Son of God from the rest of us are the very same qualities he is now producing within us. Can you believe that?

You see, the Spirit counters sexual immorality not so much by producing a law which says 'You shall not commit adultery', although he upholds that law, but by instilling within us self-restraint and faithfulness. The Spirit curbs our drunkenness not by forbidding pleasure, but by cultivating within us a more authentic joy which does not require any alcoholic stimulus-joy in the Spirit. Sure, we struggle with these fallen feelings, Paul says so :' They are in conflict with each other' and there is no conflict I know which is not painful and taxing and tiring, but now there is a new impulse within which we did not have before. And though there will be times when we will slip and fall-as Paul makes it clear in v16 - it is possible to gratify the desires of the sinful nature- nonetheless this is a battle that will be won in the end ,so don’t despair. Which brings us to our third point-winning the battle.

There are two keys Paul gives to winning this spiritual conflict, one positive and the other negative.

Positively Paul says, 'live by the Spirit'- v16 or be 'led by the Spirit' v18 or ' keep in step with the Spirit' -v 25- it all amounts to pretty much the same thing. But how do we do that? Well, the context of this whole letter gives us a clue. So in 3:2f Paul asks: 'Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard.’ You see, a group of false teachers had crept in saying that to be a real Christian you must observe the Jewish law, you must try harder, you must keep the rules. Paul says, not so. To be a real Christian is to believe the Gospel message of grace -undeserved love- what you have heard, that is how you received the Holy Spirit in the first place. He is the one who transforms our character giving us spiritual and moral power, not by observing a moral or ritualistic code- all that does is to make you proud if you succeed or despair if you fail. The way you keep in step with the Spirit and so live by the Spirit and be led by the Spirit, is by the same way you received the Spirit, by believing the Spirit inspired apostolic teaching-in, short the Bible. This is where we hear God’s voice, and so this is where we are assured of his grace and given his power. What is more, there is a corporate expression of the fruit of the Spirit. We do not produce spiritual fruit in splendid isolation, as if we were all little Christian plants incubated in our own individual spiritual greenhouses. It is only as we relate to other believers and the non-believing world that such fruit grows. Look at what Paul says in 6:1: 'If someone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.’ What is that but exercise the fruit of gentleness? In v 2 he says we are to 'carry each others burdens', what is that but the expression of love? Later in v10 we are told to do good to all people, especially those of God's family-what is that but goodness in action? In other words, the way the Spirit cultivates his attractive wholesome spiritual fruit in you is as you relate to other Christians. It is as we pray together, work together, and have fellowship together that these fruits are drawn forth. It is in the rough and tumble of Christians serving together that this tremendous fruit harvest is born. You may say well, ‘I don’t see that much fruit in my life at the moment?’ Well let me say two things in response. First, bearing fruit does take time, it does not appear overnight so be patient. But some change should be taking place if you are a Christian. Things that were once important to you should be less important and things you never had time for before, like God and his Word should become more central. Is that happening? But secondly, could it be that the reason you are not seeing as much fruit as you would like is because you are neglecting the God-given means of fruit production? You are not spending enough time with Christians - as if meeting with God’s people for an hour or so on a Sunday is ever going to be enough. It is because your service is so poor- pew sitting is no substitute for Christian living. The Spirit is there within you, encouraging you, but he will not force you, because he is a person. Think of it like this. At school which teacher influenced you the most? The one who was for ever shouting at you, bullying you to improve, in whom you lived in constant fear? I had teachers like that. Or is it the one who, while having high standards and disciplining when necessary, nonetheless made the subject attractive, who patiently got along side you to encourage you, pointing out the mistakes but helping you address them, whose character was strong and inspiring? I had teachers like that too. And they are the one’s I most remember and who influenced me the most. That is what the Spirit of Jesus is like.

But Paul has something else to say, which might strike us as rather negative - v 24 'Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and lusts'. What does that mean? Well, it means this. To be crucified is to renounce -self. It means a public and painful determination to say no to Mr Hyde. And it will hurt, there will be times when our body may be craving for that which we know to be wrong but taking radical steps to deal with it. It is all to do with that fruit of the Spirit called ‘self-control’. Do you know what that is? Let me illustrate. Billy Graham was once interviewed on TV by Sir David Frost and was asked outright’ Are you ever tempted by the lusts of the flesh.’ And in response Dr Graham told this story. He said’ One of my evangelist colleagues was in Paris some years ago and one night he phoned me. He said that he had been to a Christian meeting and as he walked back to his hotel past some of the seedy night clubs and sex shops of Pigale he felt these powerful temptations to give in. They were so strong. He said , ‘ Billy I just want you to know that was the battle that was going on within me last night, but this is what I did. I took the key to my hotel room, locked the door from the inside and I threw the key out of the window so I couldn’t get myself out of the room for the rest of the night. It was the only way I figured I would be able to fight it.’ Then Billy Graham went on to say to David Frost: ‘If you are tempted God has promised to provide a way of escape. If it was Joseph who had to leave his garment behind and flee or this evangelist who locked himself in his room. I tell you the Holy Spirit provides a way for Christians to escape and the world does not know this.’ You see God changes not only what we do but what we want to do. He doesn’t do it for us, he does it with us. The Holy Spirit didn’t miraculously throw the key out of that window, the evangelist had to do that, but it was the Holy Spirit who gave him the desire.

Let me end by telling you the story of a woman who had a small house on the coast of Ireland at the turn of the century. She was wealthy but frugal. And so the people were quite surprised when she decided to be the first to have electricity in her home. Several weeks after the installation, the meter reader appeared at her door. He checked the meter and asked if her electricity was working. She assured him it was. Well, he said its just that your meter shows hardly any usage at all. Are you using your power?' Certainly.' she answered. 'Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on the lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off again.' Do you see? She was tapped into the power but hardly used it. Her house was connected but not altered. And its as if Paul is saying, Christian don’t you make the same mistake. You have within you a unique power, a divine guest who has taken up residence in your life, nurture your relationship with him as he will with you. Keep in step with the Spirit.


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