The offer of the Spirit - Galatians 5:16-26

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 16th May 1999.

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We may not have read the book or seen the film but I am sure we are all familiar with the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde , by Robert Louis Stevenson-which contains the immortal words 'Man is not truly one, but truly two'.

As you will recall 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 and malevolent dwarf, whom he calls Hyde. It is in this persona that he performs all sorts of immoral and deplorable acts. 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. 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, commits suicide. Not exactly the most happy ending ever to a story is it?

Now, what was Stevenson trying to achieve through this story? Well, I think it was far more than spinning an entertaining yarn. It was a serious attempt to penetrate and understand this internal battle which is common to the entire human race. So we find Stevenson putting these words onto the lips of Jekyll:'I have learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man. Two motives contend in the field of my consciousness. Even if I could rightly be said to be neither, it is only because I am radically both. In the agonised womb of existence, these polar twins are continuously struggling. '

You see, Jekyll and Hyde are not simply to be thought of as two strange characters of science fiction. The portrait Stevenson is painting is of each one of us. No matter how respectable and charitable we may appear on the surface, having characters shaped and restrained by moral education and the law, there seems to be a beast within, privately longing to surrender to all kinds of licentious behaviour, which periodically happens of course , even if it is only within the privacy of our own thought life.

And at first sight it appears that this is precisely the experience Paul is describing 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?Not really. You see, Stevenson is describing the struggle experienced by the non-Christian. It was certainly my experience. Non-Christians too know what it is to be tempted, to be accused by a guilty conscience. But Stevenson, reflecting on this came to a pessimistic conclusion. At the end of the day the monster destroys him, Hyde triumphs over Jekyll. What he would like to be, he cannot achieve, the pull downward is simply too great.

But what Paul is describing here something quite different . He is depicting the battle which rages in the life of a Christian believer. . So lets take a look at this battle under three headings: The nature of the battle; gauging the battle, and winning the battle.

The nature of the battle

First of all , the nature of the battle. The protagonists in this battle Paul describes as 'the flesh' (our fallen nature with which we are born) and 'the Spirit' (the Holy Spirit of God himself 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, we may win the odd battle but never the war. As Oscar Wilde says in that famous line from 'Lady Windermere's Fan': 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 which makes all the difference in the world. He has the Holy Spirit. The war Paul speaks of and which we know only too well , is if you like between Mr Hyde, Dr Jekyll plus the Spirit of God. We now have an extra 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 afford to be optimistic.
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. 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. But the Christian is never allowed to give up, the Holy Spirit will never let him settle down to an uneasy truce with sin, he will always be spurring the Christian on , to feel uncomfortable with these tendencies, reminding him that it is from these fallen inclinations that Christ has come to redeem him. As Paul says in v 13 'Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature , rather serve one another in love. 'Sure you are free as a Christian but not free to do as you want, which is a false freedom anyway, but free to start doing as you ought. That is what this supernatural personality is doing in you if you are a believer, the Spirit of Jesus, slowly reproducing in you the image of Jesus. .

Gauging the battle

But you say, well how do I know which side is winning at any given moment? Well , Paul tells us how we can gauge the progress of the battle. First of all in v 19, he says the acts of the sinful nature are obvious-you have to be blind to miss them-but we do. This not an exhaustive list as Paul himself recognises by adding 'and the like' at the end. But they 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 category. And our society knows only too well how to stoke up the fires on this one. Take the sex instinct for example. No one has put it better than C. S Lewis writing 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 50 years on. And Christians are not immune from this propaganda either . So now, divorce amongst clergy is now reaching the same level as the rest of the population. I think that the man who has entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most divorced man on earth is a Southern Baptist minister-having been divorced and remarried 19 times. The battle is raging in the sexual arena in the church.

But then there are what can be called occult practices-idolatry, 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. And again the impulse might be well intentioned-the desire to reach young people with the faith for instance , mutating into what we saw at the Nine O Clock Service in Sheffield, which was in effect a New Age service with sensuality on the side. Or maybe through the traumatic death of a loved one, in desperation seeking a medium. It happens. Or simply trying to relieve the aching pain inside by going to the bottle. It may be understandable but still contrary to the Spirit. It grieves him.

But what about the other things Paul mentions, which can be called self-centred 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. Obviously it was happening in these churches to which Paul is writing, look at v 15 'If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 'A timely word for many of our churches today isn't it? How do you destroy a church? Simple :Stir up envy-'I should be doing that job not her'-selfish ambition-power seeking. . Factions, pushing for your own particular tastes or theological bent at the expense of unity within the fellowship. And many of us have been on enough church committees to know how fits of rage have a nasty habit of surfacing all too frequently. And when you find these things breaking through in your life, says Paul, be warned, you are surrendering the battle, and those who live like this, those whose overall direction in life is characterised but such things, however pious or moral sounding they may be, will not inherit the kingdom of God. That is why the unregenerate person and the world which refuses to acknowledge the Kingship of Christ will not only be refused entry into heaven, but will always experience something of hell on earth. The sinful nature is the problem, whether it be in Kosho or Colorado.

But God has a remedy and it is known only by the Christian -it is the work of the Spirit which produces the fruit of the Spirit-and what a contrast (v22). Each of these words deserves a sermon by themselves, they are wonderful words, beautiful words. Against such says Paul 'There is no law', by which 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 legislation, or new deal or back to basics 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 more so full of love than Jesus? So full of joy and peace than Jesus ? There certainly was no man who walked this earth who was so full of goodness and faithfulness like him , never deviating for a moment from his Father's will. He was gentle too and totally self-disciplined. The very qualities which marked off the incarnate Son of God from the world are the very same qualities he is intent in producing in you by his Spirit.

You see the Spirit counters sexual immorality in us not be producing a law which says 'Thou shalt not commit adultery', though 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. Sure we may well struggle with the feelings, of course we will, Paul says so 'They are in conflict with each other' and there is no conflict I know whether it be in the Balkans or in families which is not painful and wasting, but there is now a new impulse and power 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 only too possible to gratify the desires of the sinful nature-nonetheless this is a battle that can be and will be won in the end , so don't despair. Which brings us to our third heading - winning the battle.

Winning the battle

There are two keys Paul gives to winning this battle, 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. But how do we do that? Well, it is the context of this whole letter which 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. Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit are you now trying to attain your goal through human effort?' You see, a group of false teachers had crept in saying that to be a real Christian you must observe the Jewish law. Paul says, not so. To be a real Christian is to believe the Gospel message-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 observing a moral or ritualistic code. So why go back under law which is powerless to help? No 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 what you have heard-the Spirit inspired apostolic teaching-in short the Bible.

What is more, there is a relational expression of the fruit of the Spirit. We do not produce spiritual fruit in splendid isolation, as if we were little Christian plants incubated in a spiritual greenhouse. It is only as we relate to other believers and the non-believing world that such fruit is brought forth. So 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, especially, but non-Christians too. It is as we pray together, work together, have fellowship together that these fruits are drawn forth-love, patience, kindness. It is in the rough and tumble of Christians living together, serving together that this tremendous fruit harvest is born, so as Paul says 'Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 'You may say well, I don't see that much fruit in my life at the moment? Could that be because you are not spending enough time with Christians so that it can be produced? Is it that you are not being refreshed by the Word as the Spirit applies it to your hearts and minds? Is it because your service is so poor?

But Paul has something else to say, something 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, the root of all sin. It means a public and painful and clear determination to say no to Mr Hyde. It will hurt, there will be times when our body may be craving for that which we know to be wrong, longing to make that cutting remark to put her in her place, desperate to engage in that act of deception, with the promise of a sweet release. This is a graphic illustration of what our attitude to our fallen nature must be. We are not to coddle it or cuddle it, not to pamper or spoil it, not to give it any encouragement or even toleration. So it at least means avoiding where possible those things in which we are weak. So if we have problems in our fantasy life, the TV and cinema must be carefully checked. If it is drink, the pubs must be wisely avoided. If it is money, we may need someone help us to handle it more carefully. And it will be painful. But, the end is certain, as certain as death itself.

There is a 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. 'Do you see? She was tapped into the power but hardly used it. Her house was connected but not altered. And it's as if Paul is saying, Christian don't 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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