The battle - Galatians 5:16 - 6:10
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
I want to begin this morning by telling you about my experiences as I walk on Oak Road playing fields behind my house most afternoons. Most days on my walk I encounter a number of dogs, and as I have walked there over the years, I have come to the conclusion that there are basically three types of dog. The first type of dog is the dog that the owner refuses to let off the leash. This dog is straining at the leash, desperate to get away from the master. And it struggles and strains, but all the while in vain. And all it does it choke itself and bring about a stern whack from the master, whilst the owner is usually clinging on for dear life. The second type of dog is the dog that is off the leash but totally out of control. This dog careers around the park, attacking any other dog within a two mile radius, eating anything it can find, including the rabbits on the river bank, and jumping up with muddy paws at innocent passers by like me, ruining their clean trousers. This sort of dog is out of control and however much the master shouts or calls, the dog takes not a blind bit of notice. But there is a third type of dog, and this is the dog that I like. This is the dog which is not on a leash, but nor does it career around the field attacking passers by. This dog walks obediently by his masterís side, never straying far away, because he loves his master and longs to be with him. And that dog is the happiest, because he is using his freedom from the leash to walk obediently and lovingly by his masterís side.
Now freedom is one of the big themes of the letter to the Galatians. Itís something the apostle Paul has been at pains to explain throughout the letter to these churches in Galatia. Heís been telling them that through Jesusí death on the cross, they have been freed from their pagan idolatry and they have been freed from the Jewish law that false teachers have been trying to impose upon them. If you remember false teachers had come in after Paul and told these Galatians that they must do all sorts of extra Jewish laws in order to be fully kosher Christians. But actually says Paul, youíve been freed from all of that. The Christian life is not about following rules and regulations, but about enjoying a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Itís about being a forgiven child of God. And last week in chapter 5 verse 1, we saw that Paul got to the very heart of his argument. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
But towards the end of last weekís passage, Paul changed tack. Because some of the Galatians were clearly falling into another error. Yes, they now realised that they were free. But they were now using that freedom to do what they wanted, to live anyway they liked. So Paul said in chapter 5 verse 13: "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature." They had not realised that being free in Christ comes with certain responsibilities. You see freedom from restraint does not mean that we are free to do what we want any old time. No, with freedom comes responsibility, a new purpose. Itís not a new legalism, a new set of rules, but the freedom of being a child of God called to live Godís new liberating way of love. And like the dog on the playing field, the best way to live is to walk by our masterís side, free yes, but freed to go his way. For we are freed now for a new life. And its this new life that Paul goes on to talk about now in our passage this morning. For here he spells out for us what the Christian life looks like in practice and how we are to go about living it. And weíll see that it has both individual and corporate implications. So Paul teaches us three things about this new freedom we have been given in Christ. It involves:
1) A New Fight (5 vv 16-17)
2) A New Resolve (5 vv 16-26)
3) A New Life (6 vv 1-10)
1) A New Fight (5 vv 16-17)
So first a new fight. The Christian is engaged in a battle. Verse 16: "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 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." Now Paul says that when we become a Christian we are engaged in a battle between two opponents. First there is what Paul calls the "sinful nature" which is our natural fallen nature into which we are born. It is our selfish desires which do not want to go Godís way. But there is also the Spirit. Thatís Godís gift of his Spirit that he gives to everyone who becomes a Christian. Everyone who believes and trusts in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and a fresh start is given this amazing gift of Godís personal Holy Spirit in them. And Paul says that there is a conflict between what our natural sinful self wants to do and our new self empowered by the Spirit wants to do. Weíre engaged in a battle.
Now it is a vitally important point to grasp that this battle is the norm in the Christian life. Yes, we have been forgiven. We are new people washed clean by the Spirit. Our sins have been dealt with in the sense that the penalty for our wrongdoing has been paid. And that is a payment which deals with all past sins and all future sins. And nothing can take that away from us. We are Godís children. But the fact remains that we still continue to sin because our sinful nature still dwells within us. The penalty of sin has been paid for, but the presence of sin in our lives is still a reality. But the difference is now as forgiven people, God has given us his Spirit to change us and help us battle against sin. And the battle between our old nature and the new heart the Spirit has given us is intense. So if you are struggling with sin at the moment, if you are longing to go Godís way but are feeling so frustrated by your weakness and failings then donít be discouraged. The fact that there is a battle going on in your soul is an encouragement. You long to do what is right, but something is pulling you away, your sinful nature. So Paul says "they are in conflict with one another so that you do not do what you want." Now every human being to some extent feels that. Godís image, though scarred, is in each one of us. We have a conscience which does to some degree know what is right and wrong, though it is frequently suppressed and ignored. But for the Christian, the battle is much more intense. That is why the new Christian often feels so discouraged. They will say, "I feel so wretched. Itís just so hard. I seem to be sinning more than before I was a Christian." Whatís actually going on is that he has just become more aware of the battle within him. He is becoming more aware of his sin, as the Spirit sheds light on areas of his life that will need change. So donít be discouraged if you are feel like youíre in a battle at the moment. If you are wrestling with sin and longing to get rid of it, then that is the longing and experience of every genuine Christian. "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the SpiritÖ. They are in conflict." Of course, if you never feel that battle, then perhaps you need to examine yourself again. But the fight is the norm for the Christian. And itís a fight that will continue for the rest of our earthly lives until we are freed not just from the penalty of sin but also the presence of sin.
Listen to these words that John Newton once wrote. John Newton was the ex slave trader who became a Christian and who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. Newton had committed some terrible crimes before he became a Christian. Heíd been involved in the slave trade, heíd been a hardened drinker and gambler, and heíd done awful things to the women he traded. And it was no surprise that Newtonís life after he was converted was a real battle against sin. Yes, there were instant changes, but some things took a lot longer for him to sort out with Godís help. It was a long war, not a quick battle. And one day he wrote this in his diary: 'I'm not what I want to be, I'm not what I should be, I'm not what I one day will be in heaven. But thank God, I'm not what I once was.' Newton knew the reality of the fight, but also the help of the Spirit. So how do we actually engage in the battle. And what hope is there of victory? Well that brings us on to our next discovery.
2) A New Resolve (5 vv 16-26)
Because not only do we have a new fight, but also a new resolve. For the Holy Spirit enables us to battle against sin and gain ground towards holiness. And this works both positively and negatively.
a) Live by the Spirit- So first Paul tells us positively to live by the Spirit. Now Paul puts this in several ways in the passage. In verse 16 he tells us to live by the Spirit. In verse 18 that we are led by the Spirit. And in verse 25 to keep in step with the Spirit. It all amounts to same thing which is to go the Spiritís way. Every Christian has the Spirit by definition. And Paul tells us to go the way of the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit. So what does this mean in practice? Well Paul has told the Galatians back in chapter 3 v 2 about how they received the Spirit. He asked them whether they received the spirit through observing the law or by believing what they heard. And the implication as Paul develops it in chapter 3 is that they received the Spirit through hearing the message of the gospel, not by obeying rules and laws. In other words itís through the word of the gospel that the Spirit is applied to their lives. And so it is today. The Spirit continues to do his work through his word. He applies Godís word to us. He reveals our sin through his word and shows us the right way to go. So to go the Spiritís way is to be obedient to the Spiritís word, the Bible. It is he who inspired the Word, so keep in step with the Spirit by submitting to and obeying the word of God. Go the Spiritís way! And the wonderful thing is that the more we go the Spiritís way, the more we keep in step with the Spirit, the more he changes us and enables us to live his way. So Paul gives us that wonderful promise in verse 16: "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Itís not that we become sinless, but rather we find that are able to battle with sin and resist temptation. And so what does a life look like that is led by the Spirit? Verses 22-23: " But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." You cannot legislate for this sort of thing, says Paul, because itís a fruit. You cannot command someone to become more patient or gentle. Itís only something that the Spirit of God can do in our hearts. And notice that there is one fruit with nine different parts. So we cannot say, "Actually, Iím not too keen on becoming more self controlled." Because all nine are the one work of the Spirit in our hearts. And the staggering thing is that this fruit of the Spirit perfectly describes our Lord Jesus Christ. No-one else was perfectly loving and joyful and gentle and self controlled. So as the Spirit works in us applying his word to our lives, so he is making us more like Christ! Slowly but surely he is changing our desires. So whilst we all continue to battle with sexual temptation, yet the Spirit of God enables us to grow in faithfulness to our marriage vows and self control in what we watch or read. Whilst we all battle with gossip or malice, yet the Spirit of God is at work in us helping us to become more patient and gentle. That is what it means to be led by the Spirit. Itís to do with godliness first and foremost!
But maybe youíd say: "Yes, but I donít think I am growing in patience. Iím still as grumpy as I was. I still find it hard to resist gossip at the school gates or in the office." Well remember that the work of the Spirit takes time. Fruit takes a long time to develop. This is not something that happens overnight. And often it takes others to see how we have grown. You might have found it a real struggle to be patient, but someone else can see youíve really grown in faithfulness to the people of God, or you are so much more self controlled in your use of time or money. Your love for Godís word has grown in leaps and bounds. Is that you? Well, then the Spirit of God is at work in you. But perhaps such a worry about lack of growth may be a warning to us as well. It may be we are neglecting the Spiritís means of change. Maybe you have been neglecting the Bible these past months. Your church commitment is something that has slipped down the priority list. The Homegroup is not even on your radar. You see, we cannot expect the Spirit of God to work in us regardless of how we behave. Paul says we must keep in step with the Spirit if we are to see his work in our lives. So if you want grow as a Christian, live by the Spirit. Go the Spiritís way.
b) Learn to Loathe Sin- But negatively there is another challenge with this new resolve. Yes, positively go the Spiritís way, but negatively learn to loathe sin. And it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to hate sin. For the Spirit desires what is contrary to the sinful nature. So see how Paul describes the works of the sinful nature in verse 19: "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. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." You could not get a clearer contrast to the way of the Spirit could you? And a life lived liked this which continually refuses to repent will lead to being barred from Godís kingdom. But this is not the way for those who want to live the way of the Spirit, that is Godís way. Instead verse 24: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." What does Paul mean here? Well to crucify the sinful nature is to say no to self. It is about a ruthless dealing with sin in our lives. Like crucifixion, dealing with sin will be painful. Those pet sins, those fondled lusts, all of them must be ruthlessly nailed to the cross. And it will be painful. We donít naturally want to part with those sins. Because our trouble is that secretly we want to cuddle and fondle and caress those long treasured sins- the secret loathings, the hidden lusts that no-one else knows about. We donít want to get rid of them- we love them too much! But Paul says that such sins are not compatible with going the Spiritís way. They are disgusting. No! Crucify them with the Spiritís help.
So let me ask you: Are you ruthless with sin? Or do you cuddle it, saying there is no way I could part with you my cherub! Well pray that the Spirit will give you such a love for Christ and his ways, such a desire for the fruit of the Spirit that you will learn to hate sin. We wouldnít allow a cobra into our childís cot would we, so why allow sin to foster in our heart? And in fact sin is far more dangerous because it can not only destroy the flesh but kill us spiritually! So be ruthless and merciless with sin. So, for example, if you are finding the internet a problem, cut it out. Or why not get someone to install software that stops you accessing things you know are wrong. Get them to set the passwords. A friend of mine got rid of his TV because he knew he couldnít stop watching things that we unhelpful to him. The point is not to give a whole new set of rules, but rather for each of us to be merciless with our sin! We all know our weak points. But are we willing to kill it dead and get rid of it?
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 he felt these powerful temptations to give in. They were so strong. He said, ĎBilly, 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 couldnít 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.í Then Billy Graham went on to say to David Frost: ĎIf 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.í And the wonderful news is that in this battle with sin, the Spirit helps us. For he changes not only what we do, but what we want to do. But he doesnít do it for us, he does it with us. The Holy Spirit didnít 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. And thatís the challenge to crucify our sin. Be ruthless with your sin. Learn to loathe it, donít fondle it. Because the Spirit gives us a new resolve. Positively, to go the Spiritís way, submitting to him and seeing your life changed. And negatively, we are to go to war with sin in the Spiritís power. Are you up for the fight? A new resolve.
3) A New Life (6 vv 1-10)
But thirdly, Paul teaches us that with this new found freedom there is a new life. And that is to be found in verses 1-10 in chapter 6. Because here, Paul unpacks for us what the truly Spirit filled life will look like in practice. Here is a working example of a local church which is full of the Spirit. So what will it mean?
a) Right conviction about others (Vv 1-2)- First there will be a right conviction about others. Verses 1-2: "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ." Living the life of the Spirit is not something that is lived in splendid isolation. No you and I are to minister as Spirit filled people to one another. So see what Paul says: "Carry each otherís burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ." Do you remember the Galatians were so keen to fulfil the law. Theyíd been duped by the false teachers into following the OT laws. So Paul says, let me tell you how to fulfil the law. It is to submit to Jesus, because he fulfils the law, and itís to obey his command- to love one another. In fact, heís already told us in verse 14 that the whole law can be summed up by the command to love one another. You want to be really spiritual? You want to be really fulfilling the law? You get loving one another. So to be truly spiritual is to be involved in the nitty gritty of one anotherís lives. Doesnít sound very spiritual does it? But thatís what it means to go the Spiritís way in practice. Because the fruit of the Spirit begins with love. Itís about sharing one anotherís burdens. And the word for Ďburdení here means something so heavy that you canít possibly carry it on your own.
I remember some years ago, my family were on the receiving end of this genuine Spirit filled love and burden sharing. It was when my brother and I were still at school, and my Mum slipped a disk in her back. It was a very serious back problem which involved some weeks in hospital and the possibility of complicated back surgery. And during that time, my Dad and us boys were left to fend for ourselves. Dad had a very busy job and he was trying to look after Mum in hospital and us two boys. But this is where the Church family kicked in. Because they were willing to share our burden by cooking us food, taking my brother and I to school, and visiting my Mum, as well as other things. Yes, very practical things, nitty gritty life things, but it meant the world to us. It was what Paul meant by sharing one anotherís burdens. Of course we might say, "Yes but I donít know people that well." Well the challenge is to open our lives up so we can help others. Perhaps Homegroups are the best forum for that. But we all need help to carry one anotherís burdens donít we, because we cannot do it on our own. And of course part of the package is having the humility to accept help. So are you willing to get involved? Because such burden bearing is always costly. And notice too it will involve not just physical things but spiritual too in verse 1. We are gently, notice gentleness another part of that fruit, to restore those who fall. Weíre not to condemn those who sin, but gently restore them. In other words, helping one another to battle with sin. And when we fall, gently to bring them through it. Because that is what a church family who live in the power of the Spirit will do. They will have a right conviction about one another.
b) Right conviction about self- But secondly a person who is living the way of the Sprit will have a right conviction about himself or herself. Yes, whilst we are a loving community committed to sharing one anotherís burdens, yet there is a challenge too to take care of ourselves. Verse 3: "If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load." It may be that some of the Galatians thought themselves too "spiritual" to get involved. They thought they were really something. But actually what is needed is a right humility. None of us should be too lofty to get involved in one anotherís lives. And that means, says Paul, carrying our own load. Now Paul isnít contradicting himself here with what heís just said in verse 2 about carrying one anotherís burden. He carefully uses a different word for burden in this verse which means something like a rucksack or holdall in modern language. In other words, none of us are strong enough to get through the Christian life on our own. We need one another. But ultimately only we ourselves can be held responsible for our own actions and our spiritual status. We need, as Paul says elsewhere, to take heed to ourselves, to watch ourselves. In that sense we are to carry our own burdens. We need to examine ourselves when it comes to battling with sin or loving one another. Perhaps here Paul has in mind the fruit of the Spirit that brings about self control! And part of that self examination is supporting the ones who give us instruction in verse 6. Itís a verse that looks out of place at first, but actually the role of the pastor is crucial in both challenging the congregation to support one another and challenging individuals to look after themselves spiritually speaking. And in turn the pastor needs to be supported too. But whatever the details, the challenge is clear. Make sure youíre bearing your own load. Are you looking after yourself spiritually speaking? Because thatís another mark of the Spirit filled life.
c) Right conviction about God- But thereís one last challenge about living the Spirit filled life and that is having a right conviction about God. Verse 7: " Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." Very simply Paulís point is this. You cannot deceive God. God knows how you are sowing. If you are sowing to please your natural fallen self, if you are constantly feeding that savage beast called your sinful nature with all sorts of goodies like lust and greed and gossip and malice and everything else that Paul lists, then donít be surprised if you reap the reward which is destruction. You can deceive your friends by seeming to live a wholesome Christian life. You can deceive your family and you might even deceive yourself. But you cannot deceive God. God is not mocked. You reap what you sow. And if you are sowing to please your sinful nature, feeding it in a way which you know deep down is wrong, then cut it out before itís too late. "Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny." Of course, there is a wonderful flip side. You sow to please the Spirit and youíll receive eternal life. In other words a life lived under the loving guidance of the Spirit is a marker of a man or woman of God. And whatever you do, never give up in the battle, because God is faithful and you will reap the harvest. If you feel weary at the moment in the battle with sin, or simply in living the Christian life, then remember this. "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." In Godís timing we will see fruit. Changed lives, and ultimately life with him in his perfected kingdom.
You see true freedom brings responsibility. True freedom is not straining against the leash of the law, nor is it unbridled licence to roam. Rather true freedom is to walk obediently with our Saviour, freed from idolatry and legalism, but joyfully walking the Spiritís way. Yes, it will be a battle, but the Spirit of God strengthens us for the fight to battle against sin and to pursue Godliness. And in the end, we know itís worth it, but God is faithful. And he will make sure there is a fine harvest.
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