Galatians 5:24, 25, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”
Our text – Galatians 5:16-26
Our theme – “Spiritual victory is achieved by walking in the Spirit”
A few years ago, a 42-foot sailboat got caught in stormy seas off the east coast of the United States. Waves rose higher and higher until a giant wave flipped the boat upside down. The heavy keel righted the craft, but damage was significant. A Coast Guard cutter quickly responded to the sailboat’s SOS. However, when the ship located the desperate boat, no one could be rescued because of the violent seas. So the cutter drew as close as possible to the smaller craft, taking the brunt of the waves. The ship remained alongside the imperiled boat and let her into port. The action of this Coast Guard cutter is an illustration of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His disciples in John 14:16, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper.” The word Helper may also be translated “Comforter” or “Counselor,” and literally means “one called alongside to help.” The Holy Spirit guides and protects us through life’s storms, much like when that rescue ship escorted the sailboat. The Spirit buffers us from the raging storms of life, whether those gales are emotional, physical, or spiritual. He is there beside us to protect, comfort, encourage, and counsel. He will guide us until we are safely Home. However, we can’t be committed to Christ and to the world at the same time. We can’t be filled with His Spirit if we are protecting the life of selfish interests. That’s why our Lord said so pointedly that we will need to die daily to ourselves if we are going to walk with Him (Luke 9:23-24). Thus, we must continually choose what will have to die so that Christ can live freely in us.
1. Principle of Spiritual Victory (Galatians 5:16-18)
In this study of Galatians 5, we will see that the apostle Paul emphasize the need for the believer in Christ to walk in the Spirit so as not to fulfill the lust of the flesh. He describes the enmity between the flesh and the Spirit, explaining why we must bear the fruit of the Spirit instead of practicing the works of the flesh. Not only is there no inheritance in the kingdom of God for those engaging in the works of the flesh, but those in Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Having been made alive in the Spirit, they ought to walk in the Spirit so as not to be conceited, not provoking nor envying one another (16-26).
A. Walking in the Spirit
Galatians 5:16, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh”
Paul added emphatically that a believer who walks in the Spirit “shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh”. The believer will face an ongoing battle with their sinful nature but will be victorious in the long run. To walk in the Spirit, the believer must choose to live by the Spirit’s power, within the boundaries set within Scripture. In other words, the believer must choose to live in fellowship with Christ. That choice enlists the Spirit’s help in counteracting the lust of the flesh. The action of walking speaks of a routine, a daily habit of life. Walking in the Spirit necessitates an ongoing practice of surrender to the control of the Holy Spirit. This includes the commitment of thoughts, words, ambitions, attitudes, and actions to the Lord. As the Spirit extends His control over our lives, the flesh with its desires is progressively crowded out.
When we walk in the spirit we shall be led by Him. In the early stages of life we are apt to be headstrong and impulsive, as Moses when he felled the Egyptian. But as we grow in our Christian experience, we wait for the leading of the Spirit, moving us by His suggestion, impressing on us His will, working within us what afterwards we work out in character and deed. We don’t go in front, but follow behind. We are led by the Spirit. The man or woman who walks in the Spirit has no desire to fulfill the lust of the flesh. The desire for the gratification of natural appetite may be latent in the soul, and may flash through the thoughts, but he does not fulfill it. The desire cannot be prevented, but its fulfillment can certainly be withheld.
When we walk in the Spirit He produces in us the fruit of a holy character. The contrast between the works of the flesh i.e., the selfish life, and the fruit of the Spirit, which is the natural product of His influence, is very distinct. In works there is effort, the clatter of machinery, the deafening noise of the factory. But fruit is found in the calm, still, regular process of Nature, which is ever producing in her secret laboratory the kindly fruits of the earth. How quiet it all is! There is neither voice nor language. It is almost impossible to realize what is being affected by a long summer day of sunshine. The growing of autumn arrives with noiseless footsteps. So it is with the soul that daily walks in the Spirit. There are probably no startling experiences, no marked transitions, nothing special to record in the diary, but every year those who live in close proximity witness a ripening wealth of fruit in the manifestation of love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control.
B. Internal struggle for control
Galatians 5:17, “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”
The Galatians were torn between Paul’s teaching and that of the Judaizers. What they were feeling was just what every believer in Christ feels. The flesh pushes its desires, while the Spirit urges submission to God’s values. No matter how long a person has been saved or how mature they are in Christ, this titanic spiritual battle is always within the person. The flesh is a powerful enemy, for it is crafty, deceitful, and persistent. No amount of human effort or resolve can subdue the flesh. Because of its power, even the strongest human is unable to keep their lofty resolutions. Believers have been made servants of righteousness; therefore, they are expected to live righteously.
The seriousness of the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit is evidenced by the reality of the intense conflict that each believer is continually engaged in. According to the apostle, “the flesh” is always hostile to “the Spirit.” There is, in other words, a raging battle going on in the heart of every child of God (see Romans 7:14 for a similar picture of the Christian life). The “desire” of the “flesh” is always “against” that of “the Spirit” and vice versa. The two forces are “in opposition to each other,” and often the believer does not end up doing what he knows is right “so that you do not do the things that you please.” This inner warfare is the experience of every follower of Christ and will continue until our sanctification is completed in heaven. However, in the meantime those who are indwelt by the Spirit must be diligent to trust in the power of Christ, His total victory over evil, and His righteousness that has been credited to them by God.
C. Power for victory
Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”
Because all people are born with a sin nature, the flesh is a powerful force in each person that threatens to hinder righteous living. What makes the difference is how one responds to the flesh. The pagans in Bible times simply indulged the flesh and sank into depravity. The Jews tried to counter the flesh by keeping the law. However, Paul testified in Romans 7 that trying to obey the law was frustrating because it was an impossible task. Even though he had had the desire to obey God’s standard, he did not have the inner spiritual power to do so consistently. The Judaizers assumed that there were only two alternative: living under the flesh’s control or living under the law. However, Paul advanced a third alternative that gives victory over the flesh in a way that the law never could. That alternative is for the believer to be “led of the Spirit”. The Spirit of God is able to guide the Christian out of the deceits of the flesh and to give victory in the struggle against the flesh. However, the believer must consciously submit to the Spirit. As the Spirit leads the believer in the ways of God, the believer needs to follow that leading. Only the Spirit, not the law, can truly deliver from the lust of the flesh and allow a believer to live righteously.
The section ends with a restatement of Paul’s basic argument from 5:1 that the believer in Christ is free from the Law. Here Paul contrasts living under the leadership of the Holy Spirit “led by the Spirit” with a life of bondage “under the Law.” The juxtaposition of these phrases makes it apparent that the life of faith in Christ, characterized as life in the Spirit, “stands in irreconcilable conflict with existence ‘under’ the Law”. In other words, the Spirit of God leads believers into the enjoyment of authentic spiritual freedom from any obligation to secure divine favor through obedience to the Law (Romans 8:3-4). However, it is important to remember that this does not imply that there is no place or function for the Law in the life of the believer. Thus, while not impacting our salvation or our standing before God, the Law, particularly the Ten Commandments, represents God’s will for our conduct as His covenant children.
2. Production of Spiritual Victory (Galatians 5:19-23)
How can we tell if we are following the Spirit’s leading? How do we know if we are experiencing spiritual victory? The apostle Paul contrasted what the flesh produces in a person with what the Spirit produces. He wrote that the flesh produces evil qualities that God condemns, whereas the Spirit produces Christ-like qualities that God commends.
The meaning of the walk? Walking by the Spirit implies daily progress and effort on our part as well as power and direction on God’s part. Living a Spirit-filled life or filling your mind with Scripture will cause your thought patterns to be directed by the Spirit, and having your mind saturated by the things of Christ will allow your life to be easily borne along by the Spirit. Paul contrasts the different results of living by the Spirit and living by the flesh. One reason he makes that contrast is to motivate Christians to walk by the Spirit. The works of the flesh are described in verses 19-21. The result of walking by the Spirit is found in verses 22-23. Paul strengthens his case for walking in the Spirit by showing what each produces. The Judaizers should have taken note of that. If they had carefully examined the Galatian churches, they would have seen the fruit of the Spirit and realized how pointless it was to introduce law. Once they introduced law, they would have seen the works of the flesh and recognized their error if they had been sensitive.
A. Works of the flesh
Galatians 5:19-21, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 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”
The works of the flesh do not merely include the various misuses of sex. It is a much wider concept, including all the sinful desires of man’s fallen nature. This particular list is not exhaustive, but only suggestive, and the categories are found in vv. 19-21. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, wrath, factions, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and the like. At this point, Paul presents a dramatic picture of the radical change that grace prompts in the lives of those who believe in Christ. The two lists, the works of the flesh in 5:19-21 and the fruit of the Holy Spirit in 5:22-23, are intended to graphically display the “total contrast between the ‘natural’ life and the ‘spiritual’ life and does so in embarrassing detail, no doubt very appropriate to the situation in Galatia, as in any other pagan areas”. Below is a brief description of the works produced by the “flesh.”
(1) Fornication. This refers to any form of sexual sin. That is, any sexual act that God has forbidden;
(2) Impurity. This is a general word which expresses the concept of uncleanness. Here in this context it speaks especially of sexual impurity, yet has application to any form of moral evil;
(3) Sensuality. This term describes acts of sexual perversion or excess. It represents the “total loss of limits, the lack of restraint, decency, and self-respect”;
(4) Idolatry. This is the worship of false gods in denial of the one true God, as well as the failure to worship God exclusively.
(5) Sorcery. Literally, this implies the illicit use of drugs. It also has reference to the use of drugs in association with occult practices and the injury of others;
(6) Enmities. This word may be legitimately translated as hatred or hostility. It describes hostile acts or sentiments, especially those formed on the basis of race or political grounds;
(7) Strife. This term refers to discord, disharmony, or quarrelsomeness among brothers;
(8) Jealously. This represents a desire to have what others possess. It is a covetous or envious spirit that is generally up to no good.
(9) Outbursts of anger. Here Paul has in mind a violent explosion of hurtful words or actions designed to damage and scar. It depicts an uncontrolled rage;
(10) Disputes. A political term referring to words or actions which manipulate and corrupt others. It represents a destructive spirit of rivalry and selfish ambition;
(11) Dissensions. This refers to actions which cause fractures to occur within relationships. It has a special connection with the introduction of false teaching into the community of faith;
(12) Factions. Once hatred and strife are in operation, people start lining up on different sides, creating terrible factions. We see people organizing for causes to fight against others throughout the world.
(13) Envying. This word is very closely related to “jealousy” above. Its plural form (in the original language) suggests something like the “multitudinous expressions of envious desire”;
(14) Drunkenness. The word relates to the abuse and/or excessive use of alcohol resulting in the weakening of one’s “rational and moral control over their words and actions”;
(15) Carousing. This term refers to the “drunken orgies encouraged at festivals of the pagan gods, and secondarily to the general insobriety of pagan life”.
Please note the powerful warning that Paul presented in verse 21. Those who “practice,” or habitually engage in such activities, “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, those who participate in these activities with no remorse or sense of divine conviction “show themselves to be without the transforming gift of faith which leads to the gift of the promised Spirit”.
B. Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:22, 23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”
Therefore, Paul countered with a definitive statement in verse 23. After listing the fruit of the Spirit, he affirmed, “against such there is no law.” What the Spirit produces more than meets every righteous demand of the law. The Spirit produces holy character and conduct. He defeats the lusts of the flesh in a way the law never could (3:21). The Judaizers insisted that only observance of the law could guarantee a life pleasing to God, in radiant contrast to the evil produced by the “flesh,” Paul depicted what life in the Spirit was really all about in practical terms. This list of nine manifestations of the one Spiritual “fruit” does not necessarily represent a comprehensive listing of all the Spirit-produced graces, but those that especially display the beauty of the Spirit-controlled life.
(1) Love. This is the kind of love that motivated and fueled God’s saving actions toward His beloved children. It’s exact nature and characteristics are more fully developed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. In this context, Paul has in mind our love for one another within the family of faith;
(2) Joy. This is a spirit of exultation, celebration, and expectancy prompted by the knowledge and certainty of God’s total victory over evil—”a victory actualized already in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ”;
(3) Peace. This is a state of well-being, security, and wholeness which functions independently from any outward circumstance. It is the state of being experienced by those who have been loved and redeemed by God;
(4) Patience. This represents “steadfastness and staying power” It is the ability to carry heavy burdens without complaint or ill feelings.
(5) Kindness. Essentially, this means to treat others in the same way that we have been treated by God;
(6) Goodness. This is an all-purpose word with a special reference to the display of generosity toward others. It is the willingness to go another mile with someone “when such magnanimity is not required”;
(7) Faithfulness. This is the trait of being dependable, true to one’s word, and worthy of trust in all matters. It is motivated by God’s faithfulness toward His people
(8) Gentleness. This is a term that, in ancient times, was applied to the taming of a wild beast. It most likely indicates the notion of being fully under control of one’s words and actions. The word most likely “connotes a submissive and teachable spirit toward God that manifests itself in genuine humility and consideration toward others”;
(9) Self-control. This word has to do especially with the control of one’s sensual desires. It speaks of the man or woman who, by means of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, keeps their bodily passions in check so that they are never satisfied in ways that dishonor God or violate His will.
Since these graces represent the “fruit of the Spirit,” it’s clear that they are not the product of human work, discipline, or determination. They are gifts given to every child of God. In other words, this is where the Spirit is leading every believer … toward the display of Christian character as represented by this list. While the “deeds of the flesh” violate God’s will and Word, there is “no law” against the spiritual fruit (v. 23).
3. Practice of Spiritual Victory (Galatians 5:24-26)
The Apostle Paul’s discussion of spiritual victory raises some practical questions, such as, how does this work in everyday life? (Galatians 5:24-26) answers this question. Thus, as Paul closes out this chapter he once again is going to make this contrast between having life in Christ and being conformed to the world. But he also states quite clearly how this is accomplished.
A. Remember who you are
Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires”
The Galatians needed to understand their identification with Christ. First, we note that we belong to Christ. This is the language of ownership. This is the language of what it means to come under the lordship or control of someone else. Some might look at this in a negative way, but for the believer it should make our hearts soar because it confirms that since we belong to Christ our old master can never claim us again.
Romans 6:13-14 states, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” This whole idea of ownership is something we sometimes lose sight of, especially in a world which teaches that we become our own island, we determine our own destinies without anyone else. Well, Jesus made it clear that ownership determines outcome. And in the case of the Jews of Christ’s day they learned from the lips of our Lord Jesus that ownership was something we should consider as there are really only two owners in a spiritual sense with two entirely different outcomes and destinations. Who we belong to makes an eternal difference. And if we belong to Christ than we have the assurance that He will never let us go. If we belong to Christ then there is nothing in heaven or hell which can snatch us away from our God and Savior. Jesus says, I shall lose none, and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:39-40, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
As the apostle Paul testified in Galatians 2:20, when a person puts their faith in Christ, they are crucified with Christ. The believer continues to live and to face the challenges of temptation; however, the believer does not face them in his or her own power but in Christ’s power. Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me,” Paul affirmed. Thus, in Jesus Christ, the flesh with its affections and lusts has already been crucified. The believer is no longer in bondage to the sinful nature. He or she is now free to live in the Spirit. The believer is liberated to live out the godly character that the Spirit is developing in him or her. Spiritual victory comes when we understand our identification with Christ and cooperate with the Holy Spirit in His ministry of glorifying Christ in us.
B. Walk in the Spirit
Galatians 5:25, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”
The apostle Paul had exhorted, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (5:16). After contrasting the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, he returned to his earlier exhortation. In verse 25 he wrote, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” When Paul exhorted, “Walk in the Spirit,” he meant to walk in line with the standards set by the Holy Spirit. This concept is especially significant in the context of Paul’s overall argument in Galatians. The Judaizers were trying to regulate the Galatians’ lives by the Jewish law. They were measuring their actions by Jewish regulations. However, Paul said in Galatians 4:9 that those regulations were “weak and beggarly elements” and led to bondage.
If the Spirit of God has given us eternal life, then it makes all the sense in the world to walk or keep in step with the Spirit who not only gave us this life but who now empowers us to do that. How do we keep in step with the Spirit? We follow Christ. We seek after the living word and we become doers of the word. The things of the Spirit by which we keep in step with the Spirit are those things the Spirit has given us. He has first and foremost given us the word of God as we have it in both the old and new testaments as He revealed this word through His prophets and apostles. But in giving us this word He has revealed the Son of God who is the word become flesh. If we are ever to walk in the Spirit we can never neglect the word of the Spirit of God. But He has also given us each other. We are one in the Spirit, we are united in the Spirit, in the sense that we are all part of the same body; the body of Christ. And as the body of Christ we are commanded by our Lord to come together for fellowship, for worship, for breaking bread together as we have before us this morning in the Lord’s Supper.
These are all ways in which we can walk in the Spirit and grow in the Spirit and thus begin to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in a dynamic and meaningful way as we are being conformed into the image of Christ. But there is a process involved in this and part of this has to do with engaging our minds as we seek those things above. The world often characterizes us as mindless people who have a blind faith. That simply isn’t true. But if we are not using our minds as we read God’s word, as we use our gifts, as we walk in the Spirit, as we meditate on those things the Lord teaches us then we are not feeding the new man we are in Christ. Romans 8:5, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires”; Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Are we being renewed into the image of Christ? That can only truly happen as we engage our minds, which includes our wills, as we seek Christ through the means He has given us through the power He has given us in His Spirit. Not to pursue the things of the Spirit will lead us to pursuing the things of the flesh or old nature and as Paul closes this chapter he gives the Galatians and us what that will produce.
C. Denying the flesh
Galatians 5:26, “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other”
Those who walk after the flesh are concerned only with pleasing themselves. The flesh craves attention, admiration, esteem, power, and possessions. The law which the Judaizers were trying to force on these Galatians created a division of pride within the body of Christ; conceit and envy. The law is a feeble attempt to gain favor with God. It’s an attempt to please the Lord and that will never happen. But it doesn’t mean that the law doesn’t accomplish anything when added to the finished work of Christ on the cross. But it’s all negative in nature. It produces a fleshly approach to a spiritual life. It’s a dead man’s approach to one who has life. The two don’t mix. The new law we have in Christ is a law which is written on our hearts and one which will show itself to be alive. It is a royal law which loves God above all and our neighbors as ourselves. But unless we engage ourselves in this new life on a daily basis we are only feeding the old nature and the one we feed the most is the one who is most active. So, let’s keep in step with the Spirit as we encourage each other to pursue the things of the Spirit.
I don’t know about you, but I love to watch the young high school musicians march in step whether performing before a panel of judges at a district competition, at halftime during a football game, or on tour in a different state, they moved as one to the cadence of the drums and the leading of the drum major. Galatians 5:25 states, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” That last phrase can also be translated, “Keep in step with the Spirit.” It means that as we walk along in our Christian lives, we are to follow the Spirit’s lead. We are to be in harmony with Him. If we get out of step, follow a wrong cadence, or stray off the correct pathway, the results will be obvious (Galatians 5:19-21). So, how can we tell if we’re walking in step with the Spirit? Paul spelled it our clearly in Galatians 5. We will not be guilty of the practices mentioned in (vs. 19-21), but rather, the fruits of the Spirit will be clearly evident in our lives – love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (vs. 22-23). So, my brethren, how would you rate yourself:
(1) When it comes to walking in step with the Spirit?
(2) Are you in cadence?
(3) Or are you following a drumbeat of your own making?
If you keep in step with God and allow His Spirit to have control of your life, you’ll be out of step with the world and the influences of it.