Relying on the Spirit
Passage: Galatians 5:13–5:26
What kind of people live like Jesus the most? Those who rely on the Spirit.
Two summers ago, Katie and I were given the amazing opportunity to go on a study tour in Israel. We went to many biblical sites and had a native of Israel as our tour guide. We landed in Israel, got on our tour bus, Atan introduced himself as our guide and as soon as the bus started moving, he was giving us information about the landscape and history of Israel. Atan had this really soothing voice so even though what he was telling us was super interesting, many of us found ourselves lulled to sleep by him.
We would stop at historical sites that you read about in the bible and walk around ancient ruins. As we traveled Israel, Atan was keeping us on time, making arrangements for us to enter certain places, opening our eyes to the history and geography of the land, enlightening us with knowledge about the ancient locations we were visiting. Without Atan, we would have no idea where to go or what we were looking at.
Today, we are continuing our series called “Living the Good News Together.” As a church, we are learning how we can live in light of the good news about Jesus together.
Take a moment to flip to the graphic on the last page of your song book (the same graphic is on our What Are We All About page). This is the roadmap for what we are covering. First, we covered our mission: as a community we are surrendering all of life to Jesus and inviting others to do the same. mission tells us what we are doing. Our Community Practices answer how we are going to do our mission. How do we surrender all of life to Jesus? How do we invite others to do the same? By practicing Believing the Gospel, Living as Family, Loving as Servants, Going as Messengers, and Relying on the Spirit.
And why do we do all of this? Our vision at the bottom tells us so that as the family of God we can show and tell the good news of Jesus to every man, woman, and child. Today, we are focusing on our fifth Community Practice called Relying on the Spirit.
Relying on the Spirit goes hand-in-hand with Believing the Gospel. When we believe the good news about Jesus, we need help living in light of that good news. We leave our old life behind and begin living a whole new way of life devoted to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is our tour guide showing us the way.
We are going to look at Galatians 5:13-26 in order to learn more about Relying on the Spirit. The big question we are going to be answering is: what kind of people live like Jesus the most? What kind of people live like Jesus the most?
Let’s turn now to Galatians chapter 5 and start in verse 13. It’s on page 975 of the black bibles we’ve provided.
These words were written by a man named Paul who lived in the 1st century. When he first heard the message about Jesus, he thought that Jesus was a fraud and that the forgiveness he offered was a sham. But he became a believer when the resurrected Jesus met him on the road one day. From then on, he spent his life spreading the good news about Jesus. One of the places he went was Galatia where he announced the gospel, people believed it, and a church community was formed.
This book of the bible is actually a letter written to that church by Paul. He is writing because they are in trouble. There was a particular group of Jews known as the Judaizers who thought that Jesus wasn’t enough to make someone right with God. Paul and the Judaizers agree on the problem. They believe that everyone has a sin problem. We sin when we break God’s laws, when we choose our own way instead of his, when we want to be on the throne of our lives instead of letting him call the shots.
And they agree that there is a penalty for our sin: we are condemned in God’s law court. Breaking God’s laws means we face divine judgment. And they also agree that sin exercises power over us. It has a grip on us and has an influence in our lives. Paul calls this “the flesh.” It’s the impulse inside us to disobey God.
Paul and the Judaizers agree on the problem, but they don’t agree on the solution. The Judaizers think the law is the answer to everything. How do we deal with our sin problem? Obey the law. How do we deal with the penalty of sin? Obey the law and you will be right with God. How do we deal with the power of sin? Obey the law. Turn from sin and do what it says.
In the first four chapters of this letter, Paul presents his solution to the penalty of sin. If the Judaizers properly understood the law, they would see that a right standing with God is impossible to earn by obeying the law. The only way to have a right standing with God and be forgiven of the penalty for our sins is by grace through faith in Jesus. That’s the only way you can be free of the penalty for sin.
Now in chapters five and six, Paul is answering the question: how do we deal with the power of sin? How can we be free of its grip? How can we stop following the impulses of our flesh? How can we live for Jesus now that he has freed us from the penalty of our sin?
Let’s pick up in verse 13 of chapter 5:
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
Paul has been teaching in the first four chapters of this letter that Jesus through his death has paid the penalty for our sin. We should be condemned and cursed and sentenced to death in God’s law court. But Jesus has paid our penalty and we are free of that penalty! This freedom is a free gift given out of God’s grace! We don’t have to do anything for it. You just have to receive it by faith in Jesus. The gospel calls us to freedom from the penalty of our sin.
People will respond to this in one of two ways. Some people will say, “If people are forgiven without obeying the law, what’s to keep them from sinning?” Others will say, “I can sin as much as I want because I’m already forgiven, right?
In verse 13, Paul tells both groups they are wrong. Because when Jesus frees us from the penalty of our sin, that doesn’t mean we now use our freedom as an opportunity to follow the sinful desires inside us, which he calls the flesh. Jesus frees us from the penalty of our sin so that we can now through love serve one another. Obeying the law could not make us right with God but now that we have been freed from the penalty of our sin, we do what the law was all about: love.
In verse 15, he addresses a problem that the Judaizers are creating: people in the church are starting to fight with one another. They are taking sides and arguing and dividing. Paul warns them:
15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:15)
Have you ever seen fish in an aquarium all picking on a particular fish, biting at it and taking pieces of flesh off its fins? It’s really sad and gross looking and that is the image Paul gives here: a church that is supposed to be loving one another is biting at each other and wounding each other and in the end this will lead to consuming each other. It’s relational cannibalism.
In verses 16 through 26, Paul gives his solution to this problem. They are not to use their freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, acting selfishly and destroying each other. Instead, he tells them in verse 16:
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18)
Before someone believes in Jesus, they are totally ruled by their sinful desires. Paul calls our inner inclination to disobey God and go our own way “the flesh.” It means we have a gravitational pull in our lives toward selfishness and pride. We want to be at the center of everything and we want to be the one calling the shots in our lives instead of God. It means we are sinners by nature and by choice.
But once someone trusts in Jesus, they receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus sends his personal presence to dwell inside us. Jesus frees us from the penalty of our sin by providing forgiveness and he frees us from the power of our sin by providing the Holy Spirit who renews us and restores us. Our sinful nature - our flesh - pulls us away from God to follow our own ways. The Spirit pulls us toward God to follow his ways.
Even though we have the Spirit and we are free from the power of the flesh, we still have to make a choice. We are free from sin’s power but we are not free from sin’s presence. Paul says we must walk by the Spirit if we are to live free from the power of sin. The Judaizers thought that rules and laws were the solution. Paul says no, the Spirit is the answer.
Before we came to Christ, the only tour guide in our life was the flesh. We followed this tour guide on whatever sinful paths it wanted to take us and it was the only thing leading us. But when we trust in Jesus, we are given a new tour guide for life: the Spirit. We are freed from the power of our old tour guide and if we follow the Spirit’s lead, he will lead us out of sin to be more like Jesus.
The next verses make this clear. Paul gives two lists: one catalogues the works of the flesh and the other gives the fruit of the Spirit. The flesh wants to take us down the path to one list and the Spirit wants to take us down the path to the other.
The flesh wants to put us on the throne to determine what’s right and wrong instead of God on the throne. The works of the flesh break down into four categories that put us on the throne. This list doesn’t cover every possible sin that our flesh would lead us to, but it gives characteristic examples.
The first three are sexual: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality. They say: I do what I want with my body. God tells me that the only appropriate place for sexual intimacy is between one man and one woman in the context of marriage, but I do what I want with my body so I will enjoy sexual intimacy outside of that.
The next two are religious: idolatry and sorcery. They say: I worship who I want. What we look to for our sense of security, safety, peace, and satisfaction in life is what we worship. Then and now, there are many other “gods” that we can look to besides the one, true God. We can look to relationships, work, money, and stuff to give us only what God should give us.
The next eight are relational: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy. They say: I treat others how I want. This category is the biggest because this is an issue happening in the church in Galatia. Remember they are biting and devouring each other like fish in an aquarium. Paul has already said that the whole Old Testament law is about loving others but the flesh leads us to love ourselves and treat others how we want.
The last two are religious rituals: drunkenness and orgies. Idolatry and sorcery are about worshiping who I want. These religious rituals say: I worship how I want. Other religions would worship their gods through rituals where they would get drunk and have orgies. We have rituals and activities to worship our gods too. If work is your god, your ritual is to overwork and neglect your family and other things God has called you to do. If your god is comfort, your ritual is to avoid responsibility and activity and to get mad when more is asked of you. If your god is respect, your ritual is to demand others show it to you. If your god is approval, your ritual is to inform people of your accomplishments so you can receive their praise.
When I read through some of the works of the flesh starting, I’m feeling pretty good. Sorcery? Never tried it. Drunkenness and orgies? All clear. But then other parts I don’t feel so great about. Jealousy? Yeah, I get jealous. Fits of anger? Yeah, I get angry sometimes. Enmity and strife? Yeah, I can sometimes hold frustration in my heart. Sometimes I follow where the tour guide of my flesh wants to lead me instead of the Spirit and I’d imagine that’s the same for all of us.
Paul ends the list with a warning in the second half of verse 21:
I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21b)
We may wonder: “Wait a minute, what about grace? What about forgiveness? What about Jesus paying for the penalty of sin? Does this mean we have to live a perfect life in order to be part of God’s kingdom?” No, grace is real, forgiveness is real, salvation is real. This isn’t about earning our way into God’s kingdom.
When the bible talks about inheriting the kingdom of God, it is talking about when Jesus returns to set all things right and completely take care of our sin problem. He will make all creation new. Jesus has freed us from the penalty of our sin - all our sin is forgiven when we trust in him. Jesus is freeing us from the power of our sin by giving us the Holy Spirit who guides us in living free of it. But one day in the future, Jesus will return and he will free us from the presence of sin. Sin will be no more.
If someone always wants to follow the tour guide of their flesh, it means they love being on the throne. A person who loves being on the throne won’t like God’s kingdom because in God’s kingdom, God is on the throne. If someone loves sin, they won’t like God’s kingdom because there is no sin in God’s kingdom. If someone lives to serve themselves, they won’t like God’s kingdom where they live to serve God. They are living for their own kingdom so they will not inherit God’s kingdom. They have made a choice about who is king of their lives. That’s what this verse is saying.
In contrast to where the tour guide of the flesh takes someone, Paul gives a list for where the tour guide of the Spirit takes someone starting in verse 22. Love headlines the list because that is what should be the defining factor in our relationships with others. Love is grouped with joy and peace, all three being an inner disposition that comes from God. When are forgiven of our sin, it fills us with love, joy, and peace. But love is not only internal. Love is shown in action. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control define the actions of love.
Paul says against such things there is no law. This is the place the Spirit leads someone and you will find no law from God that forbids such attitudes and actions. But at the same time, how could the law require such actions? How can you make a law that requires patience or joy? How would you enforce it? Therefore the law could never produce these attitudes and actions. That is something only the Spirit can do.
Notice a fundamental difference between the flesh and the Spirit. Following the tour guide of the flesh leads to the works of the flesh. From our sinful nature, we produce them. They are works that come from us. Whereas following the tour guide of the Spirit leads to the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit produces them in us. They belong to the Spirit. They come from him. He grows them.
Paul makes clear in verse 24 that when we surrender our lives to Jesus, a change happens inside us. He says:
24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:24-26)
We use to live by our flesh with its passions and desires. But now we have crucified our flesh; it has been put to death. We belong to Jesus now and we live by the Spirit. The power that sin once had over us and our old life of being on the throne is gone, dead, and buried. We now live with Jesus on the throne.
And because the Spirit has given us new spiritual life, we ought to keep in step with the Spirit. You could say we are to march in line with the Spirit. The Spirit is leading us and we need to keep in step with where the Spirit leads us. We need to walk by the Spirit, keeping on the path down which he is guiding us. In verse 26, Paul again emphasizes that this path is one of love toward others where we are not conceited, provoking and envying one another.
The big question we are answering is: what kind of people live like Jesus the most? The answer is: those who rely on the Spirit. Those who rely on the Spirit. The kind of people who live like Jesus the most are those who rely on the Spirit.
You need the Spirit to live like Jesus. When we surrender our lives to Jesus, we are committing to live like him - to follow his attitude and actions in all of life. But we need the Spirit to do that. The Spirit puts Jesus’ attitude and actions into us. He’s the tour guide who leads us to live like Jesus.
Perhaps you are thinking, “I don’t sense the Spirit’s guidance in my life. I don’t feel like God is really working in me or through me. I feel like he’s kind of distant. I don’t feel like he is giving me power to overcome my sin.” If that’s the case, it probably means you’ve stopped keeping in step with the Spirit. The Spirit never leaves us, but we can ignore the Spirit and miss out on his guidance.
When we were in Israel, we had ear pieces and Atan, our tour guide, had a microphone that he spoke into so as we traveled in a group we could all hear him. But the ear pieces only had a certain amount of range so if you were lagging behind or if you wandered off to check something out that the tour guide wasn’t focusing on, the sound would become weak and crackly and then it would disappear all together. So sometimes we would need to hurry to catch up to hear him again. In order to hear the tour guide’s voice and be led by him, we needed to keep in step with the tour guide. He had certain places he wanted to take us and certain things he wanted us to do, but in order to experience his leading in all that, we needed to keep in step with him and walk his path.
Jesus has certain places he wants to take us and certain things he wants us to do and the Spirit was given to us in order to lead us there. The Spirit wants to make us more like Jesus. Jesus was devoted to doing God’s will and if we devote ourselves to doing God’s will and going where Jesus sends us and doing what Jesus wants us to do, we will experience the Spirit guiding us and empowering us to do those things. That’s why he was given to us.
Here’s another way to think about it. My dad is a carpenter so he has helped with lots of projects around our house. Imagine he taught me how to do something on my own. He showed me all the materials I needed and how to put it together correctly. But I didn’t have the right tool for the job. But there’s no reason to worry, he has the right tool and he will leave it with me. He heads back Wisconsin and leaves me with the right tool for the job.
Now, imagine I don’t work on the project at all and he calls me in two weeks and asks, “How’s that tool working out?” I’d say, “I haven’t used it.” He’d ask, “What? Why not?” “Well, because I haven’t worked on the project at all.” I don’t know what using the tool is like because I haven’t done the work for which the tool was given.
Alternatively, he could ask, “How’s that tool working out?” And I could respond, “I haven’t used it.” And he could ask, “Why not” and my answer could be, “Well, I have been doing the job without it. It’s been really hard but I wanted to do it my own way.”
In the first instance, the tool did me no good because I never did the job for which it was given. In the second instance, the tool did me no good because I decided to use my own methods to get the job done. In both instances, the tool was available to me the whole time yet I didn’t use it.
The Spirit isn’t a tool; he is a person. But we do the same thing with the Spirit. Even though he is present with us and available to us as a guide, we often don’t experience the Spirit. Why? One option is we aren’t doing the job for which he was given. The Spirit was given to us so we could live like Jesus and if we aren’t following Jesus, then that may be why we aren’t experiencing the Spirit. The second option is that we are trying to live like Jesus but we are trying to do it on our own power. We try to use our own methods. Instead of relying on the Spirit, we rely on ourselves to do the job.
Over the past three weeks, we have talked about three of our Community Practices that tell us about our new identity we are given when we believe the gospel. God makes us into family, servants, and messengers so we live as family, love as servants, and go as messengers. Each of these is a way we can live like Jesus. But we can’t do any of these without the Holy Spirit! We can’t live like Jesus in our own power. So if you start stepping out to do these three activities while asking for the Holy Spirit to help you, I am confident you will begin to experience his guidance in your life.
The reason is because all of these require leaving our comfort zone and we need to step out of our comfort zone to live like Jesus. It’s comfortable to do only what we are able to do in our own power. It’s comfortable to keep life the same and how we want it. Leaving our comfort zone requires trust in someone else to get us through. Living as Family, Loving as Servants, and Going as Messengers are all ways we can live like Jesus and they are totally beyond our human ability to accomplish. So which one of these do you need to do? Here’s three simple ways to do each of them.
To Live as Family, ask someone for help. Our flesh tells us, “You can’t ask people for help. You need to do it on your own. You need to figure this out. You can’t ask someone to help with your kids or shovel your snow or bring you something because you’re sick. You can’t ask someone to help you understand the bible. You can’t ask people for prayer. You can’t ask people to comfort you if you are sad. It doesn’t matter how overwhelmed or in over your head you are, you need to be able to do this on your own.” That’s what our flesh tells us. We need to say “no” to our flesh and “yes” to the Spirit who gives us a spiritual family so we don’t have to go it alone.
To Love as a Servant, give someone your help. Our flesh tells us, “You don’t have time to help others. You’ve got your own stuff to worry about. They can help themselves. They need to figure this out.” Or maybe it tells you, “You don’t have anything to offer them. You don’t even have your own life together. You might have something to give when you get your act together but not now.” We need to say “no” to our flesh and “yes” to the Spirit who calls us to love others as servants just like Jesus has loved us.
Do you see how the flesh wants to keep us apart? The flesh tells the person who needs help that they can’t ask for it. The flesh tells the person who could give help that they shouldn’t.
To Go as a Messenger, ask someone their spiritual background. Our flesh tells us, “No one is interested in this Jesus stuff. They are a good person. They don’t need Jesus. You don’t want to bother them anyway. What if they aren’t interested or they get upset or ask a question you can’t answer? You don’t want to feel embarrassed or risk losing their friendship. Don’t say anything.” We need to say “no” to our flesh and say “yes” to the Spirit who sends us as messengers of good news. It’s not our opinion or advice; it’s good news that could free someone from their sin. We can start by asking them, “So what’s your spiritual background?”
Which one of these do you need to grow in? Pick one and then pray! We all need a pray-first reflex in our lives because if we don’t rely on the Spirit for our growth, we will be lifting a heavy burden. Let the Spirit do the heavy lifting.
If you have trusted in Jesus, submit yourself to the tour guide of the Spirit this week. If you start stepping out of your comfort zone to live as family, love as a servant, or go as a messenger, your flesh is going to fight against you. The flesh and the Spirit are opposed to each other. But rely on the Spirit - go the way he tells you to go and you will live free from the power of sin.