Turn to Galatians 5v13-26. The church in Galatia is in danger. They’re confused about the gospel and the freedom that Jesus brings and are turning back to legalism. They have a false division in their heads because of false teaching. They think the gospel isn’t enough. They’re being told you need the law, you need to add to the gospel all sorts of to do’s and festivals and rules to be holy, otherwise you’ll just lapse into sinning.
We struggle with the same false division don’t we? Does the grace of God free us from the law? Yes, but then people draw the conclusion that we can live however we want because we’re forgiven for everything. So anything goes, jump right in, just come and ask for forgiveness every so often. Or we worry that grace doesn’t lead to holiness and so we add all sorts of to do’s and to don’t’s afraid of falling into sin. And life following Jesus becomes a life not of joy but of drudgery.
Paul deals with such muddled thinking explosively. They’re losing the gospel! And Paul wants something greater for them; to see Christ formed in them. And so he writes to them and in ch5 explores their freedom in Christ, freedom not to indulge sin but to live by the Spirit.
There are two ways they could live(16). When we trust Jesus we are free from slavery to sin and the law which reveals our sin. But we still battle with sin. We can indulge the flesh, the old appetite driven sinful you, and he paints a picture of what that’s like (19-21)and don’t some of the things on there surprise you? There’s the usual suspects but also things like envy, jealousy, causing conflict. I wonder which of those things makes you cringe with shame? Which makes us feel like we’ve been found out, that God knows! If you’re thinking I don’t struggle with any of those, then the last three words on that list are there just for us to stop us being smug “and the like.”
We all battle with sin. Every heart is a battleground of temptation. But the battle doesn’t mean you’re not a disciple, it means you are. But how do we fight the battle with sin? How do we not gratify the desires of the flesh?
Paul calls the Galatians to live by the Spirit(16). But it’s not a simple on or off. If only there was a switch we could flick to live by the Spirit. But (17)there is a battle within us, a conflict. We have followed Jesus but we still struggle with sin. Our sinful nature is like the baddie at the end of every hero film. You think they’ve been finished off until they rise up once more, to strike at the hero again. Don’t you feel that battle within yourself? Don’t you get frustrated by it? Or maybe, tragically, the struggle has worn you down to a defeatist apathetic acceptance that you’ll sin, again.
Maybe lockdown and the pressure it brings; living life on top of each other without the escape valve of time apart makes you particularly prone to some of these sins. But lockdown hasn’t caused you to sin it just reveals what was there in your heart, but covered over, all the time.
That’s where the role of the Spirit is so vital. (16)“So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” How do we fight sin, those lusts and appetites that well up in us? How is Christ formed in us? We live by the Spirit, growing in the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. All one fruit not various fruits. To have Christ formed in us is to grow in all of these attributes of Jesus not just one or two. But how?
It starts with understanding that(24) because we belong to Jesus we have crucified that flesh, it’s not our master, we don’t have to obey. But instead (25)“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Isn’t that a great image. We walk where the Spirit walks. We walk in step with him. Think of soldiers on the parade ground, all marching in step with one another. Or of the child trying to walk in heavy snow, stepping in dad’s footsteps.
Disciples are called to change. To become more like Jesus. Not to gratify the flesh and it’s desires, but to be those who live by the Spirit, walking in step with him.
We’re not passive in our discipleship. We actively keep in step with the Spirit. Walking where he walks, fighting sin. Disciples listen to the Spirit Jesus pours out on us and in us. Listening as he lights up Jesus for us in the words of the Bible, as we see what the holiness Jesus calls us to looks like, what sin is as Jesus defines it. We listen to him as we humbly pray and ask for him to change us because he can do what we can’t. We listen to him as he exposes sin and drives us again to Jesus to confess and repent.
Living by the Spirit liberates us to enjoy following Jesus. He makes Jesus real for us. And as we walk with the Spirit Jesus is formed in us, we become like the one we behold.
So what? Firstly we need to keep coming back to the Bible, God’s word to us, to hear Jesus, to know him, to be reminded of grace, to see sin as sin, to be reminded of our new identity, to hear his invitation to forgiveness, rest, rescue, redemption and reconciliation. To ask the Spirit, as we do, to light up Jesus for us. To make God’s word alive in us. The Spirit delights to show us Christ and to see Christ formed in those who love, worship, enjoy and obey Jesus. He loves to gives gifts to God’s church not for individual glory but so others see Christ more clearly. If we want to grow as disciples we need to give ourselves more and more to God’s word so the Spirit shows us Jesus and we spend time with him.Secondly we need to walk with the Spirit. To open our lives to him, to ask him to show us our sin, and who we are in Christ, and we need to cooperate in growing fruit and crucifying sin. To ask him to work to equip and empower us to be like Jesus as we listen and walk where he leads so that Christ is glorified in us through him.