As we have been studying this book together the underlining theme and the truth of this letter is that Jesus is the primary person behind our justification and the Holy Spirit is the primary Person behind our sanctification. As John MacArthur said in his commentary “A believer can no more sanctify himself than he could have saved himself in the first place. He cannot live his Christian life by his own resources any more than he could have saved himself by his own resources.” What is John MacArthur trying to say? The simplest answer is that the Christian life is a life lived under the direction by the power of the Holy Spirit. Your life is and must be governed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Your life must constantly need to live by the power of the Spirit. Why? For this reason we need to submit to the Spirit. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Rom 8:8-17
Ray Pritchard said “To many Christians, the Holy Spirit is a mystery. He is the “hidden” member of the Trinity. The Father we know; the Son we know; but what about the Holy Spirit? Few believers understand Who He is, why He came, or what He does in the world today.”
And this is a major problem in the church today. Some weld the Spirit as some kind of essence you spray on yourself or some kind of force as if your Luke Skywalker picking up his X Wing Fighter in the swamp with Yoda. The last time I checked, I tried to raise my SUV to fly over the traffic on the 401 during rush hour on our holidays and I couldn’t do it. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, is all glorious, life giving and sustaining in the believers life founded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We tend to forget or ignore the infinite sovereign power of the Holy Spirit. We forget!
The Holy Spirit brings conviction to the sinner. (John 14:8; Acts 2:37-38)
The Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner. (Titus 3:5; 1 Cor 6:11)
The Holy Spirit resides in the believer permanently. (John 14:16-18; Rom 8:9-16)
The Holy Spirit baptizes and seals the believer at the moment of conversion. (Rom 6:1-4; Eph 1:13; 4:30)
The Holy Spirit fills the believer to live for the glory of Christ. (Eph 5:19; Gal 5:22-23)
The Spirit gives us the ability to not fulfill the desires of the flesh.
But the problem is…. our flesh tends to fight the Spirit and it’s a battle we face daily, some more than others. So, here is the battle we all face every day until Christ calls us home. The battle of the flesh (your stubborn self-righteous wants and desires versus the Holy Spirit the giver of grace and truth to keep us from our flesh. (v17-v21). This is quite a list isn’t it? And this list pertains to us…you and me! The church…..Paul not talking to the unconverted man or woman. So please don’t ignore or flip pass this portion as if you have it all figured out and this portion doesn’t apply to you at all. Because it does, and this is the battle we face as we declare war on our flesh through the Spirit that sanctifies. This list of FLESHLY SINS seems to fall into 4 groups.
The breakdown of the home and society in general: Sexual Immorality, fornication, impurity, sensuality.
It’s interesting that Paul notes sexual sin first and this isn’t the first time he starts the list off this way. Eph 5:1-3 “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;. 1 Cor 6:9-10 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. Col 3:5 “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Sexual immorality and fornication- all illicit sexual activity, including adultery, premarital relations, homosexuality, incest, and prostitution. Even the common practice of living together without being married. Impurity – originally meant the state of being dirty referring to someone who is either morally or ceremonially unclean. This is person who is open and reckless of moral purity; basically anything that prevents you from approaching God. Sensuality or Lasciviousness - any excessive behavior or lack of restraint (especially sexual excess and indulgence) its unbridled lusts of the heart. From filthy words to indecent bodily movements of both male and female, such as seductive dancing or drawing attention to body.
Unlawful things in the spiritual realm: Idolatry, sorcery.
Idolatry - Worshipping anyone or anything other than the one true God. It’s anything that comes between man and God. It’s the sin of worshipping man-made images as a god. Or better yet it’s anything that occupies the place in the heart of man that God should occupy. Witchcraft - the original Greek word used here is “pharmakeia”, from which the English word “pharmacy” comes from, this word originally referred to medicines in general, but in this context it refers to mood and mind-altering drugs, as well as the occult, witchcraft, and magic. Many pagan religious practices required the use of drugs to aid in the communication with deities. This is very dangerous for the soul by the way! Necromancy which the act of consulting with the dead for the purpose of receiving information through a Medium or Sorcerer. Astrology the pseudo-science which treats of the influence of the stars upon human affairs. This is where people make individual decisions, plans, future and fortunes by charting the stars and planets. Mind-reading is the effort to tap some power or spirit so as to discover hidden knowledge, especially to be able to foretell the future or to obtain some special information. Observing times, or interpreting omens, signs and chance events belong under mind-reading.
Methods of disharmony and breakdown: enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.
Hatred or enmities - hostility and bitter conflicts. A wrong attitude habitually brings wrong actions. It is at the root of every conflict. Strife - quarreling and hostile debate, to have a contentious temper. (Rom 1:28). Jealousy – Wanting something that someone else has. This usual leads to other sins like bitterness and violence. Those who are jealous display a lack of gratitude to God for His providence and lack of love for others. Fits of anger or Wrath - outbursts of anger or fits. This refers to the eruption of the person with an uncontrolled temper. And we should never excuse this sin by making it a personal trait or a cultural trait….it’s the works of the flesh! Strife or selfish ambitions- contention and conflict. Having impure motives and not sincere at all, but like to quarrel with others. Dissensions – denotes a state of affairs in which men are divided and feuds flourish in the church. And we need to be extremely careful as Gal 5:15 says you don’t “bite and devour one another” Divisions or factions- this is closely related to the previous term and in some instances stands for false teaching. Here Paul emphasizes those who are causing division where there should be no division with false teaching. Self-willed opinions substituted for truth. Envying – this is very similar with jealously. The envious person is not happy with God’s gifts and cannot stand it when others succeed.
Wild unrestrained overindulgences: drunkenness, orgies and things like this.
Drunkenness 0r indulgences - literally means intoxication which usually ends in a rowdy or crude behavior. This demonstrates a life dominated by the flesh not the Spirit. Orgies – though we can take this in a universal sense when those cannot control their own appetites; it’s more than likely a special reference to the orgies that so often characterized the pagan worship ceremonies that many of the Gentile converts of Galatia had once participates in. And things like these – indicates that Paul’s list of deeds of the flesh represented is not an exhaustive list but a starting point to the immorality of the flesh, and the soul crushing destruction it brings. The ugliness of the flesh and the destruction it brings to you and me if we habitual practice such things.
“Those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (v21) The key word is “practice” present action or the ongoing action. It is the continual habitual practice of these things that mark the unregenerate man or woman. The end result is devastating! They will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do you recognize what kind of war you are in? You face Satan’s temptations and the flesh’s temptations. We are never to let our guards down for millisecond or have a Christian life that’s complacent or ignorant to the things around us and before us. Why as Paul says “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (v17). We all face the world’s temptations and sometimes those temptations feel good for a season but in the end it only leads to a path of great heartache and pain to the soul (a calloused heart, unrepented heart and damnation).
Heb 11: 25 tells us that there is "pleasure in sin for a season" The truth is that this pleasure never lasts and there is no joy, contentment or lasting fulfillment in a lifestyle of sin. And a life lived in the flesh leads to destruction. So what is Paul waring us about? If you are living your life according to you, then it’s of the flesh. If your life is controlled by your old human nature that is what it will produce. Meaning, if your desire, longing, or craving for something that is forbidden and if you yield to it you will produce a lifestyle and behaviors that are not pleasing to God. It is that element of man’s nature that has been corrupted at its source. (The Fall). The flesh refuses to acknowledge God and leads to doing evil instead of good. It is our fallen human nature, which was inherited from our fallen parents, which is self-centered and prone to sin. This body of sinful impulses seeks to governor our mind and will, and when it does it produces its own behaviors called “works of the flesh.” When this nature is left unchecked, it produces the “works of the flesh.” And Paul gave us clear warning to this destructive behavior. So in a nut shell! Paul is telling us that the Christian life is a war. For us to ever conqueror the flesh, we (you) must see the seriousness of this battle and resolve to walk in the Spirit. Notice what Paul says at the end of (v21) “I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God”
The problem is not simply “out there” meaning the world; the problem is “in here” meaning the flesh. But this also doesn’t mean we hidden in the cleft of the rock and wait it out or hid in a cave until Christ calls us home. "The church father Jerome described how removing oneself from the culture does not remove temptation from one’s heart: Oh, how often I imagined that I was in the midst of the pleasures of Rome when I was stationed in the desert, in that solitary wasteland which is so burned up by the heat of the sun that it provides a dreadful habitation for the monks! I, who because of the fear of hell had condemned myself to such a hell and who had nothing but scorpions and wild animals for company, often thought I was dancing with a chorus of girls. My face was pale from fasting, but my mind burned with passionate desires within my freezing body, and the fires of sex seethed."
Jerome was in the desert alone and his fleshly desires still churned within his heart. What does that say to you and me then? “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Cor 10:12. We cannot escape this battle completely until the one who justified us Jesus Christ our Lord, calls us home. See we need to understand we are not alone in this battle….the Third Person of the Trinity resides in the true believer to guide and restraint our fleshly desires. God does this by changing us from the inside out through the Holy Spirit. What’s required of you and me is that we submit daily to Him, so that we do not gratify the desires of the flesh. How do we fight the battle or the war of the flesh? “walk by the Spirit”
“walk by the Spirit” indicates the need to yield to the Spirit every day, at work, at the playground, in the home, at school/University…..Basically everywhere! It’s a habitual way of life for the Christian! This is not an opinion but a command that Paul is giving us and the Galatian believers. The word “walk” means to walk around after someone or to walk in a particular direction. To walk by the Spirit means to depend on Him consciously for everything we do. We depend on Him to resist temptation. We ask Him for insight into His Word. We rely on Him for the right attitude in the midst of our trials. We seek Him for wisdom in difficult decisions.
We as God’s children don’t just walk aimlessly in this world not knowing where we are going! God has promised us Heaven, and that is our persevering joy and aim every minute by minute and day by day. “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” Phil 3:17-21. Walking is a progression…. going from one place to another and it requires perseverance and submission to God and His sovereign authority over your life through the Holy Spirit. As Paul said “how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:20-24
If we walk with this in mind as Paul said…..submitting to the Spirits leading, then you will not gratify the flesh. (v16) “Gratify” to carry out or fulfill those fleshly desires. It’s not rocket science…. this is the simple truth for simple people like me! But understand! Conquering the flesh does not merely come from theological knowledge. For example: A professor of theology can be addicted to pornography or fly off the handle in rage just like a younger believer with little theological knowledge. Growth does not happen because of your ability. It comes by yielding to the Sprit by walking in the Spirit. Chuck Swindoll explains that "we must “be filled with the Spirit” before we can “walk by the Spirit.” A Spirit-controlled Christian is comparable to an airplane on the runway that is pilot-controlled, empowered, and ready for takeoff. The airplane taking off and flying under the pilot’s control depicts a Christian functioning under the Spirit’s control or walking by the Spirit. We must listen to the Spirits Word, discern His will, and follow His guidance. This is not a deeper life or higher life; this is the normal Christian life. So (submit) walk in the Spirit and flee from your selfish desires of the flesh which is your old nature, your fallen nature. As Charles Spurgeon said “Walk under the Spirit’s power, following His guidance. The Spirit never leads a man into sin. He never conducts him into self-indulgence and excess. Be obedient to that great principle of the Spirit that goes with the doctrine of grace and salvation by faith, and then you will not be obedient to that lusting of the flesh that is in you by nature.”