Sunday, February 4, 2024

How to Live by the Spirit's Leading: The Spirit vs. the Flesh in Galatians 5-6

I recall an episode of Star Trek Voyager that always hit me very hard. It was called Timeless. The Voyager was a spaceship that had ended up far, far from home, and it was slowly making it’s way back through unknown territory.

It reminds me of us, as Christians, lost in the wilds of this fallen Earth, but also now on a journey, through dangerous territory, back home to God.

Voyager travels through many difficulties and dark places, and enemies, but, they are always kept safe. They make wise choices. They avoid dangerous areas. They refuel and resupply from time to time.

But in the episode Timeless, we see a worst case scenario, in which Voyager was destroyed, and plunged into an icy grave, because of some bad choices that were made.

In any case throughout the episode, two of the crew find a way to change history, so that they can change the bad decision they made.

One of the crew named Harry, actually sacrifices his life, to correct the mistake, and make things ok again.

We as Christians also face decisions that can either keep us on the right path, or begin to lead us astray.

The Bible talks about our faith journey as like we’re sailing on a ship. And yet Paul also writes of those who have “Shipwrecked faith” because they got off course.

I’ve seen decisions in front of me as a Christian, a temptation, an old friend who wants to hang out, a drink or drug in front of me, and I can see where it leads, an icy grave.

But I’ve avoided those pathways, and followed the paths of life. We too must learn to follow the pathway of life. The great thing is, God helps us every step of the way. He protect us. And guides us. And he helps us to make the right choices, to steer our ship toward heaven.

But I want you to remember this as well: Even if you tumble off the path and into the clutches of sin and death, God has provided pathways even in those dark places to change history, like history was changed in our example today.

Galatians 5:13-25 "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other."

You have been called to freedom, is one of the key teachings that Paul lays out to the Galatian church. Certain people in this church were saying that they needed to go back to the Old Testament law in order to follow God rightly.

Instead Paul gives them different instructions, he says, actually you’re free in Christ. You don’t need to follow the old testament law. But do consider yourself obligated to love your neighbor as yourself.

So we see our structure begins to be built. Two towers, one is the Spirit and one is the flesh. The Spirit’s leading in your life is marked by freedom, a call to humble service, and a general command to love your neighbor.

However, in the flesh, there is slavery to sin, not freedom. That slavery leads to indulgence of evil desires, and that leads to conflict among believers.

Next in verses 16-18, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

All this leads us to the key command for our scripture today: Walk by the Spirit. Or be led by the Holy Spirit.

If you do allow the Holy Spirit to lead your life, then you naturally won’t want to gratify the desires of the flesh.

But, if you allow the flesh to lead your life, then you will naturally begin to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Next we get a list of fifteen ways in which believers can end up walking by the flesh.

In verses 19-21, “The acts of the flesh 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.”

Gratifying the desires of the flesh, lead to the acts of the flesh, which are listed by Paul here. You can see how a lot of these acts of the flesh are connected, one leads to the next, sexuality immorality leads to impurity, hatred leads to discord, jealousy leads to fits of rage, selfish ambition leads to factions and envy, sexual immorality leads to drunkenness leads to orgies and the like.

Sins of the flesh build and begin to gain steam as a snow ball rolling down a hill. But, one can always stop the process, by seeking God’s help, praying, asking forgiveness, and turning from the sins of the flesh toward the Spirit’s leading once again.

The sins of the flesh are the fruit of the indulgence of the flesh. Our choices bear fruit in one direction or the other.

Next Paul lists off different fruits, fruits of being led by the Spirit.

Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (22-24).

If we consistently allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, we will begin to grow fruit in our lives that expresses itself as love. That love leads to joy. Kindness leads to gentleness. Forbearance leads to faithfulness, which leads to self control. All these characteristics of the Spirit that God produces in us are connected. They build on each other.

Paul adds, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” -Gal 5:25-26

There’s a sense given of keeping in step with the Spirit. Listening for the Spirit’s leading. Following the promptings of the Holy Spirit within. It’s an art form of sorts. We learn to listen to God’s leading. And we stay in step with the Spirit.

We also guard against conceitedness, that’s pride, ego. As we grow in the Spirit and produce the fruit of the Spirit, we may be tempted to become prideful and think wow look at how good I’m doing. But guard against pride, stay humble, and don’t envy each other.

Paul continues, in Galatians 6:1-6, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.”

There is a lot here, but I want to focus on one key here, If someone is caught in a sin, help restore that person gently.

Many Christians from time to time can slip into the wrong category here, into the flesh and begin to be deceived and caught in the cycle of sin. But a believer can help restore that person. And bring them back into alignment with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Calling out their sin gently, encouraging them to repent, praying with them, and bringing to church, or bible study, can all be helpful steps in that process.

Pretty soon that person that was lost in the cesspool of sin finds themselves in the Spirit once again, and back in freedom.

But we also get a warning, be cautious because you can tempted by the sin they are active in.

So conversely, someone walking in the Spirit, if they go into a situation where there is a lot of tempting sin going on around them, can be tempted back over into the sins of the flesh. And they end up back in the flesh and caught up in slavery again.

There have been times that I was attempting to help someone escape sin, to break free from lust, or drinking, or hatred, but I began to sense myself feeling the temptation toward what they were doing. And I had to keep my guard up, and leave that situation before the temptation grew too strong. Again, don’t become prideful. Don’t assume that you could never fall to a sin. Temptation still has an effect on us. Don’t be brash, leave the situation before you’re overly tempted! That’s wisdom.

Think of it like that classic board game shoots and ladders. Following the Holy Spirit is like slowly climbing the ladder, one foot in front of the other, led by the Spirit we take our journey up in the goodness of Christ.

The shoots are quick, we feel tempted, allow a sin in our lives, and quickly that sin begins to take over and we slide down very quickly, like down a shoot, and out into the bottom. But we can always ask God’s forgiveness and come to the ladder once again. The stairway to heaven is transposed with the backslider slipping back down into the pit of sin.

Next it says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (7-8)

Paul gives this stark reminder, a man will reap what he sows.

So all this has to do with sowing. What is sowing? Sowing is planting seeds. If we are sowing toward the Spirit, planting seeds with actions and words in the Spirit, we will be reaping eternal life.

If we are consistently sowing to the flesh, we will in the end reap destruction.

The fruits of the Spirit well up like a building fountain, bubbling up to eternal life.

The fruits of the flesh they well up like a bubbling fountain of filth, bubbling up to judgment and destruction.

But understand, if someone is sowing to the flesh, they can always repent, ask God’s forgiveness and they will be completely forgiven, and none of those sins will be counted against them.

But also understand, if someone is sowing to the Spirit, but they fall back into sin, and those sins continue to build and build, and they refuse to listen to the Spirit calling them toward repentance, they can, at the end of their lives, having stubbornly refused the Spirit’s calling to repentance, reap eternal destruction.

Here’s an interesting question, what if I’m doing both? I’m sowing to the Spirit and I’m sowing to the fleshly sins. In that case, I have to believe that one will crowd the other out. You’ll begin to be in conflict within yourself. The Spirit will be saying to you, clear out those sins. The flesh will be saying, stop listening to the Spirit. And you’ll begin to obey one of those voices, either you’ll begin to put the fleshly sins to death, or you’ll begin to ignore the voice of the Spirit. It will pull in one direction or the other.

Does this mean we’re adding works to our salvation? Not at all. We are saved because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our only part is to live in response to that by putting to death the flesh and living by the Spirit. It’s simply showing the genuineness of our faith in Christ, or it’s showing we don’t really have a faith in Christ, or our faith in Christ has been shipwrecked due to unbelief/willful sin.

We’re not adding anything to our salvation. We already wear the robe of righteousness. We’re simply doing two things, living out the lifestyle of those who wear the robe of righteousness, which is loving our neighbor. And we’re keeping our garment clean and tidy, unstained by the muck of the sins of the world. We’ve added no new garment to the robe, indeed we cannot. Christ is all. His righteousness is enough for perfect purity.

If a police officer wears a police uniform he does things that police officers do in a police uniform. An officer in uniform not doing police things would not be right. He would eventually have it taken away because he was not using it correctly. Similarly he’s expected to keep the uniform clean and to wear it with honor. If he does not, again, he may lose it. He cannot make his own uniform, that would not be an authentic uniform. Similarly, we wear what we’re given, and we steward the robe of righteousness of Christ, by living out the actions assigned to us in it, and by not allowing ourselves to be stained or dirtied by the wickedness of the world.

Lastly Paul tells us this in 9-10, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” -Galatians 6:9-10

God knows that we will at times start to feel weary in doing good. We keep living clean, living holy lives, resisting the flesh, doing good deeds in the name of Jesus, but it can be tiring, and we see people living in sin and we start to think, well I want to indulge too.

God reminds us, don’t become weary in doing good, because this consistent cycle you’re living in, of doing good, living in Christ, following the leading of the Spirit means that you’re en route, on a journey, to reap a harvest of eternal life.

If, it says, if we don’t give up.

Notice also in the flesh column, there is a cycle there as well, a cycle of harvest, practicing fleshly indulgence leads to a different kind of harvest, a harvest of destruction.

You know in that episode of Star Trek Voyager Harry Kim was tempted because he wanted to find a faster way home. He became prideful in his own abilities, thinking he could do the impossible. And that led to destruction for the spaceship. The ship was blown off course and crash landed on an ice planet.

Certain choices we make are routine. Certain choices we make are minor. Certain choices we make are big. They have the capacity to either lead us much closer to God or way off course.

The Holy Spirit will help you to recognize those key moments and to choose life. But guard against pride. Pride says I can do it my own way. Pride says I don’t need to listen to the Spirit, I know better. Guard against pride. Stay humble in this process of sowing to the Spirit. And stay patient. Keep sowing. Don’t give up. And you’ll reap a harvest if you don’t quit. And all that is sealed off in loving our neighbor, so much of this played out by thinking of others before ourselves.

The flesh is selfishness incarnate. The Spirit is thinking of others before ourselves. That’s not natural for us. But the Spirit helps us in our weakness. And we’re able to do good to all and especially to believers.

To Review:

1. God gives freedom to humbly love & serve our neighbors

2. Be led by the Spirit, not the fleshly desires

3. Indulgence in the flesh lead to the acts of the flesh

4. Walking in the Spirit leads to the fruits of the Spirit

5. One caught in the flesh can be restored to the Spirit

6. One in the Spirit can be tempted into the flesh

7. Our Actions repeatedly sow either to flesh or Spirit

8. The process of sowing to the flesh leads to destruction

9. The process of sowing to the Spirit leads to eternal life

10. If you become weary in doing good, remind yourself of the glorious harvest of eternal life

Every single person born is born into the flesh. They seemed destined for destruction. It almost seems inevitable. But God changes history time and again. He changed my story. I was meant for destruction I could taste it. I was locked into that pathway. But I cried out to Jesus Christ, and suddenly time, space, reality, everything changed in a moment, I went from filthy rags, to purest garments. All it takes is calling out Jesus Christ. Even if we’ve fallen from grace, we can come again to Him, and find repentance and renewed purity. It’s a history changing miracle. It changes our future forever.