Selected highlights from this sermon.
Christians have an inner conflict. They are fighting against the desires of the flesh which are against the desires of the Holy Spirit. So as we learn to walk in the Spirit, following the prompts given to us by God, we won't give in to the desires of the flesh.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer gives us images to cling to in order to help us keep on the right path. He also gives us this reminder: He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. All we have to do is let the Spirit have His way.
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Incredibly this is the last in a series of ten messages on the Holy Spirit, When the Spirit Has His Way – Recapturing the Wonder of God Within Us. I do hope and pray that as a result of this series of messages you have a new relationship with the Friend who lives within you if you are a believer-the blessed Holy Spirit, Jesus on the cross dying for me, Jesus sending His Spirit to live in me so that it can be said, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
I hope that you have come to a new sensitivity to the Holy Spirit as we talked about sin that grieves Him, and we talked about the relationship that we should have with Him. And for those of you who have never trusted Christ as your Savior (you are not in with Jesus) I hope that as a result of this message and others that you’ll be drawn to Him and you’ll understand what you are missing because you do not belong to Jesus. Listen to His voice and respond to it. What a delight it has been to think through the ministry of the Spirit in our lives.
Well today it’s the book of Galatians. Galatians is the book and I want you to turn to it now if you would, please, and it will be chapter 5. When Paul wrote the book of Galatians he was speaking to people who, for the most part, understood that salvation was to come through Christ alone. But the problem was they thought that the law also was important because in their mind they thought this very logically. They thought to themselves that if we teach that a person is forgiven when he receives Christ as Savior and that he belongs to God forever, people are going to go out and they are going to live like the devil, as is frequently said. And so that is going to give them license to sin, so the only alternative, they thought, is either you have the law and you impose the law with all of its restrictions on people, or you’ll have license to sin. Those are the two options.
The Apostle Paul, when he wrote this wonderful book, said that there’s a third possibility, and that is the power of the Holy Spirit of God given to believers to do something more than the law could do because the law cannot give us any strength. The law has a function. It is primarily to keep people from evil, especially when it has some penalties connected to it, but it can’t change our motivation. It cannot change the human heart. That is something that has to be done by God within us – the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul says that’s your other option. And that’s what we are going to talk about, and at the end of this message I’ll give you some practical suggestions from the Word about how to begin walking in the Spirit. I realize that many of you are already walking in the Spirit but all of us need encouragement along life’s way.
Now you’ll notice that he begins, and I will pick it up at verse 16. In verse 13 he says, “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” Don’t go there, but the answer isn’t the imposition of law and legalism. He says it is in the power of the Spirit.
So let’s consider verse 16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The first thing Paul does is to say that there is inner conflict that he’s going to describe. He says, “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.” Wow! We’ve all experienced that.
For a moment I want you to visualize that this is a boxing ring. In one corner you have the flesh, and when Paul uses that word here it is not a reference to the body. The word flesh is used in different contexts, but for our purposes we’ll simply say that the flesh refers to human desires without the restraint of the Holy Spirit. This is what it looks like. When I was in Geneva I saw the statue to Rousseau, the philosopher. If I remember correctly, his view was that society causes all the ills. Everybody should just go back to nature and their own desires. Well, this is what it would look like, as we’ll see in a moment.
And then on the other side of the ring you have the Holy Spirit, a glorious intruder who has come to live within us through faith in Jesus Christ, and so the contest begins. The Holy Spirit not only wants to subdue the flesh. As we shall see, He wants to do something more spectacular, wonderful and miraculous. He wants to actually change our desires, and go to that level of transformation so that we no longer desire the things of the flesh. And so these two are in opposition, Paul says. The desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are opposed to one another.
You know, when we back off and look at this passage, isn’t it encouraging to know that the Apostle Paul knew that there would be conflict? If you are here today and you know of the conflict–the conflict that I had this past week and you had last week-that you and I are engaged in, we want to do what is right, but the passions of the flesh are so strong that we sometimes give in to them. Paul understood that. In fact, in chapter 7 (and we won’t take time to read it) you remember he said, “The things I want to do I don’t do. The things that I don’t want to do, those are the ones that I do.” And we’ve all been there and we’ve all done that, and as long as we live the conflict will continue. It’s like one woman said to me, “I’m making progress in the Christian life but every inch is contested,” and it is, isn’t it?
There was a pastor who was baptizing a new convert, and you know how new converts sometimes are so full of joy. They have the same kind of joy that we who are older converts ought to have, and this convert, after being baptized shouted, “I am so full of joy, I will never be tempted again.” (laughter) The pastor wisely said to him, “In order for you to have that blessing I would have had to keep you under the water a little longer.” (laughter) Yes, that’s right. Someday we’ll never be tempted again, but not right now. So that’s the conflict. If you are in conflict today, you are normal. You are where all of us are. Join the club.
But now the Apostle Paul goes on to show that there are trophies if the flesh wins or if the Spirit wins. These now are the consequences of the conflict and let’s look through the text beginning in Galatians 5:19: “Now the works of the flesh are evident.” And when I read these, ask yourself if they describe the struggle that you have. This is God’s Word now. Let us be honest in God’s presence.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies,” and Paul knows that the list is incomplete, so he says, “and things like these.”
That’s it, folks. That’s going back to nature, unrestrained by God. You look at the list and the first thing you notice is it is very self-centered. You see, when Satan rebelled, a little bit of his rebellion-his poison-fell on every human heart, and you and I are born self-centered. And if we follow that way, this is what it looks like: very self-centered. Maybe that’s why sexual sin is first in the list, because perhaps nowhere else, as in other sins, does sexual sin represent the exploitation of other people for my self-gratification, even if it happens to be mutually agreed self-gratification outside of the bounds of God’s Word.
So there it is. Paul says the flesh left to itself-sexuality immorality-those are the sensual sins. Then, as someone pointed out, there are also what we could call superstitious sins. You’ll notice the Apostle Paul refers to idolatry and then he says sorcery. Very interestingly you know, the Greek word sorcery is actually pharmakeia. What does that sound like? It sounds like pharmacy, and that is where we get the word pharmacy, and originally, according to my trusty English/Greek Testament and Dictionary, it really referred to drugs. People went into sorcery and into the occult, and even back then drugs were used to induce trances and what you have to get in touch with the spirit world. So even back there this was a part of their culture, and the Apostle Paul says sorcery, which includes all kinds of witchcraft and the occult as such. But it also is a work of the flesh.
And then you have social sins after that, and here we have them: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions (things like these) and drunkenness. What a description of some homes, of some lives and of some workplaces. All of that is the flesh unrestrained. You’ll notice that it is selfish. It is all condemned by God, by the way.
You know, I can imagine somebody saying, “Well, okay, I get fits of temper but I would never be drunk,” or “I cause dissension but I would never commit immorality.” It doesn’t matter. The full tree is cursed. The Apostle Paul says, “In me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing.” There is nothing in this that is redeemable by God. He can’t use it as it is because it is cursed. Wow!
Now you’ll notice what the Apostle Paul says, and please take this to heart. I’m in the middle of verse 21. “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” They will not inherit the kingdom of God for the simple reason that they don’t belong to Jesus Christ. They belong to themselves. They are doing it their way, following the passions of the flesh without the restraint, the control or the transformation of the Holy Spirit. And it is an ugly scene.
Well, that’s one consequence, but thankfully it doesn’t stop there. You have an entirely different consequence when the Spirit has His way, and we all desire that, don’t we, letting the Spirit of God have His way? Notice the stark contrast. Verse 22 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And there’s no law that prohibits those kinds of things,” needless to say. They are generated by God.
Do you realize that when you get saved God does a great miracle? He creates something within us that was not there before, and that is the new nature. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation.” And He makes a place in our lives where the Holy Spirit of God, whom we love and whose companionship we crave, can dwell there within us. And He births within us things that are supernatural, things that are totally contrary to the flesh, things that we do not have in ourselves. The Spirit creates them within us.
The first thing I notice about this list is you’ll notice it talked about the works of the flesh which can be manufactured, but then it talks about the fruit (singular) of the Spirit. It’s one fruit but it comes in clusters. You can’t say, “Well, you know, I have a lot of patience but I don’t have any love,” or “I am a faithful person and gentle but I have no joy; I have no peace.” All of these are reproducing-that’s what the Spirit wants to do–the qualities of Jesus in us.
You know, a man once asked a sculptor, “How do you make an elephant?” The sculptor said, “Actually it’s very easy. You just take a block of marble and you chip away everything that isn’t elephant, and pretty soon you have an elephant.” The Holy Spirit lives within us to chip away everything that isn’t Jesus, and it hurts. It really does.
Now, you’ll notice that it is the fruit of the Spirit, generated by the Spirit, and not only that but fruit grows. Works are manufactured. Fruit grows, and it expresses the inner nature. I’ll never forget the first time I was in Florida, and I actually saw oranges grow on trees. Now even though I was brought up in the cold snows of Canada I knew that oranges grew on trees, but I’d never seen it, and I was so impressed. Even though that was about 45 years ago it’s in my mind as if it was today–driving along and seeing orange trees with oranges. And I made the conclusion that if there are oranges these were probably orange trees. (laughter) I’m into it. I can connect the dots, folks. (laughter)
You know, Jesus spoke about this in John 15, didn’t He? He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, brings forth fruit,” and then he said, “Somebody who doesn’t bring forth fruit my Father takes away, but those who do, He prunes the vines to bear more fruit.”
When I studied in Israel in 1968 I actually saw some pruning going on in the vineyards there, and it looked awful. What you had was a sharp knife that was cutting these vines back, and it almost seemed as if the vines were bleeding as they were calling out for help. But it was done purposefully. There was not a single stroke that was unnecessary. Why? It was so that they might bear more fruit. And that’s what God has to do with us, folks.
You know, just this past week (actually it was yesterday) I read the story of a young woman who was sexually abused (a terrible story). It was the story of how she came through that, and experienced peace and forgiveness, but was it easy? No, it is very, very hard, but the Holy Spirit of God is there to help us. And I have to tell you that I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but His primary knife is suffering. It can be physical suffering. This morning we as elders prayed for a woman who is a very great, saintly woman in this church, going through a tremendous amount of physical pain. Sometimes it’s that, and then sometimes it’s other people that God brings into our life.
The fruit of the Spirit! God prunes us back. Why? To finally humble us, to finally wean us from sin and all those secret agreements that we have made with the flesh, and to get rid of those so that we might be broken and humbled. And then there’s love, joy, peace. Wow!
Now if the works of the flesh represent selfishness, think of how the fruit of the Spirit represents selflessness. Let me ask you something. I do it with a smile on my face. Maybe there will be a smile on yours as well. How would you like to be married to somebody who exhibits love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness and patience? I think that would be pretty easy, wouldn’t it? That’s what God is after.
Have you ever seen a waiter carry a tray, and on the tray there are several dishes? They carry it even above their heads in some places. You have no idea what’s in those bowls as they walk by until somebody trips a waiter, and then it’s very evident what’s in the bowls. It all comes out.
When somebody trips us, when somebody does us a bad turn, what should come out at that moment is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That is the fruit of the Spirit, and that can’t be produced by law. If you were in a very, very legalistic situation where you have believed that Christianity is keeping a certain number of laws and not doing certain things that may be good not to do, you’ve missed it.
I remember somebody sarcastically saying about someone who was being interviewed about the possibility of a Christian position, “He’s a good businessman, he’s a good administrator and he can carry a vision. All that he lacks is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and meekness.” May that never be said of us.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, that’s fine but how does this transformation happen?” I’m very interested in helping you by the Spirit and the Word in that. But first of all I want to share with you, I think, one of the most important misconceptions that the average Christian has. The average Christian says to himself, “You know, I can’t be filled with the Spirit. I can’t walk in the Spirit. I’m so defeated. I’m so broken down. Life is so hard. If I could be a pastor or a missionary or a seminary president (I throw that in because apparently we have some here today that fit into that category), maybe then I would be able to attain to walking in the Spirit. What a marvelous gift that would be.”
These dear people, God bless them, have it all backwards. Notice that the Apostle Paul didn’t say, “Now stop walking in the flesh, and then you will finally be worthy to walk in the Spirit.” That is not what he says. He says the opposite. He says, “Walk in the Spirit. Is the flesh getting you down?” He says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you’ll not fulfill the desires of the flesh.”
Let me say it to you with clarity: The Holy Spirit was not given to us because we have it all together. The Holy Spirit was given to us to enable us to get it altogether, so I speak to the most defeated Christian today. I speak even to those of you who struggle with addictions. I speak to those of you who this past week failed and your conscience troubles you. I’m speaking to you today. What you and I need to do is to learn to walk in the Spirit. The Spirit is given to bring about the transformation. He is the Paraclete, as we have learned. He is the helper to bring it all about. But how?
Now as I was thinking about this yesterday and this morning, it dawned on me that maybe one of the best ways to explain it all is to give you three images, and I want you to wake up tomorrow morning with those images in your mind. Three images grow out of this passage of Scripture to help us along life’s journey, learning to walk in the Spirit.
The first image is that of the cross. You’ll notice that the Apostle Paul says in verse 24, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
I remember a young man reading that and saying, “This can’t be true,” because remember a Christian can commit any one of the works of the flesh but he will do so against the leadership, the guidance and the nudging of the Spirit. Those who will not enter into the kingdom of God are the ones who do this and their conscience doesn’t even bother them because they have no resistance. But as Christians we struggle, and what does it mean that those who belong to Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires when it so manifestly appears to be untrue?
You know, if Paul meant that this was the end of our battle with the flesh, why did he say earlier on in this passage that we have a struggle? The Spirit and the flesh are duking it out within us. Why did he say that? It’s clearly not what he meant, but let’s talk about the cross for a moment.
First of all, when we think of the cross we should remember that Jesus died there for sinners and provided a sacrifice for us. Those of you who know Christ as Savior will be thankful for that, but it’s not just that Jesus died for us, and that’s the end of it. We have to keep going back to the cross for forgiveness. Those of you whose conscience troubles you today because of unconquered sin, you need to go to the cross to receive cleansing and forgiveness, and then ask God the question, “What do I need to do to make everything right regarding those whom I have hurt?” so that your conscience is without offense before God and man. We always need to go back, and we have to understand that each day we begin at the cross, affirming the fact that Jesus is our righteousness. When you sense sin in your life, you flee to Christ and the cross. And those of you who have never trusted Christ as your Savior, that’s the message that you need today–to believe on Him that you might be saved.
It’s all at the cross, but follow carefully. What Paul is saying is not merely that Jesus died for me, great though that is. What Paul is saying is, “I also died with Christ.” God so put me into Jesus that when He was crucified there, I was crucified, and Paul is referring to this here. And Paul doesn’t mean that that’s the end of our struggles. By no means! What Paul is referring to is the fact that our obligation to sin is now officially ended because we died to the old life. However much we may still struggle with it, our obligation to obey the flesh is no longer there. We belong to Jesus. Now our old landlord might continue to insist that we make payments, to be sure, but actually we can tell him to be gone because we belong to the King of kings, the Lord of lords and the God of all gods. (applause)
What I want you to see today is that you don’t have to crucify yourself. Paul doesn’t say, “Now you go ahead and crucify yourself.” There’s a sense in which we cooperate in it, but notice! I want you to see it today as something that God has done already for you. There is more provision in the cross than you and I have ever experienced. It is all there for us. Image number one: the cross.
Image number two: a road. You say, “Well, where is that in the text?” You’ll notice that Paul says (we read it), “Walk in the Spirit.” He picks up the same imagery again. He says in verse 25, “If we live by the Spirit let us walk in the Spirit,” so now I am talking about walking. Walking is an image that even goes way back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day. What a marvelous privilege to walk, but walking indicates progress. It indicates a goal. The Scripture asks the question, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” And the answer is no.
I walk because I am submissive to God. I walk in faith. To me this is critical. The Apostle Paul said elsewhere, “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord.” How did you receive Him? By faith! We sometimes tell people it isn’t a matter of feeling. You receive it by faith. And how do you walk in the Spirit? You walk by faith.
So when I get up in the morning and my soul isn’t necessarily all hot for God, I can say, “Today I choose to walk in the Spirit. Today I choose to submit to the Spirit, and today I am going to trust the Spirit to lead me.” It is an act of submission and faith.
I hope that you learn to walk with the Spirit as you and I should have the privilege of walking with God, in complete agreement with God. You see, when we are out of agreement with the Holy Spirit, He points out sin that we don’t want to deal with. When we have that kind of disagreement, then we sense we’re not walking “in the Spirit.” So it is a matter of faith. You think of the cross where we are forgiven, where the transaction has been made, and then you think of a road that you are walking along, and rejoicing in the fact that you can actually walk with God.
Now there’s a third image, and the third image is a garden. You say, “Well, where is that in the Bible?” Well, it’s in Galatians 6 actually. It’s in a different context, but Paul is talking about something that is very important. In Galatians 6:7 he picks up the theme of the flesh and the spirit there. “Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh (There it is.) will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit, will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
Let me tell you that the desire that you give into most often is the desire that will become the strongest of the desires. That’s what addiction is. Addiction is giving myself over to the sin and then being involved in what someone has called the blinding absorption of sin. What an incredible description!
So if you feed the flesh - if you sow to the flesh and if you feed it, it’s going to grow stronger and stronger and stronger. But if you sow to the Spirit the flesh will become weaker, and the work of the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit will grow stronger and stronger, but it’s a matter of sowing. A person once said, “You know, I have two dogs within me. I have a good dog and a bad dog.” And somebody said, “Which one wins?” and he said, “The one that I feed.” How right he was. You see, we sow to the Spirit by reading the Word of God, by connecting with a TMC community here at the church, and becoming a part of it, becoming a part of prayer groups, the fellowship, the willingness to expend ourselves with other believers, the willingness to learn. In all these ways we begin to sow to the Spirit rather than sow to the flesh, because if we sow to the flesh we shall reap corruption.
The Christian life, in terms of the transformation that we’ve talked about, is actually quite gradual, I have to say. It is fruit that is growing, and God enables us to do that, but we have a responsibility of sowing in the right place and sowing in the Spirit.
Now here’s what I want you to do. You already know that when I wake up every morning, as I did this morning just a few minutes before 5 o’clock, I pray and I say, “Oh God, today glorify yourself in my life at my expense.” I pray that every morning. I hope that you do too. But another prayer to pray is, “Today I choose to walk in the Spirit, and I choose to sow to the Spirit, and not the flesh.” Make that choice early on, and the Spirit will help you as you go through the day.
I want to remind you of the fact that the two contestants are not evenly matched. The Holy Spirit has an infinite amount of power as opposed to the desires of the flesh. The Bible says that He who is within us is greater than he who is in the world. Even Satan ultimately, who inspires the flesh and strengthens it, must bow to Jesus Christ, King of kings, Lord of lords, God of all gods. (applause) He is the Lord and He is king.
Finally, let me ask you a question: Have you really been planted by God? Have you been converted? Or could it be that you’re faking fruit and you are not the real deal? I love to tell the story that when Rebecca was in Germany one time and I was at home she called me. And she said, “Did you water all of my plants?” I said, “Yep.” She said, “Did you water the flowers in the den?” I said, “Yes, I watered all three of them.” “Three of them?” she said. “There are only two.” I said, “No, I’m sorry, there are three.” “Did you water the one on top of the credenza?” “Absolutely.” She said, “Those are artificial flowers.” (laughter) They looked like the real deal to me. The problem was that no matter how long we had them they didn’t grow.
This passage, like so many others, makes a distinction between those who love the Spirit and attempt to walk in the Spirit, despite all of the setbacks, and those who walk in the flesh. Two different roads, two different lifestyles, two different eternal destinies! Check your heart to see if you are the real deal, and if you will, let us pray.
In a moment of quietness before I pray, I want you to pray. What has God said to you today, as you think about walking in the Spirit? Where are you on your spiritual journey? Wherever you are, would you call up to Christ? Those of you who have never trusted Him as Savior, you may believe on Him right now and be saved. Those of you who know Him, you’ve got issues, but the Spirit is there to help you if you call on Him and depend upon Him.
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that You will take these words from Your Word and make them transforming. May we leave here remembering the cross, remembering the road and remembering the garden that we might grow, and that we might walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the desires of the flesh. Do whatever You desire in us. We expect great things. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
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