The human problem is not that we do not know good, or that we are incapable of even desiring it. Our problem is that we cannot obtain it because we are mastered by our flesh instead of being lead by the Holy Spirit.
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. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 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 walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Good evening. If you don’t have a Bible, feel free to get one. It’s on the end of your row. You can flip to the book of Galatians in the New Testament. We’re on chapter five. Heading through Galatians, we’ll do Ephesians after this, and do Psalms after that. And I’ll preface today, I think this is the toughest section in all of Galatians. I think it’s the heart of Paul’s argument. I think it’s the center of the problem in the church and the conflict that’s ensued around it. And I think that – that this morning at the 9:00 a.m. I kind of butchered it. At the 11:00 a.m. it was okay. We’ll see how – how it goes for you. But – but if you would, just start with me. We’ll start in verse 16 and go through 26, and we’ll see – we’ll see what God has for us here.
Paul says, “So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with one another so that you do – not do what you want. But, if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” This is not an exhaustive list. We can sin in other ways; and we do. “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Christians don’t behave that way. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such a thing there is no law.” We never forbid those things.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. And let us not become conceited, provoking, and envying each other.” Here’s where Paul’s going. We have a propensity in our lives to look at the affects of what we are doing, to look at how we are conducting ourselves in relation to God and in relation to each other, and the opportunities that God has availed to us. And what Paul is trying to do is get us beyond effects and down to the issue of causes. Why is it that some people behave one way and others another? Why is it that some people’s life looks like it honors God, and for others theirs does not? Gets down to this issue of cause. And it is not between morality and immorality, or being ethical or unethical, or law abiding or law breaking. It comes down to this conflict, this – this ongoing division between the flesh and the spirit.
The translation that we work out of here, the New International Version, translates this issue as “The sinful nature.” I don’t like that. I don’t think it’s accurate to the Greek text. I think the real issue here is flesh. When – when you become a Christian – if you’re a Christian, you do not have a sinful nature. God makes you a new creation in Christ. The Bible says that, “Old things have passed away; that all things have been made new.” That, in fact, you have been given a new heart. You’ve been sealed with the Spirit of God, and as such you are a new person. You are a different person, because God is remaking you from the inside out. This process continues through your whole life, but he is in the process of making you someone different from this new nature that he places within you. Now, the reason why Christians continue to sin in this lifetime is this issue that we have: our flesh. This inward disposition, this seed of rebellion to – to resist God, and to go our own way.
And for the child of God, that is part of us that we must vigilantly be on guard against and not give ground to. Now, that being said, what he says here is that these two things are at war. And what happens is that the flesh and the spirit are constantly in conflict; and that, when we follow the flesh, we end up not doing that which we want to do. And then, he gives us an example. He says that – that the acts of the sinful nature are obvious. That out of this flesh comes “Passions and desires”, is the language that he uses. Passions and desires are not bad. It depends on the source that is inspiring them. For example: If out of my flesh I let my passions and desires go, he says that my life will look a certain way. There will be indicators of that.
If my passions and desires are connected to the Spirit of God, and to the new nature that God has placed within me, then it will come out looking an entirely different way in the practical matters of my life. If our flesh is hooked-up to our passions and desires, and it comes out of us, it will come out, he gives us, in four basic categories. One is sexual in nature. That if your flesh is alive and well, and you are yielding to it, it comes out, he says, as orgies and also as sexual immorality. The word that Paul uses here in the Greek text is the word “Porneia.” It is used for a large number of sexual sins. It is the word from which we get our word “Pornography”, or “Pornographic” – it’s “Porneia.” This would include the sex industry, pornography, web-sites, movies, lust, fornication, homosexuality. This would include adultery. This would include any kind of sexual depravity or perversion, all the way down to such things as child molestation or bestiality, or whatever it might be.
That it – that the flesh has passions and desires that are evil and are base, and if we do not mitigate against those things it comes out sexually. As well, for some, it comes out spiritually. He says that, in addition to sexuality and the list of the works of the flesh, there is also false spirituality. He uses two words there. He uses “Witchcraft” and “Idolatry.” Idolatry is not where we cease to worship, it’s just that the object of our worship becomes something or someone other than God. “Idolatry”, A.W. Tozer says, “is worshiping anything other than God, or God as anything less as he’s revealed himself to be.” Idolatry means I take my time and my energy and my focus and my heart and my passion, and I commit them to someone or to something. This could be a relationship. This could be a child. This could be a home improvement project. It could be a bass boat. It could be a golf game. It could be an athletic team. It could be a band. It could be a hobby. It can be an education. It can be an experience. It can be an extreme sport. It can be a sexual position. It can be almost anything.
That the human heart is an idol factory, and that the opposite of Christianity is not atheism, it is idolatry. We all worship something or someone, and most often it is ourselves. And it also comes out as a false spirituality; Paul says, “As witchcraft.” And some people in this church have been involved in the occult, and in witchcraft, and all kinds of things prior to their coming to a relationship with Jesus. But the heart of witchcraft is believing that God must be manipulated in order to get him to move or act. Witchcraft is about doing things to get God to respond to us and do what it is that we desire.
So, for example, it would be: “We will say this incantation. We will go through this rite. We will undergo this process. And in so doing, we will manipulate God to do what it is that we want God to do.” In sort of Christian ways, this comes out as, “I want God to do this, so I will fast; or I will pray; or I will get up every morning and read the Bible, even the parts in the Old Testament that I don’t understand. And if I do that; or if I tithe; or if I really get serious; or if I come forward at the event; or if I cry and seem really sincere; whatever it might be, if I do something then I can manipulate God and God must do that which I want him to do.” It’s witchcraft. It’s paganism. It’s saying that God doesn’t do things because He’s loving and good and benevolent and kind, like a dad. It’s saying that God is capricious and mean, and that God cannot be moved unless we compel him through force by doing something to force Him to obey us.
It comes out sexually, the flesh does. It comes out spiritually, the flesh does. It also comes out socially. Because sin does not just separate us from God, it separates us as well from each other. We see this in Genesis where Adam and Eve sin, and they hide from God, and they also separate themselves from one another. And where the flesh is working, the flesh tends to divide people. It tends to separate them. And then, subsequently, marriages die and friendships die and communities die and churches die, and love between people ceases to flow. Paul indicates it in such words as: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions, and envy. When our passions and desires are hooked-up to our flesh, it comes out and it pollutes us all. And communities that are governed by the flesh show that. There is not love and unity, and peace and joy, and those sorts of things. And so the flesh comes out sexually. It comes out socially. It comes out spiritually. And lastly, it all comes – also comes out in those ways that we would call addictions, or compulsions.
Paul uses the word “Debauchery.” This is where we have a desire that ends up enslaving us, and we yield ourselves to it to such a degree that, as Paul says to the Corinthians, it then masters us. So, it is not that we eat; it is that we become gluttons. It is not that we have a drink, but that we become drunkards. It is not that we have conversations, but that we become gossips. It is not that we spend money, but we become absolutely absorbed with consumption, and get ourselves into debt. And this just becomes this cycle of addiction whereby we can’t have enough food, or sex, or stuff, or friends, or money, or fame, or power, or pleasure; whatever it might be. We just become debased in those things. And Paul says that the fruits of the – excuse me, the works of the sinful nature of the flesh, they’re obvious. We look at these things and we realize that they are just wrong. And we may deny and suppress the truth. We may fight it. We may try and vindicate ourselves, or justify ourselves. We may try and explain our way around it. But, in fact, there’s nothing we can do. We’re just sort of guilty as charged when we survey such things.
And what happens is, through either the teaching of the Scriptures or God convicting our conscience, or the work of the Holy Spirit, or – or the rebuke of a brother or sister in Christ, or maybe just the affects of our own life – waking up with a hangover, being sexually depraved and going deeper and deeper into a dark place that is lonely and sick, and foul. Whatever it might be we look at the affects of the way that we are living, and we grow disgusted by it if we are children of God. We get sickened by it, and we want something different.
Paul then gives another list that indicates what those things would be. He goes then and talks about not the works of the flesh, but the fruit of the Spirit. And he says that these things are such as: love. We start contemplating, ‘What would it be like if I loved people; and I loved God; and people loved me; and I was a loving person? And joy? That I wasn’t always depressed? That I wasn’t always discouraged? That I wasn’t always despondent? That I wasn’t always in this place of darkness, but in fact there was joy in spite of circumstance? And what would it be like if there was peace? If I wasn’t anxious? If I wasn’t stressed? If I wasn’t having a hard time falling asleep at night? If I wasn’t woken up in the middle of the night with some fear or panic, or terror, concern, or something that I forgot to do? What if there was actual peace, and I slept well, and I snored as an act of worship to God because I trust that He sits on a throne?”
That is an act of worship, and patience! What would it be like if I were patient? If I actually could wait for God to provide, and if I actually could wait for things to come together in my life rather than taking matters into my own hands all the time? And just hammering my horn in traffic, and getting angry at everyone because they’re slow and inefficient, and they don’t do as they should. What would it be like if I was kind; or if I was good, or if I was faithful? That even if I was just good for my word, and when I made a promise that I would do something that I actually saw it through to completion. What would it be like if I was gentle? What would it be like if I had self-control? If I could have a drink without getting drunk? If I could have a conversation without gossiping? If I could have a meal without being a glutton? If I could spend money without being a coveter? What would it be like if I had actual self control? Rather than getting angry, I held my temper in check. Rather than speaking my mind, I actually spoke what was beneficial for building others up according to their need, like Ephesians says.
What if I was a person that had self control? And invariably what happens is, as Christians we survey the condition of the sin in our life and then we begin to dream of what it would be like if things were different, and if we were different. And we realize, I wanna be dead to this life of flesh, and I wanna be alive to this life in Christ. But, as it is, I’m living as if I was alive to the flesh, and dead to this life in Christ. And so we’re sitting here looking at these two options. And if we’re children of God, we want this other life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What we don’t want is to be sexually perverted. What we don’t want is to be socially divisive. What we don’t want is to be spiritually compromised. And what we don’t want is to be addicted and in debauchery, and just descending into cycles of consumption and addiction. That’s what we don’t want. And we all agree on that. The question though, is: How do you go from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the spirit? And the answer to that question pretty much determines the rest of your theology. It’s kind of the key issue in Galatians. I would say it’s one of the key issues in all of scripture. How do we go from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the spirit?
And invariably what tends to happen is, that people look at the life that they are living, they see the life that God calls them to, and then what they decide they need to do is make a plan and be very serious about it to go from point-A to point-B. That’s religion. And it always fails. And we make plans. I’ll be really disciplined. I’ll do this. I’ll do this. I’ll do this. I need to do this. I need to do this. I need to do this. I need to do this. And we make our plans. And then we say, “Okay, this time I’m really serious.” Okay? We all do this. It’s the quintessential New Year’s resolution. This is the quintessential vow-making. “Lord God, please forgive me this one time. I promise things will change. I will change. I will go from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the spirit. I have a plan.”
Some of us come up with our own plan. Some of us find a church or a pastor, or a counselor, or a leader, or a teacher. Or we turn on Oprah and we listen to Dr. Phil, and we put a plan together. Okay? And then, about this plan, we try and implement our plan to take us from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit. And they’re all ridiculous. They truly are. They’re all ridiculous. I’ve got a – an example of what this looks like. Because, what we end up doing, either officially or unofficially, is saying, “Okay, what does a good Christian look like?” We decide what that is, and then we make rules. Thinking if we live by those rules then we will look like that person. I pulled-up the Christian conduct manual from a Christian college. I use that term loosely. I wanna read it to you, because this is what happens.
This conduct code is seven years old. It’s one of the largest, most high-profile Christian Bible colleges in the United States of America. Their point in their handbook is simply this: What they want is holiness and Christian maturity among college students. Are we against that? I’m for holiness and Christian maturity. I vote, yes. I’m for that. So, what they’re saying is, “We want people to look like the fruit of the Spirit.” And then how do we go from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit? They say, “Well, it’s simple. We have this manual that we put together by professionals, and we also then have offices and organizations that implement it. And we’ve put together an entire demerit system to keep the whole thing straight.” Seven years ago here’s where – here’s some of the things they say. Here’s how you go from the work of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit: We will not permit unbiblical practices such as the use of dope –“ you know some old white guy wrote that. “We will not permit the use of dope, harmful drugs of any kind, drinking, gambling, profanity, obscenity, tobacco in any form, dancing, card playing, movie-going, and pornography.” Throw them all together. So, you play cards, or you watch a porno, it’s all the same. “We expect the cooperation of students in the development and respect for the enforcement of the rules of the institution.” They go on to explain then what they have – they have a list next to the head of the college’s office with the names of all the students. And for each sin you commit, they give you a certain number of demerits. So, it’s – there’s a – there’s a chart. You remember your mom, you know, when you were growing up if you took out the garbage you got a star on your chart on the fridge? Right? Well, at this school, if you don’t fornicate you get a little star on your chart. And you – you know.
And literally, that’s what they do. So, what happens is, like, certain sins are 10-point demerits. Certain are 100-point demerits. And certain ones they just – I don’t know, they whack you over the head and send you home. I don’t – they just kick you out. Because there – they believe that, you know, you’re so messed-up that you shouldn’t be here. You should go away from the Christians to get yourself fixed-up, and then you could come back when you get yourself fixed. Which is like, “Yeah, I got sick. I went to the hospital, and they said, ‘Man, you’re gonna get everybody sick. Go home. And then when you get to feeling better, come back and we’ll check you in and give you a room.’” That’s basically how the thing works.
So, what happens is then, you and I, every day we could – as good little legalists, we could go to the list and we could say, “Oh, look! Jonny’s number one, and Suzie’s number 347. And she has a boyfriend, so we know what they’re doing, ‘cause she’s number 347.” Now, what happens as well then, is that if you’re a student and I’m a student and you see me doing something and you don’t report me to the charts and graphs guy, you get demerits also. So now we all are policing each other, keeping an eye on each other. Like, I saw Mark carrying cards. Didn’t play them, but he might have. So, maybe we give him half the demerits. And it ends-up sort of this Nazi-ized police state where all of the sudden we’re keeping an eye on each other. And you can imagine this, too. Let’s say the number one guy and the number two guy are neck-and-neck for the – for whatever it is, the best seat in hell or whatever they’re competing for. And then all of a sudden the number two guy gets really jealous ‘cause he can’t catch the number one guy, so he ends-up following the number one guy around ‘til he jay-walks, turns him in, and takes the lead.
This is exactly what happens. Okay? So, here’s the rest of the rules. “Dress.” You knew they were gonna hit dress. They’re gonna hit movies. They’re gonna hit music. You knew this was gonna happen. Here’s dress. “In a day of slovenly and careless dress – “ pastors are wearing shorts and flip-flops – “it is essential to our Christian testimony that students maintain certain standards of refinement. Students are required to maintain an appearance in line with the standards of the university. Therefore, hairstyles, dress, etc., are subject to the regulations set-forth by the offices of the Dean of Men, and the Dean of Women.” So, there are actually organizations that determine your haircut and your wardrobe. “Women students are expected to dress neatly and modestly at all times. This means that dresses must cover the knees and must be modest from a standpoint of exposure and accent.” Here you go ladies. “All women students 9th grade and above are to wear panty-hose at all times.” I guess if you don’t wanna wear panty hose, you gotta keep flunking 8th grade. “Jeans skirts and jumpers – “ good news for you – “are permitted, but only after 7:00 p.m. on weekdays, and on Saturdays, and on outings.” Alright? “And also, jean jackets are permitted, but only on outings. And split skirts, not coolats may be worn, but only to weekend ballgames.” So, if you have – if you have a skirt on and there’s no game, that’s a problem. But, if you have a skirt on and there’s a game, that’s no problem at all. Just like the Bible says.
“Men students are required to wear a shirt with a tie until after chapel, or after lunch on weekdays.” Men, you all gotta wear a tie. “This should be – “ you know, they have to make additional rules – “this should be a shirt with a collar designed to be worn with a tie.” So, no t-shirts, or sweatshirts, or tank-tops and a tie, gentlemen. “And the shirt should be buttoned and not left open at the neck.” Like mine. “Coats and ties should be worn to evening assemblies, and at all times when on campus; except Sundays at breakfast when only a tie is required.” So men, you’ve always gotta wear a suit. You can just get wild and crazy at Sunday breakfast, and take your jacket off. “Men are to have – “ here’s your hair – “have their haircut so that the back is tapered and does not come over the collar or ears. They may not shave the sides of their head over their ear, or have disheveled haircut. Sideburns must be no longer than the lower opening of the ear. Mustaches and beards are not permitted. And in the front, the hair must not fall lower than two finger-widths above the eyebrows.” Alright? Basically they’re saying, “Don’t go to Mars Hill.”
“Movies and videos. The language, sexual themes, and nudity of most movies rated PG, and certainly those rated R or X, have no place in the believer’s life. Any student watching R or X rated videos will be given a demerit penalty ranging from 100 demerits to expulsion. The same penalty applies for any student attending a movie of any rating in a public theater.” Like, if you go see a Veggie Tale in a theater, you could get kicked out, ‘cause that’s the theater. That’s where Satan lives. He couldn’t afford a house, so he lives at the theater. “Dormitory students may watch only G-rated videos at home with their parents, and VCRs are not permitted in the dormitories.” People will watch bad movies, so we got rid of the VCRs. Which is like, “People were lusting, so we cut their heads off.” That fixed it.
“Music. In giving special emphasis to the fine arts, we desire that all students learn to appreciate good music.” Now, a bunch of old white guys will tell us what good music is. “There are three areas of concern when we evaluate music: One, the content; Two, the style; and Three, the association of the performer with the style of music. Most popular music today has problems in all three areas. Because of these problems, students may listen to and use only the three following types of music: classical, semi-classical, and serious religious music.” Okay? You’re not allowed to listen to anything but classical, semi-classical, and serious religious music; which I think is Christians who look like they just ate milk past the pull-date. They’re serious, and that’s religious.
“In addition, we will permit dormitory students to have recordings of pre-1960 easy listening music that has been checked by the dormitory supervisor. Popular music, before 1960, is generally pre-rock, and does not present the problems associated with the rock culture. While some easy listening music after 1960 may be acceptable, it is not feasible for the dormitory supervisors to screen all of this music. And therefore, it is all excluded.” Meaning, there might be some songs that are okay, but there may not be some songs that are okay, so to be safe we’ll just get rid of all songs after 1960. “The following types of music are unacceptable in any form, written or audio.” This means you – you not only can’t listen to music, you can’t have the chord-sheets. “And may not be performed, promoted, or listened to by students, and may not be kept by the students, and may not be used on campus.”
So, you can’t – here are the ones they outlaw: ballads, jazz, rock, folk, and country/western. Makes you go, “I understand that.” That I agree with. “Music in these categories does not become acceptable when performed without lyrics.” You say, “Okay, I’m not gonna listen to that music, but can I listen to it without the words? Just the – just the – ?” “No, you can’t.” Okay. Can I die now and go to heaven and see Jesus, ‘cause he’s nice. “No – “ here it is. Here’s the key. Listen to this. “No matter how sedate the performance, or how acceptable the music itself, we will not allow students to determine the acceptability of any music that is associated with these current popular trends, since experience has shown that many students are not able to exercise mature, spiritual judgment in their selection of music.” What that means is, some students don’t make good decisions, so now we’ve decided that no students get to make any decisions. Right?
Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm. Don’t be burdened by that kind of slavery.” That’s what he’s saying. You guys may make the wrong decisions, so just to cover you, you don’t get to make any decisions. We have a committee with a manual, and they’ll make all the decisions for you. It goes on. “Religious music is forbidden if it is performed in folk, country, western, gospel, or any other popular style. New age music is forbidden.” If you don’t know what that is, they have a sheet that explains what New Age music is in some Dean’s office.
And here’s the last one. “Inter-racial dating. There is to be no inter-racial dating. Students who become partners in an inter-racial marriage will be expelled. Students who are members of, or affiliate with any group or organization which holds inter-racial marriage as one of its goals, or advocate inter-racial marriage, will be expelled. Students who date outside of their own race will be expelled.” Seven years ago (and this wasn’t reversed until two years ago).
And if you ask them, “Why in the world did you put this together?” They’ll say, “Well, a lot of people are living by the works of the flesh. We would rather them live by the fruit of the Spirit. And so, to do that, we’ve put together a program. We’ve put together a methodology. We have a hand-book, and we’ve got supervisors, and we have a demerits chart. And we have the whole thing figured out.” This is the problem at Galatia. They’re arguing over, “What does a good Christian look like?” And some of the people said, “Well, Christians are moral people. The Jews are good moral people, so let’s all be Jews. Let’s get circumcised, and there’ll be feasts and festivals, and Sabbaths. And let’s obey their dietary laws. And let’s just do what they do. They have a lot of rules. They seem very serious. Let’s just be like them.” And the people in the church were thinking, “Yeah, that sounds pretty good. Looks better than my life of sin.” The question is this: The worst sin is pride. The worst sin is trying to be holy without God. The worst sin is self-righteousness, which means you might not listen to rock music, and you might not have a bad haircut, and you may have a nice tie, and you still might go to hell because you don’t love Jesus. And the whole point is that Christianity is not about morality, it’s about being with God. And we look at this, and we say, “This is the most foolish, insane, ridiculous thing. I can’t believe that seven years ago thousands of college students actually committed themselves to this.” But, if you think about it, if I were to poll all of us and say, “What does a good Christian look like?” And we put together a list of what a good Christian looks like.
And then we say, “Well, how are we gonna get people to look like that?” You and I would come up with our own form of rules and regulations, and legalisms that are just that stupid. Some of you would say, “Well, you gotta get up every morning and have a quiet time.” Some of you would say, “You have to fast at least one day a week. You have to pray a half hour a day. You have to throw-out all your music. You have to get rid of all your friends. You have to – you have to do this. You gotta tithe. You gotta do this, do that. You gotta be a Calvinist, or Arminian. You gotta speak in tongues. You gotta be Spirit filled. You gotta get baptized.” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And our list would be just as ridiculous. At Mars Hill it’d be, “Well, you gotta play guitar, you gotta smoke cigarettes, you gotta get a tattoo.” Right? Otherwise you’re Godless. You’re just Godless. You don’t look like the child of God that you are supposed to be.
We would have the reverse list. You don’t drink? What are you – what kind of a Christian are you? Didn’t you read the Old Testament? And if we took that list to another culture, or we took it 100 years in the future, or we took it 100 years in the past, those people would look at it and say, “What in the world kind of list is this? What kind – this is crazy. This doesn’t make any sense. This doesn’t fit.” And the question persists then – we hit this place where we realize the works of the flesh, the fruit of the Spirit – we wanna go from the works of the flesh to the fruits of the Spirit, but the way we often try and get there is through the flesh; which is rule making, legalism, commitment, devotion, getting really serious, making vows, putting together a plan, and just doing it. And that’s the works of the flesh, too. It’s all the works of the flesh. Works of the flesh is not just getting drunk. Works of the flesh is also stopping drinking without leaning on God, and then boasting because now you’re not drinking anymore.
You’re not drinking anymore, but now you’re proud, and that’s the same sin that Satan committed and got him kicked out of heaven. So, you’ve stopped drinking, but now you’re like Satan, and that’s not progress. Alright? That’s not going forward. “I don’t drink. I’m just like Satan. I’m doing great.” No, actually, you’re doing bad. And the question persists then. What we sometimes do is, we say, “Well, I’m trying the best I can. Can’t you cut me a little slack?” Or we say, “I can’t do it. I just – I’ve tried to be like this list, and not like this list, and I fail, I fail, I fail. So that’s it. I just give up.” These are people who stop going to church, stop reading the Bible. They just give up. And they just say, “If I’m gonna sin, I’m just gonna sin. And I just give up, ‘cause I’m weary.” Then they feel guilty. Then they sort of come back to church, or they connect with their Christian friends, or they pick-up their Bible, and they feel really bad. And then they really commit themselves, and then it all falls apart, and they go back. And just this pendulum swing of life from trying really hard to realizing it’s never gonna happen.
So, here’s where we go. How do we get out of the cul-de-sac? That’s the issue, right? Some of you guys live there, some of you know it. Verse 24, Paul tells us how to get out of this situation. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” The problem is, is that this flesh of ours cannot be accommodated. We can’t sin a little. That when we give ground to sin it just keeps marching until it has conquered us and taken us over.
That’s where all sin leads to death. “You will either put to death your sin,” Paul says in Romans, “or your sin will put you to death.” You are in a war. And the question is then, “How in the world do we kill the flesh?” Because what we tend to do is chase all of the affects. “Okay, I’m gonna stop drinking. I’m gonna stop lying. I’m gonna stop gossiping. I’m gonna stop blowing all my money. I’m gonna stop doing this. I’m gonna stop doing that. I’m gonna kill those things.” The issue is, you don’t kill all those things, the flesh must die. And when the flesh dies, all of its works die with it, because they – they are cause-and-effect related. So, rather than chasing all this stuff, the flesh has gotta die. And when the flesh dies, then the sins out of it die; the works die with it. The question is then: Well, what do you do to kill the flesh? How do you kill it?
He tells us here. You what? You belong to Jesus. You belong to Jesus. That’s how you kill it. You belong to Jesus. You love God. You love God. God loves you, he changes you, he calls you to love him back. And the more you love God the more the flesh dies. And as I told you last week, there’s sin and there’s Jesus. And if we try and get away from our sin, we will go from one sin to another sin. Our goal as Christians is not to be moral, and not to get away from sin. Our goal as Christians is to love Jesus and be close to him. And as we love Jesus and we’re close to him, we get far away from sin as a bi-product. That’s why some of you – I know some of you so well. I know that some of you, when you became Christians, you loved Jesus. And as you grew in love with Jesus and got closer to him, your sin got farther and farther away. And you weren’t working at it. You weren’t trying. That wasn’t your goal. Your goal wasn’t, “I’m gonna stop drinking.” We have people in this church that have been pedophiles. We have had people that work in the porn industry. We have had people who were dealing crack to welfare mothers.
I have had full-blown Wiccans. We have had people who were in legalistic cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. We have had people that were full-blown atheists; that have never been in a church. I – we’ve seen it all. And the only thing that I have seen work in a sustaining and ongoing way for those people to be free from their sin, is that they love Jesus. And the closer they get to Him, the further their sin gets from them. And the goal is to be with Jesus, not to be away from sin. And as we’re closer to Christ, the flesh can’t live there. The flesh can’t live in the presence of Jesus. It can’t. And so it dies. It fades in the presence of His glory. It is diminished and conquered in His goodness. And all of this happens, Paul tells us in the next verse, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The good news is that as we look at the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit, we may desire the fruit of the spirit. We may wanna be loving, peaceful, joy-centered, sacrificial, humble, descent, nice, kind folks. And what can often happen is we try then to do that. And what ends up happening then, is we end-up trying to be like Jesus rather than trying to be with him. Do you understand that? Our goal is not to be like Jesus. Our goal is to be with him. God is not a concept. God’s a person. God is not a principle that we live by. God is a person that we live with. Now, let me ask you this: If you are with Jesus, will you end-up being like Jesus? Sure you will.
Of course you will. And you can try and be like Jesus without being with Jesus, and that is a work of the flesh. And trying to be with Jesus by the power of the Spirit, that will cause the flesh to die. And that will cause you to be more like Him. And this, Paul says, is the work of the Spirit of God. That you and I have sinned against God, and we have separated ourselves from God. And God came to us in humility as Jesus, and He died. And in His death, He took my sins, the sins of all of His people, and He paid for it. That He died in my place. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that, “God made Him who knew no sin to become sin, so that in Him I might become the righteousness of God.” My righteousness is only from Christ. And that my sin was placed on Jesus, and Jesus’ righteousness was placed on me. And Jesus dies for my sins, and He rises to conquer my enemies of sin and death. And He knows that I cannot love Him. I cannot be like Him. I cannot follow Him. I cannot emulate Him. I cannot worship Him. I cannot speak of Him. I cannot understand Him. And so He puts His Spirit in me.
And now I’m not an orphan, I’m a child of God. And I’m not alone, but God is always with me. And that’s the whole language of fruit. Fruit comes out of life-sustaining, nourishing, living trees. And for us, our roots are in Christ. And fruit comes out of us because we are taking life and nourishment, and sustenance out of the living God. And as the spirit of God brings that in us and through us, we bear fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And what could happen is, some of us could take the list of don’ts and the list of do’s, and put them on our fridge and say, “I’m gonna do this and not do that.” What we should do is, we should put on our fridge the name of Jesus and say, “I’m going to be with Him. And as I’m with Him, I’ll do this and not do that.” And that’s the means to the ends.
The way we go from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit is by God, because we need Him. It’s by Jesus and the Holy Spirit within us. And here’s the good news. Do we know how to love Jesus? We don’t. Does the Holy Spirit? Absolutely. Do we know how to draw into intimacy and proximity with Jesus? We don’t, but the Spirit does. Do we know what our real problems are, and the deep flaws within us that need healing? We don’t. We only know the effects. But the Spirit of God knows. And so here’s the good news. The Spirit of God knows God, the Father and the Son perfectly. He knows us perfectly. And he knows exactly how to lead us and guide us, and convict us, and mold us, and shape us. And His ministry is to propel us toward Jesus so that we’ll be in love with Him. And as He does His work, we become deeper in intimacy with Jesus. All of the sudden our sin gets further away. And with Jesus, we honor the father. And God sort of takes us up to participate with him in his life.
He says then, “Since we live by the spirit, let us keep in step with the spirit.” This isn’t something that just happens and then you arrive at a place. This is an ongoing life process, because God is infinite. You and I will never plumb the depths of God. We will never know all that there is to know. We will never thank Him for all that He has done. We will never adore him for all that He is. And I believe even heaven is not a finish-line for us. It is rather a transition where our flesh dies and the intimacy with God, and the leading of God’s Spirit, and the understanding of Jesus that begins in this life, as the beginning of God’s kingdom, continue in heaven. Because God is infinite. We’re never done. It’s never as if we are as close to Jesus as we can get. It’s never as if that we love God as much as we can. It’s never that we know all that God is. God is infinite. And so this is a continual process whereby the Spirit of God reveals who Jesus is and what He has done, and then we love and adore Him for it, and we grow deeper into intimacy with Him. And then He reconciles us to the father, and the whole Trinity is involved in this process where the Spirit draws us to Christ and Christ reconciles us to the Father, and God is more fully revealed. And then we respond in worship and adoration. And this cycle goes on unendingly.
That’s a much bigger and better goal than morality. That’s worship. That’s intimacy with God. And we’ve gotta be careful not to reduce God to a boss with a job description. That God is a Father seeking a relationship with His children. And it’s His love that transforms them. It’s His love that changes them. And Paul says, “We’ve gotta keep in step with the spirit.” And now, here’s the deal. All of you wanna know one question I am assuming, and that is: “Okay, what do I do to keep in step with the spirit?” What’s the answer? I don’t know. Because if I tell you that there’s one thing you must do, that will be your new legalism. If I tell you, “Read the Bible every day, and keep in step with the spirit.” Your goal will be reading your Bible every day, and not loving Jesus. If I tell you, “Pray for a half hour,” your goal will be prayer, and not Jesus. If I tell you to fast or to speak in tongues, or to come forward, or to tithe, or to serve, your goal will be something other than Jesus. That is idolatry.
That’s why I cannot tell you that, where ever you are, there is simply a process that we will bring you through, step one, step two, step three, and then you will be mature. I can’t. All I can do is, I can just remove all the clutter. I can say, “It’s not about being moral. It’s not about obeying some teacher. It’s not about following some rules. It’s not about living-up to your own piety. It’s not about these things. It’s about Jesus, and being in loving intimacy with Him, and transformed by Him, so that you can be with Him and ultimately end-up being like Him.” You’ve gotta be with God. At this point, as your pastor, I can’t come in and say, “Okay, here’s my plan. Let’s do it.” Because, I’m just like the guys in Galatia if I do that. I’m just another guy with another sales pitch, trying to get you guys to do it the way I do it. All I can do is remove the clutter and show you how great God is, and how deeply He loves His children, and how wonderful it is to be in His presence. And then, tell you to go be with Him. That’s all I could tell you.
For some, this – you may say, “Well, I need to read the Scriptures. Or, I need to pray. Or, I need to be with God’s people. Or, I need to confess my sin. Or, I need to sing. Or, I need to worship. Or, I need to – I need to contemplate.” Well, whatever. Those are all ways that the Spirit of God works, according to the Scriptures. But, you must follow theSspirit of God. And a good teacher – I hope and pray that God makes me a good teacher – the only thing I can do is remove the clutter, remind you of the Spirit of God, and push you toward Jesus. He’ll do a better job. He’ll do a better job than I ever could. He’ll do a better job than anyone ever could. Now, what happens then is, that God is at work in the lives of all of His children in different ways at different times.
For some, He may be working on a sin issue with you. For some, He may be working on a theological issue. For some, He may be teaching you something, or building a relationship, or healing you from a sin that was committed against you. I do not know what it is that the Spirit of God has His priority in His life where He is working right now. But we all need to just yield to that. And if you don’t know what it is that God is doing, or you don’t know how it is that God is leading, ask Him. Ask Him. I pray all the time. When I get into a counseling meeting, I’ll ask the Spirit of God to give me wisdom. When I need to make a decision for the church, I ask the Spirit of God to lead us. When I’m studying the Scriptures, I ask the Spirit of God to teach me. When I’m being obstinate and stubborn, I ask the Spirit of God to convict me. You just gotta be in relationship with the living God.
And at different times, in different ways, for different people, under different circumstances, that might mean that at that moment the way that works itself out is between you and God. And you’re gonna have to be with Him. And what can happen then is, we must be careful not to look at each other and to envy what God is doing in the lives of another person. This is where Paul closes, verse 26. “Let us not become conceited.” Conceited is when God has done something good in and through, or for or in spite of us, all of the sudden we look down on other people. Right? I mean, it was sad. I – I know a guy, and I love him, but he was a mess. I mean, doing drugs, alcoholic, pervert, just the – the totally messed-up guy. Been a Christian for a few years, and by God’s grace He has transformed. But now, I was talking to him recently, and he was making fun of all of his buddies who were continually doing the same thing, and how stupid they are.
Just conceited. Rather than having empathy and sympathy, saying, “I was there. I was in that kind of bondage and slavery, and it – if it were not for God I’d still be there.” So, why become conceited and look down at other people because they’re not as good as you, or as smart as you; they’re not as advanced as you. Paul says, “Don’t look at each other and get conceited. And don’t look at each other and provoke each other.” Saying, “Well, I struggle in this area, and that person doesn’t struggle, so I’m gonna get them to sin with me so that then I don’t feel so bad, and then they don’t look so good.” This is where we get drinking buddies. This is where we get, you know, people who want to have us sin with them; because, if we sin with them, then it legitimizes their sin. And Paul says as well, “Don’t envy each other.” God blesses a brother or sister, and they’re growing, and they know the Scriptures, and they pray. Or God has delivered them from sin. Or he’s given them a wonderful marriage. Or he’s given them something glorious. He’s provided for them in an outstanding way. Paul says, “Don’t become envious.” “God, how come you didn’t do that for me?”
‘Cause here’s what happens when we get envious. We look at our brothers and sisters and we say, “Oh, that person got a good job, or a good spouse, or a good life, or whatever. What did they do? I’m gonna just – they must have done a magic formula, and I’ll emulate the magic formula. And that’s witchcraft. And then God will do it for me.” “Oh, you have a quite time every day, and you tithe? Good, I’ll do that. And then I’ll get a wife and a car.” No. Don’t envy. It creates lots of foolish problems. Your alcohol, your drugs, your sex, your spirituality, your fractured social relationships, your anger, your greed, your lustful passions and desires, your addictions, your jealousy, your envy, your factions; they’re really all Jesus issues. They’re all Jesus issues. That those things happen when we’re not following the Spirit of God, and growing in love with Jesus. And the goal is not to stop any of those things. The goal is to love Jesus, and they’ll die. You guys understand that?
As a pastor, I just wanna so press this on you. At this point, every theological system that I know has an answer. Right? If we’re Pentecostals, come down, I’ll give you the Holy Spirit. If we’re prosperity guys, I’ll tell you to all give your money, and God will bless you. If we’re Bible guys, I’ll tell you, “Read the Bible for an hour every day.” If we’re pietistic, I’ll tell you to go home and throw out your TV and your stereo. If we’re mystics, I’ll tell you to go home and go into an altered state of consciousness and connect with God. If we’re social justice guys, I’ll go – tell you to go hand-out sandwiches to homeless kids. The answer is that you need to just be with God. And he’ll take care of you. He’ll lead you. He’ll guide you. He’ll teach you. He’ll convict you. He’ll transform you. And maybe you’ll pray, or maybe you’ll speak in tongues. And maybe you’ll memorize the whole Bible. And maybe you’ll hand-out sandwiches to street kids. But that’s not the goal; the goal is to be with him. At this point, I’m just gonna leave you there. That’s my answer: Jesus.
At this point, we always respond to God. We believe God initiates with us, and we respond. We’re gonna take an offering. If you’re not a Christian, or you’re a visitor, don’t give. It’s good to have you. Seriously, thanks for coming. We take communion, which is a recognition that this – the problem is always sin, and the answer is always Jesus. Right? That we’ve sinned, and that Jesus has come, body and blood, God, died and buried and raised for our sin. And He forgives us as we come to Him repentantly. And He puts His spirit in us. It’s a great, unbelievable gift. Respond through singing. And I would just encourage you guys to spend some time this week talking to God, and following him.
Lord God, I thank you that you are our God. I thank you that you are such a great God. Lord Jesus, I pray for us all, that it would be our goal not to just be like you but to actually be with you. And Holy Spirit, we thank you that you have inspired the writing of the scriptures; that you teach us the scriptures; that you convict us of sin; that you reveal Christ to us; that you gift us so we can serve; that you empower us so we can be alive to Christ and dead to sin; that you give us a new heart, and that you push us toward Jesus where the flesh dies and where fruit is born by your power. Lord God, it is our prayer that we would be with you, and that we would love you as you have loved us first. And that, Lord God, we would not seek to replace you with morality, or traditions, or piety, or rules, or regulations. That instead we would follow the Scriptures as they point us directly to you, and that we would not reduce you to a principle, but that we would love you as a person. And we ask this in Christ’s name, amen.