Summary: The only way to conquer the sinful nature is to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Holiness and the Holy Spirit
(The Secret to Living a Holy Life)
Text: Galatians 5:16-26
Introduction: This morning, we have the third message in our ten-week series which is a call to holiness entitled, "In the World, but Not Of It." If you’ve been a believer for very long you know that as Christians we live in a world-system that is not inclined to God (See 1 John 2:16). Yet, God has not only called us to live in this reality, but to be holy men and women as we do (See 1 Corinthians 1:2). The passage that we are looking at together this morning is key if we’re to understand how this is to happen. Before we get into it, permit me to set the stage.
One of the main reasons why the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the churches in Galatia was to counter the arguments of people known as Judaizers. Paul called them "mutilators of the flesh" in Philippians 3:2 because they insisted that those who had converted to Christianity fully submit to the Law of Moses, including being circumcised. TODAY, WE CALL THIS "LEGALISM," or enforced obedience to a set of man-made rules in order to establish our righteousness before God. Though this may have been in keeping with what the rabbis taught about the Law functioning as the means for making people holy, Paul argued that following a set of rules could never bring this result. The Law wasn’t given to make us righteous, but (1) to make us aware of our sin (Galatians 3:19 - TLB - "Well then, why were the laws given? They were added...to show men how guilty they are of breaking God’s laws.") and (2) to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24 - "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith."). It’s not that the Law was bad, just incapable of setting anyone free from sin (See Romans 8:3). God provided a new moral guide -- His Holy Spirit -- who would empower believers to live a holy life by transforming us from the inside out (See 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8). This truly was good news for many who understood that they were set free from the burden of the law. However some unfortunately misinterpreted this teaching from Paul as permission to sin at will. TODAY, WE CALL THIS "LICENSE," or the assumed freedom to sin knowing that it has been paid for by Christ’s offering on the cross (See Galatians 5:13).
So now the Apostle has to correct two erroneous points of view, legalism and license. On the first Max Lucado comments by saying, "Legalism has no pity on people. It makes my opinion your burden, makes my opinion your boundary, and makes my opinion your obligation." This reminds me of the story by the great preacher Donald Barnhouse, who in 1928 led a Bible conference in Montrose, Pennsylvania. One day two old ladies complained to him that some of the girls were not wearing stockings. Oh, the shame of it! These ladies asked the preacher to rebuke the girls, because, as everyone knew, no respectable girl in the 1920s would dare to walk outside without them. Barnhouse looked them straight in the eye and said, "The Virgin Mary never wore stockings." The ladies gasped and said, "She didn’t?" He answered, "In Mary’s time, stockings were unknown. So far as we know they were first worn by prostitutes in Italy in the 15th century. Later a lady of nobility scandalized the people by wearing stockings at a court ball. Before long everyone in the upper classes was wearing stockings, and by Queen Victoria’s time, they had become the badge of the prude." Needless to say, nothing else was said about the stockings for the rest of the conference.
Perhaps the other extreme, license, is best summed up by the man from French West Africa who had a conversation with D. A. Carson from Trinity Seminary. In the course of their conversation this man, who was pursuing a doctoral degree in engineering from a university in Germany, confessed that once or twice a week he visited the red-light district in the town in which he went to school. When asked by Dr. Carson what he would do if his wife did something similar, he replied, "Oh, I’d kill her." "That’s a bit of a double standard, isn’t it?" "You don’t understand. Where I come from in Africa, the husband has the right to sleep with many women, but if a wife is unfaithful to her husband, she must be killed." Dr. Carson objected, "But you told me you were raised in a mission school. You know the God of the Bible does not have a double standard like that." With this the man smiled brightly and replied, "Ah, le bon Dieu, il doit nous pardonner; c’est son metier," which is translated, "Ah, God is good. He’s bound to forgive us; that’s His job!" The freedom Paul talked about here in Galatians is not, like this man assumed, freedom to sin. Rather it is freedom to serve. This was the entire message of the law...love your neighbor. Any other kind of conduct was unacceptable and would result in their mutual destruction according to the Apostle (See Galatians 5:14-15). How was this to happen for these new converts to Christianity? The answer to this question is found in the next eleven verses under three main headings: Conquering the sinful nature; characterizing the sinful nature; and contrasting the sinful nature.