Summary: In this sermon, we explore how we are to live by the Spirit.
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians because they were drifting away from a proper understanding of the gospel. After the apostle Paul had started a number of churches in the region of Galatia, some false teachers—known as Judaizers—came after him and began teaching another gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).
The false teachers taught that salvation is the result of faith plus works. Paul insisted that salvation was the result of faith alone. Good works was the product of faith, not the source of faith.
After defending his credentials as an apostle sent by God in chapters 1 and 2, Paul described the nature of faith in chapters 3 and 4. In chapters 5 and 6 the apostle applies his teaching to the lives of Christian believers.
In the section we are studying today, the apostle Paul explains the work of the Spirit in our lives. Let us read Galatians 5:16-26:
"16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 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 each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
"19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 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.
"22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." (Galatians 5:16-26)
She stood on a small platform towering high above the crowd. Several yards across from her was another tiny stage cloaked partially in darkness. Between her and that distant platform loomed an intimidating abyss and a long, silver strand seemingly leading nowhere. Her face was hot from the glare of the spotlight; her hands were clammy from fear. She offered a bow of confidence to the silhouettes below, then stood erect and faced the wire with her heart racing. She closed her eyes and looked deep into her soul, finding strength and determination that seemed to flow from an outside source. Still longing to remain safe, she slowly filled and emptied her lungs. . . and gazed at the wire stretched out in front of her.
Then she did it—she carefully stepped onto the wire, first with one foot, then with the other. Soon she was halfway across, suspended in space and feeling as if she were free to spread her arms and take flight. But the ever present danger on every side made her yearn for the security of the metal platform. Finally, reaching her destination, she quickly bowed to the applause from below and breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Like the circus’s high-wire performer, Christians are perched on a tight-rope, trying to avoid two extremes—legalism on the one hand and licentiousness on the other.
Legalism presents itself as a platform of safety, saying, “Stop taking the risks of the free life and come back to me.”
Licentiousness, on the other hand, beckons us to stretch out our arms and fly toward our basest desires in total self-abandonment.
But God calls on us to keep walking the high wire of Christian freedom, balanced between playing it safe and living carelessly. What he is asking sometimes seems scary and impossible. Paul, however, reassures us that our walk can be filled with internal peace if we will only let the Holy Spirit help us.
In our lesson today, we shall look at two main points. First, the issue exposed. And second, the problem resolved.
I. The Issue Exposed
In our study of Galatians, we have seen that receiving Christ by faith alone liberates us from the law’s demands.
That’s why we can turn our backs on legalism and embark on the free life.
But what can restrain us from using our freedom to plummet to the depths of licentiousness and immorality? We all feel the tug to step off the high wire and abuse our freedom. And yet, at the same time, our salvation has given us a new desire to put God’s wishes ahead of our own.
What is this inner conflict? Can it be resolved? If so, how? Our very balance depends on our answers to these questions.