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"The Cross and The Spirit."


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This week, we continue our trip through Galatians chapter five.  Paul’s primary concern in this chapter is with the question—“how does a believer live in freedom from the influence of their sinful flesh?”  The flesh is that part of the believer that has not been redeemed, nor will it be.  It belongs to our old nature, the way we were before God saved us.  Our flesh is utterly self-centered and pulls us toward sin and the things of this fallen world system.  We saw in Galatians 5:16 that Paul tells us the way to be free from the sinful pull of the flesh, is to “walk by the Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit indwells every believer and is completely opposed to the flesh.  To bring out the contrast between the flesh and the Spirit, Paul gives two radically different lists of behaviors and attitudes.  The first list is the “works of the flesh.”  This includes things that are sinful and fallen—things that belong to the way we used to live before Christ—envy, jealousy, sexual immorality and the like.  Then, Paul gives us the list of “the fruit of the Spirit.  These traits like love, joy and peace are in believers by the Holy Spirit as part of their new nature in Christ.  We saw last week that it is the truth of gospel—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that liberates us to live out this new, fruit-bearing life of the Holy Spirit.

          The fruit of the Spirit ultimately comes from the seed of the gospel.  That gospel message dictates who we are in Christ.  Our responsibility as Christians is to show the out-workings of the spiritual programming contained within the seed of the gospel.  We grow in our expression of love, joy, peace and the like by believing the gospel more and more deeply—internalizing it and allowing its influence to permeate every area of our life.  As we do that, we are liberated to increasingly show the fruit of the Spirit.  Another way to put it is--as we continuously behold the glory of God seen most powerfully in his work through Christ in the gospel, we are set free to manifest the very character of Christ by the Holy Spirit. 

As the gospel more deeply penetrates our hearts and we respond to what God has done for us in Christ through Biblical love to God and others, we begin to see the profound difference between these divine attributes in us through the Spirit, and spiritual counterfeits that we ourselves manufacture out of motives that are not God-centered and gospel-driven, but are instead self-centered and driven by our flesh.  For instance, we begin to recognize the gaping difference between showing genuine Biblical love, which we give to God and others because God first loved us through Christ’s death, and the counterfeit—speaking and doing lots of things that look like love, but are not done in response to what God has done for us in Christ, but are instead motivated by things like the approval of others or so we can feel good about ourselves.  The more saturated we are by the gospel, the more clearly we will be able to distinguish between what is supernatural and of the Spirit and what is of our own fallen flesh.

          Last week, we looked at the fruit of the Spirit and how the believer who is being set free by the gospel can live in a manner consistent with what God has put in him/her through the Spirit.  Today, we’ll look at the rest of this section, but to give a context, let’s begin reading with verse 22.  Paul says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

          Paul ends his list of the fruit of the Spirit with a curious phrase.  He says, “against such things there is no law.”  In a section where Paul is contrasting the flesh with the Holy Spirit, why does he reference the law here?  Of course there is no law against love and patience and gentleness!  Paul cites the law here because he has been very much focused on the two entities that are opposed to the Holy Spirit and which are very closely related to one another.  One is the flesh, which brings us into bondage by pulling us toward sin, and the other is the Law of Moses that brings us into bondage by calling us to live a perfect life, but giving us no power to obey it.  BOTH the law and the flesh are opposed to the Spirit.  In Galatians 5:16 we saw, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  The Spirit and flesh are set in opposition to each other.  But if you look two verses later, Paul says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  That is—if you led by the Spirit, you are living a life of freedom through the gospel that brings spiritual power through the Holy Spirit.  The enslaving power of the law is broken by the gospel and is manifest by a supernaturally empowered life in the Holy Spirit.

          That helps explain verse 23 where Paul says of the fruit of the Spirit, “against such things there is no law.”  If we are living in this new way of life led by the Holy Spirit—if we are being liberated to show his fruit as we increasingly believe the gospel, then the old way of living by law is irrelevant.  When you are led by the Spirit, you are living according to the new way of the Holy Spirit that is opposed to living under the law.  When you are showing the fruit of the Spirit under the New Covenant, then the Old Covenant of law is not necessary.  Gordon Fee is helpful when he says, “There is no need of Torah [the Law of Moses] to say, “you shall not kill,” to people who are by the Spirit loving one another, nor “don’t covet,” to those who are actively pursuing the good of others out of kindness.”[1]  We saw from Romans 13:10 “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”  For a person who is fulfilling the law through the Spirit, the Old Covenant is no longer necessary.  That’s what Paul means when he says about the fruit of the Spirit, “against such there is no law.  That does not mean that the law isn’t still useful to us to remind us of God’s will—we will see that in verse 26.  But the Old Covenant law is something we have been liberated from so that we can walk according to the new way of the Spirit. 

Living under the law and living under the influence of our flesh have at least one more thing in common.  We are liberated from the bondage of both of them in the same way through the gospel.  That is--it’s as we believe the same truth of the gospel that we are liberated from the bondage of both living under the law and living according to the flesh. We must believe the same gospel truth to keep us from pursuing the desires of the sinful flesh, as we must believe to prevent us from living under the law to try to be pleasing to God.  The gospel truth we must persistently believe to overcome both of them is this—our old nature is dead.  Our old nature that had to live under the law because it didn’t have the Holy Spirit is dead.  Galatians 2:19 says, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ.” 

Here’s how this works.  When Jesus Christ was crucified, he took on our sin and the death penalty our sins deserved was dictated by the Old Testament Law—“the soul who sins shall die.”  Jesus had to die, because he took upon himself all our law-breaking sin and God executed him on the cross in order to exact the death sentence the law requires of our sins.  In that sense, the law killed Jesus because on the cross, God was executing the lawful penalty of our sin on Jesus.  Once the law had exacted its death penalty upon Jesus, it could do no more to him.  All the law could do to him was kill him.  It was finished with him—the relationship between Jesus and the condemnation of the law was over.  That’s Jesus and his relationship to the law.  The question remains—how do we die to the law and get free from its power to condemn us?  Paul explains specifically how our death to the law at the end of 2:19. He says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” 

Here’s the logic—Christ died because the law exacted from him the just penalty for our sins.  Once he died, Christ was freed from the demands of the law.  He had a new relationship to the law.  The law could ask no more of him because he had paid the penalty for our sins in full.  Through the gospel, we experience that same death—that same severing of the relationship to the law’s power to condemn us.  The way this works is--the gospel teaches us that anyone who has trusted in Christ is placed in Christ.  They are united with him.  That means that when I trusted Christ to pay the penalty for my sins, I was crucified with him.  The death he died to the law, I also died to the law so that, just as it no longer has any power to condemn Jesus, so also—it has no power to condemn me.  I am dead to the law’s power to legally condemn me because I am united to Christ in his death which set him free from the law’s condemnation. 

By way of practical application, that means that when I as a believer am feeling the condemnation that comes every time I try to be pleasing to God by what I DO for him and fail miserably—when I am living under the condemnation of the law—here’s what I must do.  I must choose to believe the gospel!  As soon as I realize that I am living under the law—that I am living as if the law actually had the power to condemn me, I must place my trust in the truth that I have been crucified to the law with Christ.  Just as he was freed by his death from the condemning power of the law, so too am I free from the law’s condemning power by my death with him.  I must reject any condemnation I feel on the grounds that I am dead—I have no relationship to the condemning power of the law.  The law’s power to make me feel condemned when I either sin, or when I am trying to please God through the law is BROKEN!  It has no such power over me any more because my relationship to the law in that sense is OVER through Christ’s death to the law that I shared through my union with him in the gospel.  The law can no more condemn me than it can a dead man because I am dead to the law in Christ.

All that to say—the way we are set free from being under the law is through our union with Christ on the cross where he died to the law and its power to condemn.  The same is true in how we are liberated from the power of the sinful flesh.  That’s what Paul says in verse 24.  He says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and its desires.  Paul here says that all those who belong to Christ have—past tense—“crucified the flesh with its passions and its desires.”  If you are of Christ, YOU are the flesh crucifiers, but Paul says you did it in the past---he’s not talking about the daily dying to the flesh that we do by mercilessly putting those sins to death through self-denial.  He can’t mean that because this crucifixion happened in the past. I did it in the past, but it happened by virtue of the fact that I belong to Christ.  How does all this fit together?

I think it fits together this way.  When Jesus died on the cross, because I am united with him, I died too.  My old self—that part of me that loved sin and had no desire to live for God—that person died when Jesus died because I am united with him.  That person is no more.  I was passive in the sense that it was Christ’s death in which I participated.  But I was active in the sense that by God’s grace, I actively trusted in Christ.  When I actively trusted in Christ by looking to him and him alone for my salvation, that active trusting triggered the death to my old self with its sinful passions and desires.  When I trusted in Christ, I “nailed the flesh, with its passions and desires to the cross.[2]  Philip Ryken says it this way, “We first crucified the [flesh] at our conversion, when we came to faith in Jesus Christ.  At that time we went to Calvary where Christ was crucified.  There we were united to him in his death.  When we put our trust in him, it was not only to die for our sins, but also to put our sins to death.  The cross of Christ means death to our flesh.”[3]  One of the great problems in the church today is that we often tend to skate across the surface of the gospel without digging into it.  When people come to faith in Christ today—we are pretty good at teaching them that Jesus died for our sins.  But we are not nearly as faithful to teach them that he also “put our sins to death.”

When I came to Christ by faith, I crucified the flesh—where all my sinful passions and desires originate. That’s the gospel that liberates us to show the fruit of the Spirit.  But the fruit-enabling, liberating power of the gospel is only manifest in our lives as we BELIEVE the truth that our flesh, with its passions and desires has been crucified.  Our faith in the truth of the gospel is the catalyst that enables us by God’s grace to walk in the freedom of the Holy Spirit.  So let’s see how this doctrine applies to us in the midst of a world filled with sin and temptation to my flesh.  I am standing in the grocery check out lane and am surrounded by the filth of rotten magazine covers.  Every manner of gossip and slander and immorality is within three feet of my eyes.  There are several things I can do to not be pulled into sin.  I can focus my eyes like a laser beam on the candy section and begin to commit to memory the varieties of candy bars stocked in lane seven—that’s often my first impulse.  In Paul’s language, that strategy would be called “not presenting your members as instruments of unrighteousness.” [Rom. 6:12]  I ignore—I don’t focus on it.

But if I’m going to be standing there for awhile, the temptation to my sin-loving flesh to indulge in all the gossip and slander and lies and immorality can at times grow strong.  As the pull of the flesh increases in intensity, I can preach this gospel truth to myself and in light over Galatians 5:24, that might sound something like this, “Thank you God that, though I feel the pull of my sinful flesh, I know that my flesh--my old self--that part of me that would have been overwhelmed by this temptation-- was crucified in Christ—its dead.  Thank you, Lord.  I know its dead because I am united with Christ in his crucifixion and at the cross he died to the power of sin, so therefore I am also dead to its controlling power.  By your grace, I choose to believe that truth more than these strong feelings that are deceitfully telling me that I have no choice but to sin.  I believe that I do have a choice because the gospel has liberated me to show the fruit of the Spirit—in this case, self-control, because my sinful flesh has been crucified in Christ.”  That’s the fight of faith we must wage every day and we can overcome because all who are in Christ are gospel-liberated people set free to show the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

That’s not the power of positive thinking because it is rooted in truth, not happy thoughts.  That’s not what some people call positive confession because I am not trying to create a new reality by my thoughts or words.  I don’t need to create a new reality—the new reality in Christ already exists—the reality is the truth of the gospel.  As we’ve said before, walking by the Spirit is fundamentally about believing the gospel!  It’s not about just knowing these truths as if our victory hinges on knowing theological facts—that’s necessary, but not sufficient.  Victory comes as we by God’s grace choose to actively trust in the truth of them.  And this is what Paul implicitly calls us to do in verse 25, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”  If we have the Holy Spirit as our source of life, then believe the gospel to allow the Spirit’s power to be manifest in our life.  We have the Spirit as our source of spiritual life—our new nature is created by the Holy Spirit.  So, Paul is saying, live out your new nature in the Spirit. 

The phrase “walk by the Spirit” literally means, “walking in a row with the Spirit” or as J.I. Packer says, “keep in step with the Spirit.”  In other words, make the Holy Spirit your reference point.  Wherever the Spirit is leading, stay in line with him.  And we know what the Spirit wants in relation to this battle against the flesh through the Spirit-inspired word.  When I am standing in the check out line, I do not need to listen for an inner voice to tell me not to look at the filth.  The Word of God tells me that. Most of the time, the Spirit’s desire is well known to me in that context of battling against the flesh.  My problem most of the time is not that I do not know what the leading of the Spirit is.  My problem is that in my sin, I choose not to engage in the battle of faith at all.  God’s call on our lives is to keep in step with the Spirit by applying the truth of the gospel so that we can show the fruit of the Spirit.  The more we walk by the Spirit, the more we apply the gospel to every area of our lives—the more it becomes a habit.  God has given us the Spirit—that’s the truth.  What we do with that is—let us walk by the Spirit. 

This helps us to see that if we are living under the condemnation of the law or under the controlling power of sin, we are living in a manner that is completely at odds with who God made us to be through the gospel.  We are Holy Spirit people—not “under-the-law-people” or fleshly people.  Knowing and BELIEVING who God has made us to be through the gospel--our new identity in Christ--is crucial if we are to walk above the pull of the condemning power of the law and the controlling power of sin.  The new age of the Spirit has come and replaced the law and made possible a life increasingly free from under the control of the sinful flesh.  We must BELIEVE that—that must be the ocean of truth in which we swim—that must be the food we eat and the water we drink.

Paul concludes this section in verse 26 where he exhorts the Galatians, “Let us not become conceited, provoking on another, envying one another.”  Notice this is a reprise of a theme Paul mentions first in verse 15 where he warns the Galatians, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” Here in verse 26 we see that at the root of their interpersonal quarrelling were the works of the flesh, conceit and envy.  That’s what caused them to “provoke one another.”  Here Paul tells the Galatians to not show these works of the flesh.  This exhortation helps us see something important about how the New Testament teaches us to be like Christ.  When we hear what Paul has said in verses 24-25 about walking in the Spirit and showing his fruit as we are liberated by the gospel, it’s tempting to process those truths like this: “Because I have the Holy Spirit, because the gospel has set me free to live according to the Spirit.  And because I am dead to the passions and desires of the flesh, I no longer need to be exhorted not to sin.  Because my faith is the catalyst—I have been given this wonderful” faith auto-pilot”--a faith of spiritual cruise control.  My life doesn’t need any negatives admonitions anymore—no more negative reminders to not sin. That is surely inconsistent with the life of…faith.  Accentuate the positive—eliminate the negative and walk by FAITH.” 

You’ll notice those assumptions are totally inconsistent with Paul because right after he tells us to walk by the Spirit, he then reminds us to NOT engage in the works of the flesh.  As we said earlier, the law, or in this case moral instruction, can never make us like Jesus.  Only the Spirit of God can do that.  But, the law and moral instruction does give us important reminders as to the will of the Lord and thanks to our indwelling sin, we continue to be in need of those reminders.  Our indwelling sin keeps us from being able to go on auto-pilot.  We need the positive message of faith and the victory we have through the gospel.  But we also need the negative admonitions in the Bible to remind us and to drive us again and again to the cross, our only source of hope.  We all want to be on auto-pilot don’t we?  I’ve been looking for that switch on my spiritual control panel for 25 years.  Its not there!  We are free in Christ, but that level of freedom will not be realized until our flesh dies its final death when these bodies die and go to be with Jesus.  Then our indwelling sin will be gone and we will be completely free.  We are already free in the way that Paul has taught in this section, but we are not yet so free that we don’t need to be reminded to not engage in the works of the flesh.

Where are you this morning?  Are you fighting the fight of faith in the check out lines of life in a sinful world?  In the face of temptations are you preaching the liberating gospel to yourself so that you can by the Spirit live above the condemning power of the law and the controlling power of sin in your flesh?  Maybe this is all new to you and you are still trusting in your own goodness to get you into heaven.  Reject that and run to faith in Christ.  Claim Christ and his atoning death on the cross as your only hope for salvation.  May God give us the grace individually and as a church to fight the fight of faith—to believe the gospel and walk in its liberty as we increasingly are free to show the supernatural fruit of the Spirit for the glory of God and our joy and victory in Christ.

[1] Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, p.453.


2 Fee, Presence, 455

3 Ryken, Galatians, 238.


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