The Church in Galatiawas made up of an interesting group of people. Paul had visited the area and established churches in what many believe was the southern part of the region. Sometime after his second visit Paul wrote a letter to the believers because of concerns he had for the faith of those he had taught the Good News. His love and deep concern for the churches in the area continued throughout his life.
We need to understand thatGalatiawas more like the state ofOklahomathan the city of Oklahoma City or Guthrie or Tulsa. Galatia was not a village or town, but a province or state, within the Roman Empire. We discussed in the beginning of our study several months ago that the name Galatia came from the Gauls, or Celts, who settled in Asia Minor after several centuries of wreaking havoc on the Greeks and Romans.
When theRoman Empirecame into being the original region ofGalatiawas made part of a larger province calledGalatia, in the area that we know as modern-dayTurkey. We can know this from studying the book of Acts. In Acts13:14-14:23we learn that Paul and Barnabas established four churches in southernGalatia, in the cities ofAntioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. The churches were familiar with one another, they shared Paul’s letter, and prayed for one another as they sought to be faithful to the Lord in a hostile environment.
The people who called the churches home were an interesting group of folks. Many of them came from pagan backgrounds and were Gentiles, even though there were probably some Jewish folks who had converted to Christ who were also in the churches. As you study the Church inGalatiayou easily come to the conclusion that the people who gathered for worship and Bible study each week in the various churches in the area were just like us. Oh they had different modes of transportation, they didn’t carry cell phones or PDA’s, and they didn’t live in gated communities or apartment buildings, but they were just like us.
They were easily influenced.We can clearly see this from our studies during the past several months. If you will remember, back in Galatians 1 Paul was amazed that the people were so quickly turning away from the lessons he had taught them about the sacrifice Jesus had made for their sins, the total depravity of humanity, and the insufficiency of human efforts to make things right with God. Paul wrote,
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.(Galatians 1:6-7 NIV)
Not only were they easily influenced, but like us, they were attracted to extremes.Paul carried on in his letter, well into the fifth chapter, about how Christ had set them free from the Law. Yet, because of false teachers who had slipped into the back pews of the churches and worked their way into the hearts of the people, the brothers and sisters were turning away from their total dependence upon Jesus’ payment for their sins so that they could live by the Law. The reason why they were willing to do this is the same reason why so many today are drawn to legalism—they wanted to please God and they were more influenced by popular culture than by Scripture.
For the people of the first century, they were being taught that they needed to observe the Law and the men needed to submit themselves to the rite of circumcision. You see, we love the tangible, things that we can touch and feel, measure and weigh. Keeping the Law is tangible. You can look at your life and weigh and measure how you are doing. If the Law says,“Do not kill. Do not steal. Keep the Sabbath holy.”then you either do it or you don’t. We can weigh how we are doing in those areas and know that we are doing what is right or wrong. Going along with this mindset, if we keep the Law then we can know that we’ve earned the right to be children of God because we have done what God has asked.
For the modern-day church there isn’t so much of an emphasis on keeping the Law, as the Jews knew it, or the rite of circumcision, but we’ve come up with our own set of “laws,” our own set of criterion by which we can gauge how we are “doing” in our Christian walk. These lists are as numerous as the number of those who claim to know Christ today. For some, you and I can know that we are pleasing to God if we have a quiet time each day and memorize Scripture. For others there is a deep sense of being right with God when they are serving the poor, tithing their resources to the work of God going on in the church, and making sacrifices for God. For others the list has more to do with abstaining:“I don’t watch t.v. I don’t go to movies. I don’t listen to the radio unless it happens to be preaching programs or Christian music…and even some styles of Christian music are off limits. I don’t eat junk foods. I don’t hang around non-Christians unless it is to convert them. I don’t…” “I don’t” is the motto of this group of self-righteous believers.
Paul says to those who are trusting in the fact that they have been circumcised, those who take pride in the fact that they haven’t stolen their neighbor’s things, those who give all they have to the poor, and those who feel righteous because they had a quiet time or abstained from eating aLittle Debbieor aBanana Split…
2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.(Galatians 5:2 NIV)
The last area I see where we are like the Galatians is there propensity to take for granted their freedom Christ.As a result of their taking for granted their freedom, the Galatians took advantage of their freedom and indulged their sin nature. They allowed the freedom that Christ had won for them onCalvary’s Cross to lead them into indulgence. Take a look at Galatians 5:13-14 with me.
13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”(Galatians 5:13-14 NIV)
They didn’t feel an obligation to put their needs behind the needs of those around them. They knew what they wanted and they wanted it now—regardless of what it meant to others, regardless of what God’s will was for their lives. They didn’t feel a sense of duty like those under the Law. They were prone to live care-free and allow their drives to drive them. They didn’t sense an urgency to serve the Lord and share His love with others—they were free, they could relax, they were forgiven and headed to Heaven. How much are we like those who worshipped inGalatia!
You see my friend nothing has changed. Oh, everything has changed from the standpoint that we have different trinkets and toys to amuse us. Our idols look different than the idols of the first century. Instead of visiting shrines built with human hands and bowing to false idols of stone that promise to deliver a good crop and make our livestock fertile, we bow to different idols today. Today, we visit brokers and bankers who assure us of security if we will only trust in them. Instead of trusting in God we trust in our 401K plans, how much we have in our bank account, the security we feel that we have in our jobs, or our friends who are connected in the community and can position us to our advantage. “Things” have changed, but while things have changed in regards to our circumstances and surroundings, nothing has changed when it comes to our hearts. The human heart is still beyond understanding; it is still corrupt, just as it was in the days of the Apostle Paul and in the days of the Prophet Jeremiah when he wrote,
9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?(Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)
We are not called to live a life of legalism or indulgence; we are called to live a life of faith, to be people of faith. We are called to walk in humble faith, dependent faith, in absolute dependence upon the One who created us, redeemed us when we turned away, and we can rest in His promise to sustain us throughout our days if we will only walk with Him…step by step.
In our Scripture for today we see the Apostle Paul laying out for the Galatians this simple path of dependence. Won’t you turn with me to Galatians 5 and let’s begin reading at verse 16.
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For 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. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit thekingdomofGod.22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.(Galatians 5:16-26 NIV)
We are not called to walk step by step in legalistic leg irons and neither are we called to amble through life being driven by every desire that surfaces in our hearts. We are called to live in the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit of the Living God who has been given to teach us, correct us, and guide us through this life. Paul writes in verse 16.
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.(Galatians5:16NIV)
There are two words in this verse that we need to take the time to understand before we leave here this morning. Our gaining understanding is so needed because so many Christians today are struggling day-to-day in their walk with God. For many, their struggle is a result of being led to believe that if they would take the walk down the aisle, accept Christ, and get baptized, then Jesus would change everything. Their creditors would go away, their wife would come home, their kids would love them forever, their character issues would instantly be resolved, and life would be a stroll on the beach. For those of you who bought into that kind of teaching I want to apologize to you for those who sold you a bill of goods. I know the Lord has drawn you to Himself and you came humbled and broken knowing that He was your only hope, and He is. It is just that on His list of priorities for your life and mine, changing our circumstances falls below His desire to change us. In adversity He does His greatest work in your heart and mine. In tough times that weigh us down, He is exalted as He restores our hope. In tears He is teaching you and me to trust Him above all others.
I received a note from a dear friend this week who is so angry at God for some hurt that has gripped her heart. I wrote my friend back and told her that the situation has broken my heart as well, then I encouraged her to turn her anger into trust that God knows what He is doing. He really does my friend, He really does.
How can we move beyond riding the roller coaster of emotions in our walk with God? How can we avoid feeling prideful when God uses us to bless those around us? How can we avoid feeling lost and unloved by God when we abuse our freedom and slip into sin? How can we live in obedience to His will, follow the leading of the Spirit, and know the joy of the Lord on a consistent basis? Those are such great questions that we are going to answer as we study these two words found in verse 16.
The first word that I want us to understand in verse 16 is the word, “live.” It is the same word that is translated, “walk” in the King James Version of the Bible. Now you may think I have lost my mind in saying that we need to understand what “to live” means. Who here doesn’t understand what it means to live? If you want to live then you simply inhale and exhale right? Absolutely! To live according to the Spirit means much more than simply existing. The Greek word,“peripateo,” means,“to walk, to live,”and also“how we conduct our life.” John MacArthur has written about this word in his wonderful commentary on Galatians. MacArthur says,
The fact that “peripateo”¯ (walk) is used here in the present tense indicates that Paul is speaking of continuous, regular action, in other words, a habitual way of life. And the fact that the verb is also in the imperative mood indicates he is not giving believers an option but a command. Among other things, walking implies progress, going from where one is to where he ought to be. As a believer submits to the Spirit’s control, he moves forward in his spiritual life. Step by step the Spirit moves him from where he is toward where God wants him to be. So while it is the Spirit who is the source of all holy living, it is the believer who is commanded to walk.(John MacArthur, Galatians, pg. 152-153.)
You can see that “living” or “walking” according to the Spirit is not merely inhaling and exhaling or putting one foot in front of another, but it is moving from where we are to where God wants us to be. We are called to move with the Spirit of God, to be led by God’s Spirit, to seek His counsel, and follow His instruction. What we are called to do is exactly what we see take place in Jesus’ life.
After Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in theJordan Riverwe see that the Spirit led Him into the desert. Take a look at Luke 4:1-2 with me.
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.(Luke 4:1-2 NIV)
Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit and He was led through the temptations of the Enemy by the Spirit. It is imperative that we follow the model of Jesus and rely upon the means of our victory provided by the Father. Paul states in verse 16 that if we will live by the Spirit then we will not gratify, or live out, the desires of our sinful nature. Let’s read verse 16 once again.
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.(Galatians5:16NIV)
The second word that we need to understand is the word “desires.” The King James Version translates the word, “lusts.” The word “desires” much better captures the real meaning of the Greek word,“epithumia,” which means, “desire, craving, or longing.”It is a strong word used to describe the strong desires that we experience in life. Sometimes those desires are good and sometimes they are immoral desires, but any desire that trumps God’s will for our lives will lead us astray. Let me show you a couple of other places in the New Testament where the word is used.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul shared with the brothers and sisters how he was torn between two desires. In this section of God’s Word the same word for “desire” is used as in Galatians 5:16. Read along with me in Philippians 1:21-23.
21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;(Philippians1:21-23 NIV)
Paul’s real desire was to go home and be with the Lord, but God’s will was that he remain and share the Good News with those who needed to hear about the hope, mercy, and salvation of God. Would any of you say that to have a desire to go to heaven would be a bad thing? If you were to ask folks to list the top 10 desires that plague their walk with God a desire to go to heaven would not make any of the lists. Yet Paul did not want his desire to keep him from living in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit.
The most startling use of the word by far occurs in Romans 1 where we learn about some folks who knew about God, but the desires of their sinful nature over ruled everything else in their lives. There came a point in their lives where God stopped convicting them, He stopped trying to turn them away from that which would destroy them, and He “handed them over” to what they wanted so badly. Turn to Romans1:21and let’s read together.
21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.(Romans 1:21-24 NIV)
What are the desires of your heart that are at war with the leading of the Spirit of God? What is it that is leading you instead of the Spirit of God? That is a question that we need to ask ourselves on a daily basis. That is a question that we need to take to God in prayer and ask Him to reveal to us what is keeping us from living in the Spirit.
A survey was conducted several years ago by a magazine called “Discipleship Journal.” They asked their readers to rank the areas of their lives that caused them the greatest spiritual challenge. Here’s their Top 10:
5. (Tie) Anger/Bitterness
5. (Tie) Sexual lust.
Do any of these desires ring a bell to you? You know what is interesting about those who took the interview? 81% said that their temptations were more potent when they had neglected their time with God. (Discipleship Journal,11/12/92.)
Living by the Spirit is the only antidote, the only preventive medicine available that can enable us to defeat the drive of the desires of our sin nature. You may not be involved in prostitution, you may have never have been involved with selling drugs in this neighborhood, and probably, more than likely, you have never killed someone in a fit of rage, but let me assure you of one thing—if you or I resist living in the Spirit then we will most certainly fulfill the desires of our sin nature.
Here is a warning for those who are here this morning, but you have never surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, you lack the guiding hand of the Spirit of God in your life. If you continue to reject Jesus and try and go it alone, then you will fulfill the desires of your sin nature. You may be a businessman or woman who wants your business to succeed in order to provide for your family, but without the Spirit of God leading you then you are at great risk of scrambling your priorities. I have known many successful business leaders who were strong leaders in the Board room, but absentee fathers and mothers at home. You may be a respected person in the community, but let someone hurt you in some way and watch your sin nature cry out for “justice” and “vengeance.” You may be a model student in your school, but the let pressure of “finals” come knocking on your door and announce that you have to make an “A” on the test to make the honor roll. Your sin nature will try and convince you that you need to resort to any means necessary to make that “A.”
Here is another warning to those who have committed their lives to Christ. You may be a committed Christian this morning. You are relying on God’s grace alone for your salvation, you may be committed to spending time in God’s Word and living the truths that He reveals to you, you may be living in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit of God in the decisions that you make in life, work, and family matters, but… If you become lax and lazy and convince yourself that you are spiritually mature enough to go it alone, then the fall is already on its way.
King David knows exactly what I am talking about. In Acts13:22we are told that David was a man after God’s own heart, yet there came an occasion when David’s men went to battle and David chose to stay home. Instead of being led by the Spirit of God, he gave in to his own desires. Take a look at 1 Samuel 11 with me and let me show you what happened.
1In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained inJerusalem.2One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”(2 Samuel 11:1-5 NIV)
David let his guard down and he gave in to his sinful nature. The consequences of David’s fall lasted the rest of his life and had implications for generations to come. My friend we can’t rest on how we allowed the Lord to lead us yesterday, this morning, or twenty minutes ago. We must be led by the Spirit moment by moment, trust in His wisdom and counsel minute by minute, and obey step by step.
I want to invite you this morning to allow the Lord to search your heart. Are you living by the Spirit, depending on the guiding hand of the Spirit of God? If you’ve never accepted Jesus into your heart then there is no way for you to live by any other way than your own power and wisdom, a wisdom that will consistently lead us astray. Won’t you invite Jesus to come into your heart and be your Lord and Savior this morning? Allow Him to make room in your heart for the Spirit of God so that He can strengthen you against the desires of your sin nature and lead you through this life in God’s will.