Many years ago there was a missionary who was moved by God to share the Gospel with a group of Native-Americans on a reservation that was close by. The missionary prayed and prayed and over the course of time the Lord opened a door for him to befriend the Chief of the tribe. As the two men got to know one another the missionary was able to share his faith in Jesus Christ. The missionary had prayed for the Chief for months and the day came when his prayers were answered and the Chief accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
The missionary and the Chief became fast friends. They spent a lot of time in prayer together and they studied the basics of the Christian faith day after day. The Chief was hungry to learn more and more. His hunger was the springboard for how quickly he grew in his understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.
Several years later, the missionary had been led by God to go to other mission fields and share the Gospel. Even though he was no longer working daily on the reservation with the Chief, he prayed for his friend often, and stopped by to see him whenever he was on furlough. On one of his visits the missionary and the Chief were talking when the missionary asked,“How are you doing? What has the Lord been doing in your life and the life of your people?” The Chief told his friend about those who were coming to know Christ and how God had been faithful, when he stopped mid-sentence. He said, “I have seen the Lord work in big ways among our people, but I have to be honest with you – it is like there is a war going on in me. It is like there is a good dog and a bad dog that are living in my heart and they are always at war with one another.” The missionary knew what the Chief was talking about because he was describing his own life. The missionary reached out, grabbed the hand of his friend, and asked, “Which dog is winning?” The Chief said, “The one that I feed the most.”
How many of us can relate to the battle that was taking place in the heart of the Chief? How many of us do not know the struggle that is taking place in human hearts all over this sanctuary this morning? Oh, I’m sure that there are some here this morning who would like to deny the fact that there is a war going on inside of them, but if you are one of those folks then I need to let you know that you fall into one of two categories:
First, you may not be aware of a war because you have never accepted Jesus as Lord of your life. If this is the case then I would agree that you are oblivious to any battle raging in your heart because the Spirit of God is not there to make you aware of the battle. The only time you are aware of the battle is when your desires get you in a fix. Then you stop and say to yourself,“I need to stop that. I can’t go on doing this.” Other than those times you are simply living out whatever desires drive you throughout the day and you see nothing wrong with this because you believe that you are basically a good person.
Popular opinion today teaches us that we are born inherently good, but because of environmental influences and the tough world that we live in, we occasionally twist off and go bad. We don’t really “go” bad, we just lose a grip on our goodness now and then.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible teaches us that we are born as sinners, that there is no good in us, and because of this we produce what we are—sin. We don’t have the capacity to produce godly behavior. Anyone who reads God’s Word for any amount of time will be confronted with this truth over and over again. In Jeremiah 4, God spoke about His people, the nation of Israel, whom He had blessed with lavish blessings. God says,
22“My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” (Jeremiah 4:22NIV)
God knows us and He knows that apart from His grace, mercy, and transforming power there is no hope that we will ever change. A little later in Jeremiah we read,
23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil. (Jeremiah13:23NIV)
So, you can see that apart from God’s life-giving power and presence we are dead to God, but boy are we alive to the desires that drive us. Before the Lord opens our eyes to our sin and His call upon our life, we are oblivious to the war between the Spirit and the flesh because the Spirit does not live within us.
There is a second category of folks who are not advancing in the war on the flesh and they are those who have accepted Christ, but are described by God’s Word as “worldly.” Paul addressed this category of folks in his letter to the Corinthians when he wrote,
1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NIV)
In the letter to the Corinthians Paul is addressing the people of the church who have accepted Christ, but they are still living in the same way the world lives. They are jealous, they quarrel with one another, and they are living out of their sinful desires because they are not living in the Word of God and being led by God’s Spirit. There are many of us here this morning that are of the same tribe, we speak the same worldly tongue, and subscribe to the same customs as those who lived in Corinth.
There is a third way to live my friend. God’s Word tells us that those who know the Lord as their Savior are led by the Spirit of God—they walk in the Spirit throughout the day as they make decisions and live their life.
There are those here this morning that have had their eyes opened to the sin that has held them captive. They’ve realized that they are powerless over their sin. In the midst of their realization the Lord has revealed that He has come to set the captives free! Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection those who will trust in Him are more than conquerors through His accomplished work on the cross. A new nature is now resident within us. We are under a new command. All this is true and yet, the moment that we turn from our sin and trust Jesus, the war begins.
The combatants in the war are our sin nature and the Spirit of God. Paul describes the characteristics of the combatants in this way. Turn with me to Galatians 5:19-26 and let’s read together.
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 5:19-26 NIV)
For our time this morning I want us to focus on two different aspects of this Scripture. First of all, I want us to compare and contrast the characteristics of the sin nature and the fruit of the Spirit. Second, I want to finish our study together this morning by taking the time to understand a plan of action for winning the war against our sin nature. Every individual here this morning that has placed their trust in Jesus is called to be an overcomer. You are not to live defeated. You are called to live in victory. You are an overcomer through Jesus our victorious Savior and King!
First, let’s take a look at the characteristics of our sin nature. Paul says that the acts of our sin nature are obvious. All of us would have to agree. As you look at this list of “acts” pointed out by Paul you can see the devastation that they are leaving on our society and our lives each and every day.
John MacArthur points out that the list of sinful acts can be broken down into three categories: Sex, religion, and human relationships. Let’s take a look at the list and see how they line up into these categories. First of all, we read that the acts of the sinful nature are obvious. The first three acts of the sin nature fall into the category of sexual sin and they are sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery. The first two of these sinful acts are easily understood by us today, but the term “debauchery” is a little nebulous, a little more difficult to understand. Let me give you a little insight.
The word “debauchery” in the New International Version of the Bible is also translated, “licentiousness, lasciviousness, lewdness, taking part in sexual sins, ”and“ eagerness for lustful pleasures” in other translations of the verse. The Greek word originally referred to any excess or lack of restraint, but came to be primarily associated with sexual excess. It is not a stretch of the imagination to understand the kind of unbridled unrestraint that is associated with the word. All we have to do is take a look at our society today with its fixation on sex at every turn and you can easily understand the meaning and implications of the word. The same Greek word appears in Ephesians 4:19. Turn there with me and let’s read together.
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. (Ephesians 4:17-19 NIV)
The second category of the deeds of our sinful nature is associated with religion. Paul lists “idolatry” and “witchcraft” as those things which flow from the sin nature and are opposed to God. Throughout history people have been drawn to make that which is not God—into God. God instructed His people in the book of Leviticus to stay away from this kind of sin. He says,
4 “‘Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:4 NIV)
Even though this was the counsel of God, the people so quickly forgot. Whenever they would find themselves in a crisis, needing immediate help, or some snake-oil salesman would come along promising prosperity and happiness they would bow to anything.
God was relentless in His condemnation of idolatry because He knew the false gods would destroy His people. In Ezekiel 14 we read,
7 “‘When any Israelite or any alien living in Israel separates himself from me and sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet to inquire of me, I the LORD will answer him myself. 8 I will set my face against that man and make him an example and a byword. I will cut him off from my people. Then you will know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 14:7-8 NIV)
God doesn’t play with our idolatry. He doesn’t wink and say, “Oh well, they’re just people. They will grow out of it.” God knows that our worship of anything that is not God will lead to our demise.
The third group of deeds which flow from the sinful nature have to do with our relationships with others. Under this category we can list the following: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. All of these “natural” feelings and actions flow from us like water from a spring and all of them will destroy our relationships with others. Underlying each of these deadly acts is a preoccupation with self. I will care for others as long as I get what I want. I will be kind, act civil, and have a winsome attitude about me as long as I am happy and nobody disturbs my happiness or the happiness of those I love. Oh, but be the one who rocks the boat and disturbs these folks happiness and you would be better off attacking a momma bear with cubs!
In contrast to the deeds of the sinful nature Paul lists the “fruit of the Spirit.” Notice that these are not the “fruits” of the Spirit—plural, but they are the “fruit” of the Spirit—singular. The nine fruit of the Spirit are like a cluster of grapes all flowing from the grapevine. Let’s take a look at them. They are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Dr. John Stott sees this fruit as “nine Christian graces that seem to portray a Christian’s attitude to God, to other people, and to himself.” (John R.W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, p. 148.)
The nine fruit of the Spirit are divided into three categories. The first dealing with our attitude towards God. The second dealing with our attitudes towards others, and the last three relate to our inner character which is birthed and nurtured in us by the Spirit of God. Regarding the first set of three: love, joy, and peace, John Stott writes,
This is a triad of general Christian virtues. Yet they seem primarily to concern our attitude towards God, for a Christian’s first love is his love for God, his chief joy is his joy in God and his deepest peace is his peace with God. (Stott, The Message of Galatians, p. 148.)
“Patience, kindness, and goodness” relate to how the Spirit’s work in our lives affects our relationships with others. The word for “patience” is an interesting word in the Greek language. It has to do with being tolerant and longsuffering when suffering at the hands of others. It is a calm willingness to accept situations that are irritating or painful. The same word is used on 2 Corinthians 6:6 by the Apostle Paul.
3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; (2 Corinthians 6:3-6 NIV)
The person being led by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, can endure hardships with patience because he or she knows that God is Sovereign, He has everything under control, and He will use our every hardship for His glory and our growth.
The last pairing of three deals with our inner character. “Faithfulness” describes the reliability enabled and empowered by the Spirit of God in the life of the follower of Jesus. “Gentleness” is the humility, the unassuming nature, and quietness of life that the Spirit of God cultivates in the life of a follower of Jesus. “Self-control” is the evidence that it is the Spirit of God that is leading the life of the believer.
I want you to notice one more thing in comparing the sinful nature and the fruit of the Spirit. Paul contrasts the “acts” of the sinful nature with the “fruit” of the Spirit. The acts come from us. They lead us, and lead us around by the nose. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t come from us—they come from God. The fruit of the Spirit are divinely, supernaturally given from the Father to those who surrender their lives to Him.
Before we leave here this morning I want us to gather around a battle plan, a plan of action as to how we can see victory in our lives on a consistent basis. This battle is real my friend. I have witnessed it and I have experienced it firsthand. I am a veteran of the war of the flesh against the Spirit and I can tell you that you don’t have the arsenal necessary to win the war on your own. The good news is that God loves you and me so much that He has given us His Spirit, who lives in us, and He has given us His Word to guide us into His truth, so that we can win this war by His grace.
To win the war against our sin nature we must be diligent, we must know the weapons of our warfare, and we must rely, solely trust, in the One who has won the victory on our behalf. The enemy, our sin nature, is strong, the pull of the world is magnetic, and Satan knows where we are vulnerable.
When we are outnumbered and out-gunned there is only one place to run which will assure us of victory, and yet so many today are running around in circles looking for answers. We would do well to follow the path of King Jehoshaphat when he found himself in a similar situation. Turn with me to 2 Chronicles 20 and let’s learn from King Jehoshaphat as he got word that the enemy was closing in on him in numbers hard to imagine.
1 After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. 5 Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the LORD in the front of the new courtyard 6 and said: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 7 O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, 9 ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’10 “But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. 11 See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. 12 O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”13 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD.14 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly.15 He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. (2 Chronicles 20:1-16 NIV)
Did you notice that last sentence? The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and gave him a message for King Jehoshaphat. He didn’t tell him to rush around and find a bigger bully on the block to fight his battle for him. He didn’t suggest that he sit down and negotiate with the enemy. Jahaziel said,
Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.
My friend, the Lord wants to fight your battle. He will fight your battle if you will live in the Spirit, if you will keep in step with the Spirit. He will fight your battle and you will live! The battle plan for living the victorious Christian life is quite simple: stay in God’s Word and stay in step with the Spirit. It is in God’s Word that we find God’s truth for living the victorious life and we find the lives of people like Jehoshaphat who show us that God’s counsel is proven and true. It is as we live in the Spirit, as we live seeking God’s will, that we learn of God’s ways and we experience the victory that He has promised.
I want to invite you this morning to allow the Lord to search your heart. Are you living out the desires of your sin nature or are you keeping in step with the Spirit? Are you throwing yourself before the Lord in total dependence upon His grace and Sovereignty or are you trying to figure out a way to get out of your latest mess? Have you surrendered your life to Jesus as Lord of your life or are you still clinging to that pop culture mentality that deep down inside you are a relatively “good” person who doesn’t need Jesus? The Lord is speaking to your heart this morning. He is showing you that your heart and mind are a battlefield, that you are losing the war, and that He holds the key to your victory. Why wouldn’t you want to invite Him in and experience His victory this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 17, 2008