Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part Two
Topic: Holy Spirit Passage: Galatians 5:12–5:26
The Holy Spirit
Grace Community Church
Oct. 10, 2021
Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 2
We’re looking at what it means to keep in step with the Spirit, and to help us understand what keeping in step with the Spirit means we need to look at the larger conversation Paul is having with the Galatian church. Let’s open by reading portions of chapter 5.
5 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[e] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
As we saw last week the Galatians had started out strong in their Christian walk because they started out weak. They put all their trust in Jesus Christ and his righteousness. Then a group of people called Judaizers came in and their message wasn’t “deny Jesus”, it was “help Jesus”. What Jesus started on the cross, now you add to it by your own good works. Trust in Jesus and in your own strength (what Paul calls “the flesh”).
Here’s what Paul makes clear to the Galatians: legalism isn’t just another version of the gospel; legalism is a perversion of the gospel! It empties the cross of its power to save, cuts us off from Christ, and it unplugs us from the power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us.
So it’s no big surprise that as the Galatian church moved from trusting the Spirit to trusting the flesh the fabric of the church began to tear apart. Verse 15 reveals that they had a growing problem with division, gossip, criticizing, and backbiting.
15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
If you become a pack of wild animals snapping and biting at each other, you will eventually eat each other up. In Macedonia scientists discovered a case where a viper ate a centipede that was nearly as big as it was and just as ferocious a predator. As the viper was eating the centipede, the centipede was eating the viper from the inside.
Watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
- The flesh eats away at relationships
The flesh is toxic to relationships. Paul mentions 15 works of the flesh – the list isn’t exhaustive but gives us an idea of how the flesh operates, and 8 of the 15 things he mentions directly eat away at relationships: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy…
And it’s no accident that after Paul let us keep in step with the Spirit, verse 26 says let us not become conceited, provoking one another or envying one another.
Motives for devouring might differ from person to person depending on what “work of the flesh” is more prominent in them. Anger wants to devour those who did something to anger them. Envy decides if I can’t have what they have, at least I can find pleasure in running them down and hurting their reputation. Strife just enjoys stirring up trouble – when our flesh is given to strife, we never feel so alive as when there’s drama and division. Rivalry flesh sees everything as a competition and another’s success as their failure.
The flesh does it in different ways and for different motives, but the flesh always eats away at relationships. We don’t know what the particular issues were that were dividing and devouring the fabric of the church community, Paul doesn’t specify and he doesn’t take sides. When the flesh is at work it doesn’t matter which side you take. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re the viper or the centipede, either way you’re gonna end up being eaten.
Big picture: when we are backbiting, gossiping, slandering, self-righteously judging others, looking down on people, or any other form of biting at people we are NOT walking in the Spirit.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we live in very polarizing times. People are sliced and diced in every conceivable way, dividing over everything from politics to religious beliefs to medical convictions to you name it. It’s ok, it’s normal, it human to have different viewpoints, opinions, and convictions. Differences in themselves don’t have to eat away at relationships. It’s the flesh that turns differences into feeding frenzies. Social media hasn’t helped this any as we can now unload with ever having to face the person in person.
As we trust in Christ and seek to keep in step with the Spirit, we want to keep watch over our own souls. The flesh is tricky, and the very thing we’re eating can at the same time be eating us.
I’ve been listening to a podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. If you’re not familiar with it, it catalogues the meteoric rise and fall of a church in Seattle and Mark Driscoll, its pastor. Listened to carefully it’s very well done and very insightful. We can learn to identify and avoid spiritual abuse and toxic environments, see the dangers of marketing Christianity in the name of “gospel advancement”, and confusing growth with fruit, size with health. But we have to watch our souls. We can enjoy the drama and sensationalism. We can take a perverse pleasure in the destruction of a church and celebrity pastor (“they had it coming!”). Waiting eagerly each week for a new podcast to come out can be a form of “rubbernecking” – enjoying the crash and burn of other people.
We need to be careful because while we’re eating this stuff up, it might be eating us up too. Damaging our souls. Eating away at love, humility, genuine concern for people. I like what the narrator says in the opening introduction, that it’s a story of all these terrible things, but it’s also the story of God working in broken places. All of our stories are to some degree that: God working in broken places. All our churches are to some degree that: God working in broken places.
Paul moves us beyond feasting on other people’s brokenness, to helping them find Christ in that brokenness. Keeping in step with the Spirit always has us pointing people to Christ.
Paul diagnoses the Galatian’s problem and writes them a script in verse 16:But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
- Keeping in step with the Spirit leads us down the path of love
Keeping in step with the Spirit is at war with the flesh. The flesh wants to destroy relationships and devour other people, the Spirit leads us to love people. It’s that simple. Jesus set us free, but not free to do whatever we want or say whatever we want, he set us free to love one another.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Our freedom in Christ isn’t meant to be an opportunity for the flesh (devouring one another), but an opportunity to serve one another out of love. This definitely means we are not supposed to devour one another, no matter which side of a doctrine or issue or perspective we fall on.
Jesus loved people. He loved the poor, the ashamed, the unlovely, the sick, the spiritually dull, the scandalized. He also loved the rich (he loved the rich young man who came to him), the religiously stilted, the powerful. Many of these didn’t come to faith in him, but some did. And Jesus loved them as much as he loved the outcasts and downtrodden. The gospel isn’t about God loving some people, it’s about God loving all people!
The Holy Spirit wants to bear the fruit of love in our hearts so that we love people the way God loves them! Doesn’t mean we agree with them or like everything they’re doing, but we see them as people and we love them.
Think about the dynamics of the early church when the gospel expanded beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. Talk about differences! The Jews had all their customs and ceremonies and traditions. They had rich biblical knowledge, and they had history with God. They had food they could eat and food they couldn’t eat. All of their men were circumcised. No exceptions. That was super important to them as a religious sign of their covenant with God, that God accepted them.
Then all of a sudden there are Gentile Christians among them and bammo! Suddenly half the church is serving ham and cheese sandwiches at the church potluck dinner. The men’s breakfast is serving bacon with the bagels. We can’t imagine how hard this would be for good Jewish believers to accept. The Gentiles talk different, know little about the Bible, don’t observe any of the customs or feasts or traditions that the Jews held sacred. And none of the men are circumcised. And the early church leaders had to wrestle with this and they came up with a really, really short list – abstain from food given to idols, from sexual immorality, and from strangled or near raw meat. Their heart was to serve the Gentile Christians, not conform them to their image.
In no way does this mean truth isn’t important in the church or that anything goes. The letter to the Galatians was written specifically to confront them with truth and warn them of their error. In the opening verses Paul says if anyone, even an angel, preaches a different gospel than the one they preached let them be accursed!
But I want to point something out: Paul doesn’t say if anyone believes a different gospel let them be accursed. Believing a different gospel would describe the entire world in Paul’s day and a big part of our world today. Jesus said reach that world, don’t curse it. Paul’s condemnation isn’t for those who are deceived by believing a wrong belief. His condemnation is for those who are actively proclaiming and promoting a different gospel, actively working to undermine the gospel of Jesus either by contradicting the gospel or by compromising that gospel.
We need to hold onto truth or the church will become contaminated by error and that will destroy everyone. But we need to promote the truth by the power of the Spirit not by the power of the flesh. The flesh can say truth too, and in that moment the truth becomes a devourer of people, not a builder up of people.
Satan spoke truth, he even quoted Bible to Jesus. That doesn’t mean we want to subscribe to Satan’s podcast.
We’ll spend more time on the fruit of the Spirit in another message, but let’s close by reminding ourselves that the primary fruit of the Spirit is love and let’s ask the Lord to help us use every opportunity to serve people with love. To use our words to build up and impart grace, rather than tear down and backbite.
God, by His Holy Spirit, is working in broken places. Let’s seek to keep up with Him and join Him in that work!
More in Holy Spirit
October 17, 2021Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part Three: Sowing to the Spirit
October 3, 2021Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part One
September 26, 2021Can These Bones Live? The Resurrection Power of God’s Spirit