“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
(Galatians 5:16–25 ESV)
One of Jesus most famous teaching is found in the Gospel of John. It is the description of how the Kingdom of God works in terms of our relationship with God the Father.
In John 15, he paints a picture in our minds, an ordinary day picture for the first-century audience, a vineyard. Where I come from, we have lots of vineyards, and if you have been to France, Italy, Spain, or even Portugal and visited a vineyard, you know how amazing they can be. The vine looks fragile, yet they can produce a cluster of grapes, and we get wine from grapes!
How is it possible? How is it possible that a branch that looks very dry and almost dead during the winter season can flourish and produce something so unique?
When the branch is linked to the vine, and it is not dead. It does not matter what season of the year is; the branch is alive.
“John 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” (John 15:7–9 ESV)
So, the question I want to ask is this:
How do we walk in the Spirit in every season of our lives?
Paul in Galatians gives us the answer.
He protested to the Galatians that they encountered Christ by the Spirit. Now they are being led to live under the weight of the law. That is living by the law and not living the Spirit.
“Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. Galatians 3:2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1–3 NIV11-GKE)
Isn’t this true of all of us?
That at some point, we started with a Holy Spirit zeal and passion. Then you and I became average nominal Christians, contented and not that bother much the things of God, but with other things that have become more important than the Gospel and living in the Spirit.
Thom S. Rainer from Church Answers has 25 reasons people fight in Churches, and I am going to give you the first 5:
- Argument over the appropriate length of the worship pastor’s beard (I think I saw a verse in Scripture that indicated it is to be no more than 1.5 inches longer than the pastor’s beard.).
- Fight over whether or not to build a children’s playground or use the land for a cemetery (I’m dying to know the resolution of this one.).
- A deacon accusing another deacon of sending an anonymous letter and deciding to settle the matter in the parking lot (The Church could have sold tickets to this event and raised a lot of money.).
- A church argument and vote to decide if a clock in the worship centre should be removed (I think this one is a timely argument.).
- A 45-minute heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers (This one is an official cabinet meeting of the church leadership.).
How do we live by the Spirit, abiding in God and bearing much fruit?
Here in Galatian 5:16-17 gives us the answer:
“ But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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.” (Galatians 5:16–17 ESV)
Walk by the Spirit
Let me make two observations about these verses:
- The flesh and the works of the law are interconnected. There is a powerful connection between the flesh and the law. The law was given so that the people of God were to be set apart from other nations. It was developed to point to God through a system of offerings, worship and sacrifices, and it demanded full observance, something that is impossible to achieve. Therefore, man best effort to keep the law always fell flat. Why? Because the law also pointed to our sins. So there is a strong relationship between law-keeping and man’s best efforts.
o What is the flesh? The flesh is what is known as our old nature, and Christ has not redeemed that. In Christ, we are a new creation. We have become new in Christ. The flesh has been crucified with Christ. Yet in this life, the flesh remains till we are fully cloth with the righteousness of Christ. I would encourage you to read and study Romans chapters 6-8.
- The Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit are strongly connected. There is a strong spiritual connection with the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit that every follower of Jesus should manifest, produce and be evident. This is what Jesus said: “ If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” (John 15:7–9 ESV)
I want you to know that we have several opposites or counterparts in these two verses as Paul says, “The Spirit and the Flesh “For these are opposed to each other”.
• Walking in the Spirit as opposed to walking in the flesh.
• Living by the Spirit as opposed to living and gratifying the desires of the flesh.
• The desires of the flesh as opposed to the desires of the Spirit
• The desires of the Spirit as opposed and against the desires of the flesh.
These opposites will keep you from doing the things you want to do.
“These two are enemies, and this means that you cannot do what you want to do.” (Galatians 5:17 TEV). Which I understand to be the will of God.
There is no middle ground. You either walk in one direction, or you go the opposite direction. But to be in the middle or balance between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh is not an option.
Now, there are several spiritual dynamics taking place here:
- Let me explain, walking is a dynamic action involving the body. It is an act of our neuromotor system. so that we can move. However, when we are just born, we can’t walk, but we learn how to walk as we grow, till it becomes natural, normal. So we were born with the capacity to walk, yet we learn to walk.
So, just as we were born of the Spirit, now we need to learn how to walk in the Spirit.
So, the first spiritual dynamic is that Walking in the Spirit is something you learn to do.
What is true in the natural is also true in the Spiritual.
(For some of us, we have been walking for so long alongside the flesh that it is challenging to learn to walk again, but it can be done with the leading and the fruit of the Spirit).
- Learning to walk in the Spirit will bring much fruit, and we will sustain a strong spirituality for every season in our lives. It is dynamic. This is what I meant when I said that the “Gospel is not just for salvation, but it is what sustains us for life here on earth”. So the second spiritual dynamic is that “we were made for walking and producing good fruit”.
- But there is another spiritual dynamic that takes place, one that I wish none of us can be found to be in; because it is not sustainable, I call it the Fault Spiritual Balance. I believe that this to be as dangerous as walking in the flesh.
When we follow the desires of the flesh, and at the same time, we try to follow the leading of the Spirit, tension is created. So if you walk to satisfy the desire of the flesh, the Holy Spirit will convict you, and he will try to bring you back, but the lust of the flesh is powerful, and it can move you towards it.
Remember what Paul says: the Spirit and the Flesh (and vice versa) are against each other, and if we try to walk in both, Paul says that “we will not do what we desire to do”.
So, when we live a life trying to please both the Spirit and flesh, something happens, a False Spiritual Balance is created, and this is called apathy!
Spiritual apathy is a dangerous place to be. It can numb you, and you become a half-hearted Christian.
Therefore, no spiritual growth takes place.
It is like one force negates the other. They conflict with one another. This creates spiritual inertia, and somehow, we learn to live with it because we are creatures of habits. When we develop bad habits, we are building a stronghold.
Some of the underlying factors of a lack of spiritual growth are that we are stuck, we come and experience the presence of God, and then we follow the desires of the flesh. It leads to spiritual inertia, a state of spiritual apathy, and I have seen this in churches.
This can happen when we are being snared by temptations, when we crave to please the old nature, the flesh, which Paul describes for us at the end of the chapter.
Let me give you an example, and I have permission to share it.
I have a friend who has been sober for the last 18 months, and he is a Christian. He is part of the family. Someone he loves very much became very ill, and when the consultant is trying to figure out what is wrong, panic can set in, worries and stress levels can rise. My friend went through all that and found himself at a petrol station not to buy petrol but a bottle of whisky. As he was about to pay, he realised where he was and what he was doing! He stopped and told the cashier that he is a Christian and run away from that place!
That is the conflict, that is, the two opposites. I thank God that he run away! But what would have happened if he would have bought the bottle and drunk it?
A faulty spiritual cycle may set in; something like:
When this happens, we need Sozo, deliverance, healing and salvation. If we are not delivered, healed and saved, then we are in danger.
What is the danger? The danger is that we could easily justify our actions, and this can lead us to a place of apathy and spiritual inertia. This is very true of those who are addicted to pornography, adultery, slandering, etc.
Example in Church
We get to a place of apathy, and I worry about this, is when I hear that in the Church, we need to keep a balance, not too much of each, and we will be fine!! Everything is in equal measure. Not too much of the new; remember the old. But I have a conflict, and I do not see equal measures in my Bible.
Imaging Jesus was preaching a message of balance and equal measures!
• What is the point then of the feeding of the 5000. If we try to bring balance, only a few would have eaten. There is nothing special about that! Jesus was completed unbalance towards compassion.
• The act of the flesh “hatred” and the fruit of the Spirit Love. If we keep both of them in equal measure, balance, the outcome is total apathy. We either hate, or we love. There is no balance or middle ground.
• Furthermore, this is what 1st john 4:20 tells us about the outcome of living a balanced life of hate and love “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20 ESV) John says we become liars, and when that happens, the Truth is not us.
• This is what Jesus said to the Church in Laodicea “Revelation 3:15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15–16 NIV11-GKE). You are either with me or without me. Make your mind up!
• You either walk with me, or you don’t. But don’t be in a state of balance because you will not grow. He won’t be there.
Some teach that spiritual balance is about having an equilibrium between the forces of evil and the forces of good. But, unfortunately, that search for balance will leave us empty and in danger of being influenced by those who teach that to be saved, you and I need Jesus plus law.
If this is the case, that true spirituality is about balance, holding evil and good in equal measure, then I would suggest that we should change the account of the first three chapters in the book of Genesis.
When Adam and Eve, by their disobedience, experienced the power of sin and evil. Man did not achieve a spiritual balance. The man died spiritually. God threw him out of the garden, just like Jesus, who is willing to spit out those who are lukewarm.
Walking in the Spirit is the only activity that we are responsible for. It falls upon us if we walk in the Spirit or not. But we do not walk alone! We have an outstanding councillor called the Holy Spirit who walks with us.
Sadly, the Galatians decided to exchange their companion, their walking partner. They began with Spirit and turned to the law, and they became stuck in a spiritual dynamic that is totally and downright toxic.
What do we need to walk in the Spirit?
We need a leader, and we need to follow a leader. That leader is the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul says Be led by the Spirit!