The cell of a simple blade of grass is far more complex than the largest computer made by man. And the smallest deeds done in the Spirit are of far more value than the greatest work done by man apart from the Spirit. Microsoft or Disney World can’t give a man eternal life and take him to the glories of heaven. From Frankenstein to genetic engineering man has tried to produce life. But only God can create life and the same is true of spiritual life. The character of Christ can only be produced in us by the ministry of the Holy Spirit as we yield our new lives in Christ to His on-going work of sanctification. Paul continues his argument of the Spirit versus the flesh, grace versus the law to show that freedom from the law does not mean to sin boldly but to love God and man and manifest the very character of God through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Vv. 16-18 – “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (v. 16-17) The sinful nature or flesh means “sin-desiring” versus “God-desiring” thoughts, attitudes and actions. And though we will always have the flesh in us, we as believers now have God Himself indwelling us to fight against the sin-desiring nature of the flesh. “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” (V.17 NLT) As believers we can choose to yield to God’s power within and do what we now want to do as new creatures in Christ – to please and obey the Lord. “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law.” (Romans 7:22)
The “desires” (epithumia) of the flesh mean “inordinate desires.” It is something we feel we must have outside of God’s will even as Adam and Eve felt about the fruit that would make them wise and like God. But the Holy Spirit has longings too – longings for us to behold Christ and to be formed into His likeness, so He fights against the inordinate desires we have for our idols. So as true believers we can’t sin without this inward battle, although continual sin can sear our conscience and over time make us less sensitive to His Word and leadings.
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (v. 18) What Paul is saying here is that it is not just what we do (the behavioral level) when we sin that we need to repent of but mainly why we sin (the motivational level). Being under the law is reverting back to performance-based acceptance, being our own savior, as we go after the things in life that we feel will validate us and give us self-worth. All of our worries, fears, anger and entrenched habits come from our insistence to meet our needs our own way (self-righteousness) and go after our particular idol rather than to trust God to authenticate our worth and value through His perfect love seen at Calvary.
So in verse 24 when Paul says we have crucified the flesh, what he means is that we have identified and dismantled our idols so they no longer have the ruling power to inflame our desires such that we must have them to feel loved and accepted. For as we “keep in step with the Spirit” (v.25) He continually shows us how wonderful Jesus is, how much He loves us and how worthy He is of our desires and our obedience out of adoration, love and gratitude. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (emancipation from bondage, freedom). And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continue to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:17-18) The work of the Spirit is to continually inspire us to behold Jesus through God’s Word, God’s witnesses, God’s creation, etc., and be changed more and more into His likeness. As we do this the fruit of the Spirit, the character of Jesus, is formed in us.
Going after our idols (versus seeking the Lord) is what drives us and frustrates us and brings pain into our life. Recall Tim Keller’s comments on idols: “Any idol is a curse because if I fail my idol it will not forgive me. If it is threatened by circumstance I become uncontrollably anxious. If it is blocked by a person I become uncontrollably resentful. If I lose it through personal failure I become self-loathing. And even if I succeed with my idol it will not fulfill me for it is a non- god.” Only God can satisfy our soul and only pleasing Him will fulfill us. “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” (Psalm 63:1-8)
As we study Paul’s contrast of the works of the flesh and the work (fruit) of the Spirit, it would help to get a perspective on how the Holy Spirit works by answering these questions based on the Scriptures below.
What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit? See Romans 8:28-29; Ephesians 4:13.
What is the method of the Holy Spirit? See 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 below.
What is the process of the Holy Spirit? How does our character change occur? 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.
What is the experience of the Holy Spirit? See Galatians 5:1; 13-15.
What is the test of the Holy Spirit? See 1 Corinthians 13:1- 8a below. Note the contrasts between gifts of the Spirit (speaking, prophecy, giving to the poor) and fruit of the Sprit (love). Which does God emphasize as all-important? Add your name in the blanks to “test” if the Holy Spirit is having His way in each of these character qualities of love below.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
_____________ is patient, __________ is kind. __________ does not envy, _________ does not boast, _________ is not proud, _________ is not rude, _________ is not self-seeking, ___________ is not easily angered, _________ keeps no record of wrongs. __________ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. ___________ always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. __________’s love never fails.”
Until He comes,
Len and Kristen
* See Tim Keller’s study of Galatians at www.redeemer.com
See http://lensykes.com for archives of letters and teachings.