Illustration: The Three Dreaded Words “Church Business Meeting”
I was once a part of a church who had hired on a new pastor. This pastor was filled with vision and energy to bring life back in to this dying church. Several weeks had gone by and the church quickly began to show signs of life. Visitors were walking through the doors, the music was upbeat, everything was exciting. Until “the church business meeting.” The pastor (in his desire and attempt to bring organization to the church) announced that they would begin implementing a few new standards, standards that were certainly going to infringe on the freedom of the congregants. And as you might have guessed, the congregation was split almost right down the middle on whether or not these standards were a good idea or not. At first there were questions asked in sincerity and within reason, but all of the sudden one thing led to another and before long accusations were being made, the pastor’s character was being defamed; as a 20 year old college student it was one of the ugliest church scenes I had ever seen. The church meeting went on for quite some time and ended with a vote that was in favor of the standards of the new pastor. That next Sunday, nearly half of the congregation was gone. People who considered each other brother and sister, close friends were gone and many of them had no desire to make amends. That church of now 65 or 70 people went limping into the next season of the life of that nearly thirty year old congregation.
Of course, we could stand back in judgement of the congregation and take sides of who was right and who was wrong, but that’s not the point of the illustration. The point is that this, in many ways, is what Paul was dealing with; a congregation made up of many smaller home churches that were literally at each other’s throats trying to win an argument over whether or not they should listen to the Judaizers and become cultural Jews or whether they should stick with Paul’s teaching about being accepted by God on the basis of the work of Christ.
The point is that this, in many ways, is what Paul was dealing with; a congregation made up of many smaller home churches that were literally at each other’s throats trying to win an argument over whether or not they should listen to the Judaizers and become cultural Jews or whether they should stick with Paul .
That was an issue that Paul has dealt with. The case for relying upon the sufficiency of Christ’s work is settled, but now Paul has a word for the way they went about their disagreement TURNED battle scene. And Paul would have said the same thing to both churches:
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. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 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. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
We began this section taking a 30,000 foot arial view of sanctification. If you are not familiar with that term, you might also know it as holiness or spiritual maturity, or as simply as your walk with God. In order for us have a really good understanding of why we should care about growing spiritually, we glanced at some of Paul’s other writings to find where he spoke of what lies underneath holiness. Because it’s very common to hear Christian’s talk about sanctification as merely following orders, “I’m supposed to grow, because God says to.” It’s just as common to hear Christians talk about their sanctification as their private walk with God. And while both of those views are actually true, they are incomplete.
We began this section taking a 30,000 foot arial view of sanctification. If you are not familiar with that term, you might also know it as holiness or spiritual maturity, or as simply as your walk with God. In order for us have a really good understanding of why we should care about growing spiritually, we glanced at some of Paul’s other writings to find where he spoke of what lies underneath holiness. Because it’s very common to hear Christian’s talk about sanctification as merely following orders, “I’m supposed to grow, because God says to.” You also have another view where Christians privatize their walk with God and only see it as a singular way of relating with God. And while both of those views are actually true, they are incomplete.
God, in Christ, is uniting all things in heaven and on earth to himself. Christ is reversing the curse and restoring all things back to the way that God created them to be. We are being formed to be truly human and we will live eternally as restored or glorified human beings. God in Christ, through the Spirit is preparing us to be citizens of a new country altogether and He has assigned us to bring others who are far from God in to that family with us.
So, your sanctification is not about you turning over a new leaf or even being a “better man” although you will become one, OUR sanctification is joining in God’s restoration project. He’s restoring you, and He’s restoring all things unto himself. We must have that big picture in mind in order to see why we must walk by the Spirit and even how to walk by the Spirit.
Why must we walk by the Spirit? Well for at least two reasons: because the flesh has desires and the Spirit has desires and they’re in a war from the moment we wake up to the moment we pillow our heads and if we are controlled by the desires of the flesh we will walk right back into the prison that leads to death.
The objective of our time together in this passage is to show you the way to walk by the Spirit
We walk by the Spirit when we take hold of our deepest desires and submit them to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and then trust him with the results
I want to take this sentence and sort of break it down and then build back up with a few areas of application.
Before I do that, I want to hold this view up to popular views within the church and perhaps within the audience this morning:
For some Christians, walking in the spirit happens when you follow the spontaneous impulses of the Holy Spirit. And when he puts a good feeling in your heart to do something, do it.
And the book of Acts is often sited when this view is taught. If you remember the Macedonian call when the Apostle Paul was on his way to Asia (Galatia) and the Holy Spirit forbade him to preach the Gospel there. But what you won’t see in Acts is the Apostle waiting for a particular feeling. I guarantee he wasn’t “feeling” the beating and imprisonment that he experienced when he got to Philippi.
Another popular view is that walking in the spirit happens when you do the right things. Read your Bible, pray, go to church, give, serve in a ministry, tell others about Jesus. Follow the right set of rules.
Neither of these ideas are complete, but there is enough truth in both of these ideas that many Christians don’t really know which one true and we end up not knowing how to walk by the Spirit at all. It gets chalked up as another one of those Christian phrases we use, but don’t know how to explain it someone else much less live and walk in step with the Spirit.
If we are going to “walk by the Spirit” we need first to:
I’m going to spend most of our time on the second half of the phrase, but still we need to recognize that we within every Christian there are desires (deep and strong) of the flesh and there are desires of the Spirit. Now, we must first address the fact that so often when we talk about the desires of our heart we refer most to the fleshly (also known as pre-Christian) desires of our hearts, but Paul doesn’t talk about them that way. Not every desire within your heart is wrong and not every desire within your heart is right. But far often more than not, we tend to talk as if the desires of our hearts are “desperately wicked.”
But this is a good spot to pause and ask Paul where he’s even picking up this language of desires of the Spirit. It’s most likely that Paul is borrowing the prophetic language of Ezekiel - Ezekiel said:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
So the beautiful reality is that God himself is performing this heart replacement surgery on every Christian and has put His Spirit within us so that we will finally be able to walk in His statutes and obey his rules. That’s why Paul can say as he does not only here, but also in that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are at war with each other to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Paul says,
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
And I understand the pushback from one side of this is that if we have a desire to do something good, we should assume it is from the Spirit and do it. I would completely agree with that statement if Paul had not written .
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
The action is not as important as the desire/motive with which the action was performed.
So if we are to walk in step with the Spirit, we must begin by taking hold of our deepest desires. And once we have taken hold of those desires:
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
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.
Now this phrase, “crucified the flesh” is an interesting phrase. Why didn’t Paul say execute or kill? Wouldn’t he being saying the same thing, except it wouldn’t be. The image Paul intends to paint is the image of Jesus lifted up on the cross and our old Adamic nature with all of it’s desires and passions hanging right there with him, experiencing the slow and painful death that he endured.
We must be honest with ourselves, have you taken your deep desires to the cross of Christ? I mean have we taken the time to think through our actions and our decisions and discerned what our longings are and then said, LORD I’m submitting these deep longings and desires to you, I’m willing to let these desires die, because I want your will that badly.
We think that if we’re doing a good thing, we’re doing the best thing, but we must go deeper if we’re going to really keep in step with the Spirit.
If you take a look at the “works of the flesh” they feel strangely out of place for this letter (19-21). Paul is dealing with two things, false doctrine and the way the people were handling the false doctrine problem. Even the guys who had the right doctrine were being rebuked for having character that had not been reformed by the Spirit. I say that because of what he says in verses 15 and 26, he says you’re biting and devouring one another, you’re conceited, you’re provoking one another, you’re envying one another.
So why would he be concerned about sexual sins and drinking sins? I can understand why he would use this list for the church in Corinth, but why here? There is no hint that these Christians have become wild partiers.
The reason he doesn’t only deal with the social works of the flesh (20) is because all of the works of the flesh derive from the same place, strong desire.
Is it not possible that a strong desire to have nice things for your kids (not evil) could lead to becoming a workaholic, (which is widely acceptable) or a thief (which is unacceptable)?
Is it not possible that having a strong desire for intimacy (not evil) could lead to being obsessed with online dating (which is widely acceptable) to scrolling through pornographic photos online (which is unacceptable)?
Is it not possible that having a strong desire for friendship (not wrong) could lead to being in a conversation with someone who gossips about someone else (which is widely acceptable) to driving while under the influence (which is unacceptable)?
We could go at this for a long time, but to echo Paul’s point, the rules aren’t going to give you any sort of power to keep your good and deep desires from going all the way to the works of the flesh. So take hold of those deep longings and we bring them to the cross (the place where Christ earned your salvation) and we offer them up to our King.
And some people might wonder if this is just a hidden form of legalism. After all Paul does say that “If you do these things (works of the flesh) you will NOT inherit the Kingdom of God.” It sounds a little like I have to keep performing some sort of sacrificial offering all of the time. That’s certainly one way to read this, but maybe what Paul intends for us to see again is that those works of the flesh are simply the results of deep desires that have been allowed to grow freely in our already depraved hearts, but those who have taken those deep desires to the cross are truly disciples of Christ. And when we won’t take those deep longings to the cross aren’t we saying something to the effect of, “I must have security, comfort, intimacy, marriage, children, friendship, wealth, etc or else I won’t really be satisfied.”? And when we say this, we are admitting that Christ isn’t enough for us. Wasn’t this the dilemma of the rich young ruler in the gospels? “I want the eternal life God gives, but I want it along side of my extreme wealth, and in the end he decided, I want my wealth more than I want God.”
Now, one thing Paul doesn’t say in this section, but has made clear throughout the rest of the letter is how the Holy Spirit responds to those longings. Because, although God is sanctifying us, we’re unfinished and we should not trust our own instincts.
I want to show you how Paul confirmed that what he was saying was in line with the leadership of the Spirit:
Christ revealed truth to Paul and he desired to share it with the other Jews and Gentiles (chapter 1)
Paul took that desire to preach the Gospel and submitted it to the other church leaders (chapter 2)
Paul submitted the Gospel he received to the Scriptures (3-4)
To submit our deep longings to the leadership of the Holy Spirit would look identical to Paul’s example:
You believe God gave you a strong desire to do something...
You take that desire and you wash it under the revealed Word of God, if there is a contradiction, that desire is not of the Spirit...
You humbly take that desire and you filter it through your community of God-fearing brothers and sisters…
And I know that this is so foreign to a lot of us because it doesn’t sound free. I mean, I don’t have to submit to any man, I can go directly to the throne of Grace! And you’re right, you can, but the problem with isolated Christianity is that the natural propensity for humans still plagued with the remnant of the Adamic nature is that our initial heart impulse cannot be trusted on its own. And this is not new to us, it was prevalent in the first century, that’s why the author of Hebrews said:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Walking in the Spirit includes walking with others who are filled with the Spirit. It means talking to each other about what is going on in our hearts and our minds. In the Gospel Fellowship that I lead, I will often start the conversation by asking the question, “What is God teaching you this week?” This is always a great time for us to talk about what we’re wrestling with, decisions, heart attitudes, deep longings, but Christians have convinced ourselves that “that’s between me and God” so we miss out on what the Spirit does want to say to us.
And then finally… Once you have taken hold of your desires and submitted them under the leadership of the Spirit,
When you walk in the Spirit, you know what happens? The Spirit produces fruit. And those deep desires (that you brought to the cross and ran under the water of the Word and through your community) begin to blossom and slowly (painfully) slow God’s Spirit begins to transform your heart and mind; your character.
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 once where your deep longing for things to be just right and organized and perfect once grew into the work of the flesh of manipulation and frustration, NOW that longing has been fulfilled in Christ and out comes patience. Patience with your children, patience with your husband, patience with your neighbor.
And once where your deep longing for tranquility and open-space once grew into the work of the flesh of racism, and elitism, and classism, NOW that longing has been fulfilled in Christ and out comes peace and kindness and goodness towards those who don’t look like you, think like you, or vote like you.
Without a doubt, God’s ways are not our ways—they’re higher than our ways. And God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. But as He chisels away at our pride, our conceit, our greed, our lust for power and control, guess what happens, we DO have the mind of Christ, we DO develop the heart of Christ, we DO become shaped into His image.
Walking in the Spirit resembles living by the Spirit. Just as you became a Christian and received the Spirit by faith—that is relying upon the calling and works of God and not your own savvy decision making, you walk in step with the Spirit; not by your own savvy decision making skills, but by the power you receive by relying solely upon the work of God.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
Before we come to the table for communion, I want to share a handful of suggestions for putting yourself in position to wrestle with these desires that we have.
See, the reason we fail so often to walk in step with the Spirit, is because we rarely take time to develop the habits that form the character of Christ. I’m not talking about faking the fruit of the Spirit (you can fake all but the last one). I’m talking about developing habits that will strengthen your Spiritual muscles making the decisions to be led by the Spirit at any moment, second nature.
I recommend that you make a habit out of:
Listening to the Word of God
When you hear something that conflicts or presses into a desire,
Submitting to the Word through prayer
And when you come to a biblical promise
Meditating on the promises of God
let those promises lead you to repent of sin, to give praise, to worship Him
Worship and Fellowship with the family of God
bringing those desires with the family and listening to the desires of others
watch the Spirit work as what you spent time meditating on, the Spirit intended for your sister to hear
Sharing the Gospel of God
Systematically Giving back to God