Galatians 5:16 - 25
Some of you have been to the West Edmonton Mall. In fact, most of the youth were there fairly recently. In the water park at the mall, there are a whole bunch of water slides and it is great fun to slide down on them. I have been there and also to “Fun Mountain” and other waterslides. The fun is that gravity and water combine to give you an enjoyable ride that takes very little effort. You are carried along and you don’t have to exert energy in order to get down the slide.
Jesus describes the way into the Christian life as a small gate and a narrow road. We have extended that imagery beyond the entrance into the Christian life to the nature of the Christian life. We have sometimes looked at the Christian life as a hike up a mountain with a fully loaded backpack. This morning I would like to suggest that although the gate may be small and the road narrow that leads to life, the Christian life could be described more as a ride on a waterslide than a hike up a mountain. I believe that the Bible teaches that we are carried along to our destination more than we are called to exert great effort to get there.
Let me read and explain Galatians 5:16-25 to tell you what I mean and encourage you in your Christian walk. I mean to speak to those who are indicating their faith through baptism today, but also to all of us. I want to encourage us in the way we live our Christian life.
In your testimonies, you have shared with us how you made your decision to follow Christ. Most of you made your decision initially at about age 4-8. For most of you, your mom or dad helped you understand the choice you were making and guided you through it. Some of you admitted that you did not understand exactly what that decision involved, but you said “yes” to as much as you understood and through Awana, SS, youth, camp and other things, you have come to a deeper understanding of the decision and have either continued to say “yes” as your understanding increased, or you have had points at which you made a rededication.
Today, you are making the choice you have already made, public knowledge. You are doing this in obedience to Christ and as a way of reinforcing the lifestyle you have chosen.
The choice you have made involves a choice to reject a certain way of living. The first step in salvation is repentance, turning from sin. The beginning of being a Christian is a choice to reject the deeds of the sinful nature. Galatians 5:19-21 describes the deeds of the sinful nature. As we read this list, we recognize with revulsion that we don’t want to do some of these things. Unfortunately, there are others that still continue to give us a lot of grief.
We read here that the acts of the sinful nature are obvious and we read a list of these acts.
We read there about impurity. As we begin the list and read about “sexual immorality” we are in full agreement that we need to reject that. Prostitution, adultery, homosexuality are not to be engaged in by those who are Christian. Then we read about impurity and agree that it is right to reject the impurity in our thought life, prompted by the values of a culture that easily gives way to impurity. We have made a choice. By becoming a Christian, we have put to death impurity.
Verse 20 mentions jealousy. The Greek word is neutral and can be translated either zealous or jealous. The context suggests whether it is positive or negative and in this passage it is negative. When it is negative, it is translated jealousy and refers to the kind of selfish jealousy that desires evil for others or wants what others have. Jealousy is another of the acts of the sinful nature that we have rejected.
Another word in verse 20 is selfish ambition. It is the kind of rivalry that desires to have things for ourselves. We talked about burning CD’s in one of our sessions and I suggested that it was wrong. This word describes what is wrong with burning CD’s. We want the music for ourselves and aren’t willing to pay the person who wrote it and produced it. That is selfish ambition. We have chosen to reject this as well.
We could go on describing the acts of the sinful nature, but I think you get the picture. We read in verse 21 that “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” We don’t want to experience God’s eternal punishment and so we have repented of these things and accepted God’s forgiveness. We rejoice in the promise of God in verse 24 where we read, “Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”
As you have made this choice, however, you have not only turned away from something, you have also turned to something. What have you turned to?
It might seem that the opposite of living by the sinful nature would be to live by the righteous nature. When we read the list of sins in verses 19-21, we see one side. You have chosen to reject the acts of the sinful nature. It would be logical that the opposite of the acts of the sinful nature would be the acts of righteousness. But that is not what we read. Instead, we read the surprising words, “the fruit of the Spirit.” There is not a direct correspondence and we are confused. Isn’t the opposite of living by sin, living by righteousness? But it doesn’t say live by love, joy, peace etc.
The temptation is to move from a life of obedience to the sinful nature to a life of strict obedience to a lot of rules so that we live in a way that is opposite to the sinful life. But Paul does not say that. In fact, in verse 18, this disturbing lack of correspondence continues when it says, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”
As we read the list of acts of the sinful nature and examined a few, if we were honest, we would have to admit that even though we have been crucified with Christ, some of these deeds are still a real struggle for us. We agree with verse 17 that the desires of the sinful nature are in conflict with the Spirit. We feel this conflict intensely in our own life. We know in our own hearts that we are not able to reject all the deeds of the sinful nature and walk perfectly in the deeds of righteousness.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate that God’s Spirit has come here to live within those who belong to Him. It is a day to celebrate the powerful truth that we do not live our Christian life by the strength of our resolve, but by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. The significant difference in this kind of living is that power is added. The opposite of living by the sinful nature is not merely living by righteousness, it is living by righteousness, with the power to actually do it. Lists of vices and virtues are common in literature. What is radically different in the list of vices and virtues we have here is the presence of the Spirit of God to accomplish the one and reject the other. Every other list of vices and virtues says, don’t do this, do that. Christianity says don’t do this, here is the power to live like this. That is what it means to live by the Spirit. That is why I suggested that the Christian life is more like a ride on a water slide than a hike up a mountain.
When we live by the Spirit, rather than working up righteousness in our own power, the Spirit of God works righteousness in us. That is the reason for the words “fruit of the Spirit.” Living by the Spirit will result in the fruit of righteousness in our life. We need to understand the word written here, that when we live by the Spirit of God, His Spirit grows His fruit in us. That fruit is listed and we recognize it as righteousness.
For example, in regards to joy. Sometimes we tell people in church to smile. When we do, we are falling back to giving people a list of things to do. What this passage tells us is that when we live by the Spirit, smiling will be an expression on our face that arises from a joy within that comes from knowing what God has done. When we live by the Spirit, joy will come from within by the Spirit and smiles will naturally grow on our faces.
If we have made a choice not to live by the sinful nature, but rather by the Spirit, what does that mean for our Christian life? Does it mean that we concentrate hard on avoiding all the deeds of the sinful nature? Does it mean concentrating hard on trying to do all the right things? It means neither of these things. The text tells us what we must concentrate on. It means that we concentrate on walking by the Spirit. Verse 25 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Other translations say, “walk by the Spirit.” New English Bible says, Vs. 25 - if the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course.” NEB
Thus the encouragement I have for all of us today is to walk by the Spirit. “How do we walk by the Spirit?” As you continue your Christian life, having now made it public, how will you walk by the Spirit? If you have been a Christian for 40 years or more, how do you walk by the Spirit?
Walking by the Spirit is recognizing first of all that we have not been called to a religion, but to a relationship with God by the indwelling Spirit. It means recognizing that God wants us and we are invited to respond to Him by wanting God. It is wanting God’s way more than our way. It is living in relationship with God in constant communication with Him. We also need to realize that God is not far away. Walking by the Spirit means understanding that God lives within us by his Spirit. He is close by. We don’t need to wait for the heavens to open in order to have a relationship with Him.
It is listening to God in His word and in prayer so that the relationship is built.
It is developing a heart that is open to the voice of God. God is much more interested in communicating with us than we often think. Revelation 3:20 says “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” The problem is that we are not open to the voice of God. As soon as we take time to listen, God speaks.
It is calling upon the name of the Lord because we can’t win the battle over jealousy, impurity and so on. It is recognizing that the power to live a new life comes from God and it is asking God to give us that power. It is waiting upon the Lord to see what He will do in us.
It is moment by moment obedience to the voice of the indwelling Spirit. When we know what God is saying to us, walking by the Spirit is doing what we know he wants us to do. Walking by the Spirit is still a matter of obedience, but it is obedience to a person who speaks to us and whom we love, not obedience to rules which seem to have no bearing in our life.
It is steady, gradual, growth, not instant pudding. Not a growth that we make, but that the Spirit makes in us.
The promise of God in verse 16 is that if we live by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Of course the Christian life isn’t like a water slide. It isn’t an effortless ride. But, my encouragement to you is to recognize that we are carried along by the Spirit of God much more than we sometimes realize. Instead of fighting the work of God’s Spirit within us, we need to allow the Spirit to grow Christ likeness in us.
So as you take this step of baptism, I want to encourage you to walk by the Spirit!!!
As you watch these people making this stand, I also want to encourage you to walk by the Spirit.