Saturday, August 2, 2014

Galatians 5: Walk by the Spirit


Gal 5:1-6 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Gal 5:16-26 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 walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

In arguing that we are justified by faith, not works, Paul asks the Galatians the question: "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?" (Gal. 3:2). The obvious answer is that we received the Spirit at conversion by faith; we did not do anything to earn the Spirit--we simply asked and received the Spirit by believing God's promise. Therefore, having begun our Christian journey by faith in Christ's works, we should not revert to trusting in the works our flesh--even the nobler aspects of it.

Yesterday, I was sitting through an Alpha discussion group. When a pre-believer remarked she aspired to be like Jesus to be able to love neighbours and enemies, I was amazed by the group leader's answer. He described the Christian journey as one of striving in his efforts to become "more loving" after messing it up. So, instead of trusting the Spirit's power to transform our lives, this group leader trusted in his own ability to "love" others better. Fortunately, there were two Alpha converts in the same group and I signaled to them to share their experience of transformation and how the power of God changed them totally. One was a 40-stick-a-day chain-smoker who is now serving in the Alpha ministry & community service. The other was an young ex-Taoist who is now the church's worship leader. That two testimonies saved the discussion from going down the path of the flesh instead of the power of the Spirit.

Such things probably happened in the church at Galatia. There were still some Christian leaders who were beginning to understand the path to spiritual maturity in terms of self-efforts and self-discipline. Faith has nothing to do with the self--which Paul calls the "flesh". The flesh is the sinful self within us. Even when it strives to be righteous, it ends up becoming self-righteous. Only the Spirit can deliver us from the works of the flesh and fill us with God's love and grace in our journey to spiritual maturity.

Flesh is whatever that comes out of our first birth. It may even be our brilliant intellect or our natural compassion. When we rely on our own intellect or compassion to become righteous, we end up walking in the flesh with all its ugly manifestations:

(1) Our Physical Appetites
  • Sexual immorality: Any sexual activity outside the biblically-sanctioned "one man-one wife" marital union is considered "sexual immorality." The only valid place for sex is the marital union which involves a life-long commitment before God made between a man and his wife.
  • Impurity: This can refer to any form of moral distortion of God's image within us that corrupts the way we think, speak and act. Any thoughts, words and acts that desecrate the holy image of God (malicious thoughts, vulgar words and evil acts) would come under this category.
  • Sensuality: This refers to an over-indulgence in gratifying the physical appetites, e.g. food, drink and sex. It may lead to gluttony and promiscuous behavior. 
(2) Our Spiritual Activities
  • Idolatry: Any kind of religious activities that invoke demonic power and the worship of demons. It may involve the use of idols of false gods made from wood or stone.
  • Sorcery: This is witchcraft and dabbling in the occultic powers to gain personal advantage over others. I would put Fengshui in this category of manipulating nature to get "blessings". 
(3) Our Emotional Expressions
  • Enmity: This refers to any resentful attitudes towards others. Love and enmity cannot coexist.
  • Strife: This refers to the constant conflicts that occur in churches over sometime very trivial matters--like songs, worship instruments, denominational distinctive, etc. Any tendency towards making a mountain out of a molehill that results in quarrelling is strife.
  • Jealousy: Jealousy grows out of our competitive spirit and insecurity in what God has given to us. We compare with others who have "more" and become jealous. 
  •  Fits of anger: Emotional outburst is a sign of lack of self-control. When we lose our cool and shout or scream, we are expressing our sinful nature. 
(4) Our Social Relationships
  • Rivalries: This is attempting to outdo one another in business and ministry, trying to keep up with our business and ministry Joneses. It's one-upmanship. It's not from the Spirit, but the flesh.
  • Dissensions: This is the habit of criticising others and getting into troubles with others. It could take place within the family, in our church or workplace. It leads to disharmony and absence of peace.
  • Divisions:  This is worse than the above--it results in church splits, racial/ethnic riots and wars between nations. We can divide on the basis of race, language, religion, gender. In the church we can divide over doctrines, practices and denominational distinctives. It's the opposite of love and unity.
  • Envy: Envy is more dangerous than jealousy. While jealousy grows out of insecurity, envy grows out of discontent. Envy can easily leads us to do things we regret because we feel we have been  victimised and therefore resort to antisocial activities and even violence.
  • Drunkenness and Orgies: This refers to a reckless social life that is focused on self-gratification and pleasures. It leads to promiscuous and wild parties. 
So, when we rely on the power of our flesh to "do good" we end up in physical, emotional and relational bondages. There is only one way to live the Christian life--and that is to walk by the Spirit. The flesh and Spirit are mutually exclusive: "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" (Gal 5:16-17). 

Only the Spirit can produce the fruit of Christ-like 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 those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desiresIf we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-25). Paul asserts that those who belong to Christ have "crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." In other words, if we stand by God's truth, we can resist the passions and desires of the flesh to obey the Spirit. We are not in bondage to the flesh--unless we yield ourselves to its passions and desires. We have the power to say "No" to it.

But the first downward slide to a life of the flesh begins always with the noble intentions to become "more loving" or "more righteous" -- but relying on our own self-power rather than Spirit-power. This first "noble" step in the flesh will lead to other destructive manifestations of the flesh as we have witnessed in so many churches. May God deliver us even from our "noble" flesh so that the ignoble flesh will not contaminate our church relationships.

Father, deliver us from the flesh, even the nobler expressions, so that we will not be held bondage to it. Instead, help us walk by Your Spirit, following His promptings and obeying His desires. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. what is the Biblical definition of "walking in the Spirit"? According to the parable of the sower, how important is the believers priorities when it comes to staying close to God? Are our priorities a type of "Work/action/obedience" according to your thinking? Again, according to the parable of the sower, how does our priorities directly impact our fruit? I await you answer. thank you!

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