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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Greetings, and welcome to HBS.
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another (Galatians 5: 13-15).
These verses marked the start of a new discussion for Paul. Verses 1-12 dealt with the perversion of legalism. Galatians 5:13-15 deal with the perversion of Antinomianism; the belief that Christians are not bound by established moral laws.
Before we proceed we must have an understanding of what Paul meant by “the flesh.” Paul often used this term in his writings to denote the corrupt effects of man: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not (Romans 7:18).
For you (Galatians) were called to freedom – freedom from Jewish rites and rituals, a.k.a. “religious traditions (Galatians 3:28, 4:9, 21-31); you’re not bound to the Mosaic Law, so stop listening to the Judaizers.
“Only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh,” since they were called to freedom, the Galatians were not to use their liberty in Christ Jesus for an occasion to sin. They were not to live their lives without restraint, as though there were no laws governing their behavior. Paul means to say it is freedom from the servitude of sin, and religious rites and ceremonies, not freedom from the necessary restraints of virtue and common sense.
It was necessary for Paul to caution new Believers because there was a strong tendency in all converts from paganism to “backslide” or relapse again into their former lifestyle. Decadence abounded among the gentile nations and wherever sinful addictions once occurred there existed the danger of returning to these same old sinful patterns again: Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly (Proverbs 26:11).
But through love serve one another. Paul said they were called to freedom… so through love be servants of one another (5:13). Clearly, love is a verb and this love God speaks of for one another is not optional. “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” is a command. Put differently, Believers are called in their freedom to desire and seek another’s highest good with the same zeal that they seek their own. As I mentioned last week, if you’re still wondering “Who is my neighbor?” See Jesus’ parable The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Please open your Bible at Galatians 5:16.
Our Apostle Paul tells the Galatians (and us) how to overcome the flesh by the Spirit.
16: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
Here Paul contrasts the Spirit of God and the flesh. The struggle is made clear in the following verse:
17: For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Romans 8:4).
In verse 16 Paul said the Galatians are to “walk by the Spirit” – this is a present command; in other words Paul could have said, “Continue to walk by the Spirit.” Meaning, their walk is continuous; it’s part of their “daily routine” beginning as soon as their feet hit the floor the morning. But since their life in Christ Jesus began with the Spirit (Galatians 3:3, 4:6, 29), the only way it can continue is by the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you’ve attended church services, then at some point in time you’ve heard someone on Sunday morning say, “Walk by the Spirit,” “Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you,” or “Let the Spirit guide you.” But if you’re like me you’ve left the building a bit unsure of what that meant and puzzled as to how to apply that biblical phrase to your life. How does a Believer, “plug into the power of the Spirit?”
Every true Believer is saved not by what they do for God (their works) but they are saved unto good works or for service to others: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for (what) good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would (do what - continually) walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).
You see, Paul said true Believers “have died to sin and are one with Christ” (Romans 6:1-3).
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might (do what) walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
Paul never uses the phrase, “Born again.” He uses the expressions “walk in newness of life,” and “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” though.
As God’ adopted children, walking in newness of life, should true Believers continue walking in the sinful patterns of their old life? Should they act as though their salvation cost God nothing? To quote our Apostle Paul, “May it never be!”
Walk in newness of life speaks of our sanctification as Believers. In the New Testament the word sanctify is the verb of the word for “holy;” “to make holy” and promotes the idea something is holy or is “set apart” from common usage; it is the idea of becoming like Christ, and He is the epitome of Holiness.
The Bible mentions sanctification in three ways and it is important that you understand these phases as: initial, progressive, and ultimate sanctification or you can use the terms: past, present, and future they are interchangeable.
1: Initial sanctification begins the moment you believe; it is the moment Believers can count themselves “dead to sin but alive to God” (Romans 6:11).
Acts 20:32 – “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
1 Corinthians 6:11 – Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified (imputed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
2: Progressive sanctification increases as we mature in our faith or our walk with the Lord and requires a lifetime to complete. It has been said, our responsibility as Believers in Christ Jesus is to grow more and more in sanctification, becoming more and more like Jesus, just as we previously grew more and more in sin.
Romans 6:6-7, 11-14 - "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for [weapons of] righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you. (ESV)
2 Corinthians 3:18 – But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
But here’s the thing, although we’re saved it’s impossible for us to be fully like Christ because “old Adam” is alive and well within each one of us. Spiritual warfare is real and is going on all around us, inwardly and outwardly, (Ephesian 6:11-18).
Our Apostle Paul stated to the Believers in Philippi that “he had not reached perfection, but he pressed on to attain everything Christ Jesus desired for him” (Philippians 3:12).
3: Therefore the ultimate sanctification of our bodies is never completed in this life. It’s completed when Believers die, when their spirits go to be with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Our souls are instantly translated to heaven with “the spirits of the righteous (people) made perfect (Hebrews 12:23). Once there our souls are fully sanctified in the presence of God since nothing unclean can ever stand before Him (Revelation 21:27).
For the dead in Christ Jesus and those who are alive when the Lord comes for His Church at the Rapture, sanctification of their bodies takes place when they meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Philippians 3:20-21 – For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will (do what) transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
1 Corinthians 15:49b – When Christ returns for His Church, every true Believer will be transformed; they will: bear the image of the heavenly (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).
Paul is saying the Holy Spirit is the primary agent of our sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2), and He is the one who produces the fruit of sanctification in Believers (Galatians 5:22-23).
Our role in sanctification is both passive and active. Passively, we are to trust God to sanctify us: presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 6:3, 12:1), and yielding to the Holy Spirit: “It is God’s will that you be sanctified” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and God gets what He wants!
Actively, we are responsible to choose what is right and this is where the “rubber meets the road,” as they say, let’s not be lazy, careless Christians. “Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (1 Thessalonians 4:4). Paul’s saying, do away with “the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 6:13), “striving for holiness” (Hebrews 12:14), “fleeing immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18), etc.
The Spirit of God does His mighty work in us and through us only by the hearing of faith. We are sanctified by faith alone. The way to walk by the Spirit to not fulfill the desires of the flesh is to know the promises of God and trust them.
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Here Paul said he lives “day by day,” casting his cares on Jesus Christ and is borne along by the Spirit of God. And he does this by faith. Paul was under constant attack by Satan, and when he entered a town or city to preach God’s message of salvation, he was usually assaulted by ignorant men, “stirred up” by angry Jews who were determined to destroy Paul and his ministry. How did he face such trials? Paul remembered and trusted in the Word of God, and his soul and spirit were fed and encouraged by it.
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thanksgiving in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).
When you are discouraged or tempted, remember the Scriptures as our Apostle did “Let the word of Christ dwell richly within you.” The word dwell in Koine Greek is Enoikeo (en-oy-keh’-o), Verb, Strong’s Greek #1774 and means: to live in, to be at home. Paul calls upon each Believer to let God’s Word dwell in you and influence you (for good); to take up residence; to be at home in your heart. So God’s Word may comfort you too in your time of need.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
To walk by the Spirit implies we are maintaining an ongoing relationship with God. We are exercising those spiritual disciplines that keep our eyes and our hearts focused on the Lord, which in turn keeps our feet away from sin.
Paul goes on to say, “you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” This is actually a promise, but the fulfillment of the promise depends on obeying the command – walk by the spirit. Believers are not only called to be saved, but called to Christlikeness (Romans 8:28-29; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:4). The contrast between “flesh” and “spirit” is common in Paul’s writings (Romans 8:1-11). He uses the word “flesh” in two senses: the physical body and mankind’s fallen, sinful, Adamic nature. Here it is used as man’s fallen, sinful, Adamic nature, #2.
17: For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh – this contrasts the two ways of life which Paul writes about in Romans 8:1-11. Paul presented the two ways of being saved: 1) by human effort; and 2) by God’s free offer of grace through Jesus Christ. Thus, there are two ways of living one’s life: 1) human effort, i.e. works (which is affected by man’s fall from grace); and 2) God’s free power in the Spirit of God. The Judaizers were asserting human effort in both salvation and sanctification, but our Apostle Paul asserted God’s supernatural provision in both.
For these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please - Paul wants the Galatians (and us) to understand that struggle is a normal part of the Believer’s life. Now, I think it goes without saying people don’t want to hear the word struggle linked with their day-to-day life. They don’t want “ripples” on their tranquil pond at home, at work, or elsewhere. They expect the Christian life to be guaranteed free of problems. They want a formula to follow, and as long as they follow that plan, they expect things to work out right. But Paul said the conflict between our flesh and Spirit is inevitable and it’s continual.
Thus, with the same mouth we offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise, we also curse and condemn one another and at times yell at God when things don’t go as planned. We love and we also hate. We serve others, when we feel the need, but we also steal and we lie. We read the Bible, occasionally, and then we turn right around and watch a filthy movie we know the Lord would not view along with us, and we listen to music that promotes casual sex, drugs, and demeans women, things God would not approve of. The individual sings beautifully in the choir on Sunday morning and then on Monday afternoon meets with a woman who is not their spouse for a tryst. And so on it goes…
The Quietists were mystics of the late 17th century who believed a one-time surrender to God would initiate a passive union with God. The Quakers were influenced by the Quietists. Even the evangelical Bible conferences at Keswick, England were quietistic in emphasis. Hannah Whitall Smith's The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1952) and the sermons of Charles Finney both promote the idea that a Christian needs to do very little but rely on the Spirit. Quietists believe that walking in the Spirit does not require any effort on our part, and when there is effort, we hinder the holiness that God wants to accomplish. The concept of surrender in quietism is vital to living a virtuous holy life. Some folks believe that when one completely surrenders, he receives a second work of grace so that the sin nature becomes eradicated, and the Christian supposedly never sins again.
However, Galatians 5:17 clearly states no one escapes the conflict of the two natures. No one can avoid the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. Every Believer will experience both the outward pressure and the inward turmoil.
Years ago there was a missionary who was moved by God to share the Gospel with a group of Native-Americans on a reservation that was nearby. The missionary prayed and over the course of time the Lord opened a door for him to befriend the Chief of the tribe. As the two men got to know one another, the missionary was able to share his faith in Jesus Christ. The missionary had prayed for the Chief for months, and the day came when his prayers were answered, and the Chief believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. The missionary and the Chief became fast friends. They spent a lot of time in prayer together and they studied the basics of the faith day after day. The Chief was hungry to learn more and more. His hunger was the springboard for how quickly he grew in his understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Several years later, the missionary had been led by God to go to other mission fields and share the gospel. Even though he was no longer working daily on the reservation with the Chief, he prayed for his friend often and stopped by to see him whenever he was on furlough. On one of his visits, the missionary and the Chief were talking when the missionary asked, "How are you doing? What has the Lord been doing in your life and the life of your people?" The Chief told his friend about those who were coming to know Christ, and how God had been faithful, when he stopped in mid-sentence. He said, "I have seen the Lord work in marvelous ways among our people, but I have to be honest with you it is like there is a war going on in me. It is like there is a good dog and a bad dog that are living in my heart, and they are always at war with one another." The missionary knew what the Chief was talking about, because he was describing his own life. The missionary reached out, grabbed the hand of his friend, and asked, "Which dog is winning?" The Chief said, "The one that I feed the most."
18: But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Clearly, Paul’s discussion has been about the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh, but he’s also written about legalism vs God’s grace. With verse 18, you could make the case Paul is talking about the flesh being legalism – the urge within an individual that says, “I’ve got this; I can do this myself.” That’s what this verse is saying. He’s contrasting the Spirit with the Law, using Law and flesh as synonyms in this passage.
"If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." - Paul is saying the Holy Spirit leads every Believer (5:24-26). The question is will we follow His leading and walk after the Spirit (5:16) or will we walk after the flesh? The Holy Spirit leads us to obey the moral will of God. He does this primarily by helping us understand Scripture; the only place where the will of God has been revealed.
We might have expected Paul to write since we are led by the Spirit we are not "under the flesh," but instead we read "under the law." His point was that the Believer cannot overcome the desires of the flesh by remaining under the law. The Judaizers were advocating submission to the law as the way to overcome the flesh, but Paul advocated submission to will of God and the power of the Spirit.
To live by the flesh is depending upon the resources and abilities of the physical body, or humanness (Matthew 26:41). To live by the Spirit is depending upon the resources and abilities of the Spirit, whom God gives by grace through faith (Romans 8:4-5).
(To be continued)
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