Text: Galatians 5
Theme: If we Live in the Spirit, let us Walk in the Spirit
- Recognize the danger of spiritual leaven.
- Uphold the offense of the cross.
- Use liberty to serve others
Our study of Galatians has been one of facing constant objections to the truth of Christ. In chapter 1 Paul warned the Galatians straight away about turning away to a “different gospel,” one that was focused on their own works and not on Christ’s work. In chapter 2 he talked about walking the difficult path between hypocrisy and Christian freedom. So often, unbelievers object to the faith because it seems to them that Christians just pick and choose what to do and not to do when they are diligently trying to follow God’s will. In chapter 3 the distinction between the damning message of the Law and the healing forgiveness of Justification by faith in Christ was on display. There really is no other teaching from the Bible that is more objectionable to people than complete and unconditional hope in Christ as Savior. And in chapter 4 we discussed the truth that God knows us and in the midst of all of life’s uncertainties this is our continual hope. People object to this because they want to control things, not trust in God’s control of everything. At each step along the way Paul is answering objections that were placed before the Galatians and frankly before all people.
Today we come to chapter 5 where Paul writes at the very beginning, “Stand fast in your liberty, by which Christ has set you free.” These are words that indicate steadfastness in the face of objections. We see that the theme continues. And in this chapter, we bring it to full attention because the topic Paul addresses here is perhaps the most often used objection against God’s Church. Christians talk a good game, but they don’t back it up.
In the words of our text, Paul says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” He is not talking about some generic spirit of man or some other religion. He is talking about the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. All believers live in the Spirit, according to our text literally “in connection with the Spirit” by faith in Jesus. As Jesus Himself elaborated upon in His ministry, God the Father promised to send the Holy Spirit as the special Helper of the Church. The Spirit would be the one to bless the proclamation of the Word. It is a neat connection because the Spirit is also the one who inspired the Word.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Christian who doesn’t claim to also live and walk in the Spirit. Here’s where the objection is leveled, though. Christians claim to have the Holy Spirit but they so often live contrary to Him. Evils and atrocities have been done throughout history in the name of Christ by His followers, sometimes even by the most pious of all, the leaders of the church. But, common, everyday Christians have plenty of faults too. In fact, according to outward observer, there doesn’t seem to really be much value to the Christian faith because sometimes even unbelievers are better people. The objection is easy to detect, and there’s not a whole lot we can say to defend ourselves. The ugly truth is that we are pretty poor at walking in the Spirit.
Part 1: Recognize the danger of spiritual leaven
Paul’s point is not just to remind the Galatians about this. Rather, within chapter 5 he has laid the groundwork for success in living according to the Spirit. The clues are subtle but once you take time to unfold the text they come out. The first clue we pick up is in verse 9, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” We’ve already established the certain fact that we are poor followers of Christ. That’s why the objection of talking as Christians but not living as Christians is so often leveled against the Church. Therefore, it should be readily apparent that we need help.
To aid us in our faith, God continually points us to His Word. He has given us the Bible to show us the way, what is means to walk in the Spirit. But, more importantly, He has given us the Bible to restore us when we fail. Having the instructions for success is definitely necessary, but on our own we have no power to follow them. What a horrible fate that would be; to know the path to life and salvation but never to be able to attain it! Many Christians have felt this pain as they have been fed lies about what it means to be a believer while they have been starved of the gospel.
With such a precious gift at our fingertips and upon our hearts, it’s not surprising that God would caution us to use it carefully and appropriately. Paul’s allusion to leaven as false teaching should sound familiar because he took it from Jesus. Right after the feeding of the 4,000 Jesus warned His disciples with the same illustration, comparing the teachings of the Pharisees to leaven in a lump of dough.
Paul seeks to bring the same warning into view for the Galatians. Remember what they were at risk of losing – it was the gospel, the very power of their salvation. Paul established that foundation yet again at the beginning of chapter 5, saying, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” The Galatians needed a wakeup call to remind of the precious treasure they had in the Word of God. They were not taking care of that Word. They were being wreck less and careless with it. And if they weren’t more careful, they would pay an awe full price.
The price that already had been paid for them is precisely where Paul brought them next for their second piece of advice in “walking in the Spirit.” Verse 11: And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. Here’s an ironic twist. Paul talks about how the cross of Christ is an offensive thing. We wouldn’t normally think of an offensive thing as being a blessing in our lives, especially in our culture. So often today the cry of offensiveness is thrown around by people to protest whatever they don’t like. The Biblical concept of offense is much deadlier. Literally, the word means to set a trap with the intent to harm or kill. As you can imagine, it is most often used of false teachings, the very thing Paul just warned the Galatians about.
How could it be appropriate to speak of Christ’s crucifixion in that way? Well, it’s precisely the effect that the cross has on the stubborn, sinful flesh. God uses His Son’s ultimate victory to trap our sinful flesh. It’s the reason why the message of the cross is so often rejected; it’s offensive to the unbelieving heart. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul quoted Isaiah to remind us that on our own there’s no way we would want to believe the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:9). He said it’s as if we are blind to it. To our sinful flesh the message of the cross is not only utter foolishness but it’s dangerous because it threatens to expose our sinful ways for what they really are.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, quoting Isaiah once again, of the same effect, this time with the illustration of Christ as the Cornerstone, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." (Rom 9:33 NKJ) For the message of the cross to not be a death trap, we need someone to enlighten us – to wake our heart to trust and believe the gospel. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit, the main subject of our chapter. And so Paul goes on to write, Galatians 5:17-18 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
To walk in the Spirit we need to be ready to uphold the offense of the cross; both in our lives and for others. People will hate us for it. They will persecute us. They will mock us. They will take our words and actions out of context. They will publicly and privately malign us. They may even stop being our friends. All because we seek to uphold the true Word of God and message of Christ crucified for sinners. Don’t be surprised if these things happen, expect them to happen. Your Savior suffered the agony of hell for your sins, and for those of the rest of humanity. Surely, a moment of reproach to honor His name is time well spent.
Which leads us precisely to Paul’s final piece of advice on walking in the Spirit – verse 13: “through love serve one another.” What a hard thing it is to love your enemies. What a challenge to care for those who mistreat you, to look the other way and truly let it go. It’s so challenging, in fact, that the world tells us it’s not possible. And when they see Christians giving in, it reaffirms their objections to the faith even more. Haven’t we come full circle?
We struggle because our witness, our walk in the Spirit, is so weak. There are days when we don’t even feel like Christ’s own because we’re making so many mistakes. There are moments when we’re so distraught and confused that we even doubt the Lord who bought us. The chief moral is indeed what verse 14 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s also precisely at the command that our vain hopes of self-righteousness come crashing down like waves on the rocks.
I’m going to suggest a novel alternative. Instead of living our lives by our standards. Instead of setting our hopes in our goals and judging success and failure or right and wrong based on that, let us humbly follow Paul’s direction here. Remember what he says, “Use liberty to serve others.” There’s hope built into that command and Paul has set it up for our understanding. The verse first verse of the chapter, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Use liberty to serve one another.
This is not personal liberty. This is not “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This is not follow your own dreams and it will all work out. Stand fast in the liberty by Christ has set you free. This is the freedom of the gospel. The Holy Spirit does not give us faith so that we can be perfect followers who never make mistakes. Sin is a reality that no living person on earth can fully escape, and God knows this. The true mark of a believer, the purpose for faith, is to be free from that sin. We rejoice in the liberty that only Jesus can and has given us. And it’s through that same gospel that we serve one another, that we reach the highest pinnacle of walking in the Spirit where we partake of the garden of His fruits: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, self-control.
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