How are we to conduct ourselves as Christians? Paul has argued exhaustively that we are not under the law. We do not regulate our lives according to the Old Testament law that was given to Moses. We do not cut off our flesh in circumcision in order to live the Christian life. We do not observe the Sabbath or other Jewish feast days as a restriction in order to accomplish the Christian life. We do not restrict our diet in order to live the Christian life.
On the other hand, Paul has made it clear we do not have license to sin as a Christian. We were cleansed from sin, forgiven of our sins, and given power over our sin nature as a Christian. So we don’t continue in sin that grace may abound. Christian freedom isn’t found in returning to the captivity of sin.
How then are we to live as Christians? Now that we have been born again, born of the Spirit, how are we to live in the world? Well, Paul answers that question in this last section of chapter 5. He says that now that we are saved, now that we have been changed, converted by the grace of God, we are to walk in the Spirit. That sounds simple enough, but it’s a little like receiving a puzzle for Christmas that has 500 pieces, but no photo of what it is supposed to look like when it’s put together. We are kind of at a loss as to how walking in the Spirit is supposed to look.
I think Paul helps us to know what that looks like by the use of a succession of steps. And to make it more clear he contrasts each work of the Spirit with the work of the flesh. Sometimes it easier to define what something is by saying what it is not. And so he does that in each step of the life in the Spirit.
Let’s start with the first step which is what I might call the effect of walking in the Spirit, which is found in vs 16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 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.”
Now we can extrapolate a lot of things from these verses, but at it’s simplest, Paul says that if we walk in the Spirit, we can’t walk in the flesh. Because the flesh and the Spirit are diametrically opposed. It’s as if there is a road that goes south to north. You can either walk north, or you can walk south, but you can’t walk both directions at the same time.
And you can’t carry out the desires of the flesh and carry out the desires of the Spirit at the same time. They are in opposition to one another. It’s a totally different direction. So before he actually tells us how we are to walk in the Spirit, Paul tells us here the result of walking in the Spirit. But included in this verse is a hint of how we can live the Christian life. You’re not going to accomplish it by adhering to the law. But by walking in the Spirit.
Another thing that we learn from this verse is that there is a war going on in our hearts. The flesh is in opposition, that is it is contrary to, warring against the Spirit, and the Spirit is in opposition to the flesh.
Paul speaks of this war in our innermost being in Romans 7: 21 “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
Now how we are to deal with our flesh Paul will address a little later on. But it’s enough to know for now that if you walk by the Spirit you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. They are two different directions, they are in opposition to one another.
The next step in learning to walk by the Spirit is found in vs 18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Now Paul gives us another contrast in this verse. Either you are led by the Spirit, or you are under the condemnation of the law. How does a Christian walk in the Spirit? Paul indicates that it is by being led by the Spirit. I think you have all seen a parent holding onto the hand of their toddler who is learning to walk, and the parent leads them, supports them, keeps them from falling as they take one little step after another. Perhaps that’s an illustration of how the Spirit leads us as we learn to walk in the Spirit.
Now how does the Spirit lead us in practical terms? I suggest it is primarily through the word of God. I don’t suggest that it is by listening to some inner voice. I think that approach is problematic. I do believe the Spirit speaks to us through our conscience, or through our mind, but I believe that it originates from scripture. He brings the truth of scripture to our mind, enlightens our mind, telling us the truth through scripture, which results in being led by the Spirit. After all, the Spirit is the author of scripture. And so though we might not be led by a scripture verbatim, the truth of scripture informs us as to how we should walk, how we should live.
Now when Paul speaks of our walk, it simply indicates our conduct, or manner of life. You are alive while you are asleep, but the living of life involves action, moving, working, conduct. We speak of people as being from all walks of life. We mean by that their manner of life. And so I think that is what is indicated as walking in the Spirit. It’s your manner of life, the conduct of your life. Our way of life is to be directed, led, controlled by the Spirit. And if you are controlled by the Spirit, then you are not controlled by the law.
That contrast is once again presented as Spirit vs flesh. The flesh is correlated with being under the law. Paul gave that contrast as an allegory in chapter four, when he compared the law to being born of the flesh, and being free as born of the Spirit.
But he goes on in the next section to make that contrast more clear by means of the evidence of your life. Your manner of life is evidence of which you are of, the flesh or of the Spirit. He begins with the flesh. Vs.19 “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
This is what the flesh produces; conducts, deeds, a manner of life characterized by the practice of these sins. I won’t take the time to define each of those sins this morning. I think we are well familiar with such sins. Those sins characterized our life before we were saved. We practiced such things. We were controlled by such conduct. They were habitual sins to which we were enslaved.
I wish I could say that having been saved, those things were no longer a part of our lives. That we never succumbed to the temptation to do those things again. That they were ancient history. But I must confess that for most of us, they continue to be something that we are tempted by. Because our old nature is still there. Our flesh is not done away with. As Paul said in Romans 7, I find a war within my members, and I do things that I don’t want to do.
But even though that might be true, I believe Paul is saying that those that have been born of the Spirit no longer practice such things. Those sins are no longer the characterization of our lives. And if they are still the characterization of our lives, if they are the daily practice of our life, then you must recognize the truth of what Paul says – then you are not born of the Spirit. You are not a part of the kingdom of God. You haven’t been converted. You may have tried turning over a new leaf, but it didn’t last. God hasn’t made you a new creation. If such is the pattern of your life, the practice of your life, then you are not saved. Though I don’t want to take the time to define all these sins of the flesh, I will point out something that should be obvious; that Paul doesn’t list only really, really grievous sins and leave out what the Catholics call venial sins. No, he groups them all, from anger to immorality as evidence of deeds of the flesh which are equally damning.
In contrast to those sinful desires of the flesh, Paul says in vs22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
It’s interesting to notice that Paul calls these things fruit. Fruit is the natural product of the life of a tree or plant. So fruit is the natural product of life in the Spirit. If we are born again of the Spirit, we have life in the Spirit, and life in the Spirit produces a certain manner of life. The law does not produce such life. The law only serves to expose sin and condemn sin. But when we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So that the product of this new life by the Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit.
You could really summarize the fruit this way – the fruit of the Spirit is love. And then all the other items in that verse elaborate on what love is like. As we read earlier in the chapter, love is the fulfillment of the law. So love produces joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. If you love your neighbor, you will do no harm to your neighbor. But rather you will do good for them.
It also may be helpful to understand the works of the flesh in contrast to this love of the Spirit. Each one of the works of the flesh is a violation or a perversion of love. Immorality, impurity and sensuality are counterfeits of love among people. Idolatry and sorcery are counterfeits of love to God. Hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, and murders are all opposites of love. Drunkenness and revelries are sad attempts to fill the void only love can fill.
So as an admonition to those temptations of the flesh, Paul says in vs 24 “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” This is the answer to the implied question in vs 16, how do you not carry out the desires of the flesh. The answer is you crucify them.
But how is that practically accomplished? This speaks of something that the believer does, being directed and empowered by the Spirit of God. Crucifying the flesh is not the sovereign, “unilateral” work of God. We are told to crucify the flesh. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus said unto his disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
The old man, the sin nature inherited from Adam, is crucified with Jesus as the sovereign work of God when we are born again. Romans 6:6 says, Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him. We are simply told to consider or count the old man as dead in Romans 6:11. We are not told to put him to death. But the flesh is another matter. We are called to choose to work with God to do to the flesh exactly what God did all by Himself to the old man: crucify the flesh.
John Stott says, ““Please notice that the ‘crucifixion’ of the flesh described here is something that is done not to us but by us… Galatians 5:24 does not teach the same truth as Galatians 2:20 or Romans 6:6. In those verses we are told that by faith-union with Christ ‘we have been crucified with him’. But here it is we who have taken action.”
Paul speaks to that in Rom 8:12 saying, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
So you see there the correlation of putting to death the deeds of the flesh, to being led by the Spirit of God. There is a war in my members, and those led by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh. Paul speaks of this necessity again in Colossians 3:5 “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, [and] abusive speech from your mouth.”
The final step of life in the Spirit is given in the last two verses of this chapter. Vs 25 “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.”
At first glance it may seem that Paul is just repeating what he said earlier in vs 16. But we can better understand what Paul wrote here if we recognize that the ancient Greek word for walk is different in vs16 than in vs 25. The first walk in vs 16 (peripateo) is the normal word for walking, used there as a picture of the “walk of life.” The second use of walk in vs 25 is (stoicheo) which means “to walk in line with” or “to be in step with.” So Paul here in vs 25 is saying, “Keep in step with the Spirit, or walk with the Spirit.”
I’m reminded of Psalm 139 which says, Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. The lamp illuminated the path one step at a time. The same idea is at work here. As the Spirit leads you, keep in step with Him. Psalm 23 which we recently studied on Wednesday night says, “you lead me in the paths of righteousness.” That’s being led by the Spirit, and keeping in step with the Spirit. As He reveals truth to you, keep walking in it. Keep following. Keep in step with the Spirit. In other words, the Spirit doesn’t drag you like a child screaming and kicking in the supermarket behind his mother, but as He leads you on, you walk in step with Him. That indicates obedience.
And then Paul concludes with a warning, that as we walk in the Spirit, we are not to become boastful, or conceited or envious of others. He reveals that the problem of pride is a stubborn sin, a deceitful sin that is not so easily put to death. And pride can affect the child of God who is walking after the Spirit, putting to death the deeds of the flesh, and then before you know it taking pride in their righteousness, taking pride that they are always right, and looking disdainfully upon their neighbor who they feel is not living as right as they are. Pride is a stubborn, deceitful sin that must be guarded against. Pride in accomplishment is the opposite of grace. And but for the grace of God, we have nothing to boast about. But we can be grateful to God for the grace that was given to us, that saved us from our sin, and relieved our penalty of death, giving us life in the Spirit and of the Spirit, that we might inherit the kingdom of God. But we must guard against pride that it does not nullify the fruit of the Spirit, which is love.