************ Sermon on Galatians 5:16-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 27, 2012
"The Christian Life is a War"
"Onward, Christians Soldiers."
"Christian, Do You Struggle?"
"Am I a Soldier of the Cross?"
"Soldiers of Christ, Arise."
"Faith Is the Victory."
What do all these songs have in common? They all remind us that the Christian life is a war. And what a war it is.
You might have heard of Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier held prisoner by the Taliban since 2009. The army has been unable to rescue him. Covert diplomacy has not been able to free him. The pleas of his family have failed to release him.Unlike the war in Afghanistan, the war we are talking about this morning takes no prisoners and shows no mercy. It is ruthless, relentless, and dangerous.
On this Pentecost Sunday, Scripture reminds us that the fiercest battles are those that rage within the heart of every believer.
I The Battlefield
A Scripture indicates there are two opposing sides in the war. On the one side is the Spirit. On the other side is the sinful human nature.
The battlefield is the human heart. More specifically, the battlefield is the heart of every Christian believer. Let me repeat that: The battlefield is the heart of every Christian believer.
Meaning what? Meaning that the war is world-wide but it is not universal. The war is world-wide because everyone has a sinful human nature. But the war is not universal because not everyone has the Spirit. The war only takes place where there are believers. The battle only takes place in the heart of believers.
Do you realize who is not involved in this war? The battle does NOT take place in the heart of the unbeliever. Nor does it take place in the heart of the atheist or agnostic. Nor does it take place in the heart of the Buddhist or Moslem or Hindu. They are not involved because they don't have the Spirit.
B We rejoice every time a baby is born in our church family – as happened with Robert & Catherine. We rejoice every time a young couple become parents and every time an older couple become grandparents. But, of far greater worth and of far greater importance is the new life of the Spirit that Christ plants in the hearts of believers.
The starting point to the new life is the humiliation and death of Christ. Christ's reward is His exaltation as the resurrected and ascended Lord Who sits at God's right hand (cf Phil 2:6-11). From there He sends His Spirit to us on earth. By the Spirit we are made born again (Jn 3:3-8). And, by the same Spirit we make the goal of our lives not earthly things but the things above where Christ is sitting at God's right hand (Col 3:1-3).
The result is war. All out war. No holds barred war. No prisoners taken war. Yes, the Christian has new life. Yes, the Christian has a new direction to life. However, the old man of sin is still there. The sinful human nature is still there. And, it fights the new man. It resists the new man. It fights and resists the work of Christ and His Spirit.
In our Bible reading Paul employs the imagery of warfare so we know what we, as Christians, are up against. His goal is to help us faithfully follow Christ.
The only way that we believers can be victorious in the battle is through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul makes this point by giving the Galatians (and us) a command, a promise, an explanation, and an encouragement.
II A Command
A First, we hear a command. As they fight the battle, Christians are commanded to "live by the Spirit" (Gal 5:16). Or, as other translations put it, Christians are commanded to "walk by the Spirit" (ESV; RSV; NKJV). In mind here is the walk of life; that is, how the Christian lives his or her life.
As we do battle with sin and temptation we need to "live by the Spirit" or "walk by the Spirit." This is a call to all believers to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a call to all believers to be consciously under the control of the Spirit.
More specifically, Paul is instructing us to follow the Spirit's leading. Or, to put it another way, to follow the Holy Spirit's agenda.
B How can we possibly know what the Spirit's agenda is? Here is an answer that might surprise you: We can know the Spirit's agenda because the Spirit tells us.
(Jn 16:13-14) But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (14) He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.Did you hear that? The Spirit guides believers into truth. The Spirit guides believers into all truth.
What truth? The truth that we are all guilty sinners who deserve God's wrath. The truth that Jesus is the only way into heaven. The truth that someday Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead (cf Jn 16:8-11).
C So, what is the Spirit's agenda? What does the Spirit want you and me to do? He wants us to repent and believe. He wants us to repent of our sin, to turn from our sin, to stop our sin. And, He wants us to believe in Jesus alone for our salvation. Furthermore, the Spirit wants us to live joyful lives of Christian service to God, to the church, and to the world.
Live by the Spirit. Walk by the Spirit. Follow the Spirit's agenda. That is the command that we see on this Pentecost Sunday.
D How do we do this? How do we live by the Spirit? How do we walk by the Spirit? We need to be armed with God's Word, faith, prayer, and the sacraments. We need to repent of our sins against God and one another. We need to cultivate a humble attitude. Meekness and humility have always marked those in whom the Spirit dwells. Those who walk and live in the Spirit do not view themselves more highly than they ought and they refuse to boast in their abilities or be jealous of others (cf Gal 5:26). These characteristics may not be desirable out there in the world. For instance, politicians are loath to admit their mistakes and philanthropists boast in their generosity but Christians must exemplify humility, not envying others, and repenting when they sin.
III A Promise
A Attached to this command is a promise. As we live and walk by the Spirit, as we follow the Spirit's leading, we "will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Gal 5:16). Paul talks here about the desires of our fallen nature. Paul talks here about our old ways of life that are in opposition to God.
The sin that remains in a Christian never stops its desires. The sin that remains in a Christian never stops its cravings. The sin that remains in a Christian always strives to poke up its ugly head.
This reminds me of the moles in our back yard. So far we have used traps and water and poison. Right now we are using David's and Linda's dog. It stands over the tunnel, it sees and hears the ground moving, it pounces, it digs furiously. But no matter what we do, piles of dirt mysteriously appear at the back of our yard every morning. No matter what we do, the moles keep reappearing.Sin and sinful desires are that way. No matter what we do, they keep poking up their ugly heads.
B What kind of desires? Paul lists some of them in our Scripture reading:
(Gal 5:19-21) The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; (20) idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions (21) and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
TIME Magazine recently published a list of Liars. Everyone of them lied about their credentials.
-Robert Irvine, the Food Network host, claimed he has served U.S. Presidents and the British royal family. A gross exaggeration.That is the old man of sin at work. It lies and exaggerates and steals and twists the truth.
-Tom Williams, Yale football coach, citing personal experience, advised a player to choose playing in a game over a Rhodes scholarship interview in 2011. He never was considered for a Rhodes scholarship.
-Marilee Jones, Dean of Admissions at MIT. She worked at the university for 28 years before officials learned she had padded her resume with fictitious degrees.
-David Edmondson, Radio Shack CEO, joined the company in 1994, claiming degrees in theology and psychology. Degrees that he had never earned.
-Scott Thompson, CEO of Yahoo!, was ousted after a false college degree appeared in his official bio.
-Jayson Blair, New York Times reporter, fabricated or plagiarized parts of many stories and his college degree.
C Yes, the Christian has new life. Yes, the Christian has a new direction to life. Yet, sinful desires remain in even the most mature of Christian believers. And, those sinful desires demand expression. They demand satisfaction.
God's promise is that as we walk by the Spirit and live by the Spirit and follow the Spirit, the desires of the sinful nature will not be satisfied. When the believer desires Christ above everything else, temptations are resisted and the desires of the old man will not be gratified. That is God's promise on this Pentecost Sunday.
We need to cling to that promise. And we need to make that promise real in our lives. Why? Because in talking about the acts of the sinful nature Paul says something scary. He gives us a huge big warning. He says, "those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:21). If your life is one big sin after another, if you never once struggle against sin, if you eagerly embrace any and every sin, then there is every reason to believe you are not a Christian.
IV An Explanation
A God's promise is followed by an explanation. You need to realize there is nothing automatic about resisting the desires of the old man. It is not a magic formula that we follow – if I do so many prayers and so much Bible reading and go to church then I will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
There is nothing automatic. There is no magic formula. Because, as Paul explains, it is a fight between the indwelling Spirit and the old man of sin. It is a war between the desires of the Spirit and the desires of the flesh. It is a battle in the heart of the believer.
Every believer faces this battle. Every single one of us. No exceptions. Which is why there can be no sinless perfection for a believer this side of heaven.
Perhaps you have heard of the Holiness Movement. The Holiness Movement believes in a second work of grace, a work of grace that occurs after the implanting of new life or regeneration. In this second work of grace the believer is cleansed from the carnal nature, the old man of sin, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead a holy life. So, according to the Holiness Movement, it is possible to live a life free of voluntary sin.
B The Holiness Movement needs to hear the explanation of Paul in our text this morning:
(Gal 5:17) For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.Did you hear that last line? "You do not do what you want" (Gal 5:17).
What do you, as a Christian, want? You want to serve God and Christ! You want to say "No" to the acts of the sinful nature. You want to love your neighbor as yourself. You want a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).
This is what we want. But, "you do not do what you want" (Gal 5:17).
C Paul illustrates this with his personal and vivid testimony in Romans 7.
(Rom 7:15-24) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... (18) I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (19) For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing ... (21) So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. (22) For in my inner being I delight in God's law; (23) but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. (24) What a wretched man I am!Do you hear his anguish and his pain as he fights the battle against sin and temptation?
What is true for Paul is true for everyone of us. Every Christian's heart is a battleground of opposing desires.
This explains why the pursuit of holiness is a struggle. We have an enemy within that rebels against the Spirit's agenda for our lives.
The Christian life needs to be a struggle, my brothers and sisters. It needs to be a struggle. Because struggle is a sign of spiritual life. Unbelievers, they don't struggle. Yes, they may suffer from occasional pangs of conscience, or they may worry about getting caught, but they do not experience the war Paul describes in our text.
Martin Luther says, "The more godly a man is, the more does he feel the battle."
V An Encouragement
A Paul ends our text with an encouragement. He says in verse 18, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Gal 5:18).
Our text started with the active voice: "live" or "walk." Now we hear the passive voice: "led." The active voice is something we do. The passive voice is a divine passive – something God does. Meaning what? Meaning God does not leave us on our own. Meaning God is at work in us to will and to act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:13). Meaning that in the battle against sin and temptation we do not have to rely on our own strength and own efforts.
And what is the result of being led by God? I just love how John puts this in his first letter.
(1Jn 4:4) You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.Let me highlight the last sentence: "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 Jn 4:4). We are not on our own as we battle sin and temptation and the old man of sin. We are not on our own because God – Almighty God – is leading us.
To walk or live in the Spirit is to be led by God. To rely on God. To depend on God.
B We are "led by the Spirit," says Paul (Gal 5:18). Which makes me ask the question, "Where does the Spirit lead us?" You know the answer or, at least, you should know the answer: the Spirit always leads us to Christ and all the treasures and gifts of a living relationship with the Lord. Those who are led by the Spirit don't say, "I have the Spirit." Rather, they say, "I have Christ" (cf Gal 5:24).
We are in a battle. It is war. Yes, it is out there (POINT OUTSIDE). But, especially, it is in here (POINT TO THE HEART).
"So I say, live by the Spirit ..." (Gal 5:16).
Prayer: Holy Spirit, Light divine, Shine upon this heart of mine. Chase the shades of night away; Turn my darkness into day. Amen.
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