Galatians 5:2-26 Notes

By August 29, 2021Sermon Notes

This is picture of the small, garden we have in back yard at my house – We’ve grown a garden the past several years – But, over past several years, a gardening “pattern” has developed in our family and it goes something like this:

My wife usually gets really excited about planting a garden in May – And I’m usually not excited about planting a garden in May – So she does pretty much all of the work up front – She gets things planted and keeps them watered and prunes and pulls weed – And plants grow and grow and start bearing fruit but then in late July, without fail, she gets tired of fighting the mosquitos and runs out of steam – It’s kind of a unspoken thing – I’ll notice that she hasn’t watered plants for a few days and that’s my cue that it’s my time to take over and finish it out

So, every night I go out to garden and I grab hold of tomato plant and I tug on it and stretch it for a few minutes and I rub the leaves and I tape little red balls on branches – I’m kidding – That’s ridiculous – I don’t do any of that stuff – Because that’s not how things actually grow

Honestly, all I do is turn spigot on and water down around roots for a while, turn spigot off, go back inside where its air conditioned – All I do is give those plants a little bit of water and they sit in sun all day and God makes them grow and bear fruit for my family and my neighbors to enjoy – And that’s it ­– Really all my wife and I do is make sure conditions for growth remain good and then we wait for God to make things grow

No tugging or stretching or taping – And you say, “Well, of course. That’s how plants grow.” – But are you convinced that that’s how you grow? – Do you believe that your spiritual growth is mostly about ensuring the conditions of your heart are right and then trusting God to bring about growth? – Or do you find yourself trying to tug and stretch and tape on spiritual growth?

This morning we are going to be looking at Galatians 5 – And we are going to talk about supremacy of God’s work, not our own, to bring about spiritual life and spiritual growth in us by Holy Spirit

Remember, Paul is writing to church at Galatia to address a group of people who had gained influence in church and were trying to convince non-Jews that they needed to be circumcised, a Jewish legal custom, before they could enter into relationship with Christ

And at heart of debate was this question: “How is one justified in God’s sight? – How is one made right with God?” – Is it by trusting in Jesus and performing this human work of law in being circumcised? – Or is it simply by trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice to fulfill Law on our behalf? – Paul begins chapter five by continuing to engage this issue

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.

Paul confronts argument and really leaves no room for a “both/and” approach to being justified, made right with God – He says: either you can try to be justified by the law of good works – Or you can receive justification by faith in Jesus’ good work for you

Either you take all of the Law and make complete adherence to it your means of justification – Or you rely completely on Jesus’ fulfillment of Law on your behalf

And by the way, if you go with the Law option, you are doomed to failure – Paul has already told us: “…no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Gal. 3:11)

Trying to earn righteousness before God by reading your Bible or praying or loving your neighbor or serving the church or the poor or any good work is like trying to fill up the Grand Canyon with a five gallon bucket – You’ll never come close – Only way for you to fulfill righteousness necessary to live in relationship with a completely holy God is to let God fulfill it for you through His Son

When it comes to being made right with God, grace and law are like oil and water – They cannot be mixed – The person who attempts to be made right with God by keeping the Law cuts themselves off from Jesus and alienates themselves from His grace

But those who trust in Christ have a different way: 

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.

Those who realize that they are incapable of earning God’s love through works of Law are left with only this to do: to turn to Jesus and to by faith wait for the hope of righteousness that is in Him – And to do that faith-filled turning and waiting through the Spirit of God who gives them new and eternal life – And that type of waiting will actually show up in love – It will actually accomplish in them the intent of the Law: love

And notice this isn’t only about how you enter into relationship with God – Paul doesn’t say we “eagerly waited” (past tense) – He says we “eagerly wait” (present tense) for hope of righteousness – Waiting for hope of righteousness by faith through Spirit doesn’t just apply to justification; it applies to sanctification – It is just as much about the 1,000th step with God as it is the 1st

So, see tension here – Paul is saying, “You are right now righteous in Christ.” – And you are right now “eagerly waiting for the hope of righteousness in Christ” – At no point do you go from waiting to earning – Or waiting to maintaining – In this life we are always “through the Spirit, by faith, eagerly waiting for the hope of righteousness” – And, despite what you might think, that never leads to apathy or passivity – It is actually the one thing that can effectively transform us

And it gives us a great deal of freedom – What would it look like for you, next time you stumble – Next time you are harsh with your child or your spouse – Next time you envy your neighbor’s house or car or job or family – Next time you have a lustful thought – What would it look like for you to come before Jesus and maybe even your child or your spouse and say, “I’m sorry. I have fallen short again. I don’t have it within me to be as righteous as I’m supposed to be. But by faith I eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness in Jesus. Will you forgive me?” – That doesn’t sound like passivity to me – In fact, that sounds like one of hardest thing someone could say in that situation

Skipping down to verse 13

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Terry has talked quite a bit over the past several weeks about how the Gospel of grace gives us freedom from the Law – Paul reminds church at Galatia of that reality and then challenges them not to use their Gospel freedom as an opportunity for the flesh

Paul uses “flesh” to refer to the rebellious human nature that is inherent in all of us because of sin[1] – And that rebellious human nature can show up in a couple of different ways – One way is an attempt to claim self-righteousness based on adherence to some moral law – Another way is to mock any notion of morality and pursue fulfillment in pleasures of world – They look different on surface but they are, at the core, both manifestations of same rebellious flesh – And they both stand in opposition to Gospel

Instead of using their Gospel freedom as an opportunity to gratify the desires of their rebellious human nature, Paul encourages them to serve one another in love – It is this kind of love that was aim of Law all along – The irony is that the Law put demands on us that it couldn’t produce in us – But grace produces in us those demands that are no longer on us

And central to this grace that now works within us is Holy Spirit

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 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.

So, in verses 19-21, Paul gives us a list of the “works of the flesh” – This is clearly not an exhaustive list; it is representative of some of actions and attitudes that characterize a person who is living according to rebellious human nature

And list comes with a strong warning: “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” – Those who do such things will not enter into eternal Kingdom Jesus established during His ministry on earth – They will not experience righteousness, freedom, and salvation of Christ – So this is a very serious warning for all of us

But we do need to make a note about the word “do” – “Do” here is a present, active participle – It conveys the sense of ongoing activity – “Those who are now continuing on in these things” – So Paul is not saying that your hook-ups before you were a Christian have disqualified you from being with Jesus – Or that a drunken night in college has disqualified you from Kingdom – He’s not saying the disagreement you had with someone last week about politics is a sign that you don’t know Jesus

But he is saying this: “If you now call yourself a child of God and citizen of his Kingdom and yet you make a practice of sexual immorality, or drunkenness, or having divisive arguments, or any of things you see here, then you really need to stop and question whether or not you have Spirit of God and are walking in Him.”

Having given us a list describing works of flesh, Paul now gives a contrasting list describing fruit of Spirit:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Living life in flesh produces one kind of outcomes, living life in Spirit produces another, very different kind of outcomes

And Paul finishes by saying: 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

We have to be careful as we move toward application – I love “to do” lists – Anybody else love “to do” lists? – It would be tempting to take these two lists and to write “Do not do these things” over works of flesh and “Do these things” over fruit of Spirit and then try really hard to be better, more spiritual people who make God beam with pride

But to do that would be to overlook what Paul has just said about righteousness, grace, and freedom – We would, in effect, be setting up a new Law that we would then use to prove or disprove our righteousness or righteousness of others

I find it compelling that no where in this passage does Paul actually give instructions to “do” or “not do” these things? – Not here in Galatians 5 – Verses 17-24 are descriptive – Paul here is primarily describing the contrasting fruit of life lived in flesh and life lived in Spirit

The actual prescription – where Paul is telling us what to do – is back in verse 16: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” – “walk” is the only imperative instruction in these last 11 verses – And Paul reiterates that sentiment at end of chapter: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

So, Paul is saying that, for the Christian, the key to avoiding sin and living a fruitful life is actually to not focus on the sin or the fruit but to focus on God – to “walk by the Spirit” – to “keep in step with the Spirit” – It is what C.S. Lewis and others have called the Principle of Indirection[2] – If you want godliness, don’t focus on godliness, focus on God – If you take a secondary thing like godly virtues and make them primary in your heart and mind, you will never get it – But if you focus on primary thing: God, Himself, then you will have Him and you’ll get godly virtue thrown in there as well

So the real question, then, as we move toward application is: “How do we walk by the Spirit?” – Let me give you two tips:

1) Humble Yourself

For me, one of greatest barriers to walking in Spirit day by day is, simply put, pride – I like to be able to take care of myself – I like to be able to do my job – I like to be able to love my family – I like to be able to understand God and love Him – I don’t like to be unable in any of those areas – But what happens sometimes is that I like so much to be able that I’ll deceive myself about my true ability – I’ll convince myself that I can make things happen on my own by tugging and stretching and taping

I also like independence – I like to live each day according to my own schedule – I like to take care of myself – I don’t like to need help – And I sure wish everyone else would just take care of their themselves and not need help either – And I like so much to be independent that sometimes I’ll even deceive myself about my own true independence – I’ll convince myself that I can make fruit grow without the sun and the rain

But what Paul has said over and over and over again is this: Christianity is the religion of the unable and the dependent – Jesus is the Savior of the unable and dependent – Grace is Good News for the unable and dependent – And when we start trying to be able and independent, we start shutting valve of spiritual life that flows from the Savior of the unable and dependent – I think that is why we learn so well during trials, because circumstances of our lives strip away our self-created smokescreen of ability and independence and we are forced to acknowledge that we are unable and dependent – And when we do, we open up possibility of relying on God’s presence by His Spirit

If we want to grow in our relationship with God, we must consistently embrace the reality of our inability and our dependence – Christian maturity is learning to have less faith in yourself and more faith in God

I think we forget about this sometimes – But the spiritual disciplines are the tools of the unable and dependent – We don’t always think of them that way, but they are – Reading the Word, prayer, worship, confession, fasting, evangelism, silence and solitude – These are the tools that unable and dependent people use to receive life and power from the God who is able and independent

And so, as we pursue God day by day through the spiritual disciplines and as we walk around in world, we have to humble ourselves and acknowledge to God and to others that we are, at core of things, unable and dependent creatures – That’s first step of walking in Spirit

2) Inviting the Spirit to Fill You

If you have turned from sin and trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior then your dead soul has been brought to life by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:1-10, John 3:1-8) – God, the Holy Spirit, now dwells inside you (1 Cor. 3:16) – And He will dwell with you forever – He does not come and go from you – God has permanently put His seal/mark on you and given you a down payment on eternal life by entering into you in Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:14, 2 Cor. 1:22) – God will never change His mind about you and no power of evil can ever separate you from Him (Num. 23:19, Rom. 8:38-39) – All of this is true – And yet, Paul commands us in Ephesians 5:18: “be filled with the Spirit”

We have received the Holy Spirit and, yet, Paul commands us: “go on being filled with the Spirit” – And God is all for this – He wants to fill us with good gift of His presence (Luke 11:13) – So only thing that can stop us from being filled with Spirit is being full of something else – Usually, it’s to be full of us – To be full of ability and independence

Another culprit for me is just plain old forgetfulness

How often do I go through the day without remembering God’s presence inside of me and inviting Him to fill me? – How often do I sit down to read my Bible and pray without asking Holy Spirit to fill me and teach me? – How often do I come to worship on Sunday morning without inviting Holy Spirit to fill me, to convict me of sin, and to remind me of Jesus? – How often do I try to invest in a younger believer without asking Spirit to lead me? – How often do I try to share the Gospel with my neighbor without pleading for the Spirit’s help?

I can do all of these things and then get frustrated when I don’t see any fruit – And then I either blame myself for not being disciplined enough or I externalize the problem – “Bible is boring” – “Prayer is tedious” – “Worship was dry” – “This young believer is so stubborn” – “Spiritual conversations never come up my neighbor” – But what if real problem is that I’ve left Spirit out of all of this stuff? – What if my problem with the spiritual disciplines isn’t the discipline part it’s the spiritual part?

Religious activity devoid of God’s presence through His Spirit is like trying to grow tomatoes by tugging and stretching and taping – You can do a lot of work without really doing anything at all – That’s what can end up happening when we fail to invite the Spirit to fill us day by day – We can subtly end up with just another frustrated form of self-righteousness that doesn’t work

Humbling ourselves, walking in Spirit day by day is difference between tugging and stretching and taping to simply making sure conditions for growth remain good and then waiting for God to make things grow – We soak up water of His presence and His Word, bathe in sun of His grace, and wait, by faith, for hope of righteousness – All of that still takes intention, effort, and obedience – But it has a very different focus – It’s focused on first things, not second things


[1] R.J. Erickson, “Flesh” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 303-306.


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