GALATIANS 5: 16-26


What’s the point of being a Christian? Now that you are a Christian – what’s it all about? How would you answer that? For some they may say: “ah – it’s about the past. We can be forgiven for the stuff we have done.” Others may say: “Ah yes – that’s right – but it is also about the future. One day we will be with the Lord and there will be no more tears or pain or suffering.”

Well of course, both of these perspectives are correct. One deals with the past; the other about some time in the future. But what about now? And what about immediately after that?

Years ago I remember someone in my office saying: “the great thing about Christianity is that you can ask for forgiveness – and then you can get on with your life.” So is that it? Is that the Christian life? Whilst we are waiting to die – we get on with what we want to do – we go to the Lord when we need forgiveness; get it – and then back to what we were just doing?

Or maybe we do that and we add a few religious bits and pieces in. Like the Galatian people. They were being told to add to their faith certain religious practices – just to make sure. So is that it? Is the Christian life about doing some religious stuff?

You will be relieved to know it isn’t!

Paul describes what we should do in verses 16, 18 and 26: walk by the Spirit, (be) led by the Spirit, live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.

These descriptions are variations on a theme and we will look at one of these in a moment.

But before we look into what that means – we need to ask the question: why would we want to live by the Spirit? And the answer is in verse 17:

For the flesh 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 are not to do whatever you want. 

It is utterly clear that we have a battle on our hands as Christians. And that battle is between the Holy Spirit who the Lord gives to all Christians and our natural sinful nature. Let’s be utterly clear: our sinful nature is our desire to be independent of God. That we make our own decisions independent of God. We decide what is right and we decide what is wrong. That is our sinful nature. Flowing from this desire to be independent of God – as sure as eggs are eggs – will be sinful behaviour whether in thought or word or deed.

We have a cherry tree in our garden – and you would be very surprised if I told you that we had a wonderful crop of apples from our cherry tree! No – our cherry tree is a cherry tree and what the cherry tree produces is cherries. In the same way our sinful nature produces sin.

So we can see from this the answer to living a life that is pleasing to God will NOT come from more effort on our part. We might be able to rein in some of our behaviour but that does not deal with our fundamental sinful nature.

And as if to underline the point Paul says in verse 17 that the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and vice versa. In fact they are in conflict with each other.

You will know this. Almost certainly you will have known something that you have done – or a pattern of behaviour that you know is sinful. And you may have struggled and struggled to rid yourself of this. You may then have experienced some success only for it to rear its head on another occasion. I was speaking to someone recently and it was said: “Will I have to live with this forever? Will I always have to struggle with this?”

So let’s go back to the question: why would we want to live by the Spirit? Well look at verse 16:

Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 

Now be utterly clear. Notice what it does NOT say. It does NOT say – live by the Spirit and you will no longer have a sinful nature. No. Paul says: live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

But what Paul is setting out here is the marvellous possibility that you and I can live a life that is pleasing to God. That we can be so alive to the Holy Spirit in our lives that we won’t even want to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. But a word of warning! We are living with this conflict going on in our lives. We are flawed and therefore we are leaky! We will need constant refilling of the Holy Spirit.

So what does it mean – to live by the Spirit? Let’s just take one of those expressions and work through it: let’s go with – keep in step with the Spirit.

Now – you’ve gone for walks. So just imagine you went for a walk with a friend. How would you do that? Well – you’d walk together. How odd it would be if you walked five steps ahead or five steps behind.

So it is with the Holy Spirit that the Lord has given you. He, the Holy Spirit, so to speak, is walking with you. Talking, guiding, teaching, empowering. If you are walking in step with a friend, you would be listening, speaking, asking questions and answering questions. So it is with the Holy Spirit. We need to be keeping in step and engaged.

So we have two dangers:

Firstly we are walking ahead. In other words, we are on our own agenda. We don’t need God. We are proud and independent, living for self. We’re ok.

Secondly we may be walking behind. In other words we are grudging, disinterested in things of God, feeling sorry for ourselves, feeling useless, grumpy, lazy or petulant.

Or maybe we are not walking in step with the Spirit now because we are worried about the future and living the future now with all the future worries and concerns. So we are bringing tomorrow’s worries in to today and missing what God has for us now in this moment.

Or instead we are not walking in step with the Spirit because of the past. Maybe there is something in the past that seems to obliterate and dominate everything else.

Or then again, we are not walking in step with the Spirit now because of something that we are living through now and we are either going forward in our minds to something else better or going back in our minds to a better time.

So in all this – we are to keep persistently in step with the Spirit.

Or to put it another way: to keep in step with the Spirit means that by the Spirit’s power and help, we obey God and live every day, moment by moment, to obey and live for God.

So we need to be persistent in listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we keep in step with Him. This isn’t about hyping things up – of whomping up faith. But by listening; listening constantly and carefully.

There was a farmer who was bringing in the hay from the field and it was in the barn; all he had to do was to stack it. He had an old wind up pocket watch. And he checked the time and thought: I have just enough time to stack the hay and then it will be time for dinner. So he stacked the hay and reached for his watch: but it had gone. “Oh no” he thought “I’ll never find this watch in this hay barn now.” So he walked sadly back to the farmhouse and told his family. His son said: “don’t worry Dad – I will find it.” They all told him not to be so silly. Who can find a watch in a haystack?

But after dinner, the boy slipped away and went into the hay barn. He climbed all the way up to the top of the hay stacks and lay down, keeping very still.

And he listened. And listened. Gradually each noise started to fade away until all he could hear was his heart beat. And then very faintly he heard the sound of a watch ticking. As he listened ever more intently he started to work out where the ticking was coming from. And then when he worked out where the ticking was coming from, he jumped down and found the watch!

What are we listening to? Our worries of the future? The mistakes of the past? If we are so concerned about that, we will miss what the Lord is saying now. Yes – the Lord speaks in amazing stories and events – but more often than not it is in the normal everyday rhythm of life. Here’s an example:

I often go out for a walk at lunchtime and on Wednesday this week I did just that. Often I ask – “Lord is there anything you want to say?” So as I walked and prayed and thought I was just finishing my walk when I saw a large crisp packet. I sensed that the Lord wanted me to pick up the crisp packet and put it in the bin back at the office. But immediately I started to justify why I shouldn’t do that. “What if I get Covid? Or it is dirty?” And probably the main justification was: “What will people think? That I’m some kind of lunatic that picks up empty crisp packets?” In short – I didn’t want to do what I sensed God was saying.

So what was the Lord saying to me? He was saying: you are very good at finding reasons not to be obedient. I should say that I did pick the crisp bag up – but I learned how quick I was not to be obedient.

We need to be immersed in the Lord. And we do that by keeping in step with the Spirit; through Bible, prayer and being filled with the Holy Spirit. The Lord speaks to us through the Bible (so make it a priority to be reading the Bible each day). The Lord speaks to us as we pray – so make prayer a priority each day. The Lord speaks to us in the normal things that happen so we need to be filled by the Spirit so we are alive to all God is saying. And then we need to be obedient.

So make it a priority to keep in step with the Spirit so you will be alive to the Lord. Walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.



Category: Sermons , Services , The Bridge

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