Last night we continued our study of the Holy Spirit. We looked at a main passage for studying these things, and sought to further answer the question: what happens to a human being when the Holy Spirit comes into their life? Here are the notes:
First, see Galatians 5:1 and 13-14. Let’s notice the big thing Paul starts off with—this idea of freedom. It’s pretty fascinating, once you get into it, that this is where this all begins, because we’ll loop all the way back around before we’re done and see how this idea ties some interesting things together. But just to say it—we see here that followers of Jesus have “been called to freedom.” So right off the bat we should have a question pop up, which is, what is freedom? We’ve talked about it from time to time on Monday nights. Most people would say that freedom is the ability to go do whatever we want. You’re really free if you get to live out your desires, especially those desires we feel most deeply inside.
But God knows that that’s an incomplete definition of human freedom, at best. And at worst, if you take that definition as an absolute, you end up totally missing true freedom. The bible actually says, in other places, you end up in a kind of slavery. Paul starts to address that in verse 13, where he says that liberty is not an “opportunity for the flesh.” He’s working with God’s definition of human freedom here, and so he sees freedom in a totally different light, than most people and you can tell by what he writes next.
See Galatians 5:15-26. Lets’ just examine that list Paul gives us in verse 19-21 for a minute. In verse 19 he uses the phrase “the works of the flesh.” When he uses the word “flesh” here, he generally means something like “humanity minus God.” So “the works of the flesh” are “what we do when we live out the desires we feel inside.” They’re what a human naturally does, without God’s Spirit in their life, when left to themselves. You see this pretty clearly if you connect verse 16 and 19—The “works of the flesh” (v.19) are just the results of “fulfilling” the desires of the flesh (v.16).
When you see these things for what they really are, you start getting excited about what Paul says about the Holy Spirit. Let’s break this list in verses 19-20 down for a minute. The works of the flesh are:
- Pursuing physical pleasure, regardless of God’s law, marital covenant, personal relationships, or others’ well-being. (sexual immorality, impurity, orgies)
- Extreme expressions of self (sensuality, fits of rage)
- Making God in my own image or making him in another, lower image, in order to love and enjoy creation while excluding Him (idolatry)
- Experiencing spiritual power or escape while excluding God (sorcery)
- Pursuing selfish ends, regardless of personal relationships or others’ desires, and all the fighting and relational breakdown that comes with that (enmity, strife, dissensions, divisions)
- Desiring things that belong to other people (jealousy, envy)
- Venting feelings regardless of the consequences (fits of rage)
- Experiencing pleasure at the expense of health and clear thinking (drunkenness)
- Experiencing pleasure in the heightened form of group experience—getting together with others to revel in, and express, the desires of the flesh (orgies)
We know it’s not an exhaustive list because he ends in the middle of verse 21 by saying “and other things like this.” So this is just representative sample. And just to keep pressing into it, you can look at this list from the perspective of the actual effects of each one of these things. For instance, those first few words all refer to different aspects of sexual sin—in other words, any sexuality outside of the boundaries God set up of loving, life-long commitment between a man and a woman—so this is covered by those words fornication (or sexual immorality), uncleanness, lewdness (or your bible might say impurity or sensuality). When you consider what comes from all of these things, you can say that the works of the flesh include dehumanizing and objectifying each other, the porn industry, messed up imaginations, all sexual exploitation, sex slavery, sexual violence, rape, city streets and college campuses that are unsafe for women, the spread of disease, and parentless children. Or if your translation starts off the list with “Adultery” (which is included in this area), you see that the works of the flesh include broken marriages, heartbreak, loneliness, child neglect, bitterness between the sexes, and ultimately, family breakdown leading to community breakdown and eventually societal breakdown. In verse 20, the effects of idolatry include all the commitment people make to small and ultimately meaningless things, or even worse, all the love people have for evil things. Sorcery includes all of our intoxication and the neglect of real life because of it, and all our interaction with spiritual darkness. The works of the flesh related to envy include our inability to be happy for other people, robbery, bitterness, materialism and wasteful consumption. Murders are obvious—the works of the flesh include killing and terrorism. Drunkenness and revelries includes our current drug epidemic, and the epidemic of cynicism about life which leads to obsession with partying, YOLO, the general feeling of meaninglessness of life, depression, and anxiety.
I remember once sitting with a room full of young high school students—who are right in that demographic where the message of Christianity is supposed to be way too constricting for them. And I asked them if they really wanted lives full of the things on this list. And when they honestly looked at it, they were like—“no way!” When we stop and get honest, nobody in their right mind really wants their lives filled with this stuff, or their families, or their neighborhoods. And aren’t these things exactly the big problems everyone is talking about trying to solve right now? We all know these things are messing everything up. And everyone has solutions—but if you examine their solutions, they’ve all been tried and none of it’s working. God’s giving us a solution here. And it’s a real solution and a powerful solution.
Now when the Bible talks about “walking” in these things, it means living them out on a daily basis. So here it says that we will “walk” in these things—in other words, these are the things that will make up our normal lives on a regular basis—unless we’re led by the Spirit. I think that’s the implication of verse 16—the phrase “walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the Lusts of the Flesh,” can just be turned around, and you get “unless you walk in the Spirit, you will fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” So the only way to not live in verses 19-21 is to do what Paul calls “Walking in the Spirit.”
And look at verse 17. “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.” That’s NKJV. ESV translates it, “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.” So if the things in this list are simply the result of living out the desires of my heart when it’s not influenced by God (aka my flesh), what that means is that of a lot of the desires I find in my natural self are the opposite of the desires the Holy Spirit has. (Romans 8:7 says it explicitly: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”)
And we’ve already seen in these studies that the Holy Spirit is God himself, so the stakes are really high here. It ends up to be kind of a bleak picture—in my natural humanity, I will end up feeling, thinking, and living in ways that are totally opposed to God, unless I “walk in the Spirit.”
But that’s the point of verse 16—the Holy Spirit is God’s way of empowering me to escape all of that. And this explains verse 1 and verse 13—the “freedom” God gives us is the freedom to not be a slave to my desires, and not be destined to live them out and end up living in verses 19-12. Once you’ve really seen what that list is about you can hear what good news this is. I think Chris said something like this in his study in Judges—the Holy Spirit sets me free from doing whatever I want. And maybe that’s behind the last phrase of verse 17.
So when the Holy Spirit comes into my life, evidently he sets gives me the power to not live out these desires, and instead, to bear the fruit of the Spirit in my life. And that’s what verse 22-23 describe: As opposed to what the desires of the flesh lead to when we live them out, Paul says, the fruit of living out the Spirit’s desires is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
There’s a lot we could say about each one of those. But here’s two thoughts:
First, I think we could all say we’d like to live in that world. Who wouldn’t want to live in a family which was totally full of love and joy and peace and patience with each other when we fail… and we totally stick by each other and we’re all about promoting each others’ well-being? What about a business or a neighborhood like that? What about a church like that? What about a whole world like that? I mean, I think I want to be that kind of person. I think most of us do in our best moments. So clearly God is offering us a better way forward than just looking inside, discovering what we want, and going and living it out. Our own world shows us that doesn’t work. Here’s better news.
Second, I think we can see is that really, aren’t these things just the qualities of Jesus? In Romans 8 Paul wrote that God’s work is to conform us into “the image of his Son”—in other words, what kind of human does the Holy Spirit make me? He makes me a person like Jesus.
When I’m yielding to the Spirit’s desires, instead of the desires of my old “humanity minus God,” I end up being a person who has love and joy and peace coming out of my life. And it’s not only the individual element that matters. The works of the flesh are what we do to each other when we’re just acting out our personal desires. And the fruit of the spirit is what the Spirit does through us to others when we act out his desires. In other words, what the Spirit does when he comes into our lives is not just make us better individually, He makes human community better—we start to have real relationships that work. Another way to say it is, since the Spirit makes us like Jesus, when a bunch of people who are all like Jesus live together, that’s awesome—and that’s supposed to be called “church.”
But I think the way to really tie this all up and get practical is to go back to where we started, and notice the way Paul began this discussion and the way he ends the list of the fruit of the Spirit. We saw that he started all this off talking about freedom. And he ends the list of Spirit-fruit with “self-control.” And I’m going to suggest to you that there’s a huge connection between those two ideas that helps us get to the heart of our question—which is, what does the Holy Spirit actually do in us when He comes into our life?
If you read the whole letter to the Galatians, you get more of the story, but it when the Galatians heard the Gospel, they believed it, and received the Spirit. And we know from the rest of our studies that what happened went like this: 1. The Spirit made them alive. 2. He brought God’s presence to them 3. He was teaching them about God, and … here’s where we’re going, 4.) The Holy Spirit freed them from a life of simply acting out their desires.
In the bible’s way of seeing the world, it’s beneath us, as men and women, to spend our lives figuring out what we want and then going to get it…and then suffering the consequences. The Spirit is opposed to this “humanity minus God,” this flesh. (That’s because God is opposed to everything that breaks humans down, enslaves them, makes them weak, and messes them up). God’s Spirit sets a human free to be what humans are meant to be—and what we’re meant to be looks like the fruit of the Spirit in v. 22-23.
Right there is where we really get some insight into how God works with our humanity. Because the fact that Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit tells us something about the nature of the interaction between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit. It brings up a couple awesome questions for you to mull over for yourself: Like…what does it tell us about humanity, and about God, that for a person to be most yielded to the Spirit, to have him working most powerfully in you… is freedom, and not slavery? And, what does it mean that, when we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, we are actually under the control of our selves? Here’s my shot at it—it must mean that, because of how God made us, human freedom is the freedom to be fully in control of ourselves, instead of being controlled by all our urges. Freedom is the freedom to live in true love and joy and peace and all the things that make up the fruit of the Spirit. Self-Control is the ability to be the kind of person God originally created men and women to be. When we have control of ourselves, and we’re not under the slavery of our hearts, we act like Jesus.
So God wants you to see a difference between you and your urges. Your desires don’t define you. You are not just who you want to sleep with. You are not just your cravings. We’re not supposed to see any of that as our identity. Which means that self-mastery, true self-control, true freedom, is the opposite of living out our desires and doing these “works of the flesh.” To be most under the control of my inner desires is to be most enslaved, but to be most under God’s Lordship, most influenced and moved by the Spirit is to be most free.
It seems like God wants to have words with our culture. We’re being lied to. Our culture demands that we spend our lives living out our hearts’ desires. And the result is that we have homes and families and neighborhoods and cities and a whole national culture of media and politics that look exactly like the list in verses 19-21. And it’s horrible.
It’s pretty obvious that to have homes and families and neighborhoods and cities and a whole national culture of media and politics full of the fruit of the Spirit would be better, and we’d all rather live in that world. So God says, “I know, and what you need is my Spirit, and Christians, you need to neglect and starve the desires in you that want to ruin your life (aka, crucify them) and instead allow the desires of the Spirit to lead you.”
And then in the end, you’ll reap—everlasting life (see 6:8)