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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:To live in the Spirit is to walk in the Spirit
Text:Galatians 5:25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit
 
Preached:2014-06-08
Added:2014-06-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible translation:  NKJV

Book of Praise:  2010 APV

Psalm 15:1,2,3

Psalm 65:2

Psalm 1:1,2,3

Hymn 48:3

Hymn 74:1,4

Read:  Galatians 5

Text:  Galatians 5:25

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Dear congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you have the Holy Spirit living in your heart?  Is the Holy Spirit at work in your life?  We live at a time that is after Pentecost and each year we remember that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the New Testament Church.  But what effect does this have?  What has changed?  What difference does the Holy Spirit make on your life and on mine?

There are Pentecostal Christians who teach that once you become a Christian the next step is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  They say you can become filled with the Holy Spirit something like how a glass is filled with water.  And just as the water in a glass goes down and needs to be refilled, so you come to church or do other things in order that you, the empty container, might be filled again and again with the Spirit.  And when you are filled with the Holy Spirit in this way, then you will experience His power.  You will feel Him and you will respond to the Spirit being in you by speaking in tongues and perhaps also in other ways.

Similar to Pentecostal Christians there are also Charismatics who teach that the evidence of being filled with the Spirit is to have the special gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing and the ability to practice spiritual warfare by casting out demons.

But we are neither Pentecostal nor Charismatic in our theology.  We teach that the speaking in tongues as it took place on the Day of Pentecost was a different experience to what takes place in Pentecostal churches today and that what happened on the Day of Pentecost was a specific event at a specific time, and not intended to be endlessly repeated.  To put it plainly, the speaking in tongues that often takes place today is not the work of the Holy Spirit.  Further, although the Holy Spirit still pours out His gifts upon the church today, gifts such as prophecy and healings ended with the apostles and the generation after them, at which time the Church had received the complete Word of God.

But do you have the Holy Spirit?  On the Day of Pentecost, in Acts 2:39, when the people asked Peter and the rest of the apostles “What shall we do?” then Peter answered and said,

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

And this promise of the Holy Spirit remains!  But at times we may feel as though we are missing out.  At times we may wonder what difference Pentecost really makes.  At times we may ask, “If I have the Holy Spirit, then why don’t I feel different?  Do I truly live in the Spirit?  And if I do have the Holy Spirit, why do I still struggle with sin?”

We will be considering these questions this morning as we turn our attention to Galatians chapter 5 and hear from God’s Word under the following theme:

To live in the Spirit is to walk in the Spirit.

1. Put to death the works of the flesh.

2. Cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.

 

1. Put to death the works of the flesh.

When we read a Bible book such as Galatians, we tend to read, study, and preach from it one chapter at a time.  It is good to do this, but we need to remember that Galatians is a single letter, a complete unit.  In fact, when Paul wrote this, he didn’t divide it up into chapters and verses [that came later, and they are only there to help us] but he simply wrote this as one long letter – and that is how he expected it to be read.  So what this means is that what we read in Galatians 5 is to be seen in the context of what we have already read and had preached in Galatians 1 to 4.  In other words, what Galatians 5 says about living in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit is to be understood with the message of the whole letter in mind.

Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians because he was deeply disturbed at how fast they had wandered off from the truth of the gospel.  Although they had been taught that one is saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone and that there is nothing that we can or must do to add to our salvation, soon after Paul left them they began to turn away from the freedom they had in Christ.  Other men from Jerusalem, Judaizers, came, and they insisted that to be accepted as one of God’s children you have to obey the law – and that it was through obedience to the law that God would accept you as a child of Abraham.  But this is not true, Paul insisted.  We are saved in Christ apart from works of the law.   And then being saved in this way, we are saved to stay that way.  He wrote in Galatians 5:1,

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

And verse 3 and 4,

“And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.  You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”

What Paul is saying here is that although the Judaizers were mostly speaking about circumcision, the issue at stake was much bigger than that.  Indeed, if you think that to be accepted by God you need to be circumcised, then you need to keep the whole law.  But if you are keeping the law to be justified and accepted by God, then you are lost!  Because in the first place there is no way that anyone can be justified or accepted by God through keeping the law and secondly if you are trying to keep God’s law in order to be justified and so accepted by God, you are in effect denying Jesus Christ as your only Saviour, you have fallen from grace and you have lost your salvation.

So it is of great importance that we hold on to the true gospel that we are saved by faith in Christ alone and obedience to the law plays no part in our being justified and accepted by God.

But sometimes this sort of gospel talk and gospel preaching can make us nervous.  Sometimes it can leave us uneasy.  For while we would agree that we are saved by grace alone, in Christ alone and by faith alone, what then should we do about God’s law?  What then should we say to a person who insists that since he is free in Christ he can serve God however he wants?  And so it is perhaps with a sense of relief that we read in Galatians 5 that obedience to the law does matter after all!  Galatians 5:13,14

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

So the law matters after all!  In fact, it matters so much that after describing the works of the flesh, adultery, idolatry, drunkenness and the like, Paul went on to say these words in verse 21,

“. . . just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

In other words, if you live in sin and you do not repent of that sin, you remain in your sins and you will be punished for them.  Yes, rather than inherit the kingdom of God, you will be cast out of the kingdom and go to hell. 

But how does this message fit in with the message about grace, the message about being saved apart from works of the law?  Does Paul perhaps realize that he’s gone a bit too far with this gospel preaching, and is he now pulling back and saying that actually obedience to the law is important for your salvation after all?  Not at all!  Rather – and this is the point of Galatians 5 – God hasn’t saved you to walk in the lusts of the flesh, but He has saved you to walk in the Spirit.  And to walk in the Spirit is the consequence of living in the Spirit.  That is what Galatians 5:25 makes clear:

“If [or we can better translate this as since or because] we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirt.

So then:  what does it mean to live in the Spirit?

 

In his letter to the Galatians the apostle Paul explained the difference between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit.  To live according to the flesh is to live outside of the grace of God.  This is what the Galatians were doing before they became Christians, when they served idols – and this is also what they began to do again when they turned away from Christ and tried to earn their own salvation by being circumcised.  But to live according to the Spirit is to be freed from bondage and to live out of the grace of God in Christ.  And although this becomes clearer in Galatians 5, Paul had already begun to explain this in Galatians chapter 3 and 4.  Let us first of all turn to Galatians 3:2,3.

“This only I want to learn from you:  did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”

What Paul is asking here is, “How did you begin your life in the Spirit?  Is there something you had to do first?  Did you have to get circumcised or do any other works of the law to receive the Holy Spirit?”  The answer, of course, was “no.”  They simply heard the gospel, believed, and so began their new life in the Spirit.

Then Galatians 3:5 goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit was not given to them as a reward for anything that they had done, but He does His work as we hear the  gospel.  And chapter 3:14 picks this up again where it says that

“. . . the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

And then Galatians 4:6 says this about the blessing of having the Holy Spirit in our hearts:

“And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”

So what does it mean then to live in the Spirit?  It means, as we also confess in our forms for holy baptism, that the Holy Spirit lives and works in us; that He causes us to hear the gospel and hearing believe; that He joins us to Christ and makes us living members of Him;  and that He gives us what we have in Christ, that is the cleansing of our sins and the daily renewal of our lives.  That is what it means to live in the Spirit.  And so living in the Spirit, we may live as sons of God and as heirs of His Kingdom.

And when we begin to get our minds around this work of the Holy Spirit and what it means to live in the Spirit, then we will understand that we who by faith are in Christ Jesus not missing out at all!  For compared to this, to babble incoherently in a tongue that means nothing or to seek some word of prophecy that could never add to or replace the gospel of God’s grace is nothing! 

But when a Christian is saved from the bondage of sin and when he is saved through Christ, then, living in the Spirit, his whole life has changed!  To quote from Galatians 5:13 again,

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

And why should we do this?  Because the gospel does not free you to live a sin-filled life.  Rather, the gospel frees you to live a Spirit-filled life!  And a Spirit-filled life is opposed to a life of sin.  As it says in Galatians 5:17,

“. . . the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another.

You can not, the Bible says, you can not live in the Spirit, you can not be saved and then live a life of sin.  And that is why it is that if you are living in adultery, in fornication, in uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries and the like, if you practice those things, that is, if these sins characterize your life and you do not repent from them, then you will not enter the Kingdom of God.  For if you live in these things you are not living as a son, you are not living in the Spirit but you are still in bondage, enslaved to the flesh, in slavery to sin.

This does not mean, however, that if you are struggling with any of these things that you can not be saved.  In fact, there are times, as Galatians 5:17 says, that we do not do the things that we wish.  But what it means is that we do not accept these things in our lives!  And even more, we declare war on them.  Yes, as it says in Galatians 5:24, we crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.  We nail it to the cross and we leave it there to die!  And when our old nature rears its ugly head, and when we are tempted or even fall into sin then not only do we turn to God in Christ for the forgiveness of our sin, but we fight it, we nail it back on a cross, and we hammer those nails in even deeper than before!

And that is a struggle.  That’s a battle that we have to keep on fighting.  For there are times when a particular sin or addiction just seems to keep on coming back, that is so stubborn in our lives that we despair of ever seeing any real and lasting change.  Or else there is a sin that we secretly love, that we are not willing or prepared to give up.  Oh we hate it, of course we do, but we love it too!  And then the danger is that we try to make some sort of a truce, that we enter some sort of peace negotiations with our sinful nature, that we simply accept that this is how things are and they are never going to change.  But we can not do that!  We can not give up in defeat!  We can not accept our sinfulness but we must battle sin to the death.  We must crucify our flesh, our old nature with all its passions and desires.

That is a hard thing to do, but the good news is that when we live in the Spirit, we do not have to struggle alone!  When we live in the Spirit then we also fight in the Spirit!  And in the power of the Holy Spirit we will win the battle!  And so if you find yourself fighting the lusts of the flesh but losing – and that can be anything from drunkenness to sexual sin to jealousies to ungodly anger or any other sin – if you find yourself fighting these things but losing, then do not give up, do not convince yourself that you can not change and do not minimize the seriousness of your sin.  But instead confess the following:

“I know that what I am doing is sin.  I know that instead of walking in the Holy Spirit I am grieving Him. I can see from God’s Word that God is angry with sin and that those who practice such sin will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But rather than give up the fight, and rather than flee from fear of the wrath of God, I will turn to God in Jesus Christ!  I will seek my salvation in Him and I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.  I will believe His sure promise that even though I have sinned, in Christ I am His Son and an heir of His Kingdom.  And now I will once more ask God that through His Holy Spirit, He might strengthen me and enable me to keep on going.  To try again.  To put to death the lusts of the flesh, the works of the old nature, yes, to crucify the flesh with its passions and desire.  And I will pray this in sure knowledge and the firm confidence that since I am in Christ, my sinful nature has already received its mortal blow.  The death blow was struck on the cross of Christ.  And so I go on and I fight!  I will not go down in defeat for in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit, I will have the victory!”

2. Cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.

There are some people who are afraid of the gospel.  There are some people who are afraid that if we preach, as Paul preached, that even our best works earn nothing to our salvation, that we will turn back to sin, that we will become more godless.  But brothers and sisters, for those who are saved in Christ and so live in the Spirit, nothing could be further from the truth!  The more we understand how great our salvation in Christ really is, the more we will take delight in the God of our salvation and the more we will overflow in love for our neighbour.  In fact, if we are not doing this, if church is a bore, if coming together and seeing your brothers and sisters in Christ leaves you cold, or if you do not find yourself hating your sin as much as you should, then you need to ask yourself if you really know the gospel!  For it is when we know and believe who we are in Christ and what it means to live in the Spirit that will want to do good, that we will cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.

But as we live in the Spirit then we will also walk in the Spirit.  And as we walk in the Spirit then we will bear the fruit of the Spirit.  And the fruit of the Spirit is this:  it is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, this is His work in the lives of each one of us, God’s children. 

But how can this fruit of the Spirit take root in our hearts, and how can it be produced in our lives?  It is not simply a case of striving, of trying harder.  It is not just a case of making a list of the good things that Christians do and then trying to do them.  That is not the way of the Spirit – that is the way of the flesh!  And that is not true fruit, but false.  Question and answer 91 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks,  “But what are good works?”  And the answer is this:

“Only those which are done out of true faith, in accordance with the law of God, and to His glory, and not those based on our own opinion or on precepts of men.”

Good works are only those done out of true faith, only those that are done when we live out of the gospel, when we live in the Spirit.  Anything else is simply taking what looks like fruit and nailing it on to a dead tree!  And so to produce the fruit of the Spirit we must live in the Spirit, we must live in Christ.  In John 15:1,2 our Lord Jesus Christ said,

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does  not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

And verse 4,

“Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

The fruit of the Spirit, therefore, is the fruit that comes from belonging to Christ.

But this fruit must be cultivated.  It takes discipline, spiritual discipline, to not only live in the Spirit but also walk in the Spirit.  There is a battle that is still going on inside each one of us and so we must constantly pray for God’s grace and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  And the way the Spirit trains and enables us to bear good fruit is this:  it is through coming together every Sunday again to hear the preaching of God’s Word and to call upon the name of the Lord in prayer.  It is to use the sacraments of holy baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  And it is through the reading of the Bible on your own, in families, and as you get together for Bible study.

There are many people who crave some form of spiritual experience, who want to speak in tongues, who want to receive some special vision, a prophecy or some other thing, thinking and hoping that it is in this way that why will grow in the Spirit.  But the Bible teaches something else.  In Acts 2, following the day of Pentecost, after Peter had told the crowds to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins with the promise that they should receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we read that this is what those who were baptized then did.  Acts 2:42 –

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

That’s what they did, for that is what it means to live in the Spirit and it is through those means that we also grow in the Spirit and walk in Him.

We live at a time that is after Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church of Christ.  But what difference does the Holy Spirit make on your life?  Do you have the Holy Spirit living in your heart?  To answer those questions, let us begin with another one first:  do you believe the gospel – and do you live out of the grace that is yours in Christ Jesus?  To do this is to live in the Spirit.  And if we live in the Spirit let us also walk in the Spirit.  Since, through the Holy Spirit who is given to us, we may live in the freedom that is ours in Christ, let us live out of that freedom, walking in step with the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the Spirit.  And the more we walk in the Spirit, the more we grow in Him through the preaching of the Word, the sacraments and through prayer, the more we will bear His fruit.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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