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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:Keep in Step with the Spirit
Text:Galatians 5:25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 111:1,5

Ps 51:3,4

Reading – Galatians 3:1-14, 5:1-26

Ps 101:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Galatians 5:25

Hy 56:1,2,3,4

Hy 55:1,2,3


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, God has poured out his Spirit on the church of Jesus Christ. That event of Pentecost long ago was spectacular in every way. We can read about it in Acts, "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where [the apostles] were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues" (2:2-4).

That was an amazing event, with wind, and tongues of fire, and foreign languages, and more. But Pentecost wasn’t just heavenly special effects for the entertainment of the disciples. It wasn’t drama for the sake of drama. For now that they had the Spirit, what would the disciples do? Now that the age of the Spirit had begun, how would they live? The disciples couldn’t just sit there, and watch the Spirit do his thing. Filled with the Spirit, the disciples of Christ had to get up and serve their Lord.

And that’s what they did. In Acts we see that Pentecost moved the apostles and the other believers to preach, to heal, to pray constantly, to live in communion, to undergo persecution without wavering, and to build the church of God all across the world.

At the first Pentecost we see it’s impossible to receive the Holy Spirit, and to remain asleep and inactive. The powerful Spirit doesn’t make passive Christians, He makes Christians on fire for the service of God! The Holy Spirit doesn’t take away our responsibility to serve God, He only increases it all the more.

That’s why whenever the New Testament describes the amazing work of the Spirit, at the very same time it tells us what we must do. We must live in the Spirit; we must work in the Spirit; we must pray in the Spirit. We’re urged, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit" (Eph 4:30). We’re warned, "Do not put out the Spirit’s fire" (1 Thess 5:19). Rather, we’re commanded, "Be filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5:18). For though the Holy Spirit is God himself, though He has great power and might, He doesn’t make us stop working. We seek to be filled with the Spirit, so that with his great energy we can accomplish great things for God.

So also in Gal 5:25 we find a command about our calling in this age of the Spirit. Now that we have the Holy Spirit, we can’t go our own way. We can’t stop walking. We can’t put our feet up and enjoy the ride. "No," says Paul, "we have to keep in step with the Spirit." Since Pentecost so long ago, that’s what we still have to do today. I preach to you God’s Word from Gal 5:25,

"Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."

                   1) where our new life is from

                   2) where our new life is going

1. where our new life is from: When Paul writes to the Galatians, he’s got a heavy load on his mind. Some years before, Paul had ministered to people in the region of Galatia, the east of what’s today known as Turkey. These Galatians had received in faith the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul’s practice was, he now writes to the churches there to teach and encourage them. And in this case, also to rebuke them.

Even in the very first verses of this letter, Paul launches into his admonition of the Galatians: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all" (1:6-7). Shortly after their conversion, many of the Galatian Christians were attracted by a variation on the message Paul had preached.

It was the teaching that we can be justified by our works; it’s the notion that we can be saved – or that we can at least be made save-able – by the good things that we do. In Galatia, some were insisting that believers still had to keep the law; they were saying that observance of the law was still the way to win the favour of God. And some of the Christians there were falling for it, hook, line and sinker.

In his letter Paul can’t put it strongly enough. This is not the gospel! This is a message worthy of eternal condemnation! This is a teaching that sucks the power out of the cross, and a teaching that inflates the position of man. What’s more, it’s a hopeless, pointless, way of life; Paul writes in 3:10, "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who do not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."

Instead of vainly trying to earn salvation, Paul recalls his readers to the simple path of salvation: We have to believe! "The righteous will live by faith" (3:11). It’s only when we live by faith that God showers his blessings upon us, the blessings of grace, forgiveness, eternal life… and the blessings of his Holy Spirit.

So then, Paul asks the Galatians in 3:2, "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" Paul is very blunt with them, and with every Christian who esteems himself more highly than he ought. For he lays it out like this: "If we’re going to save ourselves, we don’t need the Holy Spirit. If we’re going to discard the work of Christ, we can discard the Spirit’s work, too." The Galatians had started well, taking the path of the Spirit and the path of faith – but now they’re going astray. "You foolish Galatians!"

Paul puts things very strongly in his letter, but it’s for a purpose. He wants to warn them, to shake them up, and to bring them back while there’s still time. For they hadn’t left the true gospel entirely. The situation was grim, but Paul appeals to what they still know and to what they’ve already experienced.

That’s why Paul asks that question in 3:2, "After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" Paul wants the Galatians – and every Christian – to think. From where did my love for the Lord really spring? How is it that I know what is right, and what is wrong? Beloved, where did your desire to serve God come from? How is it that you want to be here on a Sunday morning, to worship and to pray? Are these things from us? Do we decide when, and how, and where we want to serve God? And here’s the bottom line: Is it because of our own efforts, or because of our own goodness, that we can lead a God-pleasing life?

Beloved, the Spirit is not given to those who are self-sufficient! The Spirit does not fill those who think they can do it on their own! The Holy Spirit is given to the lowly, to sinners, to the contrite who throw themselves on the mercies of God in Jesus Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit alone who grants life to our hearts. For we can’t do C.P.R. on our spirits. We can’t revive our souls. In short, we can’t do a thing to save ourselves, but we depend on God. He’s gotta do it, and do it by his Spirit!

Summing up all he’s said since that question in 3:2, Paul states the truth in our text. "We live by the Spirit." That is where our new life as Christians is from! We have a relationship with God not because of our ethnic origin, nor because of the content of our minds, nor because of a decision of our will, but today we live – we believe – because of the Spirit.

And "since we live by the Spirit," we’ve been transformed. In ch 5, Paul spells out how God’s work is evident in our lives. If we have the Spirit, we won’t choose to sin anymore: "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (v 16). If we have the Spirit, no more shall we be stained by sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealously, and all the rest (vv 19-21).

Rather, if we have the Spirit, we’ll bear much good fruit for our God: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (vv 22-23). If we have the Spirit, we will do good works – not by ourselves, and not for ourselves, but through the power of God, and to the glory of God.

Friends, our life as Christians is entirely from the Spirit of the Triune God. We must humbly realize this, again and again. The reason you hate what is evil is because of the Holy Spirit. The reason you want to do what is good is because of the Holy Spirit. The reason you turn to God the Father in childlike prayer is because of the Holy Spirit.

Like the Galatians, as Christians we’re far from perfect. Sometimes our faith is weak and frail, sometimes almost dead. So often we too, are utterly foolish in the way we think and act! But even our little bit of faith, even our sometimes-hesitant hatred for sin, our sometimes-lacking love for good – even these small things have come from God. And if we see this work of God in our lives, we’re greatly encouraged to keep on going. For Paul exhorts us, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." We know we’re on the right path, now let’s stay on it!

When Paul says "live by the Spirit" in our text, we’re reminded of what he wrote earlier in this chapter, in v 16. There he orders, "Live – or literally: walk – by the Spirit." Now Paul says again, "We live by the Spirit," but this time he speaks about how. As we walk, he says, we have to keep in step! The Greek word he uses for keeping in step is very specific. It describes walking that’s done in a line, while holding to a pattern, like soldiers on parade; walking while under the control of someone else.

Now, walking is a good description of what it means to be a Christian. For walking is a daily thing, something we can’t do without. We’re called to a "Christian walk of life," which means the things we do every single day have to show we belong to Christ. And so when we walk through this life as Christians, we’re not wandering aimlessly, nor going wherever we please. No, says Paul, we keep in step. As Christians we have to watch where we put our feet. This is how we walk: We follow the lead of the one who commands us.

Think again of troops who march in formation. The soldiers listen to the lead of the head officer, and they march in time – in step – with him. If the head officer says halt, they halt. If he says "on the double," they get going. If he marches all day and all night, that’s what they have to do, too.

This too, is a good description of what it means to be a Christian. We are soldiers – soldiers of the King, marching in holy array. We are soldiers who must fight for God’s Kingdom. We are soldiers who are called to fight against our sworn enemies: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

We’re soldiers in the Lord’s army, fighting a massive war – against all evil – but how do we get our orders for every day? What are the objectives for the battles you and I have to fight wherever we turn? Beloved, our commander is none other than God the Holy Spirit. With the Spirit we have to keep in step!

We’ve seen the Holy Spirit grants us new life. But the new life that He’s given, He claims, and He orders. Wherever He commands, we must go! Whatever He directs, we must do! This is just like what Paul says in Rom 8:9, "You are controlled not by the sinful nature but [you are controlled] by the Spirit." The Spirit commands us – entirely and absolutely.

And so as Paul told the Galatians, we have to look at what the Spirit has given already, and we have to defend it with all our heart. "After beginning with the Spirit," we have to continue in the Spirit! We have the Spirit’s Word – now we have to open it, and listen to the Spirit’s voice, and believe what He says! We belong to a church where the Spirit speaks in Word and sacrament – now we have faithfully and fruitfully attend, whenever we can! Here we’re surrounded by fellow soldiers, who are filled with the Spirit – now we have march with them, and fight alongside them. This is the Spirit’s way!

Keeping in step with the Spirit means we have to walk close to him, and walk close to God. We must walk close to God, so we can imitate what He does. We must walk close to God, so we can talk to him every day. We must walk close to God, so we can hear his commands the moment He speaks them. For this is the exhortation of our Lord: "Keep in step!" We can’t lag behind, we can’t dawdle, we may not take other paths. "Keep in step!" We must conform, and we must follow where the Spirit leads. For only then shall we reach our goal.

2) where our new life is going: When Paul calls the Galatians to keep in step with the Spirit, this wasn’t a one-time exhortation. They have to turn back from the dead-end path they were on, but then they also have to stay on the right road, for good. When he says, "Keep in step," Paul uses a Greek verb tense that describes a continual and habitual action. We have to keep in step, for our entire lives.

For the Spirit hasn’t given us new life so we can stand still, stuck in the same place we were before. The Spirit doesn’t want us to march on the spot, for He’s got his sights fixed on eternity! And so if we’re going to keep in step with the Spirit, there has to be a constant advance. If we have the Spirit, we have to keep moving forward in our faith.

For as we said, the Christian life is a journey. On our way, there’s heavy baggage we have to drop. On our way, much endurance is needed. On our way, there are mountains and canyons to overcome. It’s a long, hard road!

As any soldier can tell you, it’s not easy to keep in step. Oh, anyone can keep in step for a short distance, without too much of a problem. But the soldiers of the Lord’s army are in it for the long haul. Keeping in step, being disciplined, following orders, marching all day and all night, through heat and through cold– if we’re serious about serving God, this is what’s going to fill our life.

And here we need to be warned, as the Galatians too, were warned. Keeping in step – though it be hard – keeping in step is what we have to do! For very simply, it’s a matter of making it to our goal, or falling short. Consider what Paul writes to the Galatians in 5:7, using a similar image: "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?" The Galatians were thrown off the course of the Spirit by an attractive false teaching. It changed their motives, it redirected their energy – and in the end, it sapped their strength, until they almost had to pack it in.

As we try to keep in step with the Spirit, there will be times we’re tempted to break ranks. For Satan knows how to hinder us, and how to weigh us down. He tries to get us to march to a different beat: "Listen to the desires of your heart! Heed the voice of temptation! Let your feet take you to places where sinners are! Let you feet walk in the ways of pride!"

And how difficult it is to hear the Spirit’s quiet voice when the loud, seductive words of sin are ringing out! God calls us to go one way – the narrow, hard path into the kingdom. And the devil drowns God out with calls us to go another way – the broad, easy highway, the way to which our feet naturally incline.

No wonder Paul describes it as a battle in Gal 5. "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" (v 17). It is a battle, a battle for our bodies and souls! Whom shall we listen to? Who shall command us? Whose camp shall we be in, at the end?

Marching in step with the Spirit, He calls out and gives us encouragement. "Keep going!" "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Heb 12:1). Beloved, the Spirit calls us to be rid of all things that keep us from following him.

Our lives are filled with so much, so many activities and pursuits, so many people and things – let us then carefully consider: Is this activity helping me be filled with the Spirit? Is this person walking beside me in my journey as a Christian, or is he going the opposite way? Indeed, are you doing all you can to hear the Spirit’s voice in the Word? Are you getting in the way of the Holy Spirit by staying away from church? Are you hindering the Spirit’s power by filling your mind with things that have no value? Again, whatever hinders, whatever entangles, let us cast it aside, and let us keep on going.

Beloved, in all we do, we have to walk in the Spirit’s ways! In all the choices (big and small) we have to make every day – at school, at home, at work – in all these choices, we’re called to follow the Spirit’s lead. Yes, finding where the Spirit is leading us is not always a simple task. It’s not always clear where God want us to go, it’s not always certain where the Spirit is directing our steps. How do we know where the Spirit is going?

Yet what we said before can be said again: If we walk close to the Spirit, we’ll come to know what He wants. That is, if we train ourselves with his Word, his will becomes ours. If we pray fervently in the Spirit, and for the Spirit’s guidance, God will never ignore us. If we talk to our Christians who have the Spirit, they too, can help us along. God exhorts us: "Keep in step with the Spirit." If He says that, surely the Spirit’s path will be there for us to find.

We can find the Spirit’s path, yet when we look at our lives, where they’ve gone, and where they’re going, we see failures on every side. It can be discouraging to see how our feet so often stumble, or to see how our lives so often go their own foolish way. But we don’t give up, for we know our commander isn’t hard and severe, He is gracious and patient. He will show us the way, and He will also help our stumbling feet to keep in step.

For the Spirit has a goal, He has a destination. He is bringing us into the presence of God himself! Slowly He is changing us. Gradually He is bringing that blossoming fruit to ripeness. Each day He is broadening our step, increasing our endurance, strengthening our resolve. He sets before us the goal, and He keeps us on the path.

This knowledge still doesn’t make us passive or lazy. Rather, it makes us all the more eager to live a life that’s in step with the Spirit. Paul says the same thing in ch 6; there he contrasts the life that’s lead by the sinful nature, with the life lead by the Spirit: "A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (vv 7-8). Eternal life – that’s where we want to go. And to get there, we have to live by the Spirit today.

And so we need to have focus, we need to have a vision beyond all we see here below. We’re here only for a little while. Our journey feels long, but in the span of eternity it’s only very short. In the time we have, let us then be focused completely on reaching our goal. Let nothing hinder you on your journey! Let nothing get in your way of receiving eternal life! As Paul says somewhere else, "Run in a such a way as to get the prize!" Beloved, let us run the race, going with the Spirit every step of the way! Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2006, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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