Introduction: Paul has had to write the Galatians to correct them because of the false teaching that had arisen among them. The false doctrine dishonored God, led people away from Christ and grace, and put the salvation of many in danger. The false teaching had also helped problems connected with remaining sin gain strength in them and disrupted their fellowship. If we do not know how to live godly in Christ Jesus, doing so becomes very difficult. So then, the apostle needed to reestablish the way of true Christian living among the Galatians. People do not just drift into the right way of doing things. They must be taught. Illustration: A person needs to be taught how to cast with a fishing rod.
I. Life under the Spirit’s leadership begins with a decisive break with sin. (5:24)
A. This radical separation is true of all who belong to Christ
1. The statement is indicative; it is a fact, not a command or a possibility. It is basic to new life in Christ. Paul is writing about what is true of all who believe and are saved.
2. This break with the ruling power of sin has happened to all Christians— “those of Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 15:23; cf. 1 Pt 2:9-10). It is part of the initial event of salvation, and does not occur through some supposed later second blessing or transforming experience (Rm 6:1-7; 8:9-10; Col 2:11-12). You do not have to learn some supposed “secret”; you do not have to walk an aisle to pray through or to re/dedicate yourself to God. This has happened to all who belong to Christ—to those who are in Christ.
B. The nature of this break is crucifixion. When did you crucify the flesh? You did it when you believed in Christ crucified for salvation. You may not and probably did not comprehend what was happening when you changed your mind and trusted in Jesus to save you. I know I didn’t understand all this! Thank God that we are saved by grace and not by our understanding of it! We don’t need a Doctor of Theology degree to be a Christian and to receive the free gift of salvation.
1. The Holy Spirit is explaining through the apostle what happened. We understood that our sins were wrong, offensive to God, and made us liable for hell. So we went to Jesus Christ, the crucified one, and trusted in him for forgiveness of what we did in the flesh and for his better righteousness. When we trusted in Christ, we crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. “Paul is reminding the Galatians of the moment in their experience when they made a definitive break with the flesh and its sinful desires. The flesh was crucified when they first trusted for salvation. In their conversion they made a radical break with sin by identifying themselves with the Christ who was crucified to secure their release from the dominion of the flesh.” [Wilson]
2. Again, the verse is not speaking of something that we ought to do, but of what has already happened through faith in Jesus Christ. This crucifixion of the flesh does not mean that it can no longer have any influence on us. But it does mean that we are no longer under its dominion or rule. When we first trusted in Jesus Christ, we trusted that his death would be the death of sin in us.
Illustration: Imagine someone who had been in debt for a long time. He has mailed payments to his creditors for years. But now he is free from debt, for a rich friend has paid all for him. If that happened he would be quite foolish to continue making payments, for his debt no longer has any authority over him.
Point: The starting point of the Christian way of life is the gospel and faith in the Lord Jesus.
II. Life under the Spirit’s leadership requires responsible activity on our part. Let us keep in step with the Spirit (5:25).
A. The reasoning behind what the Lord wants us to do.
1. Our condition (the way we live) should be in conformity with our position (what we are in Christ). Sometimes we call this truth “Therefore Christianity”. Here is what you are in Jesus Christ; therefore, live in conformity with what you really are in him.
2. Life is necessary to live. So the apostle Paul reminds us that we live by the Spirit. He caused us to be born again from above. He made us alive in Christ. This is our position. We are alive by the Spirit’s power.
3. Proper thinking about what we are in Christ is used by the Holy Spirit to lead us to proper feeling and proper doing. We must clearly understand that the commands or imperatives that we read in the New Testament Scriptures are not some kind of new law we obey in order to gain holiness or sanctification. Instead, “the imperative is based on the indicative, and is intended to bring about in the lives of believers the practical outworking of the reality expressed by the indicative. Its relation to the indicative is therefore basically that of consequence. Precisely because the Spirit is the source of their life, they are to keep in step continuously with the Spirit in their conduct” (Fung, p. 276).
Problem: Most people don’t like to think. “Why do I have to learn all this?” You have to learn it, so that you can live like adult sons and daughters of God. The Lord wants you and me to grow up and glorify him by loving him with all our minds.
B. The path marked out for us.
1. The NIV states it simply keep in step with the Spirit. Think of soldiers being drilled, or a band practicing for a half-time show. It is important for each one to follow the Spirit’s leadership.
Illustration: This example might not resonate with everyone, though I hope you will benefit from it. Have you ever seen Ohio State’s marching band perform “Script Ohio”? That shows the need to keep in step.
2. “Living by the Spirit is the root; walking by the Spirit is the fruit, and that fruit is nothing less than the practical reproduction of the character (and therefore the conduct) of Christ in the lives of his people.” [Bruce] Please observe very intently that this text does not say “let us keep in step with the law”! In some Reformed circles, people say “Moses takes you to Christ to be justified, and then Christ takes you back to Moses to be sanctified.” Such teaching is horribly wrong! When we are justified or right with God through faith in Christ, the Lord Christ then gives the Holy Spirit, who leads Christ’s adult sons and daughters into an increasing conformity to Christ. With unveiled faces we view Christ’s glory by the Spirit, and we reflect the ever-increasing glory of Christ as we follow him (cf. 2 Cor 3:12-18).
Apply: How is the Spirit developing an increasing conformity to Jesus in you now?
III. Life under the Spirit’s leadership involves avoiding pitfalls. (5:26)
A. The pitfall of arrogance.
1. To be conceited is to boast when there is nothing to boast about. When a believer is thinking properly, he knows that all that he has is a gift of grace (1 Cor 4:7).
2. Yet pride has produced countless problems in churches. Few sins can compare to the destructive qualities of pride. One is proud of the position he is in, and another boasts of a spiritual gift she has. Everyone it seems is too proud to allow others to rebuke, correct and train him or her in righteousness. Pride makes us wear masks and resistant to help that others are able to give. Pride makes us supposed self-sufficient hermits, while we assume we are sharing life with one another in Christ’s body, the church.
B. The pitfall of provocation.
1. This verb is used only here in the NTS. It is used in other places of challenges to combat or to an athletic contest.
Illustration: Challenges to 4 on 4 basketball in college.
2. Perhaps the problem in Galatia was the challenge to theological debate. This still happens when we are more concerned about defending our doctrinal positions than arriving at the truth.
Comment: It is refreshing when the saints want to grow in Christ instead of wanting to win.
C. The pitfall of envy.
1. This is the attitude that can’t stand it when someone else prospers. Next our attitude toward the one who prospers starts to change, and then we begin to make cutting comments about that person (Mt 12:34). Why should it matter to you if God the Father blesses a brother or sister in Christ with something that he doesn’t give to you? Can’t you rejoice in their happiness?
2. The Galatians needed the right attitude, for some were in spiritual need among them. All must have a desire to help the church grow without thinking about who was on what side and who deserved what.
Apply: No one can be living right who is not seeking to live in harmony with other people. You are not as sanctified as you assume, if you lack or fail to show Christ’s sacrificial love to others who are in Christ—and to a watching world in desperate need of his love.