Christians (even Pastors) don’t always act like we think Christians should act. This is very clearly seen when there is a church conflict, a political debate, or when there is a family inheritance to divide. Inconsistency is something we all battle.
This morning we are going to look at this reality and talk about why this is so and what, if anything, we can do to make things better.
We are looking at just the first three verses today of a much longer passage. This morning we are going to look at the conflict that exists inside each of us in general. Next week we will look at some of the indicators (given by Paul) that reveal spiritual trouble. The next three weeks we will look at the evidence of “the positive side” better known as the fruit of the Spirit. Dig in . . .we are going to spend the next five weeks working on this. Here is the foundation for what Paul is going to teach:
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. (Galatians 5:16-18)
We Live Free When We Walk By the Spirit
Paul tells us that if they walk by the Holy Spirit; if we let the Holy Spirit direct our lives; then the inconsistencies in our lives will fade. We will begin to live more the way God designed us to live. We will know more victories than defeats.
That sounds good but what does it mean to “walk by the Spirit”?
One of the amazing truths we learn from Jesus is that those who become His followers; those who really put their trust in Him; will be inhabited by God’s Spirit. In most translations “Spirit” is capitalized. That denotes that the “Spirit” being referred to is the Holy Spirit rather than the human spirit.
In other words, Paul isn’t telling us we need to “get more spirit!” (We don’t need a spiritual pep rally although some Christian gatherings do seem to look and feel like a pep rally.) We already have the Spirit we need. We don’t need to do anything to receive this Spirit. It is given to us as a “deposit which guarantees our inheritance”. God has given His children the Holy Spirit.
God did not give us His Spirit so we would have the equivalent of our own Genie who could answer all our questions and meet all our needs. The Holy Spirit does not work like Santa Claus granting wishes. The Holy Spirit’s job is to conform us to the image of His Son. To do this, the Holy Spirit will nudge us, guide us, and illumine us. The Holy Spirit will give us greater understanding of God’s Word and insight into the people and situations around us. He will equip us to do the things God desires for us and that are ultimately best for us.
Paul’s words literally mean, “By the Spirit keep walking”. It is a moment by moment vital and attentive relationship with God. Walking by the Spirit is not about having an experience (speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit etc.) It is not about elation. Walking with the Spirit is about journeying with the Spirit day in and day out.
In the Isaiah chapter 11 Eugene Peterson writes in his contemporary paraphrase THE MESSAGE, of the one who would come from Jesse’s stump (He is talking about Jesus). We are told that He will be led by the Spirit. Pay attention to what that looks like.
A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump,
from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him,
the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength,
the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.
will be all his joy and delight.
He won’t judge by appearances,
won’t decide on the basis of hearsay.
He’ll judge the needy by what is right,
render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.
His words will bring everyone to awed attention.
A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.
Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots,
and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.
That’s what it looks like when we walk by the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, reverence and respect for God, and a relationship with others characterized by fairness, kindness and grace. When we walk in the Spirit we start to look more like Jesus.
If we are honest however, we would say this is the way we want to live. We want very much to honor the Lord by the way we live our lives. We want to reflect well on our Savior. However, we realize that this is not the normal course of our lives. Too much of the time we don’t look much like people who are being led by the Spirit. Why is it so hard?
There is a Battle Going On Inside of Us
When we come to Jesus as Savior we are given freedom but it is a freedom that we must battle to maintain. Much like the Declaration of Independence was the beginning of a struggle followed by a war that led to our independence as a nation, so too the decision to follow Christ is to enlist in the Lord’s Army. It is a summons to claim our freedom but to do so we must throw off the sinful self and the sinful way of thinking that has become part of who we are.
The one thing about freedom we must always remember: people are constantly trying to take it away from you. This is why as a nation we maintain a strong national defense. We must be prepared to fight for the freedom we have been given and which we claim for ourselves. As we are discovering in the War on Terror: your enemy is not always clearly defined. He can come from other countries or he/she can come from our own neighborhood.
Such is the case with our freedom in Christ. Our debt to sin has been paid. We are declared free. Now our job is to extricate ourselves from the habits and thinking of slaves. The flesh and the Spirit have competing agendas.
- The flesh is concerned about pleasing self. The Spirit seeks to please the Lord.
- The flesh is about the moment; the Spirit sees the big picture.
- The flesh is selfish; the Spirit is generous.
- The flesh preys on the weakness of others; the Spirit celebrates the strengths of others.
- The flesh sees freedom as indulgence, license, and no accountability; the Spirit sees freedom as walking with the Lord the way we were designed to walk.
We will expand these comparisons in the weeks to come as we look at the actual fruit or behaviors of these two ways of living. There is no better description of what is going on inside of us than these words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7,
14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:14-25)
If you have ever tried to break some kind of addiction or bad habit (smoking, drinking, caffeine, gambling, anger, junk food, foul language etc.) you know how difficult it is. The desire is there but the weakness remains. Have you ever been doing really well on a diet and you see a candy bar and you just “have to have it”?
This is what we are up against. Christ has set us free but the Devil and the world around us does not want us to live freely. They want us to fall in line with the values and behavior of the rest of the world. . . even though it seems obvious, the world is getting worse instead of better.
If we truly want to walk with Jesus; if we want consistency in our walk with God; we had better be ready for a fight!
Strategies for Walking with the Spirit
If you want to find this consistency and godliness in your life the first step is to make sure you are pursuing this goal in His strength rather than your own. This is not about becoming a better person . . . you must be a REBORN person.
Churches sadly are filled with people who are hoping to become good people by coming to church and being religious. Every week they walk out of church resolving that they will “do better this week”. The next weekend they return feeling defeated and beaten up because they have failed again. Eventually many people “give up” because they just can’t do what they believe needs to be done.
This is NOT the message of the gospel. The message of the gospel is that you and I are addicted to sin. We need an intervention. And that intervention has come by the work of Jesus on the cross. He was perfect on our behalf. He paid our sin debt. The only way we are going to get free of the curse of sin is to walk as closely to the Lord as possible. We must rely on His strength rather than our own.
So, let’s stop here and ask the question we need to regularly ask: “What do you believe needs to happen before you can be made right with God?” Are there behaviors to change? Information to learn? Habits to develop? If you answer “yes” to any of those questions, then you have misunderstood the message of Christ.
Jesus has done everything that needed to happen before you could be made right with God. The only thing left is for you to allow yourself to know His love and His astounding grace. It is my hope that you will come into this place every week knowing your nicks, bruises and failures make you normal, not defective. The fact that you come back every week says you are not giving up on the battle.
A Soldier in war knows some days they will gain ground. On other days they may lose that same ground. Victory is not in winning every skirmish . . . it comes from winning the war. We come here each week to meet with our Commander in Chief. We learn strategy, we remind each other that there are victories that make winning the war certain. We come here as soldiers off the front line for some brief R and R.
If you are still trying to earn God’s favor – give that up today! Turn to Jesus with your hands open and your arms spread wide. Come with your weakness and failure and be made well.
Second, we need to learn to listen. We need to learn to listen to God’s Word. God speaks most clearly in His Word. You will have difficulty discerning the whispers of God’s Spirit if you do not have a good grasp of God’s Word. The Bible helps us tell the difference between the whispers of God, Satan, and our own desires.
When you are married you find that you can communicate sometimes with your spouse with just a word or a look. You know when you are in trouble even if no one else in the room knows you are in trouble. Why? Because you are so familiar with that know, what those looks or words mean.
The goal we seek is to be so familiar with the Word of God that we already have a good idea what God is going to say without ever needing to search for an answer. We want to be like the mom who can pick out her baby’s cry from all the other cries in the Nursery, The goal is to walk so close to the Lord that you can distinguish His voice from all the others.
When you read Scripture pay attention to the wider story that is being told (that’s called context). The wider story will help you understand much of what is being said. When you have heard what was written ask yourself what you are supposed to learn.
- Is there a promise to embrace?
- Is there a sin that needs to be confessed?
- Is there a truth that makes you appreciate God more fully?
- Is there something you are being nudged (or shoved) to do?
- Is there a question raised that you need to pursue?
- Is there a matter you need to stop and pray about?
If you read the Bible expecting to hear . . .you will.
IWe need to listen (and it must be after we have turned our hearts to the message of God’s Word)) for the nudges that come from God’s Spirit. There will be times when you feel like you should do something (call someone, stop in for a visit, have a conversation, begin a ministry or something). As you learn to act on these things you hear them more clearly.
So we need to listen to the Word, to the whispers of God’s Spirit, but we need to listen with discernment. God’s Spirit is not the only voice that will speak to us. Satan will whisper to us, the world screams at us, even our own sinful inclinations speak to us. We need to train ourselves to listen to the right voices.
Here is a simple principle: What God says is wrong in His Word is NEVER right! It is amazing how we can justify sinful behavior. If you hold to this one principle you will keep yourself from much error.
We need to know the gospel, we need to listen to the word, the Spirit, and those who teach, and we need to do what God says. I heard a speaker one day on the radio say something that I hadn’t thought about before. “Before God led the people He always asked them to do something. Moses needed to raise His staff before crossing the red sea, the priests of Israel had to step into the Jordan River before it parted, Gideon needed to send some men home. Peter had to get out of the boat. The disciples needed to see what people brought for lunch before he fed the 5000.
Here’s the point. God is not going to lead someone who isn’t willing to follow. If you want to know His strength for living, you need to do what he tells you to do. You aren’t serious about following if you are unwilling to follow!
One more . . . serve others. One of the best ways to learn about the joy of walking in the Spirit is to combat sinful selfishness by serving others. The sinful self makes life all about us. Life in the Spirit looks outward.
You don’t have to start a soup kitchen or something really big. You can serve others in many little ways
- Stop and talk to someone who is alone . . . and really take time with them
- Call or stop to visit someone who had a recent loss
- Cut the grass of your neighbor who is on vacation
- Help someone with a project
- Celebrate a birthday that is not your own
- Ask someone about their vacation and celebrate along with them
- Read to someone who is losing their eyesight
- Help someone who is struggling financially
- Offer to babysit for the couple who needs time alone
- Write someone a note and tell them what you appreciate about them.
Notice the number of times Jesus was simply kind to people. That is what a Spirit-led life looks like.
We are in a battle. It is a war that rages inside of us. There will be victories and there will be defeats. We have to accept this fact going in. Every day we need to be prepared and ready to fight to live according to the Spirit rather than the flesh. We need to cheer for each other and pray for each other. Every inch that is gained draws us that much closer to the Lord, increases our joy that much more, and will allow us to just a little more effectively and introduce the world around us to our great Liberator – Jesus.
©Copyright June 12, 2016 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Is 11.