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One of the great misunderstandings concerning the Christian life is, if we are ‘good,’ then we will be ‘spiritual’ people and will please the God who seems never to be happy with us! True Christians are those who have appropriated, by faith, the substitutionary payment for sin Jesus Christ purchased for them by His death, burial, and resurrection. He never insisted we should attempt to keep the law, which we know to be futile. They often wonder that, if salvation has purchased for them a new life in Christ, then why does victory over sin seem so difficult, and actually impossible? “If only I were a good child, then my parents would love me.” So goes the backwards assumption that only leads to discouragement, a sense of despair, and to defection that leaves the Christian uttering the words of surrender to their spiritual mirage. “If the life of victory is always before me, but never attainable, then why bother?!” If we try to live by the letter of the law, we are doomed to die by it.
The solution to this dilemma is very simple, but because this failed approach of merit is so ingrained into our view of life and living, it is not very easy. In Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia, an area located in modern day Turkey, in Chapter 5, he tells the believers there the formula for what he describes as our Walk in the Spirit. I include the text for verses 16-25 here, because it is the text that imparts truth, power, and the possibility of the victorious Christian life.
The formula for fullness in the Christian life is this: Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust, passion, and empty striving of the flesh. It does not say we must try to avoid and triumph over the flesh, and by that, enter into and enjoy the Spirit life. So many who read the words in verse 16, read it in reverse. They understand Paul to be saying that if we do not fulfill the passions of the flesh, then we will walk in the Spirit. No! Paul says the very opposite. He says if we walk, move, and have our lives in the very Spirit of God who indwells every believer from the moment of salvation, it is then that we can have freedom from the sin that so easily controls us. “God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” 2 Corinthians 3:5-6. If we try to live by the letter of the Law, we will fail and die by the law. If we choose to live by the Law of the Spirit, He will succeed and we will live truly spiritual lives. To refer to the child analogy, a child does not need to try to be good so that the parent will love him. When the parent loves the child well, the child’s passion and power come from that love, and the child will then be motivated and equipped to live a life that pleases their parent!
It is not that the flesh is evil. It is neutral, yet tainted by the inherited sin nature that Adam passed down to all people...the Ultimate Pandemic! People like to be hopeful and magnanimous and say what is patently false, that man is “basically good.” No, man is basically a sinner and does not need to learn how to be selfish. No newborn child has to learn how to make themself the center of their universe. At salvation the sin nature is not eradicated, although it will be in the future. But for now, we should know that the power and sway of sin over the believer has been broken, as chains off of a prisoner who has been set free. He does not need to live like a prisoner any more. Once bound by shackles, he has been set free.
The struggle is described in Galatians 5:17 where the Word says that the battle rages. However, the outcome has been won and the ultimate victory is sure. As it says in verse 25, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” How did we receive eternal life and become born again by the Spirit at salvation? By faith (John 3:3-6)! How should we walk about and move and live in the Spirit? Also by faith!
It is not by the keeping of the law that makes us spiritual. It is by realizing that we are spiritual creations and living by faith in the power of the Spirit who indwells every believer that we will experience and enjoy victory. In Galatians 5:22, 23, Paul describes the Fruit of the Spirit. It is not that we have to strive to produce this fruit in our lives. It is that, as we walk by faith in the realm and power of the Holy Spirit of God who resides in us, that He will produce the evidence of His presence by displaying this ‘nine-flavored fruit.’ It is not Yin & Yang battling it out...it is not good versus evil that leads to the victory of the stronger entity...it is not ‘good’ spirit trying to beat ‘bad’ flesh...it is not even God wrestling with Satan! The battle has already been won. Live like it! We have been loved with an infinite love. Respond to it! We have been victorious, through Christ, over sin. Celebrate it! The Fruit of the Spirit is not something for us to strive for. Because of our salvation in Jesus Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God, the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is in fact the evidence that we have ceased from striving, and started truly living!
“This I say then: Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
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