We have been talking about the spiritual life of the believer. The central theme and command in this chapter is to "walk by the Spirit." The difficulty in doing this comes from the fact that the flesh battles the Spirit:
Galatians 5:17 (NASB) For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
What I want us to see from this verse is that struggle is a normal part of the Christian life. Walking by the Spirit is not easy, and it does not happen automatically. Many Christians prefer not to hear this truth, because they want a guarantee that all their problems will be solved if they will follow the right formula. But the conflict between our flesh and the Spirit is continual and inevitable.
How do we walk by the Spirit? I believe that walking by the Spirit is a matter of "Dependant Discipline." Dependant emphasizes our need for God's power to work in us. Discipline sums up our responsibility to grow in sanctification. We are responsible to discipline ourselves toward spiritual growth, all the while depending on God to work in us.
To win the war against our flesh, we must be diligent, we must know the weapons of our warfare, and we must trust in the One who has won the victory on our behalf. The enemy, our flesh, is strong, and the pull of the world is magnetic.
When we are outnumbered and out-gunned there is only one place to run which will assure us of victory, and yet so many today are running around in circles looking for answers. We would do well to follow the path of King Jehoshaphat when he found himself in a similar situation. Turn with me to 2 Chronicles 20, and let's see what we can learn from King Jehoshaphat. This is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament.
Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah (1 Kings 15:24). He occupied the throne for twenty-five years (873-848 B.C.). The biblical record of his reign is contained in the final chapters of 1 Kings and in 2 Chronicles 17-20. He was an able ruler and a faithful worshiper of Yahweh (1 Kings 22:43).
I like this story because it so illustrates the way the Christian life is to be lived. I believe that if we follow the example of Jehoshaphat, we will also experience the blessings that he experienced.
Before we look at Jehoshaphat's battle, let me give you a little background:
2 Chronicles 17:9 (NASB) And they taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; and they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.
The people of Judah were biblically illiterate. They had never taken time to listen to and discuss God's Word and understand how it could change them. Jehoshaphat realized that knowing God's Word was the first step to getting people to live as they should, so he initiated a nationwide religious education program. He reversed the religious decline that had occurred at the end of Asa's reign by putting God first in the people's minds and instilling in them a sense of commitment and mission. Because of this, the nation began to follow God.
We need to see here that exposure to the Bible is essential for living as God intended. How can any of us live the Christian life when we don't spend time in God's Word to learn what it is he wants from us?
Jehoshaphat gets some bad news:
2 Chronicles 20:1-2 (NASB) Now it came about after this that the sons of Moab and the sons of Ammon, together with some of the Meunites, came to make war against Jehoshaphat. 2 Then some came and reported to Jehoshaphat, saying, "A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, out of Aram and behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar (that is Engedi)."
Jehoshaphat learned that this great host was already at En Gedi, on the west shore of the Dead Sea, and would soon head for Jerusalem. One minute things are fine, and the next their world is caving in. Do you know the feeling?
Life's trials come in various wrappings, but the results are similar- you get that empty, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, you feel hopeless, you feel like your world is caving in. If you were in Jehoshaphat's spot, what would you do? Or better yet, how are you dealing with your own trial? When you get the bad news, how do you respond?
Let's look at Jehoshaphat's reaction and see if we can learn from him:
2 Chronicles 20:3-4 (NASB) And Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD; and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the LORD.
Jehoshaphat's initial response was fear. Can you relate to that? We get bad news, a problem arises, and we fear. Is that wrong? No, it is the sense of fear that drives us to God. What do we do when we are afraid? David tells us in:
Psalms 56:3-4 (NASB) When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee. 4 In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?
It's when we are afraid that we turn to God, who is our refuge, and as we trust in Him, the fear goes away.
Psalms 46:1-2 (NASB) (For the choir director. A Psalm of the sons of Korah, set to Alamoth. A Song.) God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
David is saying...when your world is caving in...look to God! He is our refuge and strength. The Hebrew word "refuge" is makhseh; it means "a shelter from danger." We are safe in His presence.
When you ask a person who has been a believer for many years "When were the times you have felt closest to God?", the answer will almost invariably be that it was during a time when they were going through some kind of trial, and they found in the experience that God is truly a refuge, a shelter from danger.
So Jehoshaphat's fear moved him immediately to turn to God, who was his refuge. He calls for national fasting and prayer. Notice Jehoshaphat's prayer:
2 Chronicles 20:6-7 (NASB) and he said, "O LORD, the God of our fathers, art Thou not God in the heavens? And art Thou not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Thy hand so that no one can stand against Thee. 7 "Didst Thou not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Thy people Israel, and give it to the descendants of Abraham Thy friend forever?
It seems to me that he is reinforcing his own theology as he prays. He is, in effect, saying you are the God who rules the universe, the absolute sovereign One, and that is why I come to you.
2 Chronicles 20:12 (NASB) "O our God, wilt Thou not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on Thee."
What is Jehoshaphat saying here? In his desire to show his complete dependence on the Lord, the king uses hyperbole in describing his army, which is well equipped and of good size:
2 Chronicles 17:14-19 (NASB) And this was their muster according to their fathers' households: of Judah, commanders of thousands, Adnah was the commander, and with him 300,000 valiant warriors; 15 and next to him was Johanan the commander, and with him 280,000; 16 and next to him Amasiah the son of Zichri, who volunteered for the LORD, and with him 200,000 valiant warriors; 17 and of Benjamin, Eliada a valiant warrior, and with him 200,000 armed with bow and shield; 18 and next to him Jehozabad, and with him 180,000 equipped for war. 19 These are they who served the king, apart from those whom the king put in the fortified cities through all Judah.
The heart of this prayer is: God, I have no strength or ability of my own, I am utterly and completely dependant on you. Please notice carefully his attitude. This is the attitude that brings glory to God - complete dependence.
Jonathan Edwards' most famous sermon is "Sinners in the hand of an angry God," but maybe a more important sermon, as far as American Church history is concerned, is the message he preached on July 8, 1731 in the city of Boston titled, "God glorified in man's dependence." The opening paragraph stated, "There is an absolute and universal dependence of the redeemed on God. The nature and contrivance of our redemption is such that the redeemed are in everything directly, immediately, and entirely dependant upon God. They are dependant on Him for all and are dependant on Him in every way."
There is nothing in our Christian experience in which we manifest our dependence on God, thus glorifying Him, more than in prayer. We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can't do for ourselves. Prayer is the open admission that without God, we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves, the flesh, to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.
Psalms 50:15 (NASB) And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me."
Jehoshaphat's response to trouble was prayer, and that should be our response; not just in time of trouble but in everything. Our dependence glorifies God.
As Jehoshaphat and the children of Israel seek God, He speaks to the assembly through Jahaziel:
2 Chronicles 20:15-17 (NASB) and he said, "Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, 'Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's. 16 'Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 'You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.' Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you."
God tells them not to be afraid; they won't even need to fight in the battle. God is going to fight for them; all they need to do is to trust in Him. This is true of us also; if we walk in the Spirit, we don't need to fight the flesh, the Lord subdues it for us.
2 Chronicles 20:20 (NASB) And they rose early in the morning and went out to the wilderness of Tekoa; and when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the LORD your God, and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed."
Trust God! That is all they needed to do. Now God had given them a specific promise to trust, he told them he would defeat their enemies. We have a similar promise in Galatians 5:16: "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."
2 Chronicles 20:21-22 (NASB) And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, "Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting." 22 And when they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed.
They put the singers out in front of the army, and they began to sing and praise the Lord, and as they did, the Lord destroyed their enemies. The Lord caused the enemy troops to turn on one another. The Ammonites and the Moabites fought against those of Mount Seir until the latter were annihilated, and after that, the Ammonites fought against the Moabites.
2 Chronicles 20:24 (NASB) When Judah came to the lookout of the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and behold, they were corpses lying on the ground, and no one had escaped.
Just as God has said, they didn't even need to fight. God wiped out all their enemies. When they got to the battlefield, they found all their enemies dead. This great army that caused Jehoshaphat to fear was now a bunch of corpses.
Now how do you imagine Jehoshaphat and the people felt at that moment? They must have been in awe of God's power and provision. I think that this is exactly how God wants us to deal with our flesh. We are to go to Him in prayer, trusting Him to give us the strength and courage we need to get through our every battle.
That would be a great ending of the story, but it isn't over yet, look at the next verse:
2 Chronicles 20:25 (NASB) And when Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found much among them, including goods, garments, and valuable things which they took for themselves, more than they could carry. And they were three days taking the spoil because there was so much.
They spent three days gathering the spoils of this war, and they didn't suffer one casualty or even swing a sword. This is victorious Christian living. Not only was their enemy defeated, but they were abundantly blessed in the process.
2 Chronicles 20:26 (NASB) Then on the fourth day they assembled in the valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the LORD. Therefore they have named that place "The Valley of Beracah" until today.
Berachah - a Hebrew word meaning: "blessing." This is a picture of the blessings that come in our lives as we face every difficulty and problem in prayerful dependence. This is a picture of what God wants to do in your life if you will learn to trust in Him.
This is what it means to walk by the Spirit, we are to live in dependant discipline. As we do, God will give us victory over the flesh. He has promised:
Galatians 5:16 (NASB) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
Paul then goes on to tell the Galatians what the flesh produces and what the Spirit produces. We have looked at what the flesh produces and it is ugly. We began looking at what the Spirit produces in our last study.
Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The first thing that we need to understand here is: what is fruit? The Greek word for "fruit" is karpos. It means: "result, outcome, or fruit." So, Paul is talking about the result the Spirit produces, which is Christlikeness. Fruit is not something which is attached to the branch, fastened on from without, but is the organic product of the inner life. Too often attention is directed to the outward services and actions, or the results of these services. Good fruit is a Christlike life produced by the Spirit through us as we abide in Christ:
Notice that these are not the "fruits" of the Spirit (plural), but they are the "fruit" of the Spirit (singular). In our last study we looked at love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. So we'll pick up this morning with:
Galatians 5:23 (NASB) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
This is from the Greek word praiotes. The KJV translates this word as "meekness," but the NASB translates it: "genteelness." It is used 9 times in the New Testament, and it is difficult to gather its meaning from its usages.
It is closely related to humility. It is not weakness or spinelessness, but rather the willingness to suffer injury instead of inflicting it. The gentle person knows he is a sinner among sinners and is willing to suffer the burdens others' sins may impose on him.
Kittels defines the word as meaning: "mild and gentle friendliness," but, as this can imply an easy-going attitude that has nothing intrinsically dynamic about it, they go on to note that the ancient Greeks: "value this virtue highly so long as there is compensating strength." That is, we shouldn't think of the word as denoting an attitude which has no power with which to meet the situations that confronts the person who displays it.
We generally think of this word as implying someone who is "mousy, a pushover." But that is far from the meaning of this term. Instead, it implies that a person's natural strengths, abilities, and mental powers are harnessed by the Spirit of God for the good of God's kingdom and others. Timothy George says that gentleness is: "a submissive and teachable spirit toward God that manifests itself in genuine humility and consideration toward others".
Numbers 12:3 (NASB) (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)
Moses was anything but a pushover! He was a man with unusual strengths and abilities, but yielded and taught by the Lord as His humble servant.
It is important for the Christian to see that the self-assertiveness that is so much part of the twentieth-century life should not be valued highly. It is much better that each of us curtails the desire to be pre-eminent and exercises a proper meekness (or gentleness). Gentleness means not behaving harshly, arrogantly, or self-assertively but with consideration for others.
The Bible commands us to be gentle:
Colossians 3:12 (NASB) And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
1 Timothy 6:11 (NASB) But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.
If gentleness is not manifest in your life, you are not walking in the Spirit.
This is from the Greek word egkrateia [eng-krat'-i-ah]. In our out-of-control world the believer is to stand against the tide by exercising "self-control." Such a quality implies a "restraining [of the] passions and appetites," particularly in a moral sense. It is a word that expresses the idea of personal discipline over one's life and lifestyle. It suggests that a person understands his own natural leanings and, by the Spirit, restrains them so that the life of Christ might be pre-eminent in his personal world. Paul spoke of this candidly in:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NASB) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
Paul speaks of his own personal disciplining of his life: bringing his body into subjection to Christ, so that in no way would he be disqualified as a believer.
Self-control is the opposite of self-indulgence. Believers, we are commanded to be self-controlled:
2 Peter 1:5-6 (NASB) Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness;
If we are willing to be honest about what is happening to us, if we are willing to look at ourselves as we really are, then we will either see that the flesh is producing its deeds - strife, enmity, immorality, sorcery, drunkenness - or we will see that the Spirit of God is truly producing His fruit in our lives, and there is more love, more real joy, greater peace, and more self-control than ever before.
Paul concludes his list of fruit by saying, "Against such things there is no law."
What does that mean? Here again we see that Paul is directing his comments to people who want to be under the supervision of law. Paul assures them:
Galatians 5:18 (NASB) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
The Spirit produces all the qualities that fulfill the requirements of the law:
Galatians 5:14 (NASB) For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."
There is no rule in the Mosaic law which can be cited against such character qualities. The Spirit-led life is not a life against the law; it is a life that fulfills the law. The way to the fulfillment of the law is not to live under the law like slaves, but to live by the Spirit as children of God.
The law speaks against the deeds of the flesh. But there is no law against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I believe the law has no place so far as a means of sanctification or salvation; however, the law does provide a standard of righteousness. Paul says that those who walk in the Spirit will fulfill the law:
Romans 8:4 (NASB) in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
The law is thus a beautiful standard, but it is not a source or a means of righteousness.
Galatians 5:24 (NASB) Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Those who belong to Christ belong to Christ on the basis of one thing - they realize that they cannot save themselves. They realize that no amount of religious performance and no amount of trying to be good can ever merit righteousness before God. Therefore, they have died to that way of thinking and they realize: "I was crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me."
What Paul is saying, finally, is that despite the reality of the conflict, despite the fact that every day the flesh wants to overthrow us, the Spirit provides us with the power we need to follow him.
In other words, if in my heart of hearts I came to the conclusion that it was only the Spirit of God that could save me, then it's only logical to come to the same conclusion that it's only the Spirit of God which can make me righteous. And it's only the Spirit of God that can produce the life of Christ in me - what we call sanctification- that process of becoming more like Christ.
Martin Luther compares the flesh to a man's beard. What happens when you shave on Monday? The beard grows back on Tuesday. If you shave on Tuesday, it grows back on Wednesday. If you stop shaving (even for a few days), soon you have stubble everywhere on your face. Crucifying the flesh is like taking a daily shave.
John Stott is quite eloquent on this point: "If we are going to follow Christ, we must be brutal with our flesh. Too many of us fondle our sin and then wonder why we give in. We make excuses for our flesh and act surprised when the flesh controls our words and our deeds. No more wimping out! No more excuses! No more pampering your flesh! There must be a ruthless and uncompromising rejection of sin. We must not go easy on ourselves."
The remarkable feature of Paul's statement about the crucifixion of the flesh in verse 24 is the use of the active voice: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." Galatians 2:19 and 6:14 say that Christians have been crucified with Christ, but 5:24 says that they themselves have acted to put to death their flesh. Believers are responsible to crucify the flesh.
Galatians 5:25 (NASB) If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
The "if," is a first class condition in Greek that here states a condition true to reality. It could be translated: "Since," God has given us new life, we should do something. We should walk by the Spirit. We can better understand what Paul says here if we understand that the Greek words for walk are different in Galatians 5:16 and 5:25. The first (peripateo) is the normal word for walking, used there as a picture of the "walk of life." The second (stoicheo) means "to walk in line with" or "to be in line with." Paul here is saying that we should keep in step with the Spirit.
So the fight remains. We are called on to take this conflict seriously: to learn to follow the Spirit, to serve one another through love, to lay down our lives for love's sake for each other, to walk by the Spirit day in and day out in the little things as well as the big things. What does this mean in practice? Paul gives a general but practical application to the Galatian churches:
Galatians 5:26 (NASB) Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
This verse and verse 15 clearly indicate that the community life of the Galatian churches had been torn apart by pride, which caused provoking and envying. In their concentration on keeping the law, the Galatian believers had become very competitive in their spiritual life, attempting to outdo each other. To provoke means: "to challenge to a contest." Some were so sure of their spiritual superiority that they wanted to prove it in a contest. Others felt spiritually inferior and resented those who made them feel that way. Both attitudes were caused by pride that could not tolerate rivals.
This whole chapter lends itself to a searching examination of ourselves. We often think that our problems and difficulties are all outside of ourselves. We think that we would be fine if everyone just treated us right and if circumstances just got better. But that ignores the tenor of this whole chapter: the problems are in us and needs to be dealt with by the Spirit of God. Augustine used to often pray, "Lord, deliver me from that evil man, myself." With that kind of reality check, we can see a new world and a new life, and not one other person or one other circumstance has to change! All we must do is yield to the Spirit of God and begin to truly walk in the Spirit.
Believer, the Lord wants to fight your battle. He will fight your battle if you will live in the Spirit, if you will keep in step with the Spirit. He will fight your battle, and you will live! The battle plan for living the victorious Christian life is quite simple: Stay in God's Word and stay in step with the Spirit. It is in God's Word that we find God's truth for living the victorious, life and we find the lives of people like Jehoshaphat who show us that God's counsel is proven and true. It is as we live in the Spirit, as we live seeking God's will, that we learn of God's ways, and we experience the victory that He has promised.
I want to ask you this morning to allow the Lord to search your heart. Are you living out the desires of your flesh, or are you keeping in step with the Spirit? Are you throwing yourself before the Lord in total dependence upon His grace and Sovereignty, or are you trying to figure out a way to get out of your latest mess?
I am convinced that the "fruit of the Spirit" is available to all of us. No one needs to walk in the path of the flesh. We all have a choice to make, and we must make it every day. And most of us must make that choice a hundred times a day. Will we walk in the way of the flesh, indulging our desires and producing the ugly "works of the flesh" Paul mentions in this passage? Or will we walk in the Spirit and in step with the Spirit, following His leading moment by moment, allowing Him to produce his "fruit" in us?
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