Works vs. Fruit ~ 20170521 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
05/21 The Work of the Spirit and the War Against the Flesh [Galatians 5:13-21; 24-26]; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170521_works-vs-fruit.mp3
Today we begin a series on the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. I believe this will be very practical and helpful, and I would invite you to be praying with me that God the Holy Spirit would be at work through his word to produce his fruit in the lives of his people for his glory.
Paul is in anguish over the Galatians. He is astonished that they are deserting Jesus and turning to a different gospel. These Gentiles are being pressured to submit to the Jewish law. Paul is fighting to preserve the truth of the gospel, the good news that we are declared right before God not by keeping the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is not me attempting to live up to some standard, but Christ living in me, a life lived “by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal.2:20). Paul is eager to embrace the freely given grace of God, and he understands that if righteousness could come through the law then Christ was crucified in vain.
Justification by Grace through Faith in Christ
He says in chapter 3
The Christian life is begun by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. I hear with desperate dependence the good news proclaimed that Christ was crucified for me. The Holy Spirit is at work in me so that as I hear the gospel I trust not my abilities but Christ alone. The Spirit works this in me. Having freely received the Spirit through faith, is it now up to my flesh to finish the work he began in me? Of course not! If the beginning of the Christian life is a work of the Spirit, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, so the continuance and completion of the Christian life is all a work of the Holy Spirit, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Sanctification by Grace through Faith in Christ
Paul says in Galatians 4
Paul’s longing is that Christ would be formed in them. Christ – himself – formed in you. Christ – who lives in me. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This is no human effort. Paul's heart is that they would live in complete daily dependence on the Spirit in them to produce the character of Christ in them.
In chapter 5 he warns not to fall away from grace, to turn from the freely given gift of God who is at work in us by his Spirit, in order to attempt to obtain righteousness by our own effort.
We do not work, we eagerly wait. We wait for the hope of righteousness; a confident assurance of a righteousness that God will bring about in us. We trust. We depend. We believe. Through the Spirit. By faith. We wait. It is not our effort. Not what we do or don't do that “counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” It is not me working, but faith working. Dependence on God is at work, and it expresses itself in love.
Freedom to Want
In verse 13, Paul warns against misusing this freedom we have in Christ, our freedom from the law, in a way that allows the flesh to gain traction.
We are set free in Christ to fulfill the law by serving one another through love. So many misunderstand freedom as a freedom from any authority. Rather freedom in Christ is freedom from the tyranny of a cruel slave-master to be back under the good and right authority of the God who is love. It is a freedom at the heart level. We are no longer under debt and an obligation to live up to the standards of the law. Instead we are freed to do what we want. We are set free at the level of our desires. We are set free from the suicidal desires that compelled us to pursue things that destroy; we are set free at the heart level to hunger and thirst after the things that truly satisfy.
War of Desires
Life by the Spirit is war. There is war outside and war within. Paul warns; if you bite and devour one another, watch out; our fleshly desires stir us up against one another. If we follow the flesh (and often we do) we will be biting and devouring each other.
But as believers in Jesus, we have been given the Holy Spirit of God. We still have the old nature, the flesh. And our sinful flesh will not just roll over and admit defeat. It will not go down without a fight. So we have a war on our hands; a war within. It will be long - lifelong. It will be messy - there will be casualties. But we are assured of victory - the outcome is certain. We battle a decisively defeated foe. The flesh was defeated at the cross. If we are in Christ, if we have identified with him in his death and resurrection, the victory has already been won. Jesus conquered sin and death and hell on the cross. And my flesh was crucified with him on that cross.
By flesh the Bible doesn’t mean physical bodies. Our bodies are not inherently evil. Our physical bodies will be resurrected glorified. We will enjoy a sinless existence in our physical bodies in the presence of God for eternity. God created Adam and Eve with physical bodies in the garden and he said it was all very good. Our bodies are not the problem. The flesh is the problem. By the flesh, the Bible means that fallen part of us that desires other things more than God. It is that part of us that wants to be our own master, determine our own destiny, live for our own glory, be our own god. As believers, we now have the Holy Spirit living within, and we now have competing desires. The flesh has its desires, and the Holy Spirit brings with him his desires, and these two are in conflict. The Holy Spirit desires to magnify Jesus above all.
These competing desires 'keep you from doing the things you want to do.' We are in a battle. But who is the you? You are either giving in to the flesh, biting and devouring one another, or you are led by the Holy Spirit, free from the law, through love serving one another. So who is the you? What is your identity? Do you embrace the flesh, with its passions and desires, or do you embrace the Spirit, and allow him to transform you? This is a big deal.
Works of the Flesh
In verse 19, he moves from talking about the desires of the flesh to the works of the flesh.
The flesh manifests itself. There are fifteen words that divide into four categories here. The first three words have to do with sexual sin; sexual immorality, sexual impurity, uncontrolled lust. Then there are two words dealing with religious pursuits; idolatry and sorcery. The flesh makes an idol out of just about anything; family, relationships, work, success, kids, power, reputation. Sorcery is an attempt to gain control by manipulating the spiritual realm. The next 8 are relationship words. And most of these are in the plural; they have multiple manifestations, they may take multiple forms. Enmity – hostile feelings and actions; strife- contention and discord; jealousy – an envious rivalry; fits of anger – bursts of temper; rivalries – selfish ambitions; dissensions – uprisings or controversies; divisions – creating factions; envy – ill will or spite. Most of these are inward attitudes and feelings, attitudes of the heart. The last two, drunkenness and orgies, have to do with excess; excessive drinking, excessive feasting or partying. The desires of the flesh display themselves in works of deviant and destructive sexuality, dark religious practices, self-centered and damaging relational dynamics, and excessive overindulgence.
Recognize, this is a big deal. This is a warning. Paul says 'I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.' So this is a salvation issue. If you have embraced the desires of the flesh, if your life is characterized by the works of the flesh, if there is no battle between flesh and Spirit, then you may not know Jesus. But don't be discouraged; if you are not winning the battle all the time, if you are still struggling against the same sins. The fact that there is a battle going on and you are convicted over your sins is a good sign.
We could look at Jesus' story of the prodigal and see these fleshly desires manifesting themselves in the works of the flesh. The prodigal idolized money and freedom from all authority and sinful pleasure. He indulged in sexual immorality, excessive drinking and partying.
We could look at his unforgiving older brother and see enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.
These are the normal outworkings of the flesh. But when the Spirit comes in, then there is war.
Of course we could look at the father in the story and see the fruit of the Spirit on display; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We will look at these characteristics in the coming weeks.
How is the Fruit of the Spirit not a list of moral virtues? (070218)
We need to understand how the lifestyle of the morally upright around us fits in to this overall picture. We acknowledge that many that don’t know Christ personally live lives that we would describe as ‘good’; they are kind, patient, faithful, gentle, self-controlled, they exercise patience, they are peace loving, they show love to others, and they seem happy. Does this mean that the Spirit is at work in their lives? Is this evidence of the Holy Spirit, and should we conclude that people who live this way must be justified believers, because Jesus says ‘by their fruits you shall know them’? In fact we probably can think of people we know that do not follow Jesus that we would say have more of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives than we do. Do we have biblical categories in our minds to fit these facts into? Or does this confuse us and cause us to question and doubt?
Let’s look at what Jesus said:
Now that sounds pretty clear-cut. If you can see the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life, then they must be O.K. with God, right? If they are loving, kind, good, gentle, patient and self-controlled, then they must be on the right track. Be careful not to jump to conclusions before you’ve read the whole passage. Let’s keep reading and see what Jesus says next:
So, apparently there will be people who on the surface appear to have it all together; even people who sincerely feel that they have it all together, who will be very surprised on judgment day. They will say things like ‘but Jesus, we acknowledge you as Lord; we believe in you’. And Jesus says, ‘no, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’. They will say ‘but we did that; we prophesied, we even cast out demons in your name; we did many mighty works in your name’. So they were doing good works. They were performing great acts of love. And not just that; there were supernatural things going on. Prophecies were being given; people were being delivered from evil spirits. Obviously the Spirit was at work in their lives. But on this ground they were not welcome in heaven. What was it that they lacked? Jesus says the critical thing is not what you do; it’s who you know. Jesus says ‘I never knew you. You may have done some amazing things. You may be the most loving, kind, generous person around, you might have even done these things in the name of Jesus, but we had no relationship. I never knew you.’ And Jesus sends them away and calls them ‘workers of lawlessness’. How can he say that when they were doing good works? In God’s eyes all their love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control were filthy rags in his sight. Their good works were valueless because they didn’t stem from a relationship with Jesus.
Contrast Works and Fruit
Notice the flesh is always working, striving, exerting effort to attain its unwholesome desires. The Spirit grows fruit. It is an organic thing. It is not manufactured. If the right seed is planted, the right plant sprouts up. Whatever kind of tree it is, that is the kind of fruit that will be produced. There are ways to encourage and enhance fruitfulness; preparing the soil, watering, fertilizing, pruning. But ultimately the fruit is determined by the nature of the tree. The Holy Spirit produces fruit in keeping with his nature.
Notice also, the fruit of the Spirit is singular, where the works of the flesh are plural. There are various and disjointed manifestations of the fleshly desires. But the Spirit produces wholeness, integration, integrity. This is one fruit. It has different sides, different aspects; but it is one. It is one multifaceted fruit.
And take encouragement here. If you belong to Christ, you have the Spirit of the living God living within you.
Romans 8 tells us
And he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1Jn.4:4). And he who is in you is greater than your flesh. God wins! He will be victorious in your life. If the Spirit is there, he will produce his fruit in your life. He will not fail. If God could take the one who was crushed down under the weight of the sin of the world and raise him up to life again, he is fully able to overcome your fleshly desires and produce the satisfying fruit of the Spirit. Christ will be formed in you!
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org