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Spirit and Flesh

Belonging to Christ

Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church

(5/19) Good morning. If you can turn to the book of Galatians in the New Testament. We’re going to look at chapter five, one of the toughest section in all of Galatians. And I think it’s the heart… the center of the problem in the church and the conflict that all of us have faced and many still are. So we’ll start in verse 16 and go through 26, and we’ll see what God has for us here.

Paul says, Galatians 5:16-26:

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." NIV


I think many times we have a tendency to look at the outward appearance, the effects of what we are doing, in relation to how we’re conducting ourselves with God and others. And what the apostle Paul is trying to convey to the church, is to get us beyond effects, and down to the real issue of causes.

So the big question is why do we do what we do?

In this passage of scripture, Paul gets down to this issue of cause. It’s not about the effect. It’s not about behavior, about morality or immorality, it comes down to this conflict, this ongoing division between the flesh and the spirit. The translation that we are reading refers to the "sinful nature." But the literal translation here is "flesh" and I believe the distinction is important. You see we’re all in the flesh, in this tent, until we receive our new bodies in the resurrection. But when you become a Christian… you leave the sinful nature behind... because you can’t know Christ that way!

The Bible says, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self… to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God…" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

So the moment you trust Christ, in a split second, God makes you a new creation. In 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, it tells us, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! So the sinful nature is gone… now you’ve been born again… you’ve become a new creation and you have a new nature.

The Bible says that, in fact, you’ve been given a new heart. You’ve been sealed with the Spirit of God and you are a different person, because God is remaking you from the inside out. And this process continues through your whole life until it is finally manifested in your new body. So this is a work of God who is in the process of making you the person he created you to be by this new nature that he places within you. So, the reason why Christians continue to struggle with sin in this lifetime is this issue of our flesh… this tent in which we live.

The apostle Paul says it this way… "While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened", because we want to be "clothed with our heavenly dwelling" but not only that… God has "given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (2 Corinthians 5:4-5).

Again Paul takes it up another level in Romans 8:9 and says, "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ."

And so for the child of God, the flesh is part of us that we must watchfully be on guard against and not give free reign to, because these two things…. the flesh and the spirit are at war… they’re constantly in conflict and so when we choose to follow the flesh, we end up not doing that which we want to do.

1. Passions and desires

And so Paul says in verse 19… "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious…" and that out of this flesh comes passions and desires. That’s what he says in verse 24; "passions and desires." And they’re not necessarily bad, but it depends on the source that is inspiring them. So if out of my flesh I let my passions and desires go, my life will look a certain way, and there will be indicators of that.

God tells us when our flesh is hooked-up to our passions and desires, it comes out of us as: "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." We become corrupted. We may fight it. We may try to justify ourselves. We may try and explain our way around it. But, in fact, there’s nothing we can do… it’s obvious… we’re just guilty as charged. And if we are children of God, we see the effects of the way that we’re living, we’re disgusted, we’re sickened by it, and we want something different.

On the other hand, if my passions and desires are connected to the Spirit of God… and to the new nature that God has placed within me… then it will come out looking entirely different. Paul gives another list that indicates what those things would be. He talks not about the works of the flesh, but the fruit of the Spirit. And he says that these are things such as: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

So we start wondering, "What would it be like if I loved people; loved God; and people loved me?" And usually what happens is that we survey the condition of the sin in our lives and we begin to dream of what it would be like if we were different. And we realize, I want to be dead to this life of flesh, but as it is, I’m living as if I was alive to the flesh and dead to this new life in Christ. And so we’re sitting here, we’re considering these two options, and if we’re believers, we want this other life, we want the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And what we don’t want is to be sexually perverted. What we don’t want is to be socially divisive. What we don’t want is to be spiritually compromised. And what we don’t want is to be caught up and corrupted into descending cycles of consumption and addiction. That’s what we don’t want… and we all agree on that.

So the question is: How do you go from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the spirit?

Now some of us find a church, a pastor, or a counselor… we turn on Oprah… we listen to Dr. Phil and we put a plan together… we try and implement our plan to take us from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit. And really it’s all ridiculous… this self-reliance… because the worst sin is pride. The worst sin is trying to be holy without God. The worst sin is trying to be good enough on your own. You see… the whole point is that Christianity is not about morality, it’s about being with God. It’s the fruit of that relationship that we desire.

And so the question remains… How do you go from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the spirit?

2. Crucifying the sinful nature

Now some of you are living there and you know it. So how do we get out of the cul-de-sac? How do we move from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the spirit? Paul tells us how to get out of this situation in verse 24, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."

So the problem is that this flesh of ours cannot be accommodated. We can’t just sin a little. We can’t give in. Because when we give in to sin it just keeps marching until it has conquered us and taken us over.

The Bible says in Romans, "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16).

Basically, you’ll either put to death your sin or your sin will put you to death. So how in the world do we conquer this, overcome this, and put it to death? And maybe you have been trying? Maybe you’ve been working at it, but you‘ve been unsuccessful, because you’ve been dealing with the effects. You know its like, "I’m going to stop drinking, stop lying, stop doing this, and stop doing that. I’m going to kill those things." When the real issue is it is the flesh that must die. And when the flesh dies, all of its works die with it, because it’s cause and effect.

So, what do you do to kill the flesh?

Verse 24 tells us here that you belong to Jesus. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature (the flesh) with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24). That’s how you kill it. You belong to Jesus. God loves you, he changes you, he calls you to love him back, and the more you love God the more the flesh dies.

You see because there’s sin and there’s Jesus. Our goal as Christians is not to be moral, not to get away from sin, but it’s to love Jesus and draw near to him. 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 describes it this way… "How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil?" (New Living Translation). And so the goal is to be with Jesus, and as we draw closer to Jesus, as we fellowship with him, the flesh can’t live there. The flesh can’t live in the presence of Jesus. And so it dies. It fades in the presence of His glory. It is diminished and conquered in His holiness. And all of this happens, Paul tells us in the next verse, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:25, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."

So our goal is to be with Jesus. And like trees, our roots are to be in Christ, and we bear fruit because we are taking life, nourishment, and sustenance out of the living God. And as the Spirit of God brings that in us and through us, we bear fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We go from the works of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit by belonging to Jesus and the Holy Spirit working within us. And here’s the good news. Do we know how to love Jesus? We don’t. Does the Holy Spirit? Absolutely. Do we know how to draw closer to Jesus? We don’t, but the Spirit does. Do we know what our real problems are and the deep hurts within us that need healing? We don’t. We only know the effects. But the Spirit of God knows. And so here’s the good news. The Spirit of God knows us perfectly. And he knows exactly how to lead us and guide us, and convict us, and mold us, and shape us. And His ministry is to push us toward Jesus so that we’ll be in love with Him. And as He does His work, we belong to Jesus, we become deeper in our relationship with Jesus. And all of the sudden we discover our sin gets further and further away.

3. Keeping in step with the Spirit

Paul says then, "Since we live by the spirit, let us keep in step with the spirit." And so you’ve got to realize, this isn’t something that just happens, and you arrive at a place. This is an ongoing life process, because God is infinite. You and I may never know all that there is to know, because Heaven is not the finish-line for us. It is the beginning, a transition into true life, eternal life, where our flesh dies and intimacy with God continues.

And because God is infinite, the leading of God’s Spirit, and the understanding of Jesus that begins in this life continues on. We will see things more clearly, but we’re never done. It’s never as if we are as close to Jesus as we can get. It’s never as if that we love God as much as we can. It’s never that we know all that there is to know about God. And so God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are each involved in this process where the Spirit draws us to Christ, where Christ reconciles us to the Father, and God is more fully revealed to us. And so this cycle goes on unendingly. It’s a continual process where we grow deeper in intimacy with God.

That’s a much bigger and better goal than morality. That’s worship. And it’s that intimacy with God and His love that transforms us. It’s His love that changes us. And so Paul says, "You’ve gotta keep in step with the Spirit."

I was in a store recently just casually looking at the magazine rack. And there were a lot of magazines on health and fitness… weightlifting magazines teaching how to improve your weightlifting technique; yoga magazines teaching how to improve your yoga technique; martial arts magazines teaching how to improve your kicks and punches. And, amazingly, there was a magazine called Walking. I was surprised to find an entire magazine devoted to the subject of walking. And it actually comes out six times a year.

Well, apparently, there's more to walking than meets the eye. If you're walking for health reasons, you need to know how to stretch, how to pick the right shoes, how to pace yourself, what kind of foods to eat, and on and on. As it turns out, there is a lot to be said about walking.

In the same way, there is a lot to be said about keeping in step with the Spirit. There are things you can do to improve your walk in the Christian life. Walking in the Spirit is a process; once you master the technique, you'll experience the victory Paul talks about in verse 16. "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Galatians 5:16).

Now for some of you, maybe you need to read the Bible… maybe you need to pray… maybe you need to be with God’s people… or you need to confess your sin… or worship… or whatever. Those are all ways that the Spirit of God works, according to the Scriptures. But, you must follow the Spirit of God.

For some of you, He may be working on a sin issue… and you’re going to have to work that out between you and God. You’re going to have to be with Him and belong to him. You see, your alcohol, your drugs, your sex, your spirituality, your fractured relationships, your anger, your greed, your lustful passions and desires, your addictions, your jealousy, your envy, your factions; they’re really all Jesus issues. Those things happen when we’re not following the Spirit of God, when we’re not growing in love with Jesus. And so the goal is to love Jesus and they’ll die.

I want to impress this upon you as I wrap this up. The answer is that you need to just be with God. And he’ll take care of you. He’ll lead you. He’ll guide you. He’ll teach you. He’ll convict you. He’ll transform you. And maybe you’ll pray, maybe you’ll speak in tongues, maybe you’ll memorize the whole Bible, maybe you’ll hand-out sandwiches to kids on the street. But that’s not the goal; the goal is to be with him… to belong to him… and that’s my answer: Jesus.

As we close, we always respond to God. We believe God initiates with us, and we respond. We recognize that the problem is always sin, and the answer is always Jesus. Right? We’ve sinned, Jesus has come, died, and was buried. He was raised for our sin. And He forgives us as we come to Him repentantly. He puts His Spirit in us. It’s a great, unbelievable gift. So we’ll respond through singing and I would encourage you to spend some time talking to God this morning.

Read past sermons by Pastor John Talcott

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