by Mike Ratliff
12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14 NASB)
I worked for a short period of time in the late 1980’s in PC marketing. I’m really not cut out for sales, but most of the other sales people I worked with were in their natural element. Most of my “customers” were just normal people coming into the store looking for a computer. Others were businessmen looking for a solution for their office environment. For example, I sold computers to oilmen who bought high end PCs with a lot of RAM and very large monitors with very expensive graphics cards to handle the software they used. All of that I looked at as God’s sending me clients so I could earn a commission as part of his providing my daily bread (Matthew 6:11). The most heartrending experiences I had during that time though were people who would come in to the store and they would be passed to me for some reason. They would come to my little cubicle and we would talk. It was there that they would see my Bible on my desk or the little plaque my wife gave me with Isaiah 40:31 on it, and then they would say they were Christians too and then they would look for a “deal.” I could tell, as I am sure most of you could too, that most of these people were seeking to manipulate the fact that I was a Christian so they could “profit.” When I refused to be manipulated that way some became ugly and spiteful and some even threatened to call the management and tell all sorts of things about me if I didn’t give them what they wanted. That was always terrible, but I think it was also quite surprising to them when I told them to go ahead. The really sad thing was that most of those professing Christians I worked with probably would have done everything under the sun to “make a sale” even if it did mean doing things that no genuine Christian should ever do to his or her employer.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you could by no means perform the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh’s desires are against the Spirit and the Spirit’s are against the flesh; for these things oppose each other, so that you cannot do whatever you desire. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, divisions, sects, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, as I said before that the ones practicing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, self-control; against such things there is not a law. 24 But the ones of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and its desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, we should also be in line with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
All genuine believers have the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). This indwelling gives the believer the personal power for living to please God. In v16 (above) the verb “walk” translates περιπατεῖτε (peripateite), “walk, behave,” the present, imperative, active case of περιπατέω (peripateō). The present, imperative, active case indicates continuous action, or a habitual lifestyle. Walking also implies progress or spiritual growth as the believer submits to the Spirit’s control. This submission is the believer’s responding in obedience to the simple commands of Scripture. The believer grows spiritually (Romans 8:13; Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:16). What is the flesh referring to in v16? This is not just the body, but includes the mind, will, and emotions, which are all subject to sin. This is reference to our humanness. When I read v17 I think of Romans 7, especially v24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”
In v18, what does it mean to be “led by the Spirit”? This is a contrast. Either we are led by the Spirit or we are under law. To be led by the Spirit is the same as walking by the Spirit as we looked at in v16. Only those who walk by the Spirit are walking by the power of the Holy Spirit and this results in God manifesting righteous behavior in and through them with a spiritual attitude. On the other hand, those who do not walk by the Spirit are under law. Does this produce righteous behavior? No! It produces unrighteous behavior and attitudes. I have an example for you, which I have shared before. In the last church I served as a deacon and Bible teacher, which we left in 2006 because it went Purpose Driven, there was continued, growing hostility toward what I was teaching in my class. For about a year I had been tossing the SBC literature and developing my own lessons from the Bible passages that we were supposed to be covering, but that literature had no depth and challenged no one. It sidestepped every doctrinal point.
One Sunday we came to Ephesians and before I got started I was asked a question about election based on some passages from Ephesians 1. I simply read those passages. The class was a couple’s class and the one who asked the question was the young lady of one of those couples. When I started cross-referencing those passages with John 6:44; Ephesians 2:1-10, et cetera, her fiancé and a friend of theirs began heckling me. They would not let me finish reading those passages. I was not “teaching” anything, simply reading scripture. They would not even let me finish and so I stopped. I looked long and hard at them and asked what the problem was. I was accused of being a Calvinist. I simply smiled and said that I was simply teaching what the Bible said. If that made me a Calvinist, so be it. These two fellows got so argumentative and loud that people came from other classes to see what the problem was. I never got to the lesson, but I also never let them twist scripture. Now, who was exhibiting righteous behavior and who wasn’t? I went out in the parking lot afterwards and the one who asked those questions came up to me and asked me to forgive her. I told her that it was okay; there was nothing to forgive. I then went over to here fiancé and his friend and tried to shake hands with them. They turned their backs on me and stomped off. I never saw the friend again. I did attend the wedding of that couple and the fellow would not look at me all through the ceremony or during the reception.
I found out later that those two fellows came from a local Independent Baptist church in our area that advertised that it was “Fundamental, KJV, Traditional”. The reason they were at our church was that their memberships had been revoked there because they had a family member or friend who was “in sin” and they refused to “shun” them. Now, is that grace or law?
What are the deeds of the flesh? Paul gives us a pretty good list in vv19-21. The key to understanding this is in the last part of v21. The ones practicing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. We all still sin, but if we are truly the Lord’s then we will not practice these things as a way of life. Those who try to say that Christians can live any way they choose should do a word study of these sins in these three verses and then understand that if one’s lifestyle is marked by these things, any of these things, as a way of life, then that person is not a Christian. Pay special attention to the word “fornication,” which translates πορνεία (porneia), “sexual immorality.” This word is the source of the English word “pornography.” It refers to all illicit sexual activity including adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, and prostitution. In our day, taking a stand like this in this “Politically Correct” dumbed down; post-modern culture can cause the “sexual-orientation” activists to descend upon you. That’s okay; they are no match for God.
I really like how Paul makes his contrast in vv22-23 showing us the incredible difference between the works of the flesh in vv19-21 and the fruit of the Spirit. These are godly attitudes that characterize the lives of only those who belong to God by faith in Christ and possess the Spirit of God. These are not produced by our trying to produce them. They are not the product of works for that would make the subject to law and Paul makes it clear in v23 that they are not subject to any law. These attitudes are what we call Christlikeness. They are not natural for us in our humanness. They are only a growing fruit that comes as we are live by the Spirit lined up with him as per v25 and those who do that have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires as per v24. This is an ongoing process that is accomplished over time as we learn to walk by the Spirit.
Paul closes this section with v26 that speaks of the genuine believer walking in humility and meekness. It is when we realize that all we have in Christ as in the fruit of the Spirit is not our doing, but God’s, that we must seek to be humble with one another, loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. What I shared above in that debacle in my Bible Study class was not the product of that sort of behavior was it?
Soli Deo Gloria!