Paul has been preaching freedom in Christ - that we are not bound by religion, but free in our relationship with Jesus. This truth is so incredibly freeing, that it can become a divisive point with other believers. We can begin to judge their walk with the Lord, seeing anything that looks like religion, any practice that we do not have in our Christianity, and putting them down for it. "You guys wear suits to church? That's legalistic bondage!" "You read prayers out of a book? That's dead religion!" "You sing hymns? You need to find freedom in Christ like I have!"
And because we can have this tendency, Paul warns the Galatians, and us, against it.
This wonderful freedom that we have can make us feel so superior to people that have a more traditional church, or a more liturgical Christian experience. But we are not above anyone in the kingdom of God. The condemnation that Paul has brought against religiosity is against those who add to the work of the cross, making Christ of no benefit. Those who make religious works a necessary requirement for being a Christian. But we are not to have conflict with those in different cultures, churches, or denominations who depend on Christ alone for their salvation. On the contrary, we are to love them.
Paul says that love is the key. As a child of God, you are called to love your brothers and sisters. Jesus said,
John 13:34-35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
The devil loves warring factions in Christianity, who hate each other, who have bloody conflicts and church splits. Our witness is ruined when the body of Christ becomes divided.
Now, this is not to say that we cannot have our disagreements, discussions, and debates. We must put teachings, doctrines, and beliefs to the biblical test. We must point out wrong thinking and teaching, and maintain the purity of the Word of God. But are we doing this with love?
When you were growing up with brothers and sisters, you had conflicts, but continued to love. When you have a disagreement with your spouse, you still love one another.
But maybe you're thinking, "No, actually I don't even have any communication with my brother anymore. I'm estranged from my sister. I'm separated from my husband, I'm divorced from my wife. I had conflicts with people, and the love disappeared. And so I don't understand how there can be conflict without a break in relationship."
And that is exactly what Paul is warning us about. We need to show love, rather than biting and devouring. When there is hateful conflict, people are consumed. But when love is shown, then resolving disputes and solving problems becomes a reality.
How can we love more? How can we demonstrate that love? Love is the natural fruit of walking by the Spirit. Paul tells us this in these next verses.
Our flesh is prideful, always wanting to be right. It creates conflict. It doesn't show love. It is in complete opposition to the Spirit of God, at war with it. How can our flesh be brought under control? Paul says very simply,
Gal. 5:16 ...walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
You see, the key to mastering your flesh, the key to ridding your life of sin is not trying to sin less. The key is to walk by the Spirit. The book of 2Corinthians says,
2Cor. 10:3-4 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
Yes, we are in the flesh, and the flesh is what we have so many problems with. But we cannot go one-on-one with our flesh if we expect to succeed. We have to focus on walking in the Spirit to keep from fulfilling the desires of the flesh. It's a back door approach.
There was a fortress back in the days of the Old Testament called the Stronghold of Zion. It was in Jerusalem, and was under the control of the Jebusites. Many of the Israelites had tried to conquer it, to fight against it, to succeed in driving out the Jebusites. But none of them could. They would attack it over and over, pounding on the gates. But it was not until King David commanded his troops, "go in through the water tunnel" that they succeeded in conquering that stronghold, and defeating that enemy.
The strongholds that have been established in your flesh cannot be defeated with brute strength. You cannot defeat them in the flesh, nor can you have victory if you wage war according to the flesh. When you're tired of fighting, take this back door approach: forget trying to defeat the flesh, and instead walk in the Spirit.
Paul said in Romans,
Rom. 8:5-6 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace
When your mind is set on the things of the Spirit, it will not be preoccupied with the things of the flesh. The way to beat a drinking problem is not to sit at home and say, "I won't drink, I won't go to the bar, I won't buy the booze, I won't go out with the guys," but to instead occupy yourself with the things of the Spirit. If you're at church, you're not at the bar. If you're hammering out new relationships in a men's small group, you're not getting hammered at home. If you're praying, you're not pounding down drinks. If you're meditating on the Lord, you're not thinking about the booze.
The Law of God pronounces judgment upon sin. A judgment of the death penalty. All humankind is bound up under that law of the death penalty that sin brings.
The only way to not be judged by that Law is to be saved, to have your sins forgiven, to have the payment for your sins made by Jesus Christ dying on the cross.
Now, if you are truly saved, honestly forgiven, you are going to desire to be led by the Spirit.
Are you being led by the Spirit, or by the flesh? The answer is simple: examine your life. The deeds of the flesh are plain enough. This partial list that Paul gives us begins with three sexual sins: immorality, impurity, and sensuality. Are you having sex outside of marriage? Are you partaking of pornography? Are you driven by your lusts? That's not a Spirit-led life. If those things are present in your life, with no conviction, you had better ask yourself if you are truly saved. If the Holy Spirit dwells in you, these things will grieve your heart. Is their grief over these things? Are you torn and tormented inside about your actions? Or are they no big deal?
Another thing on the list there is sorcery. This word in Greek is "far-mak-I-ah" which is where we derive our words "pharmacy and pharmacueticals" from. It literally means the use or the administering of drugs, but in Scripture, drug use is always associated with witchcraft, magic, and sorcery. This is a deed of the flesh, not the Spirit. Are you taking drugs? Just smoking a little pot, just taking a little acid, just snorting a little coke, just doing a little crack? If it's no big deal to you, I can say with some good confidence that you are not saved. Because if you were saved, the Holy Spirit would be crying out inside of you, convicting you of sin.
Look at all the personality problem
s listed here:"enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying." Are you a bitter person? Always getting into arguments? Are you always in the middle of conflicts? Are you a troublemaker? If so, does that grieve you, and you earnestly desire to change, or are you content with being that way? The Scripture warns us to...
Phil. 2:12 ...work out your salvation with fear and trembling
How about drunkenness? What role does alcohol play in your life? Is it something that you're drinking every single day? How much? Have you convinced yourself it's not a problem? Guess what - if you've had to tell yourself it's not a problem for you, then it is already a big problem for you. The Scriptures say drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:10). If you're struggling against it and trying to conquer it, then the Lord is probably at work in you. But if you have no conviction about it, then you should be very afraid that you are not saved.
Paul states it plainly regarding all of these things, that...
Gal. 5:21 ...those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Are these the things you're lacking in your life? Do you have peace and joy? Is love abundant in your interaction with others? Are you showing yourself faithful? Do you have self-control? Ask yourself honestly, "Am I walking in the flesh, or in the Spirit?" And if you're walking in the flesh rather than the Spirit, you should be worried when you read verse 24.
Have you put your own passions and desires to death? Do you desire to please God or yourself? If there is sexual sin in your life, if there is drinking or drugs, if there is bitterness and anger, you have a choice today. You can say, "I am my own person, and I'd rather keep these things than obey God and deny myself." Or you can choose to say, "difficult as these things may be to give up, I know what God has said about them. If I am truly a Christian, these things must be gotten rid of."