16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh 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 flesh 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.
Who is leading you? Who influences how we act, think, or feel about situations, circumstances, and life issues we face? This much is certain someone influences everyone. Whether we believe it or not, we all are the product of another persons influence in our lives. One or more persons have made significant contributions to the shaping, molding, and formation of the person we are today. For some of us, our parents have held the greatest influence, for others it was a friend, mentor, or possibly other family member. Whomever it was they have left their indelible mark on us.
The members of the Galatian church were struggling with this same question. There were some within the church who felt that people should follow the directives of Moses in the Mosaic Law and the apostle Paul countered all believers should be led by the Holy Spirit.
For the apostle Paul it was not as simple as whether or not we should adhere to the teachings of another, because there is another force at work influencing how we go about our business. The force that Paul was referring to is our human nature. We all can agree that in many cases despite the wisdom, guidance, and tutelage of parents, friends, mentors and the like we often go contrary to their counsel and do what we want in the end. The apostle points out that there are really only two powers that exert influence over us, a) our human nature or b) the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul explains that within each of us there is an internal struggle and tug of war occurring. In some cases the struggle occurs daily, in others it is situational, and still for others only occasionally. The point is there a struggle-taking place within each of us irregardless of the frequency.
To highlight his point, Paul lifts up for us the various (not exhaustive) manifestations of a life that is self directed verses a life that is directed by the Holy Spirit. In the text, the apostle uses the term “sinful nature” which means flesh or human nature. It refers to those actions that come naturally to human beings. He says these acts or actions are obvious. In other words they can be clearly seen. This helps us to understand why when people act or engage in actions that we consider questionable, in poor taste, or detrimental we can identify them immediately. The real issue and problem with being directed by our human nature is that we end up living only to please ourselves. While we may start out with good intentions those good intentions quickly become corrupted, compromised, and skewed. Have you ever noticed that when we intend to do something nice for a person, and then that person does not respond in a manner we think they should respond we become offended and in extreme cases resolve never to help anyone else again. Or, we say we are going to get to work on time or finish our projects in a timely manner and then when no one takes notice of our effort we become resentful and adjust our timetable to our own liking. As we can see, allowing our human nature to lead us generally devolves into being consumed by selfish desires, doing what we want when we want, or becoming a law unto ourselves. Ultimately, we become ungovernable.
To provide a solid understanding of the problem the apostle Paul provides us with four (4) categories of behavioral manifestations of being led by our human nature. For our purposes we will deal them categorically rather then individually. Primarily because the list is not exhaustive and not every person will struggle with every item in the list. Furthermore, I believe the apostle’s point is to make us aware of the trouble allowing our human nature to lead us can cause. The four categories are:
1) Sexual Problems: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery – these are things that undermine our personal integrity and create distrust within people who love us and are willing to invest in us. Perhaps the greatest problem with this category is the damage caused to relationships and ensuing destruction and devastation that result.
2) Religious Problems: idolatry and witchcraft – these are things that undermine our personal relationship with God and create distance between God and us. Anytime we place someone or something ahead of God it is an admission on our part that we do not trust God and that we will look elsewhere to get those things that God alone can and has promised to provide. The real problem here is that these things destroy intimacy with God.
3) Social Problems: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy – these are things that undermine our personal relationships with others and cause us to become isolated by pushing others away. At the root of these behaviors is a subtle and sometimes harsh reality that we do not trust others, and so, we do our best to keep them from getting too close to us. The problem with the behaviors in this category is that they destroy fellowship and unity.
4) Substance Abuse Problems: drunkenness, orgies, and the like – these are things that undermine our ability to be, become, and achieve. The self-destructive nature of this category of behaviors suggests and screams a lack of trust exists within the individual. In an effort to cope with perceived inadequacies, shortcomings, and hardships an individual will pursue a path that culminates in their own destruction.
The apostle Paul concludes this section by saying, “I warn you…those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, there are consequences to allowing our human nature to lead us, and chief among them is separation from God and a failure to realize the fullness of what God has for us. Another point to be made here is that the people of God must continually examine and re-examine their lifestyle and inquire of themselves, how are we living? Any manifestation of the behaviors within the four categories Paul listed will be destructive if left unchecked. If these things predominate our life then the Holy Spirit is not leading us, or the primary power in our lives.
There are some who have asked me, how can I know if I have received the Holy Spirit or if the Holy Spirit is operative in my life?
My response to them is look for the signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life. The apostle Paul provides us with some definitive manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. Whereas, there are indicators of our human nature exerting its power and influence in our lives, there are also signs of the Holy Spirit exerting its power and influence in the lives of believers. Again, rather that deal with each individually I think it would be more helpful to examine the categorical manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Here Paul offers three areas where we can identify the presence, activity, and leading of the Holy Spirit. A Spirit led life is:
1) Fruitful: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – these are the produce and product of the Holy Spirit. One of the first things that jump’s out in this area is that these qualities are antithetical to human nature. They are the antithesis of human nature. It is not by coincidence that Paul begins with love, because the way to correct wrong is not by might, but by love! From love flow’s all other virtues. You cannot have joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control if you do not have love. Love is what makes us productive in life and faith. It is because I love my family that I have joy in my heart. It is because I love my family, friends, and church that I can be at peace with decisions I do not like or agree with. It is because I have love I can be patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled.
2) Cultivated: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires – Any farmer or agriculturalist will tell you that in order to reap fruit you have to sow a seed and then cultivate that seed. In other words, we have to put the work in so that what has been planted can grow and ultimately we can enjoy the benefits. The Holy Spirit plants the seed and we are expected to nurture and take care of what the Holy Spirit plants within us. How? We ask God for qualities and God gives us situations. Therefore, in those situations where our human nature attempts to rear its ugly head we must exercise and employ the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Where we might allow anger to get the best of us we must employ gentleness and self-control. Where we might allow jealousy and envy to get the best of us we must employ love and joy for others. The bottom line is we must be committed to advancing the cause of Christ – being a living example of the gospel and using the fruit of the Holy Spirit to build up the Body of Christ.
3) Submissive: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit – Every day we must resolve to walk and work with the Holy Spirit. We do this by giving the Holy Spirit priority and daily giving up our desire to do what we want and then asking and inviting the Holy Spirit to guide, lead, and direct us in and through each day. The Holy Spirit will not arrest control of our lives, we have to give it to Him willingly and then He will provide us with the guidance and direction we need.
The apostle Paul lays out for us the internal struggle we face daily and the subsequent problems that can be caused when we allow out human nature to drive, lead, and guide us. The good news is Paul also presents the antidote and how we can resolve this dilemma. We must commit to living a Holy Spirit led life. This means that we daily decide to give priority to the Holy Spirit and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in all things and all areas of our lives. When we do this we will become liberated – we no longer have to worry about working things out and how things are going to work out because that now becomes the role and responsibility of the Holy Spirit. We will become empowered – things that used to bother, perplex, annoy, and disturb us will lose their power over us and we will experience increasing levels of mastery over people, places, and things. Most importantly, we no longer have to worry about doing the right thing, because the Holy Spirit will always lead us to do the right thing.
Who is leading you?