This sermon is number 4 in a series of 4
Life In The Spirit - Part 4
"Finding Your Bearings With Grace"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2010 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
This evening we are looking again from chapter 5 at a couple of verses we looked at last week, and then into the verses we didn't look at. So we're reading from chapter 5 verse 16 through to chapter 6 verse 18, the very last verse. Of course, as we have been going through this study, we'll not be dealing with every verse - that would be impossible - and certainly all the issues that Paul deals with, we cannot deal with them. We've been looking at the Epistle thematically, and tonight I want to take as the title: 'Finding Your Bearings With Grace'.
So we take up our reading in chapter 5 and verse 16 please: "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another".
"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit".
Now if you have been with us these number of Monday evenings, you will recall that on our first Monday night we looked at chapter 1 and chapter 2, which were very personal chapters to the apostle himself. Now there's a whole issue of the challenge of the Judaisers to Paul's apostleship that happened also in 2 Corinthians - we didn't enter into that at all. But Paul outlined there for us how he himself had been a legalist, how he was a Jew, and you can read about it in detail as well in Philippians 3 - how he was a Jew of Jews, a Pharisee from the Pharisees; and he was, according to external keeping of laws and Jewish rites, blameless. You couldn't have pointed the finger at the apostle! Yet he was converted out of legalism by the matchless grace of God. He details there how he didn't confer with any man about this message, but God taught him this message of grace. But when he did share what God had taught him with the apostles in Jerusalem, they confirmed it. Then he also alludes to a very personal experience he had as he had to confront none other than the apostle Peter himself, because he had adopted this message of grace and was no longer living like a Jew, with all the Jewish rites and dietary laws, and yet all of a sudden - when the Judaisers came on the scene, and when certain brethren from Jerusalem visited the churches of Galatia - he started looking over his shoulder again, and he wouldn't eat with the Gentiles. Paul had to face him, and rebuke him, and he told him: 'You're living like a Gentile, but you won't allow the Gentiles to live like Gentiles. You want to enslave them, capture them again in bondage to laws that they are not required to keep'.
So that was a very personal couple of chapters. Then we looked at the underlying truth behind Paul's exhortation, and that was chapters 3 and 4, our second week. But of course last week, we embarked on chapters 5 and 6, which are very practical chapters - and so we're taking two weeks to look at them. You remember, if you were here last week, that we looked at chapter 5 and verse 1, where Paul exhorts them to: 'Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage'. As another translation puts it: 'It is for freedom that Christ has set you free', therefore they are exhorted to stand fast and not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Paul has been teaching them: 'You are free from the law!'. So we have the Magna Carta, if you like, of Christian freedom in this little book. Yet Paul is at pains to teach the Galatians that, though they are free in Christ, they are certainly not free to sin. So we saw that our liberty of grace in Christ is far from a license to sin. In fact, on the contrary, our freedom in Christ is a freedom not to sin, a freedom that we could never have known because we were under the slave master of the sinful nature that we have, and the law only served to multiply that in our sight. But because of the death of our Lord Jesus, freeing us from the law and freeing us from sin, we are now free not to sin - and if you want to know more about that, I exhorted you to study Romans 6, 7 and 8. Often we encourage young Christians to study 1 John, or maybe the Gospel of John, when they're newly saved - I think we'd do a better job if we encouraged them to study Romans 6, 7 and 8 to show them that they are now free not to sin.
Now, that being the case, the question begs: how then, if we are free not to sin, practically, do we not fulfil the lusts of the flesh? If you're honest, you will have to admit that those are very real in your everyday experience. How, practically, do you not fulfil the lusts of the old sinful nature which we still have residing in us? Well, the answer is given in our portion that we've read together this evening - verse 16 and following - Paul teaches that we are to walk in the Spirit in order not to fulfil the lusts of the flesh. In other words, we are to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into true victory over the works of the flesh. So the answer to this problem - now that we are free not to sin, how do we not fulfil the desires of the flesh? - the answer is: you must walk in the Spirit, and don't think for one moment that you can prohibit executing the desires and lusts of the flesh by living by law. No, Paul says, you must learn to walk in the Spirit.
Someone has said, and it's very pertinent to our study in the book of Galatians, that 'Nothing will keep the Christian more immature than trying to keep a list' - that's good. If you're a Christian who has gone through your Christian pilgrimage and experience just living on the strength of a list of rules, regulations, expectations of yourself and that of others of you, you will not fully mature in God's intended purpose. You see, God's intention for you is to walk by the Spirit - and that is the Christ-life, that is what Christianity is! I quoted to you Roy Hession from his marvellous book 'The Calvary Road', which I have encouraged you all to read if you can get your hands on it, and he teaches basically in the book that the only life that pleases God is the life of His Son. You remember He rent the heavens on several occasions to say: 'This is my beloved Son, look at Him. It is Him I am well pleased with!'. So, if God is to be pleased with us, it will not be through our fleshly achievements, it will not be through our list of rules and regulations, it will be through the Christ-life manifest in us to the glory of God. Of course, Paul in chapter 2 and verse 20 said as much, and we are so familiar with this verse: 'I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me'. Our portion this evening, chapter 6 and verse 14, says the same: 'God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world'.
Now, the fruit of such a life, such a crucified, Spirit-filled life, is love. We touched on that last week, that we are not to live by law, but to live by the liberty of love. We haven't time to look at 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul gives us that wonderful discourse on what love is, but let me remind you that he says there - at least in verses 1 to 3 - that if we don't have love, we have nothing: 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing'. In other words, I can be the most righteous, in an external sense, person on the face of the earth; I can live rightly in every sense - and yet, if I am devoid of love, I am devoid of the very thing that matters to God, and I'm nothing!
Of course, the word that Paul uses for 'love' in 1 Corinthians 13 is 'agape', which is the love of God - and that can only be given to us as a gift from God. It is love for God and love for others - God's love expressed from our lives. This is where this little epistle becomes very practical. Now, right from the very first week we saw how this epistle teaches that we ought not to have a performance-based relationship with God. Our acceptance with God is not based on our performance, but we also saw right there at the beginning that if we think that we must perform to gain acceptance with God, equally we will require others to perform to gain acceptance with us. That's what the legalists did in Galatia. We need to cover this ground again tonight, because if we don't understand grace, and we don't know how to truly receive grace from God - by grace alone through faith - we will not be able and free to offer that same grace and love to others. We will probably give them laws, rather than love.
Now, I have a hunch that most churches aren't preaching and teaching grace in essence. I've also a hunch that neither are they practising it among themselves, or offering it to a lost and dying world. What Paul is saying here in our portion tonight is that the true burden a Christian should bear is not law, but love. He says as much in verse 2 of chapter 6: 'Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ'. So we're going to look tonight at 'Finding Your Bearings With Grace', and the first bearing we want to concentrate on is 'fruit bearing', and the second is 'burden bearing'.
'Finding Your Bearings With Grace' - fruit bearing, then. Verse 16 and following talks to us about how the walk in the Spirit manifests as the fruit of the Spirit. Now, to understand this, you've got to understand the difference, biblically, between flesh and spirit - because when you understand the difference, it goes to the heart of the issue. What I mean by that is: religion can be lived in the flesh, legalism can be lived in the flesh, but Christianity can't! Now understand this please: one of the first discoveries that you need to come to very early in the Christian life, if not at conversion, is that the Christian life, as it is enshrined in the New Testament, is an utter and complete impossibility as far as the human flesh alone is concerned. Now to understand the difference between flesh and spirit, you've got to understand the anatomy of man, and I think a lot of Christians don't understand it. I believe in man as a trichotomy, a tripartite being, that he's made up of body, soul and spirit. I think there are several portions of Scripture that can prove that - not least 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12 - but, basically, the body is the world-conscious part of the human being, that is the part that we relate to the world through: through eye-gate, ear-gate, nose-gate, mouth-gate and your feelings and the five senses, sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.
The body makes us world-conscious, but the soul makes us self-conscious. The soul is basically made up of the mind, the intellect; the emotion, the feelings; and the will, the volition - that is the soul. But the spirit, if the body is world-conscious and the soul is self-conscious, the spirit is God-conscious. That simply means that our spirit is the part of us that worships God, it is the part of man that can know God - and, in fact, when born again, can contain God. If you like, the spirit is the Holy of Holies of the human tabernacle, it is the place where God's Spirit dwells.
Now, I want you to understand this tonight, and I know it's a bit complicated but it's important - if you think of man as body, soul and spirit, the soul of man is like the linchpin that connects the body with the spirit. Do you understand? The soul is the linchpin that connects the body with the spirit - and as God created us in the beginning, that is how we knew how to behave in our body, because God was communicating to man's spirit; it came through his intellect, his emotion and his will to his body, and controlled him. The problem is that, because of man's fall into sin, his spirit has died. Now death in the Bible does not mean 'extermination', death of the spirit does not mean the spirit ceases to exist. Death in the Bible means 'separation', so when the spirit of man died it was separated from God.
Let me illustrate this as simply as I can. Some of you might be able to remember the day and age when you had to ring an operator on the telephone to get put through to another destination. The soul, if you like, is like the telephone operator. What I mean is: if you're the caller, you dial the operator and it is the operator that connects you through to the recipient of the call. So you've got the caller, the operator, and the recipient. If you like, God is the caller who speaks to man's spirit, and that is communicated through the intellect, emotion and will to affect how we live our lives out in our body. But since the fall, the spirit has been separated and, if you like, it's as if God's connection has been broken, it's been hung up. So what effectively is now happening is: the soul now relates completely to the body, the flesh; and the Bible calls the soul combined to the body 'flesh' in totality. If you like, to continue the illustration, it's as if the operator and the recipient are carrying on with the conversation on their own.
So the Bible understands 'flesh' as being the soul and body alone, without any spiritual input at all. Paul says that this flesh, the body and soul united without God's influence, it is contrary to everything spiritual. Look at chapter 5 and verse 17: the flesh lusts against the Spirit, the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you cannot do the things that you would. Now, I hope you understand what I'm saying, but basically: the flesh makes self the centre of man. The flesh elevates self-will above God's will. That self-life is manifested in the works of the flesh that we find in chapter 5 and verses 19 through to 21, let me read them to you in the Amplified Version. Interestingly, it translates the first three words: 'Now the doings', doings, '(practices) of the flesh are clear (obvious): they are immorality, impurity, indecency, Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies), Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like'.
Now, here's a problem for us as believers when it comes to the works of the flesh as we read them like we just have: we often understand the works of the flesh only as being immorality that is carried out in the body - but the flesh is more than sin carried out in the body. The flesh includes the works of the soul. You remember I told you that the flesh is the soul and body united. If you think about it, even all these immoral acts that are committed in the body, they always start in the soul - because they normally start with a thought in the mind, and then a feeling, and then it is exercised by the volition through the instrument of the body. But the major lesson I want you to learn tonight is that the works of the flesh also include the works of the soul. That means there are not just unrighteous acts that the flesh can commit, there are also self-righteous acts that the flesh commits. What I'm saying is: flesh not only produces defiling sins, but the flesh also attempts commendable morals and religious acts.
Now please remember the context of the apostle to the Galatians, these believers were trying - because of the influence of the Judaisers - to live their Christian life by law. What they were doing was, they were reviving the works of the flesh by trying to keep the Christian life and fire going by law. They were trying to do good, but it was actually their 'trying' to do good by law that made them do evil. Look at verse 17 of chapter 5 again, at the very end: 'You cannot do the things that you would' - isn't that interesting? Let me also point your attention to the fact that, if you count these fifteen works of the flesh in verses 19 to 21, you will find that out of the fifteen, eight are sins of strife - quarrelsome sins, divisive sins. If you look at the 15th verse of chapter 5 you see this borne out again in Paul's exhortation: 'If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another', then go, please, to verse 26 of chapter 5, he says, 'Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another'.
Do you see what is happening here? Here is a group of Christians who are trying to perfect their Christian sanctification by works of the flesh in adherence to law, and what is it doing? It's fanning the flames of their sinful nature, and it's causing division and all sorts of strife among them! So that teaching is very plain, that good acts done in the flesh, good acts done in the flesh are not glorifying to God but are glorifying to self, and actually will not produce ultimate righteousness but will reproduce sin in your flesh.
Maybe you're not getting this? Let me give you the greatest example of this in the Bible, and it is the group, the sect of the Jews called the Pharisees. Now please don't be too hard on the Pharisees - and I have done in the past - the reason being, theologically speaking, they were orthodox. Their orthodoxy was affirmed by none other than our Lord Jesus Himself, in Matthew 23 verse 2 He said: 'The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat'. He actually exhorted the people in verse 3 of that same chapter to listen to what they taught, but not follow their works. The Lord Jesus, on several occasions, agreed with the Pharisees' estimation of what our duty toward God was: love God and love your neighbour.
Paul the apostle was no exception. You remember in Acts chapter 23 that he had an appearance before a Council, and the Pharisees were there, and the Sadducees were there. Paul with, I'm sure, a bit of a smirk on his face, tongue in cheek, raises the subject of the resurrection - knowing that the Pharisees believed in resurrection, believed in spirit, believed in angels, but the Sadducees did not. All of a sudden the Sadducees and the Pharisees started at one another's throats - but Paul was effectively siding with the Pharisees, because of their orthodox doctrine. Let me commend the Pharisees again, because the Pharisees - in a roundabout sense - were a revival movement, they were a back to the Bible movement. I mean that in the sense that they wanted to bring every facet of Jewish life into subjection to God's truth, specifically the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The problem is, with the Pharisees, as Tom Hovestol put it in his book: 'The Pharisees received such harsh treatment from Jesus not because they were so far from the truth, but because they were so close'. The problem with the Pharisees was that they had the letter of the law, they had God's word, but they lived it and exercised it and executed it devoid of God's Spirit.
Now, in my first week, I mentioned that it never ceases to amaze me how knowledgeable people, as far as God's word is concerned, can oppose what is an obvious work of the Spirit on doctrinal grounds. Some of you, rightly, last week reminded me that I said I would come back to that - well, this is exactly what I'm talking about when I speak of the Pharisees. They knew the Bible inside out, and yet an obvious work of the Spirit of God was going on before them, the Messiah of God was working signs and wonders to show who He was - and yet they could not recognise Him! In fact, the Lord Jesus said to them in John 5: 'You search the Scriptures, you're experts, lawyers in the Scriptures, and from them you think you have eternal life - but those are the scriptures that testify of me! And you don't recognise me!'.
Now that's frightening, it's frightening because those who are well-versed in Scripture can oppose obvious works of the Spirit on doctrinal grounds, and even correct doctrinal grounds at that. I could give you many examples, and I haven't time this evening - the point is: the Pharisees were fluent in Scripture, yet they missed the big point! It's like they're obsessing, as I said last week, about the minutia of the law, and they missed the big weightier matters that God is really concerned about. The Pharisees' sect, what they produced is just like legalism, they produced an external right behaviour but not an internal righteousness of heart. That's why the Lord Jesus was so rough on them.
I'll let you into a little secret: I have been doing an experiment from time to time as I've moved about around some churches. I've asked several Christians with varied backgrounds, denominationally and theologically: from the Gospels, which group do you think the conservative evangelical wing of the church most resembles? Would you be surprised if I told you that, to a man, the answer came back: the Pharisees? Not the disciples! The reason being: our churches, particularly churches that are so well-versed in Scripture it has to be said, contain well-meaning Christians - as one has put it - with mountains of Bible knowledge, coupled with molehills of knowing God. Mountains of Bible knowledge, coupled with molehills of knowing God! Now, do you agree with me - you need to come to this point if we're going to move any further - do you agree with me that flesh, the flesh, the body and the soul, can produce 'good things', can produce 'morals', can do 'religious acts' - do you actually believe that? That you can pray in the flesh, you can read and study your Bible in the flesh, you can witness in the flesh, you can preach in the flesh - do you believe that?
Well, I'll tell you, Nicodemus is an example. He was a Pharisee of course, but we know he was moral, we know he was a good man. Let me ask you another question: do you believe there are people who are naturally nice people? Now you're bound to. I know you might believe in the depravity of the human nature and all that, that's theological and I agree with you - but we could never say that everybody is as bad as they could be. There are ordinary, unconverted, unregenerate people, and they are good, decent people. There are people out there not in the church, and they are patient, they are compassionate, they would often put us to shame as Christians. I believe the Lord Jesus testified to that fact - did He not say: 'You being evil know how to give good gifts to your children', isn't that what He said? You know as parents how to be good to your children, and He even went further - He said to His disciples that 'The publicans, the tax collectors, even they love one another'. There is nothing to be commended in loving people that are like yourself!
You see, this was the stumbling point to dear old Nicodemus. Jesus had to spell it out to him, and I wonder does He have to spell it out to you tonight? 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not', Nicodemus, 'that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again'.
Now, this is very simply the explanation of all religion: it's of the flesh. Let it be said, that is why religion often has a good and positive influence on societies wherever it may be found. It doesn't have to be a Christian flavour of religion, all sorts of religions have had good influences on the face of this world - even though they may well be, and are, of demonic origin. But this is the whole point: this is Satan's strategy behind religion, this is Satan's strategy behind legalism, this is the reason why good churches with good, sound doctrine can remain devoid of the power of the Spirit of God! It is a satanic principle, and here's how the devil's mind goes - now, follow his train of thought. Satan says: 'I'm quite happy to allow these religious people to let go of overtly immoral behaviour and activity, those aspects of the flesh that are external and obvious, I'm happy that they die. If I may deceive them into retaining the good part, the good flesh, well, then I can extend my kingdom on that grounds' - because that which is of the flesh is flesh, and will never bring life spiritually.
But the devil's punchline is even worse than his reasoning, because the devil's punchline is that those who live in the good part of the flesh, morally and ethically, find out that the serpent's bite is that living like that inflames sin, it doesn't solve it. Living by law inflames sin. Here's Paul again, Romans 7: 'But sin, taking opportunity by commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desires'. This is the man who said in Philippians 3:3 that, externally speaking, according to the keeping of the law, he was blameless. To look on him on the outside he was squeaky clean, he was a Pharisee, a whitewashed tomb - pristine on the outside, but on the inside, he admits in Romans 7, he was full of all sorts of lust - why? Because the commandment produced in me, it stirred up in me, all manner of lust.
That is the devil's punchline, it's like trying to blow out a fire with a pair of bellows - it burns hotter. That's why Paul said again in Romans 7: 'For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) nothing good dwells: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I will to do, I do not do: but the evil I will not to do, that I practice'. Now listen, this is the message that every Christian needs to hear, and I wish they would hear it sooner rather than later: God's plan was never to improve on your old sinful nature, your flesh; God's plan has always been to replace it! God's plan is that it is crucified with Christ on Calvary's cross, and it is dead - and you're to reckon it dead by faith, and allow God by His Spirit to replace that old flesh. God's goal is to replace all that the old nature loves with all that Jesus is - that's Christianity! The goal of the gospel is that God should make us like His Son.
It is a constant transformation. Paul said in 2 Corinthians: 'Changed into the same image of the Lord, that is from glory to glory, even as by', not the law, but 'by the Spirit of the Lord' - that's how it's done! If you're walking in the Spirit like that, not by law, not by the flesh, not by your soul and your body put together, you will produce the fruit of the Spirit. Let's look at the fruit of the Spirit for a moment. If you count them, you will find that there are nine - but please note that they are called, in verse 22, 'the fruit', singular, 'the fruit of the Spirit'. There is only one fruit, and it says 'the fruit of the Spirit is', not 'the fruit of the Spirit are'. The idea is not - and often Christians, I think, have this idea that Tom down the road, well, he has love; and Sammy in the seat beside you, he has peace; and Joy, well you know what she has, joy! That's not Paul's thinking here, it's 'fruit', it's singular. What Paul is saying is that the Spirit of Christ in us can produce all these qualities, all this fruit - and all of these mentioned characteristics could be summed up in one word: character. The fruit of the Spirit is character. The question begs: whose character? The answer is: Jesus' character.
Now, Christ's character, would you agree, is beyond us to produce. This is why this is a spiritual work. The evidence of the fullness of the Spirit in a Christian's life - listen to what I'm saying - is not knowledge. Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthians: 'Knowledge puffs up'. There is no virtue in knowledge at all without the Spirit. There is no virtue in gifts, even gifts of the Spirit, tongues, healing, prophecy, words of wisdom, words of knowledge - we could go on and on, even raising the dead - there is no virtue in those charismatic gifts without love. That's what 1 Corinthians 13 is about, that's why it's stuck in between 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14 about tongues and prophecy! The fullness of the Spirit, neither, can be identified because of the ability of any person serving the Lord, but is manifest alone in character, fruit.
Now, let me outline for you a little bit more the difference between works and fruit. When someone says 'work' to you, well, I'll not ask you how you feel - but immediately the thoughts of effort and toil and labour will come to mind, and it's a sort of mechanical word, isn't it? Then you think of the outcome of work: it's weariness, faintness, frustration - and that is any work. Work, spiritually speaking, if it's done in the flesh, is accompanied by fleshly effort and display, and often a lot of noise, saying 'Look at me!' - but fruit is very different, because fruit does not involve any work, but it's result is wonderful. You might say, 'Well, hold on a minute, fruit does involve work. There is the farmer who plants the seed, and he tends the vine, and there is a husbandman' - but who is the husbandman? God is the husbandman, not you. The work comes from God, the ability comes from God, and all that is required of us is the receiving, like a fruit - receiving, and yielding, and accepting by faith what God is giving. It is that that gives you the power to work for the Lord and serve the Lord. A machine can do work, but only life can produce fruit - and there is a world of difference!
Producing fruit means having no confidence in the flesh. It means having an honest confession of your own weakness, and surrendering to the power of God. Now I don't have time to look at individual characteristics here in the fruit of the Spirit, save to say that the first three - love, joy, peace - could be described as fruit of internal experience. Can I ask you, Christian, this evening: are you experiencing love to God from your heart? Are you experiencing love to God to your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you experiencing love to God from your inward being to a lost and dying world? Are you experiencing joy in the depths of your soul? Joy that the Bible says ought to be unspeakable and full of glory? Are you experiencing peace in your mind and your heart? The peace of God, Paul says, which passes all understanding? That is your blood-right in Christ, and if you walk in the Spirit you will experience it!
The internal experience, and then the next three - four, five, and six: long-suffering or patience, gentleness and goodness are external behaviour. It's how the character that you imbibe from the Spirit of God working in your life affects others - it will touch others, it will change others! The last three: faith or faithfulness, meekness, and temperance or self-control, are fruit of spiritual character - and those are self explanatory. I would urge you to go home and study these individually, but please see that these nine descriptions of the fruit of the Spirit cover completely our responsibility to God and to our fellow man. It's just like the Ten Commandments, only it's not a commandment, it's an enablement: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength; and to love our neighbour as ourself. The law is being fulfilled in the liberty of our love.
But please note as well that Paul calls these 'fruit of the Spirit', and they don't have any flowers on them. 'What are you getting at now?', well, John Stott put it like this: 'The Christian is a fruit tree, not a Christmas tree'. We're not meant to be covered in decorations, saying 'Look at me, look at what I'm doing, look at who I am, look at what I have achieved!'. Fruit - what is it for? Fruit is for feeding hungry people, not so that we can say 'Look at how great I am', but that people who are hungry and spiritually thirsty might find God's love in us! But legalism does not produce that! Here's what legalism produces: Jesus told a story of two men who went into the temple one day, one a tax collector, the other a Pharisee. The Pharisee looked up to heaven and he said: 'I thank You, God, that I am not like other men', and he began to delineate all he did during his week, giving to charity, fasting twice in the week; and he even added on as an appendix, 'I thank You that I'm not like this tax collector'. That's what legalism does - but Jesus said it was the boy that beat his chest, and wouldn't even come near, who went to his home justified.
Listen, there are three aspects of legalistic pride - we've already dealt with two of them in previous weeks: one, traditionalism; two, this week we have dealt with it, self-righteousness - but there is a third. Traditionalism, self-righteousness and judgementalism. We cannot leave the last. We've encountered this already in the greatest story ever told in Luke 15, the prodigal son. You remember the reaction of the elder brother, you remember he said to his father - he didn't call him 'father', he didn't even call his brother 'brother', he called him 'your son'. He said: 'You kill the fatted calf him and throw a party, but I've always kept all your commandments' - that's basically what he said - 'I've always obeyed you, I've always done my duty, and you never threw a party for me!'.
The elder brother was filled with criticism and a haughty separatist spirit. By the way, do you know what 'Pharisee' means? 'Separate ones' - they prided themselves on how they felt they were above others. Now listen carefully to what I'm saying, you must remember: if we don't know how to truly receive grace from God, we won't be able to freely offer it to others. Here's a lesson if there ever was one, if you're wanting to reach out to a dying and perishing world: make sure you get the prodigals to the Father, before the elder brother gets to them! Make sure you get the prodigals to the Father, before the elder brother gets to them.
Fruit-bearing, and that leads us to burden-bearing, how we are to show grace, we are to live grace. Paul says in chapter 6, specifically to the fallen brother, verses 1 and 2: 'Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ'. Brothers and sisters who have fallen into sin, and also - verse 6 - serving brothers and sisters: 'Let him that is taught in the word communicate'. In other words, if you've been taught by one in the word of God, make sure that you communicate to them in good things - in other words, provide their needs.
But we'll not deal with that one, we want to concentrate on the fallen brother and sister. You see, what Paul is saying is: 'It's great if you can accept what you've rejected', Galatians, 'the idea, the theory of the grace of God for your salvation, but you can't accept the theory and reject the practice!'. You can sing, 'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me', and be wretched in how you treat other believers and those without Christ. Now the great test, and Paul is giving it to us here, whether we operate legalistically in the realm of spiritual matters or not, the great test is how we treat those who don't measure up. How do we treat them? Do we treat them judgementally?
Last week I gave four ways to recognise legalists and legalism, and I'll not repeat three of them - but I mentioned one that I said I would revisit this week. It is simply this: laws for legalists are more important than lives. You could put it another way: reputation of their good name means more than rescuing perishing lives. The legalist almost always demonstrates a far greater concern for laws than he does lives. Greg Morris put it like this: 'They become gatekeepers rather than trailblazers, adopting a defensive posture and therefore failing to impact the lives of those around us'. Legalists are more about saving face than saving grace.
Now, listen carefully to what I'm saying: if our convictions become restrictions to helping the struggling Christian, or reaching a lost soul, we need to look again at our convictions. The reason why legalism is such, is because law is easier to deal with than lives - it is! To put it very bluntly: the lives of people out there - and there might be some in here for all I know - if you get involved in them, you'll have to roll up your sleeves, and it will be messy! So the easiest thing in the world is to have laws that keep them well away from you, and that makes things a lot easier. I remember a Brethren man saying to me: 'You know, people may become fit for heaven, but not the assembly' - garbage! Someone should have told the Lord that, and maybe He wouldn't have bothered having a need to go through Samaria and speak to a woman who had been married five times, and the guy she was living with wasn't her husband. He didn't leave her on the scrapheap of immorality without any hope. I tell you, we need to have a good look at our Saviour again, because I think we may have lost sight of Him. For the Lord Jesus Christ lives were more important than laws! Lives were more important than laws! But with the legalists, conformity to law is quantifiable, and it's more quantifiable and regulated than caring for people. In other words, you can measure laws, you can control laws, and it's more gratifying to our pride.
If you look at verses 3 and 4 of chapter 6, you will see that these legalists took pride in the fact that others were conforming to their standards - and when others couldn't, and they fell into sin because of legalism, they got a great thrill out of the fact that they were doing better than them. First Corinthians 13 says love is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrong. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. The trouble with legalism is that people are dying for grace, not laws.
John 8 is my favourite portion in the whole of the New Testament. It's about a woman with the smell of adultery still on her, and she is dragged by religious legalists into the presence of Christ. A theological debate ensues, whereby they try to trap Him in some kind of doctrine loophole. They debate theology with Christ over the head of a broken life that was crying out for love, grace and healing. You see, for the Lord Jesus, lives were more important than laws. If I go home tonight and, God forbid, one of our children is severely ill and taking convulsions, and I throw them, automatically, in the car and take them down to Accident and Emergency at our local hospital - what would you think of me if, on the way down, I decided to keep to the 30 mph speed limit along the way? You would say it was madness, wouldn't you?
I tell you, the Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees on one occasion when they lambasted Him for His disciples taking the corn and crushing it and eating it when they were hungry, He said to them: 'Have you' - that was on the Sabbath by the way - 'Have you not read what David did when he went into the temple and he took the shewbread and he ate? Have you not read that he ate to save his life and the life of his men?'. Lives are more important than laws! What the Lord was saying to them was, 'Pharisees, you know your Bible more than you know God!'. Galatians is all about getting to know your God! Have your principles and, I said last week, have the boundaries - and we ought to have them - but let's keep things in perspective. It's the same not only with the lost, it's the same with God's people: they're dying for grace. Someone put it well: 'Why is the church the only army that shoots her wounded?'.
I had a Mission not that long ago, and I preached a lot on the theme of grace. A man came to me after one of the meetings, indeed after the series of meetings, and he thanked me because it had helped him. He had, not that long ago, come back to the Lord. He had been a backslider for many years, and previously he had been an elder in the local Presbyterian Church. Why did he backslide? Well, he told me the story. His daughter had gone away from home to study, and she fell in with a chap, and she became pregnant and had to come home. One day after she was home, the minister met her up the main street, and he publicly reprimanded her and gave her a dressing down in front of the people in the town. That finished that elder, that finished that girl spiritually until he got a grasp again of the grace of God. Now everybody is running around with these bracelets, 'WWJD' - What Would Jesus Do? - what would Jesus have done? What did He do with the sinner? What did He do with the harlot? What did He do with the publican?
Legalism punishes those who don't measure up, grace restores them. I have seen - and I'm not castigating you - I have seen how much of a Pharisee I am, I have...when God's call upon my life is to be like Jesus. Here's a question worth pondering: does the winsome Person we find on the pages of the Gospels, does He live on in our churches today? The irony is, some of the people we look down on might show more grace and love than we do. The Lord Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to a lawyer, an expert on the law, who thought he measured up and wished to justify himself. He said: 'Who is my neighbour?', and Jesus said, 'The Samaritan is your neighbour' - and yet the Samaritan, when the priest and the Levite walked by the beat up man, it was the Samaritan who loved him, it was the Samaritan who tended him. Do you know what the lesson was? There are people who you despise that might do a better job of loving and showing grace, and they have less knowledge of God than you have!
Anderson, Miller and Travis said: 'It's a tragedy that some people find more grace and acceptance in a local bar or a local AA meeting, than they often do in the local church'. In chapter 6 and verse 10 Paul says: 'As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith'. If you don't understand grace, you will not be able to offer it to others. Let me conclude this message and conclude the series by saying simply this: it all comes down to a very elementary matter of whether self is on the throne of your life, or whether Christ is, through the power of the Spirit. Verse 3 of chapter 6: 'If a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself', chapter 6 verse 14, 'God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature' - a new creation, that's it! Life in the Spirit! Whether we are trying to live the Christian life in the flesh, or by grace through faith in the Spirit, is the issue. Not only will it affect our relationship with God, it will affect our relationship with others.
As I close, let me answer a question that I hope you're asking as I continually ask myself: how do you know if you're trying to live your Christian life in the flesh? One: have you a sense of the utter impossibility of you ever pleasing God in the flesh? Have you got a sense of the utter impossibility of you ever pleasing God in the flesh? You see, the flesh never declares: 'I'm weak', and put its hands up and says 'I'm useless'. The flesh derives kudos and fulfilment from achieving, and that's the reason why so many people in legalistic systems, they get cast down. That's what religion does to people, they go mad because they can never achieve the standard because it's impossible in the flesh! Maybe you're a rollercoaster Christian: you go up and down, and up and down, but you never have a steady state - why? Because you could be making the exact same mistake: you're trying to live the Christian life in the flesh, and you don't realise that God doesn't want you to try, He wants you to die! You have died with Christ, reckon it so!
The opposite of those who are cast down are those who try to live their Christian life in the flesh, and they're puffed up. I think this is the great conservative evangelical sin: because of their knowledge in principle and practice, they look down their noses at others. Listen carefully to what I'm saying: contempt for others is a tell-tale sign of hidden self-righteousness. Have you a sense of the utter impossibility of you pleasing God in the flesh, if you're cast down tonight, if you're puffed up? But the second and last question: have you a sense of your utter and complete dependence on God alone? If you have, you've understood grace - and that will be manifested in a constant reckoning of yourself dead to the flesh and to this world, and a constant waiting upon God, and a constant asking for the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and a constant abiding in Christ. As Jesus said, 'Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine; neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, bears much fruit' - and here it is - 'for without me ye can do nothing'!
You might be doing good things, but whatever does not issue from abiding in Christ and waiting on God in utter dependence is invariably of the flesh. That's the reason why so many dedicated, sincere people never experience victory and true maturity in their Christian life - because they're not walking in the Spirit, they're in the flesh. What is the answer to the flesh? You can't redeem the flesh, you can't regenerate the flesh, you can't revive, you can't restore, you can't reform the flesh. The only thing you can do with the flesh is put it to death, and God has done it. You must believe it, and allow Christ to live His life from you, bearing fruit and doing works that will not be burnt up as wood, hay and stubble on the day of judgement.
A.T. Pierson asked George Mueller: 'What is the secret of your great work, and the wonderful things that God has done through you?'. Mueller looked up for a moment, and then bowed his head lower and lower until it almost was between his knees. He was silent for a moment or two, and then he said: 'Many years ago there came a day in my life when George Mueller died. As a young man I had a great many ambitions, but there came a day when I died to all those things, and I said, 'Henceforth Lord Jesus, not my will but Thine', and from that day God began to work in and through me'. Every day, every day should be like that day, and will be like that day for those who walk in the Spirit.
I hope you've got your bearings with grace tonight: bearing fruit and bearing burdens.
Let's all pray - I apologise for going over the time, preaching by grace and not by law you see! But it would be wrong to rush just now, I think, it would be wrong. You see, if you get to the cross - and Jesus said we need to get there every day - your pride will never recover, never. I need to get there just now, do you? 'All the vain things that charm me most' - some of us make idols out of our doctrine - we can have nothing before the living God, nothing. 'The dearest idol I have known', cannot stand beside the crucified Christ. If you can get before the cross of Calvary just now in brokenness and repentance, and ask the Saviour for the filling of the Holy Spirit, He has promised to give that you might walk in the Spirit. May you do it now.
Father, hear the cry of Your children. May Your Spirit witness with their spirit of their adoption, and may they be able to know the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit - they and I - in our lives. Amen.
Don't miss the rest of Life In The Spirit...
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered in the Iron Hall Evangelical Church, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his 'Life In The Spirit' series, entitled "Finding Your Bearings With Grace" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
All material by David Legge is copyrighted. However, these materials may be freely copied and distributed unaltered for the purpose of study and teaching, so long as they are made available to others free of charge, and this copyright is included. This does not include hosting or broadcasting the materials on another website, however linking to the resources on preachtheword.com is permitted. These materials may not, in any manner, be sold or used to solicit 'donations' from others, nor may they be included in anything you intend to copyright, sell, or offer for a fee. This copyright is exercised to keep these materials freely available to all. Any exceptions to these conditions must be explicitly approved by Preach The Word. [Read guidelines...]