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Back to the Basics: Walking in Freedom (Gal. 5:13-26)

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We are back after a week break in our series called “Back to the Basics: Knowing why you believe what you believe.” We are now looking over this point:

8. That every believer is a new creation in Christ, and is called to walk in the Spirit, to die unto sin, and to live unto righteousness, and thereby manifest the fruit of the Spirit, conforming oneself to the image of Christ; that good works are the fruit of the Christian life, and are not ways of justification.

We looked at Galatians 5:1-12 last time. We saw what freedom means in the light of how God has saved us. We saw that we are saved by grace alone, that we cannot add anything to our salvation. Jesus nothing = everything. Paul was fighting a group called the Judaizers, who said that these new believers needed Jesus plus a ritual, namely, circumcision, for God to accept you. Paul was enraged and we ended with him calling his opponents to “emasculate themselves!”

Now he wants to make sure we do not take grace for granted and live as we please. Remember Satan does not like people in the center of truth, because that is where they are powerful in Christ. Rather, he would want to take us to extremes. The legalist satisfies himself, and presumably God he thinks, by adhering to a strict external code of do’s and don’ts, which he imagines demonstrate his self-righteous suitability for heaven. The lawless libertine, on the other hand, satisfies himself by rejecting all codes and living completely according to his personal lusts and desires. They are both man-centered and destructive in their theology. Satan has something for everybody and both extremes are bondage.

Last time we saw Paul was calling us to live in freedom. Today he will tell us the dangers of living in freedom without a relationship with Christ. Jesus calls us to freedom, but that does not mean independence. We are free from the yoke of bondage to the law, but that does not mean we have no yokes at all. We have His yoke (Matt. 11:30). Without a yoke, you have no direction and no purpose. You don’t need the law to control you, but that doesn’t mean you should control you. You need the Spirit, Jesus living in you, to control you from within. His yoke is tailor-made for each of us and He is co-yoked with us so that we may walk and work with Him!

Unfortunately, a lot of us may have played the grace card.  I can play now and pray later. We take advantage of God’s grace and forgiveness. “God knows I’m weak in this area. He will forgive me when I ask Him after I sin” some say. So instead of legalism, there is lawlessness. Sin becomes rationalized. It’s especially hard because once you become a believer, God leaves (what we will learn today) the flesh behind. There is an unredeemed humanity in us whose impulse is to rebel against God. One day the flesh will be destroyed, but until then there is an ongoing war in our hearts. How can we be victorious against it? How can we live in that balance of being yoked with Christ and walking with Him? This is what we are going to look at today. Let’s start with this:

I. True freedom is being free from sin to serve in love (Gal. 5:13-15)

Paul brings his argument back full circle. He started off by saying Christ has set us free for freedom (Gal. 5:1) and says it again here in v.13. Paul says God called us. The gospel of grace is a call from God. “Come follow me!” We were in prison to sin. He paid the debt for our release. He opens the prison door, fills our dungeon with light and calls us out!

But Paul says, don’t get out of the prison cell and walk into another. When Christ saved you, you became a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). But there is a part of you that is not redeemed yet. This is called the flesh. The flesh used here, which NIV calls “the sinful nature,” is not which hangs on the bone, but rather that impulse in man, which encourages rebellion against God. Paul uses “flesh” eight times in 5:13-6:10. C.S. Lewis calls it “the inner cesspool” that breeds snakes of evil.[1] The Bible says the following about the flesh:

 ·It cannot please God (Rom 8:8)

· In it dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18)

· Do not put confidence in it (Phil. 3:3)

· Do not make provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14) by feeding it the things that it enjoys.

John Macarthur adds, “Every wrong action, every wrong word, every wrong idea, every wrong reaction, every wrong emotion, every wrong attitude is from the flesh…the reason we have anxiety, the flesh. The reason we have fear, the flesh. The reason we have terrible relationships, the flesh. The reason we have difficulty in marriage, the flesh. The reason we have difficulty in the family, the flesh. The reason we have difficulty cooperating with other people, the flesh. The reason we have pride, the flesh. All sin of every form, all wrong emotions, all wrong attitudes, all wrong actions, all wrong reactions, all wrong thoughts, all wrong words, and all wrong deeds all come out of the flesh.”[2]

I call it the “Gollum” inside you. Before you are Christian, all you are is flesh. You are a walking mass of a heart ruled by you, rebelling against God. It is everything you apart from God intervening in your life. I once saw a Christian book that had the subtitle, “Discover the Champion within you.” Sometimes messages like those, especially to Christians, makes them feel like they are good people with all kinds of potential, without admitting that we have the flesh fighting us all the time. The Christian has three enemies: the devil, the world’s system and the flesh. They all work together to separate us from God.

Paul’s focus here is on the flesh. Paul’s declaration is that Christian freedom is not a base of operations from which the flesh is given opportunity to carry on its campaigns of sin freely and without consequence.” Don’t let lust camp under the “freedom” tent. Paul says same thing in Rom 6:1, 15. Their liberty was not to be used as a springboard from which to take off with their intention of sinning.[3] So as John Stott says, “Christian freedom is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin.[4]

Instead, Paul says your freedom that Christ saved you for is to be a slave of love. True liberty is not the privilege to do whatever one wants, but the privilege to do what God wants. As C. K. Barrett: “The opposite of flesh is love … love that looks away from the self and its wishes, even its real needs, to the neighbor, and spends its resources on his needs.” Christian freedom is freedom to love and therefore freedom to serve. “Love” here is “agape,” which is not to human affection, but to divine love. In other words, “This love is a love whose chief essence is self-sacrifice for the benefit of the one who is loved.”[5]

“Serve” here means render service to, to do that which is for the advantage of someone else. He is placing service over against selfishness, the positive over against the negative. One commentator adds, “Having discouraged two forms of slavery as burdensome and terrible, he commended another form that was beneficial—a slavery of mutual love.”[6] So once you become a believer, you become less self-centered and more others-centered.

Paul says in fact, when you truly are free in Christ, you actually fulfill the law you are trying so hard externally to follow. Jesus had said the heart of the Law in the Old Testament, boiled down to two things: “Love God and love your neighbor” (Matt. 22:39). But we fail in keeping the law. We hate God and our neighbor and love only ourselves. However, Jesus died with two beams: a horizontal and vertical beam. The vertical beam representing the fact that we can love God as we were intended to and the horizontal representing the fact that we can love others as God would want us to.

And once we become believers, the law is no longer an external thing we try hard to obey, but God will now write it in our hearts, which means, divine enablement to obey God and forgiveness when we fail to trust Him (Heb. 8:10-12).  So you have now all the resources you need to live and love, since God has loved you and lives in you so you can live.

But this does not come automatically. Notice v.15. The flesh works against this and so he says when you are not living in freedom, you become an animal and mutual destruction is always the result. When you see them as something to be used to serve yourself (instead of people you should serve) and when they do not comply, you end up killing them and yourself. A.T. Robertson explains this when he says it is like “two snakes that grabbed each other by the tail and each swallowed the other.”[7]

In his classic book The Calvary Road, Roy Hession, talks about our need for continual brokenness to find freedom from the flesh. He says, “In a pathetic passage in a prophetic Psalm, He [Christ] says, "I am a worm and no man." Those who have been in tropical lands tell us that there is a big difference between a snake and a worm, when you attempt to strike at them. The snake rears itself up and hisses and tries to strike back--a true picture of self. But a worm offers no resistance, it allows you to do what you like with it, kick it or squash it under your heel--a picture of true brokenness. And Jesus was willing to become just that for us--a worm and no man. And He did so, because that is what He saw us to be, worms having forfeited all rights by our sin, except to deserve hell. And He now calls us to take our rightful place as worms for Him and with Him. But only the vision of the Love that was willing to be broken for us can constrain us to be willing for that.

"Lord, bend that proud and stiff necked I,
Help me to bow the head and die;
Beholding Him on Calvary,
Who bowed His head for me."[8]

Jesus sets us to be worms with Him. I don’t like to think of Him as a worm, probably because I am a snake in my heart. I strike back and hiss if someone attacks me. Jesus did not die so that us snakes could keep being snakes! I have noticed we have been having some great conversations and dialogue these days. It shows we are growing up to be a true family. However, remember that our “snaky flesh” along with that subtle serpent, Satan, wants us destroyed. Let’s be aware of our own flesh. Christ became a worm for us worms. As a worm, you can let someone win an argument. As a worm, you can let someone be right to preserve the relationship, because you are not seeking to feed your flesh, but to walk in love and please the Lord. Lord, bend that proud and stiff-necked I. Help me to bow the head and die; beholding Him on Calvary, who bowed His head for me!


II. True freedom is to be led by the Spirit and not driven by the flesh (Gal. 5:16-21,24-26)

Paul then elaborates on what he means on how we can serve others instead of serving self. He says the key is to “walk by the Spirit.” Notice a command and a promise here in v. 16. The word “walk” means to “go about,” or  “walk around” or figuratively, “to conduct oneself.”  It is in the present tense meaning to walk continuously. Walking is a “reiterated step.” It is to take a series of small steps in the same direction over a long period of time. The Christian life is a habitual, constant, moment-by-moment intentional and deliberate choice to be in tune with the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit does not operate automatically. He waits to be depended on. Steve Zeisler says here that Paul is referring to “the everyday experience of putting one foot in front of the other, the morning to night, inhale-exhale, normal process of living life.”[9] To walk in the Spirit or be led by the Spirit means to go where the Spirit is going, to listen to his voice, to discern his will, to follow his guidance.

Note also that it is an imperative—not an option. Walking implies progress, going from where one is to where one aught to be. And if you walk by the Spirit, you have a promise: “you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The “not” is a double negative here meaning, “You will ABSOLUTELY NOT gratify the desires of your flesh. It can be also be translated, “NO NEVER,” thus, very emphatic and certain. The word “gratify” here means “complete,” or “bring to fruition,” or “fulfill.” And “desires” refer to passions arising from the cesspool of depravity, i.e. the flesh. It is not a winsome personality, theological degree or special seminars of the Christian life that makes a victorious Christian life. It is a daily walking by the Spirit.

I wonder if some of us read this verse backwards? Do we live as though if we try hard NOT to gratify the desires of the flesh, we can walk by the Spirit? That is not what Paul is saying. The solution is not to pit our will against the flesh, but to surrender our will to the Holy Spirit. Putting up a “Just say no” campaign against sin will not work. It is not saying no to the flesh that Paul encourages. It is saying yes to Christ. It is responding continually to His love. As Tim Keller says, “walking with God is a moment by moment awareness of God’s awareness of you.”

But here is the problem. You natural inclination is not to say yes to Christ. It is to say no to Him. Why? Look at v.17. There is a war going on inside of a Christian. A pig is unclean and enjoys wallowing in filth and is like our old nature, always looking for something unclean to feed on. Try cleaning up a pig. He will probably when he has the first opportunity, will run back to the pigpen. That is our flesh. And because of the flesh, living the Christian life is like trying to walk up a descending escalator. If you stop moving, the only way is down. So if you choose evil, the Spirit opposes you; if you choose good, the flesh hinders you.

Here’s the other thing. This is how you can know if you truly a believer. The Holy Spirit is inside you waging war against the flesh. When you are not saved, you do not have the Holy Spirit in you. You only have flesh. There is no war inside you. So if you notice that war inside you as Paul in Romans would say, wanting to do the things you shouldn’t do and not wanting to do the things you should do (Rom. 7:19-20), rejoice! The Spirit is in you fighting! You belong to Him!

As much as we wish the Lord simply took our flesh away immediately upon salvation, we find that God has another way to deal with it. Instead of removing it forever (which He will one day), He provides a source of power that will release us from the domination of the flesh. And that source of power is relationship with Himself, in the power of the Spirit.

Now as a believer you can do two things to the Spirit. You can grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). This is when you do the things you should not do. You let your flesh win. Why does the Spirit grieve? He grieves because He loves. He gets hurt because you are hurting yourself. He gets pushed into a corner. When you don’t do the things you should do, you quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). You put out His fire. It will be hard to walk by the Spirit if we are grieving and quenching the Spirit. The flesh will automatically control you. There is no neutral. There is no vacuum. You say no to the Spirit, you are automatically saying yes to the flesh.

Look at v.18. Notice, “if you are led by the Spirit.” The Spirit’s job is to lead. Our job is to walk. Please do not think being led by the Spirit means you do nothing. Your job is to walk, but that walk comes from being in tune with the Spirit and listening to His still, small voice. It means I am having God-moments with the Lord throughout the day, not just at quiet times. I am choosing to have those moments because they don’t come automatically. This verse literally reads,  “But if you are willingly led by the Spirit, then you are not under the Law.” As I mentioned earlier, the Holy Spirit writes God’s Law on our hearts (Heb. 10:14–17; see 2 Cor. 3) so that we desire to obey Him in love. You are not obeying because you have to, but because you want to and you love Him. The Psalmist says, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy Law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). Being “led of the Spirit” and “walking in the Spirit” are the opposites of yielding to the desires of the flesh.

When the Holy Spirit leads believers he becomes the controlling influence in their lives and not the flesh. Paul then basically says, “I don’t need to tell you what the flesh looks like do I? It’s pretty self-explanatory. You don’t need to get a seminary degree to understand it. Notice the word “works.” All that is done in the flesh is manufactured and made with your own hands. He says you have sexual sins: sexual immorality, impurity and sensuality. You can put anything fueled by sexual list here. Then you have false religion: idolatry and sorcery. Idolatry is anything you put in place of God in your life. Interestingly, Macarthur notes that  "Sorcery," that's the word pharmakia from which we get pharmacy, it means drugs. And since drugs were used as the common medium in the practice of magic and sorcery and since regularly in occult practices people took drugs, the word came to include all kinds of sorcery and witchcraft, but its root idea is drugs.”[10]

Then you have social sins: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions and envy. Isn’t it interesting that jealousy and envy are here on the same list with idolatry and sexual sin? It’s all flesh. Interestingly, he mentions envy, pride and provoking one another to sin in v.26. Perhaps the Galatian churches were full of these manifestations of the flesh. Lastly, he mentions the party life: “drunkenness and orgies.” I love the fact that he ends with “and things like these.” In other words, before you grin and say your stuff is not on this list (which I don’t know how it can’t be), but just in case, he says and “things like these.”

Paul then adds a warning in v.21. This warning is for those who habitually, continually, stubbornly, with no desire to change, as their lifestyle, that such people will not “inherit,” the kingdom of God. The word inherit here brings out the point that people in the kingdom do not earn their place; it is a gift to them from him who died for them. If these works of the flesh dominate your life and you have no desire to change and no fight within, it shows the Holy Spirit does not live in you and thus you must repent and turn to the Lord.

Look down at v.24. Paul says you belong to Christ. He’s your master. And since you belong to Him, the flesh that controlled you at one point, was nailed to the cross. You don’t have to give in to the flesh any more. Don’t take the flesh off the cross and carry it around. When the flesh rears its ugly head, you need to turn to Christ, listen to the Spirit and walk by the Spirit. That’s why he says in v.25 “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” As you sense the Lord calling you, wooing you to Himself and you respond to His love, you will walk in the way He wants you to walk. And as you are doing it, you will automatically keep the flesh on the cross where it belongs. 

I struggle a lot with approval addiction, especially from my parents. So I knew with them in town last week, I will be tempted to take the flesh off the cross and feed it if I hear any good or bad remarks from them about anything. So I remember praying over and over in the car one day last week, “Lord, help me to die to their approval.” And God is so funny because He replied, “No, don’t focus on dying to their approval. Focus on being alive to mine. You belong to me. Your worth is in me. Your significance is in me.”

Beloved, the Holy Spirit is your legs. Before you are a Christian, you can try walking in the Spirit, but you have no ability to walk. But once you are a Christian, you get legs. And how do children learn to walk? By learning to put their weight on their legs and shifting that weight in a repeated motion, over and over again, for a lifetime. It is learning to lean on the Spirit over and over again. Are you led by the Spirit? Or driven by the flesh? A grandfather was talking to his grandson. “Grandson,” he said, “there are two wolves living in my heart and they are at war with each other. One is vicious and cruel, the other is wise and kind.” “Grandfather,” said the alarmed grandson, “which one will win?” The grandfather paused before he said, “The one I feed.” You feed the flesh all day, you will have starved the Spirit. When you feed your soul and listen to the Spirit, you will not just starve the flesh, but kill it (v.24).

How do you know you are walking by the Spirit? I know! You win millions of people for Christ? You have amazing quiet times! You get wealthy? Your prayers are all answered? Your problems are all gone away? No. Here is the last thing:

III. True freedom leads to bearing fruit (Gal. 5:22-23)

You know you are walking by the Spirit because you start to look like Jesus Christ in your character, i.e. bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Notice the contrast between works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit is important. A machine in a factory works, and turns out a product, but it could never manufacture fruit. Fruit must grow out of life, and, in the case of the believer, it is the life of the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). IT IS A BY-PRODUCT! You never see anyone going to a tree trying to squeeze the fruit out do you?

How did Christ say you can bear fruit in John 15? I love how Jon Courson describes it: “Jesus said, ‘Here’s the key to bearing fruit: Stay close to Me. If you cut yourself off from Me in any way, at any time, you won’t bring forth fruit. If you abide in Me, fruit will come supernaturally, naturally.’ Looking at my apple tree, I notice that when the branches abide, when they simply cling to the trunk, blossoms come forth, and fruit is produced. I never see the apple tree struggling, sweating, or red in the face. Yet I do see Christians straining and striving, grunting and groaning because they fail to understand that the secret of fruit-bearing is not to try to figure out how to make fruit. The secret of fruit-bearing is abiding, just hanging in there with the Lord.”[11]

When you think of “works” you think of effort, labor, strain, and toil; when you think of “fruit” you think of beauty, quietness, the unfolding of life. Again, this does not mean inactivity. It means being focused on hanging out with Christ. The flesh produces “dead works” (Heb. 9:14), but the Spirit produces living fruit. The flesh produces works for self. It is self-centered. Fruit exists for others. It exists to bless others. And this fruit has in it the seed for still more fruit (Gen. 1:11). Love begets more love! Joy helps to produce more joy! Jesus is concerned that we produce “fruit... more fruit... much fruit” (John 15:2, 5), because this is the way we glorify Him. The old nature cannot produce fruit; only the new nature can do that.

Again, this list is not exhaustive, just like the works of the flesh are not exhaustive. Where is hope, for example? (1 Cor. 13:13). Notice it is not FRUITS, but FRUIT. They come together in the live of the believer. It is like picking off a cluster of fruit. Some of these characteristics may not be strong as others and we need to grow in them, but nevertheless, the believer is now able to bear all of these characteristics.

Perhaps you don’t need to pray as much for patience or joy or love, but pray that you will learn to walk in the Spirit, because then you get all of the fruit! I don’t want to go into detail with all of these, but briefly mention them. Love here is not the feeling, but sacrificial action, self-giving service. Joy is inner gladness, a supernatural delight in the person and plan of God despite circumstances. Peace is the presence of Lord, not just the absence of trouble. It is the inner tranquility of the Lord (Phil. 4:7, John 14:27). Patience has to do with tolerance and long-suffering that endures injuries inflicted by others, the calm willingness to accept situations that are irritating or painful. Kindness is tender concern for others, to treat them as the Lord would. Faithfulness is dependability, “Well done good and faithful servant.” You did what you said you would do. Gentleness is someone who is submissive to the will of God (Col. 3:12) and teachable (James 1:21), and takes consideration of others (Eph. 4:2). Such a person does not have a sense of entitlement.  Self-control is restraining passions and appetites.

This kind of heart transformation does not come from trying hard to obey the rules. This is why Paul says, “against such things there is no law” in v.23. These are heart transformation things, not external behaviors, which God can only do by His Spirit.


This past couple of weeks was tough. We had family in town from both sides. We were driving up to Des Plaines almost every day and not to mention all the birthday planning, having to preach at joint service and then the dedication. I felt like a chicken with its head cut off! Running around in chaos. I realized that I should have planned ahead to make sure I would intentionally fill my soul before the week happened. I didn’t, so when it all happened, I was in such a fog.

I remember by Monday realizing I’m so disconnected from the Lord. And what happens is, your flesh takes control. Self-entitlement kicks in. False comforts appear like true comforts. I remember this demanding spirit in my soul, discouragement settled in (funny that I was preaching on Mary and Martha last Sunday) and apathy. To make matters worse, I started feeling sick.

Anyway, finally toward the end of the week, I had some time to quiet my soul. I thought to myself, “Ok. Time to repent. I will confess my sins, ask for forgiveness and then move on. I have a sermon to prepare, things to pray for, etc.” Do you know what I was saying? Lord, if I can show you I’m really sorry, conjure up enough emotion, feel bad enough, then you will love me again. But I couldn’t conjure up any emotion. I felt cold. Then I felt guilty because I was praying now because I had to preach today and I needed His blessing. And I wanted to walk away.

But for some reason, the Spirit led me to read about the prodigal son again. Do you realize that when he decides to go home, his motives were mixed at best? He wants to go home because he’s hungry. He simply wants to survive. He’s bankrupt. There is no real mention there of wanting to see the Father. But then the text says, “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

Listen to Brennan Manning’s commentary on this:

I am moved that the [prodigal son's] father didn’t cross-examine the boy, bully him, lecture him on ingratitude, or insist on any high motivation. He was so overjoyed at the sight of his son…and simply welcomed him home. The father took him back just as he was . . . We don’t have to sift our hearts and analyze our intentions before returning home. Abba just wants us to show up. We don’t have to [wait] until purity of heart arrives. We don’t have to be shredded with sorrow or crushed with contrition.  We don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us. We don’t have to wallow in guilt, shame, remorse and self-condemnation. Even if we nurse a secret nostalgia for the far country, Abba falls on our neck and kisses us. Even if we come back because we couldn’t make it on our own, God will welcome us. He will seek no explanations about our sudden appearance. He is glad we are there.”[12]

He is just glad to have us back! It was that moment I knew the Spirit was saying, “Hush Robin. Just come home with your mixed motives. I just want you back with me. I have already forgiven you. Accept my gift and let me walk with you again.” Listen today to the Spirit of God. What is He saying to you? Come back home. He wants to fall on your neck. You can’t live the Christian life on your own. But as you come to Him, He will receive you and walk with you, moment by moment, divinely enabling you to live out to what He has called you to live. That’s true freedom.


[1] accessed 12 May 2011. 

[2]Macarthur, J. “Walking by the Spirit,” accessed 13 May 2011.

[3]Longenecker, R. N. (2002). Vol. 41: Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians. Word Biblical Commentary (239). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[4]Stott, J. R. W. (1986). The Message of Galatians: Only One Way (140). Leicester, England; Downer's Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-Varsity Press.

[5]Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader (Ga 5:13). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

[6]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Ga 5:13–14). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7]Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ga 5:15). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

[8]Hession, Roy (1950). The Calvary Road (21-22). Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications.

[9]Zeisler, S. As quoted in “Gal. 5:16 Commentary,” accessed 13 May 2011.

[10]Macarthur, J. Ibid. 

[11]Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson's Application Commentary (1210). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[12]Manning, Brennan (2005 ed). The Ragamuffin Gospel (189-90). Sisters, OR: Multnomah.

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