Walk by the Spirit

Galatians 5:16–26

Hearing half a conversation is so annoying. Our brains go into overdrive trying to fill in the blanks.

In 2013, researchers from the University of San Diego recruited 164 undergraduate students for an experiment. The students performed a complex task while listening to a conversation. Some students heard both sides of the conversation, the rest heard only one side.

The group that overhead half a mobile phone conversation was better able to remember the content of the conversation, as well as more words from the exchange, than those who eavesdropped on a two-sided conversation.

Hearing one side of a conversation makes it more uncertain and unpredictable, so our brains are naturally drawn to filling out the missing parts, even if we aren’t consciously trying to eavesdrop, according to the researchers.

With a phone conversation there are all kinds of clues in tone of voice. When that is removed, in a letter for example, it can be even harder to understand. This is something we need to take into account when reading, such as Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It helps our understanding greatly if we know something about the other side of the conversation.

When Paul writes and tells the Galatians “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives”, he is referring to something outside the letter. Paul is writing to churches that he planted, and so he knows some of the people personally. Others joined after he left. He is writing to them because there is a problem, and he wants to show them the way out of this problem.

After Paul left, other people came in and took over as leaders. They were Jewish believers and they told the Gentile believers that Paul was wrong. They told them that Paul had taught them only half the truth. He had taught them about faith, but they couldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven unless they also obeyed the law of Moses. They want to bring back legalism.

So that is the other half of the conversation. It is the question Paul is answering. Are these Jewish believers correct about the law? In Galatians, Paul explains why they are wrong.

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.”

Beware of anyone who says there is more that has been left out. We don’t need the book of Mormon, for example. We don’t need some leader’s new revelation. We just need Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Let me ask you a silly question.

Does God need to try hard to be good? Is it an effort for God to be good? Does God have to keep reminding himself to be good?

No, of course not. Why? Because God is good. All that he made was good. All he does is good. In him there is no darkness. God is only good all the time. God is good from root to branch. He does not need to be told to be good. His goodness grows like fruit on a tree.

We are not good. In us, the root is not wholly pure. Do we spontaneously and naturally and consistently humble ourselves and serve others in meekness and kindness? Do right attitudes and actions come out of us as naturally as light and heat come out of the sun? We know they don’t. God knows they don’t. We need to be reminded of what is right. We need to be told repeatedly what it is that can keep us from inheriting the kingdom. We need a list of bad things and a list of good things, like we get here in Galatians 5:19–23.

Jesus said, “Only God is truly good.” (Mark 10:18)

Paul is writing against legalism. We need to remember that. He hasn’t given us a list of things to do. He isn’t laying out the rules to follow. It was the false teachers who did that.

Paul’s first list from verse 19 describes the evil things that people do. His second list from verse 22 describes the good things we should do.

Paul says the evil things and the good things we do are all the expression of our wants. They are not lists of things to do or refrain from doing. They are a measure. We can see from this list when our actions are being directed by the Holy Spirit. And we can see when our actions are being directed by our sinful nature. It is one or the other. There is no third choice. You are being moved by your desires. You are not free, you are controlled by your desires. There are good desires and evil desires, which force is the one controlling you?

Paul says in verse 17, “These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”

Paul’s answer is to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Don’t try to be good. That is not the answer. That’s legalism. That’s impossible.

Paul instructs his readers in Galatia (verse 25) in what to do. “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”

Let the Holy Spirit guide your life. Live by the Spirit. Follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of your life.

There is a war going on for our souls. Paul’s advice is to take sides with God. Deliberately follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Deliberately reject the inclinations of your sinful nature.

So you see, being a Christian is not about being good. Being a Christian is not about having faith in Jesus and then making a great effort to follow his rules and be good.

There are many people in my country who misunderstand what a Christian is. Many of the people in our churches misunderstand.

They think that after having accepted that Jesus is the Christ, they have to obey the Ten Commandments. They think that if they do their best to obey them, then Jesus will forgive them the rest. This is do-good Christianity. It is works plus faith.

Paul wants the Galatians to remember that it’s God who does the work. We need only faith. The fruit our lives bear is the evidence of our faith. If your life shows evidence of jealousy, the answer is to give more control to the Holy Spirit. Other signs that the Holy Spirit is not in control of your life are envy, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, and other things like this. If you find any of these in your life, don’t say that it’s human nature and at least you aren’t a murderer. These are signs that your sinful nature is in control.

Envy, for example, does not aim to merit anything, but it is the product of a heart that thinks it merits more than it is getting. Jealousy is not calculated to earn any pay, but it is the product of a heart that expected to be paid what went to another. In other words, the kind of heart that produces these vices is a heart that thinks of itself as creditor and everyone else as its debtors. The flesh is convinced of its own merit and expects God and man and nature to pay dues by giving the satisfaction it desires. When these payments of satisfaction are not made, the flesh reacts. It does not react to earn anything, but because it feels it has already earned what it didn’t get.

We can see from Paul’s list that the bad fruit of our life are things of the heart, not primarily actions. The answer is therefore new hearts, not an effort to perform good actions. When one day our root of sin is pulled out, we shall be perfect. On that day our every desire will be to do good. We will automatically love each other without any effort. We will have peace when we are controlled all the time by the Holy Spirit. We will experience joy when we take every step hand in hand with God.

Let’s resolve from this moment to give our lives over entirely to the Holy Spirit. Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.

Amen 아멘

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About Pastor Simon

Pastor at Jinju International Christian Fellowship. Formerly of Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK. I am Simon Warner of Jinju Church. We speak English at Jinju Church, South Korea.
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