Fruitfulness: Galatians 5
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.
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Our reading was from Galatians 5:13 to 26 this morning, which normally people would then focus on the fruit of the Spirit, the love, the joy, the peace, the patience, the kindness, the gentleness, the faithfulness, and self-control, there’s probably something that I’ve missed. We’ve done quite a bit of that in and out over the last few weeks that the theme still is fruitfulness. This morning, we’re going to be looking at walk by the Spirit. Twice in that reading that Sue led earlier. She talked about walking and living by the Spirit.
It got me thinking during one of the lockdowns last year, do you remember that people were allowed to go out for exercise just once a day? Folk who lived alone could only exercise by themselves. The only people you could exercise with were those that lived in your household. You might remember on the news that the police fined two ladies for meeting up and going for a walk together with a cup of coffee. They were from different households. Maybe it was because they had coffee. I can’t remember what the original sin was. Then you might remember that lots of questions were asked of the authorities about how far or how long exercise could take.
It began with the government telling us that we could only take one form of exercise. A walk, a run, a cycle. Then Michael Gove suggested that an hour was a good length of time, after which you had to go home and stay there. One hour was suggested. It wasn’t a legal requirement that you had to go home after that hour. Then, later on, you probably remember that pubs were allowed to open, but you could only have an alcoholic drink if you had a substantial meal. Pub landlords asked questions about what substantial meant. A packet of crisps wasn’t but a Scotch egg was. Technicalities, perhaps but people wanted to know where they stood in relation to a walk or gathering or a meal out. They wanted to know where they stood within the law.
There are a couple of points I want to make about these anecdotes. One is about the law. One is about walking, which incidentally, we’re going to pick up from our readings from Galatians 5 this morning. In the incidents above, people wanted lots of clarity so that they wouldn’t get fined as to what they could or couldn’t do in a lockdown. How was the law to be interpreted? How strictly were the laws to be enforced?
I think in the aftermath, the ladies who went for a coffee and a walk were let off by the police. I think the authorities said that the police were being too heavy-handed. As regards a Scotch egg, well, let’s not go down that road. Laws are funny old things, aren’t they? They’re meant to help us within our boundaries. To probably misquote, I think it’s John Hobbes, the medieval philosopher who said that without law or was it government, life would be nasty, brutish, and short. We humans often like to circumnavigate the laws.
We tell ourselves that we’re keeping within the law by embracing technicalities so that we try to justify our actions, even if a rule was actually broken. Not wanting to hark back to lockdown one, but I think the chap called Dominic Cummings. Anyway, I heard recently of a lawyer who was fed up with getting crooks off on technicalities and therefore escaping sentence. They decided to leave legal practice for that. The lawyer with a conscience. I guess all of us like to feel that we are on the right side of the law, that we are pretty much decent human beings who need to do what is right.
If we’re found out, we might discover that integrity is at stake and we feel hard done by being punished by what the law requires. Laws and walking. That’s today’s topic linked to fruitfulness. The Galatians were floundering. They received good news about Jesus and had accepted him, but then after a while, certain people had tried to persuade them that they had to add to the grace of God the laws of Moses. Lots of legalistic legal requirements that Jews had to abide by in order to be accepted by God, so they believed. You might remember a lot of the Old Testament laws were put there as a covenant, a promise that God continued to uphold.
They were put there as a covenant, that promise, that law. The law was both moral and spiritual in code that God kept, that God’s people were separate from the rest of the world. The ones that kept us from knowing that we were God’s chosen ones. It began with Abraham and circumcision as a sign. Now as the Galatians were starting to be influenced by traditionalists, again, the ones who said you had to live by the rulebook. Paul steps in and reminds them that because of the death and the resurrection of Jesus, the old rulebook no longer exists and there’s now a new covenant that has been set up by God.
There’s an awful lot in these verses from Galatians 5 today. I want to say pretty much at the outset that the focus today is on fruitfulness so we’re not sidetracked into all the other bits and pieces that we could get thrown into. I’m so pleased that Andrew Faraday put last week’s message on fruitfulness from John 15 into its full context. We read the whole of John 15. He put it into the context of the Last Supper communion where Jesus takes the cup, and he says to his friends, “This is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then that new covenant Jesus talked about, He followed up with a new commandment to love one another.
New covenants and new commands right at the end of his earthly life for his friends to remember him by. Then He goes on to say, “I’m the true vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you’ll bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit; fruit that will last so that whatever you ask in my name, my father will give it to you. This is my command, love one another.” Andrew so wisely explains last week that remembering Jesus in communion helped the disciples how to live when he was gone. It looks so much less about the law and so much more about grace.
This is precisely I think what Paul is trying to tell the Galatians right now. Whereas those trying to bring back the new believers into making sure they get the old order of things known as the law of Moses, Paul is at pains to say that the way of love and grace is the way of freedom, and that it was for freedom that they were set free. That is to say the Galatians will need to stand firm against those trying to muscle in and to get the law of Moses back again. In the words of a chap called Michael Eaton, Jesus became sin for us and took the penalty of the law on himself. He died. He set us free from the law and opened another way to us. It’s called grace.
Christianity, he says, has nothing to do with trying to live up to God’s standards. It’s believing that Jesus has already met them. When we come to God, we no longer have to cower before him and say, “I’m trying to do my best Lord, I’m such a failure. I’m so sorry.” We come to Him with confidence. The focus of grace is not on judgment. Judgment, says Michael Eaton, fell on Jesus. Mercy now comes to us. A question that befell the Galatians struggling between whether they should return to the old legal way of life as it befalls us now is well, are you actually sure that you know that God accepts you as you are?
The old system of trying to live up to God’s standards are swept away by the new covenant of God. Christ fulfilled that law. The old system is redundant. The old system hasn’t been working because if people break one part of the law, they break the whole lot. If people are forever beating themselves up for not being fruitful enough to come into God’s presence, the role of Jesus in His life, His death, His resurrection, does away with the old self. Jesus is teaching his miracles his whole life. He points us to a better way, a better way than the old ways. Moses introduced the law of sacrifices and ceremonies and temple worship, it was all for a season.
It all looks forward to its ultimate culmination and fulfilment in Jesus. For the Galatians the problem with them returning to the old system Paul says is that they’re not running the race. The law will never produce enough good fruits that lasts because no one is good enough. What’s most important now is living the new covenant. The way of love and grace and forgiveness with help from God the Holy Spirit. He goes on to say that this will produce a whole new crop of fruitfulness. Again, last week Andrew helpfully read the whole of John 15 whereas at right at the end Jesus introduces the work of the Holy Spirit.
Where when he said, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” “And you,” Jesus said to his friends “Must also testify if you’ve been with me from the beginning.” This is the crux of what Paul encourages the Galatians to accept, living and walking by the Spirit enables them to live their faith through their love. The law is now a law of love. That’s the freedom that he introduces in chapter five. Right at the beginning of Galatians 5 it says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.”
That’s to say the Galatians shouldn’t be troubled by the old law when the new covenant has superseded it. Paul then calls on the faithful not to misuse their freedom because it isn’t appropriate for followers of Jesus to sin as much as possible. It isn’t right to take advantage of God’s grace and forgiveness, rather their motivation would be love. Not trying to evade the old rules. The way to fulfil the law is by the new command of Jesus to love one another. Interestingly, this will fulfil the law even though they’re no longer under it because we know it’s not that simple.
We know that as Paul goes on to say, there’s a battle between the Spirit and what he calls here and in other places, the flesh. Paul seems to take for granted that the Galatians have the Holy Spirit living in them. It’s simple for him to say, “Live by the Spirit,” in verse 16. Although the spirit encourages us to behave in a godly way, the flesh still tugs at us in the opposite direction. The idea is if we live by the Spirit then the natural consequence is that we don’t fulfil the desires of the flesh. It’s as if the onus is on us to do the living by the Spirit.
God has given his Spirit and, in a way, it’s down to us to respond in a way that we know that God would want us to. Coming back to what Michael Eaton said in his little study book, he quotes or perhaps adds to Philippians 4:13, where it says, “I can do all things who gives me strength,” and, in brackets, he puts, “I not the Spirit can do all things who gives me strength.” Interesting thought. His view is that the Spirit gives us the power to resist temptation, but we have to do the resisting. “Live by the Spirit,” says Paul, in verse 16.
Then he goes on to list a whole number of things that are really quite unlikely to help Godly people thrive. He lists three main areas of sexual sin, idolatry, and ungodly attitudes, and then living this way by the deeds of the flesh as the NASB puts it. We somehow rob ourselves of God’s best. That inheritance that Paul speaks of, whether that be now or in the future, Paul doesn’t really make clear that there’s more of this sense of us missing out or us becoming the better versions of who we are if we just continued to say, “Well that’s just who I am.”
We all know what fleshly living is like, so I’m not going to spend time on that area as much as wanting to focus on what Paul talks about living and walking by the Spirit. In short, the whole of Galatians 5 can be summed up with, “Now you’re free to love, be free to be led by the Spirit of God into this new way of life. Against such things, there is no law.” What does it mean to live and to walk by the Spirit? Well, like Paul, let’s assume that each of us knows Jesus, let’s assume that we are following Jesus and ignore the traps of, “Yes, but I’m not that good,” or “I really struggle with,” or “I’m a terrible Christian because”: we do ourselves and perhaps the Spirit a disservice when we say things like that.
It was for freedom that Christ set us free, no longer to be subjected to a yoke of slavery as Galatians 5, and the chorus Jesus, we celebrate your victory says. Has God through His Spirit not changed us all the time that we’ve known Him? If this is true, what about our bit in the transformation process? The Spirit doesn’t take us over as if there’s no other option to do what He says. The Spirit isn’t going to force us to do anything. The Spirit is here whether or not we are aware of His presence, or whether we feel or not the Holy Spirit is here, He is with us. He is in us. That’s the promise of Jesus.
Our job is to walk by the Spirit, and then keep in step, He is the advocate, the helper, the counsellor, the Spirit of truth, as Jesus says in John 15. He is here right now. Galatians 5:25 talks about those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh, and with his desires and passions. We belong to God. God draws us close. We might say that we experience this closeness to God by His Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean that because we don’t feel his closeness that he’s not with us. Our moods don’t dictate whether or not God is with us. God longs to dwell with us and within us by his Spirit, whether or not we feel it.
Then verse 16 says, “Walk in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit.” It means the Spirit is to be the circumference of our walk, so if I will say to you “Walk in this building,” it means that you stay inside this building. If you step outside, then you’re not walking within the building. The Holy Spirit is to be, as somebody said, the element in which you walk, the environment of your life. After Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit and suggests these actions are of a spiritual fruit, having crucified fleshly desires, and still assuming that we live by the Spirit. He speaks of our deliberately getting in line with the Spirit, with the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives, keeping in step toeing the line.
In other words, now that we know how to live by the Spirit let’s not deviate from that way, and if we ever do, let’s not beat ourselves up. We know that there is forgiveness from an ever-loving God who wants to be in a relationship with us. We’re not alone in this. We’re encouraged in Hebrews 11, and Hebrews 12, the passage on the heroes of faith, I think we talked about that a couple of years ago, heroes of faith, that many of the faithful walked with God. As we walk in step with the Spirit, let’s be encouraged as a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before who have walked in the way of the Spirit too.
So be filled with the Spirit to bear much fruit of love and joy, and peace, and patience, and kindness, and goodness, and faithfulness, and self-gentleness, and self-control, because there’s no law against doing any of these things. A Spirit-filled life is neither characterized by what they call license to do what we want nor is it legalism, stopping us doing what we want because the law states it, but liberty. We are servants of the new covenant of the Spirit. 2 Corinthians talks about, “And now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” Because the spirit of the Lord is in you, you’re a free agent.
You’re no longer compelled to walk according to the flesh as you were before. Now you’re not even compelled to walk according to the Spirit, you’re completely free to choose to walk in the spirit or walking according to the flesh. There’s two things as we close. Walking according to the Spirit is not passive. We’re talking about walking in the Spirit. One of the most dangerous and powerful detriments to our spiritual growth is perhaps passivity, putting our minds in neutral and coasting along. I think back in the ’90s, there was a phrase that Christians used called letting go and letting God. Letting go and letting God [unintelligible 00:21:00] . I don’t think that’s God’s way.
We have to want to be involved. Partnership in the Gospel, as Paul puts it elsewhere is intrinsic to how God works. Relationship means doing stuff together and so walking by the Spirit engages both God and our actions and our desires. Walking according to the Spirit is not passive. Then secondly, walking according to the Spirit, isn’t running. The Spirit-filled life isn’t achieved through endless exhausting activity, believe it or not. I wonder whether we think that the harder you work for God, the more spiritual you become.
Then we remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 11. Where he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. You shall find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy, my load is light.” Jesus invites us to a rescue walk in tandem with him. Just as two oxen walk together under the same yoke, Jesus’ yoke is teaching, we are told is an easy one as the lead ox if you like, Jesus walks at a steady pace. If we pace ourselves with Him keeping in step with Him, I’d say, the burden will be easy but if we take a passive approach to the Spirit to the relationship, we may well be painfully dragged along because Jesus keeps walking.
If we try to race ahead by running, perhaps trying to turn off in another direction, then the yoke on us will be uncomfortable. The key to restful yoke relationship with Jesus is to learn from him, to walk alongside with him. It’s what he’s teaching is walk. The picture of walking in the Spirit in tandem with Jesus also helps us understand our service to God, our actions. How much will we get done without pulling Jesus on his side of the yoke? Nothing. How much will we be accomplishing without God on our side? Nothing. God has chosen to work in partnership with us to do His work in the world today.
There are other things we can do and there are perhaps things that God has clearly instructed us to do and if we don’t do them, then the work doesn’t get done. In reality, nothing will ever be accomplished if you or I and God don’t work together in Spirit-filled walk. As I close out, my prayer is that each of us will walk in the Spirit, that we will keep in step with where God wants us and, in doing so, experience the Spirit-filled life of Christ in us. Living close to God helps us keep in step with the Spirit. Let’s continue walking. Let’s keep in step and keep walking because that’s certainly what makes us human.
References and sources
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK or NIV UK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.