Living by the Spirit

Under the Old Covenant the children of Israel had to learn to abide by the law in their own strength. But they could not do it, and neither can we. “The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (Gal. 3:24,25). As children of God we are under the New Covenant of grace. Now we live by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. The tension between living our way in our own strength and living God’s way in His strength is explained in Gal. 5:16-18. “For the sinful nature [flesh] desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature” (vs. 17). They are in opposition to each other, because the flesh operates independent of God and the Holy Spirit is always dependent upon God the Father.

How do we live by the Spirit? If I answered that question by giving three steps and a formula, I would be putting you back under the law. The Holy Spirit is a “He” not an “it.” Living by the Spirit is a relational concept not a legal concept. Actually this passage tells us more what living by the Spirit is not, but that is extremely helpful, because it gives us the parameters in which we freely live. First, living by the Spirit is not legalism. “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law” (vs. 18). “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised [for religious purposes], Christ will be of no value to you at all” (vs. 1). In other words, “Don’t go back under the law.”

Second, living by the Spirit is not license. You live by the Spirit, “So that you do not do what you want” (vs. 17b). “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” (vs. 13). In other words, living by the Spirit does not enable us to do whatever we want to do. It enables us to do God’s will. So if living by the Spirit is neither legalism nor license, then what is it? It is liberty. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Living by the Spirit is the only means by which we overcome the power of the flesh. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (vs. 16). If we have a choice as to whether we live by the Spirit or by the sinful nature, then how can we know which we are choosing? The answer is simple, what does our life reveal? “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, orgies, and the like” (vss. 19-21). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (vss. 22,23).

Dr. Neil

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