Holy Father, we humble ourselves before you. We want to rightly divide your Word. We want to understand your Word. We want to live in line with your Word, by your sufficient grace. We want to be fully ready for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, so He can say to us words like, "Well done good and faithful servant." We don't want to hear words like, "Depart from Me, I never knew you, you who practice lawlessness, you workers of iniquity" that Jesus warned about in Matthew chapter 7. We pray in Jesus' mighty name! Amen!
In the past two articles we have been looking at Gal. 5:16-25; we rather thoroughly discussed verses 16, 17. We'll come back to those verses in a few minutes, but I want to do one thing first. I'm going to turn to my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," which has a good sub-title, "Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ." "Full salvation" includes righteousness and holiness and the full victory over sin. On page 194 of the book, I have a heading, "A Discussion of the Three Most Important Passages Often Used to Try to Prove that Christians Cannot Walk in Victory over Sin During this Present Age." To me it's a very sad thing that we have lists like this, lists to try to prove that we cannot have the victory over sin.
I'll read what I said here. My studies indicate that the three most important such passages are Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17; and 1 John 1:8. At the top of these lists they typically have Romans chapter 7 and 1 John 1:8. From my point of view, much damage has been done to the Body of Christ through a serious misunderstanding of these passages. To give you an idea how widespread this problem is, about half misunderstand Romans chapter 7; about half misunderstand Gal. 5:17; and some 80-90 percent misunderstand 1 John 1:8.
I don't believe any of these passages suggest that Christians cannot walk in total victory over sin. In fact, each of these passages is set in a context that clearly teaches victory over sin. I believe the New Testament consistently teaches that Christians can, and should, live above sin (without sin). This is the Christian ideal. The call, and enablement, to walk in victory over sin is a big part of what salvation in Christ is all about. Let me add, if you understand what I am saying, this is very good news! God didn't say these things to bring condemnation; He wants to bring transformation.
Salvation, including salvation from the authority and power of sin, comes by grace through faith. We cannot walk in victory over sin apart from faith for that victory, and since our faith is based on the Word of God - our faith must be based on God and His Word - we cannot have faith for victory over sin if we believe that some passages teach that such a victory is unattainable. All the many passages that clearly teach victory over sin (Romans chapter 6, for example) cannot be taken at face value; they must be substantially qualified by those who don't believe such a victory is possible. Victory over sin is often put off until after the resurrection.
It is very important for us to rightly divide the Word of God on this topic, and on every topic, but this is one of the most important topics by far. There are powerful enemies arrayed against us that want to keep us in sin: the world, the flesh (the old man that still wants to live in sin), and the devil and his hosts. We will never defeat the enemy on a consistent basis apart from the sufficient grace of God appropriated by faith.
Let's turn back to Gal. 5:16-25. Galatians 5:16 is a super-important verse that is full of good news. The apostle Paul was writing this epistle to born-again Galatian Christians (and really to all of us too). I'll start to read verse 16. (I'll read from the New American Standard Bible, NASB, 1995 edition, which I'll always read from unless I mention otherwise. I frequently make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]].) "But I say, walk by the Spirit [[the Holy Spirit; or we could translate, walk in the Spirit, or walk after the Spirit. But wait a minute, can we always walk by the Spirit? I'm sure Paul would say, "Emphatically yes!" Who can stop us from walking by God's Holy Spirit all the time? In fact, when we become Christians we sign a contract, so to speak, and we must accept the terms of God's covenant, the new covenant. We can't change the terms of the covenant; we have to submit to His terms. Those terms include a requirement to be faithful to God and His Word by His grace; to walk by His Spirit all the time; and to die to the old man and live in the righteousness and holiness of God.]], and you [most certainly] will not carry out the desire [the sinful desire] of the flesh." "The desire of the flesh" is to do the sinful works of the flesh (see Gal. 5:19-21); "the desire of the flesh" is to sin. As we have discussed, the flesh equals the old man; and the only way we can keep the old man from manifesting itself in sin is for us to always walk by God's Spirit through faith, a faith that is based on God's Word. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you [most certainly] will not carry out the desire [the sinful desire] of the flesh."
Now verse 17; here the apostle shows why it is totally necessary for us to always walk by the Holy Spirit. If we don't walk by the Spirit, we will sin. The old man hasn't been annihilated yet, and it still wants to sin. As we have discussed, the old man is man in spiritual death, man without the Holy Spirit, and man without the Holy Spirit doesn't have the power to stop sinning. Through the new covenant in the blood of Christ, we are forgiven, and we receive the Spirit of God, who enables us to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God. Forgiveness of sin and victory over sin both come by grace through faith.
I'll start to read verse 17, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh [The Holy Spirit is for righteousness and holiness; the flesh is for sin.]; for these are in opposition to one another [The Holy Spirit and the flesh are arrayed against one another like two armies; but the good news is that the one army is much greater than the other army. The Holy Spirit never loses, and we won't lose either if we walk by the Spirit. We can always do God's will by His sufficient grace.], so that you may not do the things that you please." Paul means so that we may not do the sinful things that we (so far as the old man is concerned) may want to do. Since the old man has not been annihilated, we may have wrong desires (or wrong thoughts) at times. Paul concluded verse 16 with the words, "you [most certainly] will not carry out the desire [the sinful desire] of the flesh."
The "desire of the flesh" is to sin. Here at the end of verse 17 Paul says, "so that you may not do the things [the sinful things] that you please"; so that you may not yield to the sinful "desire of the flesh." Yes, we may have wrong desires (or wrong thoughts) at times, but if we walk by the Spirit all the time, we will not sin. It may not always be easy, and the victory certainly isn't automatic, but we are called, and enabled, to walk in victory over all sin, by God's sufficient grace through faith. We must have a solid assurance that God has given us the authority and power to walk in His righteousness and holiness, with the victory over sin. If we don't believe (have faith) we can stop sinning, we can't.
"For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things [the sinful things] that you please [that you may want to do]." God hates sin, and He has paid an infinite price to set us free from spiritual death and bondage to sin.
As I mentioned, many Christians (about half) believe verse 17 teaches that we cannot have the victory over sin in this life. Typically they are saying that verse 17 teaches that we are not always able to do the good that we want to do. However, I am sure that the apostle was not making room for sin in verse 17. He was acknowledging that we must wage warfare against sin by the Holy Spirit, but he was not suggesting that we will sin. He has already told us in verse 16 that we will not sin if we always walk by the Holy Spirit, which we are called, and enabled, to do. "Walk by the Spirit, and you [most certainly] will not carry out the desire [the sinful desire] of the flesh/old man." This is good news, very good news, but we must be convinced this is what GOD says. We must be convinced in our hearts that this is what God says.
Let's go on to verse 18, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." Being led by the Spirit here is the equivalent of walking by (or, after) the Spirit in verse 16. How often should we be led by the Spirit? We are required to be led by the Spirit all the time. And if we are led by the Spirit all the time, we never will sin. The Holy Spirit leads to holiness; the Righteous Spirit leads to righteousness. He never leads to sin. Victory over sin is what we want, isn't it?
"But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." Are Christians required to keep God's Law? In some ways we are not under the Mosaic Law, and we are not required to keep the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, but we are required to keep God's moral law by His grace. God's moral law cannot change. His moral law derives from who He is; His moral law gives His definition of righteousness and of sin. It is essential for Christians to know that the New Testament teaches that we must keep God's moral law, by His saving grace in Christ Jesus. See my paper titled, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism" on my internet site. (Google to Karl Kemp teaching.)
We have already briefly discussed Rom. 8:3, 4 in these broadcasts. Romans 8:4 shows that we Christians are enabled to keep the requirement of the Law in our daily lives, as we walk by the Holy Spirit. The apostle says the same thing in Rom. 2:26-29 and in 1 Cor. 7:19, for example. I'll read Rom. 8:4, "so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit [the Holy Spirit]." The requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us as we walk by the Spirit in the righteousness and holiness of God. To the extent we do not walk by the Holy Spirit, we will sin. Some of the Corinthians Christians, for example, were quite fleshy, and we read of a lot of sin in Paul's epistles to the Corinthians, but the apostle was continually exhorting them, warning them that they must repent and begin to live as Christians are enabled, and required, to live. I'll also read 1 Cor. 7:19, where the apostle Paul said, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God."
Why did Paul say "you are not under the Law" in Gal. 5:18? When we understand the background for this epistle to the Galatian Christians, these words are easy to understand. Throughout this epistle, Paul refutes the false gospel of the Judaizers. He repeatedly warns the Gentile Christians at Galatia that they must reject the false gospel of the Judaizers. The apostle had shared the gospel with these Gentiles, and many of them had become solid born-again Christians, but he had learned that some of them were now seriously listening to the false gospel of the Judaizers, who were telling these Gentile Christians that they must submit to the ceremonial works of the Mosaic Law and be circumcised, etc.
In Gal. 5:2-4, for example, the apostle strongly warned the Galatian Christians that they must not accept the false gospel of the Judaizers. I'll read Gal. 5:2-4, "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. (3) And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. (4) You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." To be severed from Christ and to fall from grace is to lose your salvation. (See my paper titled, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" on my internet site. I really tried to give the balanced truth on that controversial topic. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.)
The apostle Paul would not tolerate anyone trying to change the gospel that came from heaven. I'll read Gal. 1:6-9, 11, 12. "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him [God the Father] who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; (7) which is really not another [because it is a false gospel]; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (9) As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! ... (11) For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. (12) For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."
I'll read Gal. 5:18 one more time, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." Being led by the Holy Spirit (as we must be), we keep the righteousness of God's moral law, but we are saved by the grace of God in Christ, not by the Law, and we are not required to keep the ceremonial works of the Mosaic Law. The Judaizers were wrong!
I'll read Gal. 5:19-21. These verses strongly confirm that Christians are required to always walk by the Holy Spirit and not do the sinful works of the flesh (of the old man that wants to live in sin), which equals not sinning at all. This is good news! What God calls us to do, He enables us to do. "Now the deeds [or, works] of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, (20) idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, (21) envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." To not inherit the kingdom of God is to miss heaven. The New Testament makes it very clear that Christians must make it top priority to repent, as required, and to always walk by the Holy Spirit in the righteousness and holiness of God - by grace through faith. True Christians do not want to continue in sin.
Let's go on to verses 22, 23. After giving a long list of works of the flesh in verses 19-21, Paul now lists some of the good fruit the Holy Spirit produces in Christians, as we walk by (and after) the Holy Spirit by faith. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law." As we walk by the Holy Spirit, we keep the requirements of God's moral law, in His truth, righteousness, and holiness.
I'll read Gal. 5:24, which is a very important verse. "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus [In other words, those who are true Christians] have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." For us to crucify the flesh (by the grace of God in Christ) is the same thing as our crucifying the old man. The old man cannot manifest itself in sin if it has been crucified. In the ideal case, we would crucify the old man when we become Christians, and we would never sin again. That sounds good doesn't it? But we must understand that the old man isn't annihilated during this age; it will still live and manifest itself in sin to the extent we do not walk by faith on a continuous basis in the righteousness and holiness of God by the Holy Spirit. "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." I'll read Gal. 5:16 again, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you [most certainly] will not carry out the desire [the sinful desire] of the flesh."
Romans chapter 6 is a very important cross-reference that speaks of crucifying the old man. We will discuss Romans chapter 6 in some detail when we finish Galatians chapter 5. I'll read several key verses from Romans chapter 6 and make a few comments. I'll read from the New King James Version. I'll read Rom. 6:1, 2, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? (2) Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" In the ideal case, the old man would be crucified, and we would be dead to sin from the time we become Christians. I'll read verses 6, 7, where Paul speaks of the old man being crucified, "knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him [with Christ], that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (7) For he who has died has been freed from sin."
And I'll read Rom. 6:11-14, "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [We reckon ourselves to be dead indeed to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by faith, based on the gospel of new-covenant salvation. The gospel calls us, and enables us, to be dead to sin and alive to God and His righteousness and holiness.] (12) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts. [Christians may have sinful, lustful desires at times, but if we walk after the Holy Spirit (by faith), we most certainly will not carry out the sinful desire of the flesh/old man (see Gal. 5:16).] And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (14) For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace." The Mosaic Law (or any other law) could not set us free from spiritual death and bondage to sin, but new-covenant salvation has the authority and power to set us free. The apostle Paul emphasizes this fact in Galatians chapter 5; Romans chapter 6; and in many other passages. And we find this same good news throughout the rest of the New Testament.
This good news is so important I'll take the time to read two more passages from Paul's epistle to the Romans. First I'll read Rom. 8:12-14. The apostle Paul makes it very clear in these verses that Christians are totally obligated to always walk by the Spirit and keep the old man from manifesting itself in sin. This "obligation" is a great blessing, not a burden. I'll read from the NASB, 1995 edition, which I always use unless I mention otherwise. "So then brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh - (13) for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die [In other words, if Christians give themselves over to live for sin, instead of living for God and His truth, righteousness, and holiness, they forfeit His life and go back into spiritual death.]; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deed [or, works] of the body you will live. [For Christians to put to death the sinful works of the body by the Holy Spirit means that they walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis and do not let the old man manifest itself in sinful works (in sin).] (14) For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God." To be led by the Spirit is the same thing as walking by the Spirit. We are led by the Righteous, Holy Spirit to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God, with the victory over all sin. In the ideal case we will walk with the victory over all sin. Paul says here that it is only those who are being led by the Spirit of God that are the true sons of God.
I'll also read Rom. 13:13, 14, "Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. (14) But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."
Let's go on to Gal. 5:25. "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by [or, follow] the Spirit." The words "if we live by the Spirit" mean if we have been born again by the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of life)." The new birth by the Holy Spirit was not available under the old covenant. The Mosaic Law could not impart life (see Gal. 3:21, for example), but all true Christians have life by the indwelling Spirit of life (see Rom. 8:2, for example).
Let's discuss the words "let us also walk by the Spirit" at the end of verse 25. The NASB has a note in the margin showing that the Greek verb used here can also be translated "let us follow the Spirit." I believe follow the Spirit is the right idea here. The Greek verb used here ("stoicheo") is different than the verb translated "walk" in Gal. 5:16. The BAGD Greek Lexicon gives "follow the Spirit" as the meaning here. We are called to follow the Spirit on a continuous basis. As we have discussed, if we follow the Spirit (which equals being led by the Spirit and walking by the Spirit) we will not sin. The Spirit of God always leads us to (and enables us to) walk in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God. God hates sin, and He paid an infinite price in the sacrifice of His Son to set us free from spiritual death, sin, and Satan. If we have life by the Spirit, we must be consistent and follow after the Spirit. As I mentioned, when we become Christians we sign a contract, so to speak, agreeing to always put God and His righteousness first, and to always walk by His Holy Spirit. This is a big part of what Christianity is all about. Praise God for such a salvation! And God has provided forgiveness for Christians who fall into sin when they repent. Forgiveness comes by God's grace through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ, even as the enablement to walk with victory over sin comes by God's grace through His atoning death. Praise God for the atoning death of the Lamb of God!
That completes our discussion of Gal. 5:16-25. Now I'll read Gal. 6:7-9 and make a few comments, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. (8) For the one who sows to his own flesh [the old man that wants to live in sin] will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (9) Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary." We will reap eternal life in God's eternal kingdom that is filled with His glory if we stay faithful to Him by His grace and walk by His Spirit. Those who live a life of sin in the flesh will reap eternal death, the second death.
Now I'm going to turn back to the Preface of my book and read what I said under the heading "Dealing with guilt feelings and bondages." I realize that many Christians are burdened with guilt feelings. (I know I have had them, and I didn't like them at all.) We are not solving the problem by trying to get rid of the guilt feelings through minimizing God's call to righteousness and holiness. (And I might add, we are not solving the problem by putting all the emphasis on forgiveness and legal, positional righteousness, which is so common in our day. And we are not solving the problem by putting all the emphasis on God's love, while ignoring the fact that the Bible, very much including the New Testament, speaks of His wrath against sin as much as it speaks of His love.) God's answer (the only satisfactory answer) is to drive out the sin by the power of the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even if this is not always an easy path to follow, it is the only right path, and we must choose this narrow path (see Matt. 7:13-27, for example). Where sin is the problem, we must repent and deal with the sin. Where condemnation and guilt feeling are caused by false accusations of the devil, we must resist the lies of the devil through faith in God and His Word. We must believe that when we repent the sins we have confessed are forgiven through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 John 2:1, 2 for example).
I realize that many Christians have bondages in many areas. We are not solving the sin problem by accepting such bondages as just the way it is. Even if it is not always easy, we must press on to drive out all bondages by the Spirit of God through faith, to the glory of God. God hates sin, and He has paid an infinite price in the sacrifice of His Son to give us the victory over sin - by grace through faith, in accordance with the gospel. This is good news!
In the next article, we will begin a verse-by-verse study of Romans chapter 6. As I have mentioned, this chapter is very special to me. This is the first passage that God used to show me that Christians are called, and enabled, to have the victory over all sin in, and through, the Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!
© Copyright by Karl Kemp
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.
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