Lesson Text: Galatians 5:16-26; 6:7-10
Supplemental Text: Galatians 6:1-6; Romans 8:5-13; 13:11-14; Ephesians 2:1-5; 1 John 2:15-17
Aim: Choose to center your life on, and be guided by, the Spirit.
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By Mark Scott
Desires are primal. Brain research—a quite recent medical focus—finds that our “first brain” (sounds evolutionary, doesn’t it?) functions at a deeper level than cognition. Volition is at the real guts of the human experience. Maybe this is why when the serpent tempted Eve, he did so at the level of her desires (Genesis 3:6; cf. 1 John 2:16).
Paul wrote at the level of our desires when he shared the practical application of living by faith in Christ as opposed to living by works of the law. Desires shape much of our lives. But what shapes those desires?
When believers walk (live by or tread about) by the Spirit, they ensure that the flesh will not dictate their desires. Those walking by the Spirit will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Desires is a word that got dirtier in its etymology. It started out well (cf. Luke 22:15), but it became synonymous with evil. Flesh can simply mean “human.” But in this passage, it means “opposed to God.”
The flesh, which becomes the threshold for sin (Romans 7:14-20), is at war with the Holy Spirit. Flesh is mentioned seven times in our lesson text, while Spirit is mentioned nine times. So, which is stronger (Mark 14:36; 1 John 4:4)? People who do not have the internal help of the Holy Spirit need external laws to make them good.
Paul mentioned 15 acts (works) of the flesh. (The biblical vice lists are most often longer than the virtue lists. Could it be that living from the inside out by the Spirit needs only a few guidelines whereas living by rules requires greater specificity to know what God desires?) The acts of the flesh can be divided into four categories. The first three deal with sex. The next four deal with religion. The next six deal with various societal sins, and the final two deal with alcohol. We were born in the flesh, but we do not have to live by the earthy desires that drive that flesh.
The contrast between living externally and living internally could not be clearer. The Spirit produces fruit (singular) as opposed to the flesh which produces acts. John R.W. Stott recited these nine fruit every morning in his devotional time because he believed that these nine fruit summarize the life of Christ better than any other list. They could be viewed as three groups of three—love, joy, peace; forbearance, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. In Jewish lists, things that head the list and end the list seem to get the accent. Love is our finest apologetic, and self-control helps us keep our head in a world gone nuts.
These nine fruit need no law. When they are produced in believers who live out the cruciform life, no law is necessary. Paul harkened back to Galatians 2:20 and spoke again about being crucified with Christ. When we live in Christ, by Christ, and for Christ, it is as if our desires and passions were crucified the day Jesus died. It was like a co-crucifixion. When believers abide in Christ, fruit is produced naturally—even if we need to be pruned occasionally (John 15:2).
When we live (the verb is indicative of the best life, i.e., life lived at the highest level) by the Spirit, we will keep in step (to go in rank or walk orderly) with the Spirit. Of course, this will keep us from becoming conceited, and provoking others, and envying still others.
The flesh can drive our desires, and the Spirit can drive our desires. But an additional aspect that can shape our desires is the law of harvest. The future is a powerful shaper of our desires. Knowing that there is such a thing as “payday someday” can keep us internally motivated.
Before discussing the law of harvest, Paul called believers to help fellow Christians who are overtaken with sin, to bear burdens, to be willing to be tested in their faith, and to share financially with spiritual directors. God cannot be mocked (to snort or clear away mucus). The law of harvest has been in place since creation (Genesis 1:11-13).
People reap what they sow. If they sow to fleshly desires, they will reap destruction (spoiling). If they sow to please the Spirit, they will reap eternal life. If believers do not become weary (lose their courage) in doing good, they will reap a harvest of goodness. Finally, Paul called believers to do good to everyone, especially to the church. Desires are shaped by the flesh, the Spirit, and the future.