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Walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16ff)

by Danny Mihailovic last modified Apr 12, 2014 01:54 AM
“..till the Spirit has become our instructor, all that we know is folly and ignorance, moreover, everyone’s advancement in piety is the secret work of the Spirit.” (John Calvin's...comment on Ephesians )

The true Christian will always find himself or herself in tension with sin, because as scripture reminds us, the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. Interestingly, the point made by the text before us is that the Holy Spirit and the “flesh” or the natural disposition of the human heart, are contrary to one another. To be reminded of the context is important. Namely that Paul argued previously, for the work of grace as being essential to the life of the Christian. The law has a distinct purpose in its goodness and holy zeal to secure the thought of God’s holiness and righteousness in the heart and mind of the believer. But the law in and of itself cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit. Obviously this is the Sovereign work of the Spirit. Yet intertwined into that sovereign work is the necessary obedience of the Christian to what is revealed in the law. Otherwise, of what benefit is Grace to anyone? Why pour valuable water into a container with holes? There is no benefit there whatsoever. To walk in the Spirit implies obedience to what God has revealed. The Christian has no business obeying anything else. But obedience alone is fraught with all kinds of problems, in that it is not a constant default mechanism in the life of the believer. Our constant default mechanism is that we fall into sin much more easily than we fall into obedience to God’s law. This is the tension. (How often does one ask God for forgiveness, for that same dogging sin that finds its way back into our life?) The question here for the Galatians was one of great importance. Did the church in Galatia find this to be true in its own experience? Could it be that on self-examination they found themselves to be more of the Flesh than of the Spirit? Did Paul pick up on this one fact and therefore stress the danger of reverting back to a system that only gave an external assurance of godliness and not one of eternal assurance based on the merits of Christ? If Christ does not live in us then we are doomed. There is no certainty in moralism, for moralism is not godliness. A moral person need not be a Christian to own the accepted virtues of strictness in life or abstinence from known evils. Those things do not add up to being a Christian. A Christian is one whose life is not his own; that Christ Himself is his life, and the fruit of the Spirit is produced from the indwelling life of Christ in the one born again of the Spirit.

If verse 24 is of any significance it is this. That those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. In other words, the driving force behind our new desire to glorify God, is the Spirit Himself, growing that fruit within, in order to sustain the new life. This fruit is in complete agreement with the law of God. No conflict whatsoever. To walk in the Spirit is to live in His power; to live in His fruitful abiding within us. Calvin said of the work of the Spirit: “…till the Spirit has become our instructor, all that we know is folly and ignorance, moreover, everyone’s advancement in piety is the secret work of the Spirit.” If the fruit of the Spirit implies the ongoing work of sanctification, then our union with Christ is of absolute necessity. It is our union with Christ that infallibly leads to sanctification. This is what Paul stressed throughout his letter to the Galatians. Logically, it follows that if the Spirit has begun a good work in us He will finish it. The sign of that work evidences itself in the fruit of that work. What the law could not produce, the Spirit does on the basis of the new life. We cannot produce what God desires in us by energetic work or discipline. This fruit must come from heaven’s store and not from the rotting dungeons of the flesh where there is no health or any good fruit that glorifies God. The flesh has to be crucified with Christ.

So then, our failure to obey does not mean that God will fail to be gracious. Don’t worry about the inability to comply with the Law as we think we should, because the Spirit who originates faith in the first instance, will increase it in degrees till He conducts us by it all the way to the heavenly kingdom (Calvin). To walk in the Spirit means to drink from that continuously flowing fountain that will never fail us. As to our conscience and wrestling, the Spirit will sprinkle both the conscience and our weak efforts with the blood of Christ. He alone can deal with our guilt and pain. This is the glory of the Christian’s testimony. Not that he was once bad and is now good but that Christ is ever faithful in His goodness towards us, even though we continue to prove we are “bad” and faithless towards Him.

‘God forbid that I should glory, Save in the cross of Christ; In the holy, blameless Son of God's Redeeming sacrifice.' …more next time. (Danny Mihailovic).