This morning we are going to talk about the Holy Spirit’s role in personal transformation.
We all desire change in our lives. We’d like to be more patient with our kids. We’d like to be more disciplined with our spending. We’d like to grow in our marriage. We all could grow in our personal holiness.
It’s not easy, is it? How do we change without losing ourselves? Is it possible to become holy without losing our happiness?
Let’s read Galatians chapter 5 and get an overview of Paul’s vision for personal transformation.
In this chapter we see three truths:
- Freedom is the great, glorious calling of the Christian life.
- The law and the flesh are the great enemies of our freedom.
- The Holy Spirit is the gift of God that allows us to grow up in our freedom by replacing the law and displacing the flesh.
Freedom – our great and glorious calling.
Freedom is “the power to act, speak or think without hindrance; the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved; without restraint or constraint.”
The call of freedom rings out from the pages of the New Testament.
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
“For freedom Christ has set us free . . .”
“Live as people who are free”
1 Peter 2:16
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:17
The good news of the kingdom of God is that there is a Savior who can set people free.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”
Christ can free you from the bondage of sin. He can free you from spiritual oppression. He can free you from generations of addiction and family curses. He can free you from shame and fear. He can free you from the demands of the law. He can free you from condemnation and guilt.
The Christian life is a free life.
The great enemies of freedom – the flesh and the law.
Not every Christian experiences a life of freedom. There are two enemies that provide a constant threat to Christian liberty.
The first is the law.
The Christian message was a revolutionary message among the Jewish people. The gospel proclaimed that righteousness did not come through works of the law, but through faith in the finished work of Christ.
This was revolutionary, because the Jewish people had learned for centuries to carefully observe the law, given in the Torah. The Torah contained 613 commandments which all Jewish people were bound to observe.
The teachings of Jesus revealed that the demands of the law went far deeper than anyone had imagined, making claims on the thoughts and motives of the heart. Through Jesus, it was revealed that the law was never meant to make a person righteous. Instead, it was given to reveal the hopeless and complete sinfulness of the human heart. The law, then was not the final word of righteousness, but a caretaker, given to lead us to the feet of Jesus for mercy.
Liberation from the demands of the law was a revelation that brought transformation wherever it was preached. There were some in the Jewish tradition that could not accept what they could only see as a downgrading of the law. They followed the early Christian missionaries, seeking to bring the new sect of Jesus followers back into obedience of the law.
Paul declared all out war against those Jewish traditionalists. The letter of Galatians was written to destroy their message and their influence. The Christian is free and must never again submit to the yoke of the law.
The influence of the legalism has proven to be a constant threat to the purity of the gospel and the liberty of the people of the gospel. Today many denominations explicitly teach a salvation mixing grace with the law. That kind of mix is no grace at all and can’t save anyone. Other denominations may proclaim salvation by grace alone in their teaching, but enforce the law in their culture. The NT calls all believers to fight legalism and stand firm in freedom.
But if we are no longer under the law, how do we ensure that we don’t slip into lives of sin in our freedom? How do we grow if there is no pressure from the law? After all, isn’t the flesh strong?
Indeed, the flesh is the second great enemy of freedom. It is possible to escape the chains of the law only to walk into the snare of the flesh.
In Paul’s usage, the word flesh did not refer to the physical aspect of our humanity, but the fallen aspect of our humanity. It is that part of our humanity that is corrupted and cursed by sin. It is the busted wheel that won’t roll in a straight line, but always pulls us away from righteousness and into sin.
Though we are new in Christ, the flesh remains. How can we resist the temptations of the flesh without the law?
The Holy Spirit Replaces the law and displaces the flesh.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (5:16)
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (5:18)
Verse 16 is Paul’s answer to the problem of the flesh. How do you resist the flesh? The answer is the Holy Spirit. Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
How can that work? Paul explains in verse 17 – the Spirit and the flesh are opposed to one another. Like oil and water, they cannot mix and will displace each other. The presence of the Holy Spirit will displace the desires of the flesh and produce an absence of sin.
I don’t want you to be confused about the word opposed in verse 17. You may hear that and think of conflict. You may imagine a struggle. That’s not the sense of the word here for Paul. The Spirit and the flesh are not opposed in the sense of struggle, they are opposed in the sense of their fundamental nature.
The Spirit is Holy enough and powerful enough to entirely displace the desires of the flesh. It’s okay to set aside the demands of the law, because the Spirit is sufficient. It’s okay to set aside the demands of the law because the essence of the law is love and the first fruit of the Spirit is love. Where there is the Spirit, there will be love and the essence law is fulfilled.
A holy life can be a happy and free life because it is not a life of struggle. It is a life of surrender.
So what do I do? What is my part?
Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh. There is meaning in that contrast. Everything that originates from us is a work. That which comes from God is a fruit, a byproduct of God’s initiating work.
The fruit of the Spirit comes as we maintain our connection to God through His Spirit – as we walk or keep in step with the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is not something that just happens naturally when someone becomes a Christian. It is the result of the Spirit’s presence in the life of the person who lives in surrender to the Spirit.
My wife owns a Garmin and likes to track her steps. She usually logs over 10,000 steps a day. That’s a lot of steps. We step through the house, through the office and through the neighborhood. How many of those steps are taken in a conscious awareness of the Spirit’s presence? How many of those steps are taken in an attitude that is yielded to the Spirit’s leading?
How do you grow more patient with your kids? How do you become more disciplined with your spending? How do you grow in your marriage and your personal holiness?
It doesn’t come from taking on the burden of the law. It doesn’t come from battling the flesh. It comes from the simple act of surrender to the Holy Spirit. It comes from the life-giving, soul satisfying freedom of fellowship with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis.
Are you surrendered to Him this morning?
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown