"If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit." - Galatians 5:25
I recently took up cycling in order to get into shape and so that I might have an enjoyable means of burning calories. I quickly fell in love with the sport. It wasn’t long before I took my first group ride. I love riding alone, but I absolutely and completely enjoy riding with friends. It is a thrill to be in a group of guys, riding down the road at 25 miles per hour. You hear the wind whizzing by your head and the steady breathing of athletes pulling together to make something happen. The leader has to pull the rest of the group along stretches of the road. In order to be in the group you have to draft the rider’s wheel in front of you in a tight formation. This involves just being inches from the rider’s back wheel. The pack uses hand signals to warn for obstacles on the road such as branches, cracks in the road, or train tracks. The leader keeps his or her head up and guides everyone else. It is quite exhilarating (to put it in my daughter’s words).
The pack has to keep in step with one another. If you are leading, you set the tone. You can push hard or you can back off a bit for recovery. The second rider in the pack must pace himself to the leader and the rider behind him must do the same. You have to come to a point where you are locked in to the same rhythm and speed. This is what Paul means when he says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit.” He literally instructs the Galatians to keep in step with the Spirit. In cycling terms it would be, “Keep your RPM’s the same as the Spirit.” Lock and load.
In other words, if you have been justified by faith and are free under the Gospel, then you will desire to keep in step with where the Holy Spirit leads you and desires to change you. We are to always be asking God what He wants from us and how we can become more like Christ.
When a person becomes a Christian the battle is not over. In fact, that battle has just begun. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Paul’s words in Romans 7. He tells us that whenever he desires to do what is right, that evil is right there waiting to crush him and pull him down. When you come to know Jesus as Savior there is a war where there was once calm. The Holy Spirit is engaged in warfare against our sinful desires.
What is the flesh? Paul uses the word “sarx” in the Greek to refer to our sinful desires. This is what he means by the “flesh.” Our sinful desires work against the Holy Spirit as He sanctifies us and changes us to be more like Jesus. Do you notice what Paul says about the works of the flesh in verse 17? They keep us from doing the things that we want to do. That means there has been a total transformation in desire. The things we want to do under the Gospel are different than those things that we wanted to do without the Spirit. Our desires have changed because our allegiance has changed.
Paul gives us two lists and it would be a benefit for us to take a look at them. The works of the flesh are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. If Paul were writing today he might include, pornography, sexting, gossip, bullying, racism, bigotry, 3000-calorie cheeseburgers, slothfulness in the church, slothfulness in the community, arrogance….the list goes on and on. Paul’s point is to use a few examples to show us that there is a battle going on. This list is a great starting place for us to hold up the mirror of the Law and examine our lives. The mirror helps us to see where the Holy Spirit might be doing battle.
Paul does not leave us with a picture of the flesh but instead encourages us with what a life in step with the Spirit looks like. When the cycling pack is really moving and in step with one another it is an amazing thing to be a part of. You don’t have to pedal as hard (so long as you aren’t the leader!), you can hear the rhythm of the bike cranks, you move fast, you turn as one and there is an overall aspect of fun as you pack on the miles. There is also great conversation during recovery stretches. There is laughter, joking, and teasing. This is when the pack is locked into one another and looking out for one another.
The Holy Spirit is not just looking out for us but is doing battle for us and in us. And when the Holy Spirit does battle He produces fruit. Paul gives us the list: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul uses the analogy of fruit so that he can relay a truth to us about Christian freedom.
First, fruit takes a long time to grow. You usually don’t have the time to watch fruit grow and see the changes. But over time, a seed becomes a tree, and a tree grows and bears fruit. The fruit of the Spirit in a Christian will take time.
Second, if a person is a Christian, than the certainty of the person bearing Christian fruit is 100 percent. This is highly encouraging to me because I struggle with all of these aspects. I do not love as much as I am called to love. I do not show self-control, I get angry, and I could list the many ways in which I still hope for fruit. However, I am encouraged because the Holy Spirit is still doing a work in me, just as He is in you. Be encouraged, the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work will grow.
Third, the fruit of the Spirit is an all or nothing deal. Paul doesn’t use the word “fruits” but rather the singular “fruit.” Why? Because a Christian will grow in all of these aspects of the one fruit. You cannot love without self -control. You cannot have joy without peace. Each aspect of the fruit is tied to the other. All of these aspects are part of one greater fruit which is of the Spirit.
Paul does not leave us hanging with a bunch of imperatives or commands. Otherwise we would die trying to please God. He shares with us exactly how the fruit will grow in our lives.
The fruit of the Spirit is first a result of us belonging to Jesus. In verse 24 Paul says that we “belong to Christ Jesus.” All that is His has been credited to us. This is our motivation for living a life of gratitude. Growing fruit is a worshipful response to God.
Second, we must remember that our sinful nature was crucified with Christ. Paul says to the Galatians that the old sinful desires were nailed to the Cross. This is reiterated in Romans 6:1 when Paul says, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?” This is an ongoing process of crucifixion. John Piper likens this battle to killing our sin. I remember hearing him preach a sermon where he said, “You must be killing your sin or it will be killing you.” This is what Paul means when he says that our sinful flesh is constantly crucified.
This killing of sin doesn’t happen at a symptomatic level. In other words, you don’t just “try harder” if you have an addiction to porn, drugs, or food. When you kill sin, you look for the root of the problem. The Holy Spirit will lead us there. Our addiction is linked to our sinful flesh at the base of our identity. We must look to kill the sin at the root cause and find our identity in Jesus. Thoreau has been quoted as saying, “For every 1000 people who strike at the leaves of evil, there is only one striking at the root.” The Holy Spirit takes us to the root of our sin, not just the symptoms, and kills it.
Finally, the Fruit of the Spirit is developed in an active process of claiming the promises of the Gospel, that we have been crucified with Christ, and an ongoing death of our old self. Our old self must be identified and eventually replaced with our new identity in Jesus Christ.