October 2, 2020
Many of us are controlled by what the Bible describes as “the works of the flesh.” We must choose whether the flesh or the Spirit is going to control our lives and then learn how to be led by Him.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Some people are out of control and don’t even know it. All their lives they’ve been governed by strongholds of sin. Paul lists seventeen “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5, but he doesn’t leave us there. He shows us how to have a Spirit-controlled life of joy and victory.
The Works of the Flesh
You have two choices: either the flesh or the Spirit will control your life. To understand the power of these works of the flesh, let’s put them in terms we understand today.
As we do, ponder which one or ones may be present in your life. Depending upon the translation you use, here is the list.
Just in case none of these works of the flesh are yours and Paul missed one, at the end he adds “and the like”—another way of saying, “just fill in the blank.” So whatever your sin is, it’s covered.
Works of the flesh are signs of a life that is not Spirit-controlled but out of control. The result is wasted time, weakened bodies, warped thinking, and wretched lives.
You Can Have a Spirit-controlled Life.
After Paul lists these works of the flesh, he switches gears (notice the word “but”) and says in the next verse, “but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
In some Bibles, that last fruit is translated “temperance.” In others, “self-control.” The word literally means “to be in control.” But as you’ll see, it could and should be “Spirit-control.” The question is: Who is in control?
If my life is going to be brought under control, then under the control of what or whom? How will I know whether or not my life is in control? Leading up to verses 19-21 depicting souls who are out of control, verse 13 of this chapter tells us:
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
Paul explains that we are not under a yoke of bondage to the law, but there is a law we are to observe, and that is the law of love. Don’t let your flesh have its fling just because you’ve been called to liberty, he says, “…but through love serve one another.”
How much loving service? To what extent? In the next verse, he answers:
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
Well, that’s a lot of loving service to one another. Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 22:37-40 when a Pharisee asked Him, “What is the greatest commandment?”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
The word “Law” is troubling to many people. We typically deal with the Law in one of three ways: license, legalism, or liberty.
We see the Law as our enemy. The flesh says, “I don’t want anything to do with any kind of ‘law.’ Don’t fence me in. I’m gonna do my thing.” Rivers and men get crooked by following the path of least resistance.
We see the Law as our master (Paul is preaching against this,) so we try to live under the Law—but we’re struggling and failing.
We know the Law says, “Don’t do this; don’t do that,” then “Do this and do that.” We know the Law is good and right, so we’re trying to keep the Law. We clench our fist. We grit our teeth: “I’m going to do it.” The more we struggle, the more we sink.
I’ve been there so many times. Like a person in quicksand who knows he’s sinking, I struggle to get out, and my very struggling brings me down. We get our little list: Don’t go to these kinds of movies. Don’t drink this. Don’t touch that. Don’t smell this. Don’t snort that. Don’t go with that person. Don’t, don’t, don’t.
Ten thousand “don’ts” won’t make you one whit more like Jesus. Remember, the Christian life is not a legal relationship; it’s a love relationship. Paul just said in verse 14, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Galatians 5:1 adds more light to this. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
Some Bibles translate “yoke of bondage” as “the yoke of self-effort.” Self-effort isn’t the answer either, because you’re still bound by legalism.
We need the law of liberty. “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty….” (Galatians 5:13). Liberty isn’t doing your thing. No one is truly free, no one is liberated, until he knows self-control/Spirit-control. You must see the law of God—His principles—as your friend. That’s liberty.
We admire great musicians who play instruments so skillfully. Their music transports and inspires us. But if you try to play an instrument, the first thing you’ll learn is the instrument is regulated by the laws of music. People who learn those laws can sit down and play beautifully. They’re liberated not because they’re free from the laws of music, but because they’re controlled by the laws of music. The laws of music let the songs out of a piano. Psalm 119:54 says, “Your statutes [laws] have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (added for clarity).
On the back of every law is a song. When the Bible says we have a life of liberty, it means that by being controlled by the Spirit, suddenly we’re free. Discipline doesn’t restrict you; it frees you.
Where will we get the strength to live the Spirit-controlled life?
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)
That’s where the strength comes from. And we need it because…
…the flesh lusts [has strong desires] against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:17, added for clarity)
In all of us who have been born again, there’s a part of our nature called “the flesh” and a part called “the Spirit.” Both struggle within us, the flesh wanting control and the Holy Spirit saying, “Live for God and live victorious.” A civil war commences between Spirit and flesh, so “you do not do the things you wish.” Paul himself confessed that was true in his own life (See Romans 7, especially verses 14-25.) In ourselves, we don’t have what it takes. We can’t do it by self-effort. But if you walk in the Spirit, you won’t be fulfilling the lust of the flesh.
He doesn’t say, “Now, don’t fulfill the lust of the flesh, and then you’ll be walking in the Spirit.” No, that’s backward! That’s where most of us try. “I won’t do all these things, and then I’ll be a spiritual Christian.” You don’t become more like the Lord Jesus by not doing all these things. That’s deadly legalism. Instead, God says, “…walk in the Spirit and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
If you don’t get anything else in this study, please get this: One lesson I’ve learned about spiritual living is that holiness is not the way to Christ; Christ is the way to holiness. Read that again. He doesn’t say, “Don’t walk in the flesh and you’ll be in the Spirit.” He says, “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
Where do we get the strength? “…if you are led by the Spirit...” (Galatians 5:18). You must come to the point where you are willing to be led by the Holy Spirit and walk in Him by an act of your will.
To review: to be under Spirit-control, we must walk in the Spirit. A sign of that is manifest in love. Your strength to love others as yourself comes from walking in the Spirit. You will not fulfill the lust of the flesh if you are willingly led by the Spirit.
Spirit-controlled life is like walking. God wants to make this simple for us to understand, so He uses the metaphor of walking.
You start walking.
You have to decide to do it. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. You walk one step at a time. Walking in the Spirit is an act of your will. The Spirit-controlled, disciplined, victorious life, isn’t lived by will-power. It’s lived by the Holy Spirit’s power. But you enter it by an act of your will. You must come to the place where you say, “I will be led by the Spirit.”
You walk where the Spirit is.
When verse 16 says to “walk in the Spirit,” it means the Spirit is to be the circumference of your walk. If I told you, “Walk in this building,” it means you stay inside this building. If you step outside, you’re not walking in this building. The Holy Spirit is to be the element in which you walk, the environment of your life.
Are you willing to do that? The flesh will say, “Hey, don’t fence me in! Outside there’s all this pleasure and fulfillment I need to make me happy.” But a person living a Spirit-controlled life has come to this settled conclusion: There is nothing worth having outside of Jesus.
If you don’t come to that, you will never, ever live a victorious life. As you walk in the Spirit, everything you do—eating, sleeping, working, taking time for recreation—is in context with the Holy Spirit of God leading and directing your life. If you step out of bounds, the Holy Spirit blows the whistle. Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” “Rule” can be translated “referee.” When I get off course, the Holy Spirit calls “out of bounds,” and I repent and step back in. That is a Spirit-controlled life.
You keep on walking.
It begins with a decision but doesn’t end there. Your “I will” is followed by a process. You keep on walking forward.
If you’re sick and tired of works of the flesh, if you want the liberty and joy belonging to a child of God, “…walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). “As you, therefore, have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6). The same way you received Jesus, by repentance and faith, is the way you walk in Him and live the victorious, Spirit-controlled life.
Live in the peace, joy, and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a).
Satan will try to tell you, “You don’t want to live that way.” This is the only way to live. God calls it “fruit.” Fruit is luscious, beautiful, fragrant, but most of all, satisfying. It meets your basic hunger.
You have a hunger for God that can never be satisfied apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. What a joy life is when it’s not controlled by the flesh but the Spirit.
The choice is up to you. Simply say,
God will give you liberty. You can “stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free and be not entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).
No one is ever freer than the person living a life controlled by the Holy Spirit of God.
This Bible Study was taken from the message, "How to Have a Spirit-Controlled Life" (#1450).
Learn more about how to study the Bible with the LWF Bible Study Guide.