Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE ONLY REAL AGENT OF CHANGE”

Galatians 5.16-26

 

Please turn to Galatians 5.16-26. When you find that passage, stand and read along silently while I read aloud:

 

16     This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

17     For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

18     But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

19     Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20     Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21     Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

22     But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23     Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

24     And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

25     If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

26     Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

 

I read comments written by W. A. Criswell, longtime pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas:

 

Seven times the Holy Spirit is named in this brief passage of Galatians 5:16-26. Among these instances Paul speaks of walking in the Spirit (5:16), being led by the Spirit (5:18), bearing fruit of the Spirit (5:22), and living in the Spirit (5:25). The text is written against the background of a struggle in our souls. The Apostle writes in 5:17, “For the flesh lusteth [Greek, epithumeo, “to desire,” “to long for”] against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.” The human personality is not of one nature but two. Every man is both good and bad, both light and dark, both of flesh and spirit. This quality of life is greatly heightened in the child of God. Paul describes the torment of the conflict between the old nature of the flesh and the new nature of regeneration in Romans 7:14-24, a passage ending with the agonizing cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

 

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE OLD AND THE NEW NATURES

 

Paul calls the old nature “the flesh,” (Greek sarx.) He includes in the word the totality of our depraved, Adamic inheritance. The deep, disturbing depravity of man is tragically portrayed in every page of history and in the daily experience of every human life. We all know the drag of our fleshly passions. The new nature Paul calls the life of the Spirit. When we are born again, we have a new heart, a new love, a new commitment. But the old heart of sin and the old nature of depravity are still with us. Because we are saved does not mean that we are delivered from the passions of the flesh. As long as we live in these mortal bodies, we shall know the trials and temptations that come from the black drops of sin in our blood. Between our two natures there is constant warfare, the flesh against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. Every man is a civil war in his own self. Yea, at the very heart of the universe there is conflict and strife. John writes most vividly in Revelation 12:7, “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels.” Nor will this dreadful conflict that involves us all be resolved until Satan is cast into hell at the consummation of the age.

For us to live in these mortal bodies is to know nothing but the agony of sinful conflict. Our worst enemy is ourselves. Augustine frequently prayed, “Lord, deliver me from that evil man, myself.” All the fire the devil could bring from Gehenna could do us little harm had we not so much combustible fuel in our hearts. It is the powder in the magazine of our old natures that threatens our spiritual lives with daily disaster. Our perpetual foe is ourselves. Our worst sins are those that arise out of the depravity of our souls. Cain killed his brother Abel because God made a difference between the sacrifices of the two. The brothers of Joseph hated him because they had no coat of many colors. Saul the king sulked in his tent, eaten up of jealousy, as he heard the women of Israel sing, “Saul hath slain his thousands but David his tens of thousands.” Judas, coveting for his mercenary life all he could retrieve out of a lost cause, sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. The elder brother, in the parable told by Jesus, refused to come into the house because the younger, prodigal son had been welcomed back home. It is a sorry picture, this picture of depraved human nature, this life of the flesh.

Look at Galatians 5:22. “But,” Paul says in effect, “there is something more, there is something besides, there is something better.” How meaningful that little word “but” can sometimes be, that distinctive conjunction, that dividing monosyllable! “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . . .” Our evil natures may be capable of the worst and the darkest of sins, but the Holy Spirit of God within us is the power of heaven to make us fruitful unto righteousness. We who are saved can know also the glorious fruit of the Spirit.

Notice that in Galatians 5:19 Paul uses a plural word to describe the life of the flesh. “Now the works [plural] of the flesh are manifest.” But in Galatians 5:22 the Apostle uses the singular to describe the life of the Spirit. “But the fruit [singular] of the Spirit . . . .” The works of the flesh are many, dark and devious. Paul names seventeen of them in this list recorded in Galatians 5:19-21, and after he has named the monstrous brood, he adds the words “and such like,” as if to say he could have added five hundred more even more repulsive. The works of the flesh are a ferment of confused, contradictory, conflicting depredations. Each one but contends against another for an evil mastery. It is not so with the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is one, singular. All throughout is consistent. One grace does not take away from another grace, but rather each one contributes to the richness and beauty of the whole. Whether known by the name of love or joy or meekness, yet all are one because of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

The life that produces these marvelous graces is not of us but of God. They are not the product (Moffatt calls them the “harvest”) of natural generation but of supernatural regeneration. In our natural, human strength we sometimes try to exhibit these graces. We obey laws, make resolutions, observe rules, enter periods of reformation, seek to make ourselves over. All these attempts at goodness only emphasize our ultimate failure. We are like the prisoner pardoned out of the penitentiary but back again after three months for the same offense. We in ourselves cannot change ourselves. If the tree is evil, the fruit is evil. But what we cannot do in ourselves, the Holy Spirit does for us. He is in the sanctifying business and He is the One who can remake our lives, giving us strength for weakness, victory for defeat, and enriching us with the nine graces of holy blessedness. But the life that exhibits this fruit must be rooted in the Spirit, quickened by the Spirit, alive in the Spirit. There is never fruit out of a dead tree. Dead posts produce no fruit. These beautiful graces cannot be outwardly hung upon a life like toys and ornaments upon a Christmas tree. Fruitage in the Spirit requires rootage in the Spirit.

The normal life of the child of God ensues in this heavenly fruit. We are not surprised to find apples on an apple tree or grapes hanging down from a grapevine. We would be surprised and disappointed if there were no apples on the apple tree and no grapes hanging down from the vine. In the parable told by our Lord in Luke 13:6-9, the husbandman who found no figs on his fig tree for three years demanded that it be cut down, “for why cumbereth it the ground?” In Matthew 21:18-20 Jesus cursed the fig tree that bare nothing but leaves. In John 15:8 our Lord said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit: so shall ye be my disciples.” If we have been born again and if we love God, we shall exhibit those nine graces, the loving fruit of the Spirit.[1]

 

Of late, I have tended to bring sermons from God’s Word that are more general than I have in the past, designed to make sure the foundation of Bible truth is solidly in place in our church. My design is to do so once more this evening, with a message about one aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit of God. There is much confusion in the world today concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of both non-Christians and genuinely born again believers. What is not clear to most lost people and to many Christians as well, it seems, is the design of the Holy Spirit in the life of a sinner.

The night before His crucifixion, the Lord Jesus Christ clarified something the apostles were apparently confused about. Referring to Him as the Comforter, listen to the intentions of the Holy Spirit, as described by the Savior to His disciples, in John 16.7-11:

 

7      Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

8      And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:

9      Of sin, because they believe not on me;

10     Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;

11     Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

 

When the Holy Spirit reproves the sinner, that person is typically not happy about it, and the reproof does not evoke good feelings. The Greek word used in John 16.8 has to do with exposing, with convicting, with cross-examining for the purpose of convincing or refuting an opponent, and is a word that is especially used of legal proceedings.[2] In other words, when the Holy Spirit is dealing with a man who is lost, that man is being made by the Holy Spirit to feel about his sins the way God feels about that man’s sins, which is very badly indeed. Thus, to convince a lost man that he needs to be saved, that his sins are serious issues with God, the Holy Spirit works on him by various means to make him very unhappy about his sinful and lost condition. Thus, the notion held by many that the Holy Spirit always makes people feel happy, always fills folks with joy and produces rejoicing, is simply not true. The Savior predicted quite the opposite effect when the Spirit of God is involved in the lives of the lost.

On the other hand, the Spirit of God does produce joy and rejoicing in the lives of believers. However, it is an unbalanced view of the Spirit’s ministry in the Christian’s life to limit His effect to joy and rejoicing. What the Spirit of God actually does, and this is what we will focus on this evening, is produce change in the Christian’s life.

May I place the cookies on the lower shelf, this evening, so the kiddies can reach them? I want to address the matter of change. We hear a great deal about change in politics these days.

As well, hucksters and charlatans make a great deal of money off people by promising to effect changes in people’s lives. However, may I say that the Spirit of God is the only real agent of change in a Christian’s life? Think about the matter with me. When a sinner is saved, he is justified by faith, he is reconciled to God, his sins are forgiven, and he is adopted into the family of God. However, each of those very real undertakings by God the Father brings about astonishing changes in the sinner’s relationship with God, without bringing about any change in the convert’s personality.

In like manner, when the sinner comes to faith in Christ and his sins are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, when he is given power to become a son of God, when he becomes one of Christ’s sheep, when he is made accepted in the Beloved, when he is made nigh, when he is translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, when he enters into the family and household of God, when he becomes one who is complete in Christ, each of those happens to be a change in relationship without any change in the person.

It is only the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life that results in alterations of the Christian’s personality, effecting changes in his behavior that not only equip him for more effective ministry this side of heaven, but also ready him for eternity. Therefore, generally speaking, it is only the Holy Spirit of God who actually brings about change in the Christian’s life. Do you want to change? Do you need to change? Then recognize that apart from superficial matters, you will never change apart from the changes wrought in you by the Holy Spirit of God as He works in your life as a Christian.

I want you to look with me at Galatians 5.22-23, and take notice of what changes in your personality the Holy Spirit will bring about as you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Read those two verses with me:

 

22     But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23     Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

 

Notice the nine characteristics, personality traits really, the Holy Spirit works to instill in the Christian’s life:

 

First, LOVE

 

Of course, love is a personality characteristic that is very much like God. God is love, you will remember. However, keep in mind that love is rather less about feelings and rather more about actions than most people realize.

John 3.16 begins, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” As well, First John 4.18 informs us “perfect love casteth out fear.” Therefore, when the Holy Spirit so changes your personality that you become genuinely loving, which involves loving the unlovely, you will also become more courageous, putting fears and inhibitions to flight.

However, love is not so soon in coming as a dominant personality trait as many Christians think. If Second Peter 1.5-7 shows us the progress of spiritual maturity, notice how late in one’s maturing as a Christian love, shown in this verse as charity, becomes a significant characteristic:

 

5      And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

6      And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

7      And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

 

Are you unfamiliar with love? No one is unfamiliar with love, since every sinner loves himself to the virtual exclusion of anyone else. The Spirit of God works in the believer’s life to so alter the direction of the believer’s love that it will be turned from self to God and to others, even unlovely others.

 

Next, JOY

 

Joy, of course, is that which produces rejoicing. What is joy? Whatever it is, it is a quality that is both surprising and durable, as evidenced by First Thessalonians 1.6: “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.”

This should not surprise us, coming from the same Apostle Paul who, along with his sidekick, Silas, prayed and sang praises in a Philippian jail at midnight after being thoroughly beaten. So, how could Paul and Silas, and how could those new Christians in Thessalonica, for that matter, possess joy in the midst of great affliction? How could James encourage believers to “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations,” James 1.2?

Produced in the believer’s life by the Holy Spirit, it comes from the realization, sometimes worked into a Christian’s personality over a long time without affliction, but more quickly when there is affliction, that God is in complete control of every situation, every hassle, and every disturbance, and that it is a joy to experience how God will make use of you in the unpredicted and unpredictable circumstances of life.

Joy is what produces the twinkle in the Christian’s eyes, as the Holy Spirit gives him circumspectness and insights into God’s providential watch care and oversight of his life. He knows God is at work, and that God is doing things through him and around him, and even when afflictions are harsh and painful, the Spirit of God gives him delight to observe it all.

 

Third, PEACE

 

Since Paul is dealing with the Spirit’s work in the personalities of Christians here, we must conclude that he is not, here, addressing the matter of being at peace with God. Peace with God is the result of justification by faith, when the sinner comes to Christ. What is being addressed here is the peace of God that passeth understanding, Philippians 4.7.

Listen to what the Savior said to His apostles the night before His crucifixion: In John 14.27, He said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” A little while later, in John 16.33, He said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Ever hear the story of the art contest in which entries were judged according to which best portrayed the concept of peace? Of course, there was the obligatory paintings that showed the doe and her fawn in the meadow, the rabbits frolicking, and such things as that. The winner, however, was a gray and violent looking picture that, upon closer examination, showed a dead tree with a forked branch reaching out over a churning waterfall. However, in that fork was a small nest containing two small chicks, enjoying peace in the midst of the physical violence that surrounded them. That is the kind of peace to which Paul refers.

What is the peace of which Paul here speaks, the peace the Holy Spirit works to introduce into your personality? It is the peace of mind and heart the child of God has despite the appearance of everything around you seeming to go wrong, because you have come to see with the eyes of your faith that Jesus has overcome the world and the tribulation of it that surrounds us.

 

Fourth, LONG-SUFFERING

 

A woman once remarked that her husband, who she dearly loves and would never think of criticizing, has become a bit more grumpy and short with people as he has aged. Not uncommon with people as they grow older, even though it is wrong. Sometimes you describe it as having a short fuse, or becoming less tolerant of the mistakes and foolishness of others as you get older than you were when younger.

Guess what? That is a trend that is opposite the direction the Holy Spirit seeks to take the Christian, by instilling the grace of long-suffering into his personality. Long-suffering is a longer rather than a shorter fuse, a slowness to react to the foibles and hurtful tendencies of others instead of a quickness to react.

Are you quick to take offense? The Spirit of God works in your life so that you will be slower to take offense. Are you easily hurt by people’s remarks? The Spirit of God works to make you less vulnerable to such things. Are you less patient with people? The Spirit of God would have you to be more patient with people. Are you irritated at the slights and oversights of others? The Spirit of God would have you more like the Savior, not so quick to anger, not so quick to grumble, not so short with people, and not so disturbed by the crazy way some people drive.

In other words, relax. Take it easy. Mellow a bit. Smile, at least on the inside, even when someone is speaking harshly to you. After all, the victory has already been won. Amen?

 

Fifth, GENTLENESS

 

Turn to Ephesians 4.32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” The kindness of Ephesians 4.32 is the gentleness of Galatians 5.22. Same word, and the same concept in both verses.

I feel I must confess to you that this is the particular trait the Spirit of God is pounding on me about of late. The opposite of gentleness is meanness, and I must tell you that there is simply no room in the Christian life for meanness, as far as I can tell. The problem, for me, is that I am not naturally nice. I am naturally mean and aggressive, so I covet your prayers.

What if you are in a restaurant and you stumble across a person you simply do not want to be around, a person who has seriously wronged you or someone you love? I do not care what the offense was, your Christian duty and obligation is to be gentle with him, to be kind toward him. Being kind at that moment is not taking sides. Neither is it being disloyal to your friend. It is being a spiritual Christian.

It may very well be that you want to get away from him as fast as you can, and you want to steer as clear from him as possible. I am not saying there are not people you need to get away from, for there certainly are such people. However, you can be kind; you can be gentle, as you make your manners and then create a comfortable space between you and him.

It has been said that people who have issues with you should have issues with your position, not with your disposition. That is correct. For all that you stand for as a Christian that others may complain about, no one should ever be able to complain about you being harsh or unkind. Our Savior was gentle, and we should be gentle, as well.

 

Sixth, GOODNESS

 

In Acts 11.24, Paul’s friend, Barnabas, is described as a good man. What is wrong with being a good man? Luke tells us in the same verse that Barnabas was full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, so there is no conflict between goodness and deep spirituality. In fact, they are companion virtues, if the truth be told.

Yet, there are so many professing Christians who do not manifest goodness in their personalities. They are rather sneaky, underhanded, sly, doubtful in their truthfulness, and sometimes of questionable ethics. How can you be a spiritual Christian and not be good? No wonder the Spirit of God works to instill goodness into your character.

 

Seventh, FAITH

 

Faith has to do with character, resting in God’s care, and knowing the freedom from worry and anxiety that comes from knowing that all things work together for good to them that love God. We exhibit faith when we quiet our heart before the Lord and trust in Him who is able to keep us forever.

Faith, here, also has to do with faithfulness.[3] Do not think the Spirit of God is gaining much ground in the life of a Christian who is not also becoming more faithful in prayer, more faithful in reading his Bible, more faithful in fulfilling his commitments, more faithful in church attendance, more faithful in his giving, and more faithful in his personal witness.

Though it is a reality that does not translate very well into our English language, the concept of faith without faithfulness springing from faith over time is an impossible notion. There is no real faith that does not produce faithfulness. Therefore, as the Spirit of God works to increase your faith, to strengthen your faith, you will become a more faithful believer.

 

Eighth, MEEKNESS

 

We live in a world of swagger and arrogance. It can be dangerous when driving a car to even look at someone in the next lane while sitting at a traffic light, for the real possibility that other driver will erupt in a fit of emotion because you looked at him, because you made a more than momentary eye contact with him. Such emotional weakness and psychological instability is a polar opposite to meekness.

Moses was inspired to write that he was the meekest man in all the world, in Numbers 12.3, and our Lord declared in His famous sermon on the mount that the meek shall inherit the earth, Matthew 5.5. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with meekness. There is nothing wrong with not having an intimidating expression on your face. There is nothing wrong with not being fearsome. Its opposite is the goal of the Holy Spirit for your personality.

“Pastor, in my line of work, I have to look tough. I have to give the impression to the people around me that you had better watch out. Pastor, what would you suggest I do to address that problem?” Get a new job. You would actually oppose the Holy Spirit’s stated intentions in your life, and His work to transform your personality, for money? For a job? How shortsighted can you be?

 

Finally, TEMPERANCE

 

Temperance has everything to do with self-control, the holding in of your passions and appetites.[4] Temperance is related to how much you eat. Temperance is related to your temper. Temperance is related to getting enough sleep. Temperance is related to moral purity and the proper control of your sex drive.

Some people think it is okay to eat as much food as they want to eat. Such people are intemperate. Other people think that blowing your top and having a temper tantrum is justifiable if you are tired or overcome by allergies. Such people are intemperate. Some people are always drowsy because they habitually do not get enough sleep. Such people are intemperate. Some people defraud their spouses by being unresponsive to their partner’s sexual needs, or are consumed by a preoccupation with things sexual. Both types of people are intemperate.

Of course, the guy who has sex with the trashy girlfriend he is embarrassed to invite to church is obviously lost, and beyond the scope of what Paul is dealing with here. Paul addresses his situation in First Corinthians 6.9-10. For the Christian, the struggle to bring lusts and appetites under control to not be governed by them, but to instead govern them, is a lifelong battle.

Will there be unsaved people who are more disciplined than you are? Of course. However, God’s will is not for you to compare yourself with anyone else, much less some lost guy who has some six-pack abs obsession. God’s will is for you to grow in grace and to become a Christian with more character than you used to possess, to be more Christ like than you used to be.

 

Did you know that real assurance of salvation is supposed to be related to what God is presently doing in your life, rather than what supposedly happened a long time ago? That explains the passages that relate assurance of salvation to the present, such as Romans 8.16 and First John 2.3.

Thus, if you are serious about the Christian life, if you really believe the Bible, and Philippians 1.6 makes an impression upon you (“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ), then the fruit of the Spirit should strike you as important to your spiritual health and well-being.

In what areas of your personality is God the Holy Spirit presently working? Where are you being challenged to be more Christ-like, and to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in your life?

I have spoken to of the what this evening. I have not dealt with the how. Should you want to speak to me concerning the how of these nine graces, know that I am available to speak with you about your concerns.



[1] W. A. Criswell, The Holy Spirit In Today’s World, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), pages 188-191.

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 254.

[3] Ibid., page 517.

[4] Ibid.



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