The Inner Change That Comes From God

April 20, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Galatians 5:13-25

According To The Law

1. The words "spirit" and "flesh" are repeated in The Epistle To The Disciples At Galatia, which was read for our second reading for today. "Flesh" as given in this text does not mean "the physical body." "Flesh" means the sin nature which we have in common as human beings.

2. Please try to imagine a tiger in the wild. It would be terrible if [somebody] let the tiger go to fend for itself right downtown. We don't know what it might end up doing as it went by its instincts. Similar to that then, there is inside of me a "self", which I don't know what I might end up doing if I were let go to fend for myself without any restrictions. It is the same way for everybody also. This is the thing that is expressed as "the flesh." As a matter of fact, a list of what "the flesh" would end up doing if one let "the flesh" go to fend for itself, and how that life would end up looking if one lived according to that flesh, is provided [starting] in verse nineteen. "The works of the flesh are evident. They are adultery, obscenity, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, rivalry, envy, intoxication, drinking parties, and other things of this sort," (verses nineteen through twenty-one).

3. There is no particular need to break down what is written here into detailed explanations. I think we can certainly agree that they are "the works of the flesh" just as it says. And just about anybody will understand that this "flesh" left on its own must not freely put any of these "works of the flesh" into practice, that they must not live in accordance with "the flesh." Living like that you will absolutely not be happy. No, far from that, it will lead you to a life that is heading for destruction. [Anybody] can see that too.

4. Therefore, we make an attempt to tie up "the flesh" and suppress it like tying up a tiger in chains and putting it into a cage. For the Jews, "the law" was the thing that was achieving this function. So that means that the giving of the law, for the Jews, was truly a safety thing. By keeping observance of the law one also kept oneself [safe]. Even though we are not Jews, we can probably understand that easily enough. For example, please consider various regulations and laws. Various regulations and national laws certainly become as chains so that the tiger on the loose will not do the works of the flesh. Of course, we don't control ourselves just because there are some regulations. On the other hand, we do have a will in which we naturally want to be righteous. To a certain extent we do suppress the flesh by our own will power.

5. In this way then, through the law of Moses given to them, and through the will in which they attempt to live in observance of the law, the Jews have been tying up the activities of the flesh or caging it up. Or at least they think they have been. Therefore, understandably, even after they had believed on Christ, there were Jewish Christians who thought that it was still important to keep the law. Indeed, not only were the Jewish Christians themselves [supposed] to keep the law, but there were people who thought that since there were also Gentile Christians besides the Jews in the church, that they too should be made to keep the law.

6. Are you getting it? As seen from a Jew's perspective, the world of the Gentiles, who do not have the law of Moses, is this very world of "the flesh." To them the world looks like a place where the tiger has been let loose. The people in your church who have believed in Christ after being in such a place should not just stay that way. It would be natural to think the flesh should not just stay loose out there wild. Of course, Paul was preaching that "A person is not made righteous by means of the practice of the law, but just by faith in Jesus Christ." The Galatian disciples had heard this. But, on the other hand, even though Paul had said that, there were Jewish teachers there who were feeling that it would be terrible if they had said this same thing. These same Jewish Christians were demanding that the Gentiles in the church at Galatia undergo circumcision and observe the law. And it was the church at Galatia where there was more than a few persons who had been influenced by these teachers.

7. The church, in which the law was respected like that and where there were not a few persons in it who thought that they would become righteous in the sight of God through the observance of the law, was supposed to be a church where "the flesh" was supposed to be suppressed through a will power by which they tried to live observing the law. However as the text says in verse fifteen which we read today, what Paul had seen in it was the figure of these people "fighting and biting at each other." In verse twenty-six the text reads as follows. "Let's stop being conceited, contending with one another, and being jealous of each other, and so forth." Don't you think that's a strange thing to say? Animosity, dissension, jealousy and such were supposed to have been "works of the flesh." While they were trying to suppress the flesh from the outside according to the law, and according to human will power, instead, it turns out that "the works of the flesh" appear in a list [about them].

8. I did, indeed, ask, "Don't you think that's a strange thing to say?," but actually, I don't think this kind of thing is quite that rare. We can imagine any number of instances. When a lot of folks are trying to maintain order through regulations and through fulfilling duties and trying to be righteous through human will power, then naturally, dissension and confrontation will easily arise among them. Envy and anger will start to control them. I think that perhaps for Paul these kinds of things were undeniably obvious; because Paul himself used to belong to the Pharisees and had flawlessly kept the law. We'll see that even by reading the gospels. How about the figure of the Pharisees that appeared on the scene around Jesus? They just complain. Burning with anger and the desire to kill, they plot to make Jesus a dead man. This was not supposed to be the figure which God wanted of them.

9. Of course we must not set "the flesh" loose to go wild for itself. However, if we attempt to curb it through the law, through human will power, the world will by all means not be a place where one lives in it happily and lovingly towards one another, but will instead turn into a world where we condemn each other angrily. On the contrary, "the works of the flesh" will end up showing up. It will not turn out as the figure God wills [for the world]. So, what should one do then?

Walking According To The Spirit

10. Whereupon, Paul says, "Walk according to the leading of the spirit. When you do, there will not be things like the indulging of the lusts of the flesh," (verse sixteen). It does not come from the law, what's more, nor do [we] set the flesh loose, there is another way we ought to be. It is that we are to walk according to the leading of the spirit. That's what Paul said. He says, not by the law, but when we walk in accordance with the spirit, we are not setting up to live in accordance with the flesh, in a manner that indulges the lusts of the flesh.

11. "The spirit" as it is used here in this text does not mean the human spirit, but the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. Paul is stating that we are to live by the leading of the Lord, living in fellowship with the living Lord, seeking steadfastly the control of the Holy Spirit in contrast to the way of living that tries to subjugate the flesh through personal will power and by observance of the law. The two are decisively different ways for the day to day faith life to be.

12. Well, the festival for the descent of the Holy Spirit is getting closer. As you know, it is a festival that derives from one of the events from about two thousand years ago. The risen Christ spoke to his disciples as follows. "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for that which was promised by my father, which you have heard from me before. For, John baptized with water, but you will soon be baptized through the Holy Spirit," (Acts 1:4-5). In addition, he also spoke as follows. "When the Holy Spirit descends upon you, you will receive power. And you will become my witnesses, not only in Jerusalem, but in the entire regions of Judea and of Samaria, and also even going unto the ends of the earth," (Acts 1:8). What did the disciples do? They steadfastly sought in prayer [unto God]. They waited with expectation for the Holy Spirit to descend. And that morning when the Judean festival of Pentecost was being held, the Holy Spirit came down at the place they were assembling and praying. The commemorating of that event is Pentecost (The Festival Of The Descent Of The Holy Spirit). This year it is May 11. Why do we celebrate Pentecost every year? It is so that we give remembrance to the fact that as for the history of the church, human beings did not start it by means of human power. It is so that we give remembrance to the fact that it all began by the workings of the Holy Spirit, and the working of the Holy Spirit, whether in our day to day faith lives or in the church's formation, is decisively important.

13. The Holy Spirit, which had come down from heaven that day, is still alive and at work upon this earth, and abides inside those who believe in Christ. Therefore, we must not think of church life as just learning good teachings and then putting it into practice. We are not living according to Christian patterns, we are living according to the Holy Spirit. We live seeking for the Spirit of the living God to live within us, to completely control our hearts, bodies, and lives, and to lead us.

14. When we begin to live seeking the control of the Holy Spirit [over us], what do you suppose will happen? It is written as follows beginning in verse seventeen. "When the flesh wishes for something it goes against the spirit, when the spirit wishes for something it goes against the flesh. Since the flesh and the spirit oppose each other, you cannot know what you want," (verse seventeen). You could say we become the battleground. We become the place of battle between the flesh and the spirit. A conflict results from it within us. We are happy following the flesh for a time, but then it turns to pain. It turns to grief. After you become a Christian, you needn't feel surprised at being troubled by your sins and at reaching the point of shedding tears. That's just part of it. Because the Holy Spirit has come to oppose the flesh. That's an inevitable process we go through. So we must not quit [our] walk in the Holy Spirit. We must not give up the faith life. By going through this process, the Holy Spirit will gain control as the flesh loses power to control and the Holy Spirit opposes that which the flesh desires.

15. Unlike the law it is not a change that is imposed on [us] externally. It is a change that God causes in [us] internally through the Holy Spirit. Paul express this internal change that come from God in this way as "the fruits which the spirit produces forth." "In contrast to this, the fruits which the spirit yields forth are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, good will, sincerity, gentleness, temperance. There is no law which forbids these things," (verses twenty-two and twenty-three). In particular, even though it was speaking of "the works of the flesh" in reference to the flesh, by way of contrast, please take note that in reference to the spirit it was giving "the fruits which the spirit yields forth." Truth be told, we are not supposed to make it, we "yield it forth." This thing called fruit grows out of a living thing.

16. It is written that "the fruits which the spirit yields forth are love [...]" We cannot become a person of love by following some kind of model or pattern. Furthermore, it continues with "joy, peace." We cannot through human will power become a person filled with joy and peace. The same thing could be said about all the rest of the conditions after forbearance. These are not virtues one is automatically expected to possess, but grow out as manifestations of the eternal life from whenever the Holy Spirit is ruling over us. It is the fruit which the Holy Spirit yields forth within us. If you tried to "build" an apple with all your might in order to get an apple, that would be foolish. An apple tree yields forth apples. Therefore, the important thing is to raise the apple tree. In the same way, the important thing for us is not that we subjugate the flesh by our own power and try to produce "love, joy, peace" in our lives. No that's not the important thing; we are to steadfastly seek for the control of the Holy Spirit, live day by day seeking for the leading of the Holy Spirit, and conscientiously raise the tree of a daily faith life. "Walk according to the leading of the spirit!"