• Tony Birkhead

Breaking the Rules... Week - 9




Our Steps Decide How Free We’ll Be!


INTRODUCTION

What did freedom mean to you when you were 18 years old? What does it mean to you today? What has changed over time to affect your view?

Recall a time when you felt “imprisoned” by an unfulfilling job, a bad habit, an illness, or financial debt. How did you become free from that situation? How would you describe the sense of freedom you experienced at that time?

Some people mistakenly believe Christians are free to do whatever they want to do—and only what they want to do. Yet they need to understand Christian freedom is the freedom to obey Christ and reflect His character. Others assume they must perform good works to solidify their relationship with God. In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul emphasized that God had called them to freedom, not to legalism. They were free to follow the Holy Spirit’s leadership. When we follow God closely, we live by faith through hope and love.

KEY SCRIPTURE

Galatians 5:13-26

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

What dangerous opportunities does freedom provide (vv. 13-15)? What was Paul afraid that freedom would give the Galatians an opportunity to do?

What does the abuse of freedom commonly look like in our community?

Why do you think Paul emphasized service to one another through love? How does service protect from the dangers of freedom?

Up to this point in his Letter to the Galatians, Paul had referred to the Mosaic law in negative terms. In this verse, however, he referred to it positively. Even the Mosaic law encouraged the Galatians to serve others rather than to serve themselves. It’s true spirit was summarized in the single command that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

READ GALATIANS 5:16-21.

How would you define the term “sinful nature” in your own words (v. 16)? In contrast, what does walking (or living) by the Spirit mean?

What characterizes a life guided by the sinful nature? By the Spirit?

We are to live out the desires of the Spirit under the leadership of the Spirit with the evidence of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us to do what God wants, not what our sinful nature wants. The imperative “walk” is a Hebrew expression for “live,” with the idea of conduct or lifestyle. Its tense conveys continuous action. The phrase “by the Spirit” can be rendered “in the Spirit”—in the sphere the Spirit governs. To keep on living in the Spirit is to continually live by His power—to go where He goes.

If we are made alive by the Spirit, why do we still struggle with sin?

At the moment we place our trust in Christ, our sinful nature no longer has control over us. Control now belongs to God and His Spirit. However, we live in a fallen world and remain in a battle against sin even after we become Christians. As long as we live, we will continue in this battle. Yet because we are in Christ, sin no longer dominates us, meaning, we are not compelled to sin. Instead, we have the Holy Spirit inside of us who changes our desires and helps us resist sin. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul presented a catalog of “the works of the flesh” (v. 19) so these believers could be forewarned. The sins listed in these verses are the result of twisting God’s gifts into ungodly behaviors and not following the Spirit.

Why do you think Paul mentioned these specific sins? Do you see any commonalities among the sins?

What makes these sins “obvious” (v. 19)? How are they “contrary to the Spirit” (v. 17)?

How would our world be different if Christians let the Spirit lead in all their actions?

What is the significance of Paul’s warning in verse 21?

People with lifestyles characterized by the works of the flesh will not inherit God’s kingdom. Inherit means “to share in.” The kingdom of God is His rule, the sphere of His grace. People who consistently perform the works of the flesh are not following the Spirit and indeed are not Christians. Conversely, the Spirit’s activity in Christians produces a cluster of virtues that gives evidence believers belong to Christ (see vv. 22-26). Good works don’t create Christians; Christians create good works.

READ GALATIANS 5:22-26.

How does the fruit of the Spirit in verses 22-26 compare to the works of the flesh mentioned in verses 19-21?

What do each of the fruits of the Spirit have in common with each other? Where do you see the Holy Spirit bringing out these characteristics in your life?

If verse 26 describes the attitude of someone not in tune with the Spirit, what’s the attitude of someone who is?

Paul called for the Galatian believers to follow the Spirit’s leadership and to avoid destructive attitudes and behavior (see 5:25-26). The Spirit’s presence in our lives gives us the power we need to live out our faith. He replaces those sinful works with His fruit, and as a result we’re able to love and serve others rather than ourselves.

MOVING FORWARD

  • Is there an area in your life where you are following the flesh instead of the Spirit? What step can you take today to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit?

  • In what ways have you recently been reminded of the Spirit’s presence and power in your life? How can you be more aware of and sensitive to the Spirit’s presence and power?

PRAY TOGETHER

Thank God for sending the Holy Spirit so that we can have a guide and an advocate to help us live lives that glorify God. Pray that God would encourage people in your group and at our church to listen and heed the instruction of the Spirit in their lives.

COMMENTARY

GALATIANS 5:13-26

5:13-14. In verse 1, Paul states that Christian freedom is the right and privilege of every believer. Then he points out six negative consequences of falling back into slavery. Now he warns them not to use this freedom as a license to sin. Rather than liberty being used for selfishness, the true objective of their newfound freedom is love. Quoting Leviticus 19:18, Paul summarizes the law as “love your neighbor as yourself.” Always remember that we are slaves commissioned to love one another (Matt. 22:39).

5:15. As a result of the legalists, this church was divided. They were biting and devouring each other. Their church and community of faith were on the verge of destruction. Legalism treats people harshly and often leads to divisions.

5:16. The phrase “so I say” alerts the Galatian readers that Paul was about to make an important point. His following instructions are designed to combat the selfish behaviors and abuses prominent in the Galatian fellowship (v. 15). The verb translated “live” literally means “walk.” It refers to journeying through life. Paul commonly used the term to designate daily conduct or lifestyle. Along the pathway of life, the Spirit’s guidance and power can help Christians avoid the self-destructive tendencies of the sinful nature. Paul followed his command with a promise: Ordering our lives according to the Spirit’s guidance will prevent believers from ever carrying out the desire of the “flesh.” In the context of Galatians 5:16, the term “flesh” refers to people’s lower nature. Coupled with the word for “flesh,” the term for “desire” conveys the sense of craving what is evil. Consistently living in the Spirit would enable believers to overcome sin’s pull, which the law could not do.

5:17. Every Christian is a walking civil war. Flesh and Spirit are in perpetual conflict; they are diametrically opposed to each other and vie for dominance in believers’ lives. What the flesh desires is antagonistic to what the Spirit desires for Christians. The language is that of unrelenting warfare for control of believers’ lives. The Spirit strives to prevent believers from giving in to evil; the flesh tries to thwart the Spirit’s work.

5:18. Paul emphasized that active cooperation with the Spirit and constant reliance on His power would enable the Galatian believers to experience freedom instead of bondage. If they consistently followed the Spirit’s leadership, they would not be under the law. Paul’s words indicate he was following up on his emphasis of not misusing Christian freedom and elaborating on how to use it properly (see vv. 13-15). The Judaizers contended that obeying the law enables people to overcome their base desires; yet Paul knew from experience that the law was powerless to suppress people’s lower nature (see Rom. 7:7-8,14-25). Paul maintained strongly that only following the Spirit’s guidance could enable people to overcome evil and experience the freedom of grace. The inner struggle between believers’ old nature and the Spirit would continue, but following the Spirit’s leading—walking behind Him—would empower them to be victorious.

5:19. Paul spelled out the results of acting on “the desires of the flesh” (v. 16). He cataloged the works of the flesh. The word “works” refers to what issues from living in the flesh—people’s lower natures. Paul stated these works are apparent. Paul used 15 Greek words and one catchall term to present characteristic activities of people who are outside God’s kingdom and devoid of the Spirit’s leadership. All the impulses or drives Paul included are potentially good, but the base nature seeks to distort and pervert them. Paul began listing what the flesh produces by naming three sexual sins. Sexual immorality was epidemic and commonly accepted in the Galatian believers’ environment. They were bombarded with temptations to revert to their former immoral lifestyles. Paul emphasized that sexual sins issue from our sinful nature’s aggression in its warfare with the Spirit.

5:20a. Paul next addressed works of the flesh in the religious realm. The word “idolatry” referred primarily to worshiping pagan gods—false gods that people fashioned. Such worship often included sexual immorality. Broadly defined, idols are anything or anyone (including themselves) that people put in God’s rightful place in their lives. Following the Spirit’s leadership inspires life-giving, life-sustaining worship of God. Following the lower nature’s impulses results in false, powerless religion.

5:20b-21. Paul’s third category of the flesh’s works related to people’s interactions. Significantly, he listed sinful attitudes, equating them with sinful acts. In so doing, he listed hatreds first. The Greek word means “hostilities” and has the idea of personal animosities. With the phrase and “anything similar,” Paul lumped other obvious works of the flesh with those he had listed. He again gave the Galatians advance warning: People with lifestyles characterized by the works of the flesh will not inherit God’s kingdom. Inherit means “to share in.” The kingdom of God is His rule, the sphere of His grace. The tense of the word practice conveys habitual performance. People who consistently perform the works of the flesh are not following the Spirit and indeed are not Christians.

5:22-23. Paul contrasted the fruit of the Spirit to the works of the flesh. The word “fruit” refers to virtues only the Spirit can cultivate and bring to full growth in believers’ lives. Human nature apart from God can perform works; only the Spirit can produce fruit. For purposes of study, we can place the virtues in three groups: Christian, social, and personal conduct. The first three virtues in the cluster of the fruit of the Spirit show that only God can generate and maintain His desired harvest in the lives of believers. The second group of virtues in the cluster of Spirit-produced fruit pertains to believers’ relationships with others—their social virtues. The third group of virtues is made up of qualities that believers exhibit in personal conduct. Where the fruit of the Spirit is present, no law is necessary. One purpose of the law was to prevent evil, but Spirit-empowered Christians not only fulfill the law in principle but go far beyond what it requires. The presence of the fruit of the Spirit removes the need for the law’s restraints.

5:24. At the time of conversion, genuine believers put to death (have crucified) the old nature by the Spirit’s power. Those who belong to Christ are people who have placed faith in Him. At conversion, the war with the flesh’s passions and desires—evil prompting and cravings—has been won. Skirmishes between the old nature and the Spirit’s leading continue, but believers’ ultimate victory is assured.

5:25. The phrase “if we live by the Spirit” does not express doubt. The Greek construction expresses certainty: “Because we live by the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the source of our new spiritual life, so we must also follow Him. The Greek word rendered “follow” means “to proceed in a row,” “to go in order,” thus “to walk” in another’s steps. It has the further sense of moving toward a goal. Paul exhorted the Galatian believers to order their lives by relying daily on the Spirit’s guidance. Doing so would result in a Christian lifestyle exhibiting exemplary attitudes and actions.

5:26. Paul ended this section of his letter with an exhortation. Literally, he called on the Galatian Christians to stop some destructive attitudes. These attitudes were products of the flesh; they were not evidences of living by the Spirit.

DAILY QUIET TIME GUIDE

HOW TO HAVE A DAILY QUIET TIME

The QT Guide is designed to help you MOVE with God through Bible Reading, reflection and prayer. It can be completed in about 9 minutes.

UPWARD: 1⁄2 Minute Preparing Your Heart: Invest the first 30 seconds preparing your heart. You might pray, “Lord, cleanse my heart so You can speak to me through the Scriptures. Make my mind alert, my soul active, and my heart responsive. Surround me with Your presence during this time.

FORWARD: 4 Minutes Listening To God: Take the next four minutes to read the Bible. Your greatest need is to hear a word from God. Allow the Word to strike fire in your heart. Meet the Author!

INWARD: 2 1/2 Minutes Talking To God (Prayer): After God has spoken through His Book, then speak to Him in prayer.

OUTWARD: 2 Minutes Preparing your Action: Ask yourself this question: How can I take today’s Quiet Time and put it into action throughout my day?

DAY 1

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

1 Corinthians 4:14-15

Sports seasons are weird this year. The pandemic shut a lot down. However, there’s still a common story we hear about athletes every year. It’s a perfect analogy for the case for having a spiritual father or mother. Have you ever heard about the gifted athlete who gets a big break into pro sports, only to ruin their career by doing something bad outside of the sport? It might be a fight… Drugs… Or many other bad decisions… Recently, a commentator on a sports program talked about athletes like this. He said they have major thing in common: they lack a father figure. They don’t have a guiding authority or mentor in their lives to keep them on the right track. Just as those athletes need an authority in their lives, so do we as Christians.

A SPIRITUAL FATHER OR MOTHER- Paul told the church in Corinth that he was their spiritual father. He was there to encourage and correct them. His job was to help them be the people God wanted them to be. Do you have a spiritual father or mother in your life who can speak truth to you when you mess up? And if you do, do you listen to them? Are you teachable? Or do you get immediately defensive? I’m not talking about a pastor standing behind a pulpit preaching to you. I mean a spiritual father or mother who knows what is really going on in your life. While it’s hard to open up to a person about your failures (and give them permission to correct you), it’s a key to our spiritual growth. Ask God to show you who you should give permission to do this for you. Then humbly ask for their guidance.

WHY DO WE NEED SPIRITUAL PARENTS? Imagine kids growing up without parents. How would they learn to walk, talk, and become a functioning adult? God’s design for the Church is the same as his family. Spiritual fathers and mothers guide, correct, and encourage us just like good parents do for their children.

Adapted From: http://shortdailydevotions.com

DAY 2

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

Growing in the fruit of the Spirit happens in many ways. From consistent Bible reading and prayer… to simply being obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading. But what if there’s another way? A sometimes forgotten way? I think there is—and it comes through exercising your spiritual gifts. Let’s start with the most famous verses regarding the fruit of the Spirit, then dig into what this looks like in our daily lives.

While this is the anatomy of a believer, the rich life of spiritual fruit isn’t first about doing good things. It’s about the life the Holy Spirit cultivates in us.

The Fruit of the Spirit + Your Spiritual Gifts - So there’s a question we should ask ourselves here. It isn’t first, “How am I growing in the fruit of the Spirit?” Instead, it’s this question: “Am I walking in the spiritual gifts God has given me?” You see, Paul told the Corinthian church it’s good to desire spiritual gifts. But what does he first say? Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1 ESV

Before anything else, pursue love! What is the first facet of the fruit of the Spirit? Love. And more, do you know what will help in that pursuit? Walking in the spiritual gifts God has given you. Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 14:12 to say, “…since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” To grow in the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… Grow in serving the church through your spiritual gifts.

Adapted From: http://shortdailydevotions.com

DAY 3

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:4-8

Have you ever felt inadequate to live the Christian life? If so, then you are exactly where God wants you to be, because you have discovered a vital truth: No one has the power in him- or herself to live a holy life. We are all in the same boat, but there is someone else with us who has the power we need—the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus gave His disciples the task of preaching the gospel to the entire world, they had absolutely no ability to carry it out. That’s why He told them to wait until the Holy Spirit came. In the same way, if we hope to accomplish what God desires in our life, we need to live with full dependence on the third Person of the Godhead.

The power of the Spirit is God’s divine energy and authority released in believers’ lives for the purpose of righteous living and fruitful service. When we walk in the Spirit, we’re relying on His strength to accomplish God’s will. As a result, we experience the following benefits:

• We may get tired, but we won’t burn out.

• We’ll trust God instead of trying to manipulate our circumstances.

• We may experience distress, but we won’t become desperate.

• We won’t become overwhelmed with discouragement or obstacles, knowing the Spirit within us will enable us to do what He’s called us to accomplish.

When we do God’s work by His strength, in His way, and with His wisdom, we’ll be blessed no matter what goes on around us. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t mean life will be easy—but we never have to walk through it alone, because our Helper is always with us.

Adapted From: http://intouch.org

DAY 4

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 6:13-14

God’s grace is miraculous. It allows hearts to beat, bodies to heal, and love to be given, regardless of peoples’ opinions of Him. He offers forgiveness to the rebellious, freedom to sinners, and intimacy with Himself to all who trust Christ as Savior. God’s children can approach Him confidently because there is no condemnation for those who belong to Him (Rom. 8:1). What amazing grace!

But that’s not the way things always were. Israel, God’s chosen people, lived under the Law—not under grace. Like us, they were disobedient, so God established the sacrificial system to provide a symbolic way for their wrongdoing to be forgiven.

But since it was humanly impossible to obey every aspect of all 613 commandments God handed down through Moses, the Father graciously sent Jesus to fulfill the Law for us. Our Savior’s sinless life gives us permanent forgiveness because He died once for all sins (Heb. 7:27). The result is that we can approach God’s throne directly.

Believers stand upon the immovable foundation of God’s grace. It covers us like a canopy and surrounds like a protective wall. Let the truth of that sink into your heart and mind so you can become a vessel of the Lord’s love, kindness, and goodness to others.

Adapted From: http://intouch.org

DAY 5

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.

Philippians 1:10

When I think about the great hospitals and universities in our nation, in almost every case (at least in their original state), they were founded by followers of Jesus Christ.

Or look at the great relief organizations in the world today. Many of them are Christian organizations. Christians are constantly on the front lines wherever people are suffering. It doesn’t matter whether the people they’re helping believe or don’t believe. If there’s a tragedy, if there’s a calamity, then you’ll find Christians providing help.

C.S. Lewis said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.” How true.

Real spirituality is practical. In fact, the most godly men and women I’ve had the privilege of meeting over the last forty-plus years always have been very down-to-earth, genuine people. And they’re often fun-loving with a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Heavenly minded people are gracious and approachable. They’re accessible. I think the apostle Paul was an example of this in so many ways. He cared about the church. But he also said, “I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live” (Philippians 1:23–24 NLT).

And of course, there’s no greater example of this than Jesus Himself. Jesus was practical. He was God in human form, walking among us. Jesus lived a real life on Planet Earth. He was an actual, living human being, but He also was God.

Some people criticize Christians by saying they’re so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good. But the reality is that when you’re truly heavenly minded, then you’ll be of the greatest earthly good.

Adapted From: http://harvest.org

MOVING FORWARD

One of the best ways to fight temptation and grow in your daily walk with Jesus is to memorize His Word. Begin to commit His words to your memory this week.

Memorizing may be as simple as repeating the passage aloud 10 times each day or writing it 5 times each day. It may be that you place a 3x5 card on your mirror to remind you each day. Whatever it takes you won’t be let down with His Word in your mind and heart. Consider this…

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:25

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