Life in the Spirit

Galatians 5:13-26

by Caleb Middleton


by Caleb Middleton


Life in the Spirit

Today we are celebrating Pentecost—the arrival of the third person of the trinity, Holy Spirit, seven weeks after Jesus’ resurrection. The Holy Spirit is the One who dwells within those who have trusted in the person and work of Jesus. And it is by Him: His presence and work in our lives, that we are connected to the very life of Christ and are formed into people who are like him.  

Every single one of us has fruit that flows from our lives. Let’s begin with a question: do you primarily concern yourself with the outside (the fruit we see through our actions) or the inside (the source that cultivates the fruit we see)? 

One of my responsibilities in helping manage our home is I help do the laundry. Occasionally, I am very diligent. The laundry goes through the washer, the dryer, is folded and put away in the proper rooms and drawers. But a few months back, I had run the washer and went on with my day. A few days later, we were getting ready to leave and began to notice a smell—a rotten smell coming from our mud room. At first, I didn’t give it much thought but later that day it became very difficult to ignore. Upon further investigation, it was determined that the rotting smell was coming from within a place that is usually associated with a refreshing smell. The clothes had been left too long and began to rot and smell terribly. It took a good amount of time before the internal condition of the washer was made known. The reality? When left unaddressed it doesn’t take long for clothes to smell rotten. So, the clothes needed to be washed once more to remove the odor before being placed in the dryer. 

Similarly, apart from the continual cleansing and remaking work of God’s Spirit, our natural desires will begin to permeate our lives with sin. We need Him to address our core—the inside of our lives if we are to have any hope of producing fruit that delights God and lives that reflect Jesus.  

There is fruit flowing from our lives. If we want to enjoy abundant and full life we need to prioritize what God wants to inside of us over what we can do for God. 

The arrival of the Spirit of God and Him dwelling with us was promised by God and at the day of Pentecost, He arrived and the church was born!  

Pentecost, or the arrival of the Holy Spirit, occurred 50 days after Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again. As Jesus was ascending back to the Father, he instructed the Apostles to remain in Jerusalem and to wait there for the arrival of the Promise: the Holy Spirit. On the day the Spirit descended, there were 120 disciples of Jesus gathered in an upper room worshipping together through song and prayers to God.  

The result of the Spirit’s arrival in power is the Word of God is proclaimed and lives are changed. Pentecost, or the arrival of the Holy Spirit, marks the birth and beginning of the Church and on that day 3,000 people believed.

Here we are 1,991 years later, a gathering of people who serve as a local expression of Christ’s bride, the Church. We join the Apostles in worshipping the same Messiah and have Him dwelling here with us through the Spirit. Our goal in celebrating Pentecost is to prioritize the work God is doing in us instead of the work we do for Him. So, by the Spirit, what is God doing in us?

Love flows from the Spirit-Filled life

Galatians 5:13-15

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 

Have you experienced the impact of eating vegetables that have been marinated in vinegar?  Carrots, artichokes, cucumbers, pepper,  and countless others (except broccoli) that in their natural state are bland and less than desirable become surprisingly refreshing and delightful when marinated with vinegar. 

Apart from the saturating of vinegar, the cucumber is not able to be enjoyed. And apart from a believer being saturated with love – love that infiltrates within the person not just externally, we will use our freedom in Christ for personal gain instead of for others. 

Love that is simply external is much like a vinegar-less cucumber—tasteless. It is situational and only able to go so far for others. External love will hardly be willing to set aside personal preference, to set aside personal offense, or even personal desires for the benefit of another. But love that wells up inside and spills over from the Spirit is life giving. Love that comes from the life of one who is indwelled by the Spirit of God is able to sacrificially give of self to care for the needs of others. 

We are unable to set aside our own freedom and preferences in our own effort, power, or wisdom. We need to be saturated internally and controlled by the Spirit of God.  

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. We have been set free by Christ from sin but more specifically from the requirements of the law of God. We are not required to meet the demands of the law, the various feasts, or rituals any longer because Jesus offered a one-time sacrifice that was sufficient. Although we are freed from the law, we are still people who live under certain obligations. We are not given complete autonomy to do as we please or become who we please. You see, the mark of one who has been freed from the power of the Law through the person of Jesus, is one who no longer is controlled by external rules and constraints. Rather, they are controlled by a person who dwells within them. 

Think about it, one of the greatest dangers to the unity of group of people comes when individuals prize their individual freedom over the needs of those around them. Instead of freedom being a license to strive to care for others it becomes license to care for self at the expense of others.  

Paul is reminding us that the very expression of love that was used to free us from the law by the sacrificial death of the Son of God is the same love that dwells inside of us. Because of this, it is expected that we conduct our lives in a way that is consistent with how Jesus conducted his life. The love referenced here is from the Greek work agape, is not merely referencing human affection but divine love. And this Divine love can only be possessed and shared by someone whose life is controlled by the Spirit of God. 

This expression of love is so powerful and so important that it’s proper application in our daily lives serves to accomplish all of the law. The entire Law—all 10 commandments and 613 Jewish commandments in total are obeyed through the selfless and live-giving expression of divine love. This is summed up in the statement we remember Jesus saying, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Consider your life…what is the condition of your heart and what is flowing from it? Do your actions reveal a heart of love for God and others…or for self? 

  • I wonder, what would our families look like if we are empowered by love?  
  • What would this do to the culture of our workplaces or the atmosphere of our teams at work? 
  • How would this impact those who are outsiders—personally witnessing and experiencing people empowered by love? 

What is at stake if we fail to humble ourselves? To allow ourselves to be controlled by the indwelling presence of the Spirit? Paul indicates that our selfish desires will be manifested by biting and devouring one another. We are warned to watch out because they will destroy us. Those who are born again—those who have been freed from the power of sin, shame, and selfish impulse—when failing to walk in love can destroy and leave a trail of destruction behind them. 

Church, let’s be vegetables that are soaked in vinegar that we may bring refreshment and delight to one another and those outside. The Spirit empowers us to love.

The Spirit uproots and overthrows our natural desires.

Galatians 5:16-18

 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 

Theologically, we are duel-natured. When we were conceived we were conceived in sin as David the psalmist writes. Because of the original sin of our ancestors: Adam and Eve, we have desires that are natural to us that cause us to rebel against the law of God and against what He desires. 

Upon trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven and we receive a new nature, with the arrival of the Spirit of God in our lives. With Him, we now have what is referred to as the new nature. So, at any given moment, there are two natures at war within us or two sets of desires. Through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to overthrow our sinful desires. But this will not be done by accident. We cannot just do whatever we feel like doing…for we are easily deceived into gratifying our flesh.  

Instead, we find that the Spirit uproots and overthrows our self-focused desires. It is not enough to “control” the desires of the flesh, we need to destroy the desires of the flesh in us by the help of the Spirit. How do we overthrow these desires by the Spirit? 

Trying to manage or control the desires of the flesh without seeking their removal and utter destruction is a lot like remembering to bag our garbage but failing to take it out. Has this ever happened to you? You manage or control the garbage in a given space but fail to remove it. What is the result? The garbage still stinks! 

I wonder how often we try to manage our sinful desires instead of seeking to destroy them and remove them altogether?  

Anger: our hunger to be in control when unsatisfied can result in a lack of control over our emotions, words, and actions. We say things to our spouse that moments later we regret. We correct our children from the place of anger and frustration instead of being kind and merciful. What I remind myself: the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God!  

Complaining: if we aren’t intentional, we can find it far easier to complain than to express gratitude. Why is it that our heart and minds can be so filled with the unpleasant fruit of complaints? We forget the goodness of God and because we forget how He has provided – we fail to trust Him. This leads to a spirit of complaint.  

Lust/greed: when instead of being thankful for who and what God has supplied us, we long for who and what He hasn’t provided for us. Lack of trust in God’s provision can lead us to looking to the wrong sources, dwelling on them, and seeking them. 

We all know what rotting garbage we have and proper disposal requires we acknowledge our sin, confess it to God, and confess it in community.  

We naturally desire that which is contrary to the Spirit of God and it requires intentional effort. Every moment for us to remove the desires that are akin to garbage, not just trying to manage them but removing them. When we fail to overthrow the sinful desires in our life through the Spirit, we can easily fall back into them. 

Paul’s solution?  So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. The word “walk” means to order your life or to be controlled by the Spirit. If we surrender control of our life humbly to the Spirit we will not gratify what our flesh naturally longs for. And again, this is anything but a casual or passive pursuit because we are reminded: For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever  you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 

We are reminded that there is a war being waged within us. Who will we serve? Who will we allow to have control? Our own selfish desires or the desires of God? So, we know there is a war and we know that in any given moment, we are siding with one faction. But how are we supposed to combat our natural desires and instead be controlled by what God desires? 

Paul argues in Romans, Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 

So, the primary means of making war against our flesh and instead honoring the Spirit of God is through our minds.

Our thinking determines our actions.

Consider what Solomon writes in Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” The word heart in Hebrew, refers also to the mind…so carefully guard your mind. Because our thoughts impact our hearts/desires, and these overflow into our actions. 

How are we to guard our minds—knowing full well that the trajectory of our lives is determined by what we think about? We need to be people who are filled with the Word of God. We need to sing about scripture, read it, meditate on it, study it, and memorize it! 

The Spirit of God and the Word of God are close companions always working together. If you want to overthrow the desires of the flesh, you and I need to be filled with the Word of God so that we might apply the Word of God by the Spirit’s help.

Knowing and dwelling on the Word of God enables us to be led by the Spirit!

A believer, someone who is filled with the Spirit of God, has the power to overthrow the works of the flesh. The power to experience victory and freedom from them. Beware, if you are under control of these things; repent. Sin can only bring about one thing; death.  

  • What is your mind filled with? 
  • When you have a free moment what occupies your thinking? 
  • If you want to do an inventory consider in the past few days your words and actions. Both are a direct overflow of our thought life. 

Let’s not only contain the filth of our natural desires, let’s allow the Spirit to uproot and remove our natural and inward directed desires.  

We receive His help as we acknowledge our need for Him and meditate on the truth of scripture! The Spirit empowers us to love others and to overthrow our natural desires.  

The Spirit cultivates the character of God in us. 

Galatians 5:22-26

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.  

One way we can begin prioritizing the work God is doing in us over what we do for him is by considering our knee-jerk reactions to difficult situations. My flash-in-the-pan soccer career was the result of a knee-jerk reaction that revealed my condition as a soccer player.  

We were competing against a rival team and were losing 2-1. One of our starting players suffered an injury and was taken out the game and I was given the opportunity, at a key time in the game to be on the field. As I was running on, one of the assistant coaches said “Caleb, don’t dive in” at least two times. 

Play resumed and the ball was immediately played to my side of the field. I began tracking the player who was dribbling the ball…and I couldn’t help myself. I went to jab at the ball with my foot. Right then, this experienced player pushed the ball forward…so instead of hitting the ball, I knocked his leg out. On the one hand, that felt great but unfortunately, on the other hand, he had just crossed the 18 line mark, meaning the foul I committed resulted in a penalty kick. He took the kick, scored, and I was quickly removed from the field to the comfort of the bench where I remained for the season.  

What happened? I did the opposite of what my coach asked. I did this because it was my natural, knee-jerk reaction. How do you and I react to the circumstances and people we encounter? (Driving when someone is going too slow or they cut in front of you? When you are out to eat and the service is lacking? When your child is being mistreated by friends at school? Or when someone else’s little one is having a meltdown?

May the overflow/natural response of our lives reflect Jesus!

The goal of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is to help cultivate the character of God in us. So that, our actions aren’t just loving but from a heart of love. The goal isn’t just to DO the right things but to be filled with the very character of God…so that what flows from our life is His fruit/His character. 

Those who belong to Jesus have put to death the flesh along with its desires and passions because He put them to death on the cross! He demonstrated his power over them by rising from the dead three days later. This is most helpfully illustrated through the ordinance of baptism. Upon a profession of faith in Jesus, a person is lowered under the water representing the death of Christ. Our sin and our fleshly desires are robbed of their power and buried with Him. 

Rising out of the water represents the resurrection of Jesus. He rose in victory over sin and death and we share in his victory. The former passions and desires no longer have power over us, only the power we surrender to them. Our new life is by the power of the Spirit so the call on our life is to walk in step with the Spirit. 

He is our life source. He is the One who unites us to the very life of Jesus. He is the One who gives us victory over our flesh and sinful desires.

It only makes sense that if we are given life in Him that we then would ensure we walk in step with Him. To live as though we don’t need him is to walk apart from the life source that causes God-honoring fruit and character to develop in us. 

Perhaps, the clearest way Paul gives for us to walk in step with the Spirit and be people who bear fruit is to make war against our pride! To be conceited means to be excessively proud of oneself. It is when believers operate with excessive pride that we provoke one another and begin to envy one another. 

Pride causes us to provoke one another because instead of looking out for the interests, needs, or desires of others, it is all about us. And on the other side, excessive pride causes us to look at what other people have with a longing for what they have and an ungrateful complaining spirit. 

The Holy Spirit at work in our lives enables us to make war against the pride that so easily bubbles below the surface. The Spirit of God enables us to produce fruit; to overthrow our natural desires, and empowers us to love one another. 

The Spirit of God makes us the very dwelling place of God. And he enables us to BE living sacrifices whose minds are renewed by scripture and whose lives are a pleasing aroma to our God.

Knowing Jesus and making Him known is the overflow of the Spirit-filled life.

  • Begin and continue with this prayer of surrender from Psalm 19:14. Memorize this verse and pray it often! May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. 
  • Keep short accounts: When we fail…lets fail forward by confessing to the One who loves us and has redeemed us. 1 John 1:9 says If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 
  • Express gratitude and thanks to God through prayer and songs of praise. Psalm 40:3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. 

Knowing Jesus and making Him known is the overflow of the Spirit-filled life.