In this first of a two-part lesson, Mike describes the way that spiritual life and character are actually produced in the life of every disciple great and small.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is dealing with false teachers who are perverting the gospel. They were trying to teach that in order to maintain one’s perfect status with God, it was necessary to submit to a mix of rules and rituals that they imposed, the main one being circumcision.
In his reply, Paul reaffirms to the church that their perfect state granted through God’s grace and received by faith in Christ is maintained by walking in the Spirit, not by following the made up religion of the false teachers. In order to identify the life and experience of walking in the Spirit, Paul describes what the opposite experience is like.
In the previous chapter we reviewed four types of conduct that are the result of walking, not by the Spirit, but walking by the flesh. The four types are:
- Sexual Sins
- Spiritual Blindness
- Divisive Spirit
Paul provides examples of actions and attitudes in these four groups that define the unspiritual person. I also said that this was not an exhaustive list of worldly and fleshly activities, only a sampling. The Apostle tells them that participation in these things is an indicator that no matter what people say, they are not really walking by the Spirit. Once he has given the negative side, Paul will go on to describe another sampling, this time for those things seen in one who is actually walking in the Spirit.
The Fruit of the Spirit is…
Before we talk about the characteristics of one who walks in the Spirit, let us consider for a moment the first part of this sentence, “The fruit of the Spirit.” It is important to realize that it is the fruit that comes from the Spirit, His fruit, something He produces in the Christian that is being referred to here. Otherwise we begin to describe in detail the virtues of love, joy, peace, etc. and people think that they have homework to do in achieving these things on their own, and go about trying to produce them through self-will, as if these things are a diet of some kind and all that is needed for success is better self-discipline.
Paul does not explain it here in detail, but how does the Holy Spirit produce the fruit of the Spirit in someone? How do these spiritual characteristics become a natural part of our character? This happens in proportion to the degree that we submit our will to His will. In verse 16, Paul says that those who walk by the Spirit will not carry out the desires of the flesh. Walking by the Spirit, being in the Spirit, submitting to the Spirit are all terms referring to the same thing: that we are living according to the Spirit’s will.
The virtues that Paul describes are the net result of continually submitting our will to the will of the Holy Spirit, but how do we actually accomplish this submission?
1. We Submit to the Word of the Spirit
God’s Word was given to man through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
– II Peter 1:21
And so, when we submit to or obey God’s Word, we are, in effect, submitting to the Holy Spirit who gives us that Word. Submitting to the Holy Spirit/Word requires us to do certain concrete acts that include:
Reading the Word Regularly
Acts 17:11, the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily as a first step in knowing God’s true will. This is why cultivating a regular Bible reading habit is so important for the developing Christian.
Thinking and Meditating on God’s Word
My eyes anticipate the night watches,
That I may meditate on Your word.
– Psalms 119:148
Have we ever thought of focusing our minds on God’s Word during our quiet moments instead of reviewing past mistakes or worrying about tomorrow’s problems? We wonder why we do not know what God wants or why we keep making the same mistakes or why we are emotionally and spiritually exhausted. Could it be that it is because we rarely allow our minds the opportunity to rest and simply contemplate His presence and His person by focusing on a portion of His Word?
It is truly an exercise in submission when we stop the traffic of our minds and redirect this energy towards Him. Since God reveals Himself in his Word, the focusing of our thoughts on the Scriptures leads us to contemplate Him and thus, lay our hearts open to the Holy Spirit. Turn off the TV, put down your tablet and silence your phone. Go to your private place and open your mind towards His Word, and in doing so you will assume the proper position of humility that constitutes a submissive spirit.
Another thing that we can do to submit to the Holy Spirit is…
Receive Instruction from His Word
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
– Acts 2:42
How can we submit, truly submit to someone if we do not know them or what they want? The only way to truly walk in the Spirit is to know the way the Spirit walks, and the only way to know this is to know His Word. The grace of God in Christ not only saves us but gives us a hunger to do what God wants us to do. What God wants us to do is submit to/walk in the Spirit and the only way to begin satisfying that hunger and His will is to grow in our understanding of the Spirit’s way of living.
That knowledge is acquired in the same way that most knowledge is acquired, through instruction. Every time we attend Bible classes on Sunday or throughout the week, participate in a religious retreat or seminar, we are expanding our ability to walk by the Spirit. It is no secret that those who are more careful and committed to Bible class as a top priority reap the benefits of a closer walk with the Spirit as an end result.
And the most obvious response of all in submitting to the Spirit…
Actually Do What the Holy Spirit Tells Us to Do and Refrain from Doing What He Forbids
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
– Matthew 7:21
In this passage Jesus acknowledges that there will be many who have read, understood and profess to believe the Word of the Spirit, but fall short because they do not do it. In that group fall those who know what they should be doing but for some reason or other put it off to some other time (e.g. I should be more involved; I should give up this sin; I should be more faithful; I should be growing, etc.).
True submission does not take place unless our will (which is reflected in our actions, not our intentions) is submitted/is in obedience to the will of the Spirit (which will ultimately produce the fruit of the Spirit in us).
So, to go back to our main point here, how do we go about submitting, walking in the Spirit? The first way is by submitting to His Word and we accomplish this by reading it, meditating on it, learning it and doing what it says.
These next two ways to submit to the holy Spirit are not easily explained or accomplished, however, we submit to the Spirit when…
2. We Submit to the Power of the Holy Spirit
When examining the Bible as a whole we see that each member of the Godhead (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are at the same time equal but distinct divine beings in one God. I believe that this difference is clearly seen by tracing out the role each plays in accomplishing the salvation of mankind. All are in concert but visible to us in separate ways. In very general terms we can describe the participation of each in the following way:
The Father is the Establisher
The world is established by His command. He establishes what is right, wrong, permitted or forbidden (Law). He established the method and the person who would bring salvation and the conditions upon which it would be received. He established the nation through whom it would come. He established the time for the beginning and the time for the end of the world. In the beginning, it was God the Father who willed the world into being and, in the end, Jesus will subject all things back into His hands (I Corinthians 15:28).
The Son is the Embodiment
The Father willed and the Son embodied that will in bringing forth the universe and mankind (John 1:10; Colossians 1:16). After men fell into sin the Father promised a redeemer and the redeemer was embodied in the person of Christ, the Son of God. The Son embodies the perfect will of God the Father, the perfect accomplishment of His Word, the perfection of His church at the end of time, and the perfect integration between His heavenly kingdom and the Godhead when all is fulfilled.
Paul says that, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Every perfect thing established by the Father has its perfect essential form in Christ. For example, we see the universe but the Son is the essence of God’s will in establishing it; we see the prophesies, the Law and the gospel but the Son is the essence of God’s will in speaking it; we see Jesus of Nazareth but the Son is the essence of God’s will in sending the Messiah; we see the church but the Son is the essence of God’s will in establishing an earthly kingdom; we see the promise of heaven after death but the Son is the essence of God’s will for the consummation of the ages in eternity. The Son is God’s link to the human dimension. We see Him in and through and over everything. God sees only the Son.
The Holy Spirit is the Enabler
When the world was established by the Father through the embodiment of His Word in the Son, it was the Holy Spirit who “moved” or hovered over the void, the emptiness (Genesis 1:2). The Holy Spirit translated God’s Word and command into the physical action that brought forth the creation, and it is He that sustains the universe. It is through the work of the Spirit that God’s Word is actually carried out. When we speak of the “Providence” of God, we are speaking of the Holy Spirit. Miracles are carried out by His power; prophets speak according to His leading; Mary became pregnant by His agency. In addition to these, Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that same Holy Spirit will also raise us from the dead as well (Romans 8:11). It is the Holy Spirit that bestows gifts on the church and comforts the saints when in need (I Corinthians 12:4).
In Romans 8:28 Paul says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” We have mangled this verse to mean that if we win the domino tournament, God was on our side working things out for our good. The “good” here is the salvation and preservation of our souls. God works in our lives with the purpose of bringing us to Christ and maintaining our faith, as well as the spreading of that faith.
For example, in Acts 16:7 Luke writes that Paul wanted to travel towards the east (Asia) and preach to the people located there but the Bible says that the Spirit of Christ prevented him. The Spirit of Christ is the Holy Spirit. How did he prevent Paul? Was there a swollen river or broken bridge? Did they run out of money, guides, or were they ill and not able to go? The Spirit wanted Paul to go west, not east, because this was in line with His plan for good. The Holy Spirit works events and forces in this world to pursue His goal of spreading the gospel, protecting the church and preparing for the return of Christ.
This means that we should be sensitive to the circumstances of our lives, for there are two powers working: one is the influence of Satan and the other is the power of the Holy Spirit. We can tell the difference between these two when we observe the direction, events, opportunities and circumstances in our lives that are moving us. If they lead us further into the world and further from Christ, they are not of Christ. If they open doors of opportunity for service, for growth, for knowledge, then know that the Holy Spirit is working in and around you for good. Submit to the working of the Holy Spirit in your life and the product of the Spirit will be seen in you.
Walking by the Spirit requires us to submit to the Word, submit to the power, and…
3. Submit to the Discipline of the Holy Spirit
4You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
6For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
7It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
– Hebrews 12:4-7
God disciplines us through the work of the Holy Spirit in engineering the following things for our good:
- It could be through various trials (James 1:2-4).
- It could be through the correction of the church in some way (Matthew 18; I Corinthians 5).
- It could be through a period of spiritual dryness we encounter (Matthew 4 – Jesus in the desert).
- It could be an overwhelming amount of discouragement in ministry (Act 23:11 – Paul was encouraged by the Lord as he stood trial before the Jews).
This is not to say that God creates bad things and then sends the Holy Spirit to insert them into our lives. God does not sin nor does He tempt anyone to sin or towards evil (James 1:13). Through the agency of the Holy Spirit, however, God does allow us to suffer trials and setbacks, discouragement and arrows of temptation in order to teach and strengthen us. The Holy Spirit is the One who sees us through these things, monitors our progress, and comforts our anxieties and doubts. He even brings our groaning and supplications to heaven before God in an acceptable manner of prayer (Romans 8:26-27).
Some people fight Him in this. They refuse to acknowledge Him, or accept the situation that they are in without searching for or gaining any spiritual insight. Some simply bear down and endure without any reference to God and in so doing affirm their disbelief and independence. They refuse to make the changes, or change the course that the situation requires. In doing so they reinforce the cycle to nowhere in their lives: no change, no repentance, no submission, no fruit.
And yet, when we do submit to the discipline of God administered by the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves more in line with the Spirit’s will and purpose for our lives and then begin producing the fruit that Paul talks about in Galatians 5.
Before we examine the nature of the “fruit” that comes from walking in the Spirit, we must first identify what walking in the Spirit consists of. If we know how to walk in the Spirit, then the product of that experience will come forth freely, because we cannot produce spiritual fruit through human wisdom or will.
We walk in or by the Spirit in three ways:
- Submit to the Word of the Spirit: Read, think, study, obey the Word.
- Submit to the Power of the Spirit: Allow the Spirit to guide our way.
- Submit to the Discipline of the Spirit: Subject ourselves to His correction and building up.
Most people are not fully aware of what a great thing is taking place in the waters of baptism. The Jews of Jesus’ day were familiar with baptism and its use as a purifying symbol so that the idea of baptism to remove sins was not a new concept for them. However, that each would personally receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, this was news, this was fantastic because this blessing had only been reserved for prophets and kings in the past.
It is the same today as it was then. Those who are baptized in the name of Christ receive forgiveness of sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Through the Spirit’s power in our Christian lives, we grow in the knowledge of God’s Word and His will. His will is that we walk in the Spirit and in doing so He promises that the Spirit will produce the kind of spiritual fruit that will bless our lives and guarantee our transport into the heavenly realm.