So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
In Leviticus 11, Moses has been instructing on the practices of consecration … separation from the world in order to be a distinct people for service to God. In the context, Moses is revealing dietary ordinances distinguishing between clean and unclean animals – what is acceptable for consumption and what has been deemed detestable. And for our purpose today, the issue is not what foods we can eat or avoid; rather, the issue is discerning between clean and unclean … between holiness and unrighteousness. Thus, we see warnings and admonitions as Moses proclaimed the Word of God and wrote: “43 Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. 44 I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. 45 I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (Cf. Leviticus 11:43-45)
Notice the phrases: “Do not ….” Do not defile yourselves. Do not make yourselves unclean. These speak to our own conduct … our own behaviors … the fulfillment of our own desires as opposed to what God has ordained and purposed for us. And this issue of holiness has been the challenge for humans since the beginning. In Genesis 6:5, we read: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” His displeasure with humans was so great that God caused a Great Flood of the earth to eliminate its wickedness – sparing faithful Noah, his family, and a remnant of the animals. Yet, what do we read afterwards as Noah built an altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices in worship? “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21) Interesting that despite the rainbow and the revealed mercy of God, the condition of the human heart still remains unchanged….
It is clear from Scripture (and personal experience) that humans have a sinful nature … a propensity and capacity (human will) to separate ourselves from God rather than drawing ourselves to God. Sin separates us from God. Sanctification draws us to God. So, if we intend to respond to this command from God; if we want to be holy (set apart) because our Creator and Father is holy, then we need a solution to the innate inclination to practice evil within our hearts. And this concern brings me to what Paul exhorts in our verse today: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” So let’s put the verse in its surrounding context:
Galatians 5:13-26 (NIV) – Life by the Spirit
13 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. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Cf. Leviticus 19:18) 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
From this passage, we can readily understand that the acts of the flesh stem from every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart. Such behaviors … such human conduct … define the sin which separates us from intimacy with God. And so, to walk in the Spirit … to live under His perpetual influence … it is necessary to be filled with His abiding presence. The Holy Spirit must indwell you in order for the process of holiness to be initiated in your heart. And this leads me to Jesus! Jesus sends the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell the one who believes in Him … and receives Him through the Spirit. This is the abiding, personal relationship that Jesus taught His disciples … and teaches us now in our generation:
John 15:1-12 (NIV)
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Powerful words … powerful affirmation! God in His mercy, to address sin within the human heart and to remove its deception and corruption of our souls, sent His Son, Jesus, to this earth to rescue us … to redeem us … to deliver us from the power of sin and its penalty: Death! (Cf. Romans 6:23) Christ paid the ultimate penalty of sin for us on the cross! Every drop of His precious blood was poured out for us. He was the Lamb of God slain to be the propitiation for our sin. (Cf. 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10) Why? Because God is Holy! And to be in relationship with Him, we must be holy according to His command. Jesus is the one who consecrates and sanctifies us before God. When we are in Christ, when we belong to Him, we receive His resurrection power. As the Apostle Peter wrote: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)
God is calling His people … His children to holiness! Yes, the Father is calling all who desire to intimately know Him … who want to become His children … to sanctification and holiness through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He has said, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Holiness begins when a person places his or her faith in Jesus Christ; and it is manifested through the fruit of the Spirit. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh….