What is the deepest power that rules your life? Where is the seat of your motivation? What drives your loves and desires? It’s questions like these that undergird the letter of Galatians. In one of his most personal and passionate letters, the Apostle Paul has been defending the simplicity and efficacy of the gospel. The Galatian church had been infiltrated by a group of teachers who emphasized the necessity of submitting to the Jewish rite of circumcision (and thus rule-keeping) as the gateway to salvation. Their argument was that “Jesus + something else = salvation.” Paul’s response has been clear: the “leaven” of merit will erode your understanding of grace and will make Christ’s life, death, and resurrection of “no advantage” to you. If the Galatians submitted themselves to this perspective, their identity as free people, justified and adopted in Christ, would be compromised. Now identity would be up to them and up for grabs. The solidity of their identity, one received and not achieved, would give way to the necessity of earning and establishing a sense of self.
Paul uses Galatians 5:16-26 to differentiate between what he calls “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit.” He’s emphasizing two different ways of life, one represented by the “work” of earning a sense of self, the other represented by the “fruit” of receiving an identity in the gospel. The two lists couldn’t be more different. And, of course, this is Paul’s point! In verses 19-21 he’s showing us what happens when we build a sense of self apart from Christ, when we establish an identity on the old way of life before grace broke in and made us part of the family of God. In verses 22-23, Paul shows us the results or “fruit” of a profoundly transformed gospel identity. This, then, raises the all important question of how? How do we live out of our identity in Christ? How do we “crucify the flesh,” the old heart and the old way of life, and enter into the newness offered in the gospel? How do we change?
Paul’s answer is right in line with his understanding of grace: We’re to “walk by the Spirit.” When the gospel “comes home” in the life of a believer and begins the work of renewal, the amazing result will be the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Instead of external signs, symbols, and rites, the fruit of the Spirit is the key indicator that we belong to God. This fruit isn’t something we do for God. It’s something He does in us. Yes, we partner with Him in that work. We have to “walk by the Spirit,” keeping in step with Him. And yet through the Spirit of God at work in us, we are becoming, slowly but surely, who we already are in Christ!
Reflection: Take personal inventory of your life, heart, and spiritual journey. Use these prompts as a way to prepare for group discussions, or for personal times of prayer.
- How have you approached the notion of personal change or transformation in your life?
- In your view, is change a solo project, a communal project, a combination of the two, or something different altogether? Why?
- What about the sermon stood out or impacted you the most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
- When you build an identity on yourself, your happiness, and your personal freedoms, the result is a society that reflects the values of verses 19-21. However, when you build an identity on the gospel and allow Jesus alone to be your Savior and source of ultimate meaning, the result is a society that reflects the fruit of the Spirit. Discuss the implications for your families, communities, and even places of work.
- Look closely at verse 24. Paul writes that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” This is an important concept within Christian identity and belief. Yes, the Holy Spirit is the primary change agent in our lives. But we work together, walking in step, to honor the Lord with our lives and choices. Our belonging to Jesus motivates godly living. Discuss.
- Re-read verses 16 and 25. There you’ll notice the Apostle Paul’s emphasis on “walking in step with the Spirit.” What does it mean to “keep in step with the Spirit?” Discuss the impossibility of putting on a new identity in Christ apart from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. What role does your community play in this concept of keeping in step with Him?
This week, pay close attention to your natural gait – the ways in which you walk, think, talk, and act. What is the drum you’re marching to? What beat are you following? Who or what guides the path you walk? Why is this the case? As we strive to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, noticing the how’s and why’s of our spiritual gait is important. Slow down. Pay attention to what’s driving you. Notice the ways in which you’re following your own drum beat. Then through prayer, scripture, and community, work to align your steps with those of Jesus.
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