Expository Sermon on Galatians 5
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 5/15/2021
©2021 by Maylan Schurch
To hear the entire worship service on YouTube, go to this link:
Please open your Bibles to Galatians chapter 5.
This morning we’re back to the sermon series I began a few weeks ago, called “Chapters to Cherish.” Every chapter in the Bible is inspired by God, of course, but there are some chapters which give us such encouragement that we quote from them, and some people print parts of them on plaques and mugs or t-shirts, or calligraph them in beautiful handwriting on posters.
And I think that Galatians 5 is one of these chapters.
If you’re even just a bit familiar with Galatians, you probably know that Paul wrote it because he was pretty stirred up—and he said so several times—about how some of the Christians there at Galatia were letting themselves get sucked back into legalism.
What Paul was telling them was that we are saved by grace, not by keeping the law. And as we look back on this little letter, still steaming with Paul’s indignation two thousand years later, it’s tempting to ask, “Why on earth would anyone who had become saved by grace ever want to go back to the rules and regulations which the rabbis insisted were important to stay right with God?”
Well, legalism can actually be a seductive temptation. And I think part of its fascination comes from how difficult it can be, day by day, to struggle against sin.
Let’s say that if you’re having a hard time with sin, and a group of people comes along and says, “Don’t worry. We’ve got it all figured out. Do this, do that, check these boxes, and you will stay right with God.” It’s tempting to buy into their ideas, especially when these legalists have a long tradition of doing this, and thousands and thousands of carefully-crafted rabbinic-style laws all ready for you.
But Paul, who himself had been immersed up to his earlobes in leegalism until Jesus introduced Himself–Paul is horrified. Paul sees what he once was, and didn’t wish that dreary, anxious, dead-end spirituality on anybody.
So in this little six-chapter letter Paul vigorously fights for the truth of the gospel.
And here in Chapter 5, Paul’s bottom line is that the Holy Spirit is the one who helps scrub away the sinfulness that has a grip on us. Neither Paul nor anybody else in the New Testament says that there will come a time when we are totally sinless, but I found a lot of encouragement in Galatians 5 as I was studying through it this week.
As I say, the Holy Spirit is the power we need.
One Friday a little over a month ago, once Shelley and I had finished a couple of sandwiches we’d picked up at a deli in Federal Way, we took a stroll. She pointed out something I’d missed seeing as we entered the shopping area earlier.
What we saw was that a couple of concrete slabs on a sidewalk had erupted from the earth and now stood at jagged angles. Projecting out of this rubble was a young tree trunk maybe nine or 10 inches in diameter. It had been planted close to the sidewalk, but now its trunk was tipped almost horizontal toward the street, and its roots were what had pushed up those sidewalk panels. Since the trunk had been blocking traffic, somebody had chain-sawed it off, leaving a three-foot stump.
At first it was hard to tell why this had happened. But then I remembered that the Federal Way area had experienced a wild wind-storm a week or so earlier. The gust must have hit this strong young tree and shoved it right over, and the sturdy roots had come up and lifted those heavy sidewalk slabs.
Now that is a strong wind. In John chapter 3, when Jesus was having his nighttime conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, the wind is what the Savior compared the Holy Spirit to. The wind is invisible, but you can see its powerful effects.
And here in Galatians 5, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to deal with the sin in our lives. And Paul does this using three words which have to do with walking. And I believe that each of those words, following one after another, gives us more and more encouragement about how powerfully the Spirit can help us.
So let’s look for that first “walk” word.
Galatians 5:16 [NKJV]: I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Now there is a wonderful promise, right there. If we walk in the Spirit, whatever that means, we will not “fulfill” (whatever that means) the lust of the flesh, whatever that means. So it sounds like it’s good to walk with the Spirit.
And sure enough, this is the first word translated “walk” in this passage. It’s the Greek word peripateo, and it literally means “walking around.” The peri part means “around,” like “perimeter,” and the pateo part means to walk.
Peripateo is often used in the Gospels to describe what Jesus did. In Matthew 4:18, we see Him “walking around” by the sea of Galilee—same word. In Mark 6, when Jesus walked toward His disciples on the water of Lake Galilee, He was peripateo-ing. In John 5:8, Jesus tells a sick man beside a pool to rise, take up his bed, and peripateo—walk around.
Again, that’s that same word we see here in Galatians 5:16, where Paul says “Walk in the Spirit.” Here comes Sermon Point One in case you’re taking notes:
What’s the first incredibly encouraging truth about the Holy Spirit? Here it is:
The Holy Spirit is willing to “walk around” with me.
Do you know someone who is enjoyable to take a walk with? Every morning just after breakfast I take a 15-or 20-minute walk for the sake of my health, and pretty much every morning I happen to be out at the same time as a couple of women. They wave cheerfully to me as I pass by on the other side of the street.
All through the deepest time of the pandemic they kept on walking, but they wore masks and walked at least 6 feet apart. Whenever I see them, they are in some kind of conversation, and seem to be enjoying themselves.
And I’m sure they must have made some kind of commitment to each other. One of them probably said, “You know, I need to walk more, but the only way I’ll do it is if I have somebody to walk with. How about it?” And for months, maybe years, they’ve been peripateo-ing, walking around. Literally. Our housing development has several large loops, and they circle around them all.
How does it make you feel, knowing that the Holy Spirit is willing to walk around with you? Is it a bit scary to think of that? A bit strange? A bit intimidating?
Well, Paul makes it very clear that having the Holy Spirit as a walking-around companion is not only very natural, but spiritually very safe for us. If we walk around in the Spirit, Paul says we will not fulfill those lusts of the flesh.
And here’s something really interesting. I think we sometimes miss this when we read this chapter – I know I have. Watch this:
Verses 17: For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
So this is a struggle, a battle. What is so surprising to me is that I have often thought of the Holy Spirit as only a gentle, kindly presence. According to Paul in Ephesians 4:30, the Holy Spirit can be “grieved.” That shows sensitivity.
But here in Galatians 5:17, we see that the Holy Spirit is a fighter. He does not shrink back in dismay when He confronts sin. He gets to work and starts tearing away at those lusts of the flesh. As long as we allow the Holy Spirit to “walk around” with us, He will be working with our hearts.
When I was a farm kid, we had lots of cats around. And once in a while two of our tomcats would develop a dislike for each other. They may have been born into the same litter, and raised together, but now all of a sudden they were enemies.
And one of the fun things I and my siblings would do, if we were bored, would be to go catch a couple of those feuding tomcats. I would get a firm grip on one of them, and my sister would get a grip on the other one, and we would gradually move toward each other, holding those tomcats out in front of us.
You had to be careful. Because the closer those two cats got to each other the louder they would yowl. (That was why we were doing this.) But if you got them too close, they would put out their claws and try to fight, and you might become collateral damage.
Those cats were definitely not friendly. And when I read about the Holy Spirit being passionately against the lusts of the flesh, and vice versa, I couldn’t help but think of those two warring tomcats.
But what’s happening in our hearts and minds when the Holy Spirit goes to battle with the lusts of the flesh is far more serious than a tomcat fight. And it is so wonderful to know that the Holy Spirit is so passionately opposed to anything that would do us spiritual harm.
After all, He was hard at work thousands of years ago among the pre-flood people. In Genesis 6:3 God sadly says, “My Spirit will not strive with them [the people] forever.” So even back then, the Spirit was doing battle with the evil in the human heart.
So what should I do, now that I have been reminded that the Holy Spirit really does want to “walk around” with me, all through my day, wherever I go?
I need to make the same resolute commitment to walk together with Him that our two neighborhood ladies have made to walk with each other.
I need to ask Him to join me, and to fight against those lusts of the flesh that are so tempting, so that I will do less and less of what I don’t want to do, and more and more of what I do want to do.
It might be a good idea right now to skip over verse 18 for a moment, and get a closer look at the works of the flesh, and remind ourselves of what they are. These are what the Holy Spirit vows to fight against.
Verses 19 – 21: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
So this is indeed serious, isn’t it? If I’ve allowed these “works of the flesh” to inhabit my life, and if I practice them, I will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But there’s good news in this. Let’s go back to that verse we skipped, verse 18.
Verse 18: But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Unfortunately, a number of Christians who have read this verse too hastily, believe that it means that we are totally free from obeying God’s law.
But it doesn’t mean that at all. We know this by just looking at that list of the “works of the flesh.” The first one mentioned is adultery, which is of course the seventh commandment. Idolatry is also mentioned, which takes covers commandments one and two. Envy is mentioned, which easily leads to coveting. Murder is mentioned, which is the sixth commandment. So Paul signals very clearly that the Ten Commandments are still very firmly in place.
So when Paul says that if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law,” it means that you are not under the law as a means to salvation. We are not saved by law keeping. The laws are there to remind us of how much we need a Savior, and the presence of the Holy Spirit to supernaturally scrub away those evil tendencies.
In fact, here in verse 18, we find a second kind of “walking.” Let’s read the verse again:
Verse 18: But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Do you see that word “led”? That’s the Greek word ago, and it means “to lead.” In Mark 11:2, Jesus tells His disciples to go into a village and bring Him a colt to ride on. That word “bring” is the word ago. In other words, the disciples were supposed to lead that colt back to Jesus.
Do you see what’s happening here? “Leading” goes a step beyond simply “walking around” with someone. The two women who walk together in our neighborhood are pretty much just “walking around.” No one seems to be leading the other.
But if you go on a tour to a museum, for example, or to some other place you’re interested in, you probably have a tour guide, who will lead you from place to place, ago you, and give you some interesting facts. It makes the experience much more fulfilling.
So according to what we’ve seen so far, the Holy Spirit is delighted to walk around with you, and hopes you will eventually allow Him to lead you where He knows you need to go.
In fact, let’s put down Sermon Point Two right now. What’s another encouraging truth we can learn from this cherishable chapter?
The Holy Spirit is willing to “walk around” with me. And the Holy Spirit is willing to lead me.
Didn’t you enjoy Chelsea Jurgensen’s Children’s Corner about horses? Notice how much she loves each of those horses, and how gently she treats them? Did you see her removing stones from their hooves? And when it came time to get on the horse and ride, did you notice how she carefully gave the horse a long warm-up walk before allowing it to go faster?
That’s kind of like the caring the Holy Spirit has for us – except that we are not horses. We are God’s beloved children, and the Holy Spirit loves us as much as God and Jesus love us.
And here is what the Holy Spirit will do for us – and I’ve seen this happen in many people, including myself. Remember that we’ve just read the list of “works of the flesh.” And now we’re going to read what the Holy Spirit can do for us – but these are not “works of the Spirit.” Instead, let’s look at what they are:
Verse 22: But the fruit of the Spirit . . .
Isn’t that interesting? These good qualities we’re about to read are naturally-growing fruit in hearts which the Holy Spirit walks around with, and leads. This is what naturally happens when He is in our lives.
And by the way, that word “fruit” in the Greek language is not plural. What we’re about to read are not “fruits” of the spirit, but “fruit” –singular – of the Spirit.
This is why we should never excuse our bad behavior by saying something like, “Well, I have the fruit of love, but I’m not very long-suffering or patient yet. I think I’m faithful, but I have problems with being kind. Gentleness is another fruit I don’t have yet.”
But Paul’s use of the word karpos, which is fruit (singular), doesn’t let us get by with excusing ourselves in this way. This is not a salad bar, where you can select what you’re comfortable with and ignore what you aren’t. This is all one fruit. Someone has compared the fruit of the Spirit to the sections of an orange.
So let’s go ahead and read through the qualities of this spiritual fruit.
Verses 22 – 23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . . .
Again, these are what happens when the Holy Spirit is allowed to walk around with us, and lead us.
But there’s still one more kind of walking which the Holy Spirit wants to introduce us to. Let’s start with verse 24.
Verse 24: And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
And this perfectly echoes what Paul has already said back in Galatians 2:20:
Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
This is why baptism is so important. By the way, next week we will have a baptism right over in the baptistery there, and we will also have a child dedication as well.
As Paul says in the first few verses of Romans chapter 6, when you are baptized, you are acting out the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Christ. You are saying to your friends and your family and anybody else who watches that you have decided to accept Jesus’ death and resurrection for your own. He died in your place, and you have decided to live for Him.
And that brings us to one more way of “walking” which this chapter talks about. As you’ll see, it’s a step beyond “walking around” with the Holy Spirit, and a step beyond being “led” by the Holy Spirit. Let me show you what I mean.
Galatians 5:25: If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
You might say, “Well, what’s different about that? I see the word ‘walk,’ but I’ve seen that word before.”
Actually, you haven’t. This is a new word for “walk.” We’ve already seen peripateo, which means “walking around.” We’ve already seen ago, which means letting someone “lead” you.
But in this verse, the word “walk” comes from the Greek word stoicheo. This is the kind of walking that a military squad would do – walking in step, walking in an orderly way. In fact, you are seeing this already if you’re using the New International Version or the English Standard Version. Instead of “walk,” both those versions say “keep in step.”
So let’s lay down Sermon Point Three.
The Holy Spirit is willing to “walk around” with me, and to “lead” me. And the Holy Spirit invites me to keep in step with Him.
Do you see how keeping in step with someone is even more important than having that person lead you? If you’re keeping in step with someone, that means that you and he, or you and she, are acting as a unit.
Back when I was a kid on the farm where my brother and sisters and I grew up, we would have some pretty heavy snowstorms in the winter. The snowplows would come along and clear the county highway which passed by our farm.
But if dad didn’t happen to have a working tractor with a scoop, he would sometimes park the car out by the highway once the snowplow had come through. So in order to get to the car to be taken to school, we would have to walk along the driveway through deep snow.
I was the oldest kid, and the tallest, so I was the one who would put on my rubber overshoes and make footprints for the rest of the kids to follow. Otherwise they would have to make their own path, and snow would get down inside their boots, and they’d have wet feet and probably catch a cold.
As I walked along ahead of them, I needed to remember that the other kids’ strides weren’t as long as mine, so I had to make mine shorter.
And as I was tromping along, I had to remember to look back every once in a while to see that the rest of the kids were keeping in step. Because wherever I went, that’s where they went. And I always created a straight set of steps so that they could follow me comfortably to the car.
And that’s what the Holy Spirit would like for each of us to do, fall in step with Him, stay close to Him, so that we can escape all those works of the flesh, and instead allow the pure, nourishing fruit of the Spirit to grow in our hearts.
How about you? Is that what you’d like too? Could you raise your hand with me and vote for that?