Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

The War Within

Galatians 5:13-18

The human mind is self-rationalizing. In other words, we will rationalize our thoughts and actions according to ourselves, rather than to some external source. Even when we read something or hear something and alter our behavior, it is because we choose to believe that thing we read or hear?we have rationalized it in our brains. We consider ourselves to be the best resource for determining truth.

This system works fine until we take one thing into consideration: our minds lie to us. In the ancient world, the mind and soul were thought of as the ?heart? of a person?the center of their being.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it KJV

It would be great if the mind was deceitful and good, but such is not the case. In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God?that rebellion did something in us. God called it ?death? and ?sin.? We could no longer see God and we could no longer think clearly. Our DNA was infused with evil passed down through the generations.

The only way out of this mess is for God to ?transform? our minds by dealing with our sin by paying for it on the cross then giving us new life by the Spirit of God coming into us to make a permanent abode in our hearts. Now, for the first time, we actually have a choice of how to think. And as we venture further into Chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul points out the choice?go back into legalism and you are thinking in a fleshly, ?this age? way. Think like the Spirit and you think like God thinks. We?ll be talking about this for a couple of weeks, but today let?s go through verses 13 through 18.


The main problem in the Galatian churches was the enticement by certain men to go back under the Mosaic Law as a way to ?complete? their Christian experience. This is legalism?using an external set of rules or principals to maintain or improve our position with God. Paul has just gotten finished telling the Judaizers to go all the way in their zeal for circumcision as a rite of becoming Jewish and castrate themselves. He?s already called that behavior ?a yoke of slavery? (5:1).

In Christ, he says, we have freedom from the law, and freedom from the flesh that is pleased by following the law. You see legalism is very flesh-centric. It makes us feel good to accomplish things, even being good. It?s interesting how Paul clarifies that this freedom from rule and regulation is not just an excuse to behave any way you want. The two greatest threats to a Christian are legalism and the flesh. Using our freedom as a way to indulge that still-present fleshly nature is not what is meant by this freedom. Before Christ you did just what the flesh told you to do, deceiving you all the way. Now, in Christ, you have the freedom to be good because of the Spirit transforming you.

Legalism serves the self. Freedom in Christ allows us to focus, as Jesus does, on one another in addition to ourselves. The Judaizers wanted the Galatians to serve them (4:17) and be enslaved to the Law. The Spirit wants us to be enslaved to Jesus and serve one another in love, not obligation or to earn something.

He then even uses the Law to make this point:


Paul made it clear that the Law cannot save anyone, but that doesn?t cast the Law aside. In fact, it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ and now in you through His Spirit. Jesus also summed up the Law in this way in Matthew 22:35-39 and Luke 10:25-28.

The activity of the Judaizers, and possibly others going the opposite direction into complete freedom to act as badly as the flesh wanted?formed a backdrop where this part of God?s character was not being fulfilled in the church at all.


Paul uses some pretty strong words here. ?Bite? means to strike like a snake?then devour, with the end result consuming or annihilating. The arguing and fighting that was going on between these factions was destroying individual lives and the church. Law and license will do that. Law pulls at our fleshly desire to make ourselves good and license pulls at us to fulfill our desires by any expedient means.

Here?s another thing. We think we can keep the flesh under control. But the truth that Paul brings up here is that the flesh will eat you alive and will destroy anyone that gets in the way of getting what you want. You might not think yourself capable of that, but given the right means, opportunity and motive?you would.

So what is Paul?s antidote? Verse 16


The main problem that we have is that no matter how much we want to be good, we cannot by our own efforts. But the Spirit in us can be good. We are now basically in the process of turning over our thought processes to the Holy Spirit. We then listen less to the voices from our old nature saying ?get fulfillment this way? and instead listen to God and obeying His voice.

The phrase ?walk by the Spirit? means literally ?by the Spirit keep walking.? The Holy Spirit comes into the believer?s life to save, comfort, encourage, speak through, and empower. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said the Spirit would empower us so that we would be witnesses. That?s what it is all about. Your life should be more and a reflection of the character of Jesus, which will serve to attract people to Him.

The Spirit actually gives you the ability to think and act like Jesus?when this process is at work in your life you will find yourself a) more satisfied than ever and b) not wanting to get satisfaction from the old nature. It\'s not like being a dry drunk, just avoiding the bad stuff?it?s more like you were never an alcoholic. That having been said?until we go home to be with Jesus the flesh will hang out and tempt and harass us. But the Spirit finally gives us a choice?which voice are we listening to?


This is an important factor for us to remember. Your old nature and new one are incompatible. The Bible tells us that before we came to Christ we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). Before Christ you were literally led around by the nose to do what the flesh desired, and it was not what God?s Spirit desires. By nature we are self-centered. By nature, God is other centered. Even doing good things in the flesh is oriented around the self?making us look or feel good. Being other centered doesn?t mean you never take a bath or engage in self-flagellation. But it means your source of fulfillment comes from God and in Him you naturally will find yourself gravitating toward seeing others fulfilled also by knowing God.

Many times, though, I see Christians thinking that giving into their old nature is obeying God?s Spirit in them. That?s because our minds are self-rationalizing and unless we put energy into ceding authority to our gray matter to God, then the old nature will reassert itself and our minds will justify it.

Paul talks about this as well in Romans 7:18-25:

For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19 For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 21 So I discover this principle: when I want to do good, evil is with me. 22 For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God\'s law. 23 But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.

There are ways to know whether it is the old nature or the new that you are following, and we?ll get to those next time, but Paul makes his final point for us in verse 18:


It?s not that Paul is suggesting a whole new legalized system?obey the laws of the Spirit like you obeyed the Mosaic Law. No, but being controlled by the Spirit means you have freedom from works, rules, regulations, and external principals?it does NOT mean you have freedom from God, but freedom to give yourself totally to God as a ?living sacrifice? (Romans 12:1)


It?s all about desire

Notice in verse 16 and 17 Paul uses the word twice. It is our desires that motivate us. We need to pray and actively seek the Lord to change our desires!

Taming the flesh

We think we can tame the flesh with legalism but in reality the flesh cannot really be tamed and certainly not the thought life. That?s a big difference between Christianity and other ?religions?. Buddhism, for instance, seems to do some good things for some people, at least on the outside. They even attempt to control the mind, which can be partially successful. But it is all up to human achievement. When asked recently, a Buddhist monk could not say there is room for God in the human soul. Buddha himself spoke these last words: ?Work hard to gain your own salvation.? Jesus? last words were: ?It is finished.? You cannot tame the flesh, you can only kill it and come back to life with the work Jesus did for us.

Legalism puts us into direct competition with God

Trying to live by the law means you can be like God?a contest you will lose every time.

The question we need to ask ourselves is how do you want to be fulfilled?

When we try to find fulfillment using the old nature we call it lust (1 John). Consider the Corinthians. This was a church of believers that was dominated by the flesh. They argued, cut each other down, were a bad witness, were out of control, and had class warfare.

When we try to find fulfillment God?s way we call it sanctification. So who do you want to dominate you?

So what does ?walk with the Spirit? look like?

It means enjoying a dynamic, transparent, responsive relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. It?s what you know already?letting His Word seep into your soul, expressing your love in worship, having an ongoing conversation with God, letting Him be the expert on your life?and letting him have access to your attitudes to change them, and direct you to serve others. And I like the phrase ?with the Spirit keep walking.? In this process we will blow it repeatedly. But it?s important to keep walking, keep confessing, keep being honest and transparent.

To sum up:

The flesh is very ?me? centered

Life in the Spirit is very ?other? centered.

So in listening to this you may wonder, if my mind deceives me, how will I know when I am acting in the flesh? Stay tuned for that next time!