Let battle commence! No, I’m not talking about the contest to be the next Conservative party leader. I’m not referring to the tussle between Johnson, Gove, Raab and Hunt to be our next Tory Prime Minister.
The battle I want us to think about this morning is rather more long-term, and closer to home than that. Its the conflict described in our passage from Galatians 5 this morning – the battle against our sinful nature – the fight against temptation. It’s a battle that every Christian is called to fight. A battle we can win with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.
But before we begin, let me pray: Heavenly Father, on this Trinity Sunday, thank you that you sent your Son to save us and your Holy Spirit to sanctify us. Help us to understand and appreciate his work this morning, we pray. Amen.
Christians have…a battle to fight!
If you have been here over recent weeks, you will hopefully have understood the main message of Galatians, which is that we are saved by faith alone. Faith in Christ is all that is necessary to recieve God’s forgiveness and friendship. Our salvation is a free gift of grace, says Paul – its not something the Galatians or ourselves could ever earn.
That is the heart of the Gospel, the main message of Galatians. So far so good – but now what? As Christians await Heaven, how are we to live now? As Paul says in verse 13 today, Christ has set us “free” – but free to do what?
In particular, are we now free to behave as we wish?
James Bond famously has a license to kill, but do Christians have a license to sin? Are Christian believers at liberty to “indulge” our sinful nature?
Certainly not, says the Paul in verses 13 and 14 today. The better option – the correct alternative – is to “serve one another in love”. Christ has saved us so that we can “love our neighbour” and glorify God with our good deeds.
Jesus hasn’t saved us so we can indulge ourselves with sin. Rather, every Christian’s ambition should be to live in a way that honours our Saviour, expresses our gratitude to God and shows love to our neighbour. Every Christian is called to wage war on their sin – to battle against every temptation.
Thankfully this is not a battle we fight on our own. Because God has given every Christian his Spirit to help us oppose our sinful nature. Ever since the first Pentecost 2,000 years ago, God been giving every Christian his Spirit to help us be holy. As verse 16 says this morning, if we “live by the Spirit” we will not “gratify the desires of our sinful nature”. He will enable us to engage and defeat ‘the enemy within’.
Christians should…know their enemy!
One of the first rules of war is ‘know your enemy’. Before entering a battle, a good general will want to know who he’s up against – how many infantry do they have, what ammunition, armaments and air power does the enemy have at its disposal?
The principle of ‘knowing your enemy’ also applies to Christian life. Because in our Christian life, one powerful enemy we face is our “sinful nature” (sometimes called ‘the flesh’) and we need to know what its capable of.
Our sinful nature is that part of us that tempts us to sin:
• It’s that distorted, disordered part of ourselves that makes us go after things that aren’t good.
• Its that ‘fallen’ part of our psyche which makes us selfish and self-absorbed.
• Its that proud part of us that is instinctively rebellious against God.
To give a light-hearted example, our sinful nature is that part of us which sees a sign saying “Don’t walk on the grass” and thinks “Don’t tell me what to do – I will!” And any parent will know a sinful nature is something no child needs to be taught – I’m afraid it really does comes naturally to us all in this fallen world!
Most seriously, our sinful nature – if indulged – will damage our relationship with God and with other people. That’s why Paul warns the Galatians against “destroying each other” in verse 15 today. If its given free rein, our sinful nature will lead us into social strife, spiritual rebellion and selfish behaviour.
In verse 19 Paul actually lists the character traits of people whose sinful nature has completely run riot. These include: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”
Thankfully, most people’s behaviour doesn’t get quite that far. Even in non-Christians, their sinful nature is partially restrained by their conscience, and by things like peer pressure and the fear of punishment.
But Christians have a far greater weapon at our disposal to defeat selfishness and sin. We have the Holy Spirit in our lives. God’s Spirit is personally present within us, and he wants to give us his guidance and his power to fight against our sinful nature.
To use theological jargon – Jesus has already justified us, and the Holy Spirit now wants to sanctify us. You see, God’s Spirit wants to change our character for good. He wants to make Christians more like Christ. He wants us to give us victory in our daily battles against temptation.
Christians should…show the Spirit’s fruit!
Like most people, I don’t eat enough fruit. I rarely manage my 5-a-day, and normally prefer to munch on a biscuit or open a packet of crisps than eat an apple or peel an orange. But in my better moments I do reach for the fruit bowl – because I know they are sweet, tasty – and very good for me.
That’s certainly the case when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit – the very good character traits that he wants to produce in our lives. Paul gives us a list of them in verse 22 today. Listen again to that glorious list: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” It’s a list of qualities I hope we all long to possess. A list of qualities that our Lord Jesus had ‘to the max’.
And you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see that these qualities – these fruit of the Spirit – are directly opposed to the acts of the sinful nature. For example, love is the opposite of hatred, self-control is the opposite of sexual immorality, and so on. Paul certainly saw this clearly, that’s why he writes in verse 17 that “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other.”
If you are a Christian here this morning, there are two opposing forces at work in you. A conflict is raging within us. A sinful nature that wants us to self-destruct, but also God’s Spirit who wants to grow his fruit in you. Fruit that won’t grow mouldy, but will last for eternity.
Christians should…keep in step with the Spirit!
The cricket World Cup or the women’s football World Cup are both taking place at the moment. Its obvious to most of us, I assume, which side we should support – England! It would be rather odd if we wanted England’s opponents to win either competition.
And I hope its equally clear which side Christians should support in the conflict over our character. We want to live by the Spirit and resist our sinful nature. We want the Spirit to win and temptation to lose. Or as Paul puts it in verses 24 and 25 today, we want to “keep in step with the Spirit” and “crucify” our sinful nature.
But how do we do this in practice? What does it look like to crucify our sinful nature and walk with the Holy Spirit day-by-day? How can we co-operate with God’s efforts to make us more like Jesus?
I’m sure you know that crucifixion was a form of execution used by the Roman Empire. It was a type of execution reserved for the worst offenders. A type of execution with a 100% success rate. The Roman Empire crucified those people it was really determined to kill.
In a similar way, Christians should be determined to defeat our sinful nature. We should be clear in our minds that we want to fight temptation, and firmly resolved to avoid doing wrong wherever possible.
So in practice this may mean avoiding situations when we may well succumb to temptation:
• Are there certain times, places or people when we are especially likely to be led astray?
• Can we minimise those circumstances when we are more susceptible to bad language, lust, anger, greed or envy?
Think about those times when you are personally most likely to let your guard down, and try to avoid them.
Our determination to crucify our sinful nature may also mean being careful what watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, what websites we view – and even what topics we talk about with our friends. Our sinful nature loves to exploit any impure thoughts and images we put into our head. They are ammunition for the enemy.
So in the conflict for our character we should crucify our sinful nature, we should be determined to give it no ground. To continue the military metaphor, we should keep guard, stay alert, and remain constantly ready to resist temptation.
Above all we must pray for the Holy Spirit’s help:
• Ask him regularly in prayer for he power and courage to do what’s right.
• Ask him for the ability to resist temptation at those times when we feel we’re about to give in.
• Ask him to sharpen our conscience to see clearly what’s right and wrong.
So as I finish this morning, be encouraged by Paul’s words to us in Galatians 5 today. Yes, as Christians we are in a serious battle against selfishness and our sinful nature. A battle that may seem long and hard. But the power of the Holy Spirit is on our side. Ultimate victory is assured!
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