Your Amazing Faith, Part 5

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Your faith is your most precious possession. Far more precious than your family, your job, your pension plan, your faith was given to you by God through the working of the Holy Spirit and His Word:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

Your faith is what sets you apart from the rest of the population. It makes you special. It makes you a “new-and-improved” you; a supernatural person. Your faith isn’t in yourself or your abilities or your dreams and hopes, your faith is in Someone outside of yourself: God. Because of that, your faith is not effected by your circumstances.

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Some people think faith is a mysterious force that cannot be understood, controlled, or comprehended. That’s not true. Paul discovered the secret of faith:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

And your faith, that indispensable, precious, timely gift from God works in ways that may seem odd to you. The most awful, trying moments of your life are the very tools God uses to cause your faith grow and mature. The suffering you try so hard to avoid is the very thing makes you stronger, wiser, and more powerful in your faith.

These (trials that cause suffering) have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 | NIV84)

These things alone make your faith simply amazing. But there’s more. Speaking of power, there’s this in Galatians 5:22 –

Faith, or faithfulness, is not static. It’s meant to grow, and in fact as a faithful Christian full of God’s Holy Spirit, it can’t help but grow! Let’s consider this aspect of your amazing faith in the overall context of the Fruit of the Spirit.

It’s Flesh Vs. the Spirit

Paul’s teaching on the Fruit of the Spirit begins back at verse 16 –

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16 | NIV84)

There is always the lure of the flesh to distract Christians in their walk of faith. Paul admonishes the Galatians to walk by the Spirit because in doing so the distractions of the flesh would not catch their imaginations. The flesh is always at odds with the Spirit; they are always in direct opposition to each other and each other’s purpose.

Living by the Spirit doesn’t come naturally to anybody. Remember, faith isn’t native to human beings – it is deposited into your heart by the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the God’s Word. God does that for you. You can’t buy faith and you can’t qualify for faith. You can’t work to acquire faith. Your faith is God’s gift to you. However, that gift doesn’t make you do anything. It will sit there in your heart and atrophy unless you use it or put it to work. Paul uses the phrase “live by the Spirit” as a way to say that it is your responsibility to take that gift God gave and make it work in your life. Faith isn’t the kind of gift you put up on the shelf of your heart to look at, admire and talk about! You are to be led by the Spirit in your walk of faith.

And this living by the Spirit is a tricky thing because you must actually do it. It takes an act of the will – a determination – to live by the Spirit. God forces no one to live by the Spirit.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13 | NIV84)

Yet a lot of Christians are doing exactly what Paul cautions against! They use their spiritual freedom to justify their sins. And it’s so easy to do! We want to commit this sin or that, so we justify it by deluding ourselves into thinking that God will forgive us anyway or that particular sin that’s caught our eye isn’t really all that bad or I’ll do it just this one time. When we behave like that we are making a mockery of the freedom that salvation calls us to.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 | NIV84)

That’s exactly right; our salvation has set us free from the shackles of sin. But we are not set free to sin. And that’s Paul’s whole point. If we are to use our new freedom wisely and for the glory of God, we will learn to walk by the Spirit and make very effort to do.  Now, if we are set free, then, how to do we walk by the Spirit without falling back into a religious list of do’s and don’t’s? That was the Galatian’s big conundrum. They wanted to live right, but they weren’t walking by the Spirit to do it, they were walking back into the bondage of man-made religious rules. That’s why Paul wrote this:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? (Galatians 3:1-2 | NIV84)

The answer to the question, of course, was that they were saved hearing and believing the Gospel, not by keeping the law. But like so many of us, they were being distracted by something as worldly as the law, and that was keeping them from living by the Spirit. You see, worldliness can take many forms. It isn’t always dark and evil and sinister. Oftentimes, worldliness takes the form of religion – which is man’s made-up way of approaching God. Salvation has nothing to do with religion (which is all about man) but everything to do with God.

Your flesh, though, loves religion and despises freedom in Christ. It’s odd, but there it is. Man would rather be enslaved by a religion (a form of worldliness) than enjoy limitless freedom from religion by simply serving Christ in faith. It’s mind-boggling to be sure.

It’s all about the Spirit

Instead of living in fear of whether or not you’ve broken too many rules to get into heaven, Paul says it’s easier to just “live by the Spirit,” which is the verse that got us started:

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16 | NIV84)

Let’s take a closer look at that. In the NIV84, the phrase is “live by the Spirit,” but in the Greek it’s closer to the KJV’s “walk in the Spirit.” The Greek word is peripateo, which sort of means “live,” but in the sense of how one conducts oneself. It has to to do with your behavior. In order to live a Christ-like life, one must behave like the Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Christian’s inner man is to be controlled by or influenced by or motivated and empowered by the Holy Spirit, not his own spirit. That, as you might imagine, is exactly opposite to man’s preferred mode of living, which is to do whatever he pleases.

For 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, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17 | NIV84)

But how do rise above all that? That’s the question of the moment! How do you live by the Spirit when, in fact, you don’t want to? The answer is simplicity itself:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Galatians 5:18 | NIV84)

To be “led by the Spirit” is the solution to the problem of having to “live by the Spirit.” The term “led” emphasizes submission, as in, the believer will submit to the Holy Spirit’s wishes and disregard his own.

Works or Fruit?

So, in Paul’s mind, a believer can choose to live by his own spirit, which will always result in losing his God-given freedom and living in a worldly manner or he can choose to live by the Spirit, that is, in obedience to the Holy Spirit. But how can that believer tell if he’s getting it right? Let’s face it, living in obedience to Spirit can sometimes feel like living by a set of rules – don’t do this or do that. Fortunately for us, Paul shows us. If we are living by our own spirit, then this will be the result:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: 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. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 | NIV84)

Those are the “acts of the sinful nature,” or, more accurately, they are the “works of the flesh.” When you try to live right under your own power, using your own strength and wisdom, you will to varying degrees manifest all of the above “works of the flesh.”

But if you’re living by the Spirit, here’s what will characterize your life:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 | NIV84)

By the way, in choosing to use the term “fruit,” Paul isn’t just being a clever writer. A “work,” as in “works of the flesh,” is something a man has to do for himself and by himself. But a “fruit,” as in “fruit of the Spirit,” is something that is produced by a power which a man doesn’t possess. Man cannot make a fruit! You can plant seeds, but you can’t make them grow.

You can tell immediately that a believer is living according to the Holy Spirit because his life will be marked by positive, wonderful virtues that build people up rather than tear them down. And one of fruit of the Spirit is faith, or more accurately, faithfulness. The Greek word here is pistis, and it’s a bit ambiguous to define but almost always in the New Testament infers our complete and utter dependence on the work of Christ. But here, this fruit of “faithfulness” is lumped in with a bunch of moral and ethical virtues that speak to human relationships. So that’s probably how Paul meant it to be taken here. In that case, the Spiritual fruit of “faithfulness” has to do with such things as loyalty and trustworthiness. But not just loyalty to God and being trustworthy to God, but to other people. Part of being a faithful believer is being dependable to God and man. It has to do with being a “man of your word” that others can trust. Faithfulness represents the highest level of responsibility between husband and wife. As Charles Barclay wrote:

No church and no marriage can stand unless they are based on loyalty.

No wonder faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit! Once again, as this series on Your Amazing Faith is stressing, your amazing faith sets you apart from everybody else. It makes you better than you otherwise would be. When you look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit, doesn’t it describe the kind of person you want to hang around, hire, work for, or marry? Your amazing faith makes you an amazing person.

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