By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Eagle Point, OR. July 21, 1985)
I would like to introduce my subject for this evening by reading a couple of passages from Paul's writings.
You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from him who calls you.
Here we have a contrast being made between being under law and its opposite of functioning through the spirit by faith. Then, the religion of Christ is characterized by faith which works by love, and the whole thing is summarized by the phrase "obeying the truth".
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.
For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.
Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the Law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the assembly; concerning the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
Here you have the same contrast between following the Law and worshipping God in the spirit and not by means of the flesh.
LAW FAITH ↕ ↕ Fear Bondage FLESH SPIRIT Liberty Unity ↕ ↕ SHADOW TRUTH
You have practically the same thing in:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?
This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
I ) The Law had to do with the flesh. Faith has to do with the spirit.
In Hebrews 7:16, the writer calls it the Law of a carnal commandment - as opposed to the power of an endless life.
Paul says it worked through the flesh, i.e. it tried to effect righteousness in man through an external fleshly code and for that reason it was weak. But Christians walk in the spirit - a whole different mode of operation in serving God. We are indwelt by the Spirit of God and we are governed by the rule of the Spirit of life. That entails living by faith, and also the transformation which comes by a renewed mind in the truth, and the regeneration of a spiritual principle of life that makes us alive to God in Jesus Christ.
Now, we have looked at the idea in some of my lessons that we are not under law. Most everyone recognizes that we are not now under the Law of Moses - but what we need to see is that we are not under a legal system at all. The Law of God through Moses was God's legal system. If we are not under the Law of Moses religiously, then we are not under a legal system.
Now, if we are not under a legal system, then we are free to serve God in the spirit by faith.
But this is where a lot of our communication and understanding breaks down. If I am not under a code of law, then how am I to view the New Testament scriptures, when I can find a direct command for me to be a certain way or do a certain thing?
The Apostles themselves say that I am not under law - nevertheless they command me to do certain things. Now, with what mind or mode of action do I carry out the commands? In what way should I respond?
I could view the commands as law (many do) and by dint of my own will power and self-determination try to overrule the flesh and carry out the righteousness of God, carry out those commands - just knuckle under in disciplined obedience. That is how they lived under the Law, serving God in and through the flesh.
Or, I could view these commands as direction, as guideposts in the truth. That I, by faith, accept the righteousness that is mine in Christ, and from that base, live and walk in the truth of the Spirit - being obedient to the truth, walking in the spirit and therefore not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh.
Why don't we commit adultery or fornication?
If we say, "Because the Law of God forbids it", that is certainly true, and that is reason enough. But just because fornication is condemned by God's Law, that does not stop a person from wanting to, and because of that, it has not been enough of a reason to stop most of mankind from doing it. In fact, the prohibition has just made it all the more attractive and sensual to the flesh. (Rom.7)
If we approach the commands of the Apostle as a law that we must keep by our own will power - without thought of the life in the Spirit - it is going to cause all kinds of lusting in our flesh. We are going to hate the bondage that we are in and so hate God's word - and when we hate God's word, we are going to get into all sorts of sensuality and go down in defeat.
But if we say, because we love the truth, and know the truth about this person (that we are being tempted with) that this person holds the potential image of God and that this person is much more than something to just gratify carnal lusts, that we love and want this person to be saved - and to commit sensuality with this person would be to drag this person's soul down to the pit of carnal blindness, and put up a stumbling block that could take that person's spirit down to hell -- now that is light. We are beginning to walk in the spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love. If I am, by faith, walking in the light of the Spirit, then I will not want to practice sensuality with somebody. It will grieve me that someone with the dignity of being God's creation is led to that.
This is the Liberty that we have in the spirit (practically speaking). When I come to the point where, by my spiritual understanding, I do not want to practice a sin, then I am free from it. I am dead to it. By the power I have in the Spirit, I refuse it. I am free from it.
II ) The spirit is the Spirit of Truth
So there is even more to it. To walk according to the flesh, trying to please God by following law, is to deny the truth of the Spirit, the truth that we know.
This is the approach that Paul uses when he is writing to the Corinthians about fornication. He brings them back to the truth. "What? Do you not know?"
Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!
Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” he says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
We know the truth. We know we have been joined to the Lord and have a unity of spirit with him. We know that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and our bodies have become his inner sanctuary. We know we have a spirit of solidarity with Christ. We know, because of the Holy Spirit who dwells in our bodies as his temple and owns them by the price that was paid; that our bodies are dignified bodies, and we have a glorious life begun in us as a beachhead against eternity.
The person who lives and walks in the spirit is aware and realizes these facts, moment by moment, and because he walks in the spirit and lives what he believes, he will not in any way practice sensuality.
It takes faith, it takes the truth, it takes the Spirit, the Spirit of life. He does not need the command, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." He has God's law written already in his heart. That is why Paul can say in Gal.5:18, "If you are led of the Spirit, you are not under law." It is because he is in law to Christ. (1Cor.9:21)
III ) Who has believed our report?
But what happens when you have a body of the Lord's people somewhere who do not know about this life in the Spirit, who have been told that they are under law and that this law, with exception of a few points (like the Sabbath) is for the most part not very different from the Law in the Old Covenant, except that now instead of offering sacrifices for sin, they can be forgiven of their sins simply by confession to God. They are told that in order to be pleasing to God, they must be in complete obedience to this "Law".
- The obligation to overcome sin in their lives is vigorously laid down on them, but they are never told how to overcome or even why they should overcome it.
- They are never taught who they really are in Christ, or taught to believe what the New Covenant scriptures says about them as saints. They are not told that they have a powerful resurrected life in the spirit.
- They are not taught what the flesh is and the difference between that and the spirit is never explained to them.
- They are not encouraged to believe what the New Covenant scriptures say about the Holy Spirit's work in their life.
- They are not taught that God is near and works personally in their lives.
What results from this is that they never learn to walk in the spirit. The members' faith is not developed. They only approach their religion from the standpoint of the flesh, as a law to which they must adhere. The problem with that is that it is not serving God in the spirit but by means of the flesh.
Paul says in Rom.8 that the mind set on the flesh is enmity against God. It is not subject to the law of God, indeed cannot be. Following a law is a futile attempt at being sanctified by rote obedience to an external code, when sanctification of the Spirit must begin from within and have the fruit of self-control without. Practicing a religion like this, they will never overcome the lusts of the flesh. They will only become frustrated and bitter over the fruitless lives that it will produce.
If we practice a religion after the flesh - we might have a little success in controlling ourselves against outward overt sins, but deep down in us there will not be any life. We will eventually produce the works of the flesh. This is what Paul means in:
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
I say then: Walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
IV ) The Unity of the Spirit
The lusts of the flesh is not just sensuality, but also pride, arrogance and envy. In the flesh - only under law, a congregation cannot have any real unity or peace. The members are motivated by fear and kept in line by intimidation. And the only time people feel edified is when the preacher keeps them on a constant guilt trip. They will bite and devour and eventually consume each other.
If we walk in the spirit - we can have the unity of the Spirit.
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The unity of the Spirit is:
1. Through the truth of the Spirit.
Which is what? In Christ there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, Barbarian nor Scythian, rich nor poor, person of respect nor person of disrespect (as in James). But Christ is all and in all. It is only through the Spirit that you can have Christ living in all. When we have that understanding then we can have a true unity.
2. Through the indwelling of the Spirit.
For through him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in spirit.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all immersed into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been given one Spirit to drink.
I know that the context here is spiritual gifts, and I am not implying that we still have such gifts - but the principle of unity is still and all the same today.
- He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. (1Cor.6:17)
- We all have access to the Father by one Spirit.
- By one Spirit we all are baptized and drink into (or become partakers with) one Spirit.
When we all walk in the spirit and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit, (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc.) then that makes for a unity of love and peace greater than we have imagined. Being one in the Lord.
You can see the fruit of the Spirit producing peace in:
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
We cannot serve God according to a law in the flesh and be pleasing to him. We must have a living relationship with him in the spirit.
~ Invitation ~