Here is a reminder of last Sunday’s message. The terrible mistake of the Galatians was that they were trying to advance in the Christian life “by the flesh.” They had been bewitched into thinking that they could begin by relying on the Spirit but then could be completed only by tapping the resources of their own will and effort. But Paul said it can’t be done. “If you live according to the flesh you will die” (Romans 8:13). You must be completed in just the same way you began: by faith not works, through God’s Spirit not your flesh (Galatians 5:5). “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
So the big question is, how? Practically speaking, how do I obey God so that it is “not I but Christ in me” (Galatians 2:20)? How do I work in such a way that my effort is not a “work of the flesh” but a “fruit of the Spirit”? How do I serve Christ in such a way that what really happens is that he is working for me rather than me for him? “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). And the honor and glory of God is this: that “he works for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).
I asked Dana on the way home from church last Sunday, “Do you think many church people bother themselves with those kinds of questions? Are Christians concerned about whether they try to obey God by the flesh instead of by the Spirit?” He said, “The danger is pretty subtle. You hit close to home when you said the Galatians Heresy is, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”
I hope after last Sunday we will all be very concerned with how we try to obey God. Remember the mark of the Christian is not how far you’ve come in sanctification, but on whom are you relying for sanctification? The Spirit? Or your self (= flesh)?
I know I have much to learn in this area. But this acronym is where I am right now. Here is how I try to live so that I will be able to say: Not I, but Christ. When presented with a new day or with a moral choice…
A – I acknowledge that without Christ I can do nothing (John 15:5; Romans 7:18).
P – I pray that God would make me love as Jesus loves, and work in me all that is pleasing to him (1 Thessalonians 2:12; Romans 5:21; Hebrews 13:21).
T – I trust the promise of God’s help and strength and guidance (Isaiah 41:10; James 1:5, 6).
A – I act in obedience to God’s word. Doug Heil asked me last Sunday if Philippians 2:12 fit my acronym: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? I said yes, because look at the ground clause which follows: “for it is God who works in you to will and to do his good pleasure.” Yes! Yes! We act. We obey! But what keeps this action from being a “work of law” is that we have acknowledged our helplessness, prayed for enablement, and trusted that precisely in and under our working and willing it is God who does the work! Therefore our act is a fruit of the Spirit not a work of the flesh.
T – I thank God for whatever good comes. I give him the glory (1 Peter 4:11).
One last thing I would have loved to emphasize Sunday if I had had time: the phrase “hearing of faith” in Galatians 3:5 implies that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So we must give ourselves to hearing if faith is to happen day by day in our hearts. Meditate on the word day and night and you will become like a tree planted by streams of water. You will bear the fruit of the Spirit.