Open up your Bibles to Galatians 5. The elders from the Journey Church in St. Louis greet you and are praying for us, as are leaders from Bethlehem and several other folks, that God would show up. Probably most of you go to a lot of conferences, and they’re worthless if God does not show up. So let’s expect him to do that. Galatians 5:16–6:2 states:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
That’s God’s word.
Leadership and Imitation
I’m assuming you are a leader. Why else would you be in Minneapolis in January? You’re here because you want to grow in your preaching, your teaching, and your leadership, and I was thinking about what the scariest thing about being a leader is. It’s probably not, for most of us, preaching, and it’s probably not counseling; it’s probably this reality that when you lead people actually follow you, that they actually look at you and say, “I’m going to imitate that guy.”
They think, “How he does his finances, that’s how I’m going to do my finances. How he does his marriage, that’s how I’m going to do my marriage. How he thinks about his sexuality, that’s how I’m going to think about my sexuality. How he parents, that’s how I’m going to parent.” It’s scary. It’s a heavy responsibility. When you become a leader of God’s church, and I’ll just contextualize for us, when you become a leader of men, you plug your life into an amplifier and everyone hears it. You pass copies of your life and your character out to the people to whom are following you.
In the early days of The Journey, I was known more and was passionate most about the things that I was against then the things that I was for. I think that’s kind of normal and that’s kind of what it means to grow as a Christian leader, maybe as a Christian. I was really trying to repent of this pride and this kind of rebellion that really plagues pastors in general and church planters in specific. And I was ruminating upon the reality that many of our interns and many of our young staff were arrogant men. They were passionate, but they were very immature. They were self-righteous. And I was trying to understand why. And one day I had this incredible revelation as I walked past a mirror and looked into it. We produce and reproduce what we are. And that is a scary thing.
For Freedom Christ Has Set You Free
Now that brings us to Braveheart because we are at a manhood conference and I’m contractually obligated to mention Braveheart because that’s what happens in every single conference on masculinity, right? The question when Mel Gibson is riding the horse and motivating the troops to face insurmountable odds is this, “What would you do for freedom? What would you give in exchange for freedom?” And the rhetorical answer is nothing. Why? Freedom is everything.
This is Paul’s burden in the book of Galatians. “It is for freedom,” he says in Galatians 5:1, “that Christ has set you free.” And his argument in our text is — and this is where we’re going as we think about how we build men — how can we allow God to build us and then how can we allow God, through us, to build other men? The burden in this text is this (and it’s a little bit formulaic): spiritual fruit equals spiritual freedom. And then spiritual freedom in our context equals biblical masculinity. And so, what Paul is doing is talking to us about freedom.
And this is a very relevant question. Back in the day, some of you gentlemen that are older, who are in your fifties, sixties, seventies, remember this. Though maybe you didn’t articulate it, maybe you never consciously asked yourself this question, this is the question that men asked in the past few generations: how can I be good? How can I be a good man? I want to be a good man.
Now, I’m not saying that a lot of men aren’t asking that question and that a lot of men who aren’t asking that question should be asking. I’m not in a debate about that. That’s not the question anymore though. The question that men are asking is, how can I be free? How can I be free? And there’s a couple of different philosophies that men tend to track on, maybe two polarities that they run to.
One says, “Obey your heart and you’ll be free.” The famous poem that you all know, which was made into a movie, is called Invictus by William Ernest Henley:
It matters not how strait the gate,
how charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Follow your heart to freedom. A lot of men are pursuing this path and it doesn’t take captain discernment to realize that’s not Christianity. But this one is a little more seductive, written by an elementary school teacher:
Each day I’ll do my best
and I won’t do any less.
My work will always please me
And I won’t accept a mess.
I’ll color very carefully;
my writing will be neat.
And I simply won’t be happy
Till all my papers are complete.
I’ll always do my homework;
I’ll try on every test
And I won’t forget my promise
To do my very best.
Now, that’s not bad in and of itself, but there’s a philosophy behind it that says freedom comes from obeying the rules. And many men that I talk to, especially men in and around the church, really believe that is what Christianity is. You follow the rules, and if you comply with these external rules, then you will be free. It doesn’t matter what your motive is, it doesn’t matter if you’re passionate about it; it’s simply that you follow the rules. And Paul, in this letter says, “No, no”.
Christ Plus Nothing
See the false teachers at Galatia were basically telling and deceiving the believers into thinking that it was Jesus plus the law — Jesus plus circumcision, specifically — and we know that Paul in Galatians 5:12, a very famous verse that gets a little uncomfortable to preach, says, “Hey, you guys that are so passionate about this circumcision thing, why don’t you keep cutting?” There’s a nice masculine verse for us all today.
Paul is very bothered because what these teachers were doing was keeping people both from knowing God and growing in God. And Paul believed that there was nothing more damaging, nothing more destructive, nothing more damning than misleading people who were trying to know God and grow in the relationship with God; that there was nothing more destructive than legalism. And legalism is when we try to please God and be pleasing to God solely by keeping the law of God — when we justify ourselves before God with our behavior, with our abilities, with our performances.
And see what legalism does is it undercuts two major doctrines of Christianity. First, it undercuts justification, the reality that we have been declared right because of Christ and given his righteousness; and second, it undercuts sanctification, the way that God changes us as we obey him in his power. And the order is absolutely imperative. And we’ve heard this before, but it’s so easy to get this twisted.
The order is this: we base our sanctification, our process of becoming like Christ, on our justification, the reality that we are in Christ and the standing that we have because of Christ. So we look from our acceptance in Christ to our obedience for Christ. And what legalism does is that reverses that order, doesn’t it? It says we base our justification, our standing with God, on our sanctification, our spiritual performance. So legalism messes with our justification because it says we are to focus on our behavior for our acceptability to God. And it messes with our sanctification because it says we ignore our identity in Christ as our main source for growing in Christ.
Obeying from Acceptance with God
This is what the false teachers were doing to these early Christians. And Paul emphatically says, “No, no. You don’t obey for your acceptance. You obey from your acceptance. You don’t work for your acceptance. You work from your acceptance.” The Galatian heretics were teaching God’s people to be in bondage. This is a false gospel. It is the opposite of freedom. And Paul says, “If you’re going to preach that way, go to hell (Galatians 1:8–9). You need to be accursed because you are distorting the gospel.” Legalism is the biggest enemy of Christianity because it keeps people from knowing and growing in God.
And Paul’s argument in this letter is that legalism will not make you acceptable to God. That legalism will not achieve salvation nor will it promote sanctification. And we know this because of the metaphors that he employs in this text. He says, “Walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), and, “Be led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18), and, “Keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). The whole point of these metaphors is this: freedom is not a work of the flesh, it is a fruit of the Spirit.
And what Paul is doing is showing us how people (and for us, how men) really do change. He is showing how men who have looked at pornography for years can change, how men who have been business partners with their wives instead of lovers and friends can change, how young men can keep their way pure, how businessmen can be honest. This is the key: spiritual fruit equals spiritual freedom equals biblical masculinity. And what he does is he uses a botanical metaphor — fruit. It doesn’t sound very masculine, but it’s the most masculine thing in the Bible — the idea that God wants to produce something through us.
A Battle Within
Now here’s the problem. This fruit grows in counter-intuitive ways. It doesn’t come to us and through us in ways that we always discern. In fact, what we see in this text is that fruit actually grows very painfully. In Galatians 5:17, as we read earlier, there is this whole idea that there is a civil war going on inside of us. Though we want to please God and we want to obey, we fall short. Can I get a witness? It happens all the time if we’re honest. There is a deep desire to please God, to serve God, to love Christ, but we fall short often.
One of those things that happens in your life that you never forget happened to me a few years ago actually with Dr. Piper. We were sitting around, several of us who were aspiring church planters. I guess we were actually planting churches, and we had him for a Q&A session. And if you remember back a few years ago, there was a terrible collapse here in the city. There was a bridge that collapsed. And I want to say right around this time Dr. Piper had a tragedy in his life and his family. And so we were asking him all these questions and one of the guys asked a question that I thought was very interesting. He said, “Dr. Piper, when do you doubt God? When do you have doubts? I mean, you’ve written all these books on God’s sovereignty and you’ve taught us to see that everything is from the Father’s hand. But when do you doubt his goodness and his sovereignty?”
And we all thought he was going to say the bridge, and we all thought he was going to say this tragedy in his family. Do you know what Dr. Piper said? He said, “I doubt God because of the painful slowness of my own sanctification. That’s when I doubt God.” And just like now you could have heard a pin drop because everyone identified with that.
Paul says in Romans 7:19–24, “I don’t understand my actions.” Some of you could say, “I hate it that I don’t change faster. I’m tired of it being so hard. Why can’t I change? I pray, I plead, I beg, I memorize Scripture. Why is it so hard?” And here’s what I want to say to you, welcome to Christianity. It is just what it is. It is a struggle. Here’s what I want to encourage you with though. This kind of struggle where you’re wanting to please God and you come up short but you never stop — there’s conviction, there’s desire, there’s repentance — that’s a sign that you’re a believer. Struggle this way is not a sign of God’s absence; it is a sign of the Spirit’s presence in your life. There’s tension in your desires because fruit grows painfully.
Now, we also see in the very first part of Galatians 5:22 that there’s an interdependence to how fruit grows. Fruit grows interdependently. Now we have a grammar syntax issue that maybe you caught. We have a singular noun, a singular verb, and a plural predicate. So let’s go back to seminary and try to figure out what that means. It doesn’t say the fruits of the Spirit are . . . What does it say, church? The fruit the spirit is!
Why does it say that? These are not separable, they’re inseparable. You don’t just have one little grape, right? You have a cluster. It’s the same with the fruit of the Spirit. They all grow together. They’re interdependent. They’re intrinsically connected. They’re completely interdependent. Now this is important because we’re wicked. And so we see lists like these and there’s nine of these and we go, “Yeah, five out of nine ain’t bad. Three out of nine? I’m in the major leagues, right? I’m hitting 333. I got that one. I need to work on that other one.”
Do you ever notice yourself doing that? And if you don’t do that, your lay people do that — the people you’re leading. You’re missing the point though. Paul is saying that when the Spirit is in charge, when you’re walking by the Spirit, when you’re led by the Spirit, when you’re keeping in step with the Spirit, all of the fruit of the Spirit comes through your life. Why? Because the Spirit is in charge. You act like Jesus, who is full of what? Love, joy, peace, etc. That’s what it means to be Spirit-filled. It doesn’t mean you have a certain worship style and it doesn’t mean that you’re in a certain denomination? It means the fruit of the Spirit is coming in and through your life.
And some of you are like, “Wait a minute, I know a ton of people who are five out of nine guys. I know a couple of guys that are seven out of nine guys.” Well, guess what? That’s human personality. That’s not Christian spirituality. That’s personality fruit, not necessarily spiritual fruit.
Let me explain. The word faithfulness in our text, do you see it in Galatians 5:22? That word comes from this idea of confidence, right? Boldness, assuredness, conviction. Those are people who speak their mind. They’re confident. You never have to guess what they’re thinking. They’re very bold. Some of you are like, “That means I’m spiritual.” Let’s wait just a second on that one. Because if your confidence, if your surety, if your boldness was spiritual fruit and not just personality fruit, it would also be accompanied by gentleness and kindness. There would be truth, but there would also be what? Love.
Likewise, some of you are very gentle. You’re very gentleman-like. You’re very sweet. You’re very patient. People tell you that all of the time. But if your gentleness, your sweetness, and your patience comes from spiritual fruit, from the Spirit and not just your personality, there will also be conviction. There will also be boldness. Your love will have what? Truth.
You do not measure your maturity by comparing it to someone else, which is what we tend to do. Us truth guys love to go to those sweet, patient guys, and say, “If they would just grow a backbone . . .” and the sweet, patient guys would go, “If those guys would just humble themselves and not have to have their mouth open all the time . . .” See, this is what we do. We compare with one another and then we justify ourselves accordingly. You don’t judge your maturity based on your personality. The way you measure your maturity is by comparing it to Jesus.
Tim Keller says it this way, “You’re only as mature actually as the weakest trait on this list.” That’s your maturity. This fruit grows interdependently. It grows together. There’s a connection.
Against Such Things There Is No Law
Now, the fruit also grows internally. Look at Galatians 5:23. It’s kind of an odd verse. We love preaching on the fruit of the Spirit, and most of the time we preach it as morality and we don’t really bring the gospel in. I’ve noticed, even in myself, it’s kind of easy to get lost as if these are just Greek virtues that we’re extolling. But then at the end of Galatians 5:23 it kind of jacks you up if you’re preaching the text because it says, “Against such things, there is no law.” What? What’s he talking about? Well, what he’s saying is you cannot law this stuff. You can’t legislate inner character. It can’t be done.
You can’t make laws with regard to joy and peace and kindness. You can’t do it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could in your business meeting or in your elder meeting? Some guy is out of line and you have this red phone that sits on the desk and it goes right to the joy police, and they come and pick that deacon up and that elder for not having it. It doesn’t work like that, right? Doesn’t work. You can’t law the fruit of the Spirit. You cannot legislate inner character.
Let’s go to jurisprudence for instance. What law can do is it can deal with the result of sin but not the source. So what law can do is it can discourage you from stealing. If you steal, you will go to jail. If you steal in certain countries in the Middle East, you will lose your dominant hand. They’ll cut it off. Laws can discourage murder. If you kill someone and it’s murder, you’ll go to jail possibly the rest of your life, or in some states you’ll get the electric chair or the gas chamber, the death penalty.
Laws can discourage rape. If you rape someone, you will go to prison and then they will find out that you’re a sex offender and then bad things will happen to you in prison, or in some countries you’ll be castrated. So what is that? That’s discouragement. But law cannot do anything with the root of anger, greed, and lust, which by the way, are the causes of murder, theft, and rape. Only the Spirit can do that. The law can change and tweak behavior, but it cannot change the heart. Only the Spirit can go there. The law can adjust and deal with the results of sin, but it cannot deal with the cause of our sin or the motive of our sin. This is what God does and this is what only God can do.
And so you can use some law, and some of you have seen this in your church. If you put some law on some people, they’ll change their behavior. They’ll do what’s called behavior modification, but only the Spirit can do character transformation.
Behavior Modification or Character Transformation?
This brings me to a picture of a superhero that I want to show you. I think we have it up. There he is. That’s my five-year-old boy. I have three girls and this guy, so it’s me and him against the world at our house, okay? Now this isn’t Halloween, I don’t want to get into that debate, but this is his pajamas. I’ll give you Dr. Piper’s personal email address if you have questions about Halloween. But I love this because the pajamas are too small, can you tell? He still wants to wear them. It’s just awesome. And this look on his face is kind of the look that he walks around with at times.
Here’s the deal. I know the cultural question is, how can we be free? I want this boy to be good though. I want a good boy. I wasn’t a good boy. I want a good boy. So how am I going to motivate Drew to be a good boy? What am I going to do?
I could say, well Drew, listen, if you are not a good boy, you’re going to get in trouble. You don’t want to be in trouble, you won’t get to go out at recess. You don’t want to get in trouble, right? Daddy will spank you. What am I motivating him with when I do that, guys? Fear.
Or I could say, “Son, you don’t want to be like those bad boys. Those boys are terrible. They’re always in trouble. Nobody likes them. They’re going to do bad in school. They’re going to work at Taco Bell. Son, you don’t want to work there.” What am I motivating him when I motivate him that way? What is that? It’s pride.
Or I could say, “Well, son, you need to be a good boy because it’s just the right thing to do. It’s just the right thing to do.” What’s that? It’s a moral obligation, which is the opposite of how Paul says we are to be motivated. Love and joy are the first two on the list.
How can you know if you are just experiencing behavior modification or if in fact your character is actually being transformed? You need to only answer this question: who is more impressed with you, those who know you the least or those who know you the most? See, the law can help you perform very well externally, and your acquaintances — the people who kind of know you but don’t really know you — will be really impressed. But only the Spirit can change you in such a way that it shows up around your closest friends, your family, the people who really know you. You cannot legislate character from the outside in. Only the Spirit works from the inside out.
The Works of the Flesh
What happens is that the fruit that God grows in our lives, it comes internally. It comes form the inside out. Fruit also grows gradually. In Galatians 5:19, Paul lists all these crazy sins that are in your church and in our hearts. What I think is interesting is that I picked out two that I have struggled with my entire life.
I was exposed to pornography when I was a very young boy. My uncles had a stash. I went to grandma’s house and then discovered these. At the time they were these wonderful magazines that now are burned in my brain. Now I have to fight them because I look at my beautiful wife, but I have these other images that I compare her to. And all this happened when I was eight years old. So I am still dealing with the consequences of sexual immorality. And then there is this interesting phrase in the ESV, “fits of anger” (Galatians 5:21). Now that used to be a big part of my life. It’s getting better, but I’ve had it my whole life, these works of the flesh.
Now here’s the thing with sexual immorality. Have you ever talked to a guy in your church that was on a business trip and he is like, “It just happened”? He says, “I just saw her at the bar in the hotel” — one of the most dangerous places for any businessman to be — “and it just happened”. Well, it doesn’t just happen. You don’t just bump into people and have sex. This isn’t Cinemax, right? This is not the way it happens. There are experiences that happened before.
For me and my fits of anger, my dad split when I was like 13, so it was just me and mom. And when I got larger than her physically, I just was so angry about so many things and I did not know how to express my anger. She wouldn’t give me my way and so literally two of the windshields in her car, I punched out. I put numerous holes in the sheet rock. Now that doesn’t just happen, right? There are many experiences and tons of seeds that are sown to get the place where you sleep with someone that’s not your wife, or when you freak out and destroy property. There is a thing that happens that’s gradual.
Discerning Your Own Spiritual Growth
Now let me flip it. It’s the same way with your growth spiritually. We just moved and so it’s real, but it’s not as real. When you live in a more urban area — and this isn’t just true of urban areas, this is suburban areas too — lots of times your yards are right next to each other. You guys have this. And there’s like this imaginary line that you kind of have to draw and sometimes you mow over on theirs and sometimes they mow over on yours, and you kind of keep count to make sure you’re even.
But a lot of times I didn’t know when I should mow my yard because if you’re not growing weeds, you’re actually growing grass. It looks nice and you think, “Should I mow it? Should I not?” Well, the only time you really know in a yard like that you need to mow your yard is when your neighbor mows their yard, because you kind of see it. You see the growth.
Maybe one of the best gifts you could get at this conference, men, is that you could actually discern the growth of character, the things the Spirit is doing in your life — that you could actually see that and celebrate that while you’re here. Some of you guys are so freaking hard on yourselves all of the time. You’re so negative, you’re so sin-focused. And should you be? Yes. Should you repent of your sin? Yes. But you better get on the other side of the gospel and celebrate your acceptance and accept your acceptance and be joy-filled at the work of God in your life, or you’re going to be spiritually in the fetal position.
You’re walking around with your head down while you’re a child of the King. Listen, God is growing you. It’s gradual, but it’s happening. I don’t even know who said it first, but it’s so good that I’ll claim it right now. You’re not what you ought to be, but you’re not what you used to be and you’re not what you will be. God is working. He’s working, he’s growing you. Some of you used to freak out and fly off the handle, but now you don’t. That’s God. God is working.
Maybe you think, “That conversation would’ve tanked me from that church member, but I was able to bear it,” or, “I used to come to these conferences and I was so insecure and worried about this stuff and now I’m just enjoying God.” That’s God growing you. It’s gradual, but he’s doing it. And I hope the question you’re asking as I talk about this is, “All right, yes, Darrin, I’m growing. How do I make that go faster? I mean, gradual is good, but how do I spike it? How do I accelerate it?” I’m glad you asked. Look at Galatians 5:24.
The Flesh Crucified
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
What this says is that we belong to Jesus. We get the benefits of Christ’s work. These verses teach us that we are as loved and as accepted to the Father as Jesus is. Did you hear what I said? You are as loved and as accepted before the Father as Jesus is. You are justified. You are treated as righteous as Christ and you have been crucified. Your sin has died with him. You are treated as holy as him. And when that becomes a reality, you crucify the flesh. It’s something that’s done at your conversion and it’s something you continue to do.
Now, notice what he didn’t say. He didn’t say stab the flesh, or shoot it, or hang it, or electrocute it. What’s the word, men? Crucify it. Crucifixion is a slow death, but it is a certain death. It is a certain death. And this is more, by the way, than just, “Oh, I’m going to educate my mind about not doing the wrong thing, or tweaking my emotions to feel bad when I do something wrong, or setting my will just to say no to the wrong things.” See, freedom doesn’t happen by just informing your thinking or working up your emotions or setting your will. That’s a part of it.
But what does he say to do? What does he say to do with your flesh? Not arrange it, not manage it, not make it behave a little better so that everybody in the church will think you’re okay. What does he say to do? Shout it out. What does he say to do your flesh? Kill it! Kill it! Now if you’re going to kill it, how many of you guys are hunters? God bless you.
I have a lot of hippies in my church. I can’t really talk about hunting. But here we could talk about hunting. Tell some stories at the break. I can’t wait. Now, when you hunt something, it’s helpful to know what you’re hunting. I’m just saying. It’s helpful to know what season you’re in so you don’t get arrested. It’s the same with the flesh. Pastor, do you have a working definition of what the flesh is?
The Law and the Flesh
Now we know just like the gospel has many nuggets, so also does the flesh. Romans 8 tells us that the flesh is that part of us that has yet to be submitted to God, okay? But Galatians gives us a picture of the flesh that’s a little different. Look at Galatians 5:16. Let’s drill down for a second. Paul says:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Now skip down to Galatians 5:18, which says:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
So walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. And if you’re led by the Spirit, you’re not under the law. Let me read the first parts of those verses. Now “walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), and “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18). Then he says, “You will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16), and “You’re not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). These verses are synonymous.
He’s equating desires of the flesh with being under the law. Now let me be very clear. To be under the law does not mean to obey the law. Doesn’t mean that we just chuck the Bible, thinking, “I’m free in grace. I just do what the Spirit tells me what to do.” No, that’s not what he means. There’s a third use of the law. It’s the conduct that nourishes our covenant relationship with God. We are blessed when we obey. That’s not what he’s talking about.
To be under the law. In Galatians, as I read and study it, is when you take your spiritual performance, your religious activity, and you hold it up to God and you say, apart from the cross or other than the cross, “Accept me because of this.” That’s the law. That’s your flesh. So your flesh is anything that you use other than Jesus to get God’s approval.
Boasting in Human Accomplishment
Here’s what your flesh will do. It will take your job and make it your central identity. It will take your relationships and it will make those people your primary significance. Your flesh will take sex and make it the only time that you feel alive. Your flesh will take working out and make it the only time that you feel strong. Your flesh will take your hobby and make it the only time that you really feel joyful and full of pleasure. It will take your ministry and it will make it your righteousness. That is your flesh. And so a really good question for you to ask right now before God is, “What is my flesh trying to get me to focus on other than Jesus for my meaning, my purpose, my significance, my righteousness? What thing is my flesh trying to put before me so that I’m looking to it for the hope that only Jesus can give? What is my flesh trying to get me to find my identity in other than Christ?”
Now, this is the work of the Spirit, friends, but one of God’s secondary means for our sanctification other than just his work in us through his Spirit and through his word is other people, and I’ll say other men. The key to killing your spiritual flesh, the key to the crucifixion of your spiritual flesh is not just the things Paul has talked about in chapter 5. It’s the things that Paul is going to talk about in chapter 6. The key to killing your spiritual flesh is through physical flesh. You have to have some bros around you. You got to have some guys that aren’t impressed with you.
You have to have real elders that tell you no. You have to have some guys who aren’t elders that know your junk. Galatians 6:1–2 says:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Now we know these are the kind of men we’re trying to be: men who are spiritual, who address sin. But let me spin it this way. These are the kind of men you need around your life. See, it starts with you leader, pastor, men’s group leader, home group leader. You’re replicating who you are. You’re plugging your life into an amplifier. So how are you going to get there if you don’t have men like this?
And if you say, “Men like what?” my answer is, men who are more worried about their sin first and your sin second. Isn’t that what he’s talking about? He says, “You need to watch yourself, lest you to be tempted.” Don’t go trying to correct other people if you’re not being corrected yourself. Matthew 7:3–5, right? Take the plank out of your eye before you try to deal with somebody else. You need guys around you who are really concerned about their own sin. They really hate their sin. The only thing they hate more than your sin is their sin.
A Band of Brothers
You need guys like that around you. You don’t need guys who are just trying to keep the pastor holy. Do you know what I’m saying? You need guys who are pursuing Christ to the degree that you look at them and you say, “I want to pursue Jesus like that. I want to repent like that. I want to take responsibility for my sin like that.”
Those are the guys you need around you if you’re going to walk this out. See, fruit grows communally. It’s an environment of brotherhood. And I’m not excluding the ladies, but you guys know we need some guys around us, a band of brothers. We need a bromance. We need it. We have to have it. We have to have guys who are pursuing Jesus, who are worried about their sin more than ours, but they are watching our lives.
So it’s not just like they’re just pursuing Jesus and thinking, “How dare I judge you?” and “Oh, well, it must be so hard to be a ministry leader or a pastor.” No, no, no. They’re making sure you’re not getting caught in a trap, which is what the word means in Galatians 6:1. It’s not just kind of a one time deal. No, you’re caught. You can’t get out. Those guys are watching out for that for you. And because they’re pursuing Jesus so much and because their integrity is what it is, you listen to them because they’re looking out for you.
These are men who are surgeons not butchers. Both surgeons and butchers use knives. You don’t want these guys to be butchers. You are beat up enough. You need men around you with surgical precision who are able to cut to heal in your life. These are men who are not just quick to grab the knife. They’re careful with it. They will set a fractured bone, which is the idea of the word “restore”. The bone is broken.
Have you guys ever broken any bones and had the doctor reset that bone? You don’t forget that experience. It hurts, but there’s a carefulness to it. So it’s not that they don’t say hard things. It’s not that they aren’t firm. It’s not that they don’t rebuke. It’s that their purpose is to heal, not just to correct. These are the guys you need.
Bearing One Another’s Burdens
You need guys with broad shoulders. They have to carry heavy burdens. You need these men around you. Some of you, it’s no wonder you’re so discouraged, you’re carrying all of your burdens by yourself and you think it’s spiritual. It is not. You’re the guy that bears everybody’s burdens. You’re the martyr. You’re the go-to guy.
You’re burning out and you’re disobedient. You must share those burdens with others. You must allow other people to bear your burdens. You’re not the savior. Did you hear what I just said? You’re not the savior. Maybe you think, “Well, I’m the leader.” Listen, one of the gifts you could get during this conference is to realize that God did not make you the savior of your ministry, of your church.
And you say, “Well, I don’t know if I can trust anybody.” Then pray that God sends you people. Confess that to the brothers here. Get people praying for you, and then get some people really looking at your situation because there probably are some guys in and around your ministry, but you just want to keep it.
That’s one of the things that’s going around the celebrity pastor thing, which I think there’s some deep problems with. I have since I have concerns for me, by the way, on that one. It’s a pretty heady thing to speak at Piper’s conference for a young guy. I’m worried about my soul. I don’t want to be distracted by that. There’s some serious concerns about celebrity pastors, but you know what? Some of the most prideful, some of the most into themselves pastors I know are pastors of small churches. Do you know why? Because they do everything.
They like it that way because then everyone calls them and they’re the go-to guy and they’re the guy when you’re in the hospital and they’re the guy that always has to teach the Bible study. And if there’s something big and bad going on in your life, they’re the only guy in the church you can talk to. That might be a reality for a while, man, but if that doesn’t change, you’re not equipping the saints. You need some guys with broad shoulders. You need some burdens that are carried by others. This is what it means to be a free man. I think this is Paul’s heart for us guys.
The Freedom of the Gospel
Obviously, the book of Galatians is not just written for men, but boy can it help us. He wants us to be free. He wants us to experience the gospel in profound practical ways. He wants it real in the prayer meeting, real around the dinner table, real when our kids rebel, real when we get cancer. Freedom of the gospel can soak into all those situations and blend into our lives. But it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to be gradual. And it’s not going to happen just because you learn some cool stuff at a conference that you apply to yourself. It’s going to happen over time with God’s people.
Beloved, you are going to grow by following Jesus with others. You are his. He is yours. You belong to Christ, crucify your flesh. And when you begin to understand what Paul is talking about here with joy, you will begin to gain ground and you will immobilize that part of you that’s trying to find significance, hope, meaning, and righteousness apart from Jesus. That is freedom, and that’s what God wants for us.