There is a close link between the Word of God and the Spirit of God doctrinally, and in terms of Christian living and ministry.
Indeed, God’s Spirit is the One who uses His Word in our lives and through our lives. So, life in the Spirit is really a description of the Christian life itself.
Our key text for our thoughts today is Galatians 5:13-6:5. I am following and adapting my father’s material found in a chapter in our textbook, Anointed Expository Preaching.
This truth might sound strange because we think of freedom as a gift, and indeed it is! But, we are to live according to the gifting of the Spirit and the freedom that is ours in Christ. What do we mean by “freedom” in this context? We are called to freedom from “religious legalities” (Galatians 5:1). It would take a long time to explain fully the wonderful freedom that has been bought and secured by the gracious and merciful cross-work of Christ Jesus our Lord. We are not under the condemnation of the Law due to Christ’s death on our behalf. Therefore, we are not to fall back under a legalistic mindset or a life of legalistic practices to earn more favor with God and escape condemnation.
Life is now characterized by freedom from condemnation, and the fruit of the Spirit’s inner work in our lives. Yes, there is to be Spirit-enabled love and obedience that flow out of the new life that is ours in Christ. The Christian must not live a life dictated by legalistic practices, nor should we promote such a life for others. Such a life denies the centrality and sufficiency of the cross and resurrection of Christ, and it de-emphasizes gift of the Spirit to all who are truly in Christ.
There is a balancing truth concerning this freedom and it is a freedom from “rebellious carnalities.” The Apostle Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Although the Christian is a sinner saved by grace, the preacher should demonstrate a life free from the domination of the flesh, and its many manifestations. Freedom in the Spirit is a freedom to love, to serve, to grow in Christ. This involves a freedom from sins rather than a freedom to sin.
The Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit, and he enables the Christian to pursue holiness, righteousness and peace. My father used to say something like this, “freedom is not the ability to do what you want, it is the power to do what you ought.” This power is what the Holy Spirit provides. Sexual sins, spiritual sins, and social sins are to be avoided, and the Spirit of God can enable the Christian to grow in obedience and holiness and avoid a life dominated by the sin nature and sins.
This is clearly stated by the Apostle Paul as he lists the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Galatians is certainly not the only place that such teaching is found, but here the Apostle provides the fullest description. Such fruit has to do with our attitude and actions towards God Himself, others around us, and even our own personal lives. Such fruit is ultimately the result of God’s life and work within the Christian, and is the right expression of freedom in the Spirit. If the Christian does not display the fruit of the Spirit on a regular basis, this is a contradiction of any claim of Christian maturity.
What the Lord wants to do is to produce such fruit in our lives. Although this is His work, we must submit to His work in our lives. This will call for a commitment to obey the Word of God, and to use the “means of grace” available to grow in Christ. The Lord uses prayer, fellowship, circumstances, suffering, and of course the ministry of the Word to impact our growth. The fruit of the Spirit is not a matter of improvement of self. The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence of new life and a crucified self.
As you enter chapter six of Galatians a few aspects of personal ministry are mentioned that should flow out of a Spirit-led and spiritually mature life. These “ministries” are for those whose lives are dominated by the Spirit of God and therefore have spiritual priorities. Even though these ministries have a special place in the Galatian Epistle, they can be ‘principlized’ as aspects of ministry that call for spiritual sensitivity and maturity.
First of all, we are to restore the fallen. This needs to happen on the personal level through mature Christians. It also can take place with the help of the Spirit-anointed preaching of the Word of God. The mature Christian will seek to be a restorer of others, while being careful to do this ministry lovingly and gently, and aware of the personal potential to fall into sin. The Holy Spirit enables us to be restorers rather than judges.
We, also, need to release the fettered. Here we are speaking about carrying others’ burdens. The Lord Jesus criticized the Pharisees for burdening others and not helping them carry their burdens. The Apostle Paul states the importance of this burden-carrying ministry by describing it as ‘fulfilling the law of Christ.’ Being so concerned to crush legalism, it is truly significant that the Apostle would use this word, ‘law.’ The preacher is to release people to live in Christ and serve Christ. Burdens are to be lifted, especially the burdens related to legalistic frustration and defeat.
There is another ministry to consider and it is to “rebuke the foolish” (Galatians 6:3-5). It takes a spiritual person to have the right kind of authority to rebuke and correct various errors of belief and behavior in the lives of others. This foolishness may have to do with the way someone views himself or herself. It may have to do with how someone views their own responsibilities and service. This foolishness may have to do with someone’s view of their accountability before their Lord, or lack thereof.
Of course, there are other areas of belief and behavior that need to be addressed, but the emphasis here is on the fact that this is part of life in the Spirit. The spiritual Christian, leader, and preacher are to be concerned for the spiritual welfare of others. When you think of these three categories (the fallen, the fettered, the foolish), these are three categories of people and problems that anyone in ministry will probably face.
Life in the Spirit is the Christian life. This teaching in Galatians 5-6 is certainly not limited to preachers or leaders. That is why we have applied it to all Christians, those who name the name of Jesus. It may be helpful to conclude by reminding us of the crisis that the Apostle Paul is addressing.
Due to the teaching of some in Galatia, that believers in Jesus needed to be circumcised and therefore come under the Law to be true children of God, there was confusion, tension, and spiritual crisis. The Apostle was burdened for these believers. He did not want them to substitute some other form of religion for new life in Christ through the cross and the gift of the Spirit. The main concern was that these believers not lose their focus and faith in the sufficiency of Christ and the gospel. This also meant that the Galatians would recognize that as they received the Spirit of God in Christ, they now needed to walk in the Spirit and live by the Spirit.
The controversy in Galatia had to be addressed and that is what the Apostle is doing passionately. Collateral damage in this kind of spiritual crisis and controversy is that true spiritual life is hindered and true spiritual ministry does not take place. But, when true freedom in the Spirit is experienced, the fruit of the Spirit will be demonstrated, and spiritual focus can return to ministry. The issue will not be trying to win people to a partisan position (including a false one), rather concern will be to minister to those who have fallen (to restore them), or are fettered (to release them) or to spiritually rebuke those who have lost focus concerning practical aspects of the Christian life.