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Lesson 12: Living by the Spirit *

Introduction: No mature Christian believes that faith is the end of the answer to "how should we live?" Thinking and acting are connected. No serious Christian claims that walking with God is easy. Most Christians I know say essentially, "I'm saved by grace alone. Because of my love for God, I make the decision to walk with Him and do His will." If I inquired further they would add, "And, if a person does not walk with God, that shows that they do not have faith." Certainly, those "Christians" who use faith as an excuse for evil living do not understand the gospel. But, lately, I've been giving some further thought to this issue about how a Christian saved by grace should approach daily life. Let's dive into our Bible and see what Paul teaches us about daily living!

  1. The Conflict

    1. We need context, so let's first read quickly Galatians 5:16-21. What does this tell us about grace and right living? (If you live a selfish, evil, impure life you will not go to heaven.)

      1. This is Paul writing! What does this do to our thinking about grace? (It means that the end of grace cannot be evil behavior.)

      2. Two weeks ago, we learned that Sarah's "engineering" to accomplish God's goal (that Abraham would have descendants) ended up in disaster. Is there nothing that we can (or should) do to engage in right living? Would that be a "Sarah scheme," a "righteousness by works" error?

    2. Let's look at these verses in some more detail. Read Galatians 5:16. What does it mean to "live by the Spirit?" (Live according to the leading of the Holy Spirit.)

    3. Read Galatians 5:17. Does this living by the Spirit stuff work?

      1. If you say, "Yes," how do you explain Paul's statement that "you do not do what you want?" (It could mean that you want to do good, but you do evil instead. It could also mean that you have an natural desire to do evil, but because of the Holy Spirit you do good instead. This second meaning is in accord with what we just read in verse 16.)

        1. Read Romans 7:21-25.Is Paul just talking about bad people? Or, is he talking about you and me? (Paul is talking about himself. He is speaking about the "good" Christians. We all have a sinful nature. We all feel the draw to live by it. We find we are doing the evil that we do not want to do.)

    4. Read Galatians 5:18. What does this mean - I don't have to worry about what the law says? (It cannot mean that, for we just read that evildoers are not going to heaven. The only reasonable conclusion I can reach is that we have two choices. We can be lead by the Holy Spirit or we can be lead by our sinful nature.)

      1. Does this suggest that the law is somehow associated with our sinful nature? (Read Romans 7:8-10. Paul says that the law triggers sinful behavior. This is very odd, so we need to explore this further.)

  2. Living by the Law

    1. I don't know how to have a concrete discussion about this without talking about a specific sin. So, let's talk about a specific story about a specific sin. Read 2 Samuel 11:1-4. I've taught this story many times, I've preached about it. If you were David, and you wanted to avoid this sin, what practical steps would you take? (What I've always said in the past is that David was taking a series of steps towards sin. Some of the steps might not be a sin in themselves, but still led him in the direction of sin.)

      1. What would these wrong steps be? (a. Not going out with his troops; b. Looking too long at Bathsheba; c. Being fascinated with her; d. Sending for her even though he knew she was married; and finally reaching the sin destination, e. Committing adultery.)

      2. If you (I mean you, personally) wanted to avoid adultery, would you avoid taking these steps? (Yes. This makes logical sense. But, I think that I have been teaching the wrong approach. The focus of the steps is the law. The focus of the steps is adultery and how not to get too close to it. Focusing on the sin and the law is the "righteousness by works" approach. I'm looking at my sinful nature and figuring out how to defeat it. Like Sarah, I'm the engineer of what to do to accomplish God's goal.)

      3. What is Paul's practical warning about righteousness by works? (It does not work. In Romans 7:5 Paul says that the law arouses our sinful passions. Galatians 5:3 suggests that it is impossible to keep the law. In Galatians 5:4 Paul explains that the works approach fails because it ejects God from the battle.)

      4. Is there anything that we can do to promote behaving ourselves? Let's explore that next.

  3. Living by the Spirit

    1. Read Galatians 5:22-23. How is living by the Holy Spirit different than living by the law? (You are focused on the positive, you are not focused on the negative. You are not measuring your steps towards sin, you are measuring your steps towards righteousness.)

      1. Let's get back to our concrete example with David. If you decided to stop teaching future Davids to watch their steps, to stop focusing on the moral "red lights," then what would you be teaching them? (What if we said instead, "Focus on your wife. Bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into the life of your wife. Don't focus on the 'red lights.'")

    2. Let's revisit something we discussed last week. Read Galatians 5:13-14. This is the goal of the Spirit led life. What should David have been asking himself, instead of asking "What steps towards sin (Bathsheba) should I avoid?" (What can I do to please my wife? What can I do to please my God? What can I do to serve my wife? Is this activity pleasing to my God and my wife?)

      1. Does this help you to understand what Paul means when he writes "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law?" (The Spirit asks, "What can I do to love God and my spouse?" The law says, "What should I do to avoid adultery?" The goal is the same - to be faithful to your spouse. Just as Sarah and God had the same goal - descendants for Abraham. It is the process, the means to the goal, that separates those who believe in righteousness by faith and those who believe in righteousness by works.)

      2. When Galatians 5:13 calls us to "serve" others, and Galatians 5:22 tells us that the first fruit of living a Spirit-led life is "love," what does this tell us about self-focus, selfishness, "navel-gazing?" (These things are wrong.)

        1. Is there a lesson in this for us on how we should approach walking with God? (Friend, I hope that you can see that focusing on the law, focusing on the "red lights" is a focus on self. How am I doing? Focusing on loving God and our spouse and others asks, "How are they doing? Am I pleasing them?)

    3. Read Galatians 5:24. What should be our approach to our sinful nature? (We want it to die! Can you see again how wrong it is to focus on our sinful nature and measure its steps towards sin?)

    4. Read Galatians 5:25. If you wanted to keep in step with another human, what would you do? (Focus on how that person walked.)

      1. What does it mean to keep "in step" with the Spirit?" (Focus on our God and what pleases Him.)

      2. Let's revisit Galatians 3:24-25. Is the law still important? (Yes. As "immature" Christians the law teaches us that we need a Savior. But, once we get that message, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. We are no longer looking at our self, measuring our self against the law. Instead, we are looking at God, being lead by God's Holy Spirit to please God. What pours forth from our life then is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.)

        1. If you find that you are not patient, should you work on that? (No! You don't focus on the sin. Don't focus on works, and generally act like Sarah. By the power of God's Spirit, you would focus instead on loving the person with whom you are impatient. That is the grace approach. That is the righteousness by faith approach.)

    5. Read Galatians 5:26. Why would we become conceited about right living? (If the focus is on how we are defeating sin, and we are not too alert, this might happen. If our focus is on loving God and those around us, this can never happen.)

    6. Friend, I hope that you can see by now that righteousness by faith not only saves us by God's grace, but it informs us about how we should live every day. Will you decide right now to stop focusing on the "red lights" and start focusing on loving and pleasing God?

  4. Next week: The Gospel and the Church.
* Copr. 2011, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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