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Lesson 12: Living by the Spirit *

Introduction: Many years ago, I was speaking to someone who had recently come to understand grace. We were talking about the law of God and he told me that it had no application. We agreed to disagree on that subject. It was a year or two later that I ran into him again. Remembering our conversation, I asked him about his views now. He had significantly changed his mind. He still believed in grace, but he also realized the importance of obedience. Our study this week is about obedience. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. We died (in Jesus) for our sins when we were baptized. But, being released from the death penalty does not mean that we disregard obedience. Just how does this work? Where and how are the lines drawn? Let's dive into our study of the Bible and learn more!

  1. Spirit v. Sinful Nature

    1. Read Galatians 5:16. After we have been saved by grace, do we still have sinful desires? (Yes! Paul writes of the "desires" of the sinful nature that are contrary to the leading of the Holy Spirit.)

      1. What is our goal? (To not "gratify" the desires of the sinful nature.)

      2. Doesn't this seem just like when we were under the law? The law told us to live in a certain way, and our sinful nature told us to live in some other way.

    2. Read Galatians 5:17. What do we want to do? (What our sinful nature desires.)

      1. How can that be? I thought that the Holy Spirit gave us a new attitude? (I think that we will always feel the conflict. We will always feel the pull of temptation.)

    3. Read Romans 7:14-20. Paul is more specific in these verses. What is the practical problem that we find in our lives? (We find that we do the things we do not want to do.)

    4. The first church in which I taught a Bible class had a great debate among the members about grace. I recall one member who "got" grace. He was so excited because he said he suddenly felt free - free of the law. Is that the way it is supposed to be? (Read Romans 8:1-2. Yes. He was no longer under the condemnation of the law. But, I think that he felt that he no longer needed to be concerned about the "tension" with sin. Grace does not "kill" our sinful nature. Sin continues to pull on our mind.)

    5. Read Romans 8:3-4. Can we still "live according to ... the Spirit," and have this struggle that Paul describes? (I think that is exactly the situation for most serious Christians.)

    6. Read Romans 8:5-9. What does the Bible tell us to do to live according to the Spirit? (To set our minds on what the Spirit desires. We make choices, and this is the important one.)

      1. Is this legalism? Is this righteousness by works, except this time works is a choice?(I don't know how grace can get more simple than a choice.)

    7. Read Romans 8:10-11. How do our "dead" bodies become alive? (By the same power that raised Jesus from the grave, the power of the Holy Spirit.)

    8. Read Romans 8:12-14. How important is this choice of living by the Spirit or living by our sinful nature? (We will die if we live by our sinful nature.)

    9. Read Galatians 5:18. We have this tension in our mind between the leading of the Spirit and the desires of our sinful nature. How do we know when we are following the Spirit?

      1. In the old days some cars would have a vacuum gauge that would turn red when you were using a lot of fuel and turn green when you were getting good gas mileage. Wouldn't it be nice to have a gauge like that so we could figure out when we are living by the Spirit and when we are living by our sinful nature?

      2. Notice how Paul states this. He does not say that we are living in accordance with the temptation created by Satan or one of his agents. Paul says that it is our "sinful nature" or our "flesh" that pulls us into sin. Did you ever think that it was not demons, but rather your own sinful nature which is your worst enemy when it comes to obedience?

    10. Re-read Galatians 5:18. In what way are we not "under" the law when we live by the Spirit? (We are not under the condemnation of the law. Read again Romans 8:6-7. This shows that while we are no longer under the condemnation of the law, the law is still a benchmark (even if a poor one) for living a life that brings glory to God and to us.)

    11. This discussion about choice makes me think that we essentially have three choices. We can live according to our sinful nature, we can live according to the Spirit, or we can grit our teeth and try to obey the law. How do you think this works as a practical matter?(The first thing I would do to live by the Spirit is to pray that the Holy Spirit would lead my mind. Let's assume the temptation you face is adultery. You could choose the attitude, "What can I do to please my spouse today?" You could choose the attitude, "What can I do to lure someone into an improper relationship with me?" Or, you could choose the attitude, "I will not even look at a woman other than my wife, so I will not fall into temptation. I think the first choice is the Spirit-led choice.)

  2. Self Check

    1. Read Galatians 5:19-21. Do any of these acts show up in your life?

      1. If the answer is, "yes," does this demonstrate that you live by your sinful nature (as opposed to living by the Spirit) and thus you are lost? Or, does this simply demonstrate what Paul confessed, that he does the things he did not want to do?

      2. Notice the line, "those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God." What does this tell us about the presence of these evil acts in our life? (We do not want any evil acts in our life, but the problem is not falling into sin on occasion, the problem is making these acts our lifestyle. If we regularly live like this, we have a serious problem that shows we have not chosen to live by the Spirit.)

    2. Read Galatians 5:22-23. How is this list different than the prior list? (Obviously, it lists good things as opposed to bad things. What is critically different is that it generally lists attitudes, not actions.)

      1. What does the fact that the second list generally describes attitudes tell you about living by the Spirit? (This is key: if you choose to live by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit will change your heart and your mind. Your attitude toward sin will change. You will still find the sinful nature competing for your attention, but your changed attitude makes it less attractive.)

    3. Read Galatians 5:24. What does it mean to "crucify the sinful nature?" (To crucify means to put it to a horrible death.)

      1. If our sinful nature is crucified, how do you account for Romans 7:15 where Paul tells us that he does the things he does not want to do? Is our sinful nature like a the sinister character in a movie who keeps coming back to frighten us? (I think the best picture of this is found by reading Romans 7:19-8:4. What we know for sure is that Jesus set us free from "the law of sin and death." Our responsibility is to keep choosing to live by the Spirit and not our sinful nature.)

    4. Read Galatians 5:25. We spoke earlier about this idea of "living" by the Spirit as opposed to by the sinful nature. The idea is that it represents the direction of our life, not the actions of a moment. How does Paul build on this idea by referring to us keeping "in step with the Spirit?" (Our Christian life is a walk. We are heading in one direction or the other. Thus, our goal is to keep in step with the direction of the Holy Spirit.)

  3. Big Picture

    1. Read Matthew 11:28-30. Perhaps at this point you feel discouraged because you are still contending with your sinful nature. What does Jesus say about the burden of following Him? (Jesus says that when you undertake the problems of life using His power, your burden is light. Think about the practical difference between trying to obey to avoid death, and a partnership with God to bring glory to Him and make your life better.)

    2. Friend, the bad news is that you still feel tension with sin even after you are saved by grace alone. You are free from the death penalty imposed by the law, but you are still obliged to choose to live by the Holy Spirit. Will you decide, right now, that you will ask the Holy Spirit to help you "keep in step" with His program for your life?

  4. Next week: The Gospel and the Church.
* Copr. 2017, 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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