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Falling From Grace
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. (vv. 1-6)
In chapters 5 and 6 we have the third division, the practical part, of this letter. He shows us what the result should be in our daily lives if we have laid hold of the blessed truth that salvation is altogether by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, and so begins like this, “Stand fast therefore.” Wherefore? Because of the finished work of Christ through which all who believe have been not only delivered from the judgment due to their sins, not only delivered from the penalty of the broken law, but delivered from the law itself and en-lawed to Christ. The believer now walks in a place that was never known before. He is down here in this world, it is true, but he is neither without law, nor yet under law, but is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ, and so is brought into a glorious liberty- liberty, of course, not to do the will of the natural man, not to obey the dictates of the flesh, but liberty to glorify God, to adorn the doctrines of Christ by a holy, triumphant life as he passes through this scene. This is the liberty into which Christ has brought us, and now to go back to some legalistic system such as that of Judaism or those prevailing in Christendom today, is to become “entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
Through the centuries that the Jews were under the law, not one of them found salvation through practicing the ceremonial law or obeying the law given at Mount Sinai, because every man failed, and it put them all under condemnation. But Christ has brought us into liberty. How foolish then to go back under law which only engenders bondage. Paul could say, “I was in that bondage once, but I was delivered from it. You heathen people never knew that bondage, but you do know something of the liberty of Christ. Are you going now into the bondage out of which God delivers every Jew He saves? It is folly to take a step like that. But if you mean to do it, you had better go the whole length, for you cannot take certain commands and say, ‘I will obey those things,’ for God says, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them’” (Galatians 3:10).
“Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” That is, if they depended upon the rite of circumcision for the salvation of their souls they were ignoring Christ. He is not saying that if somebody had been misled for the moment and had accepted the teaching of these Judaizers, he lost Christ, but if their dependence was upon these things, they have set Christ at naught. “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.” If you take the first step, go the whole length, for the law is one. You cannot take from it what you please and reject the rest. “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” Of course the real meaning is, that if one is seeking justification by law, he is seeking to be right with God on the basis of his own human efforts. You say, “Well, God commanded His people to do them.” Yes, in the Old Testament, but we read that “the law was our schoolmaster [our child leader] unto Christ,” but now that Christ has come we are no longer under the child leader. If you go back to law, you set Christ to one side; you cannot link the two principles of law and grace.
In Romans we are told that if salvation is “by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Romans 11:6). It must be one or the other. Either you earn your salvation by efforts of your own, or you accept it as the free gift of God. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior you have received it as a gift. If you did anything to deserve it, if you worked for it, if you purchased it, it would not be a gift. So we read, “To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifleth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5). Therefore, if you turn back to law after you have known Christ, you are deliberately setting your Savior to one side. “Ye are fallen from grace.”
That is an expression that a great many people are interested in. A man came to a friend of mine, a Methodist minister, and said, “I understand that you Methodists believe in falling from grace; is that so?”
He said, “I understand that you Presbyterians believe in horse-stealing.”
“No, we do not.”
“Well, don’t you believe that it is possible for a man to steal horses?”
“Yes, but we wouldn’t do it.”
“Well, we believe it is possible for men to fall from grace, but we do not believe in doing it.”
But what do we mean by falling from grace? Here we have the expression in Scripture, “Ye are fallen from grace.” Really, a better translation is, “Ye are fallen away from grace”-you have turned away from grace. Does this mean that if a man is once a Christian but falls into some kind of sin, he loses his salvation and is no longer a Christian? If it meant that, every believer ceases to be a Christian every day, because there is not a person anywhere that does not fall into some kind of sin every day-sins of thought, of word, or of deed. But falling from grace is not sinking into sin, into immorality or other evildoing, but it is turning from the full, clear, high Christian standard of salvation by grace alone to the low level of attempting to keep one’s salvation by human effort. Therefore, a man who says, “I am saved by grace, but now my continuance depends on my own effort,” has fallen from grace. That is what it is to “fall from grace.”
I do not care what it is you imagine you have to do in order to keep saved; whatever it is, you put yourself on legal ground if after believing on the Lord Jesus Christ you think that your salvation is made more secure by baptism, by taking the Lord’s Supper, by giving money, by joining the church. If you do these things in order to help save your soul, you have fallen from grace-you fail to realize that salvation is by grace alone, God’s free unmerited favor. Someone asks, “Don’t you believe in doing those things?” Indeed, I do; not in order to save my soul, but out of love for Christ.
I would not work my soul to save,
That work my Lord has done;
But I would work like any slave
From love to God’s dear Son.
Christian obedience is not on the principle of law but of love to Christ.
It is the grace of God working in the soul that makes the believer delight in holiness, in righteousness, in obedience to the will of God, for real joy is found in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. I remember a man who had lived a life of gross sin. After his conversion one of his old friends said to him, “Bill, I pity you-a man that has been such a highflier as you. And now you have settled down, you go to church, or stay at home and read the Bible and pray; you never have good times any more.”
“But, Bob,” said the man, “you don’t understand. I get drunk every time I want to. I go to the theater every time I want to. I go to the dance when I want to. I play cards and gamble whenever I want to.”
“I say, Bill,” said his friend, “I didn’t understand it that way. I thought you had to give up these things to be a Christian.”
“No, Bob,” said Bill, “the Lord took the ‘want to’ out when He saved my soul, and He made me a new creature in Christ Jesus.”
We do not make terms with the Lord and say, “If You will save me, I won’t do this, and I will do that,” but we come throwing up our hands and saying, “Lord, I cannot do a thing to save myself; Thou must do it in Thine own free grace or I am eternally lost.” Now if as Christians we stoop down from that high level and still try to make ourselves acceptable to God by some human effort, we have fallen from grace. Yes, we do believe it is possible to fall from grace, and we also believe that about three-fourths of Christendom have fallen from grace. I do not mean that they won’t get to heaven, but I do mean that many real Christians have come down to a very low level. They are so occupied with their own efforts instead of with the glorious finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“For we through the Spirit.” Everything for the believer is through the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us, and God works His works in us by the Spirit. And so instead of human efforts, instead of trying to do something in order to earn divine favor, we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit of God that He may work in and through us to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. “For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” What is the hope of righteousness? It is the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him. We are now made the righteousness of God in Christ, and yet every day we mourn over our failures; we do not rise to the heights we desire. Every night we have to kneel before God and confess our sins. But we are looking on in glad hope to the time when Jesus will come back again and transform these bodies of our humiliation, and then we shall be fully like Him.
Soon I’ll pass this desert dreary,
Soon will bid farewell to pain,
Nevermore be sad or weary,
Never, never sin again.
When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” Whether a man is a Jew or a Gentile, it does not make any difference, whether he has been a rigid law-keeper or an idolater, there is no difference, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). When people put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in them, and they are said to be “in Christ,” and, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), for we are forever linked up with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our human works and religious ceremonies count for nothing as far as justifying the soul. What does count? “Faith which worketh by love.” And as we walk in fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, as our hearts are taken up with Him, as faith makes Christ real (“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1]), we shall find that it is the substantiating of the things for which we hope, the assured conviction of the reality of things that our eyes have never seen. Faith tells us Jesus lives, faith tells us that the sin question is settled, that we are in Christ. As we go on in faith looking to Him, drawing from Him new supplies of grace day by day, faith works by love, and love is the fulfilling of the law, and therefore we do not need to be under the law in order to live aright. It is the only natural thing now for Christians to seek to live for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A physician came into a room where I was visiting a family where a dear child was very ill. She was the apple of the mother’s eye. The doctor said, “Now, Mrs. So-and-So, there is one thing I would suggest. Because of the condition the little one is in, I would not let anyone else take care of her but yourself. It is going to mean a great deal to the child to have you care for her. She is in a very nervous condition.” Do you think that mother found that a hard law to obey? Her mother-heart led her to respond at once, “Yes, Doctor, I will see that no one else looks after the baby. I will do all I can for her.” Was that legality? No, it was “faith working by love.” So with the Christian. All our obedience springs from heart-devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. We delight to do good, we delight to help others, we delight to preach His Word, to minister to those in need and distress, we delight in what Jesus Himself calls “good works,” because we love Christ and we want to do those things of which He approves. Anything else than this is to “fall from grace.”
Faith Working By Love
Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offense of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. (vv. 7-15)
Paul now goes on to show that Christian liberty is not license to live after the flesh, but it is liberty to glorify God. Notice how he pours out his heart to them as he thinks of their defection. He says, “Ye did run well.” That is, he looks back over their earlier years and reminds himself of their first devotion and joy, how consistent they were, how they sought to glorify the Lord. But their testimony has been marred, their earlier love has been lost, they no longer are such devoted, active servants of the Lord Jesus Christ as once they were. They have been turned aside by false teaching.
“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” What was it that turned them aside? It was their acceptance of the idea that although they were justified by faith they could be sanctified only by the law, and that is a very common error today. A great many people think that while the law cannot justify, yet after all, when one is justified, it is obedience to the law that sanctifies. But the law is as powerless to sanctify as it was to justify. It is of no use to try to put the old nature under law. You have two natures, the old, the carnal, and the new, the spiritual. That old nature is just as black as it can be, and the new is as white as it can be. The old is just as evil as it can be, and the new is as good as it can be. It is of no use to say to the old nature, “You must obey the law,” because the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God. On the other hand, you do not need to say that to the new nature, because it delights in the law of God. So our sanctification is not of the law. These Galatians had lost sight of this.
And so in verse 8 the apostle says, “This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.” The word translated “persuasion” might be better rendered “persuasibleness.” This persuasibleness, this readiness on your part to be persuaded by these false teachers, “cometh not of him that calleth you.” People are as easily changed in their religious views as they are in their political views. They are one thing one day, and another thing the next. They start out all right, and then the first false teacher that comes along gets their attention, and if he quotes a few Scripture verses they say, “It sounds all right; he has the Bible for it,” and so they go from one thing to another and never get settled anywhere. The apostle says that this readiness to be persuaded by human teachers is not of God. If you were walking with God you would be listening to His voice and hearing His Word, and would be kept from “overpersuasibleness.”
“A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” we are told in verse 9. This same sentence is found in 1 Corinthians 5:6, where Paul warns the saints against the toleration of immorality in their midst. An evil man was among them. He was living in sin and they seemed powerless to deal with it, like some churches today who have never had a case of discipline for years, tolerating all kinds of wickedness. They do not dare to come out and deal with it. These Corinthians were glorying in the fact that they were broad-minded enough to overlook this man’s adultery and incest, and Paul says to them, “If you are going to do this, you must face the fact that ‘a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.’ Others looking on will say, ‘If the church of God does not take a stand against these things, why should we be so careful?’“
Here in Galatians, the apostle is not speaking of wickedness in the life but of false doctrine, and says that if they do not deal with it in the light of God’s Word they will find that it too is like leaven, and “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” and the time will come when they will have lost altogether the sense of the grace of God. It is interesting to notice that in the Word of God leaven is always a picture of evil. A great many people do not see that. They talk about “the leaven of the gospel.” In Matthew where the Lord Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matthew 13:33), their idea is that the three measures of meal represent the world, and the woman is the church putting the leaven, the gospel, into the world, and by-and-by the whole world will be converted. We have been at it now for nearly two thousand years, and instead of the world getting converted, the professing church is getting unconverted.
Think of issuing a decree to blot out the name of Jehovah from all texts written on the walls of any church in Germany-Germany, the land of the Reformation; Germany, where Luther led the people away from the darkness of corruption-and think of that country attempting to blot out the name of Jehovah today! We are not converting the world very fast. Think of Russia where the gospel was introduced over fifteen hundred years ago, and today every effort is being made to destroy the testimony that remains in that land. It will take millennium after millennium if ever the world is to be saved by our testimony. But that is not our program. We read, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). “As it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man” (Luke 17:26). Corruption and vileness filled the world in the days of Noah, and so today corruption and vileness fill the world. “They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27). We see the same things happening now, and some day the Lord’s people are going, not into the ark, but they are going to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and then the awful flood of judgment will be poured out on this poor world. The parable does not mean that the gospel will go on until the whole world is converted; it means the very opposite. The three measures of meal represented the meal offering, and the meal offering was the food of the people of God and typified Christ, our blessed, holy Savior. There was to be no leaven in the meal offering, for that was a type of evil. The leaven is the evil teaching corrupting the truth. Jesus indicated three kinds of leaven. He said, “Beware of the leaven of Herod, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, beware of the leaven of the Sadducees.” The leaven of Herod was political corruption and wickedness, that of the Pharisees was self-righteousness and hypocrisy, and that of the Sadducees was materialism. Of any of these it may be said, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” The thing that stops its working is to expose it to the action of fire, and when we judge these things in the light of the gospel of Christ they can work no longer.
But though Paul warns these Galatians he does not give them up. He feels sure that they will come out all right, for he knows how real they were in the beginning. “I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.” What a solemn word that is! God has said, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). And we are told, “There is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:11). How that ought to keep our hearts as we see men in high places today guilty of heinous crimes against civilization. We shudder as we see how hopeless it is for the nations to contend with these men and their evil principles. How the tyrants of earth still defy God! But, depend upon it, He is going to take things in His own hands one of these days, and judgment is coming as surely as there is a God in heaven. For God has said, regarding Abraham’s seed, “Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee” (Genesis 27:29), and the man who is dealing cruelly with Abraham’s seed is already under the curse of God. That judgment some day will fall. We can be sure of that. There is no way out, because God has decreed it. Men may trifle with God for the moment, they may question because He seems to wait a long time, but the Greeks used to say, “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.” In every aspect of life the truth remains that God is a God of judgment, and, “By him actions are weighed” (1 Samuel 2:3).
Paul then says, “And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision”-suppose I preached all these legalistic things, would I be persecuted as I am now? Surely not. But if I did that, I would not be true to my great commission. “Why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offense [the scandal] of the cross ceased.” What does he mean by “the scandal of the cross”? It was a scandalous end to a human life to have to die on a cross. The cross was like the gallows today. Cicero said, “The cross, it is so shameful it never ought to be mentioned in polite society.” Just as a person having a relative who had committed murder and was hung for it would not want to speak about it, so people felt about the cross in those days. Yet the Son of God died on a cross. Oh, the shame of it! The Holy One, the Eternal Creator, the One who brought all things into existence, went to that cross and died for our sins. Paul practically says, “You are setting that cross at naught if you introduce any other apparent means of salvation in place of the death Jesus died to put away sins.” And then he cries, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” Or literally, “I would they would cut themselves off that trouble you,” these men who would pervert the gospel of Christ.
In verse 13 he comes back to the theme of liberty, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty”-you have been set free, you are no longer slaves, you are free men-“only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh.” Do not say, “Well, now, I am saved by grace and, therefore, am free to do as I like.” No, but, I am saved by grace and so I am free to glorify the God of all grace! I have liberty to live for God, I have liberty to magnify the Christ who died for me, and I have liberty to walk in love toward all my brethren. It is a glorious liberty this, the liberty of holiness, of righteousness. “But by love serve one another.” Having been called into this liberty be willing to be a servant. Our blessed Lord set us the example; He took that place on earth: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Through love we delight to serve. Look at that mother caring for her little babe. She has to do many things her heart does not naturally delight in. Is her service a slavery as she waits upon her babe? Oh, no; she delights to do that which love dictates, and so in our relation to one another, how glad we ought to be to have the opportunity of serving fellow saints. “By love serve one another.”
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word.” It is as though he says, “You talk about the law, you insist that believers should come under the law; why don’t you stop to consider what the law really teaches?” “All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love.” The man who loves will not break any of the commandments. If I love God as I should, I will not sin against Him. Look at Joseph, exposed to severe temptation, greater perhaps than many another has gone through, and yet his answer to the temptress was, “How shall I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” He loved God and that kept him in the hour of temptation. And when it comes to dealing with our fellows, if we love our neighbors as ourselves we won’t violate the commandments. We won’t lie to one another, we won’t bear false witness, no one will commit adultery, there will be no violation of God’s law, we will not murder. No wrong will be done to another if we are walking in love. “All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The Holy Spirit who dwells in every believer is the Spirit of love, and the new nature is a nature which God Himself has implanted; God is love and therefore it is natural for the new nature to love. When you find a believer acting in an unloving way, doing an unkind thing, you may be sure that it is the old nature, not the new, that is dominating him at that moment. Oh, to walk in love that Christ may be glorified in all our ways! It was said of early Christians, even by the heathen about them, “Behold how they love one another!” Can that always be said of us? Or must it be said, “Behold how they quarrel; behold how they criticize; behold how they backbite one another; behold how they scandalize one another.” What a shame if such things could be said of us! “All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love.”
Now on the other hand, if one fails in this, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” If you would tear one another’s reputations to pieces, find fault with one another, quarrel with one another, be careful, for the natural result will be that you will be “consumed one of another.” Do you know why many a testimony that was once bright for God today is in ruins? It is because of a spirit of quarrelsomeness, fault-finding, and murmuring comes in among the people of God, and God cannot bless that. If you and I are guilty of that, we ought to get into God’s presence and examine our ways before Him; yea, plead with Him to search our hearts, and confess and judge every such thing as sin in His sight in order that we may be helpers and not hinderers in His service.
“If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” “Well,” someone says, “I always hate myself if I say anything unkind, and I make up my mind never to do it again.” The trouble is that you have not yielded that tongue of yours to the Lord Jesus Christ. You remember the word, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). A number of people have presented almost every part of their bodies except their tongues. They have kept the tongues for themselves, and they allow them to wag on and on until gradually they bring in a lot of sorrow and grief among the people of God. Won’t you say, “Lord, this tongue of mine was given me to glorify Thee; I have used it so often to find fault with others, to injure the reputation of a brother or a sister, to speak unkindly or discourteously about other people. Lord Jesus, I give it to Thee, this tongue that Thou hast bought with Thy blood. Help me to use it from this time on solely to glorify Thee. And in using it to glorify Thee, I shall be using it to bless and help others, instead of to distress and hinder them.”
You may never yet have come to Jesus, and possibly you are saying, “Is there a power such as you speak of that can lift a person above a life of sin, enabling him to so live?” Yes, there is; come to the Lord Jesus Christ, put your trust in Him, receive Him as your Savior, enthrone Him as Lord of your life, and you will find that everything will be different, everything will be new. You will have a joy, a gladness, that you have never been able to find in all the devious ways of this poor world. He says, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Fling wide the door of your heart today, and say:
Come in, my Lord, come in,
And make my heart thy home.
Come in, and cleanse my soul from sin,
And dwell with me alone.
He will be so glad to come in and take control, and everything will be made new in the light of His presence.
Liberty, Not License
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another. (vv. 16-26)
The present section of this epistle brings before us the truth, in a very marked way, of the two natures in the believer. It is important to remember that when God saves us He does not destroy the carnal nature which we received at our natural birth. The new birth does not imply the elimination of that old carnal nature, neither does it imply a change in it, but rather the impartation of an absolutely new nature born of the Holy Spirit of God, and these two natures abide side by side in the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. This explains the conflict that many of us have known since we have been converted. In fact, I need not have said, “many of us,” for all converted people know at one time or another something of that conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”-that is, the old nature-“that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”-that is the new nature, and these two natures abide side by side until we receive the redemption of the body which will be at the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He will transform this body of our humiliation and make it like unto the body of His glory. Then we will be delivered forever from all inward tendency to sin. Until then we have to learn, and sometimes by very painful experiences, that the carnal nature, that old nature, “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).
That old nature is so corrupt, so vile, that it can never be sanctified, and the new nature is so pure, so holy, that it does not need to be sanctified. So there is no mention in Scripture of the sanctification of the old nature. What is it then that needs to be sanctified? It is the man himself, and he is sanctified as he learns to walk in accordance with the dictates of the new nature. He is directed by the Holy Spirit of God, for the believer is not only born of the Spirit but indwelt by the Spirit.
We are not to confound new birth by the Spirit with the reception of the Spirit. New birth is the operation of the Spirit of God. He it is who produces the new birth through the Word. We receive the Word in faith, we believe the Word, and the Spirit of God through the Word brings about new birth. The apostle James says, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth” (James 1:18). The apostle Peter says, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever…And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23, 1 Peter 1:25). And when I believe that Word I am born again; that is an inward change. It is the impartation of a new life; it is eternal life. But there is something more than that. It was always true in all dispensations, from Adam down to the day of Pentecost, that wherever people believed God’s Word they were born again, but the Holy Spirit Himself as a divine Person had not then come to dwell within them. Now since Pentecost, upon believing, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of God. He creates the new nature, and then comes to indwell the one who is thus born again, and as the believer learns to recognize the fact that the Spirit of God dwells within him, and as he turns everything over to His control, he finds deliverance from the power of inbred sin.
Notice how the apostle puts it here: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust [or, the desire] of the flesh.” It is so easy to fulfill the desire of the flesh. We must not link with that word lust the idea that it always means things base and unclean. The word itself simply means “desire,” and whatever the desire of the flesh is, it is always hateful to God. Here may be one who desires all kinds of carnal indulgences, and we have no difficulty in realizing the vileness of that, but here is another who desires worldly fame, the praise and adulation of his fellows, and that is also the lust of the flesh, or mind, and is as obnoxious to God as the other. Any kind of a carnal or fleshly desire is a lust, and if we would be delivered from walking according to these selfish lusts we must walk in the Spirit.
It is one thing to have the Spirit indwelling us and quite another to walk in the Spirit. To walk in the Spirit implies that the Holy Spirit is controlling us, and we can walk in the Spirit only as our lives are truly surrendered to Christ. Somebody says, “Well, then, I understand you mean to tell us that all believers possess the Holy Spirit, but that many of us have never received the second blessing, and are not filled with the Spirit.” I do not find the term, “second blessing,” in Scripture, though I admit that in the lives of many Christians there is an experience that answers to what people call “the second blessing.” Many Christians have lived for years on a rather low, somewhat carnal, worldly plane. They love the Lord, they love His Word, they love to attend the ordinances of His house, they enjoy Christian fellowship, and seek to walk as upright men and women through this world, but they have never truly yielded themselves and all their ransomed powers wholly to the Lord. There is something they are keeping back, some controversy with God, and as long as this continues there will always be conflict and defeat, but when one comes to the place where he heeds the Word, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present [that you surrender, hand over] your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1)-when one makes that surrender there is indeed in the life what answers to a kind of second blessing; that is, the Spirit of God is now free to take possession of that believer, and operate through him and use him for the glory of God in a way He could not do as long as that man or woman was not wholly surrendered to the Lord. We speak a great deal about “full surrender,” and yet, I am afraid, some of us use the term in a very careless way. It is of no use to speak of being fully surrendered to God if I am still seeking my own interest. If I am self-centered, if I am hurt because people do not praise me, or if I am lifted up because they do, then the Spirit of God does not have His way with me. If Christ Himself is not the one object before my soul, if I cannot say, “For me to live is Christ,” if my great concern is not that Christ should be magnified in me whether by life or by death, then I am not yet wholly surrendered to Him. If I cannot say from the heart, “Not my will, but Thine,” there is no use in talking about being surrendered to Christ. The surrendered believer is no longer seeking his own but the things which belong to Christ Jesus. That is the man who “walks in the Spirit.” “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”
The conflict is shown in verse 17: “For the flesh lusteth [or desireth] against the Spirit, and the Spirit against [or contrary to] the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.” It is not exactly, “So that ye cannot do the things that ye would,” for God has made provision that we might do the things that we would, but it should be rendered, “So that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Here is conflict in the believer’s breast. The flesh desires one thing, the Spirit another, and as long as there is not a full surrender to the will of God these two are in constant warfare, and therefore the believer may not do the things that he would. I rise in the morning and say, “Today I will not allow that tongue of mine to say one unkind thing, one un-Christlike word.” But some unexpected circumstances arise, and almost before I know it I have said something for which I could bite my tongue. The thing I never meant to do I did. And, on the other hand, things I meant to do I did not do. What does that tell me? There is conflict. The Spirit of God has not His complete right of way in my heart and life, and because of this conflict I may not do the things that I would. I am hindered, and my life is not a life of full surrender as God intended it to be. How many of us know this experimentally. Oh, the defeated lives, the disappointed lives, even of people who are real Christians, who know the blessedness of being saved by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and who long to glorify God, and yet are constantly defeated. Why? Because the Spirit of God does not have His supreme place in their lives.
“But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” We are not to think that the way of deliverance is by law-keeping. I may say, “From now on I mean to be very careful, I will obey God’s law in everything. That surely will result in my practical sanctification.” But no, I am disappointed again. I will find that the will to do good is present with me, but how to perform it is another thing, and so I have to learn that my sanctification is no more through the law than my justification. What then? He tells us, “If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” If you yield to the Spirit of God, if He has the control of your life, if you are led by Him, then the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. And in order that we may not misunderstand, he brings before us the lusts of the flesh, that we may be able to drag these things out into the light, that we may see them in all their ugliness, so that if any of them have any place in our hearts and lives we may judge them in the presence of God. We often run across people today who say that they do not believe in the depravity of human life, but these are the things that come from the natural man; and even the believer, if he is not careful, if he is not walking with God as led by the Spirit, may fall into some of them.
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest [they are evident], which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.” Maybe some of you think or say, “I wish he would not use those words; I do not like them; they are nasty words.” My dear friends, let me remind you, there is nothing the matter with the words; it is the sins that are expressed in these words that are so nasty. Many people who do not like the words are living in the sins, and God drags things out into the light and calls sin by name. There are people living in the sin of adultery who do not like to hear their wickedness called by name. Take the words of the Lord Jesus, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32). There are those who are committing adultery according to that passage, and others who are contemplating it. If you have allowed yourself any unholy love, permitting yourself any unholy familiarity with one with whom you have no right to seek to enter the married relationship, you yourself are guilty in God’s sight of the sin that is mentioned here. “Fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness”-that is, vile, filthy thoughts indulged in. You cannot hinder evil thoughts coming into your mind, but you can help indulging in them. Lasciviousness is indulging in thoughts that are unclean and vile and unholy. People sometimes come to me in great distress and say, “Evil thoughts come to me, even when I am praying, and I wonder sometimes whether I am really converted or not.” That is the flesh manifesting itself. These things may come to you, but do you indulge in them? A Welshman said, “I cannot help it if a bird alights on top of my head, but I can help it if he builds his nest in my hair,” and so you may not be able to help it if evil thoughts come surging into your mind, but you can help indulging in those thoughts.
Idolatry, putting anything in the place of the true and living God. Witchcraft. “Oh,” you say, “that is outmoded. They used to burn witches.” But what is witchcraft? It is a word that implies “having to do with the dead,” and I think that Chicago has a good many witches in it. Often while passing along the street I see such signs as “Spiritualist medium,” or something like that, people pretending to have traffic with the dead. That is witchcraft, and it is an abomination in the sight of God. Hatred. This is a sin which we all have to guard against. Scripture says, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Hatred comes from the old nature. Variance-quarrelsomeness. There are many of us who would shrink from those first sins, but we are not very easy to get along with, we are dreadfully touchy, and this is as truly an evidence of the old nature, as those other “works of the flesh.” Emulations, a constant desire to excel other people, to get the admiration of others. Here is a preacher who has some little gift, and he is upset because some other preacher has greater recognition. Here is one who sings a little, and someone else who also sings excites more admiration, and there is trouble about it. Here is a Sunday school teacher, and some other teacher seems to be preferred before her, and she is in a frenzy and almost ready to quit her work. Trace these things back to their source and you will find they all come from the flesh, and therefore they should be judged in the sight of God. And then, wrath. That is anger. There is an anger that is holy, but that wrath to which you and I usually give way is very unholy. The only holy anger is anger with sin. “Be ye angry, and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). The old Puritan said, “I am determined so to be angry as not to sin, therefore to be angry at nothing but sin.” And then strife, resulting in “seditions.” The two words are intimately linked together. All these things are sinful. Heresies, a school of opinion set up opposed to the truth of God. Envyings. Scripture says, “Be content with such things as ye have” (Hebrews 13:5). Someone has a better house than I have, someone else has a better car than mine, and I envy him. The Arab said, “Once I felt bad and I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” There is not one of us but has far more than he deserves. Why should we envy anyone else? Suppose some people have magnificent mansions and I have only a hut.
A tent or a cottage, why should I care?
They’re building a palace for me over there!
“Be content,” says the Spirit of God, “with such things as ye have.” When you reach that place life will be very much happier for you.
Murders. Think of putting murder with such sins as emulations and envyings! Many a murder has resulted from these very sins, and, you know, murder does not consist in sticking a knife into a man or blowing his brains out with a revolver. You can murder a man by your unkindness. I have known many a person who died of a broken heart because of the unkindness of those from whom they had a right to expect something different. God give us to manifest so much of the love of Christ that we will be a blessing to people instead of a curse to them. Then drunkenness. Surely I do not need to speak of this to Christians. This too is a work of the flesh. Then revelings. The world calls it “having a good time” in a carnal way. “And such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Here he uses the present continuous tense: “That they that are in the habit of doing such things, they whose lives are characterized by such things.” If people are characterized by these things, they prove that they are not Christians at all. Real Christians may fall into them, but they are miserable and wretched until they confess them, but unsaved men revel in them and go on without judging them. These things come from the flesh. Now we have the opposite-the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” You notice the word here is, fruit, for we do not read in the Bible of the “fruits” of the Spirit, but of the “fruit.” This ninefold fruit springs from the new nature as one is actuated by the Holy Spirit of God. Love, the very essence of the divine nature. Joy-Scripture says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Peace, that is more than happiness, that is a deep-toned gladness that is unruffled and untroubled by all the trials of earth. Longsuffering, this leads you to endure uncomplainingly. Gentleness, some of us are so gruff and so rough, but the Christian should cultivate the meekness, the gentleness of Christ. Faith, in the sense of confidence in God. Meekness. We are not meek by nature; the natural man is always pushing himself forward. The spiritual man says, “Never mind me, recognize others; I am willing to remain in the background.” Wherever you find this pushing spirit you may know that one is still walking in the flesh. When you find the desire to give godly recognition to others you will find one walking in the Spirit. And then, temperance is just “self-control,” the whole body held under in subjection to the Spirit of God. “Against such there is no law.” You do not need law to control a man thus walking in the Spirit.
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” It does not say, “They that are Christ’s [should] crucify the flesh.” They have done so when they put their trust in the Lord Jesus. They trusted in the One crucified on their behalf, and therefore can say, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Galatians 2:20). It is a settled thing. If you have crucified the flesh, if you have recognized the fact that Christ’s crucifixion is yours, then do not live in that to which you have died. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” If we have this new life, if linked up now with our risen Christ, then let Him control our ways, let us be yielded to Him, let us walk in the Spirit, let us not be desirous of fame or glory, let us not seek anything that would lead to empty boasting, provoking one another, saying and doing things that may pain others needlessly, or envying one another.
Some of you may say, “That is a tremendously high standard, and I am afraid I can never attain to it.” No, and I can never attain to it in my own strength, but if you and I are yielded to the Holy Spirit of God and allow Him to make these things real in our lives, then we will indeed attain to the ideal set before us here, but it will not be ourselves, it will be Christ living in us manifesting His life, His holy life, in and through the members of our body. God give us to know the reality of it!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Galatians 5". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17