Vol. IX — No. 39 September 29, 1968


“Walk in the Spirit!”

Galatians 5:16-24

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 are led of the spirit, ye are not under the law, flow the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditious, heresies, Envying, 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, goofiness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

In Christ Jesus, who bids us walk in the spirit, Fellow Redeemed:

“Be a man!” How often haven’t you heard that exhortation given! Sometimes it’s unfair. When you say to a boy, “Be a man!”, you may be encouraging him to grow up or you may be insisting upon the impossible. For a boy is rarely physically and mentally and emotionally mature enough to be a man. But when you say to a man, “Be a man!”, you are asking him to act and react, to behave and conduct himself according to the standards of that which nature has made him. Spoken to a man, the exhortation, “Be a man!”, means, “Be what you are!”

We have such an exhortation in our text: “Walk in the spirit?” “Be what you are!” “Let your way of life reflect the influence of the Holy Spirit upon your spirit!”

We have similar exhortations in Holy Scripture. We have been studying two of them in our adult Sunday School class. They appear in the Sermon on the Mount. To His assembled disciples the Lord said, “Ye are the salt of the earth!” He didn’t say, “It’s up to you to become the salt of the earth.” No, He said, “Ye age the salt of the earth!” The exhortation is “Be salt! Function as salt! Salt the earth!” Jesus pictures the world—society, civilization—as it really is—subject to decay and decaying. The world needs a preservative to keep it From becoming ripe unto judgment. The child of God is that preservative. He is that salt. “Ye are the salt of the earth!” “Be salt!” “Function as salt where I have placed you!” “Be what by My grace I have made you!” “Function according to the grace given you—as salt!”

“Ye are the light of the world!” The world stumbles around in darkness. It knows neither God, nor man, nor the way for man to reach God. The world needs light. Jesus does not say to His disciples, “Make yourselves lights and begin to light up this dark world.” do, He says: “Ye are the light of the world!” “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “Be what you are!” “Function in this world as lights, for I have made you light!”

Now back to the exhortation of Paul in our text: “walk in the spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” Paul speaks of the Christian as having a dual nature, flesh and spirit. Flesh is not the material side of man in contrast to the spiritual. It is rather the spiritually negative side of man. We call flesh at times the “old adam” because this negative or sinful spiritual disposition has been transmitted from generation to generation by generation and birth. It’s an inclination or proclivity towards sin. As a duck takes to water, so man naturally takes to sin. He enjoys it. He revels in it. It’s his way of life. This is what Paul calls “flesh.” “Spirit” is a creation of the Holy Spirit in man. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature!” Something new has been added to him—faith in Christ. A new spiritual force has been created within Him. It reflects the mind of Christ and is generated and sustained by the power of God’s Spirit through the Gospel. “Walk in the spirit,” Paul calls out to the Galatians and to us. “Be what you are!” Walk, behave, conduct yourselves according to your Holy Spirit-given spirit!”

This brief exhortation is sufficient to occupy us for the rest of our lives. If we fail to heed this exhortation, we shall lose our lives. Let us then examine the exhortation carefully:


I. Be forewarned: You’re in for a daily battle with your flesh!

“For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.” In social studies classes our children learn some of the great battles that have shaped the destiny of nations, as the Battle of Waterloo and the Battle of the Bulge and so on. But there is a more intense battle with more at stake raging in each child of God, It is the battle of the flesh against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. What is at stake is the eternal weal or woe of the individual—hell or heaven.

This battle never lets up until the moment of death, for the flesh never changes. It can’t be converted or reformed. It remains, as our Confessions say, “an intractable ass”—determined to oppose the will of God at every point.

The nature of the flesh becomes evident when we take a look at Paul’s catalog of the works of the flesh. He writes, “How the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.” He’ll stop here, for this is the first group. It deals with the sins of sex. God created sex when He created Adam and Eve. He instituted marriage as the God-ordained sphere for the proper expression of sex when He said that one man and one woman should live together as one flesh. We are told that Adam and Eve were naked, and were not ashamed. Then something happened that altered this pure relationship, Adam and Eve sinned, and the first reported reaction was that they knew they were naked. They experienced sexual lust, which has made man and woman dissatisfied with God’s arrangement of marriage. Man and woman seek sexual gratification before and outside of marriage, which is adultery and fornication. Man and woman have become unclearn—witness the exploitation of sex in literature, the cinema, pornography and so on. And finally man and woman have become victims of lasciviousness—unbridled conduct. Think of the mounting problem of homosexuality, sadism, rape, fiendish sex murders. All of this is the works of the flesh. The potential for any such sin lies within each of us.

The next two works may be called the godless group, “idolatry, witchcraft—or sorcery.” The pagan world was wholly given over to idolatry and enslaved to all manner of sorcery. The flesh doesn’t change. The flesh constantly wants to make and remake God in its image and substitute man-made worship for worship in spirit and in truth.

The third group names the sins of personal animosity, “hatred, variance, emulations, wrath.” The flesh hates. It becomes jealous. It becomes angry. The flesh always seeks its own and battles against anyone and everyone that opposes it. Why is there so much family strife, so much marital strife? It’s the flesh—clawing, scratching, biting, striking, pounding away at the other person as it seeks its own.

The next group can be described as the sins of partyism, “strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders.” We wonder why nations can’t get along together. What’s strange about that? Families, relationships, teachers and school beards, labor and management, Democrats, Republicans and Independents can’t get along. Why? Because the flesh of the individuals and groups keeps on fomenting strife.

The final group is “drunkenness, revellings.” When violence begins in our city streets, which windows are broken first and which business places are looted first? The liquor stores! Liquor is the fuel for revellings. It sets the flesh in action.

When Paul exhorts us to “walk in the spirit,” he would have us understand that this will not be an easy Sunday afternoon stroll in the park. It will not be an unchallenged and uncontested way of life. He who would walk in the spirit must be a warrior and will become a battle-scarred veteran before he is finished. The works of our flesh—yours and mine—are all the works that Paul has enumerated. Walking in the spirit means not fulfilling these lusts of the flesh, but combating them day-in and day-out. Paul would have us forewarned. But that is in itself not enough. He also exhorts—

II. Be forearmed: The Holy Spirit is ever ready to help your spirit overcome your flesh.

Paul assures us that our spirits, which are the creation of the Holy Spirit, take up a position and do battle against our flesh. The result is “that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Right now as you sit here, your flesh is trying to make you feel drowsy or inattentive so that you won’t get the message. Your flesh will try to make you forget the message as soon as you leave. Your flesh may prompt you to congratulate the pastor on the sermon, while it keeps assuring you that the pastor meant the “other fellow”—not you, of course. So the flesh works, but not unopposed. Your Spirit-created new man—your spirit—combats these suggestions of the flesh. It strives to keep you awake and attentive. It urges you to apply the message to yourself, to take it home with you, to live it. Your spirit keeps reminding you to walk in the spirit!

What an encouragement Paul gives us towards this end when he writes and assures us, “But if ye be led of the spirit, ye are not under the law.” The law demands without furnishing the spiritual power to fulfill its demands. And so it is that the law unmercifully condemns without giving any hope of pardon. But none of this affects those who are led by the spirit. Why? Because we are Christ’s! Every demand that the law makes upon us has been answered for us by Christ. Every threat of punishment that the law makes upon us has been suffered in the body and soul by Christ. We’re free from the law—with its demands and threats. We belong to Christ. The Holy Spirit has made us new creatures. He has put the law of Christ in our hearts. He has created will, determination, desire to walk in the spirit. The Spirit of God has become our ally, our partner in the struggle against the flesh. We can walk in the Spirit, for Christ dwells in us and the Holy Spirit has made us His temple, His dwelling place. So we are forearmed For the struggle.

Paul enumerates the fruit of the spirit—nine of them in three groups. First “love, joy, peace.” God is love; that is why love is the fulfilling of the law. When God’s love in Christ overcomes man, fills His heart and causes him to bow before the cross and the empty tomb of Christ, then the Spirit fills the heart with His fruit, love. Together with love comes joy. The Spirit does not make our spirits pessimistic, sour, sad. do, He fills our spirits with joy. Then follows peace—with God through faith in Jesus Christ and with the earnest desire to live in peace with all men.

The next trio deals with our contact with others: “longsuffering, gentleness, goodness.” The flesh is irritable, short-tempered; the spirit is longsuffering, patient with the faults and frailties and weaknesses of others. The flesh is abrupt, roughshod, coarse; the spirit is gentle. Think of Jesus receiving and dealing with sinners—the woman at Jacob’s well, the thief on the cross. The flesh seeks its own; the spirit is good, radiating and spreading goodness.

The third trio deals with personal qualities: faith or faithfulness—toward our God and over against our fellowman. “Be thou faithful unto death.” Be trustworthy, honest, upright in all your dealings! “Meekness.” The flesh boasts, brags, asserts itself. The spirit counters with meekness, stepping back, nonviolent in thought and word and deed. And finally “temperance” or self control. Here is the opposite of drunkenness and revellings.

These fruits the Holy Spirit has conferred upon our spirits. They are ours! They are part of our spiritual equipment. He are to exercise them. We are to nourish and sustain them with the Bread of Life and the Living Water. We are to cultivate them. We are to use them. For they are the spiritual arms which enable us to walk in the spirit. Let us so walk! Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached September 15, 1968
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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