“So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.” Galatians 5:16-18 NLT
Paul wrote the book of Galatians from Antioch after his first missionary journey in which he planted many churches in the province of Galatia. After he left some teachers (called the Judaizers) visited the Galatian churches. They preached to the people that Paul had perverted the truth of God and that salvation was not merely attained by faith but by keeping the Jewish laws and customs as well in which would lead to holiness. From reading Paul’s letter it seems as though the Galatians bought into this teaching and this grieved Paul very much. So Paul sets out writing his letter to persuade them from these false teachers and show them the true way to faith and living a holy life.
The book of Galatians has had a powerful affect on the church throughout the centuries because it helps us deal with, not only faith and salvation, but how a Christian is to live after they have come to faith in Christ. So often churches will preach salvation through faith and then lay down a long list of rules and regulations for its members to follow. You can almost hear the concern of Paul’s words echoing to us “So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay fee, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” Galatians 5:1 NLT.
Paul clearly states that there is great conflict between our flesh and the Spirit of God living in us. When we come to accept Christ as our savior and are saved by faith the Holy Spirit comes to live in us. This Spirit of God opposes our human nature that desires sinful pleasures and selfish ambition.
How do we overcome our sinful nature? Our own strength and motivation are not enough. Anyone who has tried to resist their sinful nature (we sometimes call it our flesh) knows the frustration and failure. We do not have the strength within us to conquer the mountain of sin. What is worse, those who feel like they have conquered more than others often portray an attitude of condemnation and are often filled with pride and feel above others. These attitudes show merely that they are further away from the holiness of God than they think.
Paul does not want the Galatians to live this way and show them another way to conquer sin and take steps towards holiness. He says that they are to be directed or “led” by the Holy Spirit. In this way a Christian does not conquer the mountain of sin alone and through their own strength (which is bound to lead to failure) but has the Holy Spirit walking and directing them the whole journey and each step of the way. Then as you follow the direction of the Holy Spirit each day, you become more and more like Jesus and no longer follow the desires of your flesh, leaving behind the need to make strict legalistic rules.
Being led by the Spirit of God is a learning process that is very important for a Christian to understand and grow in throughout their lifetime. There are a few important steps in learning how to be lead by the Spirit of God.
1. Be filled with the Holy Spirit
Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit when they become a Christian but the Bible shows that there is another experience God has for his children in which they are completely filled (or baptized) in the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:1-4, 8:14-17, 10:44-48). Being filled with the Holy Spirit will help the Christian understand his leading better throughout their life.
2. Listen to His voice
Most of the time the Holy Spirit speaks to a Christian is a quiet small voice (not always). It is important to spend time in prayer, and worship in order to listen for His voice. Often we push off the voice of the Holy Spirit because it says to do something we do not want to do. We also excuse it away in order to avoid confrontation with sin. The more you listen the more you will be able to understand His voice until you grow more accustomed to it.
3. Practice obedience
It makes no difference if we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and then do not do as he directs us to do. This obedience is not following some random rule or regulation but is obeying God’s specific word to our hearts. Our obedience shows our faith and love for God and proves that we are really His children. Obeying what God tells us to do will bring His perfect will into our lives and make us more like Him.
4. God’s Word keeps us from error
There are many voices that will conflict with what the Holy Spirit is telling us to do. There is the voice of the world and its philosophies, there is the voice of the devil, and our own flesh and selfish will. Yet, God has given us His Word to show us what He is like so that we can be assured of following His will. Here in Galatians 5 Paul sets forth this principle by showing the Galatians what their lives would look like if they follow their sinful nature.
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 NLT
Paul shows here that if their lives are producing this kind of fruit they are not following the voice of the Holy Spirit but the voice of their sinful nature, which leads away from God and to death. Paul goes on to show what a Christians life will look like that is led by the Holy Spirit.
“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law.” Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
It is very important to read the Bible and understand what God is like so that as we are guided by the Holy Spirit we can compared it to His word to make sure it really comes from God.
In closing, Paul teaches the Galatians how to walk with God and be lead by the Spirit of God through their daily lives. This leading of the Holy Spirit sets them free from the laws and rules that have been placed on them by false teachers. I encourage you to read all of Galatians to hear more about Paul’s concern for his fellow Christians and their daily walk in Christ. Paul concludes:
“If we are living now by the Holy Sprit, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” Galatians 5:25