Just so that everyone is clear about what sin actually is, Paul makes a list for the Galatians in chapter 5. Herein, he also lists the fruits of the Spirit. Again, this is not so much intended to be a list of dos and don’ts (although it is), rather, a plumb-line to gauge where we really are in regards to Christ.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. ~Galatians 5:16-24
Little wonder why Paul begins and ends with sexual sin. Think about that for a moment. Really let it sink in and consider the implications.
Four of the actions listed are related to the 7th commandment. You shall not commit adultery. We are so severely inclined to do so that Paul wanted to ensure that we could not miss this in regards to our spiritual health. He wanted Christians to understand that our very salvation hangs in the balance of the choices we make about our sexuality – not just in deed, but most certainly in word and thought as well. He isn’t just pointing at homosexuality or fornicators here like so many Christians seem to do. He’s pointing at each and every one of us enjoined in holy matrimony as well. Surely, nowhere are men and women more impure than inside our own minds. This warning is sobering, heavy news for the culture in which we live. The sexually impure will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul didn’t stutter. Hear him.
Two of the actions listed (idolatry and witchcraft) are related to the 1st and 2nd commandments. Clearly, one cannot worship God if he is actively worshiping something else – namely self, Satan, or stuff. Again, quite sobering news for we who live in this self-serving, indulgent generation of surplus. The idolatrous will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The rest of Paul’s list has to do with offense given to others by us (save drunkenness which is primarily against oneself but can and does certainly lead to offense against others as well.) We who claim to love God cannot hate our brothers. Hate-filled abusers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These are fearful, sobering warnings. Oh, how we need the Lord who saves and keeps us to enable us to heed them!
Matthew Henry writes, “It is not enough to cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well.”
Paul gives us the alternative to these actions. We are not simply to avoid sin. We are to exhibit spiritual fruit in its place. The question is not “Why?” or “What?” The question is, “How?” How do we love like Jesus? How do we have peace in strife? How do we do good when we are altogether bad? How do we offer kindness when we are angry? How?
As pleasant and beautiful as they are, these actions and attitudes are neither automatic nor blissfully easy. Paul tells us to live by the Spirit; walk by the Spirit. These are his instructions. It isn’t do and don’t; it’s live and walk. The only way we can live and walk in the Spirit is by daily death to ourselves. It is a bloody war complete with compound casualties and corporate crucifixion. Therefore, the answer is only through Christ. We cannot do these things apart from him. We cannot do anything apart from him. Nor can we stop sinning.
Live by the Spirit. Walk by the Spirit. These are Paul’s instructions regarding proper human behavior, complete with his referral to Our Counselor. But doing it Paul’s way takes faith, prayer, and a whole lot of full on fighting with a side of blood, sweat, and tears. Without the Spirit of God we will fail despite any future victories in morality. With the Spirit of God we will succeed despite any past failures in morality.
The proof is in the pudding. Let us consider which list characterizes the gist of our lives and run to our Savior.