Holiness

The normal Christian life is a pervasively supernatural experience.

Anson Kroeker on March 3, 2019
Holiness
March 3, 2019

Holiness

Message By:
Series:
Passage: Galatians 5:13-24, Romans 8:1-5, 13
Service Type:

This morning is part two of a message we began last week, in which we considered the law of Moses and what that law means for us Christians who now live in the New Covenant.

We discovered last week that we have been set free from the law. Totally and completely. Romans 7:6 speaks about the law of Moses when it says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive.”

And we saw that this includes the whole law, not just 2/3 of it. Through the death of Christ for us, we are literally dead to the law, including the Ten Commandments.

And yet we also saw clearly that we have not been released from the law so that we can do whatever we want. We’ve been set free so that we can serve God.

Romans 7:6, in its entirety, says this: “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

Galatians 3:13, which we just read, said the same thing. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Our freedom from the law is not a freedom to sin. We are not free to murder and lie and steal and do all the things the Ten Commandments prohibited. God expects us to be righteous and holy. 

And yet we don’t become righteous and holy by obeying the law, but rather through this new way of the Spirit. And so this morning we’re going to answer questions like: “What is this ‘new way of the Spirit?’ How do we become holy in the New Covenant apart from the law?”

But before we’re fully ready to answer those questions, there’s a bit more review from last week that we need to do. For those of you who weren’t here last week, and even for those of you who were, we’ve got some material we need to make sure to keep in mind before we go much further.


The Law Was Always About Love

We’ve already reviewed that we’ve been set free from the law, and that we’ve been set free to serve God. But the next point from last week that we need to remember is that the law was always about love. That was the whole point of the law. Loving God and loving each other.

Galatians 5:14 tells us this directly: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14). That’s what the law was after all along. All of the commandments in the law of Moses were showing Israel how to love God and love others in their particular setting in history and in the big story.

That’s why the law included commands that told you what to do when your neighbour lent you his donkey and it died under your care (Exodus 22:10). At that point in history, in the kind of culture they lived in, those kinds of issues were very relevant for knowing how to love each other.

And so the law was about love. That’s what it required from us. We just read Romans 8:4, which speaks about the “righteous requirement of the law.” What was the righteous requirement of the law? What did the law require of us? The answer is love.


The Law Could Not Produce Love

But what we also saw last week is that while the law required that we be loving, it couldn’t actually make us be loving. The law could command love but it could not produce love.

And in fact, because of our sinful hearts, the law ended up creating the opposite of love. The law stirred up our sin. 

Paul mentioned this in Romans 7:5: “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” And He describes that in more detail in verses 7-8: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”

So just think about that: the law commands us to love. But instead, it ends up stirring up our sinful passions. We hear one of the Ten Commandments telling us to love our neighbour by not coveting his stuff, and instead, the command itself stirs up in our flesh the sinful passion of covetousness. Because nothing makes us want to do something more than being told not to do it.


The Spirit Empowers Us to Love

So we’ve got two problems we need dealing with: we have the problem of not loving. And we have the problem of having all these sinful passions. And the law didn’t help with these problems. In fact, the law’s purpose was to show us we had these problems in the first place.

So what is the solution to these problems? It’s the death of Christ on the cross paying for our sin. And it’s Jesus, ascended to the right hand of the Father, pouring out the Holy Spirit upon His redeemed people. 

All the way back in Ezekiel 36 God had promised to send the Holy Spirit to do in His people what the law by itself could not do. He said, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26–27). The solution to pleasing God would come through His very Spirit transforming us and dwelling within us.

And if you know Jesus, you have this Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 says “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” We have the Spirit.

And unlike the law, the Holy Spirit does not just tell us to love. He produces love itself within us. What does Galatians 5:22-23 tell us? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23).

The law could tell us to be loving and kind and good, but the Holy Spirit actually makes us become loving and kind and good. He produces in us the things which the law required.

Romans 8:4 points us in the same direction when it says that Christ died for us “in order that the righteous requirement of the law [which is love] might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). 

Notice that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us. Not by us. The Holy Spirit fulfills the requirement of the law in us.


The Holy Spirit Helps Us Put Our Sin to Death

So the Holy Spirit resolves this first big problem by producing the fruit of love in us. He gives what the law could only ask for. If you have ever felt a scratch of genuine love for God or your brothers and sisters in Christ, you have the Holy Spirit to thank.

But what about that second problem we talked about? What about all of our sinful passions and desires? We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the Spirit helps us here as well.

Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” If we walk by the Spirit, we won’t give in and do what our sinful desires want us to do. Romans 8:13 puts it a little more strikingly: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Do you hear these words “flesh” and “body” being used to describe our sinful desires and actions? What those words are pointing to is who we are apart from the Holy Spirit. They remind us that a part of us is still stuck in the Old Creation. On the inside we are New Creations in Christ, but our bodies—which includes our brains—are still a part of this Old Creation, and so sin can still use our bodies and our brains and our desires as a beachhead to launch attacks and try to gain mastery over us.

But the Holy Spirit can do what the law could never do. He can put those desires and behaviours and thoughts to death. He can kill our sin.


What Does This Looks Like?

So now we need to ask the really, really important question. How does this actually happen? How does the Holy Spirit do this work in us?

Does He just do it automatically? He sort of takes the wheel and we chill out? That would be nice, but how long would it be until we forgot about Him?

Instead, God has told us in these passages to “walk…according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4) or “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). And Romans 8:13 says that we are the ones who put our sin to death “by the Spirit” (Romans 8:13).

So what does that look like? What does it mean for us to walk by the Spirit?


Walking by the Spirit Means Setting Our Minds on the Things of the Spirit

The first thing we can say is that walking by the Spirit means setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. That comes right out of Romans 8:5: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). 

“Live according to the Spirit” means basically the same thing as “walk according to the spirit.” And so walking (or living) according to the spirit means setting our minds on the things of the Spirit.

We’ve encountered this idea already in recent weeks. That we should not just let our thoughts float around all the time, but that we must intentionally set our minds on one thing. And walking by the Spirit means doing that. Setting our minds on the things of the Spirit.


Walking by the Spirit Means Setting Our Minds on the Word of God

So what are the things of the Spirit? If we’re supposed to set our mind on them, what are they?

We could probably find that answer by chewing on it long enough, but thankfully there’s one other place in the New Testament where this phrase is used. And that’s in 1 Corinthians 2:14. And I wish we had time to go dig into that passage and see what’s there, and if we did, what we’d find is that “the things of the Spirit” refers to the truth that God had revealed to His apostles, and more than that, the very words that He inspired those Apostles to use.

As we read Romans and Galatians and 1 Corinthians and the rest of the New Testament, we should recognize that this is Holy-Spirit inspired truth, down to the very words. And this is what Paul points to when he says “the things of the Spirit.” God’s truth expressed in God’s very words.

We should be reminded again that the Bible is a supernatural book. Open it and read, and you are reading the things of the Spirit.


Walking by the Spirit Means Receiving God’s Word With Faith

But maybe you could say “Wait a second, what about all of the people who know a lot of Scripture but don’t believe any of it? Aren’t there even scholars who study the Bible for their jobs and yet don’t believe it’s God’s word? Surely those people aren’t ‘walking by the Spirit’ just because they’ve got a bunch of Bible verses in their heads, right?”

It’s true: just having your head full of Bible verses won’t automatically make you a loving and a holy person. Walking by the Spirit requires that we believe the words that we are setting our minds on.

Galatians 3:5 is a very important verse in this regard. It’s written as a question, and it says this: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith…?” (Galatians 3:5,6). 

Paul is trying to show them that God does not give us His Spirit by works of the law. He continually supplies His Spirit to us as we hear His word and receive it with faith.

So yes: walking by the Spirit means more than just packing your head with Bible verses. But it also doesn’t happen apart from the word of God. It happens as we set our minds on His word with faith, believing every promise and standing on every truth. And as we do that, we will produce the fruits of the Spirit and be empowered to put our sin to death.


How This Works in Real Life

So. What does this actually look like? What does “walking by the Spirit” actually look like in your day-in-and-day-out?

Well, hopefully it’s happening right now. As I read and explain Scripture to you, and as you believe what God has said, God is supplying His spirit to you! Preaching is a supernatural event in more ways than one.

But let me give you a couple of more examples to help us get our heads and our hearts wrapped around this a little bit more.

Example #1. It’s Wednesday morning. Instead of sleeping in as possibly late as you can, you got up 20 minutes early to read the Bible and pray. And let’s say you’re reading through the book of Romans, and you’re in chapter 12, and you read verses 9 & 10:

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:9–10). 

And instead of just blasting on through, you stop and think. You notice that even though we’re not under the law of Moses, that doesn’t mean God never commands us to do anything anymore. Right here in the New Testament, we’re commanded to love one another with brotherly affection.

And so you pause. You recognize that these are the very words of the Holy Spirit, and that this New Covenant command is for you, and you believe it.

And so then you think, “How will I obey this today? What does love for my brothers and sisters look like today?” Maybe you’ll be seeing someone today, or maybe you think back to a prayer request that someone shared on Sunday, and you realize there’s a practical way you can help.

And so then you ask for the Holy Spirit’s help, and you obey. You pray for that person, maybe sending them a text to say you’ve done that. Maybe you make plans to make a meal for them that night. If you start to make excuses, you choose to remember how much love Christ has shown to you. You pray for strength and you obey.

What I’ve just described is not some super-spiritual, unrealistic exercise. It is a supernatural process, but it should be be normal for us. Reading the Bible, thinking about it, believing it, and acting on it. That’s what walking by the Spirit looks like. 

Let me give a second example. It’s Thursday evening. You’re tired from a long day of working. It’s 9:30 and you sit down with your phone or computer to check email. You click on a link, which leads you to another link, and all of a sudden there’s something in front of you that is tempting you. Appealing to your desires.

Maybe it’s another person you’re tempted to lust after. Maybe it’s stuff on sale somewhere, tempting you to spend money on something you don’t need. Maybe it’s an Facebook post tempting you to feel envy or superiority towards someone.

In that moment of temptation, you have some choices. You can give in, of course. You can try just saying no in your own strength. Or, you can put your sin to death by the Spirit of God.

And so you do that. You remember what God’s word says about that sin that you’re struggling with. Maybe you’re battling lust, and so you’ve memorized Matthew 5:8, which says “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Maybe it’s materialism or envy, and so you’ve memorized Matthew 6:33: “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

And you believe that promise. And you say, “I want to see God more than I want to see this other person right now.” Or, “I believe that God will provide for all of my real needs as I seek Him first.” And you close the window.

Do you know what you just did? You put sin to death by the Spirit of God. You set your mind on the things of the Spirit instead of the things of the flesh, and you used the sword of the Spirit to kill your sinful passion.

These are just two examples out of literally thousands we could share today. But these examples help show us how holiness happens. We read the living, supernatural word of God. We set our minds on it throughout the day. We believe it. We obey it. And we use it to fight in the midst of the battle.


Application: Read the Bible

So you probably know where this is going in terms of application. If any of this is going to work, we need to know God’s word and understand it so we can set our minds on it and walk by the Spirit.

Now I know that when I, or someone in my position, starts talking to you about knowing and reading the Bible, it’s so easy to tune it out. “Blah, blah, blah. I should read the Bible more. Of course you’d say that, pastor guy.”

Like a good friend once said to me, “This is all easy for you to say, Chris, but I don’t get paid to study the Bible for a job.”

And what I told him is what I’ll tell you: most of my most important encounters with God’s word have not happened while preparing for a sermon. They have happened on my own when I’m spending time with God’s word before my work day starts. And it has been those encounters with the living God in His living word that has given me the passion to proclaim that word to others.

So please, let me plead with you today: the living God wrote a book. And you get to hold it in your hands. You get to read it. Please make that a priority in your life.

It’s a sad truth that many, many Christians in North America know so very little about what’s actually inside this book. And according to our passages today, this probably explains why there’s such a lack of holiness among so many of us.

We all say that we believe this is God’s word. But our actions so often reveal that the Bible isn’t very important to us, or that we think the Bible isn’t enough for us, and we need something more, something better and more fresh than the Bible to really meet our needs.

2 Timothy 3 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

If you ever find yourself hungry for more than the Bible, that’s a sure-fire sign that what you actually need is more of the Bible.

But maybe you’ve struggled with this. And you’re tired of just hearing “read the Bible more.” So I’m going to end by giving some practical suggestions for how to set your mind on the things of the Spirit from Monday to Saturday. 

Start by making the Bible a part of your routine. Get a habit going. If you’re starting from zero, it might not be helpful to jump right into a once-a-day habit right away. That will be to tough and giving up will be easy. Try a goal like 15 minutes in the word, three times a week. That’s not much, but that’s the point. Start there, lock it in, and build from there.

As you read, focus on understanding. Don’t try to read chapters and chapters each day. I’ve done the Bible-in-a-year thing, but I struggle to understand what I’m reading when I have to take in three chapters each day. Even if you are doing that, try taking a verse or two or three and camp out there for a few minutes. Ask questions. Use a pen and a paper to jot stuff down. Don’t move on until you’ve figured out what those few verses are saying and how they actually apply to your life today.

You also know I’m also a big believer in a good study Bible that actually helps you understand what the text of Scripture means. We’ve learned in this series that we need to be careful in the way we apply Scripture from previous covenants to our lives today. And a good study Bible is a good way to help us do that well. I’m actually going to put a post up on the blog this week where I will mention a few good options and show you where you can buy them.

Memorization is also so important. I touched on that earlier today. If you’re struggling in a particular area, pick a verse that applies, and write it out on your phone background and in your car and where you work and commit it to memory, so that you can pull it out to fight when you’re battling your sin.

If you’re listening to me this morning and you don’t have a good Bible, or you know of someone who needs one, we just bought a caseload of fantastic giveaway Bibles. They’re in my office, and you can ask me for one for yourself or someone else anytime.

Whatever you bring to this today, and wherever you go from this today, let’s all make sure that we don’t miss the big idea: this book is the words of the Holy Spirit. As we set our minds on these things and receive them with faith, we will walk by the Spirit and produce the fruit of the Spirit and be able to put our sin to death by the Spirit.

And we need this. We can’t be holy on our own. We’re going to sing the song “Lord, I Need You” in just a moment. And it’s so true. We need Him.

And as we sing these words, let’s not forget where we meet this Lord whom we need and how we hear from Him. In His supernatural word.

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