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—GALATIANS 5:15-26.—SEPTEMBER 25.—
ST. PAUL was a practical man, not merely a theorist; he brought his teaching down to a practical level which his readers could comprehend. Today's Study is one of these. Like all of St. Paul's epistles and entreaties, it is addressed to the Church, to those who have turned aside from the broad road of selfishness and worldliness, to walk the narrow way, in the footsteps of Jesus, and thereby to become joint-heirs with Jesus in his Messianic Kingdom, which is shortly to bless the world. Nevertheless, many who are not saints, many who are not wholly consecrated to God, may draw valuable lessons from the Apostle's words in this lesson, as well as in others. Many lessons of life specially applicable to those who have made a consecration to be the Lord's followers are valuable also to the remainder of mankind.
The Christian has, so to speak, stepped out of his old self and become a New Creature, a Spirit being, which merely resides in the flesh and has interests that are distinctly separate and often antagonistic thereto. The Apostle urges these to walk in the spirit; that is to say, to let their daily course of life be in accord with their new nature. So doing, they will resist and not fulfil the desires of the flesh. Why? Because they will realize that there is an antagonism of interests as between the desires of the flesh and their desires as New Creatures. The two are at warfare, the one desiring against the other. There may be a truce for a time, but there will never be peace [R4688 : page 302] between them. Our interests as New Creatures are along spiritual lines, while our depraved appetites and tastes go in the opposite direction. Hence the Apostle said, "Ye cannot do the things that ye would!" As New Creatures you would follow in the footsteps of your Master, perfectly, but having fallen flesh, you cannot do this! You can only hobble after him at very most. But if we take this position and become his followers, we will be no longer under judgment according to the flesh, but will be judged as New Creatures, perfect in will—rendering the best obedience to righteousness we are capable of, under our handicap of imperfect human organism.
In order that none might make a mistake as to what would constitute the desires of the flesh, the Apostle recites them and declares that they are manifest or openly discernible, namely: "fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revelings and such like, of the which I forewarn you, that they which practise such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God." These are works of the fallen flesh and antagonistic to righteousness. All of God's people are to resist them, if they would not lose his favor. They have the seeds of all these iniquitous things in their flesh, received by heredity; but their minds, their wills, have been changed, converted, turned around, to righteousness—to the doing of the will of God. As New Creatures they must not practise the fleshly things, else they will not grow in the fruits and graces of the holy Spirit and will not be fit for the Kingdom.
The Apostle does not here say that if anyone were overtaken in a fault and lost his temper, for instance, and got into strife, that this would bar him forever from the Kingdom. He might, indeed, through tears and prayers and Divine forgiveness, come back into harmony with God and subsequently become a valued soldier of the Cross and follower of the Lamb. But if any practise such things they should know that they are developing and strengthening a character contrary to the one which God will approve—they are going backward and not forward. Let us note the difference between an accidental slip with a penitent recovery, and a wilful practising of a wrong course. Alas! how many Christians have the evidence in themselves that they will not inherit the Kingdom of God—unless they make a fresh start and reverse the order of their living!
If the Apostle led us into a tangled wildwood of human selfishness, thorns and thistles, as a specimen of the fruitage of the fallen flesh, he next leads us in the opposite direction, and shows us the fruits and flowers of sweet odor which belong to the Garden of the Lord. He tells us that these delightful fruits of the Spirit should more and more be cultivated, and should be developed to perfection in our hearts, and, as far as possible, should overrun and cover and choke out the imperfections of our flesh. The fruits of this garden are all the fruits of the Spirit of God—all such as he originally planted in man and which have become vitiated through sin—all such as he now has implanted afresh and would develop in the hearts of his sanctified ones. The fruits of the Spirit, which should be manifest in all of the followers of Jesus in more or less perfection are these: "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law."
The Apostle explains that those who have become Christ's followers have crucified the flesh with the passions and desires thereof. They have voluntarily agreed that they will live contrary to the emotions and desires of the fallen flesh. He urges, If we live by the Spirit, by the [R4688 : page 303] Spirit let us also walk! It is the Spirit of God which has quickened us and which ultimately is to perfect us. But it can perfect us only if we are led by it and walk in its ways. Otherwise we will not be fit for a place in the Kingdom, whatever other place in God's arrangements we may have. One of the most dangerous besetments of the Christian is vanity. It leads to more trouble, provokes more quarrels and envyings than is generally supposed. If we are walking after the Spirit of our Master, it will mean that instead of being vainglorious we will be meek, humble, teachable. And only such will eventually be ready for the glory, honor and immortality which God will bestow upon the faithful at the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.