Galatians 5:13-18: Liberty in the Spirit

April 9, 2018


“At the close of an important speech to Congress on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared his vision of what he wanted to see after  the war was over. He envisioned four basic freedoms enjoyed by all people: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear…but our world still needs another freedom, a fifth freedom. Man needs to be free from himself and the tyranny of his sinful nature.” –Wiersbe

Verse 13: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Paul has already dealt with Christian liberty in Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

“Christian, you are free. Free from Law, free from the dominion of sin, free from good works to gain approval form God, free from condemnation and free from eternal judgment. You are spiritually free in Christ. Galatians 5:1 says it all: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’” –

As believers we are free to live our lives according to the leading of the Holy Spirit who lives in every believer. We live with a mind made pure by the blood of Christ. (Philippians 2:5) I am free to live my life according to the dictates of God’s word, always remembering my weaker brother.

1 Corinthians 8:9-13 NLT, “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your superior knowledge—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed.  And when you sin against other believers[b] by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.”

“In Galatians 5:13b-15, Paul gives four purposes of God's call to the freedom of loving Him: to oppose the flesh, to serve others, to fulfill His moral law, and to avoid harming others.” –John MacArthur

Liberty is an essential element in the believer’s life, but don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh to take over your life. “Flesh” is sarx in Greek, usually when Scripture uses the word “flesh” it refers to the physical body, but when the definite article, “the” precedes the word “flesh” it refers to the part of us that is alienated from God.

“It is the rebellious, unruly, obstinate part of our inner self that is operative all the time. It is the part of us that doesn’t want to be told what to do. It is stubborn, refuses correction, and doesn’t want to have a thing to do with God. It bristles at limits and rules. It recoils at anything that might cause me to be diminished or to be something less than the center of the universe. The flesh hates to be under authority or to have to yield to anything other than its own wishes and desires. The flesh often desires something simply because it is forbidden.” –Msgr. Charles Pope,


“Would you like to achieve true greatness in your life? Most people think they could never become great, but they are mistaken. Everyone can be great. Would you like to learn how? Most people think that, in order to be great, they must be wealthy or popular or famous. Others think they must have great talent in athletics or business. Still others think in terms of political power. But did you know that you could have all these things and still not be great? Even more important, did you know that you can be great, even if you don't have any of these things? Here's how. In Matthew 20:26,27, Jesus said: ‘...whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.’ Now, most people do not think of servants as being very great. And that's just the problem: they aren't thinking right!” –David E. Pratte,

Christians have been set free to serve others in love. Freedom in Christ means liberty to serve others because Christian liberty is service not selfishness. If one must be in bondage, let them serve others in the bondage of love! In other words be bound by love in your service to others.

Verse 14: “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (see also: Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31, James 2:8).

Love for God is naturally assumed because you cannot love your neighbor as yourself unless you know that God’s love is flowing through you. Who is my neighbor? When we look at the story of the
“good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) we must conclude that my neighbor is anyone who is in need. “And don't forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God” (Hebrews 13:16 NLT).

Ephesians 5:1,2, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

Verse 15: “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”

Error in any form can divide the church. I have seen too many church splits, or splinters (smaller splits) in my years of ministry. It starts rather calmly with a simple disagreement between two people. It doesn’t take long for others to get involved. Soon the whole church is divided. Ultimately, many people are hurt, discouraged, demoralized and the church’s testimony in the community is harmed. And pastors are hurt, and in many cases so broken they leave the ministry. And most of the time church fights start over something simple: Should the pastor have a beard? traditional or contemporary music, the nursery, the choir, Sunday School, paint color in the sanctuary, the pastor’s clothing, the pastor’s wife, the pastor’s kids, curtains on the church windows, pads on the pews, and many other silly arguments that pale in significance to the lost world in which we live!

Remember the story of the church business meeting that had just voted get electricity (it carried unanimously). So now they were voting on the type of chandelier they wanted in the sanctuary, when one member came in late, listened for a moment then rose to object. He said, “I’m against a chandelier, first, we don’t need one, second, nobody here knows how to play one, and finally, before we spend money on anything that fancy we ought to get some electricity in this place.”

I remember a church split, in  small Midwestern town back in the seventies where the whole town was involved. It totally destroyed the testimony of both churches before a watching world.

I was asked by a pastor to come and help him with an anticipated church split. The problem, the teenage daughter of a church deacon had become pregnant. Several families in the church wanted to vote the deacon out of the church. By the way, with the leading of God and much counseling and preaching, it turned out alright.

This is what flesh will do to the church. It will destroy it. The words “bite and devour” are apropos words for church fights. These words are  used to describe how dogs and wild creatures treat each other.

There’s the funny story about two snakes who got mad at each other and got in a fight. They attacked each other by the tail, the result they devoured each other. That’s what happens in a church fight.


Verse 16: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

“Of all the gifts given to mankind by God, there is none greater than the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has many functions, roles, and activities. First, He does a work in the hearts of all people everywhere. Jesus told the disciples that He would send the Spirit into the world to ‘convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment’ (John 16:7-11)…The Spirit applies the truths of God to the minds of men to convince them by fair and sufficient arguments that they are sinners. Responding to that conviction brings men to salvation. Once we are saved and belong to God, the Spirit takes up residence in our hearts forever, sealing us with the confirming, certifying, and assuring pledge of our eternal state as His children.” –

You cannot “walk in the Spirit” if He does not live in you. He is not an impersonal power like electricity, He is a person, and He lives in believers. There is no such thing as a Christian without the Holy Spirit! When you accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord, the Spirit took up residence in you. Every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit! How do we receive the Spirit? We receive the Holy Spirit the very moment we trust in Christ as our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit places each believer into the body of Christ. “We have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT). “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). And every believer is sealed for eternity by the Holy Spirit. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). And every true believer is led by the Holy Spirit. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). He is our comforter and our teacher. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

When we accept Christ’s sacrifice for the remission of our sin, the Holy Spirit moves into our lives to live in us, “You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ” (Galatians 3:2 NLT). “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).

Does He live in you? The Scripture is very clear! “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9).

Romans 8:56, “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, the things of the Spirit.”

So here we see the opposite of what walking by the Spirit is, namely, giving in to the desires of the flesh.

Verse 17: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”

“Along with many others in the New Testament, these two verses (Galatians 5:17-18) make it obvious that walking by the Spirit is not simply a matter of passive surrender. The Spirit-led life is a life of conflict, because it is in constant combat with the old ways of the flesh that continue to tempt and seduce the believer.” –John MacArthur

The Apostle is not speaking of body and soul, he is speaking of the world of God (Spirit) and the world of sin (flesh). These are in continual combat, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand’ (Ephesians 6:12,13).

Paul describes the conflict, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:15-20).

Martin Luther encourages believers to “not despair if you feel the flesh battling against the Spirit or if you cannot make it behave. For you to follow the guidance of the Spirit in all things without interference on the part of the flesh is impossible. You are doing all you can if you resist the flesh and do not fulfill its demands.”

Verse 18: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” “Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness”(The Message).

Psalm 143:10 NASB, “Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”

Romans 8:14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

Most commentators agree that this phrase is synonymous with “walk in the Spirit” (Verse 16). In contrast to the law, Paul speaks of being “led by the Spirit,” “live in the Spirit,” “walk in the Spirit,” and the “fruit of the Spirit.”

The flesh cannot keep or fulfill the Law. The Law cannot control or conquer the flesh. The Holy Spirit indwells us, guides us in our Christian life and empowers us for a life of victory.

Acts 1:8a, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” 

Romans 8:3,4, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

“The solution is not to pit our will against the flesh, but to surrender our will to the Holy Spirit. This verse literally means, ‘If you are willingly led by the Spirit, then you are not under law.’” –Weirsbe

Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.”

Let me conclude this message with a word about walking in the Spirit, or being led by the Spirit, how is this possible? God has not changed! The same Spirit that was active in creation, led the children of Israel through the wilderness by fire and smoke, and filled the Tabernacle with His presence; the same Spirit that filled the Solomon’s Temple with fire and smoke; the same Spirit that sat in cloven tongues of fire on the disciples of Pentecost; the same Spirit that filled the powerful preachers of history is the same Holy Spirit that stands ready to lead us and fill us today!

This filling is available to EVERY child of God! The dynamite of God is ours for the taking. (Acts 1:8). “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead” (Philippines 3:10 NLT).

But there must be a passion for this fullness.

    •Not the passion of emotional pursuit, not just for the feeling.

    •Not the passion of the moment when life is not going well.

    •Not the passion that might help you get your family back.

    •Not just the passion you need to build a great church.

•Not a passion to give you bragging rights about your spiritual life. But a passion that will make you brag about Jesus.

The filling of the Spirit is indispensible for believers.

•A true Christian, whose faith is real will not be content to live on the mundane plains of mediocrity, they will demand to be filled with God.

•A true Christian, whose faith is real will not be content to deny the dynamic of being filled with God.

•A true Christian, whose faith is real will not be content to deny the power of the Word of God in his life.

So what does it mean to be filled with Spirit?

       •To be dominated by the things of Christ. He is my life!

•Having our live saturated with His word. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). When we fill our lives with the Word of God we grow to be more like Christ.

•It is yielding the authority of our lives to Christ. “Your sword first, sir,” is always the language of surrender. Stop fighting and yield control to Him.

•It is a recognition that the Holy Spirit lives in us every moment of every day. It is simply practicing His presence!

The indwelling of the Spirit is a constant, it cannot be changed. He moved in when I got saved! The sealing of the Spirit is the same, when He moved in He sealed my future. (Ephesians 4:30). But the filling of the Spirit is a moment by moment yielding of ourselves to God the Holy Spirit. It is both a gradual and a sudden experience. God will fill what you give Him to fill, give Him a cup, He will fill that cup! Give Him a barrel, He will fill it! Give a thimble, He will fill it! Give Him an empty life, He is waiting to guide you, lead you, walk with you and fill you with His mighty power, dunamis, the dynamite of God!

Here’s the formula:

Present yourself to God. God cannot fill what He does not own! Romans 12:1,2, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”


Have the proper motive. To glorify God and His church. If the church is to have Jesus Christ at it’s center, then we must have Him at the very center of our lives. What des the church look like when they look at you? You and I are then church.

You must desire to be filled. Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Psalm 42:2, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psalm 107:9, “For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.”

You must be willing to pay the price.  Following Jesus will cost you everything in this world. Being a Christian is not a part time thing. It’s not a hobby that you can pick up and put down whenever you want to, it is a full time 24/7 commitment to do the will of God. It is priority number one and nothing, nothing at all should get in the way of your walk with Christ. It may cost you, family, friends, fame, and fortune. How many young people have we known who were alienated from their families when they accepted Christ? It costs something to follow God!

Then, there must be a humble asking. Luke 11:13, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Our prayer, “Lord, I want to give you me, without reservation, no strings attached, fill me and use me, In Jesus name, Amen.”

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,  that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,  that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English  bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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