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Liberated From Legalism pt 25 [10-24-21]

October 24, 2021

"Liberated from Legalism"

Galatians 5:19-26

Whether it's spring, summer, or these beautiful fall days, do you ever notice tree differences? Sometimes it's one tree of the same kind in proximate distance to the other, so you know they share the same soil type, access to sunshine, and precipitation amounts. And yet, one of these trees is productive and flourishing while the other is nasty and gnarly, hanging on by the skin of its teeth.

The healthy tree is happily producing flowers or buds or fruit or nuts or a flourish of prolific leaves, or whatever else God has designed it to produce. The other tree is barely there with hardly any evidence of what kind of tree it's supposed to be. One is in the prime of its fruitfulness while the other is knocking on heaven's door.

What's going on? One is the epitome of what its brand of tree is supposed to be, while the other is a 63-year-old Madonna fooling nobody.

Today, we're going to look at verses 19-21 of chapter five. Here Paul describes the fruitless existence of the flesh, aka, our sinful nature. As we look at the dying tree this week, we'll set the stage for the fruitful and productive work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. This is the week we wallow in the mud, getting a clear picture of what epitomizes spiritual death.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 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.

- Galatians 5:19-21

When you read the Bible, which is God's revealed Word to us, you notice that God never urges Himself to be good. I can't begin to count the number of times I've muttered to myself, c'mon, Richard, you can do better than this; c'mon, man, you're better than this; this isn't who you are; what is wrong with you. Unless someone is a psychopath, most people

engage in that kind of corrective self-talk. But God is never torn by evil motives. God is light and in Him there is no darkness. So God doesn't need to be reminded about the higher calling of His deity. God doesn't have to be reminded to mind His manners or do the right thing.

We, on the other hand, are no good from root to branch. Verses 19-21 of Galatians 5 remind of us our moral depravity. "Gee, pastor, this isn't going to be a very positive or uplifting message, is it?" asks the morally depraved person. Yet, in spite of the perceived negativity of today's message, we're going to see next week how God never ceases to urge us to be good. In these verses God describes why we are not good. We are not wholly pure. No, far from it.

Let's ask ourselves a few important questions.

Do we spontaneously and naturally and consistently humble ourselves and serve others in meekness and kindness? Do pure thoughts come to mind as naturally as heat comes out of the sun? Do edifying words and deeds flow from us as freely as water from a natural spring? Do we never have to work at being decent and honorable people? We know the answers to those questions.

We are a far piece from pure. We need Paul's list of bad things and good things. We need to be reminded of what to flee from and what to run toward.

Let's get down to the fleeing first.

From the get-go, our first struggle is against trying to be better people on our own. You know how it works. I know there are things I can say or do that project a veneer of being a decent human being, so that's what I do. What's in my heart is a need for others to see me as good and decent. So I align myself with particular people or movements that I think will win me the approval of others. Think about a particular product or food item or drink. As it hits the mainstream, and more and more people embrace it, we might feel quite neutral about the thing itself, but the drive to belong pushes us to embrace it, as well. It's all about keeping up appearances.

Do you see how that works? I do decent things in order to appear morally self-sufficient in the eyes of God and people. Instead of letting God transform my heart, I use good works to overwrite my wicked heart. As we run down Paul's list of badness, we'll see how his aim isn't to change the veneer of our lives with some new attitudes or actions. God's aim is for us to be a new creation, from the root up, so new attitudes and actions become an outgrowth of new hearts.

The last thing we want is for Covenant Church to signal virtue. Instead of being conformed to the way of this fallen world, we want virtue to flow from changed hearts. Are you with me on that? Because the last thing the world needs is more virtue signaling. Whether it's a yard sign or holding a sign while standing with a bunch of other people on main street, the only good which comes out of such signaling is that certain people will be thinking more favorably of me. Someone once told me that rich people don't pay enough taxes, which is virtue signaling with other people's money. {As if all government spending is virtuous!} I simply shared that nothing was stopping them from kicking in a little extra on April 15, to help with the perceived need. Was not well received.

We don't need a new self-improvement program. First thing we need to do

is recognize our sin. Hence, the list of verses 19-21, which is in no way,

shape, or form an exhaustive list.

Let's get to it.

The first thing to understand is that verses 19-21 are what is called a catalogue of vices. This was quite common in ancient times. The Galatians would have known about lists like this before.

There are two important things to remember about these kinds of lists:

  1. They are by no means exhaustive. Just because something didn't make the list doesn't mean it's okay.

  2. By mentioning one category, all subsets of that category are implied. For example, if I make a list and stealing is on that list, you then cannot say pick pocketing or embezzlement must be okay because they didn't make the list.

Right out of the gate, Paul brings up sexual immorality. Aren't these the

sins we're so good at rationalizing? "So I had sex before marriage. At least I didn't kill anyone." The greatest rationalizer is, "If it's between 2

consenting adults, where's the harm?"

Everywhere it's used, sexual immorality refers to any kind of sexual sin.

More often than not, when we think of fornication or sexual immorality we

think mainly of adultery. But here it means any kind of impurity. If I only did weddings for people who were virgins on their wedding night, I wouldn't perform very many marriage ceremonies.

As sexual sin was rampant in the pagan world, sexual immorality covered a wide swath of people and behavior. It also included indecency. It meant immodest ways of dressing or acting. What we call PDAs, or public displays of affection, were included here. Who has two thumbs and does not want to see people making out in public? This guy. I cringe when I'm watching a wedding show and the bride and groom practically swallow each other's faces for the ceremonial kiss. Gross. I prefer demure and tasteful.

Idolatry means seeking our sense of identity and security in anything or

anyone other than the One, True God. That's any easy one.

Sorcery is the worship of that which is evil. We get that. Horoscopes and

palm reading fall under that category. But the interesting thing about sorcery is the original Greek word. It is "pharmakeia." In Paul's day this included believing in magic spells or potions. Anytime a drug or chemical is used to cause harm, it falls under this condemnation. That would include abortion and euthanasia.

Next on the list are two related faults. Enmity and strife. These come from a quarrelsome spirit. Do you know people like that? I've known people who, if I said it was a lovely blue sky, they would argue that it wasn't. Some people carry a spirit of offense.

Here are two helpful things to remember:

  1. Sometimes people will be mean to you simply because they're unhappy with their own lives. It really has nothing to do with you {Nzube Olisaebuka Udezue, 9/24/21}. In other words, they carry with them a spirit of offense.

  2. The fact that Jesus flipped tables does not automatically

make your anger righteous. Sometimes you're just offended


Anytime people exhibit the kinds of behaviors that round out verse 20, they are weakly yielding to the works of the flesh. It almost comes naturally.

Then, at verse 21, Paul brings in envy. I think the notion of making the rich pay their fair share is rooted in envy. Here's something from Socrates:

"The envious are pained by their friends' successes."

To put a less philosophical spin to it, a cartoon shows a dog sitting at a bar. He says, "It's not just that dogs have to win, but cats have to lose." As much as I dislike cats, I know envy is wrong.

While it's real easy for me to go chasing down rabbit holes with passages like this, I need to wrap things up. To sum it all up, here's something you might want to write down. It's from Puritan pastor and theologian William Perkins:


Here's where this will take us next week. After soberly acknowledging the

rotting root of depravity - narcissism and self-centeredness - the next part of Galatians 5 describes for us the solution. Next week we'll turn to how a supernatural encounter with God leads to a new birth and a desire to

reflect the fruit of the Spirit. Until then, let's not be naïve about the depth of our corruption and destructiveness of our horribleness.

We all have a desperate need for a Savior to rescue us from the disease of sin.


To the Glory of God Alone!

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