Sabbath School Lesson for September 9-15, 2017
Could those Galatians, who were diligently doing God’s commandments as prescribed by their Judaizing “friends”, be guilty of not walking in the Spirit? Paul seems to be worried about that very thing, so he gives them a review Bible study, if you will, about what walking in the Spirit looks like.
The apostle Paul feels that the likelihood of their losing their way entirely by following these false teachers is very real. He therefore reminds them of the difference between doing the things of the flesh and striving for real spiritual victories that develop our character. His detailed lists are similar to others in the New Testament, and are helpful to all Christians who desire to remain faithful to God.
What perhaps we should avoid, however, is an intense, personal scrutiny of the items in the lists. Be aware of what they are, and even where your weaknesses lie, but remember that a relationship with God is the secret ingredient to overcoming your deficiencies.
We cannot and should not work on our behavior on our own. Only with the Holy Spirit as our constant companion will we be able to conquer sin and live a victorious life. And this is what Paul is evidently worried that they might be doing: following a checklist of behaviors that they must work on, in order to be accepted as part of God’s family.
So, let’s be sure that we, as Christians today, don’t follow this same pattern. We can’t change ourselves by ourselves, no matter how hard we try. As our relationship with God matures and our faith grows, we will find ourselves naturally doing those things that keep us on God’s side. Remember, we can’t PROMISE to be good, as we learned last week; we can only CHOOSE to be good.
Memory Text: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16 ESV
This verse emphasizes the importance of the Holy Spirit walking by our side (even “in” us, as found in some translations). He’s not in front of us to lead, or in back of us to defend; He must be walking right next to us, in order for us to avoid those deadly traps of worldly lusts and desires. This closeness allows Him to whisper in our ear those things that please and displease God, enabling us to turn from those things that please self in a destructive way.
Sunday: Walking in the Spirit
“Walking” was a metaphor found in the Old and New Testaments. But most likely “walking in the law” was used in the OT to describe the same thing as “walking in the Spirit” in the New.
Before the term “Christian” came into use though, the movement was called “the Way” (John 14:6, Acts 22:4, and 24:14). This signifies that Christianity, then and now, was more than a set of theological beliefs, but was also a way of life to be “walked”.
Paul’s reminders about walking in the Spirit seem to indicate that he is not against the law or obedience. What does alarm him is the tendency to misuse the law by exhibiting outward compliance only, without the inner motivation that comes from the Spirit of God.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 5:16-18, Exodus 16:4, Leviticus 18:4, and Jeremiah 44:23. What’s the difference in being “in” the law and “under” the law? What part does the Spirit play?
Read Acts 22:4, 24:14, and John 14:6. Why did Jesus call Himself the Way? And why were His followers called the Way?
Read Deuteronomy 13:4, Romans 13:13, Ephesians 4:1, and Colossians 1:10. How did Paul’s description of walking in the Spirit compare with the one in Deuteronomy?
Monday: The Christian’s Conflict
The fact that a Christian struggles with sin was nothing new to Paul. He experienced it himself, as he described his own spiritual battles in Romans 7:14-25. There are two natures in man, he declared: the carnal (selfish) one we are first born with, and the holy (unselfish) one we acquire at our conversion, called our “new birth”.
David recognized these natures too: “…in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5) and “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” (Psalm 51:10). David, like Paul, also recognized that the secret to winning this battle was through the Holy Spirit. He prayed to God to “…take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11).
What concerns Paul is that we are also in danger of losing the battle when we self-righteously attempt to win it on our own. Our self-righteous attempts at holiness end up putting us in Satan’s camp. It separates us from God, which is right where Satan wants us.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 7:14-25. How can we still have these two natures after our baptism? Hasn’t the old nature been put to death?
Read 1 Corinthians 15:31, 54. Why must we “die daily” as Paul did? And when will this daily struggle be over?
Read Isaiah 64:6. Why aren’t educational and cultural development, community service, philanthropy, and moral upbringing in families enough to bring us true righteousness?
Tuesday: The Works of the Flesh
We discover in our lesson this week that even though self must be totally sacrificed, there are pleasures that God expects us to enjoy in this life. We don’t have to be denied every earthly pleasure, as some Christians have tried to do in the past. Just those that have destructive consequences.
We thrill at the sight of natural splendors, such as beautiful sunsets and rainbows, for instance. Marriage and family still has its perks for most of us. And what satisfaction there is in a productive day’s work, or a creative masterpiece completed and shared with others. God established these three institutions to bless mankind: Sabbath, marriage, and work. We don’t have to isolate ourselves in order to increase our Christian virtues, nor should we. They call for a positive, active part in the world.
There are several items of interest in the lists of works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.
- Notice that “works” is in the plural form, and “fruit” is singular. This indicates the divisive nature of those works of the flesh; the practice of them tears us apart. But the fruit being singular speaks of unity; the quality of character it produces brings us together.
- The first is a list of negative behaviors, but the spiritual fruit is a list of virtues produced by the Spirit. Far more important than the actual good works is the end result. There is seemingly no good result for the bad behaviors.
- The fruit is exhibited by those who are led by the Spirit. The works of the flesh result when we are led either by Satan or our own selfish pursuits. It makes no difference to him, how we are separated from God.
Paul finishes this section of his letter with these words, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Yes, we can be led astray by our own doing. The destination we find for ourselves, however, won’t be the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 5:18-26. In what way are the works of the flesh divisive (notice the plural form of “works”)? In what way does the fruit produce unity (notice its singular form)?
Read Jeremiah 7:9 and Revelation 21:8. How do these two lists, one in past Old Testament times and the other in future end times, compare with Paul’s list for the Galatians?
Are all worldly pleasures considered bad? What is there on earth that still blesses us? And why do they prove a blessing, instead of a curse?
Wednesday: The Fruit of the Spirit
Following a lengthy list of works of the flesh are a list of just nine Christian virtues that comprise the fruit of the Spirit. There has been much discussion about the significance of these three triads of spiritual character traits. Could they symbolize the holy Trinity? Perhaps they reflect ways we should relate to God, to others, and to ourselves.
Whatever way we view them, we can’t help but speculate on the importance of the first virtue listed: love. Paul gives love center stage often in his writings, as do other Christian authors, including Jesus himself. Without love, the other virtues would be empty, meaningless, and artificial. This is why we are told in John 13:34, 35 that Christ’s disciples will be known for their love for one another.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 5:22, 23. What is meant by saying that “against such there is no law”? Is restraining selfishness (which is what human laws attempt to do) able to produce character? Why?
Read Matthew 5:21, 22, 27, and 28. How did Jesus explain how the fruit of the Spirit, especially love, is necessary in our being able to keep the Ten Commandments? Does the fruit negate, or do away, with our need for the law?
Read Galatians 5:6 and 13. Are love and works (obedience to the law) both needed, in order to please God? How does all this affect our faith?
Thursday: The Way to Victory
Paul summarizes the key to a victorious life in Galatians 5:24 and 25.
“And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” NKJV
Therefore we must feed our spiritual life and starve those worldly desires and passions. For many, this will involve a complete turnaround in lifestyle, but it always involves a re-ordering of our attitudes and priorities that are also noticeable to those around us.
Verse 16 began this section by also calling for us to walk in the Spirit. The tense of the Greek verb for “walk” implies a continual walk, not an occasional, casual stroll. And the present tense verb “live” in verse 25 reminds us of the new-birth experience that also happens continually every day.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 5:16, 24, 25 and 1 Corinthians 15:31. Why must we also die, or crucify the flesh, daily?
Read Romans 8:14 and 1 Corinthians 12:2. How do these verses show that by walking in the Spirit we are being led by Him? Why is this guidance needed?
Read Galatians 5:21. How do we reconcile this verse with the fact that we are saved by faith, not by works, or what we practice? What part does faith play in our works, whether good or bad?
Major points brought out in our study were:
- Walking in the Spirit includes obedience to the law (Sunday)
- There are still two natures battling within us, even after we are baptized (Monday)
- Works of the flesh can be very destructive; we are wise to stay away from them (Tuesday)
- Love is the most important virtue; without it the others would be empty and meaningless (Wednesday)
- We must daily crucify self and walk with the Spirit (Thursday)
Even the strongest Christian needs the encouragement of other believers in order to keep growing in the faith. Recognizing and acknowledging the Spirit’s influence provides a mighty blessing to both the giver and the recipient in this exchange.
Jesus was fortified by his disciples, and we too are benefited when we allow ourselves to not just attend church, but to become involved in the life of a faith community.
This is only one way to fortify our spiritual nature, but one that many fail to appreciate enough these days. What are you doing to benefit your church? Is church a better place because you are there?
Your love will make a difference, no matter where you are. But think of how it can quickly be multiplied when expressed to others who are already on a path of faith. There is no more effective way to spread the gospel than to start within the context of one’s own church. It will spread out from there and be a shining light to the world around us.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NKJV
Next Week: The Gospel and the Church
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All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/