16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 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. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
There is a grittiness every Christian needs. But this grittiness isn’t self-made. It’s God-given. The gospel puts steel in our bones, giving us an invincibility against the flesh that once killed us with every breath. We need this ruggedness because we daily face an internal conflict. The desires of the flesh cry out to be satisfied while the Holy Spirit calls out to be obeyed. Moment by moment, we have a choice. Will we obey the Lord or our flesh?
In the battle, the gospel is comforting, reminding us of forgiveness in the face of our sin. But it is also a call to holiness, commanding us to wage war on our sin. As Jesus comforts us with his grace, he calls us to stand tall next to him in combat. He leads us, and he arms us. Will we walk by the Spirit or will we gratify the desires of the flesh? We can’t do both.
What have we been doing? Our lives bear witness. The flesh leads to enslavement. Our desires show up in how we treat our bodies and one another. Is our sexuality out of control? Is our heart following idols of selfishness? Are our relationships strained and divided? If so, our story these past few days, months, or years has been one living under the passions of the flesh. Now is our moment to repent and trust Jesus for a better way. In our new birth, God gave us the Holy Spirit. He gave us gospel grit.
Gospel grit means we obey God in the face of our flesh crying out for satisfaction. It means we look to him for strength, knowing, in the end, he will give us more joy than the fleeting pleasures of this world. We don’t run from the battle. We face the enemy within and slay him.
We all experience this war inside. At the intellectual level, we understand the strategy. But at the heart level, we struggle to follow orders. We struggle not only with the big things. We struggle in the little moments. We can’t keep ourselves clean. We slack off on exercise. We sleep in and miss opportunities. We pause on the Instagram photo a little too long. We refuse to rejoice with a brother over good news he received. It’s the little things, moment by moment, that give way to a life drifting from Jesus.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! The Holy Spirit has been planted in our heart, and if we will listen to him, follow him, and let him lead us, we will find that his fruit will begin to grow. Our whole life could change. We could find more joy than we’ve ever experienced, more freedom than we knew was available, more peace than we could ever understand.
So, what’s the path forward? Paul tells us in verses 24-25. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” There are two things. First, we are to crucify the flesh. Second, we are to keep in step with the Spirit. Die to self. Live to God.
The Christian life is not easy. It’s messy, bloody, sacrificial. It is a constant walking our sin toward the cross, offering the flesh, nailing it to the wood, and leaving it until it suffocates. It’s horrifyingly ugly and breathtakingly beautiful because it’s the same path that Jesus walked. What he did for us, he’s calling us to do for his sake. As he said in his own words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
We need gospel grit because the flesh doesn’t die all at once. It dies day by day, moment by moment. As John Brown says, “Crucifixion…produced death not suddenly but gradually…True Christians…do not succeed in completely destroying it while here below; but they have fixed it to the cross and they are determined to keep it there till it expire.”
We will never witness the complete crucifixion of all our sin in this life. But by God’s grace, keeping in step with the Spirit, we can crucify it little by little over the course of our life. Before we will take that step, however, we must see sin as destructive as it truly is. We can’t play with it. It’s not a harmless friend. It’s an enemy of joy. It is not what makes life interesting. It’s what takes life away. As Jackie Hill Perry says, “You won’t put to death what you believe is keeping you alive.”
John Stott shows us that rejection of our old nature is to be pitiless, painful, and decisive.
“So, Paul says, if we crucified the flesh, we must leave it there to die. We must renew every day this attitude towards sin of ruthless and uncompromising rejection…The first great secret of holiness lies in the degree and the decisiveness of our repentance. If besetting sins persistently plague us, it is either because we have never truly repented, or because, having repented, we have not maintained our repentance. It is as if, having nailed our old nature to the cross, we keep wistfully returning to the scene of its execution. We begin to fondle it, to caress it, to long for its release, even to try to take it down again from the cross. We need to learn to leave it there. When some jealous, or proud, or malicious, or impure thought invades our mind we must kick it out at once. It is fatal to begin to examine it and consider whether we are going to give in or not. We have declared war on it; we are not going to resume negotiations. We have settled the issue for good; we are not going to re-open it. We have crucified the flesh; we are never going to draw the nails.”
So, we crucify our flesh, day by day, moment by moment. But we also keep in step with the Spirit. In our relationship, God takes the initiative. He’s asking us to nail our sin to the cross, but he’s showing us that he did it first. By his Spirit, he’s giving us a view into the saving work of Christ, and through his Spirit, he’s giving us the power to follow. All we must do is walk with him. We don’t have to know the way. We don’t have to understand the path. We don’t have to know the future. All we must know is that he’s better than every alternative. Like a sheep that trusts his shepherd, we must trust our Good Shepherd and follow him even through the valley of the shadow of death.
1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.
6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Paul has just called us to crucify the flesh and walk by the Spirit. Now, he’s helping us see how this personal reality with God creates communal reality with God—how gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.
Sin is enslaving. It comes from the Devil himself, from the world around, and springs up from the heart within. It is deceiving and thorny. And many are caught in its snare. When that happens, there is a way forward, but it takes the community of spiritual believers to rescue. At any moment, any of us can come back to God in repentance. His grace is that available. But before we can come back, we must see that we need to come back. That’s why we need one another—to see ourselves when sin has captured us.
But we must be gentle in our attempt to bring our brother home. Like a foot caught in a trap, you cannot pull it free. You must pry it open, remove it slowly, preserving the flesh and bone. We should not be rough with one another. We should be gentle in restoration.
Not every Christian has yet learned gentleness. That’s why Paul says “you who are spiritual” should do this. Christian relationships should be marked by service to one another. We should not exalt ourselves above one another but humble ourselves before one another. That does not mean we lay down, allowing others to walk over us. It means we should lay down, not allowing ourselves to walk over others.
The Lord cares for us, and he wants us to cast our cares on him (1 Peter 5:7). But, as John Stott says, “one of the ways in which he bears these burdens of ours is through human friendship.”
American men today know very little of this kind of friendship. A recent study showed that the biggest threat facing middle-aged men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness. No one sets out to isolate themselves, but as we age and get more involved in our jobs and family, we have less and less time for friendships. Before we realize it, we are on an island with no one to hear our cry. In fact, we’ve forgotten how to cry altogether. We may feel the heaviness but can’t find the cause and certainly can’t find the cure. But Galatians 6 makes no sense apart from friendships. In fact, much of the Christian life cannot be lived without others. Jesus saves us individually but connects us to a community where burden sharing is the norm.
At Refuge Church, we want to fight the American pastime of loneliness. We want to push against the cultural call to isolation and push into the gospel call to loving our neighbor. The Christian life is hard enough as it is. Isolation makes it only harder.
So, who is bearing your burdens? Whose burdens are you bearing? Who are you confessing sin to? Who is confessing their sin to you? What other man really knows what’s going on inside you? Who actually knows you—not facts about you but the real you—the you kept hidden from so many others?
What if the Lord began creating friendships among us at Refuge Church such that anyone walking through our doors on Sunday morning wouldn’t find just a collection of Christians assembled for a common cause but a group of Christian friends living life together for Christ? What change could that bring to our city?
This is hard. We are busy people. We are also selfish, and our selfishness gets in the way of all kinds of things. That’s why Paul talks about sowing and reaping. Our thinking is mixed up. For example, at work, all of us push hard. We want to do the best we can to reach the level we desire. We know we can’t just wait for it to happen. We have to go after it. But in our personal life—friendships, worship, etc.—we just let life come at us. What we sow at work we expect to reap in time. Why not also everywhere else?
Part of God’s call to holiness is a call to the life of the church. It starts with our repentance before God and our willingness to crucify the flesh and walk by the Spirit. But it doesn’t stop with us. Paul tells us we should pay our pastors in verse 6—we should share with him. He commands us not to be deceived, not to grow weary of doing good, not to give up, to do good to everyone, especially those in the church.
God’s grace is amazing and all-encompassing. But the joyful, full-bodied Christian life is not something we can drift into. It is something we press into. Every opportunity to do good, to be known, to love well is available to us. Whatever we sow we will reap. What are we sowing? What do we expect to reap?
We can be three types of people within the church. We can be false teaching negatives, neutral attenders, or gospel positives. The line isn’t to be drawn between the false teachers and neutral attenders. The line between good and bad is drawn between neutral attenders and gospel positives. Let’s actively fight anti-gospel doctrine and anti-gospel culture and stir up one another into gospel positives. It doesn’t always take much to destroy a church, especially when the false teachers have so many neutral attenders to influence. But when a church is brimming with gospel positives, even the strongest false teachers struggle to win a battle.
God has more blessing for us than we often realize. What he offers us in gospel doctrine is the never-ending love of God for the undeserving. What he offers us in gospel culture is the continuing experience of that love embodied in an entire community. Why would we say no to that? Why not take a chance, risk being known, and step into the light where Jesus is with his people? Why not reclaim our pursuit of joy, placing it in the only hands that will never let us down?
11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
Paul ends his letter with a summation of his main point. His urgency is evident. He’s writing this ending with his own hands rather than relying on dictation. He wants them to feel his heart.
The false teachers are pushing circumcision for one reason: they don’t want to bear the persecution of Jesus. They don’t want to follow Jesus to the cross at the hands of angry Jews. So, if they add a little Jewishishness to their lives, they can claim Judaism and Christianity in some disfigured hybrid. They don’t mind deforming God as long as they aren’t deformed themselves.
The Christian life does not consist in what we do or don’t do. It consists in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What he accomplished is the only boast we have. We need no other. The world has been crucified to us and us to the world. We are more than conquerors through him who loves us.
The cross of Christ may be our boast but it is an offense to the world. It tells us all that we are so evil Jesus had to die to save us. It puts our pride on the ground and stomps it until it’s dust. Our only hope is that dust is swallowed in the blood of Christ’s cross. When he cleanses us, we become a new creation—no longer the person we were but the person God has made us. Our personal boast is broken as Christ’s cross is lifted up.
The Christian life will lead to persecution. That is no new revelation. Jesus himself told us it would be so. Paul understood the cost, but he could not deny his Lord. It was painful being beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, maligned, slandered. But when the scars healed he bore on his body the marks of Jesus. He became a living witness to the gospel of his glorious grace. The wounds hurt but Jesus healed them all. More than that, he put them on display before the watching world, proclaiming his good news of salvation. We may struggle through this life, but the marks we bear on our body will one day match the marks Jesus bore on his. And when we enter eternal life we will find, amazingly, we have the garment necessary for entrance into his kingdom. It wasn’t easy, but we went to war with Jesus and watched him slay the giant on our behalf. It was glorious, and we have the rest of time to enjoy the spoils.