Inheriting the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:13-21)

Maps do several important things.

First, they show you where you are at the moment.  Being in the center of the Sahara Desert is different than being in the center of New York City. Knowing where you are affects your planning and decision-making.

Second, they will help you accomplish a goal.  If, for example, you are in New York City and you need to be in Charleston, South Carolina, the map will help by showing you that you must travel in a southwesterly direction.

Third, they will help you to identify obstacles such as mountain ranges and major congested cities.  A good map will also help you maximize advantages such as timesaving freeways and bypasses around bottleneck areas. In both cases, knowing these things will impact your travel. 

Paul writes in Galatians in 5:17, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.”  There are only two natures descriptive of mankind – the first is our fallen, sinful nature and the second is a regenerated, Spirit-led nature. We are all born into the first category and remain there unless we humbly repent of our sinfulness, accept the forgiveness provided by Christ’s death on the cross, are reconciled to God, and receive His Holy Spirit within in us as a guiding influence.  

 Now, it would be nice if, at the moment that this happens, our old nature would just curl up and die.  But that does not happen. What happens, scripturally speaking, is that we now have options.  Now we need a map, because (as Yogi Berra noted),  if we don't know where we're going, we might end up somewhere else. 

 Prior to salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our old nature was ruling our lives unopposed. This is what Paul says is true of all of us until we are 'born again' and the given the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the freedom for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). This is good news, but we’d better understand what freedom means before we go too far. 

Freedom does not mean permission to be a jerk!  It does not mean I get to live my life any way I want, destroying myself and the lives of those around me with my selfish actions.  Freedom doesn’t mean that I get a free pass on sin with a promise that “it’ll all work out in the end.”

No, freedom means that we are no longer imprisoned by our old sinful nature. “Freedom” means that once we place our trust in the person and work of Christ we now have options. God’s Holy Spirit indwells us and will offer to lead us in the way that we should go. 

How do we get to the goal of experiencing true Christian freedom?  What does that freedom look like?  And how does God lead and guide us?

Like a navigation system in a car, the Holy Spirit is able to lead, guide, and empower, but He will not overpower!  He won’t force us to live righteously.  He will however, make righteous living a genuine possibility in our life. We were stuck in sinful self-direction. Now we can travel in the direction God has in mind.  

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Galatians 5:13, 14)

The goal of God’s restoration process in each and every one of us is that we set aside our self-serving lives and live in love and service of our fellow man. The Law is meant to show us what true righteousness looks like in practical, day-to-day life.

But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 

The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:15-21)

So, what are we to do with a list like this?  It’s pretty intimidating, especially given the fact that we all fit on this list somewhere! In the last part of verse 21, Paul says, “… anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”  That’s pretty strong language.

These “deeds” are the unavoidable traits or manifestations of the core problem: living a self-directed life that neither acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus Christ nor allows the guidance of His Holy Spirit in our life. If these deeds are a fair description of your ongoing acceptance of a life characterized by habitual sin, then you have cause to question if you are following Christ at all.

Please note: If you are following Christ, temptation, and even momentary failure enters our lives.  This is the residue of our sinful nature that still wages war within us.  But as that temptation presents itself, there ought to be an ongoing struggle in your inner being when it comes to these “deeds of the flesh.”Paul is not saying that anyone who has been guilty or at a future time will be guilty of one or more of these deeds is outside of the kingdom! The Christian life does not demand perfection, but it does call for an unwavering devotion to the person of Jesus Christ.  

We’re told over and over in the New Testament that we are to be changed into His image. The distinguishing feature of this image change throughout the entire New Testament is love - an undeserved, unconditional, and almost unbelievable love.  

It is because of our new spiritual freedom that we are able to love and serve in a way that reflects the character and love of Christ. Conversely, it’s in the midst of loving and serving in this way that we find our freedom.