The Power of the Cross: 25th Edition, March 11, 2018
Welcome to the new subscribers just joining our newsletter. We publish once per week on Sunday. The newsletter alternates a short gospel teaching on one week with testimonies from Setting Captives Free students on the following week. We hope you will find the newsletter helpful and encouraging.
We are currently writing a course for group study, and this week I wanted to send you a lesson from that course and give you an invitation. If you are interested, feel free to read the lesson, hit “reply” and answer the questions over the next week. When finished you can send the email. I look forward to reading your answers and responding, if able.
Here is the lesson:
Setting Captives Free - Lesson 10 The Cross of Jesus and the Spirit of God
The Bible is very clear that for us to overcome the lusts of our flesh we must experience the power of the Holy Spirit. There simply is no hope for us to win this battle by our own efforts. We could commit to keeping God’s Law, or man’s steps and rules, make promises to change, etc. and we would fail, sooner or later. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63 ESV).
In this week’s lesson we want to see the power of the Holy Spirit, and then look at an illustration.
Let’s look at Galatians 5:16-26:
Galatians 5:16-26 (ESV) 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.
Please answer the following questions based upon your study of Galatians 5:16-26:
Question 1. What are the works of the flesh?
Question 2. What does it take in order for us to gain victory over the works of our flesh?
Question 3. What does the Spirit of God produce in the life of a believer?
This passage makes it very clear that if we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify the lusts of our flesh (Galatians 5:16). This is a very clear statement on exactly how to escape the trap of drunkenness and drugs, how to overcome sexual immorality and impurity, how to be victorious over anger, divisions, jealousy and any and all works of the flesh. When we walk by the Spirit, we don’t gratify our flesh! That’s the power of the Holy Spirit!
Question 4. This passage tells us four important things that we are to do regarding the Holy Spirit. What are they?
This passage helps us understand why we don’t take the approach of focusing on our problems and trying to overcome them, or thinking of our sins and trying to escape them. We don’t focus on how to stop doing the works of the flesh, but rather on how to walk by the Spirit, for when we walk by the Spirit the automatic result is that we do not gratify the lusts of the flesh.
Take a moment and answer this question in your own heart and mind: do you want to be free of overeating or impurity or drunkenness or anger, or any of the other works of your flesh? If so, then keep reading as we learn to walk by the Spirit in glorious freedom.
In Galatians 5:16-26 we are to:
2. Be led by the Spirit (verse 18). We are to operate under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, following where He leads us. He leads us “in paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23:3), not in paths of sin and selfishness.
3. Live by the Spirit (verse 25). Receive life and fullness from the Spirit of God and find your life in Him.
4. Keep in step with the Spirit (verse 25). Be ready to go where He leads, and keep up with Him, not lagging behind or going your own way.
Let’s make a summary of Galatians 5:16-26, and then we will look at an illustration of exactly how we find the power of the Spirit of God:
If we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify the lusts of the flesh (verse 16). This is the only way to experience real and lasting victory over our flesh; it is God’s way and not man’s.
Our flesh is still with us because we live in bodies that are affected by sin, and our flesh will always have wrong desires (verse 17). These desires are against the Spirit of God so that there is an ongoing conflict in the life of every believer. This can lead us to do what we don’t want to do, to stumble and to fall, to sin and disobey (verse 18). Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are not saved merely because you still have wrong desires. We all do, and we have to learn to walk by the Spirit , and as we do we will not gratify the lusts of the flesh as the habit pattern of our life.
The works of the flesh are evident (Galatians 5:19) because they are selfish; they do not prioritize God and others over ourselves. This is the way that we lived for many years and it wreaked havoc in our lives.
But now, if we live by the Spirit we are not under law; that is, we are not under the condemning sentence of the law, so we are not under the power of sin. “...the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). The power of freedom is grace (Romans 6:14).
The Spirit performs a transforming work of grace in the life of the person who walks by the Spirit (5:25). This is where all the power is. The Holy Spirit changes our hearts, renews our spirits, sets us free from bondage and turns our weaknesses into strength. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
This life in the Spirit produces fruit consistent with the character of the Spirit. “Notice that Paul speaks of ‘fruit,’ not ‘fruits,’ of the Spirit—the fruit of the Spirit is not a checklist to work through but the unified blossoming of a heart liberated by the gospel of grace” (Gospel Transformation Notes on Galatians 5:16-26).
Living in the flesh leads us to commit all kinds of sin: immorality, drunkenness, impurity, orgies, anger, and all manner of things that displease God and keep us out of His kingdom (if lived in as a lifestyle--verse 21).
But we who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh, nailed it to the cross and put it to death (Galatians 5:24). This happens as we come to the cross of Christ. Jesus’ flesh was crucified on that tree, and our flesh likewise dies there with Him. “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” (Galatians 6:14).
Question 5. What have you learned, or been reminded of in your study of Galatians 5:16-26?
So now we can see that the whole key to our freedom is to experience the power of the Spirit of God and to learn to walk by Him. How do we do this, where do we find Him, how do we experience Him?
Earlier in the book of Galatians, Paul had written:
Galatians 3:1-2 (ESV) O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
The Galatians were in danger of turning away from the gospel, and beginning to mix in law-works with the grace they initially received at salvation. Having been saved by grace they were now trying to be set free by their own efforts, by keeping laws and rules. So Paul reminded them of two very important things: the cross and the Spirit!
Notice how believing the message of the cross (Galatians 5:1) precedes receiving the power of the Spirit (Galatians 5:2). Paul had “portrayed” Christ as crucified; painted a picture, as it were, of the cross of Jesus Christ (he thoroughly explained the cross to them, from the Old Testament Scriptures). And as they saw the cross in 3-d living color, the Galatians put their faith in the good news and received the Spirit of God.
This is precisely how we receive the Spirit of God too, and how we begin to experience His power to change our hearts and our lives. You might remember it like this: the cross and the Spirit. The two always go together. You want to receive the Spirit of God? Go to the cross. You want to experience the Spirit’s power? Go to the cross. The cross and the Spirit.
Now it is time for an illustration of this very truth. Please read the following passage of Scripture, keeping in mind that we are studying about the cross and the Spirit of God:
Exodus 17:3-6 ESV But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (4) So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (5) And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. (6) Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
The Israelites had been sinning again, grumbling against God and Moses as they did not like the provisions God had given them. And at this point in the narrative they were thirsty, so more grumbling and complaining ensued.They were so thirsty and angry that they were almost ready to murder Moses by stoning him.
Question 6. According to Exodus 17:5-6, what solution did God provide to the Israelites’ thirst problem?
Isn’t that an odd solution? Striking a rock to find water? The rock had obviously done nothing wrong, it was a rock! And yet here they were to strike the rock, as if it had done the sinning! Why would the rock be beaten when it was the Israelites who were in the wrong, and were sinning against God?
And then why did the rock pour out water after it was beaten? Rocks don’t normally do that. Truly God’s ways are not our ways, and His solutions sometimes don’t make sense to us humans. What is God teaching here?
We get some help with understanding this passage by reading Paul’s comment about it in the New Testament:
1 Corinthians 10:4 ESV they and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Ah, do you see it now? “That Rock was Christ!” So this story is an illustration of the gospel. On the cross, Jesus was “beaten” and “struck” as He poured out His life unto death.
At the cross Jesus took our punishment, He was beaten instead of us, He died our death. This story teaches us that it is the cross of Jesus Christ that quenches our “thirst”, in that Jesus gave up His life and poured out His Spirit for us!
You see, in sin we are continually “thirsting”; that is, yearning, craving, etc. But as we come to the cross and we receive the Holy Spirit, our thirst is quenched and our soul is satisfied forever!
Just like the rock was struck, Jesus was “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5), and out of Jesus’ death flowed the Holy Spirit to all who believe. That precious, thirst-quenching, sin-destroying Spirit-flowing river comes straight from Calvary to you, to be the satisfaction of your heart, to meet your needs, to free you from craving and yearning, to fill you with power and energize you with love. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit!
Notice how Jesus connects the thirst-quenching Holy Spirit with the cross:
John 7:38-39 (ESV) Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Question 7. According to John 7:38-39, when would believers receive the Holy Spirit?
Whoever comes to Jesus and believes in Jesus will experience “rivers of living water”, which He said “about the Spirit.” The Spirit is, to the believer, refreshing, thirst-quenching, satisfying, and like a river, ever fresh and ever new. There are new gospel stories and fresh gospel insights just waiting for you to discover under the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit begins to flow through you to others, bringing love and life-giving words to them, through you.
But the Holy Spirit would only be given after Jesus was “glorified”, that is, after He was crucified and raised on the third day. Remember: the cross, then the Spirit.
Think for a moment about simply “trying to stop” doing wrong behaviors on our own. What would happen if we would just try to stop being angry? Try to quit getting drunk? Decide to quit smoking or abusing drugs (prescription or illegal)? Quit using pornography? Try to stop being bitter and unforgiving? Wow, would we ever thirst! Right? We would soon be craving and yearning like parched people in the desert. We would have nothing to quench this kind of deep soul thirst, this craving within us that comes from the very depths of our being.
But, friend, when we come to the cross and drink of God’s Spirit, we are not only satisfied and refreshed, not only filled to overflowing with the Spirit-river, but we also end up worshipping and rejoicing in Jesus! Just like when someone drinks an ice-cold bottle of water on a hot summer day, and then says, “Ahhh”, so when we come to the cross and experience the thirst-quenching work of God’s Spirit, we begin to worship Jesus from the depths of our hearts. And as we do, our flesh is subdued and our desires are transformed by the Spirit.
What a difference this way is from merely trying to stop a behavior! With the first way (the self-help way), we become grumpy, get self-focused, go through some form of withdrawal and are generally miserable. With the second way (God’s way of the cross and the Spirit), we are quenched and drenched in God’s Holy Spirit river, satisfied and satiated with Christ Himself; and we experience freedom and fullness of God’s presence. #fullandfree!
Now let’s make this very practical:
If we are thirsty (craving, yearning) then we should go straight to the cross of Christ. The “rock that was struck” provided the thirst-quenching water for the Israelites; similarly the life-giving Holy Spirit flows out of the cross where Jesus was “struck” for us.
There are many ways to “come to the cross.” Here are some ways I have found helpful: reading the Bible and seeing Jesus in it, praying, listening and/or singing worship songs, talking with a brother or sister in Christ about the cross, listening to sermons or podcasts that are cross-centered, reading books that are cross-centered, and meditating on the cross. If it centers your mind on the cross of Christ and draws out love from your heart, then it will be a help to you in your time of need.
So come to Him, dear friend. Come and kneel at the foot of the cross, come and drink up the amazing love of Jesus for you. Drink in your forgiveness and satisfy yourself in His declaration of a full pardon for you. Quench your thirst in the righteousness Jesus purchased for you through death. Content yourself in the blood He shed to cover your sins; be refreshed in the gift of eternal life your Savior died to give you. This water will be fresh and new for you, like a river, as often as you come to drink.
Question 8. Where do we find the power of the Holy Spirit?
Question 9. What will you do with the understanding of this lesson today?
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