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Third Quarter 2017 (June 24–September 29)
COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL IN GALATIANS
Week 12: September 9–15
COMMENTARY ON "Living by the Spirit"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Day 1: Sabbath Afternoon, December 10, 2011 - Introduction
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice 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 Now 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 walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:16-25 NASU).
When an individual is born-again a wonderful transformation happens, their spiritual nature, which had been dead before they were saved, is made alive through the power of God. (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 6:13; Colossians 2:13) At that very moment, the believer becomes an entirely new person with a completely new nature. Salvation is not an addition to our life; salvation gives us an entirely new life, new hope, new destiny and a complete transformation of nature! (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10,15; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). This new nature brings about a radical transformation that changes our desires and makes possible a new way of living.
This new life, a regenerated life, with our new nature that always desires to live in a way that brings God glory, is more radical a change than a pig becoming a sheep. Pigs wallow in the mud because it is their nature to do so. A sheep has no desire to wallow in the mud, and if they fall into it, they don't like it – it's "baaaaaad". Like a sheep, our new spiritual nature has no desire to wallow in sin; we may have enjoyed it before we were saved but it brings no satisfaction, no peace and no fulfillment now that we are born again.
Although we have an entirely new nature, there is still an enemy within ourselves, which in the New Testament is called "the flesh".
"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not" (Romans 7:18 NASU).
The term, "the flesh," is not referring to our bodies but to a principle of sin that remains in us until we are glorified with Christ. Before we were saved, our sinful nature drove our choices, thoughts and actions.
"Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Ephesians 2:3 NASU).
After we are saved, our new, regenerated, alive nature inspires and motivates our choices, thoughts and actions. We still have the flesh, that principle of sin inside, but it is not determinative like a nature. An unsaved person sins because their sinful nature drives them to sin. A Christian can live in a godly way because we have a new, godly nature that always wants to do God's will, yet our life is not without struggle because the flesh within fights our new nature. We don't have to follow the pushing and prodding of our flesh because we are new creations with a new nature and new power to live righteously and godly.
Day 2: Sunday, December 11, 2011 - Walking in the Spirit
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16).
The Christian's "walk" is one of the ways the Word describes our life, our manner of living. The Greek word in this verse for "walk" is "peripateo (per-ee-pat-eh'-o), to tread all around, i.e. walk at large (especially as proof of ability); figuratively, to live, deport oneself, follow (as a companion or votary): go, be occupied with, walk (about)." (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
Walking, in the sense of how we live our lives, is much like physical walking; it is learned. An infant has several stages of development in learning to walk. Before a baby walks they crawl, they learn to stand and then that wonderful day happens when they take their first step. As they keep walking, they improve their skill and balance. Pretty soon, mommy and daddy are running to keep up with them! A Christian's walk is similar in the stages and process of living a right life; we learn to walk in righteousness and we experience progress and improvement in our lives as we walk along with Jesus. We practice and there are usually plenty of stumbles along the way, but we get back up and keep on walking.
Our flesh is constantly trying to trip us up, and it can be quite discouraging at times. This verse gives us the key to upright walking— "Walk by the Spirit". When we were saved, we were given a new nature and the Holy Spirit indwelt us at that same instant! (Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30) We have a new nature and a new power, God's power, to help us live, to walk, in a right way. Even though our flesh is howling in the background, we can tune it out and listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. He is always with us (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit will help us to walk—much like a parent holding their child's hand to keep them from stumbling and falling. The Holy Spirit will empower us when we're weak (Romans 8:26; 2 Corinthians 12:9) and pick us up when we fall (Psalm 37:24).
Day 3: Monday, December 12, 2011 - The Christian's Conflict
Day 4: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - The Works of the Flesh
Day 5: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - The Fruit of the Spirit
Day 6: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - The Way to Victory
Day 7: Friday, December 16, 2011 - Further Study
This week's lesson says things that sound “almost right". Unless someone understands the underlying worldview of Adventism, the actual words of much of the weeks' study might be assumed to be orthodox. Nevertheless, there are certain statements, both in the quarterly's study and in the Teachers' Edition, that reveal the Adventist's profound misunderstanding of the nature of man and the nature of the new birth.
For example, the last paragraph of Monday's lesson states:
When Paul writes in Romans 7 about the inward conflict in Christians preventing them from doing what they want, he is under- scoring the full extent of that conflict. Because we possess two natures, we are literally on both sides of the battle at once. The spiritual part of us desires what is spiritual and detests the flesh. The fleshly part of us, however, longs for the things of the flesh and opposes what is spiritual. Because the converted mind is too weak to resist the flesh by itself, the only hope we have of subduing the flesh is by making a daily decision to side with the Spirit against our sinful selves. This is why Paul is so insistent that we choose to walk in the Spirit.
Page 141 of the Teacher's edition states,
Similarly, whenever Christians shine forth, several simple things occur. The Christian must be properly connected to a spiritual energy source (God). Interruptions of the energy flow (for example, switches) must be overridden, meaning that sinful tendencies and habitual shortcomings must be unreservedly submitted to divine control. The internal integrity of the Christian's life must likewise be intact. The smallest cracks in the fluorescent tube or the tiniest breaks of an incandescent filament can destroy the bulb's capacity for lighting. Small cracks (questionable language, shortage of physical discipline [for example, glut- tony, drunkenness, laziness], coarse humor, greediness, uncontrolled temper, and multitudes of similar characteristics) will eliminate the Christian's effectiveness. Summarily, the primary conditions for spiritual effectiveness are moral integrity and spiritual energy. Whenever either is absent, spiritual light fails. Some church members exemplify exalted standards of citizen- ship and apparent integrity but produce no spiritual light because no connection with God exists. Other members emphasize supernatural encounters with God but lack moral integrity. Again, no light is produced. However, whenever the Holy Spirit's power engages the morally integrated life, the surrounding landscape is illuminated. Apart from God Himself, Spirit- filled, morally upright believers are this world's greatest need.
Opening Activity: Sing the Christmas carol "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light" (number 128 of The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal) and discuss how Christ's heavenly light must be reflected in our lives.
Tuesday's lesson introduces Paul's lists in Galatians 5 of deeds of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit, but the author refers to these characteristics as "vices" and "virtues" reflecting a "long-established literary feature" of both Jewish and Greco-Roman literature. The author says that wrong ideas about God produce corrupted views about behaviors, and the lesson ends by asking how each work of the flesh in Galatians 5 represents "a violation of one or more of the Ten Commandments".
The lesson moves on to emphasize, in Wednesday's lesson, how the Ten Commandments reflect the fruit of the Spirit. The author then states that the Commandments are not an alternative to love, but they guide us in showing love to God and man. The day's lesson ends with this quote:
The fact that Paul lists love as the first of the nine virtues is not accidental. He has already highlighted the central role of love in the Christian life in Galatians 5:6 and 13, and he includes it in his virtue lists elsewhere (2 Cor. 6:6, 1 Tim. 4:12, 6:11, and 2 Tim. 2:22). Whereas all the other virtues appear also in non-Christian sources, love is distinctly Christian. All this indicates that love should be seen not merely as one virtue among many but as the cardinal Christian virtue that is the key to all other virtues. Love is the preeminent fruit of the Spirit (1 Cor. 13:13, Rom. 5:5), and it should define the life and attitudes of every Christian (John 13:34, 35), however difficult at times it might be to show love.
Page 143 of the Teachers' edition states, "The means by which God redeems our corrupted human spirit and body is the Holy Spirit." Then on page 145, the Teachers' edition says this:
Most religions are mechanisms for restraining evil that utilize retribution to enforce social conformity. Righteousness is achieved by appeasing the deity through conformity to societal rules. Sadly, legalistic expressions of Christianity travel that same road. Genuine Christianity, however, recognizes that rules are powerless to transform the rebellious human heart. Only an intelligent appreciation of God's love and its supreme expression at Calvary can effectively redirect self-centeredness into God-centeredness.
Consider This: When believers recognize their shortcomings, how should they initiate positive change? What resources has heaven provided to those who sincerely desire righteousness? How can the spiritual battle's intensity be minimized? As the believer's life is increasingly filled by God's Spirit, what is being displaced? How should Christians avoid the temptation to concentrate their efforts on changing behavior when the effective strategy would be to facilitate the Spirit's invasion of our lives?
In Thursday's lesson the author makes the point that walking in the Spirit "implies that walking in the Spirit is a choice we have to make on a daily basis." She ends the day's lesson with these words:
The verb Paul uses in verse 24 is "to crucify." This is a little shock- ing. If we are to follow the Spirit, we must make a firm decision to put to death the desires of the flesh. Of course, Paul is speaking figuratively. We crucify the flesh by feeding our spiritual life and by starving the desires of the flesh.
The week's lesson ends with this summary statement following the usual two quotations from EGW in Friday's lesson:
Although in the life of all believers a conflict exists between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit, the Christian life does not have to be doomed to failure. Because Christ has conquered the power of sin and death, the Christian life can be a life where the Spirit reigns, bringing a daily supply of God's grace that enables us to keep the desires of the flesh at bay.
It is impossible to discuss living by the Spirit without understanding that humans have two components: a physical body and an immaterial spirit. Adventists claim the "spirit" is one's breath or life-force, or else they use the word to describe one's attitude or disposition toward something. Yet Scripture is very clear that "flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit" (Jn. 3:6), and that "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4:24).
Moreover, the Bible states many activities or reactions the human spirit can experience. It can:
Moreover, Scripture is very clear that when a believer dies, he is absent from the body but present with the Lord (2 Cor. 4:10), and this reality of being with the Lord is very much better than remaining alive on earth (Phil. 1:22-23). Furthermore, Revelation 6:9 states that John saw "the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God" under the altar in heaven.
Ephesians 2:1-3 explains that all of us are born dead in our sins, by nature children of wrath. We are naturally citizens of the domain of darkness; only an act of God transfers us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col 1:13). Our dead spirit, separated from the life of God, is our legacy from Adam (1 Cor. 15:23; Rom. 5:14-15). This is the death Adam and Eve experienced when they ate the fruit and suddenly were ashamed, hiding from God. They lost their spiritual life. The presence of God was gone from their spirits.
This spiritual death is the reason Jesus was explicitly clear that we must be born again, born of the Spirit (John 3). Our bodies are alive, but our spirits are naturally dead. We HAVE spirits; if we are not born again, we are the "dead" whom Jesus said must be left to bury their own dead (Mt. 8:22; Lk. 9:60).
Unless an Adventist is willing to put aside all his presuppositions of the nature of man, the incredible power of the biblical reality of living by the Spirit will be completely lost on him or her.
For more in-depth discussion of this subject, see the articles at the following links:
A New Creation
When a person is born of the Spirit, he is completely new creation. His literal spirit is made alive because the life of the Lord Jesus takes up residence in it (Rom. 8:10-11). Prior to being born again, a person may have all sorts of compassionate impulses and desires to do good deeds, but these spring from the flesh. There is no life in a person who is not born again.
This fact is the reason the comments from the Teachers' edition quoted above from page 141 make no sense and leave a person confused and frustrated. For example, there is no such thing as the Holy Spirit's power engaging with a "morally integrated life". It is absolutely impossible for a spiritually dead, natural person to have any degree of true moral integration. Oh, it is possible for a natural dead human to live a highly moral life, but that morality is not stemming from God. It is stemming from the flesh. All works of the flesh, including moral ones, are worthless and carry absolutely no spiritual merit, nor do they demonstrate any degree of loyalty to God.
Moreover, this quote from page 141 as mentioned above is likewise patently false: "Apart from God Himself, Spirit-filled, morally upright believers are this world's greatest need." A true believer is made alive and indwelt by God Himself: the Holy Spirit. A true believe is credited in God's eyes with complete moral integrity from the moment of belief, because God Himself takes responsibility for him. God credits His own righteousness and integrity to the true born-again believer, because He is in him, and the believer is now a member of God's family.
A true believer can indulge the flesh, but he has the ability to choose to surrender the impulses of the flesh. A non-born again person, whether or not he claims to believe, cannot surrender the flesh to God because he is not born of God. He has no ability to have moral integrity.
Moreover, an unbeliever can be highly "moral" in his choices and behaviors, but internally such a person is treacherous. He is not living for the glory of God, but he uses his own "morality" for his own purposes. As Gary Inrig has said, "The most dangerous person is a highly moral person who has no need of God." This is the profile of an antichrist.
Love and the Ten Commandments
Again, this subject makes no sense unless we understand that the Decalogue, as was the whole Law, was given by God to Israel at Sinai. The commandments are not eternal, nor are they the transcript of God's character.
For more on this subject see the article at this link:
Moreover, the author's use of the words "vices" and "virtues" to describe Paul's lists of deeds of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit is trivializing and diminishes the impact of the Spirit in the life of a born again person. We cannot develop the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit is entirely the product of God Himself at work in us. He makes us alive, thus giving us a new heart.
Even more important is the contrast between the author's designation of "love" as a "virtue" and Scripture's definition of "love" as being "God" (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). If a person doesn't love, it's not because he has failed to cultivate this ultimate "virtue". It is because he does not know God.
God IS love. Thus, "love" is the first quality listed in the fruit of the Spirit. When the Spirit seals us when we place our trust in the sacrifice and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, we receive Love. Love indwells us literally.
Although we can still give in to the impulses of our flesh, we have the ability to choose to surrender to the care and authority of God Himself at the moments of our temptations, and we begin to experience living in Love. When we give up our right to handle situations according to our own insight and submit them to God, we become able to love for His sake, not for our own or even for the sake of the "other". We can love for God, because we have surrendered the situation to Him, giving up our own rights and desires for His sake.
The comment on page 143 quoted above demands notice: "The means by which God redeems our corrupted human spirit and body is the Holy Spirit."
First, the use of "spirit" is nebulous because the author does not mean "spirit" in the biblical sense. Second, the Bible never says our "corrupted body" is redeemed on earth. While Romans 8:10-11 say that the Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies, meaning that we can begin to submit our natural impulses to Him for His correction and training, we never become uncorrupted until the resurrection.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:19-23 ESV).
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55 ESV).
Only when the Lord Jesus returns for His saints will our bodies be freed from corruption.
Moreover, being filled with the Spirit is not a daily choice. God indwells those who place their trust in the Lord Jesus. He does not remove Himself once He has birthed us with His own life. Our choice, once we are born again, is to surrender our temptations and impulses to Him moment by moment. We may give in to our flesh, but if we do, the Holy Spirit does not leave us.
When we are born of God we are also adopted by Him (Romans 8:14-16), and His Spirit is our GUARANTEE that we will receive our physical redemption and eternity with Him (Eph. 1:13-14).
Furthermore, crucifying the flesh is not accomplished by "feeding our spiritual life and by starving the desires of the flesh." We cannot put the flesh to death by starving our desires. That is entirely our own will-power at work. We crucify the flesh by surrendering our right to have what we want to the Lord Jesus. It is an internal surrender, not a determined denial of indulgence.
This surrender is simply not possible unless a person is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and made eternally alive. We can surrender our impulses to the Lord Jesus, and He Himself is our strength in that instance.
Finally, the lesson's final statement that "the Christian life can be a life where the Spirit reigns, bringing a daily supply of God's grace that enables us to keep the desires of the flesh at bay," is a complete perversion of reality. When we are born again, we have God's grace for eternity. We are saved by His life (Rom. 5:10), and He does not leave us. His grace forever covers our sin, past, present, and future.
When we are in Christ, we are eternally secure and have His own Life in us. We live in the power of His Spirit for all eternity.