And finally, if we do not live by the Spirit, if we are not led by the Spirit, we shall not be able to call ourselves sons and daughters of God (see Romans 8:14).
17 Even though we have put our faith in Christ and have received the Holy Spirit, our old sinful nature does not completely die and disappear. Even though it has been placed under the control of the Spirit, it is always present with us. And it always opposes the Spirit. It opposes the new self, the new spiritual life, which we received when we believed.
Therefore, there is continual warfare in our souls, and this warfare lasts until we die. The new spiritual self seeks to do good, but the old sinful self prevents him (Romans 7:18-19).
As long as we live by the Spirit (verse 16), our sinful nature is kept under control. When we live by the Spirit, our sinful nature is crucified; that is, it is made powerless (see Romans 6:6-7,12-14; Galatians 2:20; 5:24 and comments). When we live by the Spirit, we do not need to gratify the desires of the sinful nature by sinning, because the sinful nature has no power over us. We are free from the power of sin. This is the deepest meaning of our freedom in Christ.
However, if we stop living by the Spirit, if we stop depending on the Spirit, immediately our old sinful nature will spring to life and come down from the cross where we had placed it; then, once again, we will come under its control. If this happens, we will lose our freedom and become slaves to sin all over again.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The law here is the Jewish law, which Paul elsewhere calls the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). To be under this law is to be under a curse (Galatians 3:13); it is to be under a death sentence; it is to be under the power of sin. Paul says that if we are led by the Spirit, we no longer need to remain under such a law. Yes, in our soul there is warfare between flesh and Spirit, but we can be victorious in that warfare every day. We do not need to be defeated by sin.
How then do we obtain this victory over sin? We obtain victory by continually letting the Spirit lead us. We do not have to struggle on our own. But we must place ourselves under the control of the Spirit (Romans 8:9). Through the Spirit’s power we shall remain victorious.
The Jews and the followers of other religions believe that by obeying laws and traditions they will be prevented from falling into sin. But this is not true. Laws have no power to keep men from sin. Yes, perhaps laws can keep men from committing some outward sins, but laws cannot keep men from committing inward sins. Laws cannot cleanse men’s hearts from sinful desires. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us can we be victorious over the inner sins of our hearts. And let us remember this: God looks primarily on our hearts, not our outward actions (1 Chronicles 28:9; Jeremiah 17:10; Mark 7:6).
We must ask here: Why do Christians sin so often? They sin because they want to sin. They sin because they decide to sin. When temptation comes, the Spirit says to us: “Come to me.” But we refuse. And at once we fall into sin. And not only do we fall into sin, but something else happens: The Spirit withdraws from us. The Holy Spirit does not want to live in an unholy body. The Spirit is grieved. This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Ephesians: … do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). Only when we have confessed our sin and repented of it will the Spirit return to us.
Is there anyone among us whose spiritual life is dried up or wilted, who is without spiritual power? If so, let him look into his heart and find there the hidden sin which has caused the Spirit to depart. And let him bring that sin into the light, and then let him turn from it. Because whenever we grow distant from God, the reason is never far to find: It is always because of some hidden (or not so hidden) sin in our heart (see General Article: Revival).
19-21 Now Paul lists some of the sins that separate us from God. Let us look carefully at each of these acts of the sinful nature. Can we recognize any of them in our own lives? (see Romans 1:29-31).
We quickly and easily see sins in other people. But we are not so quick to see the same sins in ourselves. In our own eyes we seem righteous.
But we ought not to look at the sins of others—we should look only at our own. And let us pray that the Holy Spirit will clearly show us all of our hidden sins (Psalm 139:23-24).
Of the fifteen sins mentioned here, eight of them have to do with division and strife among Christians; that is, they have to do with our biting and devouring each other (verse 15).
Within the church there are only two legitimate reasons for opposing a brother or for remaining separate from him. The first is when a brother continues in a public and grievous sin without repenting (1 Corinthians 5:11). The second is when a brother denies that Jesus is God Himself, who has come in the flesh; that is, when a brother does not teach the truth about Jesus Christ (1 John 4:2). If we oppose any brother for reasons other than these two, we shall be guilty of committing one or more of the sins that Paul has mentioned in these verses.
… those who live like this will not inherit the KINGDOM OF GOD. That is, those who commit these sins habitually without repenting will not enter the kingdom of God. From time to time we all fall into some of these sins, and when we do we can quickly repent and ask forgiveness, and God will cleanse us (1 John 1:9). But he who knowingly continues in sin without repenting will not inherit the kingdom of God—that is, he will not be saved.
22-23 Those who live by the Spirit (verse 16) will manifest the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. This fruit will appear in the lives of those who remain in Christ (John 15:4-5). Here in these important verses, Paul tells us what these fruits are.
Let us first remember, however, that the fruits of the Spirit are different from the gifts of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are given to various Christians at various times according to the will of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:7-11). But the fruits of the Spirit are to be manifested by all Christians at all times. Both in the church and in our individual lives, the fruits of the Spirit are more important and more essential than the gifts of the Spirit.
The first fruit Paul mentions is love, love for God and love for neighbor (see verses 13-14 and comment).
The second fruit is joy—that is, spiritual joy. This joy continues even in the midst of hardship and suffering. This is the joy that comes to us by God’s grace; it is the joy of our salvation (John 15:11; Philippians 4:4).
The third fruit, peace, is first of all peace with God. We have this peace through faith in Christ (Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:7). Having first found peace with God, we then must strive to promote peace with our brothers and sisters in the church (Romans 14:19; Ephesians 4:3).
The fourth fruit, patience, is endurance in trial and hardship. It also means having sympathy and understanding for our brother. We must be patient with our brother’s weaknesses and sins (Ephesians 4:2). Just as Jesus has been patient with us, let us be patient with each other (1 Timothy 1:16).
Paul next mentions kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. Kindness means being merciful and forgiving (Matthew 18:21-22). Goodness means seeking opportunities to do good to all men. Faithfulness means being faithful and reliable.
Then, in verse 23, comes the eighth fruit: gentleness. Gentleness involves being gentle not only in our outward behavior but also in our inward spirit. Inward gentleness is the same as humility. This is the most delicate of the fruits of the Spirit; it easily perishes. The hardest sin for man to overcome is pride, which is the chief enemy of gentleness or humility. We usually don’t even recognize our pride, but it is always present. And if we think we have overcome it, that merely proves we haven’t!
Or perhaps we think we are humble, but then suddenly someone insults us and at once we are hurt and offended. Why? Because of pride. If we had no pride, we would take no offense. Whenever we seek to preserve our honor, we do so because of pride. A humble man, a man with a gentle spirit, does not care about his own honor. He cares only about the honor of Christ.26
We can’t drive out our pride; only the Holy Spirit can do that. Only the Spirit can make us inwardly gentle and humble.27We need to pray continually for humility. But we must also keep in mind that in order to make us humble the Spirit will have to inflict some pain upon our pride. Are we ready to bear the humbling work of the Spirit?
The final fruit of the Spirit is self-control. This means placing our old sinful self under the control of the Spirit. It means refusing to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (verse 16).
How can we tell if the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is fully “ripe”? We can tell by the same means we use to tell if any fruit is ripe: by squeezing it. As long as our circumstances are happy, it is easy to be a Christian. The fruits of the Spirit in our lives may appear to be completely ripe. It is only when trouble comes—when we are “squeezed”—that we can test whether the Spirit’s fruit in us is ripe or not. When abuse, slander, persecution, and other hardships come upon us, how do we react? When our fruit is squeezed, what kind of juice comes out? The bitter juice of hurt or pride? Or the sweet juice of love, joy, patience, humility? Our lives are tested only when we are squeezed.
Let us remember that these nine fruits are produced not by our work and effort, but by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. If these fruits are visible in our lives, then we are fulfilling God’s law in our lives. If these fruits are present in our lives, we will be holy and righteous, and no law will be able to condemn us. There is no law which says these fruits are evil. Against such things (these nine fruits of the Spirit) there is no law (verse 23).
24 For the Holy Spirit to fully come into our lives, our sinful nature must be put on the cross. According to Paul’s teaching in Romans, it is our old self (which is under the control of the sinful nature) that is placed on the cross (Romans 6:6). Here, Paul says that our sinful nature itself must be placed on the cross. In one sense, our old self must die. But in another sense, our sinful nature does not die completely. We must continually “crucify” our sinful nature. Daily we must hang our old nature on the cross (Luke 9:23). And we must keep it there!28
Does our old nature enjoy being crucified? Of course, not! It is not a pleasant thing to be hung on a cross. It is not easy to endure. Therefore, it is not easy to live a Christian life. In fact, it is impossible!
But God doesn’t demand that we “live a Christian life.” God only says that we must live by the Spirit (verses 16,25)—one day at a time. We must walk in dependence on the Spirit—one step at a time. It is only by the Spirit that we can lead lives that are pleasing to God.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. If we are under the control of the Spirit, then we should act as if we were! If we are indeed the children of God, then we should act like children of God!
Here an important question arises. We know that as soon as we believe in Christ we are declared righteous in God’s sight. This is completely true. But we also know from experience that our daily behavior is not always righteous. We can explain both of these facts by a simple illustration. We are like fruit ripening on the tree. At first the fruit is green and hard. But gradually, with sun and rain, the fruit becomes ripe. God knows that, just as the fruit will ripen, so we also in the end will become fully ripe. For this reason He can regard us even now as if we were already fully ripe. But in our own eyes, we remain hanging on the tree, parts of us still green and hard.
It is by God’s grace that we began our Christian life. It is by God’s grace, by His rain and sun, that we are ripening—that is, becoming holy and perfect. And it is by God’s grace that the day will come when we shall be fully ripe and perfect, even as Christ is perfect, and we shall enter with joy into His kingdom. Brothers and sisters, let us never stop praising God for the glory of His grace! (Ephesians 1:6).
26 Paul here gives three examples of behavior that is not of the Spirit. First, being conceited means wanting to look good in other people’s eyes. Second, provoking other people means, in this context, putting them down. Third, envying means resenting that others appear better or more fortunate than we. Because of conceit and envy, we seek to provoke others, to put them down. By doing this, we think to elevate ourselves.
But Jesus taught that if we do this, the result will be the opposite of what we had hoped: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Therefore, let us exalt our brother and sister, and let us humble ourselves.