Aug 04, 2019
Galatians 5:16-25

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On November 15, 1986 a record spearheaded by an up-and-coming producer named Rick Rubin was released by Def Jam and Columbia Records. While there is no doubt Run-DMC had laid the foundation for what was to come, three Jewish white kids from the Bronx known as the Beastie Boys changed everything with the debut of their first studio album… 

Licensed to Ill would not only become the first rap LP to top the Billboards, but it sent a shockwave throughout the American landscape that is still being felt today. Because of the Beastie Boys, a culture largely associated with the inner-city, black community would make the leap into the suburbs! Rap would move into middle-America and become mainstream!

In a twist of the famous James Bond quip that 007 had a “license to kill” — in Licensed to Ill the Beastie Boys crafted an album that was on one hand light-hearted and fun, while at the same time specifically written to mock the establishment and challenge the status quo! 

Though songs like Brass Monkey, Girls, or No Sleep till Brooklyn would garner play in radio stations across the world, the seventh song on the album would eventually become the anthem for a generation. You see for the first wave of teenagers seeking to rebel against parents who’d been directly influenced by the cultural revolution of the 1960’s — the catchy hook “you gotta fight — for your right — to p-a-r-t-y” became a rallying cry. 

The Beastie Boys were loud, crude, funny and light, and yet oddly in your face. They were superficial, but at the same time deeply ironic and satyrical. In many ways the Beastie Boys, their album Licensed to Ill, and the hit Fight for Your Right perfectly typified Generation X.

Sadly, a Licensed to Ill is how many people view the amazing grace of God with the defense of such a radicle idea no more than being relegated to a fight for your right to party! Again, it’s tragic but the incredible liberty discovered in Christ’s permanent work at Calvary has gotten twisted into a license for people to do whatever they want free of penalty. 

Author Kyle Strobel recently tweeted, “In Evangelical circles we’ve been so afraid of the heresy of Galatia that we’ve backed into the sin of Corinth without noticing it.” In our attempt to defend the freeing nature of grace, we’ve used this freedom to justify sinfulness!

Have you ever encountered such a person — a Christian who intentionally uses the grace and goodness of Jesus to justify their sinful decisions? Have you ever crossed paths with a fellow believer who pointed to grace in order to minimize the effects of their martial affair? 

Have you ever encountered an individual who saw grace as a means to excuse away their addiction whether it be alcohol abuse, pornography, or licentiousness? Literally, have you ever had a Christian friend who used God’s grace to fight for their right to party?

In a more personal application have you ever found yourself falling back on grace as a means to temper your own depravity and/or excuse bad behavior? In the moment of a conviction designed by God to lead you back to the place of repentance (the cross of Calvary) you instead convinced yourself such a feeling was actually the condemnation of the devil and should be ignored? Have you ever been lovingly called out by someone who cared for you and deflected any guilt by accusing that person of being legalistic?

Let me give you an example… In a recent episode this summer of ABC’s hit reality show The Bachelorette Hannah Brown (who herself claims to be a Christian) confesses to Luke Parker (who also claims to be a Christian and was competing for her hand) that she had sex with some of the other contestants and that she didn’t see anything particularly wrong with it. 

Now regardless of how you feel about Mr. Parker (and I hear he was quite the character), when he challenged Hannah on the cavalier and un-remorseful way in which she spoke about premarital sex she proceeded to justify herself saying, “Regardless of anything that I’ve done, I can do whatever, I sin daily and Jesus still loves me. It’s all washed and if the Lord doesn't judge me and it’s all forgiven, then no other man or woman can judge me.” 

While her response to being called out is wrong on so many different levels, sadly the online reaction that followed this episode showed that most people share Hannah’s perspective.

Theologically, this “grace, so I can do anything” distortion of the Gospel tends to manifest from a belief that since a person is saved and sanctified by a work that occurs independent of themselves there ends up being no restrictions on the things they can and cannot do. In many ways it turns Jesus’ incredible love into a license to live anyway you choose!

While this perspective is definitely misguided, if we’re being fair there is a measure of logic to the position. If you argue a person’s good deeds have no role at all in their salvation or sanctification, then you must concede their sinful deeds also have no effect to the contrary.

You see for the Licensed to Ill crowd the unmerited favor of God in place of sin (Grace),  coupled with Jesus’ complete forgiveness concerning sin (salvation), ends up being viewed as an unrestricted permit to sin! Instead of grace yielding holiness as God intended and designed it to accomplish, like Hannah, grace simply becomes a license for whatever goes. 

At Calvary316 there is no question we champion the grace of God! Apart from grace what else is there? I mean the notion that my relationship with God is founded upon a work He’s done for me and not one I must do for Him is the one idea that literally changes everything — which is why it’s worth a passionate defense from those who’d legalistically distort it by adding additional things to do (Grace, And) and things to refrain from doing (Grace, But). 

And yet, heaven forbid we bastardize a defense of grace as being nothing more than a fight for our right to party! The “grace, so I can do anything” perspective makes a mockery of the cross and ultimately distorts the power and transformation God’s grace affords.

Calvary316 is not a grace place because we want to drink beer or watch Game of Thrones. In fact grace is not really about our rights at all! You see we defend grace not for what behaviors it allows, but for how grace fundamentally transforms our behaviors. 

This morning I want to unpack how viewing God’s grace as a Licensed to Ill completely misses the entire point because it doesn’t factor in what grace intends to accomplish. In order to set the stage for this, let’s start at the beginning — literally the very beginning! 

Back in Eden God gave Adam a garden to enjoy with the singular exception of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Genesis 2:15-17 we read, “The LORD took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”

Well, as the story goes, it didn’t take long for Adam and his wife Eve to disobey God’s command and reap the consequences. From man’s rebellion the cancer of sin rooted itself in the creation of God, meaning things would no longer operate according to His design.

Three things immediately resulted: First, humanity was instantly separated from God. As a swift consequence of sin, Adam and Eve hid themselves from God before He ultimately expelled them from the Garden. Because human rebellion demanded God’s wrath (Romans 6:23 affirms “the wages of sin is death”) man had to be separated from the holy presence of God. To enter into His presence in such a state would have resulted in certain death.

Secondly, humanity found itself in perpetual conflict with one another. Because within every person a sense of self has been stirred to life on the account of sin, man’s primary focus was naturally relegated to “me, myself, and I” instead of on others. All of humanity has this one common trait — the love of self! (Example: It’s why babies are so self-centered.) 

Consider that in less than a chapter and a half following the introduction of sin to the human condition we see blame instead of personal responsibility, envy instead of love, and cold-blooded murder between the first two brothers Cain and Able! Because of this sin nature within man and the awakening of self, humanity has never gotten along!

Finally, all of creation ceased operating as it was originally designed — most notably man. Not only would creation rebel against the dominion of man charged with her care and stewardship (we see this manifest in the curse when God told Adam the soil would now resist him), but as a result of this fallen state man himself was also irrevocably broken. 

According to Genesis 3:7, immediately upon eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree, “The eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” While their existence had been originally God-centric and others-focused, sin resulted in a new self-awareness.

I bring this up in order to illustrate what regeneration and ultimately grace accomplishes in our lives for in many ways it reverses these three effects of sin. First… Since God’s righteous wrath towards sin was satisfied by Jesus on the cross, we no longer have a need to remain separated from Him and can lastly enjoy communion and fellowship with God. 

Secondly… Because we are now right with God, we are finally able to love our fellow man. It’s why in his defense of grace Paul would write in Galatians 5:14, “For all the law is fulfilled (carried into effect) in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” A love for people is the natural manifestation in the life of a person who’s experienced God’s love for them!

Finally… Because we are now reconciled with our Creator through the amazing grace of God — His work not mine, as His creation we can operate as we were originally designed. As the Apostle Paul would pen in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 

You see this is what grace is all about! God’s grace isn’t about giving you new rights, but making you right! Grace is not a licensed to ill, but the mechanism to make you well. 

This is why after four chapters of passionately defending and explaining the true nature of grace Paul sums it up this way… Galatians 5:16-18, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” 

Again, the purpose of grace isn’t freeing you to pursue the “lust of the flesh” or to “do the things that you wish” to do, but to ultimately enable you to “walk in the Spirit!”

In order to grasp what grace yields and why this Licensed to Ill perspective is so off it’s important we first define what Paul is referring too when he mentions “the flesh.” 

For starters, I think it’s safe to say we all know what Paul is referencing when he describes the war that rages within between the “Flesh and Spirit.” Every Christian knows first hand of this internal wrestling… The magnetic pull to do the things I don’t want to do!

What becomes problematic when discussing this internal war is the quantifying of what two things are actually in conflict! While we understand what Paul means when he refers to “the Spirit” things become hazy when trying to nail down and define this thing he calls, “the flesh!”

Sadly, this reality has led many pastors to attempt to define these things illustratively (black dog vs the white dog). Regrettably, even more make the mistake of regurgitating unhelpful platitudes (describing the flesh as the “fallen nature within” or the “traitor inside each of us”).

Here’s the problem with illustrations and antidotes like these and why they often lend more confusion than clarity. If the old man has been reckoned dead and is no longer alive, then how can something dead wage a war with God’s Spirit with so much veracity? Since there is an obvious fight within me, what part of me was ultimately “crucified with Christ?”

In order to define “the flesh” it’s helpful if you actually know what makes you — you. The Bible presents the fullness of man as being a trichotomy (triune nature similar to God’s) meaning every human is made up of three distinct and different parts: a physical body, an immaterial soul, and a spirit. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the Apostle Paul wrote, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spiritsoul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

The body is the physical part of a person that tethers you to the physical world. The body would include the mind (where thoughts, emotions, and feelings originate), as well as your genetic traits and tendencies (what drives your personality, habits, and predispositions). 

The soul is the non-material essence of a person’s being. The soul is the real you and is therefore the part that continues on following a physical death. Within the soul dwells your consciousness and will (where decision are made). Because Paul cautions Timothy (1 Timothy 4:1-2), “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” we know the soul is very impressionable.

Lastly, the spirit is the part of a person that provides life to both the body and the soul. In regards to the soul, the spirit tethers you to God. As it pertains to the body, the spirit would include the seat of your desires, your nature, or what is commonly referred to as “the heart.” In Leviticus 17:11 we find it written, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.”

Because everyone is born with a fallen nature (we received life through the human spirit provided to us by Adam) we all immediately experience the results of sin in both our mortal bodies (the practical effects of sin leading to death) and our souls (eternal death as a result of a separation from God). This is why passages like Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13 describe us in this particular state as being “dead in our trespasses and sins.” 

And yet, upon accepting Jesus as our Savior, an amazing, supernatural work takes place in our lives… What is described as the “old man” (the spirit of sin given to you by Adam) is replaced with a “new man” (the Holy Spirit given to you by Jesus). The “spirit of death” is replaced with the “Spirit of life!” In a very literal way when this occurs you are “born again!” 

This is why we encourage sinners to “ask Jesus to come into your heart.” Practically, we are imploring a person to ask Jesus to replace their sinful nature (my dead spirit) with His righteous one (the living Holy Spirit). This idea is reinforced all throughout the Scriptures… 

In Ezekiel 36:26 God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.” In Romans 8:2 Paul declares, “The Spirit of life in Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” In his earlier letter to the Ephesians 2:4-5 Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Again, the Apostle Paul will pen in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, “Since by man (Adam) came death, by Man (speaking of Jesus) also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”

When this supernatural work of God manifesting because of His grace occurs in you two things immediately result: First, your soul — the real you separated from God since birth because of the fallen sin nature imparted to you by Adam — is instantly reconciled with God through Jesus because you’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit. What was previously dead is now made alive in Christ through His indwelling Spririt! In 1 Peter 1:9 this result is described as “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Secondly, because you now have the Spirit of God (this new life force) indwelling your seat of desire (the spirit) the very physical body these desires control begins to naturally behave differently. This is why God’s grace ultimately results in Christ-likeness — behavioral change.

And yet, if we’re to be honest this morning, we’ll concede the fact this change doesn’t occur without a level of resistance from your body. While the indwelling of the Holy Spirit given to you by God’s grace has changed who you are because it’s tethered your soul back to Him (making you righteous, sinless, son, heir, etc.) and has the power to control the body as the Spirit now resides in the seat of desire, the literal effects of sin in the body still remain.

You see “the flesh” or what some call “self” is actuality nothing more than a reference to your un-regenerated, mortal, physical body — which still remains tainted with and corrupted by sin and death. Unlike the soul and the spirit, as part of the physical, natural world your body is still waiting to experience regeneration at a yet future resurrection. 

1 Corinthians 15, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption... In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” While filled with His Spirit making your soul righteous before God, your body is still awaiting redemption.

Historically, Bible scholars have been hesitant to define “the flesh” as only being the physical body, but this perspective was mainly the result of an incomplete understanding as to what all the physical body controls — basically, what’s included in the physical man (DNA).

While the Greek word translated as “flesh” is “sarx” referring to the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood, today we know the physical body of man (including the mind and overarching genetics) additionally covers a person’s thoughts, emotions, feelings, personality, habits, and predispositions — all of which are presently experiencing the effect of sin as they’re still awaiting a future regeneration. 

What this means is the battle Paul describes between “the flesh” and “the Spirit” is actually two completely contrary forces under the directive of my will — the soul. On one side there is my physical body (the flesh) still corrupted by sin and one that by its very constitution pursues the pleasures of self. On the other there is the supernatural (the Holy Spirit) which now desires to use my body as an instrument of righteousness. 

In Romans 6:13 Paul builds on this idea by writing, “And do not present your members (literally your body) as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Ultimately, the battle we all experience as Christians rests therefore in a decision of our will. You can either choose to surrender control of your body to the influence of the Holy Spirit (so that you can live consistent with the new nature you’ve been given in Christ) or you can choose to allow the physical body to function as it naturally will (corrupted by sin). 

What makes this experience different than the one we had before regeneration is that the body of sin and the spirit of sin operated in concert. The old man (the spirit of Adam, this fallen nature) and our body acted in harmony — which explains why we were really good at sinning! And yet, the old man having been crucified with Christ, has now been replaced with a new man — providing you and I a new nature — the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!

The tension occurs following regeneration because our flesh corrupted by sin is now under the control of God’s Spirit. Our bodies are no longer free to operate as they naturally would, because our desires are no longer driven by the old man but by the new! Meaning the flesh corrupted by sin is in constant tension with the Spirit that desires righteousness.

Again Paul would write in Romans 8:11-13, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you (the soul) live according to the flesh (the body) you will die; but if by the Spirit you (the soul) put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Are you beginning to see why the Licensed to Ill perspective of grace is so flawed?

With every decision you make your soul (the real you made alive in Christ, right before God, and sinless) must choose between the bodies natural tendencies towards and inclinations to sin (which is to act contrary to who you really are) or the surrendering of your body to the control of the Spirit (this new power in the seat of desires). Grace enables the choice.

Every single aspect of your life is subjected to this battle between “the flesh” and its natural disposition and proclivities to sin and the contrary desires of “the Spirit” to live rightly and holy before God. This is why Paul exhorts those who’ve experienced God’s grace to “walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust (“the desire, craving, or longing”) of the flesh.” 

This word “walk” literally means “to live in!” The term itself was a common way of describing how someone was choosing to live their life. You see in exhorting us to “walk in the Spirit” Paul is not describing a one time decision. Instead, He’s inviting us into a new way of living!

Understand, even after being filled with the Holy Spirit, your “flesh” will still seek to be self-satisfied. Your flesh still desires what is carnal. And yet, it’s important every believer know the remedy for overcoming the proclivities of our flesh is to choose to “walk in the Spirit” knowing you are more than flesh and blood… You are a righteous child and an heir with Christ! “If you don’t want to fulfill the lust of the flesh” made the daily choice to “walk in the Spirit!” 

I hope you can now see why Hannah Brown’s statement that “regardless of anything she’s done, she can do whatever, sin daily and Jesus still loves her” is so warped. Yes, it’s absolutely true she’s been “washed” and that “it’s all forgiven” — I’d even agree that “Jesus still loves her.” And yet, when a person truly experiences God’s grace they never have a caviler attitude towards sin, but a deep humility knowing what grace actually cost Jesus!

Jesus didn’t die on the cross to forgive Hannah of sin and liberate her from the debt of death so that she could turn around and sex it up with a guy in a windmill free of guilt! Using grace as an excuse to engage in the very sin Jesus died for is insulting. His work on the cross intends to fill us with His Spirit so that we can resist the “lust of the flesh” not succumb to it!

Back to the Beastie Boys… What many people don’t know about their debut album was that in a twist of genius the cover to Licensed to Ill was specifically imagined by Rick Rubin, designed by Steve Byram, and rendered by David Gambale to exemplify the perspective of many disenfranchised youth in the late 80’s and to illustrate where they saw society heading. 

On the front cover of Licensed to Ill was a depiction of a legendary Boeing 720 known as the Starship. Famously used by Led Zeppelin as their primary transportation during their 1973 and 1975 North American tours one commentator described the Starship as a “flying grotto.” 

With its fully stocked bar, multiple televisions, revolving arm chairs, low couches, and of course private rooms — which were complete with fur bedspreads, showers, and fireplaces, the Starship had become a symbol of the rock-star lifestyle of excess and depravity.

What’s interesting about the front cover was that it intentionally presented only half of the image. What at first seemed like an ode to ultimate freedom, the Starship — an airplane flying high — instantly turns dark as you open up the cover to see that this plane had actually crashed into the side of a mountain! When you consider how many famous bands had tragically died in plane crashes during the 60’s and 70’s the idea was not lost on anyone.

Not only did the artwork to Licensed to Ill reinforce this right to party depicted by the Starship, but it was honest as to where that right would ultimately lead. Culture may have been flying high, but there was an understanding a crash and burn was coming. 

Aside from the imagine of the plane crash highlighting the growing anxiety the culture was experiencing during the late-80’s, the graphic also creatively illustrated the nihilistic attitude of many towards such prospects. In fact, if you turn the artwork on its side the image of the crashed plane was designed to depict a smoldering joint!

Here’s the point… If you view grace as a Licensed to Ill and use it to fight for your right to party, there is an equal reckoning on your horizon. God’s amazing grace is not about the sinful behaviors it allows. It’s the mechanism by which your behaviors become Godly! Grace is not about doing what your flesh wants to do. Grace is about walking in the Spirit and allowing the incredible love and favor of God to transform you into His image and likeness!

Paul closes out this section presenting a warning we’d all be wise to consider… Galatians 5:19-25, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

But the fruit of the Spirit (what God’s grace intends to produce in you) is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live (are made alive) in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”


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