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Spirit vs. Flesh

In my last post, I started talking about Paul’s teaching on the Spirit-led life.  He tells us that we must cultivate our spiritual life if we want to overcome the flesh.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Galatians 5:16-17

When I read verse 16 in the original language, it’s very powerful.  Paul says that if you walk in the spirit, you will not bring to completion the things that the flesh is passionate about.

It doesn’t matter how much will-power you have or how many good intentions.  I’m writing this in September – how have your New Year’s resolutions turned out?  The only thing that can change the destination of our life is a walk in the spirit.

Verse 17 explains why this is true.  Your flesh is passionate against what your spirit wants.  Your spirit also has different goals than your flesh.  The two of them are battling for control of your mind.

But it’s the last sentence that gives us the understanding.  Because of their conflict, you cannot determine the things you do.  That’s the literal meaning of that verse.

You may not want to hear it, but your mind has very little to do in determining the path your life takes.  It usually bends either to the will of your spirit or your flesh.  Whichever has the stronger voice, determines what your mind will decide.

The teaching that “whatever you put your mind to you can accomplish” is a lie.  The illusion is strengthened by the fact that your mind can change course over the short term.  Like the first month of the gym membership that you knew would change your life.

The only time it appears to work is when your flesh and your mind are passionate about the same things.  If your flesh wants to be rich, or to own a large company, or to have great political power; that’s when it seems like your mind’s in control.

Other times, your flesh my use self-control as a means to an end.  That’s why many people who look like successes on the outside, turn out to be alcohol, drug, or sex addicts.  Then we’re shocked when their life ends in a tragic overdose or a suicide.

That’s why it’s so important that a Christian doesn’t fall victim to this false teaching.  You can’t bring about God’s plan for your life by disciplining your mind.  It has to be done in the spirit.

Paul brings this out in the next verse.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
Galatians 5:18

Being led by the spirit is not about controlling yourself.  The only way to walk in God’s plan for you is to strengthen your spirit.  Then, your spirit will take over in plotting the course for your life.

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Romans 7:6

Spend time praying in the spirit.  Activate your spiritual walk.  Only then will you see the change in your lifestyle.  You’ll be glad that you did.

Question: How has your life changed since you started praying in the spirit?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

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The Spirit-Led Life

In my last post, we saw that our freedom in Christ was not a license for our flesh to have its own way.  Our liberty is actually freedom FROM the old man, not freedom for it.  In today’s post, I want to talk about how to access this freedom that Christ won for us.

When we walk in the liberty of Christ, it’s easier to see the positive changes in our life.  The Holy Spirit will bring change from the inside out. This truth is also brought out in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Galatians 5:16

Many times, when people quote this verse, they’re using it as a weapon.  I’ve heard people say things like, “Look at how that person lives, and they call themselves a Christian. They’re walking in their flesh so they must not have the Holy Spirit in them. They can’t really be saved.”

This isn’t a verse that Paul gave us to test whether a person is saved or not. This is a passage of Scripture to tell us how to receive the power we need to walk in victory over the flesh. The only way you’ll have the power you need to not gratify the flesh, is to live your life in the spirit.

You can’t do it by exercising the will power of your soul or even disciplining your body. This means that you spend time praying in the spirit, communing with God in the realm of the spirit. That’s where we access the power to overcome the desires of the flesh.

I know that there are those who would disagree with me on this point.  They don’t believe that praying in the spirit, using our prayer language, is for today.  I’ve even been told by some that they believe they can “pray in the spirit” in English (their native language).

One thing you have to remember is that the Apostle Paul wrote this.  He was adamant that he had a rich prayer life in the spirit through praying in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18).  I believe that when he says to live by the spirit, he means a daily activation of the spirit through the use of this gift.

Please understand that this isn’t the only place in Scripture where we’re told to use the spirit to change our behavior.

No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
Romans 2:29

This is another piece of that same puzzle. Our outside will never change unless we have a change of heart. The problem is that our heart itself is very deceptive. We can’t always trust what we’re feeling.

That’s why true change can never be imposed upon it from the outside, by the written code. It must come from the inside, by the power of the spirit.

I don’t believe that a prayer you craft from your own mind and then speak from your mouth (part of your flesh), is ever going to be powerful enough to change your heart and actions.  It’s only when your spirit gets involved that true change will take place.

It’s only through daily prayer in the spirit that we see the fruit of what Paul is talking about here.  It’s through this gift that our spirit lines up with the Holy Spirit to put our mind and flesh on the right path.

I need make the choice to follow the Spirit’s leading. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today – while the Holy Spirit is seeking my attention. Don’t ignore His gentle voice calling for your fellowship.

Isn’t it great to know that your spirit, submitted to the Holy Spirit, can change your heart and walk?

Question: Is there something in your life that’s been hindering you from fully submitting to the Holy Spirit’s leadership?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in Legalism, Prayer, Prayer in the Spirit, Spiritual Walk

 

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Freedom and the Flesh

We’ve been given perfect freedom in Christ.  But just how far does that freedom allow us to go?  There are many who preach the Law so that Christians won’t live for themselves.  What’s the Biblical view?

You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Galatians 5:13

In order to understand our freedom, we need to see the greater context of Scripture.  There’s a flow to how the Holy Spirit revealed the Word to the church.  Knowing this will give us added insight.

The first mention of our liberty in Christ was when the Holy Spirit revealed it to James.  In his book, he simply referred to the Word of God as the perfect law that gives liberty (James 1:25).  But it’s in the letter to the Galatians that we see the first explanation of that freedom.

Actually, in this verse, we see the first revelation of how freedom and the flesh relate together.  So this gives us the foundational truth we need to understand.

The first thing I see is that we are called to be free.  That’s important.  Our freedom in Christ is a positional freedom.  That means I have to respond to it if I want to see the manifestation in my life.

If I want to walk in freedom, I need to cultivate my relationship with the Holy Spirit.  He’s the One that will turn my position of freedom into something I can experience on a daily basis.

Now we can go to Paul’s next statement.  He says that we must not use our freedom to indulge the sinful nature.  When I read this verse in the Greek language, I see an important truth.  Paul says; don’t start off in your liberty with the flesh as your goal.

Motivation is everything.  What’s your first thought when you hear the word, freedom.  Do you think, “Great! I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, and God won’t care!”?  If that’s your thinking, then you’re too immature to walk in God’s freedom.

The point of this liberty is that I’m free to serve God while He’s cleaning me up.  I don’t have to wait until I’m perfect.  I can listen for His call and obey Him.  As I’m serving the Lord, if I make a mistake I can repent and move on.

Freedom is knowing that I please God just as I am, right now.  As I grow and mature in Christ, I’ll continue to please God.  It’s not based on my performance, but on His work in me.

That brings me to Paul’s third point.  When I’m walking in freedom, I can serve God by serving others.  I’m not worried about how God sees me.  I can do what I’m called to do without any hindrance.

Because I know that I’m loved by God, I’m free to love others.  I don’t have to worry about whether they’ll accept me or not.  I’m already acceptable to the Lord.  That’s true liberty.

Trying to follow the law is just the opposite.

The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Galatians 5:14-15

When I’m performing for acceptance from God, everything becomes a competition.  I have to prove that I’m better than you.  That means I have to pick on your faults and emphasize my strengths.  A group of people with those attitudes will never do anything great for God.

Choose freedom.  Cultivate your walk with the Spirit and let Him do His work in you.  And always remember that God loves who you are right now.

Question: How has God’s love changed your view of yourself?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2017 in Faith, Legalism, Ministry, Spiritual Walk

 

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Freedom in the Cross

Have you ever had your words twisted by someone?  They accuse you of saying something that you never meant to say.  It’s not a new thing.  The Apostle Paul had to deal with it as well.

In the early church there were a group of people preaching that to be a good Christian, you needed to obey the Law of Moses.  In order to give themselves some credibility, they said that Paul was preaching the same message.

Look at what the Apostle has to say about them.

Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Galatians 5:11-12

The fact is that Paul was being persecuted for preaching about our freedom in Christ.  The Judaizers followed him from city to city, stirring up riots and dissension.  That in itself should have proven that his message was different than theirs.

He says that if he was preaching the Law, then the offense or scandal of the cross would have been rendered null or idle.  What does he mean by that?

In simple terms, it’s the cross that gives us our freedom.  It may not sound like that on the surface.  I’m convinced that we’ve missed the full impact of the cross.  We’re taught misconceptions and partial truths.

I’ve heard those who try to make it so hard to serve Christ.  They explain how Jesus said that in order to follow Him, we need to carry our cross (Luke 9:23-24, 14:27).  What they fail to mention is that He said this before He went to the cross.

So we were to pick up our cross, follow Christ to His cross, then to the grave, and then to the resurrection.  We are to identify with Him from death to life.  The cross was simply the doorway to the resurrection!

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14

I don’t know what this sounds like to you; but it sounds like life, victory, and freedom in Christ to me.  The Law does not reign over me.  I need to submit to the Holy Spirit, not a written code of behavior.

That’s the offense of the cross.  It offends the self-righteous to be told, “No matter what you do, you’re not good enough.”  They like to think that their “holy” lifestyle is winning God’s approval.

The Apostle Paul has very little tolerance for these people.  I believe that the NKJV does a better job of translating Galatians 5:12 than the NIV.

I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!
Galatians 5:12 (NKJV)

This is kind of a play on words in the Greek.  The word, trouble, literally means to force out or remove from home.  So Paul is saying that he wished the ones who were removing you from your place of rest in Christ would actually remove themselves.

Knowing the full message of the cross brings freedom in knowing who we are in Christ.  You can’t cling to both the cross and the Law.  They’re mutually exclusive.  As for me, I choose the freedom of the cross of Christ!

Question: How have you found freedom in the message of the cross?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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Who are You Listening to?

I love the Lord.  But does it really make a difference what I watch, the music I listen to, or the internet sites I go to?  Even though it was written 2000 years ago, Paul’s letter to the Galatians still speaks to us today.

You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?
Galatians 5:7

You were running a good race – past tense.  That sounds ominous.  The question is; how are you going to finish?  After all, it’s not about how you started off your race, it where you finally end up.

Paul sees that these people had left the path.  The problem is that it doesn’t take much.  You could be only one degree off course, but after traveling in that direction for a while, you could be miles away from your planned destination.

They had let someone cut in on them.  They allowed somebody to lead, who wasn’t supposed to.  Because of that, they were losing the truth.

The word, obey, literally means to be convinced, assured or confident in.  So what Paul was saying is that by listening to this person, they were losing confidence in the truth they originally received from the Apostle.  Why was this happening to them?  Could it happen to you?

That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”
Galatians 5:8-9

The issue is that now there are two signals being followed.  There’s the One who calls us – the Holy Spirit.  But there’s also someone trying to take us in a different direction.  This is where we start leaving the path.

The problem starts when we don’t listen with a critical ear.  What do I mean by that?  I’m talking about being convinced that Scripture and what the Holy Spirit has taught me is the truth.

Unfortunately, there are Christians who will hear something different.  Then their first thought is, “It sounds logical.  I wonder if that’s true.  I’ll have to think about that.”  When you think like this, you’ve allowed someone to cut in front of you.

Critical thinking doesn’t allow for that.  When you hear a teaching that doesn’t line up with the Word, you immediately label it as a lie.  You can then, through prayer and the study of Scripture, receive insight and understanding as to exactly why this teaching is not the truth.

Paul talks about this in regards to the spiritual weapons we’ve been given.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5

This is what has to happen with the lies that bombard us each day.  The media provides a constant stream of ideas that, left unchecked, will ruin our faith.  We must be on our guard to protect the truth that we’ve received.

I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view.  The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.
Galatians 5:10

The truth beats the lie every time.  I believe that these Galatian Christians came back to their senses after hearing the truth in this epistle.  I also believe the same for us.  Being forewarned is being armed and ready.

Question: How is a half-truth worse than a total lie?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2017 in Faith, Spiritual Walk, Word of God

 

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The Right Fuel for the Job

In the natural world, you must always have fuel to use power.   No matter if it’s electricity, cooking, heating, or driving.  Even something as simple as a candle requires wax as a fuel.  The same is true for power in the spiritual realm.

The Galatian church was starting to think that they could get power to serve God by following the Law.  In his letter, Paul shows them the true source of their spiritual power.

What we commonly mean when we use the term fuel is combustible matter.  But there’s also a general definition of fuel.  According to this definition, fuel is whatever feeds or sustains any expenditure, outlay, passion, or excitement.  What, then, is the fuel for our spiritual power?

It doesn’t take much study of the Bible to realize that faith is the fuel – that which feeds and sustains our spiritual passion – for the Christian life.  Without faith, it’s impossible to please God.  Without faith, we would have no access to the grace of God.  Faith is the requirement for God to do anything at all in our lives.

Having the fuel is important.  But we must also know how to utilize it.  Just holding a can of gasoline doesn’t automatically make me travel 60 mph.  I need to put it in the gas tank of a working automobile.

Unfortunately, there are many in the body of Christ who haven’t learned this simple concept.  We hold on to the fuel of faith and expect the light and heat of God to start working.  When nothing happens, we conclude that the Scripture is wrong, or that maybe God doesn’t do miracles anymore.  The Bible has the answer to this dilemma.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Galatians 5:6

In this verse, the word value literally means force in the Greek.  It’s not how you look on the outside that gives spiritual force, or power, to your walk.  It’s the fuel, faith, expressing itself through love.  What that verse says in the Greek is that faith must energize or activate itself through love.

If I put this in natural terms I could say that faith is the fuel, and love is the generator producing the voltage needed to maintain the power of God in us.  The Bible clarifies this truth.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:2

If I have all the faith-fuel in the world but don’t have the love-generator to use it in, I am nothing.  This is where much of the church finds itself in this generation.  We seem to be so full of faith, yet accomplishing nothing for God.

According to this verse, it sounds like a love problem to me.  If we’re not using our faith correctly, then there’ll be no manifestation of power.  I must use my faith to power my love-walk.

Trying to follow the Law is totally different.  I don’t need any love at all.  I could even look down on you because, after all, I follow the Law so much better than you do.

It should be obvious that following the Law of Moses will never bring about the changes that God is looking for in His people.  Just the opposite; it puts us into competition with each other.

We need to serve God the way He wants us to.  We need faith in His Word.  Then we must use that faith to fuel our love-walk.  That’s where true power originates.

Question: How have you experienced the failure of faith without love?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2017 in Faith, Legalism, Power of God, Spiritual Walk

 

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Short-Circuiting God’s Work

Today, many Christians are trying to win God’s blessings by striving to make themselves more worthy. In New Testament times there were some who thought circumcision and submitting to the Law of Moses would help get you closer to God. Paul wrote about these people in his letter to the Galatians.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.
Galatians 5:1-2

Wow! Paul uses some powerful words in this passage. Christ will not benefit you at all if you strive to do the work in your ability. Nothing on the outside will avail you in trying to deserve the power of God.

As a matter of fact, it will have just the opposite effect. It will hinder your ability to flow in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Paul continues.

Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:3-4

We’re always looking for the quick fix. So, in order to get around the time needed to be intimate with God, we’d rather try different Old Testament acts, hoping that they’ll do the trick. People try tithing, food laws, vows, and other Old Covenant traditions thinking that somehow it will make them more worthy.

Unfortunately, by doing this one simple act, Christ, the Anointed One is rendered idle in your life. That’s what the literal Greek in this verse says. Paul states that you have gone off course from grace.

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
Galatians 5:5

The only way to walk in the power and righteousness of God is to wait in the Spirit. It’s only by intimacy with the Lord that we’ll gain this precious gift. It’s not going to manifest through your work and ability. It will only come about as God declares you worthy as a mature son.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there’s something wrong with tithing, eating healthy, reading the Bible, confessing the promises or going to church. These are a necessary part of our growth in the Lord. They’re also a normal part of a mature Christian’s life. What I’m saying is that if your sole purpose in doing these things is to make points toward receiving God’s power, then you’re going to be disappointed.

What I desire is to see the church reach its maturity in Christ. Only then will we see the manifestation of the power of God in our services. As long as we have the mentality of spiritual childhood, we’ll never experience it. Having to recite and claim the promises are a part of childhood.

It’s what children do in the natural. It’s the “are we there yet?” attitude. If we decide to go fishing on Saturday and I tell you I’ll be by to pick you up at 5:00 AM, you don’t keep calling me to remind me. I show up at your house at 5 and you’re ready and waiting. That’s what adults do (or should do).

My children don’t have to keep reminding me that it’s my responsibility as a parent to feed them. They know where the refrigerator is and they know they’re free to get something whenever they want.

It’s the same with God. Jesus, as a mature Son, did not have to keep reciting the promises to the Father. He knew that they’d activate when needed. Maturity lives above the promises. If only we could grasp the freedom and power of spiritual maturity. It would propel us into a more intimate relationship with the Lord.

Question: How does waiting on the Lord in the Spirit bring growth and maturity?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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