Please Read Galatians 5 and 6. You may want to review the last two blog posts as well.
The Holy Spirit is not a psychological tool to be used whenever we need comfort or a boost of energy. John Owen certainly did not intend his explanation of killing sinful habits to be understood like that. And neither are we to focus so much on overcoming our sinful thought patterns that we lose sight of the main teaching of this passage in Galatians.
Paul wrote to encourage his readers to stand firmly together on the gospel of justification by faith alone. He wanted them to resist people who changed the Bible’s main theme by saying one could be made right with God through a ritual, tradition, moral practice, or anything else added to faith in what the Lord Jesus Christ had done for them. Here is the main idea of these two chapters: They were to firmly stand up to false teachers, but always with kindness and humility, and self-control. And the only way they would be able to do that was through the Holy Spirit’s working in their own hearts (Galatians 5:13-26).
We are not to shrink back from standing up for the truth or resisting teachers who are wrong on the gospel. However, it is possible to be firm and clear and, at the same time, humble and kind. It is not easy during the emotions of controversy; you will need grace and enabling power from the Holy Spirit to maintain your self-control. That is why Paul included some detailed instructions in Galatians 5 and 6. Bear one another’s burdens; bear your own load; support your teachers; don’t devour one another through envy and strife; do not provoke one another; walk in the Spirit; do not grow weary or lose heart; be proud only in the cross of Christ.
It is good to recount those times when God’s unmerited favor has enabled you to stand up for the gospel with clarity and gentleness. We should speak often of God’s grace and mercy to us, and urge others to seek both. Remember those times when you failed to control yourself during controversy and was far from kind or gentle. It is humbling, isn’t it? Both memories make us more expectant of grace for the next time the gospel has to be defended.
My, my. We need much grace as we work out standing firmly together on the good news that Jesus Christ offers salvation to those who will turn from their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We also need much grace to search our own hearts and rid ourselves of attitudes, behaviors, and thought patterns that are deserving of God’s anger. Our own sins do not cancel out Paul’s advice to defend the gospel and reject false teaching. But, holding firm on the certainty of God’s wrath to those who continue living as if they were in charge, instead of God, is both possible and necessary. And, that can be done without condemnation.
Charles Spurgeon lost many close friends and fellow-workers when he stood firm on the gospel of grace in London among his Baptist associates. He wrote of his pain in being rejected, and even reviled, by people he had long been in association with. Many lost their focus during this emotional controversy and were far from kind or humble. He eventually had to pull out of the Baptist Association. But, his stand made it clear that salvation was not from our own choice, but through the sovereign work of God in our hearts and minds.
The English Puritans who read John Owen and believed in the heart-work of killing sinful habits needed this same grace to speak the truth with kindness and self-control and humility. Many of their followers failed to do that, and so “Puritan” has come to mean stiff-necked, arbitrary, harsh, self-righteous. We must not make the same mistake as we teach our children and grandchildren to reject homosexuality, abortion, filthy entertainment and music, disrespect for those in authority, laziness, and dishonesty. These can be rejected without haughtiness or condemnation toward others, but with humility and watchfulness, lest we nonchalantly accept sinful behavior as the norm and use mercy as an excuse to do whatever we wish.
It would be tragic to be known as the generation of Christians who caved in on the gospel, failed to teach the wrath of God against all ungodliness, or who acted with rude, harsh condemnation of those who are trapped in their sin. May the grace of the Spirit be with each of us. We feel our need of Him. And we will work all this out in community with other Christians.