Not Stumbling on Keeping in Step (Galatians 5:17–25)

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” —Galatians 5:17–25

What does it mean to walk by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and to keep in step with the Spirit? Evangelicals have fumbled the answer by trying to privatize spirituality.


When the worship leader works up the emotions, with the room is dark and isolating, and you’re told to close your eyes so that it is just you and God—this is thought spiritual. But as C.S. Lewis warns, “let us beware of the ambiguity in the word spiritual. …There is spiritual evil as well as spiritual good. The worst sins of men are spiritual.”

What I have just described has more in common with pagan spirituality than it does Christianity. The Scriptures commend us to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). Spiritual songs are to be sung to God and to one another.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 11–14 Mark Ashton comments, “It is clear from these chapters that Paul’s main concern was how the Corinthian Christians were treating one another and outsiders when they met, not how they were treating God—because how they were treating one another was how they were treating God! To concentrate on getting so absorbed with God that we cease to notice those around us during a church service is not perhaps as spiritual as it might seem. This was the very thing against which Paul warned the Corinthians. The more truly they focused on God, the more aware they would actually become of one another.”

So, again, what does it mean to walk by the Spirit? It is not some mystical thing in which we become Christian wizards, wowing others with our advanced use of the force. The Spirit is first focused on Christ, and because this is so, anyone who is in step with the Spirit will love Christ, and in loving Christ, they will love what He loves, the church.

You know you’ve met a spiritual person, spiritual in the good sense, when you walk away, not simply impressed with their personal piety, but also with their selfless love for the saints.


For the Love of the Gospel, Love the Law (1 Timothy 1:8–11)

“The law is good (1 Timothy 1:8).” That short phrase could do a lot of bad theology a lot of good. The law is good, and the gospel is glorious (1 Timothy 1:11); and the gospel’s being glorious doesn’t undo the law’s goodness.

The law is good, if one uses it lawfully. This is like saying that cars are good, if one uses them lawfully. When a drunk, reckless, or irresponsible driver gets behind the wheel, that mass of metal, plastic, oil, and gas becomes a bad thing for humanity; but we don’t outlaw cars. We understand that the problem isn’t the car, but the driver. Likewise, when Paul says the certain persons who are teaching “different doctrine,” want to be “teachers of the law,” we must understand that the problem isn’t the law. Cars are good, but that doesn’t mean we let the immature or blind use them at their leisure. Likewise, when the spiritually blind, or the immature young convert gets behind the wheel of the law  all alone, the best place to be is behind them. Young converts have their permits, but they need a mature Christian to teach them how to drive the law. How then should we use the law? Lawfully.

To make the likening more accurate, when Paul says that the law is to be used lawfully, it is like saying that cars are to be used car-fully. Cars are meant to be used as cars, not kamikaze missiles. How was the law to be used? Protestants have long spoken of three uses of the law. The law is a bridle to restrain sin. It is a mirror to show us our sin. And it is a map for the Christian showing them how to live the blessed life. Amen. But there is something more foundational. How does one use the law lawfully? What was the point of the law?

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. —Jesus, Matthew 5:17–19

Jesus shows us what the point of the law is—Him. The law was never meant to be used without reference to Jesus. Never! When God gave His good law to his people at Sinai, a lamb had been slain first, redemption out of slavery had already happened, and a promise had been made to Abraham generations before. We should be slow to throw away as unnecessary that which Jesus kept perfectly for our salvation. The law shows us how to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus kept that good law perfectly for us, and bore God’s just wrath for all of our law breaking. If you love Jesus, you will love the law. If you love redemption, you will love the law. If you love grace, you will love the law. You will plead with the psalmist, “graciously teach me your law (Psalm 119:29).” You will exclaim, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97).”

The Gospel Sandwich (Matthew 28:16-20)

Matthew 28:16–20 is made like a sandwich where it’s the bread that excites you more than the stuffings. More than the meat, cheese, sauce, or anything else in-between, it’s the bread-brackets that make this sandwich so delicious. Take away the bread and the meat is unpalatable, but with it, it’s unsurpassed.

Jesus said that His meat was to do the will of the Father. The meat, the will of the Father we are given to do in this text is known as the Great Commission, but it is surrounded by bread. Take away the bread and you can’t handle this sandwich, it all falls apart. Without the bread this task is beyond you, but with the bread, the Great Commission becomes doable and a delight. The bread is the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

The Great Commission is surrounded by the great declaration (“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”) and the great promise (“I am with you always, to the end of the age”)—the only bread that can hold this sandwich together. If the Great Commission were not sandwiched by the great declaration and the great promise it would be the great impossibility.

Actually this sandwich is Bread all the way through; Jesus from top to bottom. Jesus is on top as the authority, He is underneath empowering, and He is all through the middle. He is the gospel we declare—the Savior we call for them to trust, the Rabbi we call for them to follow, the King we call them to obey. This isn’t a sandwich, it’s a loaf; it’s Jesus all the way through. Let us eat with joy and let us tell others of this all-satisfying Bread. The eating will lead to the telling.

The Gospel Needs No Slick Spokesman (Matthew 27:62–28:15)

Some Christians get as sinfully giggly and giddy as a teenybopper over the latest boy band coming to town when the latest celebrity professes Christ. When a celebrity, as when any person comes to Christ, we should rejoice like the angels in heaven, but we shouldn’t be so naive as to think that now the gospel will have some cred before the masses. We should rejoice when a professional athlete converts to Christ, not because they will make the gospel acceptable before men, but because the gospel makes them acceptable before God. They don’t dress up the gospel; the gospel dresses them up.

When Jesus rose from the dead it was first witnessed by women. They were at His cross, they were at His burial, and they were the first to see the empty tomb and witness the resurrection. Compiling the gospels we learn that Salome and Joanna were also with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Matthew emphasizes only two women though. Why? The number two has a legal sound to the Jewish ear. The law required two or three witnesses to establish testimony, but women were not considered credible witnesses. If the apostles were making this stuff up, these are details they would never have fabricated. If this were a hoax, then the gospel writers would have men, strong credible men of repute, being the first witnesses. Man wouldn’t make something like this up, but God would ordain it so. God chooses the weak to shame the strong.

The power of the gospel is not in those who testify, but in the One testified of. You don’t have to be cool enough, intelligent enough, suave enough, convincing enough, or charismatic enough to share the gospel. You don’t have to be great to share the gospel because the gospel is great enough all on its own.

Damnation Taken Lovingly (Matthew 27:45-61)

Suspended between heaven and earth, Jesus was forsaken by both, but it was only once the heaves turned black that He cried out in agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

What does it mean that Jesus was forsaken? Jesus clues us in when He uses language like “outer darkness,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” To be forsaken means to be cast our from God’s covenant people, to be outside the camp, outside of God’s covenant love, to be thrust out with the Gentiles, to be in darkness. It is to be cursed by God. The Scotch minister, missionary, and professor John Duncan asked his students, “Ay, ay d’ ye know what it was dying on the cross, forsaken by His Father—d’ ye know what it was? What? What? What? It was damnation—and damnation taken lovingly.” What does it mean to be forsaken? To put it as bluntly and shockingly as I can conceive, for it is shocking, awesome, and wondrous—God damned God. “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10).” R.C. Sproul appropriately ponders, “I wonder whether Jesus was even aware of the nails and the thorns?” Speaking of what Jesus began to sense in the garden Tim Keller writes, “He was facing something beyond physical torment, even beyond physical death—something so much worse that these were like flea bites by comparison.”

Jesus always addressed God as Father, save this one instance. He shouted in agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that we might shout with awestruck joy, “My Father, My Father, why have you accepted me?” The Son was forsaken that we might be adopted.

The Giggle Silencing Guffaw (Matthew 27:27-44)

Irony is a hollow point bullet that also has deeper penetration. It is a longer blade and serrated too. “Your not a king,” will not stab near as deep or jagged as, “Hail, King of the Jews!” when spoken in mockery. Sarcasm shells pierce to the bone and make a mess getting there. But don’t miss Matthew’s irony for soldiers’, crowd’s and leaders’, that is, don’t miss his mockery of their mockery. The supreme irony is that their irony isn’t ironic. Instead of being laughed with, they are laughed at. The joke is on them.

Jesus really is the King (Matthew 27:29, 37, 42). Jesus is building the temple by destruction (Matthew 27:40; John 2:19-22). It is precisely because Jesus is the Son of God that He will not come down from the cross in obedience to His Father (Matthew 27:40). It is only by not saving Himself that He can save others (Matthew 27:42). It is only because Jesus is lifted up that any believe in Him (Matthew 27:43; John 12:32-33).

Don’t get in a zinger competition with God. God’s irony always wins. He has the bigger sense of humor. He always laughs loudest. God’s victorious righteous guffaw silences the sinful giggles of wicked men. Play no pretend sarcastic homage to God’s King. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.

Why do the nations rage
          and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
          and the rulers take counsel together,
         against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
                  “Let us burst their bonds apart
                  and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
         the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
         and terrify them in his fury, saying,
                  “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
         The Lord said to me,
                  “You are my Son;
                  today I have begotten you.
                  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
                  and the ends of the earth your possession.
                  You shall break them with a rod of iron
                  and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
         be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
         and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
         lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
         for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

                                    —Psalm 2 (ESV)

A Silence Louder than Our Shouts (Matthew 27:11-26)

At Christ’s trial we shouted, but Jesus’ silence shouted louder. Some think that Matthew has birthed such anti-Semitic atrocities as the holocaust with Matthew 27:25; “His blood be on us and on our children.” But if you’re reading Matthew rightly you’re aware that Jesus alone is righteous and everyone else is guilty. You know you’re meant to see yourself as Peter, as Judas, as the priests, as Pilate, and as the crowds. Stuart Townend has taught us to sing well:

Behold the Man upon the cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

The cry for a savior of our own choosing is a sin we’re all guilty of (Romans 1:22-25). And we not only want our own savior, we want the Savior crucified. “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading to faith and worship),” John Stott tells us, “we have to see it as something done by us (leading to repentance).” Don’t just see Jesus’ rejected here, see your rejection. Don’t just see Jesus hated, see your hatred. Don’t just see the clearest and greatest display of human sin here, see your sin. Don’t just see the Savior you need, see why you need a Savior. Our sin cries, “give us our idols, let Him be crucified.”

Hear your cries loudly, and then hear Christ’s silence thunder over them and drown them out. Pilate heard only an echo, but for the saints Christ’s cross is sin-deafening. Jesus’ silence didn’t simply surprise Pilate, it left him “greatly amazed.” There was a noble calmness; a majestic dignity in it. Rebels have long tried to claim Jesus’ image, but Jesus isn’t bucking authority. He is demonstrating a higher one.

So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin (John 19:10–11 ESV).’

Don’t lose the regality of Jesus that is shining through the darkness of His suffering. Don’t lose what Jesus is doing for man for what man is doing to Jesus. Jesus isn’t just passively suffering. He is actively sacrificing. In his excellent book, The Cross He Bore, Frederick Leahy captured the loudness of Jesus’ silence well.

All too often Christ’s silence has been given a dangerous one-sidedness, as his passive obedience is stressed almost, if not altogether, to the exclusion of his active obedience. Christ’s silence was deliberate, emphatic and authoritative: it was his deed. The passivity of his suffering was real, but so was the activity of his obedience. Led as a lamb to the slaughter and like a sheep dumb before the shearers, he was active right up to and on the cross. He went as a king to die.

It was not the shouting priests who ruled the events of that day, but the silent great High Priest who was offering Himself as a sacrifice for sins.

There is a gloomy irony in Pilate’s actions on this day. He tries to wash the blood off his hands, but he cannot. The only thing sufficient to wash Jesus’ blood off Pilate’s hands and ours, is the very blood he is trying to wash off. The cross is the ultimate expression of our sinfulness. We can’t wash that off, but we can wash in it. For all who trust in Christ, His silent salvation thunders over our shouting sinfulness.

Pronouncing Repentance Correctly (Matthew 27:1-10)

The word used to describe Judas’ “repentance” is slightly different from the normal one. It has the same prefix, but a different suffix. It begins the same, but ends differently. Herein is a parable.

The camera that is intensely focused on Jesus’ trial and crucifixion pans away only twice; in both instances the focus is the failure of one of His disciples. You’re meant to contrast the two. Together, Peter and Judas are the best illustration of 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Douglas Wilson once tweeted, “As you contemplate repentance, be sure to distinguish ice shattering and ice melting.” Judas was shattered, but he was still ice. He was still cold. He was still hard. Peter was melted. Peter changed. Peter repented. Repentance does mean brokenness, but only brokenness coupled with warm faith.

Judas’ repentance is like that of Esau, Pharaoh, and Saul. It is, as Spurgeon quipped, “a repentance that needed to be repented of.” The prefix was pronounced perfectly, but the suffix was garbled. Pharaoh’s pronunciation of repentance sounded good at first, “This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer (Exodus 9:27-38),” but he muddled the rest of the word, “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses (Exodus 9:34-35).”

In Judas, Esau, Pharaoh, and Saul we see sorrow, conviction, grief, and remorse, but we do not see repentance, and one way in which we do not see repentance is that we do not see faith. Repentance turns from sin, to Christ. Judas ran to the priests seeking to make things right. If he had the eyes of faith, he would have cried out to the only one who could make things right. Instead of trying to pay back, He would have looked to the one who was paying. Instead of finding priests who care nothing for his troubled conscience, he would have found the great High Priest who alone could purify his conscience (Hebrews 9:14). Worldly grief leads to death. When you are truly aware of your sins, if you have not faith in Christ, your only other option is the deepest despair. Hung on a tree, Judas was cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

And here is where another, surprising, but comforting contrast pops out at us. We are not merely to compare Peter and Judas, but Jesus and Judas. Two men would hang on a tree this day. Both would be cursed of God. But whereas Judas was cursed for his own sins, Jesus was cursed for the sins of others. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).”

Let your despair, let your sorrow, let your guilt drive you to a tree, to a place of execution, to a cursed place of darkness, to a place of wrath and judgment. And may it be your sins upon that tree, but may it not be you. May it be Christ. Look to the cross of Christ and you will see both the ugliness of your sins, and the beauty of redemption. This is the only sight that can produce true repentance, because it is the only sight that can produce true faith.

The High Dive of Pride (Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75)

Sin is never content. It cannot be contained. Thinking you can keep that one “little” sin as a pet is like trying to chain King Kong or keep you own Jurassic Park in your soul. The chains won’t hold. John Owen put it this way,

Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it raises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin of its kind.  Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head.

Sin is a food that when you feast on it, it devours you. It creates an appetite for itself that it cannot fill. Lewis captured this with Turkish Delight.

At last the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more. Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking; for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves. But she did not offer him any more.

Sin is the chugging of poison because it tastes good. When this kind of language is used of sin, what kind of sins pop into your mind. I bet you’re thinking of lust, covetousness, or something of the like. Does Peter’s pride register on the radar? How about his unbelief in Jesus’ words? Do you think lust more toxic than pride? Do you think covetousness more addictive than unbelief in Scripture?

Every son of Adam is an expert make-up artist. Even us guys. Every one of us make the pros at Hollywood look like a 4 year old who got into her mom’s vanity. They start with beauty and add to it. It takes real talent to made sin look “good”. We can even make sin appear so holy and pious. Sin can sound like, “Jesus, I’ll never deny you. Even if I have to die with you.”

Sin is like Sauron’s ring. We’re even tempted that we can use it for good. But sin’s wages are always death. Sin is a cursed sword that cannot be wielded for good save by God alone—and then it is never that God makes good of a sin He commits, for He never sins, but of sin that we commit.

Spiritual pride is God-belittling, and soul-destroying. You cannot wield it to build the kingdom. That sword is too big. Put it down now before you really hurt yourself. A fall of Peter’s magnitude begins with a stumble. Before Peter fell by shamefully denying, he was lifted up in pride, and it was the lifting that led to the falling. Pride is climbing up the high dive to do some impressive acrobatics only to spend the last moments flailing wildly as you realize there is no water in the bottom of the pool. Pride is doing some perfect 10 flips only to splat as a zero on the concrete.

Pride is the sin underlying all sin. It’s aim: to be god. You can’t. Someday you will fall. The higher you climb, the bigger the splat.

Triumph Veiled in Travesty (Matthew 26:57-68)

In the midst of this text Jesus’ words bring us back to reality. If you’re muted this trail, if your only using your eyes, you’ll be as blind as the judges were as to what was going on. We walk by faith, not by sight, and faith comes by hearing, and living by faith is not the futile attempt to live a pipe dream.

You may think Jesus is overpowered. You may think Him unfortunately misunderstood. You may think this nothing more than a travesty of justice. But then Jesus speaks. Then you waken and see with the eyes of faith. Then you remember that He is laying down His life and that no one takes it from Him (John 10:18). You recall that He could call twelve legions of angels from His Father and that seriously impairs the force of the word seized (Matthew 26:57). You recollect the many times that Jesus told His disciples He “must go” to Jerusalem. You look back on the many instances during passion week when Jesus has pronounced judgment upon the Jewish leaders and understand they’re the ones being judged.

If you see here a travesty of justice more than you see a triumph for our justification—read again. There is indeed a travesty of justice here, but Jesus veiled our justification in His travesty. Don’t miss the beauty beneath the veil. Because of Jesus, God will be as just in justifying sinners, as men were sinful in condemning the Righteous One. This text does show us what sinful men do to the holy Christ, but it also shows us what the holy Christ does for sinful man. Because of Jesus’ words, we remember that the only reason we see man being able to do this to Christ, is because Christ chose to do this for man.