K:JNWTS 29/2 (September 2014):3-10

Walk by the New Age and Arena of the Spirit

Galatians 5:13-26

Scott F. Sanborn

Many of you, when you got married for the first time, may have said, “It is time to change the ambiance in our house.”  As one bachelor preparing for marriage might say, “I had better get this place looking good for my bride.” Why? “Because I know the environment will affect her.” 

Don’t environments affect you? Think of it. When you go to a place that is shabby and dirty and smelly, don’t you sometimes feel a bit scroungy? You might be very clean but the dust is accumulating all around you.  However, if you go into a beautiful building, you could be wearing the worst of clothes and be unkempt. Yet all things are new. You are in beautiful surroundings. It awakens your senses. You are a new person.

Well, that is what we have here. Paul is introducing you to a new environment. You may not have looked at the passage this way before. You might say, “Where is the environment? I don’t see an environment in this text.” Yes, but there is an environment here. It is the environment of the Holy Spirit. He is the environment of heaven. Remember in the Old Testament when God’s Spirit came down upon the tabernacle, he came down as a cloud and filled that environment? And as a result, the Spirit was the environment of the temple and especially of the Holy of Holies. So also in this text, Paul shows you that the Spirit is an environment.

You may not have looked at this passage this way before. Instead, perhaps you thought—the Spirit versus the Flesh; those are two principles warring within me. I am a Christian. I have the Holy Spirit within me; I know that. And he is subjectively working in my heart to produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. But I also have the remnants of sin within me and they are prodding me to sin.

This is true, even till your last breath (e.g., Gal. 5:17). But Paul is also showing you that the Spirit is your environment. And he is contrasting that to the environment of the flesh. We can see this because Paul is not just looking at the Spirit as a subjective work in your heart. He is also looking at the Spirit as an objective standard that you are to follow—an objective arena that you are called to conform yourself unto. Consider how he brackets this passage with the phrase “walk by the Spirit” in Galatians 5:16 and 25. This same language is used again in Galatians 6:16 when he says, “and those who will walk by this rule.” Hmm, walking by a rule, walking by an external standard. So when he says, “walk by the Spirit,” he is saying “walk by an external standard.”  And in Galatians 6:16 where he says “walk by this rule,” he is referring to the “new creation” in the previous verse (v. 15). He is essentially encouraging you to walk by this rule—walk by the rule of the new creation in Christ Jesus. That is what the Spirit is. The arena of the Spirit that Christ has brought to you is the new creation, the kingdom of heaven that has come to you in Christ Jesus. That arena is no impersonal environment but the rich person of the Spirit filled with his own life, his love, sweet joy, and abounding peace.

He and his arena are contrasted to the flesh. If he is contrasting the Spirit as an arena to the flesh, then you know that the flesh is also an arena. Is that not true when you look at the world around you? The world around you is the arena of the flesh going to destruction. You live in two arenas if you are in Christ. You live in the arena of heaven as well as the arena of this world. You may only see this world, but by faith you also live in the heavenly places. The heavenly places are yours. They are ours together in Christ. We are before the throne of Christ above.

And there is one other passage that indicates this in Galatians—chapter 4, verses 25-26. There Paul says, “Now this Hagar is Mt. Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.” There you have two Jerusalems—the Jerusalem below and the Jerusalem above. These are two arenas, are they not? Jerusalem is a city. It is an arena, an environment.

But it is also an age. The New Jerusalem, the coming of what the prophets foretold is yours in Christ Jesus. That new environment above is yours because you have been made a part of a new age. This age goes beyond the former beggarly era, partially associated with the flesh. Yes, the heavenly arena has now been given to you more profusely at this time—the age following Christ’s death, resurrection and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. So we have Paul contrasting two arenas and two ages. And with it, he is telling us that we live in the tension between two ages—the flesh versus the Spirit.

Well, like looking at a drama, we have now seen the two scenes or two environments where this drama takes place, like two cities at war with one another. We have seen the two cities. We have been introduced by Paul to two cities, two countries, and two lands. And now we will come to the drama of the story. And as we do that, we will look at three things: First, what are the fruits of focusing on the flesh as an end in itself? Second, who has brought the arena of the Spirit and its fruits? And last, how does this new age go beyond the age of the Old Testament, beyond the age of the law?

The Fruits of Focusing on the Arena of the Flesh

Well, what are the deeds the flesh? Paul tells us. But why are they deeds of the flesh if the flesh is an objective arena? Because they are deeds that arise out of focusing on the flesh and the age of the flesh as an end in itself. That’s what they are. People make the world an end in itself. And thus they bicker and complain and fight over the world.

The world was not made to be this. The world was not made to be an end in itself. No. Even from the beginning when Adam and Eve were in the garden, Adam was called to look beyond the Garden of Eden to something greater. He was called to pass the test he was given in order to enter the heavenly city of God. And in that way Adam was called to recognize that all the good gifts that he possessed in the garden were but dim reflections of the goodness of God. All the beauty in that garden, was it not a reflection of the beauty of God himself who created all things? And so if that is the case, Adam was called to look beyond these things to the greater beauty, the splendid glory of God himself in heaven. If this was so of impersonal creation, how much more so of the people God made. For Adam it was Eve. Was not the communion he had with her meant to look ahead to the singular union he might have with God himself in heaven? That is why only one man and one woman because you are only united to one God. Adam was to look to that union with her and say—I look beyond that union to the greater spiritual pleasures in body and soul I might have in the eternal life of God. Nothing in this world is greater than that which surpasses it in heaven.

But Adam was drawn to the flesh, was he not? He was drawn to see the things of this world as more important than heaven, thinking that the things of this world surpassed the glory of God. How foolish. And have we not all in him chosen to go the same way. How many of us really think and reflect upon heaven and its surpassing excellence when we consider the things of this world? Adam turned aside and we with him. All of us have turned our gaze to earth and away from heaven. And yes, you—you have said, “I’ll take your gifts, Oh God, but you I do not want.” Now if you saw a bride with her bridegroom despising her bridegroom in this way, what would you think? Or is that not what we are? We are the intimates of God, created in his image. If you saw a bride like this and you said, “Hmm, what is she like? She is like a woman who takes valentine flowers from her husband and then says, ‘Get out of my house!’” And if she could, she would kill him, deplete his bank account, buy up all the flowers in town and cuddle among them.

You are that woman. You have wallowed in the world and it will soon die and wilt around you. And then what will you have? You will have nothing, nothing but the anger and wrath of God. He will unleash his anger upon you and punish you justly, you unfaithful woman. You have committed adultery, for you have seen the object of your desire and you have chosen it, and you have shut him out. You have set your affections on the world. That is what you work for, is it not? That is what you long for. And you have forgotten him, his country, his heavenly city, longing for his coming, panting for the resurrection to come. These have not been the longings of your heart, have they? No, you have other plans. Best to see those accomplished before he comes—because they are more important to you, are they not? You have desires and longings to fulfill. And if they are not satisfied before he comes you will be deprived. You will have missed out on something great, something grand. You will have been deprived for all eternity. For eternity cannot satisfy these things for you. Eternity is not greater. Isn’t that what you’re thinking?

So when temptation comes, you buckle under, you cave in. Eternity is not greater than the things that you prize. So eternity cannot overcome them for you. But of course you do not think of eternity at that point. Your mind is on the world, on the stage of the flesh. That is more important to you, is it not?

Thus, you bicker and complain. You secretly jostle with one another for importance. You must have the object of your desire. If you bite and devour one another for the things of the world, you will be consumed by one another (Gal. 5:15). You obsess on the age of the flesh. You spew forth its fruits. It is your god. “The deeds of the flesh are evident” (v. 19), for in your immorality and sensuality you use others and make the pleasures of this age ends in themselves. With your idolatry and sorcery you seek to manipulate the Almighty to serve your interests here below. In your anger, you fume and rage over what has been denied you in this age. You do not seek your satisfaction in heaven above, but must drown your sorrows in drunkenness and carousing. And you fight one another (v. 15) over the things of this world with your enmities, strife, and petty jealousies, yeah even with dissensions, factions, and envying (v. 21).

Paul repeats envying again in verse 26. You envy one another only because you prize too highly the things of the world. And if you obtain them, you boast about them (v. 26). You boast, “I have them; I acquired them.” In these things you neither love God nor one another. These vices all stem from worshipping this created arena rather than God in his heavenly home.

Paul says, “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21). Why not? Because none of these deeds can be done in heaven. In heaven, there is no boasting. In heaven, there is nothing to envy others about. It is an arena of eternal communion. But you have lived after the flesh as if that is the end, have you not?

Perhaps, on the other hand, you have tasted the bitter pill of dissatisfaction. You are now at a point where you despair. You cannot obtain the things you want because they are behind you. And you are disappointed. You have no hope. But though you cannot obtain your desire, you hold on with bitter clenches. You will not leave the world. You will go away kicking and screaming. But you will go away nonetheless. You will not have the world you want. Oh unsatisfying world, Oh bitter pill. We have sought to devour you, Oh world, but we have been devoured by you.

Are these not the fruits of the flesh? The fruit of setting your desire on the world as an end in itself—of considering it more important than the world to come—even though you know this world is only temporary. You have made the world its own end rather than recognizing that its end is in God himself. You have failed to see that at the beginning, the good gifts of God were meant to point beyond themselves to the surpassing presence of God. And they are only excellent when they are found in him. But you have not sought him and from this have sprung your many evil deeds. How foolish Oh world, Oh world of flesh. How foolish you are. How turned in upon yourselves you are.

God’s wrath is upon this world of flesh and death—the fury of the eternal one, the one who upholds your whole life and every atom of your body. Yes, he will tear the world to pieces for it is in his hands. It will be separated from his life, from his blessing and from heaven forever. You will have the world that you want and it will go with you to judgment. You did not want God and thus he will not want you. And there is nothing you can do to reverse this—because you have already made your choice. God will not be turned aside from his wrath by anything you do, by the works of the law, by pleading, begging, not anything you can do.

The Bringer of the Arena of the Spirit

Why? Why then? Love so amazing—upon you. Why? Why did God open up his heart to you, you who despised him—you who rejected him—you who threw him out? Why did he open his heart to you? He gathered you in. He invited you to heaven. He clothed you from on high. But why? You who trust in him, where did God’s wrath go? How did it flee away? You despiser of God, you did not quench it. For you could not bear it for a moment. It would crush you. But God . . . God sent his only begotten Son. Yes, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4), born to bear the curse of the law, to become a curse for you in your deepest corruption and destruction. His Son, the Son who had no sin, became a curse for you—you who trust in Christ Jesus. He became man to bear the wrath of God upon men. Oh man, Oh woman and child, he came to bear your wrath, if you are in him.

But no mere man would suffice. He had to come—the eternal Son, eternal God. Only the eternal one could swallow up eternal wrath in a moment of time. A mere creature would have to go to hell forever, and forever would never end. And he would never satisfy the wrath of God. But because he was eternal God, he could bear eternal wrath in a moment of time and satisfy it for you, you who trust in him alone. Once satisfied, this wrath—once satisfied, this death could not hold him. Once satisfied, he rose from the dead (Gal. 1:1). Once satisfied, he was satisfied with the arena of the Spirit above. He was justified, no longer a curse, now declared righteous forever. What he did now can never be undone. God’s wrath can never swallow him again; never again can it devour those in him. He is righteous forever and they are declared righteous eternally in him.

Faith’s Possession

Lay hold of him by faith brothers and sisters. He is your refuge from the wrath of God, your only hiding place. He alone is your plea. Plead for mercy. Do not let go of his robe until he looks upon you with pardon. Cling to his robe until his robe becomes your robe, until it becomes your righteousness, until you are clothed with the clothing from on high.

It is not by any works you do. It is only through faith in Christ. In trusting, you are not looking to yourself. You are looking outward to another. You are trusting in Christ alone. You are looking to where he is seated. You are looking to heaven. You are looking to the realm of the Spirit. You are not looking to yourself. You are not looking to the worldly arena where you dwell. You are not looking to the arena of the flesh. You are setting your face towards heaven, the arena of the Spirit.

You have possessed in Christ Jesus that to which Adam only looked forward. That is yours now in him. And you have entered into heaven by the Spirit even now. Yes, you do live in this world still, but you also live in heaven. You live in two arenas. You live in two environments, two ages. But you have been crucified to this age in Christ Jesus (Gal. 6:14-15 with 5:6; 2:20) and now your eternal home is in heaven. Praise God, you are not under his wrath, for this world—this age that you were seeking—this world that you made your god—is dead. Christ has crucified it to you. And you have become partakers of the heavenly life above in him.

The Fruits of Focusing on the Arena of the Spirit

This is a far more excellent way. And so you have been given the life of the Spirit. Thus love one another in the Spirit. Love one another. For doesn’t hatred arise from absolutizing this age—making it an end in itself—envying others for what they have in this world? Or do you not despise others when you exalt yourself—boasting in your own possessions and power? But in Christ Jesus you all equally possess the life of the Spirit above. You can’t look down on your brother. Therefore look to one another as if you are all in Christ Jesus. Love one another. Walk out of the arena of the Spirit. Let that environment affect you.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22). This is the life of the Spirit himself in heaven, his love, joy and peace for all the saints. He lives in you. He is at peace in heaven—no need to be impatient for mere trifles in this world. And so you are kind, good and gentle to those around you. For you do not need to use them for your ends, having your great fellowship in heaven. Instead, you can be faithful to others, serving them in Christ (Gal. 5:13). And having the surpassing riches of heaven, you can be self-controlled with respect to the lesser blessings of this age.

All of these virtues are in Christ himself in heaven. By faith, he lives in us (Gal. 2:20; 5:4, 6). With him we do not retreat from this world and its responsibilities. Instead, we live in the world in the light of the age to come, now semi-realized above in Christ.

Christ’s Spirit gives you all these fruits through his irresistible work. As such, they are called his fruits and not our deeds. They all come from heaven. They rely on the fullness of the kingdom now given in Christ. Depend on him for his grace. By faith lay hold of eternity. And by the imputed righteousness of Christ, have confidence that those fruits, imperfectly wrought within you, are rendered acceptable to heaven in Christ Jesus.

The Arena of the Spirit as the Gift of the New Age

In that arena, Christ has given you something new in the history of redemption. He has brought you into a heavenly environment. And you have actually been given a greater blessing than the blessing given to the saints of the Old Testament. Yes, the saints of the Old Testament possessed the heavenly gift as well. They possessed heaven through the Spirit. And they had the Spirit in the tabernacle and in their hearts and lives. But Christ has given you a greater abundance of the Spirit. Thus, he has given you a greater participation in the heavenly arena. Think about it. We have what the Old Testament prophets foretold. They prophesied the age of the kingdom of God. And Christ has brought it by his coming and arrival. He has brought what the prophets foretold.

Consider the day of Pentecost. What happened at Pentecost? Did not the Spirit come upon the Church in a new way? But how can this be? Were not the saints of the Old Testament regenerated by the Spirit? Of course they were. This means you possess the arena of the Spirit in a greater way. You possess heaven more profusely. You do not look to the types and shadows of this world under the law as they did. You look instead more immediately to those things which are invisible—to the heavenly gift that has been given you in fuller measure now.

You have what the prophets longed for. What David and the psalmists longed for and yearned for is yours. What Isaiah and Jeremiah anticipated—when Jeremiah foretold the Jerusalem above. And what does that remind you of? Why did Jeremiah look to this Jerusalem above? Because he was identifying with you. He was identifying with you in your cursed state under sin and guilt. Because the old Jerusalem was identifying with you in your state of curse and guilt.  Because the old Jerusalem was under curse and destruction and under the wrath of God.

And what happened? Did not Jeremiah write the book of Lamentations? He lamented and wept for that city as one would weep for you in judgment. And he looked forward to a new day in which there would be a New Jerusalem, in which the curse would be taken away, in which there would be an eternal city with eternal joy, no more weeping, no more death, but joy forevermore. This has come. You have been brought to the Jerusalem above and she is free—she is your mother. Your life is there in heaven itself (Gal. 4:26). And thus Paul says, “Rejoice” (quoting Isaiah 54:1). He says, “Rejoice”—the prophets have been fulfilled. “Rejoice” because the curse separating us from the city of God has been removed. No more lamentation, but eternal rejoicing is yours in Christ Jesus for you are possessors of the New Jerusalem above even now.

You have moved beyond the earthly shadows and types to the greater reality that is now in Christ Jesus. Thus, Paul said, “neither is circumcision anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15).  For you are no longer under the era of the law. You have gone beyond its visible curses of types and shadows. That means you are possessors of the age to come, of the kingdom that the prophets foretold. You possess the arena of the Spirit. You are not under the law. You have come to a greater age, a greater environment in the New Jerusalem, to the full flowering of the blessed law in Christ Jesus.

Live out of that environment. Walk by the Spirit. Lay hold of his riches by faith and your mind will not be consumed by the flesh. With this heavenly gift you now possess the fruit of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace!” (Gal. 5:22). Joy at the New Jerusalem; peace like a gentle stream in the city of God.  Thus you can live by the moral law (5:14), the Ten Commandments, in all their riches above, no longer biting and devouring “one another” (5:15, 26), but loving “one another” (5:13) as equal possessors of that age above in Christ Jesus.

To this, earthly riches cannot compare. Heaven has arrived already. The prophets have been fulfilled only to await the consummation. Joy has erupted in the city above. The angels sing—no more death, no more judgment, no more weeping. Lamentation and sorrow have fled away. For you have been brought to the heavenly city. You have been shielded from the wrath of God in Christ Jesus—in his justifying life, death and resurrection. You have been brought to all that life was meant to be, to all the riches of abundance for which you have been made. And you have been seated there together in a heavenly communion.

Oh what love is this! Rejoice! he has given himself to you. He has brought you to this heavenly city. He has seated you by his side and clothed you with his righteousness.

He is your desire, is he not?
He is your greatest joy, is he not? He far exceeds every lover, does he not?

You must have him.
You must possess him.
You must be ravished by him.

You know that nothing else will satisfy, do you not?
You know that the world may pass away, but you must be satisfied with him.
You must be ravished by his love.

Eternity will forever satisfy your heart. For his life is infinitely vibrant. His beauty is dazzling. Pleasures in him are everlasting and boundless. Oh what depth of love is yours now. What joy is yours now! His peace floods your heart. For your hope is beyond imagination—unfathomable and full of glory in Christ Jesus.