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How To Have A Spirit-Controlled Life

How To Have A Spirit-Controlled Life

November 1, 2017 Save Article

Galatians 5:19

You often hear people talk about the Spirit-controlled life. But what does that really mean if we examine it, and how do you have one?

Many of us have lives that are out of control and we don’t even know it. Being out of control is what the Bible describes as “the works of the flesh.” You see, either “the flesh” or the Spirit is going to be controlling your life.

The opposite of the Spirit-controlled life is the life filled with the works of the flesh, and this is where Paul begins—those things that stand out as red flags in a life that’s out of control. We see folks living like this every day. Just turn on the evening news or observe the current political scene.

Our study this month focuses on Galatians chapter 5. As we look at the works of the flesh (v. 19-21) and ask ourselves how—and if—they manifest in our lives (in contrast to the Spirit-controlled life, v.22-25), we need to understand what the Bible means by “the works of the flesh.”


“The flesh” doesn’t mean your physical body, of course. “The flesh” is how the Bible refers to that old nature we got from our parents. But you can’t blame them. They got it from their parents. And they got it from theirs…and all the way back to Adam. That part of our nature, our predisposition, our craving for something wrong, is what the Bible calls “the flesh.”

1. Beginning with v. 19, fill in these deadly works of the flesh:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: ______________, _____________________, ___________________, _______________________,
20 ______________, __________________, ______________, _______________, ___________________, ___________, ____________, _________________, ______________, 21 ________________, ________________, ________________, _____________, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think verses 19-21 come right out of program descriptions from this week’s TV Guide. Let’s deal with them and get them out of the way so we can learn how to have the Spirit-controlled life. We want to have it, God wants us to have it, and He has provided the means for us to have it.

As we go through Paul’s list, given by the Holy Spirit, do a heart-check and ask if any of these are present in your life.

Adultery. Sexual union with anybody other than your marriage partner. If you’re living a life of adultery, the flesh is in control and, my dear friend, you are out of control.

Fornication. Any sexual activity before marriage. The Bible teaches without apology that we are to lead lives of chastity before marriage and fidelity to our spouse once we are married. Anybody who lives a life of fornication is living a life of the flesh, a life out of Spirit-control.

Uncleanness in this verse has the idea of wrong thoughts—impure thoughts. A person who reads pornography, entertains himself with licentious literature, media, music or entertainment, is leading an out of control life of the flesh.

Lasciviousness. We don’t use this word much anymore, but it literally means “a lack of restraint,” or what we would call sensuality, living by the senses, whether it be over-eating, laziness, or an inordinate desire for comfort. In other words, just letting your five senses dictate what you do. The senses are in control.

Idolatry. You may think idol worship is only practiced in a primitive society.
You would be wrong. An idol is anything more important to you, anything you love more, or fear more, or serve more than God. It could be your business, your family, your recreation, your hobbies. Modern Americans have plenty of idols. If there’s anything you love, fear, or serve more than God, you have a life controlled by the flesh.

Witchcraft. The word witchcraft is sometimes translated sorcery. It comes from the Greek word pharmakeia, where we get our word “pharmacy” from. It actually has to do with the use of drugs. Drug use yields an instant heaven that leads to everlasting hell. Synthetic salvation. Sorcery and drug use are linked together. David Wilkerson said, “I have yet to see a man involved in Satan worship who did not first open his mind to mystical experiences through the use of drugs.”

Hatred. Are you nursing a grudge? Carrying around hatred in your heart? If you’re harboring bitterness toward any human being, your life is under the control of the flesh.

Variance. Divisions. Divisiveness. A party spirit. Strife. Today we see our nation truly divided against itself.

Emulations. Another word we don’t use in modern English, but it literally means “jealousy.” Jealousy is rooted in selfishness.

Wrath. A burning desire for revenge—wanting to get even.

Strife. Dividing people against one another. This is much like “variance.” These are the people who split churches, split homes, split neighborhoods and communities. We see them everywhere today and often in the news.

Seditions. The word sedition literally means “to stand apart.” People who separate themselves into cliques and enclaves. Sometimes they get off into cults. Often they think they’re better than others.

Heresies. False doctrines. People who distort the true Word of God.

Envyings. Dissatisfied with what you have. A spirit of covetousness instead of thanksgiving. Not only just wanting more but wanting what someone else has.

Murders. Jesus said, “If you hate your brother, in God’s eyes you’re guilty of murder.”

Drunkenness. A mind that has been narcotized, desensitized. Judgment impaired by the abuse of alcohol, drugs, or any other substance.

Revelings. Another word for revelings is “carousing.” People who are always saying “Let’s party” are trying to somehow ease their conscience and escape from reality by constant indulgence in entertainment. They run from serious thought.

Reviewing this list, you may be thinking with pride, “Well, Paul hasn’t mentioned me yet.” He has you in the next one: “…and such like….” You can fill in the blank. All these are signs of a life out of control, the opposite of a Spirit-controlled life.
The result of the flesh-controlled life is wasted time, weakened bodies, warped thinking, and wretched lives.

How, then, are we going to have a Spirit-controlled life?

2. In v. 22, watch how Paul switches gears now. What is the first word of this verse? _______. He turns it around to show us the way God has for us to live. On one hand you have the works of the flesh. On the other, the fruit of the Spirit.

3. v. 22
______ the fruit of the Spirit is ________, _____, ___________, _________________, _________________________, ___________________, ___________, ___________, ________________________; against such there is no law.


That last quality, “temperance,” means “to be in control.” In some translations it says “self-control.” But it could be—and should be, in my opinion— “Spirit-control.” The question is: Who is in control?
If we want to live the Spirit-controlled life, we have to look at the standard by which we can live the Spirit-controlled life. If my life is to be brought under discipline, how do I measure that? How am I going to know if my life is in control? What’s the standard?
The standard is the law of God.

3. Look back in Galatians 5 to verse 13:

13 For brethren, you have been called unto ___________, only use not _________ for an occasion to the flesh… [don’t let the flesh have its fling just because you’ve been called to liberty]…but through ______ serve one another.

How are we to know what the standard of love is?

14 But all the ______ is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The standard is God’s law, which is fulfilled in one word: love.

The standard for self-control (or Spirit-control) is the law. We measure that by our love. Do you want to know if you’re living a life that meets God’s standard? Ask yourself: Do I love others as I love myself?

How are you and the Law getting along?

You could look at the law 3 different ways and have 3 different reactions to it:

1. License
“The law my enemy!” My flesh says, “I don’t want to have anything to do with any kind of law. Don’t fence me in. I want to do my thing, and I’m gonna do it!” That’s license. Rivers and people get crooked by following the path of least resistance.

2. Legalism
“The law is my master!” Trying to live under the law, the law has become my master. We know what the law says: “Don’t do this, this, and this. Instead, do this, this and this.” But I’m struggling and failing. We’ve all been there.

We know the law—of itself—is good and right, so we’re struggling, trying to keep the law. We clench our fist. We grit our teeth and say, “I’m gonna to do it!”

Legalists have their little lists: Don’t go to these kinds of movies. Don’t drink this. Don’t touch that. Don’t go with that person. Don’t, don’t, don’t…living lives of negativism. Ten thousand “don’ts” will not make you one bit more like Jesus.
The Christian life is not a legal relationship; it is a love relationship.
The more we struggle, the more we sink, like someone trapped in quicksand. They know they’re sinking. They struggle to get out, and their very struggling brings them down.

3. Liberty
“The law my friend.” See the first verse of this 5th chapter of Galatians.

1 Stand fast in the _____________ wherewith Christ has made us ______, and be not entangled again with the _______ of _______________..

This verse tells us two things:
(1) Something we’re supposedto do (a positive action) What is it?

(2) And something we shouldn’t do (a negative) Be not _______________________
again __________________________________________________________________.

Some Bibles translate “the yoke of bondage” as “the yoke of self-effort.” Notice that word “again” after “entangled.” What does that tell you?

Without the empowering of the Holy Spirit, we’ll follow the same old pattern of falling back into legalism. This plagues all of us. So the yoke of bondage—legalism—self-effort is not the answer either.

You have three choices:
license legalism liberty
The answer is…

  • Not seeing the law as your enemy. That’s license.
  • Not seeing the law as your master. That’s legalism.
  • But see the law as your friend. That’s liberty.

5. a. What have you been called to? (see v. 13)

b. What do you “stand fast” in? (v. 1)

I want us all to learn this: Liberty is not doing your thing. No one is truly free, no one is liberated, until he knows control.

If you sit down and try to play a piano, for example, right away you’re going to learn that the piano is regulated by law. If I were to try to play, it would be a mess. There are certain laws of music. And the person who learns those laws is the one who can sit down and tickle the ivories. A concert pianist is free not because he or she is not controlled by law, but because they are controlled by law. They are liberated to play beautifully to the full extent of their capabilities, but they have to be within the laws of music.

In sports, it’s the same. If the athlete is not playing under the rules of the game, he’ll be a disaster. But if he approaches it from the strategy of the game and the laws of training the body and physical fitness, they’re going to be playing it at their best.

6. Turn to Psalm 119:54. The Psalmist testifies,

Thy _____________ have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage

On the back of every law is a song. The laws of music let the songs out of that piano. When the Bible says we have a life of liberty, it means that by being controlled by the Spirit, suddenly we’re free. Discipline does not restrict you; it frees you. Examples of this abound in every area of life…astrophysics, electricity, mathematics, architecture—and your life.

How can we bring that discipline (control) into our lives? Certainly not by license or legalism, but by liberty. By the Spirit of God, we’re made free.

7. Turn to 2 Corinthians 3:17—

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the ___________ of the _________ is, there is ________________.

8. Still not convinced? Turn to these other Scriptures.

John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be ______ ____________.

Psalm 119:45 And I will walk at ______________: for I seek Thy ____________.

Romans 8:21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the _____________ of corruption into the glorious _______________ of the children of God.

James 1:25 But whoso looketh into the perfect ________ of ______________, and ____________________ therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a __________ of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
This is not saying that if you “do works” you will be saved, but those who do obey are going to be blessed.

Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach ________________________ to the _________________, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at __________________ them that are bruised.

Are you getting it? The Lord wants to set us at liberty to serve Him freely and joyfully. To get there, the Bible makes it clear there are certain laws—precepts—we must live by. To be fully at liberty, our lives must be brought under control. We must have a Spirit-controlled life, operating by the standard—God’s precepts and principles. The standard is the law of God, manifest in love.

9. Look again at Psalm 119:45 above. What is this child of God doing that frees him up?

Now the question becomes: Where do we get the strength—or wisdom or guidance—to live the Spirit-controlled life?

Paul is going to tell us.

10. Look now at v. 16-17

This I say, _______ ___ _____ _________ and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts [has strong desires] against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh….

Part of our nature is called the flesh (our old nature—inherited from our ancestors—which craves wrongdoing) and part is called the Spirit—the part that has been born again. Both those things are struggling within us. The flesh wants to be in control; against that, the Holy Spirit in the human spirit is saying, “Live for God and live victorious.” There’s a civil war warring within—Spirit against flesh, flesh against Spirit.

11. Now watch.

“…these are contrary, one to the other, so that you cannot do the things that you would.”

In your own words, what is the Spirit of God in this verse telling you?

In plain English, we, in ourselves, don’t have what it takes. If I’ve ever learned one lesson about spiritual living, it is this: You cannot do it by self-effort. Notice that he says in v. 16: “…walk in the Spirit and you’ll not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” He does not say, “Don’t fulfill the lust of the flesh, then you’ll be walking in the Spirit.” That’s backwards. That’s legalism. That’s where most of us try. We say, “Well, I won’t do all these things—and then I’ll be a spiritual Christian.” Oh, my friend, that’s deadly legalism. You do not become more like the Lord Jesus Christ by “doing” all these things. If you don’t remember anything else from this study, I want you to remember this:

Holiness is not the way to Christ.
Christ is the way to holiness.

12. Where do we get the strength to live the Spirit-controlled life? See verse 18.

18 But if ye be ______ of the ____________, ye are not under the law.

The Greek tense of this verb means to be willingly led of the Spirit. There must come a time when you are willingly led of the Holy Spirit, and you must do this by an act of your will.

To be led gives the picture of moving ahead, walking along.

The Spirit-controlled life, therefore, is like walking. All of us are familiar with walking. You walk one step at a time.


FIRST, you start. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. If I’m going to walk, I have to decide to do it. “I’ll turn around. I will walk.” It’s entered by an act of your will. Not your “will power.” Once you decide, then the Holy Spirit takes over.


NEXT you stay inside the parameters. Verse 16 doesn’t say “walk with” or “walk after” the Spirit. Rather, “…walk in the Spirit…”

For example, if I were to say to you, “Walk in this building,” that means “stay inside this building.” This building is the parameter, the circumference, the environment in which you walk. If you step outside this building, you’re not walking in this building. The Holy Spirit is the element in which you walk. You close yourself up to the Holy Spirit. Are you willing to do that? Your flesh says, “Hey—don’t fence me in! Outside of the Spirit there are pleasures I need to make me happy.”

Let me say, a person living a Spirit-controlled life has come to this settled conclusion: There is nothing worth having outside of Jesus. If you don’t come to that, you will never ever live a victorious life.

Eating…sleeping…recreation…all of those you need. But all must be in the context of the Holy Spirit leading and directing your life.

14. Turn to Colossians 3:15

And let the _____________ of God ________ in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

The word for “rule” is the same word we get “umpire” from. This literally says, “Let the peace of God referee in your heart.” If you’re walking within (circumference) the Holy Spirit, and God says, “This is the way I want you to live. You’re to walk in the Spirit,” and you step out of bounds, the Holy Spirit blows the whistle and says, “You are out of bounds.” And so I repent and I step back in. That, my dear friend, is a Spirit-controlled life.


THEN you continue. The form the Greek verb is in, in “walk in the Spirit,” indicates a continuing action, “to keep on walking.”

Walking is a series of steps. There must be the commencement of that walk. It begins with a decision, that moment where you say, “I will.” Then the circumference of that walk—“in the Spirit.” It is followed by a process, continuation, a step at a time. you keep on walking.

14. Turn to Colossians 2:6, a major verse to living the Christian life and the Spirit-controlled life.

“___ you have therefore ________________ Christ Jesus the Lord, ____ walk ye in Him.”

If you’re sick and tired of the works of the flesh, if you want to have liberty and joy that belongs to the children of God, so walk in Him.

  • How did you get saved? By repentance and faith. That’s how you received Him.
  • How do you live the victorious, Spirit-controlled life? You live it the same way you got it. You got it by repentance and faith. You live it by repentance and faith.

Repentance and faith are the two feet that keep us walking. You put down the foot of repentance, then you put down the foot of faith. As I repent of my sins, repentance is God’s way of revealing myself to me. I see the bankruptcy of me. Faith is God’s way of revealing Jesus to me. I see the glory of Him.


When I got saved, I gave all I knew of me to all I knew of Him. And frankly, I knew very little about me or Him at that time. I did not realize at that time how wicked I was, and I did not realize at that time how glorious He is. But I did know I was sinful, and I did know He was glorious. But since that time, I’ve learned a whole lot more about me, and none of it is good. And I’ve learned a whole lot more about Him, and it’s better than I ever thought it was.

Therefore, as I received the Lord Jesus by repentance and faith, I so walk in Him, because, you see, as I learn more about me, I’m finding more and more to repent of. As I learn more about Him, I get more and more to trust. So, as I received Him by repentance and faith, so I walk in Him by repentance and faith. Two feet: repentance and faith.

Sometimes, dear friend, you may think, Well, I’m not even saved at all, because if I were saved, why would I have this great conviction of sin? You have the great conviction of sin because you are saved, and you’re learning more about you and more about the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a sign you’re not saved but a sign that you’re understanding, finally, what’s it’s all about.

  • There’s the commencement of the walk. You must be willingly led of the Spirit. You don’t live it by will power, but you enter it by an act of your will.
  • There’s the circumference of the walk. The Holy Spirit of God is the boundary. You walk in the Spirit. And then—
  • There’s the continuation of the walk. You walk one step at a time. “As you received the Lord Jesus, so walk ye in Him” – repentance and faith. I turn from self. I turn to Him. I turn from self. I turn to Him. I turn from self. I turn to Him.

Suddenly you realize that you’re not in control, that God is in control through the Holy Spirit, and the flesh has been put out of business and you are growing in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The victorious life, therefore, is a walk.

The flesh and the Spirit are warring in you right now, and it’s up to you. If you want to live a Spirit-controlled life, here is what you need to pray:

“Dear God, I’m not going to live a life of license. I’m not going to see the law as my enemy. I’m not going to live a life of legalism and see the law as my master. I’m going to live a life of liberty. I’m going to see the law as my friend. Then I’m going to see the Holy Spirit as my strength. And then I’m going to make a decision. I’m going to be willingly led by Your Spirit. I’m going to let the Spirit draw the parameters of my life. I’m going to decide that I’m going to find everything in Jesus Christ. And then I am going to walk one step at a time, by repentance and faith, through this life. By Your power, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Friend, God will give you liberty. You can stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free. No one is ever more free than the person who’s living the life of control by the Holy Spirit of God.


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