I am preparing my sermon for this Sunday from Galatians 5:16-26 and I came across something that I think will be helpful for others. When Paul lists the deeds of the flesh (verses 19-21) he ends by writing, "I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." That's right! God will judge man according to his deeds. The initial thought would be to teach that we stop doing these things. But there is a problem with that teaching (actually a few problems). First of all, it does not suffice to stop doing these things because we all have already done these. Therefore, we are already guilty before God. We are by nature (as it says in Ephesians 2:3) children of wrath. So just not doing these things will not help anyone!
Of course that is evident from Scripture. Scripture clearly condemns everyone under sin and places all of mankind in need of a Savior. It also clearly points to the fact that Jesus Christ is that Savior. And that in order to have Christ as your Savior one must repent of their sin against Almighty God (recognizing that Christ died because of your sin) and believe that Christ's righteousness will be given to you if you would trust in Him alone (which is a work done by the Spirit of God). So we're all guilty and in need of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
So this brings up the second problem with teaching that we should just change our actions: the context does not support that! At first I wanted to show that we were sinners by nature and point out that our actions flow from what is on our hearts because of our sinful nature. As I thought through this particular passage of Scripture I saw how we are to change our actions. See if you can see how one is to "stop doing" what they have always done.
Galatians 5:16 - But I say to you walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:18 - But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Galatians 5:22 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,...
Galatians 5:25 - If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
In those 4 verses in this immediate context it is clear that the way to be changed from what we have always done is to be led by the Spirit. You can do some great, moral, things without being led by the Spirit. But you can only be led by the Spirit if you have experienced verse 24, "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."
I want to preach in such a way that my congregation does not leave thinking they can "do things different" and accomplish what God requires of them for salvation. I want them to see that what God requires can only be accomplished when one comes to Christ and receives His righteousness and lives a life led by the Spirit.