One of the things my church knows well about me is that I’m a bit of a nerd. So, growing up as a kid, I really enjoyed a good fantasy story. To be honest, I loved the adventure and dreaming that I could actually be something—someone—bigger than myself. So, one of my favorite books, even today, is Tolkien’s The Hobbit—the precursor to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I loved everything about this book: the danger, the adventure, the camaraderie, the characters, and, of course, the dragon. See, in the Hobbit, Smaug is this greedy, powerful, and crafty dragon who invaded the incredibly wealthy kingdom of the dwarves. After breathing down his fire and driving the dwarves out from their homes, Smaug would live within their mountain and guard the piles and piles of gold as his own for the next 150 years. Tolkien described Smaug as this dragon who would “dream dreams of greed and violence” and would later describe him as “the greatest of the dragons of his day.”
But there was another character in the series, Gandalf, who realized that Smaug posed this threat to more than just the dwarves. So he decided to help the dwarves to reclaim their homes and their wealth. The group would be led by the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield, who was more than determined to recapture the mountain and slay the dragon. Gandalf, though, assuming that Smaug would not recognize the scent of a hobbit, also recruited the unlikely character, Bilbo Baggins, to join the quest. Thus, the adventure began.
Now, a quick aside: you may remember not too long ago the days of something called AOL Instant Messenger. It was the days where you didn’t have to use your real name, but you could choose your own screen name. People usually added some variation of their name or initials and then tacked on their birthday to the end because the username they really wanted was already selected by somebody else. Well, my first AOL screen name was DragonMaster215, and 215 is not even my birthday. To be honest, I don’t remember what those numbers were, but I thought Dragon Master sounded really cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to slay evil and greedy and fire-breathing dragons? I told you I was a nerd.
Okay, so back to our story. As our adventurers set out on what would prove to be a successful mission, they did forget to account for one thing. See, slaying the dragon was only part of the struggle they would encounter. As Thorin Oakenshield claimed his throne as King under the Mountain, he acquired an illness called dragon-sickness. Dragon-sickness could infect anyone driven to acquire the gold of the dragon. See, this sickness caused Thorin to lose his compassion, to live in fear, and to block his ability to love those around him. He turned his back on tragedy. He broke his promises. He became suspicious of those around him. He abandoned his people. Even after Smaug was slain—the dragon was defeated—dragon-sickness persisted to affect Thorin.
It’s not until well after Smaug had been defeated that Thorin came to a realization of what his heart had become. By some strange and miraculous light, his heart is revealed and his wits returned to him. He is freed from his selfishness, fear, and greed.
But, what’s portrayed in Thorin’s story is something true of our own stories. Whether you sit here this morning as a Christ-follower or not, you know something about dragon-sickness. See, we’re all in a battle; we fight against a great dragon—who only speaks lies, knows only fear, and breeds only hate—, but do not be deceived because we do not fight with uncertainty about the outcome. Jesus already dealt Satan his deathblow when He was nailed to that Cross. The ruin of the Dragon and of sin and of fear and abandonment was sealed away when Jesus was nailed to the Cross, defeated death, and rose to life victoriously.
The Dragon has been defeated, but we continue to battle against dragon-sickness within each of our hearts, don’t we? We still know what greed is like. We still fight against selfishness and indifference. We wrestle with truth and sometimes lose control of ourselves. The battle has been won, but we still continue to skirmish against sin and flesh. And, if you are a believer this morning, the Spirit within you—not your spirit but the Holy Spirit—wages war against the flesh. Even still, the battle remains; so, what do we do with our dragon-sickness?
We need more of Jesus.
It’s with that question in mind this morning I want to turn our attention to perhaps a familiar passage of Scripture in Galatians. The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5,
 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  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.
Man, have you ever felt like this? It’s almost as if there’s this cosmic tug-of-war taking place within the depths of your soul and the prize is your desires. And, Paul, an apostle who wrote a great portion of the New Testament, was no stranger to this struggle. He actually wrote about it in even more depth in Romans 7.
 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out.
You’ve experienced this, right? Desire at war within you. Wanting to want the things of God, but also too easily distracted by wanting the things of this world. Warring between knowing what to do and your ability to actually do it. This is why Paul says that the flesh and the Spirit are opposed to one another. They don’t simply desire different things; they desire opposite things. Not just different, but opposite. Yet, simultaneously, both the flesh and the Spirit are promising us the same thing. That is, they both promise us freedom.
They don’t simply desire different things; they desire opposite things.
But, friends, only one can ever actually deliver. The flesh will always produce slavery. The flesh convinces us there’s two ways to live life: legalism or lawlessness. Let me explain what I mean. We can become legalistic and treat God like He owes us. We tell ourselves, “If I just do all the right things, then He has to let me into heaven and answer my prayers.” So, we think we just need to become better and do better; but, we will never obtain salvation through our own efforts. You will only find slavery. When we are constantly trying to earn God’s pleasure by our works, that is slavery. When we’re trying to produce fruit because we think that is what makes God accept us, that’s slavery. If you’re only in church to learn how to be a better person because God only loves “good people,” that’s slavery.
So, what so often happens is that we become frustrated with legalistic living and instead pursue lawlessness. We’re disappointed to discover that we could not satisfy the Law and its demands, so we seek instead to satisfy ourselves and our desires. If the Law cannot be satisfied, I might as well be! It might feel right and feel good, but it, too, will end up in disappointment and disaster. Pastor and author Paul David Tripp once said, “The grand delusion of every act of sin is that we can be disloyal to God and everything will work out in the end.”
The grand delusion of every act of sin is that we can be disloyal to God and everything will work out in the end.Paul David Tripp
It cannot, and it will not. But, friends, there is another way. The flesh might produce legalism and lawlessness, but the Spirit desires to produce freedom in our lives. We need a righteousness that is better than our righteousness at its absolute best. And, freedom comes in knowing that everything necessary for salvation and everything necessary for right standing with God has already been done. It’s already accomplished through Jesus Christ. So, the gospel of Jesus isn’t “do, do, do;” that’s the false gospel Paul has been fighting against in every chapter of Galatians. The gospel of Jesus says, “It’s done.” Jesus taught this to His disciples in John 6:63,  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.
Freedom comes in knowing that everything necessary for salvation and everything necessary for right standing with God has already been done.
Other translations might say that the flesh profits nothing. Never confuse nothing with a little something. The flesh profits us nothing. The flesh is not your friend. It doesn’t desire your best interests. It overpromises, and it under-delivers. No wonder Paul is spending so much time talking about resisting the flesh and ceasing to gratify its desires. It’s in this context that Paul tells us how to do this: it’s through walking by the Spirit. As we walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify the flesh’s desires. But, if we choose to gratify the desires of our flesh, we will end up producing what Paul calls “works of the flesh.”
 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.
Paul doesn’t mean for this list to be formulaic or exhaustive, but he is intentional about what is included. The first three works that he lists are sexual. It doesn’t take a hard look at our culture to understand that the depravity within us too often manifests itself through distorted sexuality. Then, he turns to corrupted religion. Idolatry is loving other things more than God; sorcery is trying to manipulate God.
Then, if you thought you might be safe from the aforementioned sins, Paul tackles a series of relational distortions. Enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy all erode our relationships with other people. Next, Paul focuses on our abuse and overindulgence of substances and people. Finally, if you thought you made it safely through the list, he mentions “and anything like these.”
And, let me just address this for a moment, because I know what our tendencies are. Paul is not trying to rank these works of the flesh, but we often do, right? We tell ourselves, “Yeah, okay, I get angry sometimes”—and I use that example because can I just tell you, I get angry sometimes! But, then we follow that up and say, “but at least I’m not doing that.” That’s not Paul’s intention here.
See, these are “works of the flesh;” these are byproducts of the dragon-sickness inside us all. Meaning, this is not just a list of how bad people live; rather, this is a list of what sin makes all of us do. Each and every one of us is guilty. We’ve all tried to look to our flesh as a solution and learned that it can only lead to dissatisfaction. The flesh and the works of the flesh will not obtain us the Kingdom of God.
We need more of the Spirit.
So, the question remains for us this morning: what are we to do with our dragon-sickness? How do we walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh? What does Paul even mean when he says walk by the Spirit? Paul actually gave us a hint to our answer earlier in his letter,
[3:1] O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
Paul is, of course, asking a rhetorical question. He knows and they know that they received the Spirit by hearing with faith. So, you want to walk by the Spirit? Then, take up residence in the gospel. It might seem like such a pastoral response to tell you to spend time in His Word, but, friends, what produces a love for God in you is the gospel. Pastor J.D. Greear puts it this way, “What produces a love for God in you is dwelling on God’s love for you.”
What produces a love for God in you is dwelling on God’s love for you.J.D. Greear
But, this can be a frightening thing for some people. Look at John Bunyan’s story, for example. John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, was arrested in 1660 for hosting religious gatherings and preaching the gospel. At the time, one of the accusations brought against him was that he spoke too much of God’s love. He was told, “You cannot keep assuring people of God’s love, because if you keep assuring people of God’s love, they’ll do whatever they want.”
They thought that as people became more deeply convinced of God’s grace and His love, the lesser the motivation would be to serve Him. They wanted the Law and works because, in their minds, it provided the proper motivation. But, John Bunyan wasn’t convinced because he had saturated himself with the gospel. And, though he would spend the next 12 years of his life in prison for preaching this message, he responded by saying, “If people really see that Christ has removed the fear of punishment from them by taking it into Himself, they won’t do whatever they want; they’ll do whatever He wants.”
If people really see that Christ has removed the fear of punishment from them by taking it into Himself, they won’t do whatever they want; they’ll do whatever He wants.John Bunyan
The motivation of slavery is fear, but the motivation of the Spirit is love. And, as we learned from the passage immediately preceding ours this morning, “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Notice again how Paul begins our section with me:
 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
What comes first? Because the order is important! Notice he doesn’t say, “Do not gratify the desires of the flesh and so you will walk by the Spirit.” Most of us think if we just avoid the bad things—if we can just manage to start sinning less—then we will stay filled with the Spirit. But, Paul is saying that walking by the Spirit comes first. The point Paul is emphasizing is that without the Spirit you’re not be able to control the flesh. Without the proper motivation, you will slip back into selfish desires and fleshly gratification. We’re operating out of order. It’s not sin less to gain more of the Spirit. We need more of His Spirit to sin less.
Love must be our motivation. If we desire to no longer gratify the flesh, then we must walk by the Spirit. If we desire to walk by the Spirit, then we must learn to love God more deeply. If we desire to love God more deeply, then we need to be more deeply convinced of His love for His. And, if we desire to be more deeply convinced of His love for us, we must be more firmly rooted in His gospel. And when this happens—when we receive the gospel in faith and walk by the Spirit—, a miraculous thing begins to occur within us. Let’s skip toward the end of Galatians 5, and read what Paul tells us,
 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.
I think most people here this morning would readily admit that they desire more of the Holy Spirit because it is a good thing. But, there is a choice to make concerning our flesh: we can gratify, or we can crucify. In John 15, Jesus teaches us that God is pruning us to be more fruitful. These are uncomfortable words. Painful words! I’ve once heard that there are three things that teach a person to know God: prayer, Bible study, and pain.
We can gratify, or we can crucify.
Crucifying the flesh and denying its desires will not come easy at first. Remember, the Spirit of God and the flesh are at war within us. That’s why we do not just avoid sin—we do not just crucify the flesh—we also grow in our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So that, over time, perhaps even through pain, Jesus looks so much better than our fleshly desires that it becomes easier to say no. I’ve always loved that older hymn that sang,
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
We need more of the Father.
We need more of Jesus, and we need more of the Spirit. What happens next, then, is something beautiful. Something that we could not produce on our own, but to God be the glory because He is working a new fruit within us. Here’s what Paul says,
 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Against such things there is no law; there’s only freedom. In other words, for a person who is dominated by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, you don’t have to make laws because those things are the fulfillment of the law.
The churches in Galatia were looking for something that could be outwardly seen as evidence of their commitment to God. If you were to read the section of Galatians 5 immediately preceding this, you would see Paul talking about a rather strange topic—the topic of circumcision and uncircumcision. All the guys get a little squeamish, but Paul says in Christ it doesn’t matter. Because here’s the thing: you can do that for yourself. I mean, you probably don’t want to, but you can.
What Paul is saying here, though, is that there still is an outwardly visible representation of a Godly life, but it is nothing that you can accomplish on your own. It is only accomplished by the work of the Spirit within you. It’s not circumcision; it’s fruit.
And, make no mistake: this fruit is not some reference to upper-echelon Christianity. This is normative Spirit-filled Christianity. The people who you view as “spiritual people”—can I tell you something about them? They’re ordinary people who are relying on an extraordinary grace to produce fruit in their lives. This is why Paul uses a small but important word: of. It’s not fruit that we produce, but fruit the Spirit produces within us.
Again, this is normative Spirit-filled Christianity. The fruit of the Spirit is what identifies you as a follower of Jesus. An unfruitful Christian is a contradiction.
- We read in Matthew 7:16 that “you will recognize them by their fruits.”
- Then, in Matthew 21:43 we see that “the Kingdom of God… will be given to a people producing its fruits.”
- Jesus taught us in John 15:5 that “…whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…”
- And again, just a few verses later in John 15:8, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit…”
Fruitless Christianity is no Christianity. But, I want you to notice something else about the fruit of the Spirit. Paul could have written, “The fruits of the Spirit are…,” but he kept it singular. I think there is some intentionality behind that. It’s not “fruits,” as if these could be things added to your life one by one. Rather, it’s a fruit—the whole lot of them. When you abide in Jesus and walk by the Spirit, they all grow. They are not meant to be read as separate, individual virtues to become better at. Rather, they are a collective evidence of the work of the Spirit in your life.
Fruitless Christianity is no Christianity.
Paul is not intending for us to look at this as a checklist. “I had a lot of joy this week. Check. But, my four-year-old at home reminded me I need to be more patient. Okay, I’m going to work on patience today.” Friends, you don’t grow fruit by focusing on the fruit. Fruit happens naturally when the roots are deep and healthy and planted in the best soil. Don’t focus on the fruit; focus on the root. What you should do is look at Jesus instead of looking at yourself.
Don’t focus on the fruit; focus on the root.
Too often, as we examine the fruit of the Spirit, we begin to question, “What do I need to do to grow this fruit?” What we do not realize is that we are toying with the very legalism Paul is fighting against. The fruit is never your product; it’s the Spirit’s. What you need is not necessarily more instruction on how to please God because that ultimately leads to slavery. What you need is more intimacy because that leads to freedom.
What you need is not necessarily more instruction on how to please God because that ultimately leads to slavery. What you need is more intimacy because that leads to freedom.
So, I’m not here today to tell you ten ways to grow fruit. I’m here today to admonish you to walk with the Spirit, to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and to enjoy intimacy with the Father. When you look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit, friends, you should not see it as a list of virtues; no, Paul’s describing a Person. And, guess what? It’s not me. It’s not you. It’s not some super-Christian. He’s describing one Person here, and it’s Jesus Christ. It makes perfect sense the fruit of the Spirit would glorify the Son because that’s His entire mission. Jesus, in teaching the disciples, says that when the Holy Spirit comes,
[John 16:14] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
That’s the beauty of the gospel. That’s the beauty of grace. I’m not perfect, so I don’t look to myself for the answer; I look to Jesus who lived a perfect life and now has sent the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit in me. It’s no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me. When it’s I who lives, I will fail at being loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and at having self-control. But, Jesus lived these qualities perfectly.
- Again, the fruit of the Spirit is love. The greatest act of love in the history of mankind was Jesus sacrificing Himself for us on the cross (John 15:13). Even when we were still sinners, Christ Jesus died for us.
- Joy. In spite of His own suffering and circumstances, Jesus counted it all joy to go to the cross on our behalf (Hebrews 12:2). He endured the cross and the shame and the humiliation and counted it all as joy to the glory of God.
- Peace. Jesus is our Prince of Peace and the Giver of Peace (Ephesians 2:13-14a). We were once far off from God, but Jesus broke His body so that He could break the distance between us. He reconciled us back to the Father.
- Patience. Proof of God’s patience is that He makes salvation available to us (2 Peter 3:9). He desires that not one would perish but that all would repent, so He is patient and long-suffering with us.
- Kindness. Jesus didn’t just meet the physical needs of those around Him, healing and loving on people. He went out of His way to care for even the outcast and downtrodden (Matthew 7:12). Those that no one else paid attention to, Jesus showed countercultural kindness.
- Goodness. Jesus is our Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep (John 10:11). He leaves the ninety-nine in pursuit of the one.
- Faithfulness. Jesus came to the earth with a plan and, despite hardship—hardship that anguished Him to the point of crying and sweating drops of blood—He was faithful and fulfilled that plan (Luke 22:42).
- Gentleness. He doesn’t turn away the weary. He doesn’t burden them. Yet, in the shelter of His arms and in the gentleness of His embrace, He gives rest (Matthew 11:28-29). His yoke is easy, and His burden is light
- Self-Control. And at any point in His suffering, Jesus could have called upon the angels to intervene, but He remained steadfast because of His self-control (Matthew 26:53-54).
Jesus was these things for me and now His Spirit lives in me.
As we move to our closing this morning, I want to return where we began our message. We left off with Thorin Oakenshield seeing what his heart had become, coming back to wits, and finding freedom from his selfishness, fear, and greed. Again a mighty warrior, he leads his people into battle, but eventually he is struck down. And, as Thorin lays dying and broken from battle, he utters his final words to the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins: “If more people valued home above gold, this world would be a merrier place.”
For Thorin, he was speaking of his Mountain—his home—but how much more true is this statement when we value our true home. How much truer still when we value the One whose presence will make it truly home. Thorin’s dragon-sickness had convinced him that the wealth of the Mountain was greater than the Mountain itself. It convinced him that treasure was greater than home. But, with his wits restored, he remembered home was the treasure.
Friends, we have the greatest treasure, and His name is Jesus. To be at home with Him is our great reward. To be in His presence is better than any wealth. He is our better possession and abiding one as Hebrews 10 puts it. And when he is our Great Possession, dragon-sickness has lost its power, and we are finally freed to possess all that God has created us to inherit.
I want invite you to seek deeper intimacy with God. Perhaps this morning, instead of saying, “God, make me more loving or kind or patient,” we might simply pray, “God, make me more like You. Reveal more of Your heart to me. To be more like you, God, I need to be more with You.” Perhaps this morning we can take a moment to simply worship Him for what He has done in our lives. Friends, do not forget that Jesus Christ didn’t just save us to wipe the slate clean so that we could try to do it again. No! He saved us, wiped the slate clean, and then He placed His righteousness upon us. He placed His Spirit within us. He produced His fruit through us. This is cause to worship—not just to sing a song because some words are on a screen, but to really worship Him—because He has done what we could not do for ourselves in a million lifetimes.
Author Elyse Fitzpatrick, in her book Because He Loves Me, wrote of the importance of meditation upon and remembering God’s love for us. Here’s what she said, “One reason we don’t grow in ordinary, grateful obedience as we should is that we’ve got amnesia; we’ve forgotten that we are cleansed from our sins. In other words, ongoing failure in our growth is the direct result of failing to remember God’s love for us in the gospel.”
One reason we don’t grow in ordinary, grateful obedience as we should is that we’ve got amnesia; we’ve forgotten that we are cleansed from our sins. In other words, ongoing failure in our growth is the direct result of failing to remember God’s love for us in the gospel.Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me
When we fail to truly know God’s love for us, we will stop growing. So, I want to invite you to simply seek more of Jesus. It might be your first Sunday inside of a church today and as you evaluate your heart and your life, you realize that that you need to stop gratifying the desires of your flesh. You may have been trying and trying and trying to do it in your strength, but you haven’t been able to do it because you’ve been operating out of order. It’s not about fixing yourself up first so that you might finally be able to walk by the Spirit. It’s about surrendering your life to Jesus, walking by the Spirit, and allowing the fruit to be produced in you as you seek to draw closer to God. It could be your first Sunday here, and I can tell you that you need more of Jesus.
It could be your thousandth Sunday here, and you have grown up in church and served Jesus but as you evaluate your heart and your life, I would pray that you would never grow satisfied with the intimacy you have. That you would always desire to have more of Him, to know Him deeper, and to produce more of His fruit. There’s still a war within you, Christian, so keep fighting. It could be your thousandth Sunday here, and I can tell you that you need more of Jesus.
His Word has this amazing promise: that as we draw near to Him, He draws near to us. So, today, I invite you to draw near to Him.