“Be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires…. the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires. If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.” (Common English Bible)
I’m the youngest sibling in my family. So, I know what it feels like to be a third wheel with things. When I was a kid, it seemed as if everyone believed I was too young to do anything or engage any of the real fun stuff, like watching “Mannix,” “Sanford and Son,” or “Love American Style” past my bedtime. Although now, I understand why I couldn’t watch those shows, the fact remains, I was often a third wheel.
At times, we treat the Holy Spirit of God like some third wheel. We pray to Almighty God. We pray in Jesus’ blessed name. And what of the Holy Spirit? Seems the Spirit gets the short end of the stick, getting treated like a younger sibling in the Trinity family. In fact, I’ve been in some churches where it seems their understanding of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible – the Spirit is nowhere to be found.
Truth is, we never quite know what the Spirit might do. Heck, we aren’t even sure what pronoun to use for the Holy Spirit. It? He? She? They? Because the Spirit seems so mysterious and ethereal, because the Spirit is so unpredictable, we send he/she/it off to some metaphorical bedtime so that we can watch TV and do whatever we want.
Or perhaps we really are diligent about the Christian life. We strive, work, and wrestle to live a good life. Yet, somehow, we far too often fall short and feel like a failure. Why is that?
Could be that we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit as the third wheel. We believe in the Spirit. We have faith the Spirit is there. Yet, we don’t have any idea how to relate. God is big and sovereign. And Jesus has a real body and blood. But the Spirit? Well, the Spirit’s out there, man – like, too cool for school, or like one of the characters on “The Mod Squad,” or something.
How do you have a relationship with someone or something (many often refer to the Spirit as a “thing”)? How do we relate with a person (after all, the Spirit is fully a person) who is so crazy and seemingly other than you and me?
The Holy Spirit is the power source of the Christian life. Without the Spirit, we can easily degenerate into all kinds of illicit thinking and behavior – including immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, substance abuse, casting evil spells, hate, fighting, obsessive behaviors, violent anger, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, or living for the party.
It is the Spirit who helps, comforts, provides strength, and enables us to replace old habits with new ones, and dead practices with solid spiritual action. The Christian virtues which flower and produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control occur through a close intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness when we pray and act. The Christian enjoys such a close affectionate association with the Holy Spirit that it is as if we are a like a sacred temple with the person of the Spirit taking up residence within.
By means of the Holy Spirit, God is always with us and continually, at this moment, working within us to make our redemption in Christ an actual real-live encounter. In other words, the Spirit gives us feet to walk among this world, armed with the implement of God’s love.
I’m going to make a simple observation about our New Testament lesson for today. All the spiritual virtues mentioned are the “fruit” of the Spirit, not “fruits.” The nine ethics are a package deal. When you have the Spirit and spiritual fruit, you possess all nine Christian values.
If we look at the list and say something like, “Well, I’m pretty good at kindness and goodness, but I don’t have much peace or patience,” what that really means is that we are probably doing kindness and goodness from a different place than by means of the Holy Spirit. Because when the Spirit is manifested in us, we exhibit spiritual fruit. We cannot separate the nine spiritual virtues any more than we can separate the Trinity. They’re all one spiritual fruit, cultivated and produced within the inner person by the agency of God’s Spirit.
Maybe we need to consider the shadow side of our lives. It could be that, for example, we are far more driven by our anxiety about most things than about genuine altruism and love. The results of our actions and words might look the same, but the motivation might be far from truly altruistic. It simply will not last if our actions are generated from a place of worry – because it is not of the Spirit.
So, what to do about it? We must mortify (put to death) the deeds of the sinful nature. You have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live but Christ lives in you by means of the Spirit He has given to us (Galatians 2:20). If we have C-clamped our hearts so tight that the Spirit cannot get in, then it’s high time to loosen the grip and enable God to do some gracious and merciful work within us. It’s the only way to experience genuine transformation of life.
The spiritual life can be scary. Letting go of control is hard for many people, including me. But the results are worth it. The Spirit is competent. The Holy Spirit might work in wild and crazy ways and might show up on “Saturday Night Live” where you least expect to discover her.
Jesus said that the work of God is to believe in the one he sent (John 6:29). The Spirit always points us to Christ, the one who has delivered us from the realm of sin and brought us forgiveness. This work of Christ enables the work of the Spirit, who now makes our deliverance a practical reality in daily life.
The Holy Spirit is not a third wheel, but the real deal. Whenever we open our hearts to the Spirit, we experience the wideness of God’s mercy. And when the Spirit is working inside of us, it makes the car chase scenes in “The Streets of San Francisco” look a lot less dramatic.
May the Spirit of the living God be with you now, and forever. Amen.