Galatians 6:11-18 – What Counts is the New Creation

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen. (New International Version)

Motives matter. The interior life of a person is important. Life is neither a mere getting things done nor doing what is needed on the exterior. A house may be beautiful and orderly on the outside, with careful landscaping, a manicured lawn, and attractive appearance – yet on the inside it might be disorderly, full of relational discord, and completely discombobulated.

The exterior life of a person is also important. But it’s only half the person. And, unlike God who sees the heart, we aren’t always privy to what’s going on inside someone.

Folks who are enamored with outward displays of spirituality and righteousness tend to be compulsive about maintaining appearances – for both themselves, and everyone else.

Policing outward forms of righteousness through clear identifiable means is really nothing more than old fashioned judging of one another. It’s antithetical to grace. And it smacks of the snooty superiority of Star-Bellied Sneetches.

Rather than a star on the belly, in the Apostle Paul’s day it was circumcision. Those who had it were “in” and those without it were “out.” Never mind the interior life. A hard outward boundary of righteousness was established by false teachers who made the Christian life easy by simply holding to readily observable forms, like circumcision.

It wasn’t that circumcision was a bad thing. The issue was making it a necessary part of the Christian life. Not circumcised? Not a Christian, insisted the false teachers. In other words, one had to become Jewish before becoming a Christian. I can picture the Apostle Paul doing a hand to the forehead, saying, “Oy vey.”

For the Christian, one must be vigilant not to exaggerate baptism. On the one hand, I would argue far too many believers underestimate the significance and importance of baptism. Flippantly making it a personal choice, as if the individual is in complete control of one’s own salvation, is not only wrongheaded – it’s downright blasphemous.

Yet, on the other hand, a preoccupation with getting a person, especially a child, baptized, as if the world might end if it doesn’t happen, betrays the same problem as Paul faced with circumcision in the first century.

The proper approach, it seems to me, is to embrace the full spectrum of Christianity – both outward and inward – the whole person. And Paul addresses this by anticipating a question of the Galatian congregation: What, then, is of central importance?

The answer is: a new creation. To be transformed by the power of the Spirit is what really counts. The grace of God in Christ, applied to a person, brings a change to inner motives and attitudes, as well as outer behavior through loving actions.

We must always keep in mind that the sign points to the substance. It would be weird if I were traveling to Milwaukee on I-94 and pulled over on the interstate next to the sign marking the city is ahead, crawl all over it, and say, “I’m here!”

The overall thrust of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that they were debasing the true worship of God into an outward show, honoring Christ with their lips but not holding him in their hearts.

Christianity is fundamentally not about what we do for God but what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is divine grace which saves people. We belong to God. Just as we neither chose our own parents nor the time when we were born, so akin to this is, before we chose God, God chose us. We don’t “born again” ourselves; God does the rebirthing.

And since it is solely the work of God in us, there is zero reason to boast about the circumstances of our new birth and becoming a new creation in Christ. We didn’t save ourselves. It would be something like getting a COVID-19 vaccine and then bragging about how we stopped the pandemic.

Instead, we are to bear the spiritual marks of Christ’s crucifixion on our inner selves. No one is saved because they deserve it but simply because they need saving.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, grant us the faith to accept your saving work in the cross and to be so transformed by it that we will not be without excuse on Judgment Day. Help us not merely walk at your side, with mere words to offer. Convert us and give us new life in you so that in the end we will not be dry wood, but living branches in you, the true vine, bearing fruit for eternal life. Amen.

John 15:18-20, 26-27 – Moving in with Jesus

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also…

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (New International Version)

Two characters: Jesus and Emmet

Scene:  Emmet is moving in with Jesus as a roommate.

Emmet enters….

“Nice digs, Jesus. Not quite what I was expecting – looks good and clean – but just ordinary.”

“I’m glad you decided to take up my offer and come live with me in my house, Emmet. Well, it’s actually my Father’s house.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t working out so well with my girlfriend, Jezebel. She was into a lot of weird stuff, like some crazy real estate schemes, especially with vineyards – the woman is obsessed with buying up vineyards. Besides, she told me she hates me. That really hurt.”

“Emmet, I think you will find I’m into a different kind of vineyard and real estate. And there isn’t any hate there. It’s called ‘the kingdom of God.’”

“Kingdom, huh?  Sounds like a pretty big gig to me, Jesus.”

“Oh, yes, it is. The biggest. You know, Emmet, by living and abiding with me here you will get to know all about the kingdom.”

Sounds groovy, man… or should I say, ‘Son of Man!’ Hey, Jesus, you got any beer and chips in this joint?  I’m starving.”

“No, sorry, I’m afraid not right now. But I do have some wine and some bread.”

“Well, okay, Jesus. I’m super hungry. I could go for about anything.”

Here you go Emmet.” (Jesus gives Emmet a wafer and communion cup – Emmet just stands there and looks at it). “Make yourself at home in my love, Emmet.”

“Um, hey, Jesus, not to be ungrateful or anything, but is this all you have?”

“Just try it, Emmet. I think you will find it rather satisfying.”

(Emmet takes the bread and drinks the cup). “Holy Communion, Jesus! Whoa! I’m actually full! What in the world is in that stuff, anyway?”

“There’s no world in it, at all, Emmet. I am the vine. You are the branch. When you drank, you ingested me.  You’re joined with me, and I with you. Apart from me you are always going to be hungry and thirsty, no matter how much other food you eat and how much beer you drink. But if you stay here and settle in with me, make this your permanent home and not just a place to hang your hat, you can be sure that I will always listen to you and do whatever you ask of me.”

“That’s heavy, man. Very cool. I can dig it!”

“I have told you this for a purpose, Emmet – that we might enjoy being roommates together. By the way, I have just one rule in my house that I expect to be obeyed, always: Love other people in the same way that I love you.  Never forget, Emmet: If you ever get locked-out of the house, it is love which opens the door to my place.  Remember, Emmet, that love is the key.”

“You know, Jesus, you’re kind of odd, but I like you, dude. I’m glad I chose to come here.”

“Emmet, you did not choose me; I chose you and brought you here because of my love. And I am sending you into the world to love. Remain here with me, abide with me in this place, and you will see things happen beyond what you can even think or imagine. Go, now, and bear the fruit of love in my kingdom, and when you come back, I’ll have a place for you to sleep and you will rest like you have never rested before.”

“I really appreciate your hospitality, Jesus. But what if I mess up? Or forget about your rule?”

“When you came here, Emmet, you probably saw someone standing just outside the door.”

“Yeah… I did see some dude who looked way out there, man, like he was from another universe, like maybe New Jersey, or something.”

“That was the Advocate. He will come whenever you mess up or forget about my love. The Advocate will help you remember the truth.”

(Jesus walks Emmet to the door). “There’s nothing to worry about. Just go and love others like I love you. Good-bye, Emmet.”

“Bye, Jesus. I’ll be back after I go spread some love around, just like you taught me….”

*Above Photo by Amina Filkins on Pexels.com

Romans 8:1-8 – The Privilege of Life in the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (New International Version)

It is a great privilege to be a Christian and possess God’s own Spirit in our lives. There are four privileges of the Christian to take note of so that believers can truly live in the Spirit and not in the flesh (sinful nature).

First Privilege: There is now no condemnation.   

No condemnation means “without judgment.” God pronounced a verdict, and the decision is final. We are united to Christ by means of God’s Spirit. Since God does not condemn us, there is no need whatsoever to condemn ourselves or other people.

Since we do not sit under judgment, believe the sin issue has been taken care of once for all through the life and death of Christ. If you do not feel forgiven, then put yourself in a position to believe. Allow the Holy Spirit of God to take the redemption of Christ and apply it to your life in a real and practical way.

It would be silly to go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, then just stand in the middle of the bathroom without getting under the showerhead. Because you did not put yourself in a position to become clean! You may passionately believe a shower, soap, and shampoo will make you clean. Yet, if you do not actually avail yourself of the privilege of taking the shower but just stand there and look at it, you will not become clean. 

We must put ourselves in a position to experience the privilege of God’s grace, our wonderful state of cleanliness, and the lack of condemnation through reading the Word of God on a regular basis; praying in the Spirit on all occasions; and practicing the silence and solitude necessary to receive the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

An illustration of marriage might help us understand both our reality and our responsibility. Two people are declared “married” in a formal wedding ceremony. The couple then works out their shared union together over a lifetime. The Minister does not pronounce condemnation at the ceremony but declares a blessing.

From that point forward the two persons must work on their marriage. They must believe their relationship is important enough to warrant putting themselves in a position to grow together by intentionally doing things like creating date nights and conversations on the couch; learning, appreciating, and participating in the other’s interests and life. 

God is not opposed to effort – but to the notion that we save ourselves. Just as we do not marry ourselves and pronounce ourselves a married couple, so we do not save ourselves. Having a marriage license in hand does not mean there is no effort to be done in the relationship. A marriage is both a legal reality, and a kind of mystical union between the spouses.

Second Privilege: Freedom from sin and death.

In Holy Scripture, sin is not only personal struggle but an ever-present reality in the world. Unfortunately, the power and presence of sin is everywhere within people, institutions, and systems. Because sin is everywhere, death is everywhere. Biblically, death refers not only to the body, yet also to the spirit. Death is a relational term. It’s to be separated from God, apart from a relationship. Conversely, life is connection, to be in union with God. 

God sent the Son. God’s Son became incarnate, a sin-offering, an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God condemned sin in sinful humanity. God met the righteous requirements of the law. God effects holiness in us by means of the Spirit. 

Rather than saving us from sin then simply telling us to live a holy upright life, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell us so that we can live like Jesus. Therefore, we must put ourselves in a position to experience this saving work through dwelling in the Scriptures and letting the Spirit and the Word effect practical change in our lives. 

I often quote Scripture from memory. I don’t really set out to memorize Scripture so much as I set out to dwell in it to the degree that it ends-up becoming a part of me. The goal is to become awash by the Spirit and the Word so that in every decision, in everything said, and in each action, we are moved by the Holy Spirit.

Third Privilege: We possess the mind of Christ.

The rub of the problem all Christians face, living in a sinful world, has to do with our mindset. What occupies our minds is what determines whether we will have life and peace, or not. 

If the object of our thoughts is continually away from Christ and the Spirit, we will have loose thinking.  If we put ourselves in a position to indulge the sinful nature, it will affect our mindset. Our mental choices can lead to life or death.

For example, alcoholics know they have two choices: the way of life or the way of death. The first step of the twelve steps is to admit powerlessness over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable. The second step is to believe a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. The third step is to turn life and will to that Power. 

We are powerless over sin, which will, if left unchecked, lead to death. Yet, in the Spirit, we have the possibility of life. Sin, like alcohol, is a daily possibility, even after giving my life and will to God. However, there is also the possibility of life. And that hope of life is what we possess when we have the mind of Christ and the Spirit. We hope through the power of the Spirit to overcome death, embracing choices which lead to life.

The Spirit is not some vitamin supplement to the Christian life, or a protein shake that helps us become healthy.  The Spirit is life and peace, a person, not simply a force. The Spirit brings us the practical benefits of new life in Christ. So, what we put into our minds is vitally important. It’s not about willpower but about putting oneself in a position to receive spiritual power to mold, make, and change us.

Relying solely on willpower is setting yourself up for a crash. Evidence-based studies repeatedly demonstrate that we as people tend to overestimate how much self-control we will have against temptation when we are not in the “heat of the moment.” We too easily believe we can handle more temptation than we can.

Those who are most confident about their self-control are the most likely to succumb to temptation. The key avoiding situations where vices thrive and, most importantly, for individuals to maintain a humble view of their willpower.

Fourth Privilege: The Holy Spirit indwells us.

The Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the Christian life. The Spirit opposes the sinful nature and expects us to do the same. We need not live the Christian life on our own power because of the Holy Spirit. 

There is an internal struggle within us that desires to do right but has a compulsion to do otherwise. It’s the indwelling Spirit that gives us victory. Christ’s life, as much as his death, achieved salvation from sin for us. The very same Spirit that helped Jesus in life and raised him from death belongs to us!

When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother canning grape preserves. I sat on a stool in the kitchen and watched her, looking forward to yummy grape goodness on my next piece of toast. I once asked Grandma, “Why are you always melting that wax over the fruit?” I didn’t understand how wax could make my toast taste any better. She answered, “The wax seals the jar tightly so the fruit can’t be contaminated. If I didn’t seal it, the fruit would eventually rot.” 

You and I are God’s preserves. God not only chooses, redeems, and calls us; the Lord also has a plan for preserving us – to give us the indwelling Spirit so that we can live free from sin and do the will of God.

So, may Christians everywhere appreciate the privileges of no condemnation, freedom from sin, possessing the mind of Christ, and the power of the indwelling Spirit. May you avail yourselves of the Spirit and experience life and peace so that you will love God, love one another, and love the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Almighty God, fill us with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Help us to live worthy of the Lord Jesus and to please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to your glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to you. For you, Lord, have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and have brought us into the kingdom of the Son you love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 – Spirituality for the Common Good

Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

There are different spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them. There are different ways of serving, and yet the same Lord is served. There are different types of work to do, but the same God produces every gift in every person.

The evidence of the Spirit’s presence is given to each person for the common good of everyone. The Spirit gives one person the ability to speak with wisdom. The same Spirit gives another person the ability to speak with knowledge. To another person the same Spirit gives courageous faith. To another person the same Spirit gives the ability to heal. Another can work miracles. Another can speak what God has revealed. Another can tell the difference between spirits. Another can speak in different kinds of languages. Another can interpret languages. There is only one Spirit who does all these things by giving what God wants to give to each person. (God’s Word Translation)

A gift is meant to be unpacked. It would be weird if someone was given a gift, then let it sit unopened. Instead, we typically receive the gift, rip it open, and express gratitude for the thoughtfulness. Then, we use and enjoy it.

The Spirit, likewise, has been marvelously given to God’s people. Each individual Christian is specially provided a gift to open, use, and enjoy. Spiritual gifts graciously given to us are meant for the common good of all. And this use for the common good is where the gift is different than Christmas or birthday presents.

Spiritual gifts are designed by God to be acts and words of service, dispersed for the benefit of others.

They are not meant solely for personal satisfaction. So, if a person’s spiritual gift is teaching, they do not stand in front of a mirror and talk at themselves. Instead, they jump into the fray of learning and explaining, and do it in such a gracious and loving way that the enablement of the Spirit is evident.

If a person’s gift is faith, they do not merely step out and act with unusual courage for the purpose of personal betterment in a holy belief from God. They also demonstrate faithfulness to God’s people and to God’s world. The gift is for the common good of all persons.

The accumulation of wisdom and knowledge is meant for the strengthening of faith in others. Spiritual gifts are intended by God to be shared freely for the common good of all people so that souls are buttressed and supported for the rigors of daily life in the world.

We are to take initiative in identifying our gift(s), unpacking them, and indiscriminately using them. 

Spiritual health and wholeness can only truly be realized through everyone’s active participation in distributing their God-given abilities. Spiritual gifts are neither to be hoarded, nor miserly dealt to only people I like or my own little world of groupies and friends. Any and every ability comes from God, and is, therefore given for the benefit of all persons. Underprivileged groups need the giftedness of others, as well as discovering their own resources so that everyone is built up in a society of redeemed persons.

Mavericks are not helpful here. The Lone Ranger is not to be the model of aspiration.

Christians are the Body of Christ, meant to function as one. Just as the Holy Trinity of divine three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – work together in unity of purpose and harmony of being, so the persons of the Church are to unify and act as one in the mission of God. Diversity of gifts are to be expressed in unity of building up others and extending Christ’s love to the world. When we harmoniously coordinate our joint efforts in utilizing our collective spiritual gifts, the world is turned upside-down with kingdom grace and ethics.

Sometimes we might succumb to “gift envy.” We observe the talented gift of another and secretly wish it for ourselves. The proper remedy to such a malady is gratitude. When we give thanks to God for the gift(s) we truly possess, then envy has nowhere to reside and slithers away.

None of God’s gifts are “sexy” in the sense that they come easily without effort and always look appealing.

On the contrary, our gifts are meant to be received and developed with lots of daily mundane work so that we live into the special endowment bestowed upon us. This, in fact, takes a lifetime of development because the Spirit’s gifts are so generously large – much bigger than we originally observe at first glance. Like an engagement ring in a tiny box, receiving the gift and putting it on will involve commitments and challenges we cannot at the time perceive.

Whatever it is you do well, do it to the glory of God.

Allow God to activate it and energize it for the prevailing needs of a church and a world which is in want of kindness, goodness, and love.

O Lord, you have taught me that without love, whatever I do is worth nothing.  Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

*Above painting by Jyoti Sahi, based on John 20:22