Galatians 5:16-26 – Let the Spirit Guide You

“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.

Galatians 5:2-15 – Faith Expressing Itself Through Love

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again, I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

You, my brothers, and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (NIV)

Faith, expressing itself through love, is the grace others need from us. I did not grow up committed to learning the Bible or following Christ. I pretty much went my own way throughout childhood, and especially my teenage years. I still remember what it feels like to not be a Christian. 

I have found throughout my Christian life that folks with a past in which they did not live by grace, but only looked out for themselves, have a temptation to embrace strict rules when they become Christians. They know what it feels like to not have Jesus in their lives, so they sometimes go beyond Scripture and impose standards on themselves, and then others, to keep on the straight and narrow.

If, and when, that happens, the Apostle Paul has something to say about it. Embracing certain practices to obtain or maintain righteousness mean nothing in God’s kingdom. For the Galatian church who went down the path of strict outward rule-keeping, Paul had strict words. Here is how one version of the New Testament puts it:

“You people who are trying to be made righteous by the Law have been estranged from Christ. You have fallen away from grace! We eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith. Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter.” (Galatians 5:4-6, CEB)

Any Christian tradition or individual believer which ignores God’s grace in favor of controlling one’s own faith through certain rules is no Christianity, at all. Paul would have nothing to do with it. His position was clear and pointed. We are called to freedom, and we are to use that freedom to serve others through love. Freedom is not something where we do whatever we want without regard to others. That is selfishness, not freedom.

“Grace must find expression in life, otherwise it is not grace.”

karl barth

Freedom is a gift of grace. It is given to us so that we will live freely into who we are meant to be as humanity. In other words, there are to be no obstacles of extra-biblical or unbiblical rules impeding us to realize our full potential as Christians saved by grace through faith. Our possibilities include full unhindered expressions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control for the benefit of ourselves and the entire community of the redeemed.

Grace is the currency of God’s kingdom, flowing freely through love. God has your back. Grace forgives, and never runs out. Love endures and never withdraws. When we grab hold of this essential and beautiful truth about God with spiritual gusto, then the only rule we want to keep is the continuing debt to love one another.

Are there any practices, rules, beliefs, or doctrines you impose on yourself which are burdensome to you, or others?  Why do you do them?  Do you expect others to keep them?  What would change if you threw grace and love into the mix?

Gracious God, your love has extended so far as to give your one and only Son on our behalf.  Through Jesus, I embrace the faith and love gifted to me through his redeeming work.  Help me to daily die to myself and my propensity for outward rule-keeping, and to live the gracious life you died to procure for me.

You Are Free

“Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, New Living Translation)

tiger

We think a lot about freedom when it comes to this time of year.  Freedom is wonderful, glorious, and a grand privilege.  With it, we enjoy life.  Without it, we long for un-ended days of immunity.  Yet, like the proverbial ladder on the wrong wall, our conceptions of freedom might actually be keeping us in self-slavery.  True freedom is there, ripe for the picking, hanging on the low branch of grace.  It is free, but not cheap; available, yet not readily seen.  Freedom, as a good God intended, is meant for everyone.  Taking a bite of this fruit will change your life forever.

When I was a kid, I thought of freedom as being free from the constraints of parental and adult expectations; of doing whatever the heck I wanted to do; spending money on stuff that I desired; and, having the ability to satisfy all my wants and pleasures.  Yes, it was a very selfish construct of freedom, but it sure worked for me as a kid fantasizing about the golden ticket to adulthood.

I discovered pretty quickly that adult stuff could be a whole lot more enslaving than the kid stuff.  In fact, there were times when I wanted to be a kid again, free from the constraints of bosses, social norms, and time demands.  There was still the continued lack of money, even though I was working my ever-living butt off.  If only there was freedom….

That’s a common understanding of freedom.  It is defined by being delivered from something you don’t like in order to do what you want.  And when we don’t get what we want, isn’t it funny how it’s always somebody else’s fault that we don’t have the freedom we desire?

I always thought the tiger represented my dream life.  When I first saw a tiger in the zoo, I was hooked.  This big ol’ guy gets to sleep all day, gets fed red meat to eat, and hangs out with lady tigers.  Dude, I thought he had it made.  But then one day I was at the zoo and there was a huge crack in the three inch thick Plexiglas wall.  One of the zookeepers said that the big ol’ male tiger ran full tilt and head-butted the wall trying to get out.

It was then that my thick-headed Plexiglas brain took a crack to it.  Mr. Tiger, having been satisfied with all the hedonistic pleasures of his little tiger kingdom, was behind bars.  He was not free.  He wanted out.  Mr. Tiger was never going to be free until he was out in the wild doing what tigers do: stalking and hunting prey and roaming the vast outdoors.  Having everything handed to him only made him crazy.

God understands freedom a different way than giving us all our personal desires.  He has created us in such a way as to find our ultimate satisfaction living into his design for us.  When we are truly free, we are actively experiencing the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

To be free is to have grace permeating your life.  It is to do what humans were meant to do: thrive and flourish together through working in the garden of this world by participating in the very life of God himself.  Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit exist together in fellowship and harmony, so, we as people created in his image, join the Trinitarian dance and discover that life is only meaningful if we serve, love, and be gracious for the benefit of the common good of all persons.  In other words, you are free to be the human being God wants you to be.  Don’t get tied up in knots trying to get to some state of being you think is going to make you happy.

There is an old southern gospel song that says:

“I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in
And then a little light from Heaven filled my soul
He bathed my heart in love and wrote my name above
And just a little talk with Jesus made me whole.” (Just a Little Talk)

To be lost is to be bound in the sin of being caged like a majestic tiger.  To be free is to live in the vast untamed wilderness of God’s expansive grace, unshackled from the bars of the law, and feeding off the wild fruit of God’s Spirit.

Fellowship with God always results in a concern for one’s fellow human being.  We are not whole by satiating our wants, but through letting God in Christ give us new desires – ones that have an abiding appetite to serve humanity, and to advance the cause of justice and peace for all.

May the celebration of our freedom be lived with the grace of Jesus as our flag, the love of God the Father as our backyard barbecue, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit as our fireworks.

Galatians 5:16-26 – Being Led by the Spirit

27CONNORS1-obit-facebookJumbo-v2

“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 always seemed as if everyone thought 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 like everyone else was doing (I was fascinated with TV as a kid).  Now, much older, I have a larger context for understanding all of that stuff.  Yet, the fact remains that I really was a third wheel lots of times.

Sanford-and-Son

Sometimes I think we treat the Holy Spirit of God somewhat like a third wheel.  We pray to Almighty God; we pray in Jesus’ blessed name; and… what of the Holy Spirit?  Sometimes, even many times, the Spirit gets the short end of the stick.  In fact, I’ve been in some churches where I think their understanding of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible; the Spirit is nowhere to be found.

Maybe, because we can never predict what in the world the Spirit is going to do, we send Him off to some metaphorical bedtime so that we watch 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.  But, somehow, we fall short and feel like a failure far too often.  Why is that?

Could be that we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit as the third wheel.  We believe in Him, have faith that He’s there, but don’t have any idea how to relate to Him.  God is big and sovereign; Jesus has a real body and blood; and, the Spirit… well, He’s really out there, man – like, He’s too cool for school and would be one of the characters on The Mod Squad, or something.  How do you have a relationship with someone (and often we refer to the Spirit as some “thing”), that is, with a person (and the Spirit is fully a person) who is so crazy ethereal and seemingly other than you and me?

the mod squad

The Holy Spirit is the power source of the Christian life.  Without him, we can easily degenerate into all kinds of illicit thinking and behavior – including things like “sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that” (verses 19-21).

It is the Spirit who helps us, comforts us, provides strength for us, and enables us to replace old habits with new ones and dead practices with solid “Spirit”ual 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 building, like a temple, and the person of the Spirit has taken up residence within.  The person of the Spirit is the person of God the Father’s, and the person of God the Son’s gift to the people of God.  By means of the Holy Spirit, God is always with us and continually at-this-moment working within us to make the redemption given in Christ an actual real-live encounter.  In other words, the Spirit gives us feet to walk among this world armed with the implements of God’s love.

fruit of the spirit

I’m going to make a simple observation about the Galatians text for today.  All of the spiritual virtues expressed 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, Tim, I’m pretty good at kindness and goodness, but I don’t have much peace or patience.”  What that really means is that you are probably doing kindness and goodness from a different place than by means of the Holy Spirit because when the Spirit manifests Himself in us we exhibit the fruit.  You can’t separate the nine spiritual virtues any more than you can separate the Trinity.  They are all one spiritual fruit cultivated and produced inside you by the agency of God’s Spirit.

Maybe it’s time to back up the truck and take a look at the shadow side of our lives.  It could be that we are, for example, far more driven by our anxiety about most things than about genuine altruism and love.  The same result might seem to appear through our words and actions, but it will not last if it is generated from a place of worry – and it is not of the Spirit.

So, what do you do about it?  You must put to death (mortify) 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 you have C-clamped your heart so tight that the Spirit can’t get in, then it’s high time to loosen the grip and enable God to do His gracious and merciful work within you.  It is the only way to go about genuine transformation of life.

two wild and crazy guys

Yes, it is scary.  Letting go of control is very hard for many people, including me.  But the results are worth it.  The Spirit knows what He is doing.  He might work in wild and crazy ways.  He might show up on Saturday Night Live where you least expect him to be.  The way we go with God is by going with the Spirit and being led by Him.  Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you 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 sets us up for the work of the Spirit who now makes our deliverance practically and effectively a reality in daily relationships and experiences.

streets of san francisco

The Holy Spirit is not a third wheel.  He’s the real deal.  When you open your heart to Him, you expose yourself to the wideness of God’s mercy which results in the wonderful fruit of the Spirit.  And when you experience the Spirit working inside of you, it makes the car chase scenes in The Streets of San Francisco look not so dramatic.

May the Spirit of the living God be with you now, and forever.  Amen.