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.

Galatians 5:2-6 – Faith Expressing Itself Through Love

The Sneetches

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. (NIV)

Everyone needs the grace of faith expressing itself through love. I didn’t grow up committed to learning the Bible or following Christ. I pretty much went my own way throughout childhood, and especially the teenage years. I still remember what it felt like to not follow in the way of Christ. My view of the world was jaded, believing that most of humanity were basically uncaring self-absorbed creatures. I also knew the darkness of my own heart. When people, as I did long ago, view the world and self this way, there is a tragic loneliness where no one reaches out to the other, since everyone is guarded. A person and a world devoid of grace and reliant on law is, at best, a harsh place; and, at worst, a sort of dystopian nightmare.

It seems people who have a graceless past and only looked out for themselves often 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, out of fear of returning to the old life, go beyond Scripture and impose standards on themselves, and then others, to keep on the straight and narrow to avoid sin.

If, or when, that happens, the Apostle Paul has something to say about it.  Embracing certain practices to obtain or maintain righteousness mean diddly-squat in God’s kingdom.  Here is how the Common English Bible version translates Paul’s words to the church who went down the path of strict outward rule-keeping:

“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)

A form of Christianity which ignores God’s grace in favor of controlling one’s own faith through certain rules is not Christianity at all, and Paul would have nothing to do with it. His position was clear and pointed:

“You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses but serve each other through love.” (Galatians 5:13, CEB)

Grace is the currency of God’s kingdom, flowing freely through love. God has your back. With him we need not be guarded. God’s grace forgives, and never runs out. God’s love endures and never withdraws. When we get a hold of this essential and beautiful truth about God, the only rule we want to keep is Paul’s admonition to the Roman church:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8, NIV)

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

It must continually be borne in mind that love does not foster an antinomian spirit of being against the law because love itself is the fulfillment of law. Paul, again, explained his reasoning:

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:9-10, NIV)

The Apostle Paul’s issue was not so much with circumcision itself as it was why the church wanted to practice it to begin with. Circumcision has always been an outward sign of an invisible reality – for the Jewish people – a truth which seemed lost on the Gentile churches. Paul’s agitation and frustration had to do with the church’s reason for considering circumcision. Much like the star-bellied Sneetches of Dr. Seuss’s classic story, the impetus behind wanting circumcision was to leverage power and superiority over others.

A vision of a new egalitarian society of redeemed persons based in the finished work of Jesus Christ (grace) was at risk, and Paul was going to address any imposed practices of exclusion (law) which would compromise and erode true community. Methinks the Apostle Paul and Dr. Seuss would have gotten along well together:

The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches

And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches

That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars

And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.

The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss, 1961

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 in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.