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

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“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.

Gentleness

It is probably an understatement to say that we live in a day when so many people are polarized on such a wide variety of issues.  Whether it is politics, economics, or religion, lines have been drawn and people fall back into their like-minded groups.  The verbal missiles that are often launched across blogs, social media, news programs, and even in churches, evidence much anxiety and little listening or love.
 
I will get down to the point of this post:  the New Testament verse of Philippians 4:5 says quite plainly that we need to let our gentleness be evident to all.  The verb in this verse is in the imperative mood, which means that it is a command of Holy Scripture.  Having a patient forbearance is not optional equipment for those who profess the name of Jesus.  Furthermore, this command is not limited to a certain group of persons –gentleness is to be shown to all.

I think a legitimate and proper way to translate this verse would be:  You must evidence gentleness to everyone.  The simplicity of faithful presence, a gracious attitude, patient soulcraft, and a gentle application of the gospel has the effect of yielding changed lives in the Spirit.  The way in which we interact with people, no matter whom they are, was important enough to be a requirement for all of Paul’s churches.  The Apostle laid it down to his protégés Timothy and Titus that they need to select persons who evidence gentleness toward others (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 3:2).  Church leadership is too important a matter than to allow angry people who rant about their views without any thought to how they come across to occupy the positions of elder or deacon.
 
One of the reasons I believe that fewer and fewer people turn to the church for reliable answers to their religious questions is that there are far too many Christians who evidence hatred and belligerence instead of grace and gentleness.  For the past thirty years my wife and I have had a steady stream of “marginal” persons in our lives – those wrestling with their sexual identity; addicts caught in downward spirals of habits; relationship problems; the socially unlovely; and, the list could go on.  As I reflected on why this has been the reality for us, I think it comes from a simple obedience to this command in Philippians.  We do not freak out about people’s sins or struggles; we just show some common compassion and gentleness and apply the gospel carefully to situations.
 
Now I think it really needs to be asked:  Have we obeyed Philippians 4:5?  Are we obeying this verse?  Will we obey this verse?  Are we evidencing gentleness, or not?  It is disturbing that churches are often not safe places for people caught in any sin to come and deal with what is going on inside their souls and find the Christian gentleness and pastoral sensitivity needed to address the situations at hand.  The kind of things that keeps me awake at night is a lack of demonstrated values to Christ’s Beatitudes.  What makes my heart ache even now is that there are untold hundreds of people around us needing the gospel of Jesus, but many of us are too busy making loud and obnoxious pronouncements about things we have already made pronouncements about and are mad that no one seems to be listening.   
 
Some of my pastor brothers and fellow Christians fear what will happen in a moral slide in our nation.  But I am not much afraid what will happen to us as believers.  Rather, I am sick to my core for the persons who will not come to us and our churches for healing, or be pushed away from the healing, because of our un-biblical bedside manner.
 

 

We must evidence gentleness.  It is a simple command.  Let us obey it with humble simplicity and watch the saving work of Jesus do its gracious change through the power of God’s Spirit.