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.

Ephesians 1:7-14 – God Is Good

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Ephesians 1:8, Contemporary English Version of the Bible

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Common English Bible)

Believe it or not, verses 3-14 of Ephesians chapter one, 12 verses in all, are one single sentence in the Greek language the Apostle Paul originally wrote this in.  Thankfully, and understandably, English translators have created multiple sentences for us so that we can better make sense of the text.  It’s almost as if Paul was so excited to talk with the Ephesian church about who they are in Jesus Christ and what they possess in him that he blurted out with enthusiasm and wrote with fervor without stopping to take a breath.

Paul heaps word after significant word on top of each other in a flurry of provided spiritual blessings the believer in Christ enjoys.  Redemption, forgiveness, insight, protection, inheritance, and salvation are just some of the blessings given.  If that wasn’t enough, God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the one who comes alongside and helps us to live into the blessings we possess because of the person and work of Christ.

redemption

It’s as if we came to Christmas day expecting a package of underwear and found instead a bunch of big boxes with some of the most lavish and expensive gifts we’ve ever seen!  This says much more about the giver than it says about us.  It was according to God’s good pleasure in Christ that believers in Jesus have such privileges.  Like the parent who sits back and watches the unpackaging of presents happen with great joy, so God delights and is pleased with what he has given to us.

First and foremost, in the entirety of Holy Scripture, all the stories and narratives, teachings and writings, are about God.  He is both the subject and object of each book of the Bible.  Every good thing we have in this life is because of God’s grace.  Each positive experience is a direct result of God’s steadfast love toward his people.  All good gifts come from a good God who is pleased to give them.

Not a one of us purchased our own gifts and stuck them under the tree.  God bought them all with the precious blood of Jesus and sent the Spirit to deliver them to us.

Take some time today in a quiet place and reflect on just one of these words in the text.  Think about redemption or forgiveness, salvation or grace, or any of the words which grab you.  Say it over and over, quietly and loudly, thoughtfully and with flavor.  Consider what God did to bring you that gift.  Contemplate the way(s) in which you have received the gift.  Plan one way in which you might share your gift with another person.  Then, give glory and praise to God for his grace to you.

May your meditation lead to a deeper appreciation of what God has done for you; and may that revelation result in praise, honor, and glory to the One who accomplished so much on your behalf.

Gracious God, you have revealed and made known the way of deliverance from the power of darkness and brought me into your marvelous light.  Help me to better understand all the ways you have acted on my behalf so that my life might reflect your grace and steadfast love to the world; through Jesus Christ, my Savior, in the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Seven Christian Virtues

            The Christian life is a struggle, a wrestling match of putting off bad behavior, and putting on good behavior.  Like a set of dirty clothes, we take them off and put on new clothes (Ephesians 4:14-5:20).  We must do both, putting off and putting on.  It does no good to take off dirty clothes and stand there naked.  Neither does it make any sense to just put clean clothes on over your dirty ones.
The seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride are bad habits of vice which darken the heart.  From them springs the evil behavior of the world. We must put them aside.  In their place we are to put on the seven heavenly virtues of purity, self-control, generosity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness, and humility.
1.      Purity
 
The insatiable habit of committing mental adultery needs to be replaced with purity of heart.  The pure of heart seek to better themselves through confession, repentance, and accountability.  One reason many people do not experience victory over their lust is that they confess and repent without allowing themselves to be held accountable by a wise spiritual mentor or a safe small group of people.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, NIV)
 
“Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV)
 
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)
 
2.     Self-Control
 
The glutton overindulges to the point of addiction.  He needs self-control.  Self-control is to engage in the good things of life in moderation, learning to say “no” before it’s too late.  Notice this is self-control, not others-control.  The way to gain mastery over yourself is not through controlling other people.  It’s tempting to blame others for our gluttony, but the path forward is through taking small steps of personal courage and faith.  Lent is the perfect season to intentionally plan to put aside one vice or besetting sin in your life.
“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, NIV)
 
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV)
 
“Control yourselves and be careful! The devil, your enemy, goes around like a roaring lion looking for someone to eat.” (1 Peter 5:8, NCV)
 
 
 
3.     Generosity
 
The greedy person only thinks about money and how to get more.  Greed can only be overcome with generosity toward others.  Not only are we to liberally give money away to those in need, we are to be generous with encouraging words, go out of our way to do humble service, and be effusive in spending time with those who need it.
But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.  Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, NLT)
 
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17, ESV)
 
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18, NIV)
 
4.    Diligence
 
A lazy and indifferent attitude doesn’t want to get involved.  It needs to be replaced with a diligent hard-working spirit.  Diligent people seek to make a difference in the world.  They roll their sleeves up, jump-in and get to work on the great problems of the day.
“The lazy have strong desires but receive nothing; the appetite of the diligent is satisfied.” (Proverbs 13:4, CEB)
 
“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5, ESV)
 
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NRSV)
 
“Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23, AMP)
 
 
 
5.     Forgiveness
 
Maybe it goes without saying that anger and forgiveness are mutually exclusive terms.  An angry person doesn’t forgive – she just wants to get even.  Putting off those angry clothes means putting on the clean clothes of extending forgiveness.  Forgiveness is neither cheap, nor easy. It can’t be done quickly or hastily.  It’s the difference between throwing on a few sweats – and getting dressed up in a tuxedo.  Forgiveness takes care and time.
“Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil.  Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, CEB)
 
“As holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient.  Put up with each other and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13, GW)
 
6.    Kindness
 
Envy is the evil rot that separates people.  The antidote is kindness.  To be kind is to celebrate what another has achieved that you haven’t.  Kindness extends friendship instead of trying to knock another person down a peg so that you can try and have what they have.  Kindness creates connection and heals division.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV)
 
“And to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love.” (2 Peter 1:7, NCV)
 
7.     Humility
 
If pride is the root from which all other sinful attitudes break ground, humility is the herbicide that kills that root.  To be humble is to know that others have a valuable contribution to give.  Humility listens because it doesn’t think it has all the answers.  The humble among us quietly serve others without caring if it draws attention to themselves.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV)
 
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10, NKJV)
 
“God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NASB)
 
 
 
            Developing Christian character is more than identifying the vices and bad habits of life; it is replacing them with these seven virtues.  Cultivating true Christian virtue is in the struggle to be better, and not in the notion that one can achieve perfection.  It is the continual wrestling with one’s own shadow-self that allows the virtues to gain a foothold in the soul.
            Therefore, church ministry needs to be a place where people are free to struggle, doubt, and wrestle with their inner demons.  Genuine ministry is a hospital for the soul, resembling more of the messy triage work of the emergency room, than the sanitized antiseptic room on the top floor who hasn’t seen a patient in days.

 

            Try using these Christian virtues as a way of having a conversation about the nature, direction, and goals of your ministry.  Are these virtues evident in your context? Why, or why not? Which one needs the most attention? How will you address it?