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.

2 Peter 3:8-13

            Sometimes, from our puny human perspective on things, it seems as if God is doing nothing.  Evil consumes the world in all kinds of insidious forms:  human trafficking and the sex slave trade; corrupt governments with no concern for the welfare of its nation’s citizens; oppressive regimes that rule on the backs of the poor; terrorism with no regard to innocent life; Christians displaced from their homes and martyred for their faith; human rights violations in all kinds of sweat shops and dangerous working conditions – and that is just to name a few – not to mention what we personally might be facing in the hard circumstances of life.  We might wonder why God seems so silent in the face of such injustice.
 
            It is into such concerns that the Apostle Peter wrote to a group of struggling believers in Jesus who could not rectify their present difficult situation with the promise of God to act justly.  In fact, Jesus was supposed to return and make everything right.  Where is he?!  Peter’s response:  “Dear friends, don’t forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years, and a thousand years is the same as one day.  The Lord isn’t slow in keeping his promises, as some people think he is.  God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.”
 
            The seeming inactivity of God is really him showing patience and forbearance, graciously and carefully reaching out in the darkness so that more and more people can be saved from their empty ways of life before it is too late.  Where, from our angle it seems like a lack of concern, from God’s perspective is a show of incredible grace.  The Lord will return.  Until then, we are participate with him in showing grace and love to those who need the light of Christ, even if it means we must endure some of the evil muck of this world.
 

 

            Patient God, you show steadfast love even when I am slow to recognize it.  Enable me to be patient and endure to the end.  Bring more and more people under your benevolent rule, and reach the unreachable with your massive mercy, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Hebrews 11:17-28

            Christian faith looks ahead and sees as clearly as is right now in front of your face.  Because of taking such a long view of life, the mature believer in Jesus is able to set aside temporary pleasure in order to attain a future hope.  Today’s New Testament lesson says that “after Moses grew up, his faith made him refuse to be called the king’s son.  He chose to be mistreated with God’s people instead of having the good time that sin could bring for a little while.  Moses knew that the treasures of Egypt were not as wonderful as what he would receive from suffering for the Messiah, and he looked forward to his reward.”
 
            It is an understatement to say that our contemporary society assumes practicing instant gratification.  We want to feel good, and we want it now.  Impulse control may just be one of the best life skills that kids (and adults!) need to learn today.  A recent Psychology Today article effectively demonstrates through some classic and current research that “one of the most effective ways to distract ourselves from a tempting pleasure we don’t want to indulge is by focusing on another pleasure.”
 
            For the Christian who desires to follow Jesus in all things, looking ahead to a future heavenly reward which will be shared along with all God’s people needs to be kept at the forefront of our thinking.  If we only think about today, there is very little resource for responding to the temptations and fluctuations of life.  But if we will put some energy into clarifying and embracing our most cherished values, we will then let those values inform everything we do, or not do.  In the light of eternity, suffering a bit now is nothing compared to what Christ has in store for his people.
 

 

            Eternal God, I believe you will be there at the end of the age distributing reward to those who have faithfully served you.  Help me, by means of your Holy Spirit, to resist temptation, live for Jesus, and forsake the cultural values all around me so that I live strong for you.  Amen.

Luke 1:26-38

            “Nothing is impossible for God!”  So the angel said to Mary concerning the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about the births of both John and Jesus.  Mary’s response is one full of faith and commitment:  “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.”  I admire the confident belief of Mary.  There was no cognitive disconnection or spiritual gap between her hearing the Word of God and exercising faith.
 
            It is far too easy to relegate the power of the Holy Spirit and the faith of others to special saintly-type persons.  We common folk cannot surely have such faith!  Yet, we are all called to a life of faith believing that the impossible is always possible with God.  In those times when we think God certainly cannot or will not forgive us for sinning yet again, we are called to trust in the gospel of grace which turns impossible sinners into saints full of possibility.  In those seasons of life where cynicism and sarcasm become our constant companions because we have lost hope that life can be different, God breaks in and speaks impossible words of expectancy which blows our hearts open to the Spirit’s work.  In the days when our faith seems so small and puny that even getting out of bed seems impossible, God takes the littlest mustard seed of belief and grows it so big that even our spiritual blindness can see it.
 
            Just as Mary had to believe and patiently wait for the child within her to gestate, so we must simply believe, wait, and watch for the growth that God gives in the power of his Spirit.  For faith is not some human engineered checklist of right beliefs, but is an active relationship with God through Christ by means of his Holy Spirit.  We only learn such a faith by trying, failing, receiving grace, and going at it again.  Our lives are not impossibly messed up and hopeless because we serve the God of all possibilities.
 

 

            Mighty God, I want to believe; help me in my unbelief!  May I have the faith of Mary so that I can see the power of your Holy Spirit in action through my life into this world.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

Galatians 6:7-10


             “You reap what you sow” is one of those famous (or infamous) phrases of the Bible.  Some people have a visceral reaction to the statement because it was used in the negative sense to keep kids obedient.  But the actual context for the statement, while not excluding the need to avoid disobedience, is aimed much more toward the necessity of doing good works for others.  In the church’s and the Christian’s work of burden-bearing on behalf of those with crushing loads to carry, we are not to become weary as the walk goes on and on.  “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”
             The main orientation of the verses is patience and perseverance in the doing of good works.  Although it might not seem, at the moment, that our labors are really making a dent at all, God is taking notice.  He sees.  Eventually, if we will keep up the slow, tedious, and often dull work of persisting in doing what is right, it will all pay-off in a harvest of righteousness.
             To be honest, I have struggled with this one in this past week.  I want to see things happen and happen now!  I’m tired of waiting.  I am weary of having the same conversations with people over and over again.  I have grown impatient with impenitent people who only seem to think of themselves.  Alas, welcome to the human race!  The reality is that God cares just as much about the process of attaining a goal as about the goal itself.  We need the encouragement of others in our Christian pilgrimage through this life.  You and I can do it.  Let’s keep going!
             Patient God, you have been waiting for several millennia to complete your work in this world.  It is a small thing for me to keep doing your will with perseverance over the span of my own lifetime.  I look to my model, Jesus Christ, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and reaped eternal life for all who would believe.  Amen.