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.

John 15:1-8 – Stay Connected

Welcome, friends! The words of Jesus informs us of our important connection to God and how to maintain it. The fruit we produce from that connection is meant for the life of the world. Click the videos below and let us live and abide in Christ…

John 15:1-8, Rev. Tim Ehrhardt

The bread of life is given for you.
May you know the riches of God’s goodness.
The blood of Christ is shed for you.
May you know the peace of his forgiveness. Amen.

Matthew 7:15-20 – Life, Not Legalism

two trees

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (NIV)

There was once a pastor who found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s day. After the service they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally, one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?” When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided all was good.

Nothing can choke the heart and soul out of true spirituality like legalism – a precise extra-biblical list of do’s and don’ts. For many folks, it seems easier to live by the list than to pursue the harder road of developing character qualities. Christian discipleship involves growing into spiritual maturity and allowing a seasoned character to shape how we make decisions.  We must patiently and consistently follow in the way of Jesus, which is the way of grace and of life.

Today’s Gospel lesson is Christ’s conclusion to his Sermon on the Mount. It is a sermon that sets forth the values of God’s kingdom and devalues the core of legalistic thought.  I define legalism as a compulsion to spell out every detail of how everyone is to live a godly life, going beyond the stated commands of Holy Scripture. The problem with this approach to the Christian life is that godliness is merely an outward expression of our ability to hold to the list.  This legalistic way feeds human pride and boasting, going against the inner heart values of humility and meekness in Christ’s Beatitudes.  The teaching of Jesus ends up getting lost in trying to do everything right or perfect.

Jesus, through the Sermon on the Mount, led the crowd to a point of decision, letting them know they are at a crossroads. There are only two alternatives: Either choose the way of life as expressed in Christ’s teaching, or else choose the way of destruction through the legalistic list.  To press the crowd toward the necessity of choosing wisely, Jesus used metaphors to make his point.

wolf in sheeps clothing

False teaching in the form of legalism is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We need to be wary of people who seem pious and sincere, yet who do not quite pass the smell test. After all, Satan himself, the Apostle Paul once said, masquerades as an angel of light, appearing righteous, yet, is intent on deceiving many (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

So, how do we recognize a wolf who spiritually and emotionally devours people, instead of altruistically helps them?  Look at the fruit of the tree.  Jesus is the good tree.  Christ advocates for a searching of the heart, which results in the fruit of righteousness.  The bad tree is also seen by its fruit.  Anyone who fails to uplift and live the Beatitudes of Jesus will be seen by the rotten fruit of boasting and pride.

False teachers believe they are above others because of their expertise at keeping the list of do’s and don’ts.  A false disciple will always be shown by their profound lack of grace, gentleness, and genuine humility. They inevitably advocate for holding to their brand of religion and keeping the non-biblical list.  The profound lack of Christ’s Beatitudes in their lives will eventually result in their being cut down and thrown into the fire.

For Jesus, there is no riding the fence between the two alternatives he presented – and it is a matter for him of life and death. The way of Jesus ends in life, good fruit, entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and stability.  The other alternative ends in destruction, bad fruit and fire, exclusion from the kingdom, and being ruined.  These are solemn thoughts from our Lord Jesus himself.

The sobering reality of Christ’s teaching is that many people can be deceived with a devil’s bargain: take the nice handy list and you will become godly; here are twelve principles to change your life; follow these rules, pray this prayer, give your money to this, and all will be well. It is, however, a highway to the grave. The false teacher proclaims himself a “fruit inspector” and then goes on to judge everyone by the legalistic list.

There is a need to repent of religious lists, political agendas, and teachings which ignore and demean Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. One of the telltale signs of holding to a conjured list is when we are not honest with one another about our struggles. The bald fact of list-living is that we cannot fulfill it. So, when we know we are not measuring up to the list, the temptation is to keep up appearances as if we are.

List-living eschews showing any weakness or imperfection.  I cannot admit my sin to anyone because the list pronounces me a failure if I do.  I cannot enter a deep and prolonged grief over my loss because the list says I need to stay strong.  I cannot profess my doubts about God because the list says if I doubt, I am not a real Christian. Just tell me what is on the list, and I will do it – even though I cannot.

Here is my response to legalistic list-living: To hell with the list!  Instead, give praise to Jesus Christ who has given us the way of grace! It is grace which transforms hearts, turns lives around, and provides genuine joy and satisfaction. If grace is not the answer, we are not asking the right question. The tree of life has an abundant supply of gracious fruit.

The greatest anti-legalistic prayer we can pray is the tried and true ancient prayer of the Church:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Repentance and Spiritual Fruit

 
 
            One of the issues that every pastor and church leader faces is how to measure the success of the ministry, or the lack thereof.  It is tempting to merely assume that attendance, state of the budget, and how many programs are up and running evidences success.  Lots of people, money, and ministries do not by themselves constitute a healthy church any more than eating lots of food and spending lots of money on eating-out constitutes physical health.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  So, where are we to focus our energies?
 
The two big ideas that Jesus hammered home to the crowds who followed him are:  1) you need to repent; and, 2) you need to bear spiritual fruit (Luke 13:1-9).  The two go together:  a fruitless life points to the need for repentance; and, to truly repent results in bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
 
            Jesus, in exhortation after exhortation, and parable after parable, relentlessly went after the fruitless dead religion of his day.  Our Lord believed that such religion needed to be cut out and thrown away.  So, he went after the assumptions that people have about sin, faith, and judgment.  Jesus challenged the presuppositions that people often hold onto which are false.  In dealing with them, Jesus wanted to foster repentance and fruit-bearing.
 
False Assumption:  Other people’s sin is more serious than mine.
 
            It is a common human tendency, apart from Christ, to focus on the bad things in the world and the things that other people do, rather than focus on our own heart and life.              It is so much easier to be a simpleton and believe that _____ so and so needs to be “fixed.”  When there are problems and circumstances which are less than ideal, it is sinful human nature that goes after a scapegoat.  But Jesus will have none of it.  You and I cannot control, change, or fix anyone else; but we can practice self-control, change our personal habits, and be the solution to our own problems.
 
            Christ cuts through all the crud of scapegoating and blame-shifting by saying that every single one of us needs to repent, without exception.  What is more, Jesus’ parables challenge us with a very probing thought:  Are we bearing fruit, or just taking up space?  When we howl for judgment on others, but insist on grace for ourselves then we are the ones with the biggest need for repentance.
 
False Assumption:  My sin isn’t that serious.
 
            When things go awry, many people assume they got a bum rap and were the victims of circumstances.  But Jesus will have none of it.  Here are some personal questions that place the focus on repentance and fruit-bearing: 
Do I continually locate sin outside of my life, or do I see the sinfulness of my own heart? 
Do I believe people in hard circumstances are more sinful than me? 
Do I think that doing things the way they have always been done is what is most important? 
Can I envision that growth and change is necessary for life and for the church? 
Can my life be described as fruitful, or fruitless? 
How can I become fruitful? 
What must I repent of? 
What will happen if I don’t repent?
 

 

            Yes, other people’s sin is serious; but so is mine!  And I must deal with my own sin.  If anybody wants to eat a hot dog, they probably should never see how they are made.  And if anybody wants to continue in a life of being angry, bitter, complaining, and blaming others then they probably should not look at their own hearts and see where all those attitudes are made.  Penitent hearts are what Jesus is looking for in us.