Sunday, July 7, 2013
In this reading, did you find anything confusing or challenging? We have spent six weeks in Galatians, the letter the first century Christ-follower Paul wrote to churches he planted in Asia Minor. Paul was in a battle for the hearts of the people. Other teachers had insisted that the whole letter of the Law of Moses be kept in order for one to be among the people of God whether that one was Jew or Gentile. Paul responded that God had come in Jesus, and in that coming the law was fulfilled. Its purposes were achieved. To be among God’s people, one had to follow Jesus, not worry about the law.
Now, toward the end of his argument, Paul lists the works of the flesh. He ends the catalogue of damning behavior when he says, “Those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (v.21). Does it sound like Paul established a new law? He spent the entire letter hammering the Galatians for being tempted to go back to the Law of Moses. Now in the end, he lists forbidden behaviors: jealously, anger, dissentions, drunkenness and the like. He also lists expected behaviors, what we call the “Fruit of the Spirit.” These include joy, kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control, and others.
Between the “don’t do” and the “must do” lists, the apostle says those who do what is on the “don’t do” list will not inherit the kingdom of God. Is a legalist just like those he attacks only with a different set of rules?
It comes down to grace. Do we live on our own power or do we live on the power of God? That statement, that life in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom, is at the heart of this reading and the heart of the Gospel. We must crucify the flesh as Paul says in verse 24. We crucify the flesh and live in the spirit. We die to self and in Christ are born again. How? In one sense, we there is nothing we can do to make it happen. However, in a moment, I will offer some thoughts that can set us up, orient us, for receiving the Spirit.
I said that the question comes down to grace. It also comes down to markers. The contest in Galatians is not only salvation by faith verses salvation by works. It was about who is in and who is out. Jews did not think they were saved by keeping the law. They didn’t need to be saved. They were already God’s chosen people by virtue of being Jews. The teachers rivaling Paul in Galatians believed to be God’s people one needed to be Jewish. To be Jewish, one had to keep the law and be circumcised. Circumcision and law were markers. Paul rejects these and instead says the markers of God’s people are baptism and Spirit.
His entire point is that without the Holy Spirit, all people will fall into the sinful nature, another ways of saying the work of the flesh. Without the Spirit, we cannot help but impurity, enmity, strife, and everything else he lists. The reason he says “those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom” is they don’t have the Spirit. The expressions of the sinful nature listed in Galatians 5:19-21 are signs that someone has not received Jesus and is not filled with the Holy Spirit. Only those filled with the Holy Spirit can enter God’s Kingdom.
The two lists, the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit, are not qualifiers. These are indicators. John William MacGorman notes that the works of the flesh are the evidence of the ungraced life (Broadman Bible Commentary, 1971, p. 118). We cannot earn our way to God. Salvation is a gift of grace. I strongly believe God holds this gift out to all humans and some refuse to receive it. Those who do are in ungraced lives and this will be evident in what their lives produce.
As our six-week series on grace is now in the final message, my hope is we will live out the grace we have been given. God’s work in our lives should dramatically change us. This is the second pillar of our church’s foundation. We believe God has created us to be a safe community where people meet Jesus, become new creations in Him, and are sent out into the world to share his Gospel: Safe-New-Sent. The second part of that, New, means we become new beings in Christ. We are born again.
Along these lines, we may look at Galatians 5, and especially the Fruit of the Spirit list, and we may say, “OK, I need to do these things. I need to look at my life and figure out how I can love and be joyful and make peace and have patience and exercise generosity.” We determine that we will take our scripture and work really hard at love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. But what such an effort accomplish? I don’t know for sure, but if it involves me reading the Bible and then putting forth max effort, what will be produced will not be the fruit of the Spirit. It will be the fruit of Rob. And I already know that the fruit of Rob might have some love in it, but there is a lot that other stuff, the works of the flesh.
Working hard at love and peace and patience and the other manifestations of the fruit is good. It is fine to do that. But that is not where the graced life starts. Remember the works of the flesh indicate who I am. If I am of the flesh, then I am living on my own, apart from God. Hell is spending eternity on my own, apart from God.
The fruit of the Spirit is an indicator that the person is full of the Holy Spirit of God. Love, joy, patience, gentleness, kindness – that is not the result of my determined effort. Those things cannot help but pour out when I full to the brim with the Spirit of the living God. The key is to be full of the Spirit.
This gets tricky because this is something we cannot control. Similarly, in the safe-new-sent construct, we cannot make ourselves new. We cannot renew ourselves. We cannot cause anyone to be born again. God does this. God has His own agenda. God sets the timing. We cannot push it or force it.
What then is the take-away of all the grace talk? Do we end just hoping that we are among those God deems to save? I don’t think so. I think we have more to go on than just the sense that God will save some and we might among those lucky enough to receive grace.
I mentioned a moment ago that Paul says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). I offer a process for how that can happen. What I share here is based on Raymond Stamm’s comments in the volume on Galatians in the old Interpreter’s Bible (1953, p.570-571).
The first step is confession. We have to recognize that there is in us either fornication or jealousy or quarrels or something else listed in Galatians 5:19-21. I don’t think there is a human alive that can claim innocence of all that is there. But if someone looks over it all and says, “I am clean,” we quickly burst that bubble when we point out that this sin list is representative. Similar lists are found in 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Timothy 3:2-5; and Titus 3:9. Don’t bother going through all of them! To be filled with the Spirit, we must confess that without Christ, we are damned in the works of the flesh.
The second step is to put ourselves under the control of the love of Christ. We voluntarily subjugate ourselves. The lists are in these passages are useful when, as a part of our spiritual practice, the items on the lists show us the boundaries. We strive to stay in bounds. We also put others first. Obedience and sacrifice are tangible ways we can know we are under the control of Jesus’ love.
A third step is emptying. We give up harmful practices – drinking, smoking, drug use. We stop watching junk movies. We end toxic relationships. It doesn’t mean the other person cannot be redeemed. It just means we recognize that with that other person both and I are headed for trouble. So, as matter of presenting myself to Jesus, I end certain friendships. Emptying involves rooting out all the things in our lives that are antithetical to or opposite of the Jesus. We cannot be filled with Spirit until we are emptied of all other things.
Fourth, we fill life up with missional, gospel-sharing, community-building, church-strengthening activities. VBS, mission trips, small groups, worship, potluck suppers, Bible studies – these are all examples. Stamm writes that we become “so busy in the service of others that all flesh works die of starvation.”
Fifth, we deal with our thoughts and actually work to change our thoughts. This is a collaborative effort. The individual Christian (you or me), a spiritual mentor working through conversation and feedback, and the Holy Spirit responding to prayer cooperate to help change the mind. Of course confession is cathartic. Love discovered in submitting one’s self to Christ begins warming the heart. Emptying is painful, but then freeing. Missional service activity fills the days of the individual and we think about what we are doing. The first four steps help us to begin changing the mind. Also, thought prayers throughout the day draw us to the one who helps. As the sinful nature darkens our hearts, we (in our minds and maybe out loud) shout, “lord, help me. Draw me to you.”
Finally, the last step in crucifying the flesh is vision. We develop a vision for society that is based on the world’s renewal that will come Christ returns and the Kingdom is finally, fully inaugurated. This essentially means we develop a Christ-centered, Gospel worldview.
What part does each one of us play in crucifying the flesh so that we will be filled with the spirit? We confess, submit ourselves to Christ, empty ourselves ridding ourselves of all that is harmful, fill our time with missional activity, change our thoughts, and develop a Christian worldview. That is it. That’s all we can do. Then we have to trust that God will give us His grace.
He will. Recall that Paul began the letter saying “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:3-4). Through Jesus, God is the giver of grace who offers salvation to all who come to Him in repentance. The produce of grace, the fruit of the Spirit, is the sign of an individual and of a people who are have been born again.
Paul’s own journey ended with him under house arrest in Rome. The Bible does not record how things went after he arrived in Rome under guard, nor does the Bible tells us about his death. But from his writings we know he was as confident as anyone has ever been of anything when he wrote about God’s grace and we can be too. God’s plan was to save the world from sin and death through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. God wants you to be part of that plan. If you have not done so before now, turn to God in faith by confessing your sin and receiving Jesus as your Lord. If you have, then this week pray about these steps toward becoming Spirit-filled so that when others look to your life they will see the Fruit of the Spirit, the produce of Grace.