Keeping In Step With the Spirit

Posted by on August 29, 2010 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

Reading from Galatians 5:13-26

The most recent issue of The Christian Chronicle reports on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The article recalls that there were amazing opportunities that God’s people responded to in the aftermath of Category 5 storm. In the first year following the storm Christians and churches bonded together to help strangers. I was also on the phone this week with a friend who spent a good amount of time in New Orleans during that first year working with the relief efforts. He recalls seeing a banner on the a neighborhood church from a different denomination that read “Thank you Churches of Christ.” He told me that the reputation of God’s people to help and serve was well known.

But returning to the article, even though some efforts continue, there is the unfortunate reality that many of the congregations that responded quickly have split. The leader of one relief effort is quoted: “I am aware of several churches that experienced [church] splits and more because of differences of ministry and direction.” How does it happen that churches that give themselves to Christ-like sacrifice in the name of love, suddenly divide and disintegrate over problems like mattresses and canned goods stored in the worship center? The stress and pressure of relief certainly intensified disagreements and tensions that were already present. And then there’s the work of the enemy – Satan’s role is not to be underestimated.

Unfortunately, stories like these are not unique to the national tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

[Second Illustration – Failed Outreach Ministry]

[Third Illustration – Bus Ministry Conflict]

I do not mention these stories to shame the sincere Christians who have been so wounded, rather to engage us to consider how such things happen and how do we guard against it. Once again, the ancient wisdom of God’s word speaks to us as powerfully as it did thousands of years in the past.

13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

This is Paul’s first statement about loving one another. We are free and the proper exercise of that freedom is to love one another and not to demand privilege. Furthermore, there is a sort of danger of “spiritual cannibalism” that results in the sort of spiritual death and wounding described in the recent examples.

Paul is doing what the best teachers and philosophers of his day did – comparing bad behavior to the behavior of animals. Here wild beasts are biting each other and they end up killing themselves in the frenzy. The Galatian church was dangerously close to tearing itself apart because of their turmoil over rules, external religion, and the expectations of others. Of course they thought that they were just trying to be especially righteous and please God.

This is the sad truth of legalism – a slavish obedience not to God but to what we assume are his rules – instead of developing a character and spirit of holiness, it actually breeds jealousy, arrogance and judgment. It may look very disciplined on the outside, but inside there’s no love and no control against sins that work in the heart and the attitude. This is why Paul makes his second statement about the way we treat each other: Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Could that happen to us? Could it happen to me and you? Why would that happen? It would happen if we fail to live by the spirit and keep in step with the spirit.

Between these two statements that Paul mentions is a description of two ways of life. Two sets of attitudes, actions, virtues and vices. One way is the acts of the sinful nature – a religion of law/rules is not able to overcome these acts. It just hides them behind ritual, piety, the right language, and even good works. But beneath the surface these vices can multiply.

Notice how toxic they are to one another fellowship and worship:

  • Some are obvious: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy;
      Unfortunately, it is possible to get a “pass” on these if we claim that we are defending the truth or just voicing our opinion or standing up for our rights.
  • Some of the other acts of the sinful nature: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
      These destroy us and our relationships. Even something like witchcraft, which if you understand it in context it was often about invoking spiritual powers to place a curse on those one hates.

Legalism and “hard religion” is powerless against this sinful nature. It is just “will worship.” What is needed to cultivate love is a different Spirit. That’s the Spirit of Christ that God has placed in our hearts.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Imagine what those virtues put into action would do among us.
What would happen to “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” if we had more of the fruit of the Spirit?
What would happen to immorality of every sort if we had more of the fruit of the spirit?
What would happen to biting and devouring? What would happen to conceit, envy and provoking one another if we had more of the fruit of the spirit?

We cannot legalistically try to acquire the fruit of the spirit. Turning these into a list by which we judge others and ourselves based on a quotient for patience or joy or self-control is not going to work. That’s just a twist on legalism that turns the fruit of the spirit into the law of the spirit. Paul says there’s no law in regard to these. They are fruit. Fruit means that they are the result of something.

  • You had better believe that there is a Holy Spirit. The spirit is a seed within us and what comes from it are virtues like love.
  • That seed is planted when Christ places his spirit in our hearts in baptism. And at the same time, the sinful nature is crucified along with its passions and desires.
  • If you have been baptized – then keep in step with the Spirit. Live by the spirit. Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • If you haven’t been baptized into Christ, then hear what it means: Freedom to live in the spirit and to do away with the passions and desires that cause so much pain.

You Foolish Americans

Posted by on August 1, 2010 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

Galatians 3:1-5
1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4Have you suffered so much for nothing-if it really was for nothing? 5Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Paul’s First Question: Who has bewitched you?

  • Has someone put the evil eye on them? Meaing: Are you under the influence?
  • It’s a rhetorical question. It represents his surprise …
    • Christ crucified was not only preached to them, it was displayed through Paul’s actions and behavior and their own.
    • Christ was at work among them
    • That should have been enough – but its like they are under a spell and obeying the spellcaster
  • But as had happened before … (2:4) some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.5We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you
  • Paul is concerned about their spiritual growth. They are adopting the ritual system of rules and laws that he himself once practiced. His concern is that “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.” (5:2)

Paul’s Second Question: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?

  • This question gets to the crux of the matter
  • Does spiritually involve observation and practice of rules and laws or is it ultimately something much deeper?
  • Human effort or change of heart?
  • Paul follows up by asking them about the source of real spiritual power: His Spirit or their own ability to follow the rules.

O You Foolish Americans!

  1. The Spirit –
    1. One of the first words that children learn is “Don’t” – Don’t touch that, don’t stick that up your nose, don’t scream while I am driving, don’t spit your gum out, don’t grab the dog by the ears …
    2. They get a little older and learn “Do” and “Did” – Did you brush your teeth? Do that. Did you do your homework? Did you eat your vegetables? Do that. Did you put gas in the car? Go do that. Did you set your alarm? Do this.
    3. Parents wait for the day when suddenly there is no don’t or do. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, there is one day a new creature – beautiful – he or she seems to know what is right and does it and avoids doing wrong. Not because of rules, but because of “want to.”
    4. This day hardly ever comes – what tends to happen, especially in our culture (O You Foolish Americans) is that we just get more sophisticated about the system of do and don’t
      1. Example: Texting and driving. Is it illegal? Even if it isn’t, it’s not a good idea. One who chooses to be a safe driver understands this.
      2. Now Oprah says don’t do it – and that ought to be enough.
      3. But we have to make a law so that people won’t. The threat of a fine may help some people put down the distraction, but they haven’t internalized it – so when the next distracting device comes along that isn’t illegal – they hop on it.
  2. You Foolish Americans? Who put a spell on us? There is an intoxicating attraction to signing off on laws and rules that we can control and that we only have to apply externally
    1. It’s easy to look at others and realize how they have only externalized good behavior: government is an obvious target. But what do we expect? They are all about legislation. We pick on the Pharisees and point out how the Old Covenant created their system – but we never realize that it is possible to be New Covenant Pharisees. You Foolish Christians!
    2. Who has bewitched us so that we assume that more rules and following procedures will make us all get along?
    3. Who put the evil eye on us so that we assume that God is more concerned with minor details of practice rather than the heart and mind?
    4. Who has hypnotized us into thinking that unwritten creeds are better than written creeds and if we all accept certain conditions then unity will spring up automatically?
    5. Who hexed us so that we read the Bible like a constitution or law code?
    6. What magic spell induced us to think that we could reduce life with God and salvation down to a few quick easy steps and then be done with it – Salvation is not lather, rinse, repeat.
    7. Maybe we cannot name the magic or the power but we can say that it’s not the Holy Spirit – God’s spirit doesn’t work like that
  3. The Spirit – Again
    1. It changes us within. It changes our desires. It rearranges our priorities. It matures us. It may not happen all at once, but it has to begin and it begins within and works out …
    2. The spirit is “In You.” Countless scriptures testify to this. This isn’t spiritual possession or speaking in tongues, it is God’s nature at work with us – body, mind, heart, soul
    3. We believe that God can reach into our bodies and heal – do we believe that he can work on our inner person? Do we pray for the changing of minds and hearts also?

Final Question: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?

  • Did you even know that you could receive the spirit?
  • We are so concerned about “getting saved” that we have no idea what we are being saved for.
  • Who bewitched us into thinking that God’s power has run out? Who cast the spell that made miracles cease? We did.
  • Let’s be honest, we think it would be easier to have two or three or twenty simple rules that we should never break than to be caught up in the spirit of God