GOD’S CHOSEN ONES

chosen people

God had us in mind, all throughout history. You are specially chosen by God. Jew or not, circumcised or not, regardless of what kind of ancestors you had, you are one God’s specially chosen people, if you trust Jesus.

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Galatians #25 . Chapter 6:11-17

Look at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting. Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised — but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even the circumcised don’t keep the law themselves; however, they want you to be circumcised in order to boast about your flesh. (Galatians 6:11-13)

I’ve mentioned verse 11 before. I think it is evidence that Paul had some sort of vision problem, and that he was slightly self-conscious about it. In most of his letters he has something like this:

This greeting is in my own hand — Paul. This is a sign in every letter; this is how I write. (2Thess 3:17, HCSB)

So his handwriting was somewhat distinctive, and perhaps not very good. That’s one of the blessing of our modern times – most of you will never know what my handwriting looks like! In any case, Paul may have a reason for referring to his handwriting here. It was, as I have said, apparently awkward and not very skillful. He is saying, “Look at my handwriting – it looks childish! I’m not trying to impress anyone. Those who want to impress you are the ones you need to watch out for!” He is referring, of course, to the false teachers who are trying to make the Galatians believe that they must not only trust Jesus, but also keep the Jewish law.

Paul makes three claims about the Galatian false teachers. First, he says that they want to make a good impression in the flesh, in order to avoid persecution. In the early days of Christianity, most of the persecution of Christians was instigated by Jews. Many Jewish people felt that the teaching about salvation through Jesus was a corruption of Judaism, a blasphemous heresy. They didn’t see it as a separate religion (and to be fair, neither did the Christians, at first). Christianity is based upon the Jewish Bible (which we call the Old Testament), as well as the teachings of the apostles (which we call the New Testament). So the Jews thought they needed to stamp out this Jewish blasphemy. They were frequently directly violent toward Christians. In places where Roman law was strongly in place, they used Roman regulations to get the Christians imprisoned, whipped and punished. Paul himself had once been a Jew whose life mission was to persecute and destroy Christianity.

Paul claims that the real motivation of the Galatian false teachers is to prove that they are good Jews, and thus avoid being persecuted. So they were willing to trust Jesus, as long as it didn’t cost them anything. But when society started moving against them, they compromised the message of grace in order to avoid the difficulties of being opposed to the Jews.

I have never been seriously persecuted for the message of grace in Jesus. I have, however, seen people who share my faith mocked and derided, and even called “dangerous” in the media. They often make fun of us in films and television. I have been called names and had people swear at me because of my faith, but nothing more serious than that. But even at that level of social pressure, there is temptation to compromise. The true message of the gospel is that there is no other way to be saved, except through Jesus. That sounds narrow-minded and ignorant to our culture today. I would feel a lot less pressure if I didn’t insist on that part of my doctrine.

The bible says we all sin, and that is a problem that can only be fixed by Jesus. But there are several things that the Bible calls “sin” that our society likes to practice and approve: sexual sins of all types, drunkenness, to name a few. I’m not trying to get non-Christians to live out Christian morality, but Christians at least, need to know what the bible says, and we should do our best to live by it. However, even many Christians do not want to acknowledge the truth of the Bible when it calls certain behaviors sinful. When I insist that we need the forgiveness and salvation of Jesus because of such things, I get a lot of angry push back. It would be a lot easier for me if I quit believing that some of those things are sinful. But Paul has harsh words for those who compromise or cave in to pressure and persecution.

Paul also says that the Galatian false teachers are hypocrites. They don’t actually keep the Jewish law, they just pretend enough to avoid persecution. Third, he says that they simply want to boast about the Galatians. Specifically, they want to boast to Jews that they caused the Galatians to become circumcised.

Now, as I’ve said many times throughout this series, we don’t have a big problem anymore with Christians insisting that we follow the Jewish Talmud and ceremonial laws. But we still have false teachers. One example of false teaching is what I call the “prosperity gospel.” I pick on this one often, because it is one of the most influential false teachings within the Christian church in America today.

As a sort of practice run for identifying false teaching, let’s look at the prosperity gospel according to these three things that Paul says about false teachers.

How does the prosperity gospel relate to persecution? Well, the main message is that if you follow God, things will go well for you. They talk a little bit about Jesus, as the Galatian false teachers did. But the main message is not the inner transformation of your spirit through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Sin, isn’t presented as a moral issue, as much as it is something that prevents you from getting the life you want, here and now. In other words, the things that offend people and draw persecution: the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the problem of sin – are not central to the prosperity gospel. The message of grace in Jesus Christ is not the main thing. Instead the main thing is improving your life here and now. Most people are already seeking a better life here and now. Most people want to find a good way to health, wealth and general prosperity. There is nothing offensive about that. There is nothing to persecute, because the goal of the prosperity gospel is the same as the goal of most secular Americans: to be prosperous and have a good life here and now.

What about hypocrisy? I suggest that you find out what you can about the regular lives of the people you listen to. If they aren’t open and honest, I would be wary of their teachings. One very popular teacher who tends to give the prosperity message was recently asked about his marriage. He said, on camera, with a straight face, that he and his wife had never had any struggles in their marriage. The interviewer questioned him, asking “Not ever?” He repeated, “never.” Now, I don’t know the details of his marriage, so theoretically, that could be true. But I know human nature, and if it is true of any married couple, they are the rarest people in the history of the world. I’m not willing to say he’s lying, but I wouldn’t trust a man who says that. As it turns out, this same man has made statements about what the bible says that are completely false, so my distrust has been justified. I suspect that this man felt compelled to say he had never experienced difficulty in his marriage because his overall message is that if you follow God, you will not have trouble here on earth. False messages breed false living.

And finally, the message of the prosperity gospel directs people to focus on themselves, rather than the cross of Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal is for my life to be better. The true gospel glorifies Jesus, glories in him and his suffering, as Paul did. The prosperity gospel glorifies what happens in my life. They praise God, certainly, but the praise him because of how he makes their lives better (sometimes). The focus on my life, not Jesus’ death. The boasting is in the details of my life, not in the cross of Christ.

I think these three things: avoiding hard parts of the gospel message, dishonesty or hypocrisy and focus on something other than Jesus, are helpful markers for us to identify false teaching. The bottom line is, we should watch out for things that pander to our flesh.

Paul goes on:

But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. (Gal 6:14, HCSB)

Paul says to the world, “you’re dead to me. I’m dead to you.” I don’t think he means nature or “the planet.” I think when he says “the world” here, he means all the ways and customs and habits of living for the flesh, for self-gratification. Money, power, status, security, comfort, self-indulgence, excess, focus on pleasure – all these are “the world.” These are the things that Paul says he is dead to. He says that the work of Jesus on the cross has separated him from such things. Paul is not supposed to be a super-Christian. If, through the cross, Paul was crucified to the world, than we too, can experience the same thing, but it happened for Paul, through Jesus Christ.

A lot of times I catch myself wanting power, status, security, comfort etc. But oh, what joy and peace I have when I am free from those desires! I believe I can have that freedom more and more, as I trust Jesus more and more, and let him be the dominant thing in my life. You can have that same freedom too, the same way as Paul. Paul’s point in saying that was to encourage the Galatians to have the same attitude.

Affirming that point, Paul says:

For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)

What matters is what Jesus is doing to transform you from the inside out. Paul put it this way to the Corinthians:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:16-17, ESV2011)

Paul lived, believing that was true. Through his words, the Holy Spirit calls us to live that way also. Remember, the deepest, truest, most real you, is not your flesh, if you are in Jesus. The real you, if you are in Jesus, is a new creation in Him. That’s what matters.

Just as the real you is a new creation in Christ, so the real people of God are all those who trust Jesus Christ. Paul says:

May peace come to all those who follow this standard, and mercy to the Israel of God! (Galatians 6:16)

When Paul says “The Israel of God” he is making a distinction between the physical Israel and the spiritual one. The physical Israel are those who are physically descended through Abraham and Isaac. But the spiritual people Israel, the “Israel of God” are those who, like Abraham, have faith. Remember, Paul wrote earlier:

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:29, HCSB)

Paul said the Romans:

This is why the promise is by faith, so that it may be according to grace, to guarantee it to all the descendants — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of Abraham’s faith. He is the father of us all in God’s sight. (Rom 4:16-17, HCSB)

There are two reasons this is important today. The first is that it changes the way we look at the Old Testament. The promises given to the people of Israel are also given to all who trust Jesus. The Old Testament is relevant, because we are the chosen people of God.

And that brings us to the second reason this is important: God had us in mind, all throughout history. He didn’t choose merely the Israelites as his specially chosen people – he also chose you, if you trust Jesus. You are specially chosen by God. Jew or not, circumcised or not, regardless of what kind of ancestors you had, you are one God’s specially chosen people, if you trust Jesus.

Paul closes with finality:

From now on, let no one cause me trouble, because I bear on my body scars for the cause of Jesus. Brothers, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (Gal 6:15-18, HCSB)

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you today? Have you been trying to make a good impression in the flesh? Perhaps you’ve been tempted to avoid ridicule by softening the message of Jesus. Or maybe you need to identify false teaching that has swayed you away from the central gospel message. Do you need to hear that you truly are a new creation in Jesus Christ? Do you need to hear that you are truly one of God’s chosen people? Maybe you need to live in the truth that you are dead to the world, or something else. Let the Spirit speak right now.

WHERE ARE YOUR INVESTMENTS?

moneyheart

Today let us live not as citizens of earth trying to make it to heaven, but like citizens of heaven sojourning on earth.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 24

Galatians #24 . Chapter 6:6-10

Paul is finishing his letter with some practical instructions for Christian living, and for functioning as a church. Verse six is basically a command for the Galatians to provide material/financial support to those who teach them the Bible. It’s a little awkward, because in some ways, this passage is about me. I am a teacher/preacher of the bible. But I want to remind you of this: it is about you, too. You are one who is taught.

Before I dive into this, I want to make a deal with you. I will try to be as objective and “disinterested” about this as I can. I’ll try not to be self-serving in how I teach this. But here’s the deal – I want to ask the same of you. This passage is about you as much as me. So I’m asking you to try and be as objective as you can, and really listen to what the Lord wants to say to you. Try not to be self-serving in how you receive this.

For the record, I do believe that even if I received no money from teaching the Bible, I would still say the same things. More significantly, Paul said the same thing to a group of people from whom he refused to receive money: the Corinthians.

Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Or who shepherds a flock and does not drink the milk from the flock? Am I saying this from a human perspective? Doesn’t the law also say the same thing? For it is written in the law of Moses, Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out grain. Is God really concerned with oxen? Or isn’t He really saying it for us? Yes, this is written for us, because he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes should do so in hope of sharing the crop. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you? If others have this right to receive benefits from you, don’t we even more?

However, we have not made use of this right; instead we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel. (1Cor 9:7-14, HCSB)

Paul chose not to ask for support from the Corinthians. Many Christians make a big deal out of that. I say, “Good for Paul.” But I want to point out two things:

First, Paul’s main point is that, properly, they were supposed to support him. None of what he is saying makes sense unless that is true. In other words, this passage from Corinthians teaches that the normal thing is for local churches to support local bible teachers, and apostles.

Second, though Paul supported himself through tent-making (or, leatherworking) for a short time when he was in Corinth, he did not do so for very long. After a short while, he devoted his full time to teaching the word (Acts 18:5). It is almost certain that Silas and Timothy brought gifts from other churches that allowed Paul to do this. So, though he was not supported by the Corinthians, he was supported by other churches during most of his ministry. In any case, the main point of the Corinthian passage is that it is God’s design that those who preach the gospel make their living at it.

1 Timothy 5:17-18 says,

The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain, and, the worker is worthy of his wages. (1Tim 5:17-18, HCSB)

Taken together, these three passages present a clear, consistent, unambiguous picture: Some people are called to be full-time Bible teachers and preachers; and in most cases these people are supposed to receive their living (financial and material support) from those they teach. This is good and right, both practically speaking, and in God’s eyes.

This isn’t a call for everyone who gets the fancy. It isn’t a frivolous thing to be a bible teacher. James wrote this:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (Jas 3:1, ESV2011)

In other words, this is a specific and unique calling, not given to every Christian, and perhaps not given to very many at all, proportionally, speaking. I will say from experience that it is not as easy as it looks from the outside. My advice to any people who are wondering if they are called to do this, is, try to do something else. Twice in my life I myself have tried to do something else, and the Lord has compelled me to come to back teaching and preaching. If you are called, you won’t be able to avoid it. So go ahead and try to avoid it, and see what happens.

In recent years, I have noticed that many people seem to look down people who are called to study, teach and preach the bible full-time. I’ve heard people mis-quote Paul from the Corinthians passage above, and suggest that no one is called to full-time bible teaching. For me, that only illustrates the need for good teachers, since it is the exact opposite of what the passage clearly says; and is in fact the opposite of the way Paul lived. I’ve seen many people who definitely should not have presumed to teach. Some people seem to think that any old fool can get up and talk about the bible. I suppose, in one way, that’s true, and you’ll hear almost any old foolish thing come out of their mouths. I’ve heard false teaching, and even heresy from such people. I would not want to be in their shoes when they have to explain themselves to the Lord. But the biblical position is that some few people are called to the unique ministry of teaching, and they should be provided for by churches, so that they can devote a great deal of time and prayer to it.

Every Christian should learn how to study the bible for himself or herself. We should all take personal responsibility for following Jesus and being better disciples. But that does not eliminate this special ministry of teaching. Ideally, we take what the teachers give us, and incorporate it into our own walk of faith. Paul’s point to the Galatians, Corinthians and Timothy is that the teacher offers spiritual blessing, and the churches offer material blessing in return so that the teacher can continue to give that spiritual blessing.

Both here in Galatians, and in the Corinthian passage, Paul refers to sowing and reaping. “Sowing” is another way of saying “planting seeds.” The bible uses it often to mean “investing for the future.” “Reaping” means “gathering the harvest.” It refers to getting the results of what you sowed.

There is no doubt in my mind that Paul is talking generally about where you invest your time, energy, talent and focus. However, there is also no doubt in my mind that he is also talking about how you use your money. Jesus talked extensively about investing earthly money in spiritual things. The entire parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16) is about that. Jesus summed it up at the end:

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous money so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings. Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much. So if you have not been faithful with the unrighteous money, who will trust you with what is genuine? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own? No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t be slaves to both God and money.” (Luke 16:9-13, HCSB)

Jesus seems to be saying that you can use money (which he calls “unrighteous”) to gain a spiritual result. This isn’t about buying your way into heaven. It is about investing your money (along with the rest of the life) in spiritual, eternal things. He told the rich young ruler that giving money away could help him to have eternal treasure:

“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” (Matt 19:21, HCSB)

Let’s be completely honest. We sow most of our money to the flesh. In other words, we generally spend money in ways that gratify our external, earthly desires, or the desires of our loved ones. When we do that, the payoff is in the flesh. That means our reward is temporary, fleeting and fading away. Gratifying your flesh now, gets you nothing in eternity. Jesus said:

“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:19-21, HCSB)

And again:

“But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:31-34, HCSB)

Jesus actually suggests that we trade earthly money for inexhaustible, eternal treasure in heaven. Some people teach that if you give away earthly money, God will give it back to you, plus interest – in earthly money. Jesus doesn’t say exactly that. He tells us not worry about our physical needs, and tells us that we can invest in eternity with our earthly money. Again, this is not about buying your way into heaven. It is about weakening the connection between you and your flesh. It is about breaking the hold that money has on us, and strengthening the hold that heaven has on us. It is about consciously actiquarter in god we trustng as if your real treasure is in heaven; because it is. Every time you give money for spiritual purposes you are affirming that you are really a citizen of heaven. You are agreeing that your real retirement begins, not in your sixties, but after you shed your flesh through death, and step into the new creation.

One final thought, and this is why I took the time to talk about money here:

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1Tim 6:9-10, HCSB)

So, it is clear to me that Paul is saying, “Look, your teachers and preachers should receive support from you. And to spend money for a spiritual purpose leads to a spiritual result, an eternal result. You store up treasure in heaven for yourself when you do that.”

Now, I do think Paul is also talking about more than money. I think when he talks about sowing and reaping, he means this: “You can invest in the flesh, or you can invest in the Spirit.” We can spend our time, money and energy on self-gratification (flesh-gratification) or on spiritual things. Another way to invest in spiritual things, according to these verses, is to “do good,” and “work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.” The Christian church should be like a family, and we should consider it a priority to bless each other, and work for the good of each other. That’s a spiritual investment. Sometimes that may mean saying an uplifting word, or writing a note. It may mean helping someone fix their home or car. We could work for good for each other by staying in touch and encouraging each other, by sharing our time, knowledge and abilities with each other. There are many, many ways.

I’ve tried flesh-gratification from time to time. It never seems to last very long. It doesn’t produce any long term benefits even in this life, let alone for eternity. Paul says that investing in the spirit yields eternal life. I have noticed that when I invest in spiritual things, it begins to yield positive and lasting results, even now. Paul says, therefore:

we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith. (Gal 6:6-10, HCSB)

Flesh-gratification is immediate. Sowing to the Spirit is a long-term proposition. Immediate results are fun, but we probably should not expect them. We shouldn’t expect the final and full results until after this mortal life is over. We Christians are a people of hope, and that means that our desires and investments come to fruition in the future, not now. As a friend of mine said on facebook this week:

Today let us live not as citizens of earth trying to make it to heaven, but like citizens of heaven sojourning on earth.

With that in mind, with our focus on the hope and life to come, we can ignore the call to self-gratification and seek instead, to bring good to others.

SHARE THE BURDEN, LIGHTEN THE LOAD

share burden

No one in the church needs to face their struggles alone. Is your marriage difficult? Let your brothers and sisters and Christ know. Give them the chance to pray for you and encourage you. Maybe your burden is a wayward child, or a dead-end job or a troubled friendship. Allow your fellow believers to fulfill the law of love, by sharing your burden.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

 

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 23

 

Galatians #23 . Chapter 6:1-5

Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2, HCSB)

With these verses, Paul gives some practical applications of what it means to walk by the Spirit. He mentions the case of someone caught in wrongdoing. “Caught” could mean that a person’s wrongdoing is discovered, or it could mean that the person was entrapped by sin; as in caught in a trap. I think the Greek favors the second meaning. I think common sense favors it as well. Otherwise, it sounds like, as long as you aren’t caught by other people, it’s OK to sin.

Paul says “you who are spiritual” should restore such a person. He’s just been talking about walking by the Spirit. I think he means, “You who are walking by the Spirit, help someone who is trapped in the ways of the flesh.”

By the way, I want to make this very clear. Our business in this case is with Christians who are in our own circle of friends, family and church. There’s no point in trying to get a stranger to shape up to your standards. And there is no point trying to get someone who is not a believer to stop sinning. Of course, in appropriate ways and moments, we should tell the truth about God and sin, but no one is going to shape up their behavior to conform to something they do not believe in the first place. With non-believers, we may need to talk about sin as we preach the gospel, but the message of the gospel is not “shape up.” It is: “You can’t shape up. You need Jesus for forgiveness and for transformation.”

Telling non-Christians to shape up and stop sinning is like telling people with the flu to stop having a fever. It is pointless, until the root problem has been addressed. Moreover, I am sure that most of them feel it is pointless also. Since they don’t share our core beliefs, it is unreasonable to expect them to live by our morality. With non-Christians, the first thing to talk about is who Jesus is. Lifestyle changes only come after they trust Jesus.

Paul, however, is talking about people that we personally know, and whom have put their trust in Jesus, and yet, fall back into sin. They haven’t abandoned their faith. There is war in their souls between the Spirit and the Flesh. Paul says we should help each other in this situation.

I hesitate to get more detailed, but I want us to have a defined idea of the kinds of situations Paul is talking about. First, I think Paul is implying that the Galatian leaders who were trying to lead the church astray were trapped in wrongdoing. Paul is saying, “restore them to the right faith.” So, some people are trapped by false teaching. Usually, some sort of straightforward conversation or intervention is needed to address the false teaching.

Second, I think Paul means this generally when someone in our church-family is trapped in sin. There are certain kinds of things I think of when I hear “trapped in sin.” Addictions and regular “binging” trap us. We keep on doing these things, and can’t seem to quit. I think this passage is applicable when Christians are caught by addictions and binging. Again, that is a situation where intervention is warranted. Another common sin-trap for Christians is an adulterous affair. That’s the kind of situation that often benefits from intervention by other mature Christians.

An additional kind of situation where we should get involved is when there is some kind of ongoing, major hypocrisy. Suppose you have a an elder or deacon, or some other sort of leader in the church. He professes faith in Jesus. He talks a great talk about Christianity and the Christian life. But then, you discover that he is dishonest in his business dealings, treats his employees poorly and shows no real evidence of his faith when he is not at church or around other members of the church. This is a big problem, because it means he is deceiving himself and others about his own standing with God, and what it means to follow Jesus.

These probably aren’t the only situations, but I won’t go on. The main thing, is that Paul is talking about serious situations, situations where either a Christian is following an ongoing pattern of the flesh, or a single failure that creates serious consequences (like adultery). I think especially if there is deception behind it (as there is in false teaching, addiction, adultery and major hypocrisy) it may be a situation that requires restoration.

Paul says that the Spirit-walking Christians should restore the person who was caught in sin; they should do it gently and they should do with humility, being aware that they are also susceptible to failing. I want to touch on each of these things.

The Greek word used for “restore” is the same word used of setting a broken bone, or putting a dislocated joint back in place. This is important, because it means our call is not just to tell people when they are wrong. It is to help them get rightly related to Jesus again. Paul does not have in mind that Christians should go around telling other Christians, “You’re sinning!” That may be required, if someone who claims to be a Christian doesn’t acknowledge their sin. But there is so much more to it than that. Paul says, there should be restoration.

Some churches do this with pastors who are caught in a serious sin. There might be a process that they go through. The sinning person needs to be repentant, to start with. He needs to submit to accountability. In other words, he needs to be willing for his life to be an open book, with no secrets. Those who are restoring him should have access to the details of his life, so they can know if he has truly turned away from the sin that caught him before. Part of the restoration, I think, should involve points along the way, where the person has opportunity to really feel and express that he has turned a corner. As the person proves trustworthy, there should be points along the way where greater trust is restored to him.

Paul says we should be gentle with each other as we do this. We aren’t meant to be watching over each other, so we can jump from around a corner and shout “Aha! Gotcha!” every time someone screws up. But when someone gets trapped in a sin or has been deceptive, we have their best interests at heart. We initiate restoration out of love and hope, not anger, frustration or the desire to put someone down. Matthew Henry wrote about these verse:

“[Jesus] bears with us under our weaknesses and follies, he is touched with a fellow-feeling of our infirmities; and therefore there is good reason why we should maintain the same temper towards one another.”

Paul also says that we should watch ourselves, so that we don’t caught in the same way. In other words, we maintain a healthy dose of humility. We don’t need to live in fear and self-doubt, but we should realize that no one is immune to temptation. We can look at the person whom needs restoration, and say, “There, but for the grace of God, am I.”

Paul adds this beautiful and significant thought:

Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2, HCSB)

In other words, no one in the church needs to face their struggles alone. Without a doubt Paul sees the struggle against sin, and the process of restoration as part of carrying each other’s burdens. I think it also goes beyond that. Is your marriage difficult? Let your brothers and sisters and Christ know. Give them the chance to pray for you and encourage you. Are you having financial troubles? Let your church family come alongside you with encouragement and prayer. Give them a chance to ask the Lord if they should give toward your need. Maybe your burden is a wayward child, or a dead-end job or a troubled friendship. Are you sick? James tells the sick person directly to ask for prayer.

Others cannot help you bear your burdens if you will not be honest and open about them. This too, requires humility and vulnerability. But think of it this way. Paul says right here that bearing each other’s burdens fulfills the law of Christ. It is the practical application of what Jesus meant when he said:

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, HCSB)

If we refuse to be humble and honest with each other about our struggles, we are denying each other the chance to practice love. Jesus’ call to love each other can’t be fulfilled without honesty and vulnerability.

For those of us in the Life Together Churches network, this is a tremendous affirmation of house churches and house church networks. It’s difficult to bear each other’s burdens if we only see our fellow-believers as we sit, facing the front on Sunday morning, and for ten minutes of coffee after the service. It can happen, but only really accidentally. If we bear one another’s burdens as a result of being in a choir, it is only accidental. The same is true of Sunday school, committee meetings and almost any program you care to name.

We need some context where we can get to know each other and be safe as we are humble and vulnerable. That is one reason that in our house churches we don’t share, outside the group, what other people say in the group, unless we have permission from them.

I’m not saying that house-church or cell-church is the only way to do things. I know many of you who read this are not part of a house church or cell church. But a committed, regular small group is a tremendously effective context for sharing our burdens with each other. Before I move on, I want to offer a quick reminder. When someone shares a burden in church (small group), it is easy to become a therapy group. But our groups are not for therapy. They are for Jesus. The thing to do when someone shares a burden is to turn to Jesus with them. That may mean sharing a scripture that comes to your mind, or a thought or picture that the Lord seemed to put in your head. It definitely means going to the Lord together in prayer, maybe laying hands on the person as you pray, to be Jesus’ hands, touching them. We don’t have the answers. Jesus does, and he is revealed in the bible and manifested in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul goes on:

For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load. (Galatians 6:3-5)

Once again, Paul is encouraging the Galatians (and us) to be humble. This reminds me of a verse from Romans:

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts. (Rom 12:3-6, HCSB)

Paul doesn’t want the business of restoration, and bearing each other’s burdens to become an opportunity for people to judge each other, or to boast. If someone has an affair and goes through restoration, it might be easy for a person who never failed in that way to feel superior. Paul says, it is not. You aren’t judged based on how someone else struggles. That means there is no place to feel that you are better than someone else. As it says elsewhere:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom 14:4, ESV2011)

We are called to share our struggles and bear each other’s burdens. At the same time, each person has his or her own relationship with Jesus. Our burdens can be shared. We must also take responsibility for ourselves. We can’t take spiritual responsibility for someone else, and others cannot do that for us. The sharing of burdens is not an excuse to give up responsibility, nor an opportunity to look down on others for how they struggle.

This passage gives us some tremendous helpful insight into how we interact in Christian community. Ask the Lord to make it real to you right now. Listen to what he has to say to you.

FRUIT, OR FLESH?

fruit

When you are facing a choice or considering whether or not something is from the Lord, ask yourself: “Does it look more like the flesh, or more like the fruit?” The fruits of Spirit are the manifestations of the character of Jesus in us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 22

Galatians # 22 . Chapter 5:22

We’ll consider the other fruits of the Spirit this time, and possibly even wrap up chapter 5.

The next is patience. The New Testament uses this word in connection with two main things. The first, is to describe the patience of God, when he withholds judgment (Rom 2:4; 9:22; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:15). In that context, it has the idea of withholding punishment, putting up with us and forbearing.

This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (1Tim 1:15-16, HCSB)

There are many other verses using the same Greek word. Often it used just like it is here (2 Cor 6:6, Eph 4:2; Col 1:10-12).The Christian Life should be characterized by it:

Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. (Col 1:10-12, HCSB)

Patience is not the same as mere restraint. I think one key to understanding it is that there is waiting involved. Patience doesn’t give up – it waits with expectation, but it waits without agitation. You can’t manufacture Holy Spirit-patience. The only way to get it is to keep on getting closer to Jesus.

Kindness is an interesting Greek word: chrestotes. If you know any other languages, you know that sometimes a direct word-to-word translation is impossible. Some languages have words that others simply don’t have. I think chrestotes is probably one of those words. A few versions of the bible translate the word as “graciousness.” The word means something like “moral excellence, combined with compassionate intentions and actions.” In other words, it isn’t just blindly being nice to people. It is moral goodness combined with benevolent actions or intentions. The “moral excellence” is a very important part of this word.

Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Rom 2:3-4, HCSB)

Another way to describe kindness might be “righteousness combined with compassion.”

Goodness. “Good” is such a common word, both in Greek and English, that is sometimes hard to get a handle on it. What does it mean that goodness should be growing in us like a fruit? Moral “rightness” is part of goodness. A sense of being blessed is associated with what we call goodness. In this case, your goodness will give others a sense of being blessed through you. I know a few people that I would describe as good. You know, almost right away, that they are trustworthy. You know that they will do the right thing. You know you are safe around them.

Faith is the Greek word pistis, which I have often mentioned in the past. I contend that most often, it should be translated to mean “trust in Jesus.” In this context, however, we assume that you won’t have any fruit of the Spirit at all, unless you first trust Jesus. So here, I think Paul means a practical, daily trust, an entrusting of your everyday life to Jesus, his will and his purposes. It means you trust him with your problems and relationships, you trust his guidance and what he says through the Bible. You release control of your life to Jesus.

Gentleness. 1 Peter 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:25 and Galatians 6:1 all talk about gentleness in the context of correcting others. We are supposed to hold firmly to our beliefs. But we are not supposed to be harsh with those who are going astray.

Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. (1Pet 3:15-16, HCSB)

In other verses, gentleness is supposed to generally characterize how we treat each other.

Self-Control is not a compound word in Greek, as it is in English. It implies that you are master of your own desires. Remember, the flesh gratifies itself. But the Spirit exerts control over desires of the flesh. As the Spirit grows in you, you become more able to say “no” to the flesh and “no” to your immediate desires.

As I mentioned last week, all of these thing grow in us, if we remain in Jesus. I also suspect that the different kinds of fruit grow at different rates in each person. I know people who seem to exude peace, but they don’t have much self-control. I know others who have a lot of self-control, but joy is still a very small and immature fruit in their lives. That’s probably normal. We do want all the fruit of the Spirit to keep growing in us, but I think it is OK to accept that some kinds will grow faster than others, and that other people will have different strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s back up and remember the context for all of this. Paul has said we do not live any more by law. This isn’t an excuse to gratify or indulge the flesh. Instead, now, free from the law, we walk by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, working through our spirits, leads us. More than that, the Holy Spirit is putting the character of Jesus into our lives.

Remember what Paul said in Galatians 2:20

For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:19-20, HCSB. Italic formatting added for emphasis)

To put it another way, the fruits of Spirit are the manifestations of the character of Jesus in us. That character is being formed in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is important for several reasons.

First, this gives us a little bit of help in knowing where we stand with Jesus. The law can’t help us, but the evidence of Jesus’ character in us can. Paul says the works of the flesh are obvious. If we see those having power in our lives, we know that there is problem. Jesus, living in us, does not do the works of the flesh. On the other hand, when we see the fruit of the Spirit growing – even if it is small and unripe – we know that Jesus is at work in us. The point here is not how much you have, but rather, how much it is growing. The question is not, “How much peace do you have?” Rather, the appropriate thing to ask is “Do you have more peace now than you did last time you faced this kind of situation?”

It is helpful to remember the fruit of the Spirit when you are looking for guidance. I actually knew a Christian once who claimed that God led him to have an affair. He was out of a job, and we prayed for him to find a new job. He did, and he felt like God gave him that job. The first person he met at the new job was a woman, and they really connected. So, he reasoned that God wanted them to meet, and to have an affair. But if he had been willing to pay attention, this passage would have showed immediately that God was not leading him to sin. That is clearly listed as one of the works of the flesh. It was his flesh, not the character of Jesus, which led him.

Say you have to make a decision, and you want to walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh. If you think you are being led, make sure, first of all that your choice will not result in the works of the flesh. Then, look at the fruits of the Spirit. Is there joy associated with one choice? Joy is a fruit of the spirit, so the Spirit may be leading you in that direction. Is what you want to do motivated by self-sacrificing love, love that puts the welfare of others before your own? If so, it may be the work of the Spirit. Do you have peace as you move forward in this direction? True peace comes from the Spirit, so it may be him. Are your desires, and the desires of the flesh, under control, or is this about self-gratification? Does your choice involve moral excellence or kindness or gentleness? We can learn to recognize Jesus at work in us, showing his character, to point us in the right direction. To sum it up, when you are facing a choice or considering whether or not something is from the Lord, ask yourself: “Does it look more like the flesh, or more like the fruit?”

There is another place where knowing about the fruit of the Spirit can be helpful. True Christian maturity is measured in terms of the fruit of the Spirit. A lot of folks like to measure it by the gifts the Spirit, or even by outward appearances. But the Lord gives different gifts and abilities and looks. A mature Christian may or not be a dynamic preacher. A mature Christian may or may not be gifted in making people comfortable. He might not have a gift of making others feel good about themselves. A mature Christian may or may not have the gift of tongues, or the gift of healing. A mature Christian might not be outwardly successful. She might be fit, or might be a little bit overweight. She might be plain, or beautiful. None of these things have to do with maturity.

And just because someone does have the gift of healing, or does have a successful ministry, does not make them mature. I know of two different individuals who have a proven gift of healing. When they pray for people, those people are genuinely healed of real physical ailments and diseases. It’s amazing. And yet, both of these individuals are significantly immature in the fruit of the Spirit.

We don’t measure Christian maturity in terms of gifts, skills or talents or success. We don’t measure it by outward appearances. We measure Christian maturity by these things right here: the fruits of Spirit. That is because these fruits are manifestations of the life of Jesus inside of us.

Paul finishes with this thought:

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal 5:24-26, HCSB)

In many ways, this verse reiterates what Paul said in Galatians 2:20. We are dead to the law. Our flesh is also dead to us. As I’ve said before in this series, our flesh is actually physically dying. Let its passions and desires die with it. Now, I know that all sounds fine and noble, but the truth is, Paul describes it as a crucifixion. Our flesh is crucified with Jesus. But when deny our flesh, it does hurt. It is hard. Crucifixion is painful. So, I’m not saying it is easy. But it is a matter of focusing on who you truly are, in Jesus.

Paul said something very similar in Romans:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (Rom 8:5-10, ESV2011)

We need to set our minds on the things of the Spirit. We need to focus on who we really are, in Jesus. What are those things? Well, a great place to start is right here in Galatians 5:22, with the fruit of Spirit.

Ask the Lord to speak to you about this today.

PEACE

peacedove2

When you know that you are loved, that you are truly and totally forgiven; when you know that your shame is removed and the most important part of you has been made holy, there is not only joy, but also peace. Something inside you becomes settled, able to be at rest, both in good times and in bad. The internal struggle is over.

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To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 21

Galatians #21 . Chapter #5:22, part B

Let’s see. My last few days have gone like this: I started the week knowing that I was getting less than half of my regular income, with no reason to believe that might change. Meanwhile, we paid $80 for a plumber to tell us there is nothing wrong with our pipes. We lost our little dog, who is like part of our family, and dearly beloved by all, especially our children. And we got a message that our oldest daughter’s college financial aid application, which has already been held up for five months, is still in limbo. We heard about extended family members who are upset with us, and we were crazy busy from Monday through Thursday, and our heating and air-conditioning system is malfunctioning. There is more, but you get the point.

The message this week is about peace. I should have known.

We are examining the fruit of Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22. Last week we considered joy in depth, and we saw that is was not dependent on circumstances. Actually, that is true about all the fruit of the Spirit. Remember, love, the first fruit of the Spirit? The word for love is the Greek word agape. It means self-sacrificing love. Agape is the result of a decision and a commitment to honor and value another person. It is not dependent on what you feel, or even what the other person does or fails to do. In the same way, all of this fruit flows from the Holy Spirit, through our spirit. None of the fruit of the Spirit depends on what happens, or fails to happen, externally. These are manifestations of the character of Jesus Christ, arising from within us, not outside of us. In some ways, the fruit of the Spirit is most lovely and obvious when it is in stark contrast to our circumstances.

With that in mind, it is clear that peace, as one of the fruits of the Spirit, does not mean that there is no turmoil in your circumstances. In fact, it might be the opposite. It could be that outside, your world is crumbling, but you are sustained from the inside by the peace of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word is pronounced “ei-renay.” It is used some 85 times in the Greek New Testament.

Virtually all of the apostles seem to use “peace” as a key part of greeting other believers (the exceptions are James, and whoever wrote Hebrews). Within the first few verses of each of his letters, Paul says something like this:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! (Phlm 1:3, NET)

Jude, John and Peter do much the same:

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (2John 1:3, NET)

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! (2Pet 1:2, NET)

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. (Jude 1:2, HCSB)

The only other thing consistently proclaimed in these greetings is grace. What this says, is that, in the minds of the apostles, peace is a key part of the message of good news. It is central to what Jesus has accomplished for us; it is closely connected to the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ.

This makes sense to me. When you know that you are loved, that you are truly and totally forgiven; when you know that your shame is removed and the most important part of you has been made holy, there is not only joy, but also peace. Something inside you becomes settled, able to be at rest, both in good times and in bad. The internal struggle is over. Sometimes the bible describes this as “peace with God.”

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Rom 5:1, NET)

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:17-18, NET)

This peace remains, regardless of what else may be happening. Jesus said that he himself gives us this kind of peace:

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. (John 14:27, HCSB)

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33, NET)

Jesus doesn’t say that this peace is based upon the absence of trouble on the outside. In fact, he says the opposite. The peace that world gives is temporary. It is based upon things going well for you. Jesus says, his peace isn’t so weak. His peace conquers, even in the middle of trouble and suffering. Paul says elsewhere that this peace we have often doesn’t make sense to the human mind. It isn’t rooted in the here and now. We get it by trusting God with everything, every situation, with the sum total of our lives:

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7, NET)

The peace Paul talks about here is “beyond understanding.” If things were all good on the outside, peace might be understandable. But this peace surpasses our comprehension, because it is rooted not in in circumstances, but in relationship to God through Jesus Christ.

So, how do you get peace?

We talked about this last time. Holy Spirit-peace does not come from our striving or our effort. It doesn’t come from us trying hard, or saying, “I am at peace! I am at peace!” It comes from being connected to Jesus. The closer we are to Jesus, the more peace will grow in our hearts.

Someone in one of our small groups mentioned something very important this week. Paul describes these things as fruit, and fruit do not grow all in one day. Early in spring, all you can see is a little shoot, or a tiny swelling at the end of a twig. Gradually, over a period of days or weeks, you perceive a bud. A while after that, you see a pretty flower, but still no fruit. Then, at first the fruit is tiny, and it would be bitter to eat. But it slowly grows. The point is, all these things are character qualities that grow in us. That word “grow” should encourage you. This text is not here to show you that you ought to have it all together. These things grow in us in increasing measure, as we stay connected to Jesus. Maybe right now, you only have a little bit of peace, joy or love. That’s OK. Some is better than none.

The fruit will grow if you stay connected to Jesus. Being connected to Jesus means you continue to rest in him, trust him, seek him through the bible and through prayer and fellowship with others. It means that when you understand he is asking you to something, you do it. If you remain in Jesus, this fruit will grow. And it will grow at the pace set by the Holy Spirit.

So, if need be, you can have peace about how little peace you have. You can be patient with your lack of patience. Stay connected to Jesus, and let the fruit grow.

There is another aspect to peace that the New Testament talks about frequently. I think this second meaning of peace arises from the kind of peace we’ve been talking about. But this secondary peace is important to. It is peace among believers. In other words, the result of the Holy Spirit being in both you and me, should be that we find common ground, and learn ways to get along without a lot of strife and wrangling and arguing. Remember the flesh? The flesh wants its own way. But the Spirit wants Jesus’s way. When we walk with Spirit, and submit to what he wants, rather than satisfying the flesh, the natural result will peace among Jesus-followers. I’m not saying everything will always be perfect, because you all just aren’t as right as I am J. Even so, one result of walking by the Spirit should be increasing harmony between people who are remaining connected to Jesus.

Sometimes, maybe we have a choice about whether to embrace God’s nonsensical peace, or to turn away. Paul writes to the Colossians:

Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. (Col 3:15, NET)

It sounds like he is saying they have a choice to let the peace of Jesus Christ control their hearts, or not. I think this might mean giving up trying to get fleshly satisfaction, and embracing Jesus and his promises, and whatever situation he has you in at the moment. I think this involves a choice of either trusting God, or retaining the right to be stressed and upset about your situation.

I’ll close with some more words about peace:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2Thess 3:16, NET)

THE JOY OF HOPE

joy

Joy seems to be connected to hope. The more superficial your hope, the more superficial your joy. And so, from that most powerful and eternal of hopes, comes the most powerful and lasting joy. When our largest and deepest hope is rooted in eternity, no circumstance, no trouble, hardship or grief can prevent us from having joy. And that is the picture of joy that we get from the Bible.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Galatians Part 20

Galatians #20 . Chapter 5:22

Last week, we looked at what Paul calls the “works” of the flesh. This time, we’ll dig into his description of the “fruits” of the Spirit. When Paul calls the one “works” and the other “fruits,” it is definitely intentional. He isn’t just using a literary device to make the letter more interesting to read. I believe that Paul means us to understand that there is something completely different in the character of the Spirit, versus the character of the flesh. Not only do they desire what is opposed to each other, but they also operate in completely different ways.

The flesh exerts energy. The word “works” is actually the Greek word from which we get our English term, “energy.” The flesh involves effort and “push” and, well, work. And the energy of the flesh results in all those things Paul wrote about in verses 19-21.

But the Spirit operates in a completely different way. It is not about energy and effort and working. It is about bearing fruit. This picture was originally given by Jesus, in John 15:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples. (John 15:1-8, HCSB; italics applied for emphasis)

Bearing fruit is a passive activity. I don’t mean that we never do anything. But I mean that real spiritual fruit is not the result of our great effort; it is the result of our great trust in Jesus. Spiritual fruit grows in us as we get closer to Jesus. The more we trust Jesus and obey him and grow closer to him, the natural result will be the fruit of the Spirit. It isn’t up to you to generate energy. It isn’t up to you to push and strive. Instead, sink your roots deep into Jesus, into his love and into his Word (the bible). The fruit of Spirit has both a power and a peace behind it. The fruit illustration, used by Jesus and by Paul, shows us that the key to the Christian life is to remain close to Jesus, and indeed, to keep getting closer to him. What we do flows out of our connection to Jesus. In fact, Jesus points out that we don’t do anything ourselves. He says, “apart from me, you can do nothing.” He bears the fruit through us, as we trust him, and give him access to our lives.

I’m cautious when it comes to speaking about different “styles” of ministry or spirituality. Even so, I have come to have a distrust of people who are always going and always pushing. They may be doing wonderful things “for God,” but I wonder sometimes if is really Jesus working through them, or if it is more them working hard from the effort of their own flesh. And I certainly distrust those who demand that other Christians be always pushing and energetic and doing a lot of activities.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying a good Christian never does anything. But there is a difference between doing something out of self-effort and self-esteem and obligation, and doing something because Jesus, living in you, wants to do it. There is either guilt or stress or competition behind the one; there is joy and peace behind the other.

I want to talk a little bit about some of these fruits of the Spirit, because sometimes, we have a superficial idea of what they mean.

Love. This is the Greek word agape. It does not mean “a feeling of attraction.” It doesn’t mean “brotherly or friendly affection.” Agape (love) is a decision to value and honor another person, and place them and their interests equal to your own (or even ahead of your own). Sometimes feelings are associated with it; sometimes they are not. You can actually feel bad, or even negative, toward someone, and still make a choice to “agape” them – to honor them, value them, and make their interests and needs a high priority. This is impossible to do out of self-effort or flesh. It comes from God.

Joy. Let’s not get confused about this one. Joy is not a superficial pleasure found in the present moment. It is not merely a human emotional response to good or pleasant circumstances. Over and over again, the Bible talks about joy in the midst of difficulty and suffering. Here are just a few examples:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, ​yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Hab 3:17-19, ESV2011)

Habakkuk declares that he is rejoicing in the Lord. He takes joy in the God of his salvation. His circumstances are, frankly, rotten. But his joy is rooted not in what is going on externally in his life, but in his relationship with God.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions… (Rom 5:1-3, HCSB)

Paul says that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, and we do so, even in our afflictions. Affliction does not bring pleasure. It does not naturally result in happiness. But joy is possible in affliction. That joy, says Paul, comes from our hope in God and his work in us to make us righteous and give us grace.

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance. You know what kind of men we were among you for your benefit, and you became imitators of us and of the Lord when, in spite of severe persecution, you welcomed the message with joy from the Holy Spirit. (1Thess 1:5-6, HCSB)

The Thessalonians went through severe persecution, and were filled with joy from the Holy Spirit in the midst of it.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia: During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity. (2Cor 8:1-2, HCSB)

Again, the Macedonian Christians experienced a severe testing by affliction and, at the same time, an abundance of joy.

When I was a young single man, I found myself living in a city I did not like, doing a job I did not like, with very few friends, little money and some difficult relationships with co-workers. At the same time, I was filled with joy. The joy came from the fact that I was falling in love with a young woman who was falling in love with me. Even so, Kari lived almost four-hundred miles away. My daily reality was not very pleasant. I didn’t have joy from my circumstances. But my joy was in my growing relationship with Kari – even though she was not physically present with me. Believe it or not, young folks, this was before the Internet, email and cell phones. We talked on the phone once in a while, but mostly, we wrote letters to each other. Though I hoped and yearned for us to be together, I did not need Kari’s physical presence with me in order to have joy in our relationship. That joy was independent of anything else that was going on in my life.

Christian joy, Holy-Spirit-joy is very similar. You don’t need to have great circumstances going on in order to have it. Spirit-joy comes from your relationship with Jesus. It comes from your hope of eternal life with him. Matthew Henry writes this:

The joy and peace of believers arise chiefly from their hopes. What is laid out upon them is but little, compared with what is laid up for them; therefore the more hope they have the more joy and peace they have.

I think Matthew Henry is on to something. Paul says to the Romans:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Joy seems to be connected to hope. This makes a great deal of sense. The more superficial your hope, the more superficial your joy. If you hope to find donuts at church, and you do find them there, you may have a momentary burst of joy, but it will not last much longer than the final bite. It is a small hope, and therefore a small joy. When we hope for things that will not last, we will have joy that does not last.

We also find, strangely, that when a shallow hope is fulfilled, joy diminishes. A few months ago, I was looking forward toward a two-day block of free time that I would have when I was in California for a conference. I was hoping to spend time climbing in Joshua Tree National Park. That hope gave me joy for two or three months. Now that I have been there and done that, and it is no longer something to look forward to, I get less joy when I think about it. Now, this is not true of more meaningful hopes. I still get a great deal of joy from my relationship with Kari. But that relationship is life-long, and much deeper than a trip to California, or a donut.

This is why we get the greatest, most powerful and enduring joy from our hope of heaven, and hope of an entirely restored relationship with God and all of his new creation. It is a hope that will not be fulfilled in this life. It is a love that cannot be marred by our circumstances or our failures. And so from that most powerful and eternal of hopes, comes the most powerful and lasting joy. When our largest and deepest hope is rooted in eternity, no circumstance, no trouble, hardship or grief can prevent us from having joy. And that is the picture of joy that we get from the Bible.

Now, feelings of joy can come and go. But I suspect that we can tap into those joyful feelings more reliably when we fix our hope more fully on being close to Jesus and the wonder of the New Creation that comes after this life.

It seems to me that far too many people think like this: “I’ll deal with eternal matters at some point when I have the time. Right now, I need to focus on getting my next raise, and putting my kids through college.” Maybe it isn’t about a raise or college, but too often, we focus on superficial and shallow hopes, and as a result we have only superficial and shallow joys. We think it is most important to deal with what is immediately in front of us. However, even though it seems like eternal life and Jesus are “out there,” if we focus on them, and put our hope on them right now, it makes a huge difference in our level of joy, right now.

This wasn’t exactly my original plan for this message, but that’s okay. I assume that some of you needed to hear this about hope and joy this morning. Take a minute to ask the Holy Spirit what he is saying to you right now. Be sure and be willing to do whatever he asks you to do as a result of what he is saying.

THE WORKS OF THE FLESH

rock underwater

How do we know we are living by the Spirit, and not the flesh? Well, there is a contrast. The flesh does certain things. The Spirit results in different things. This isn’t about law. It is about knowing the difference between flesh and Spirit.

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Galatians #19 . Chapter 5:19-21

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21, HCSB)

There are many tensions in the Christian life. One of those tensions has to do with forgiveness and grace on the one hand, and sin and the flesh on the other. This is one of the passages that shows us the tension. Paul has spent almost five chapters explaining that we cannot earn God’s approval. We can only trust Jesus, and that through Jesus we have it. Our sins cannot keep us separated from God any longer, because through Jesus, sin has been dealt with, once and for all. And yet, that is not an excuse to sin. Paul explains that if we continue on practicing works of the flesh, we won’t be a part of God’s kingdom at all. How do we reconcile these things?

Paul gives us these descriptions as a guide. He has told us to not indulge the flesh, but rather, live by the Spirit. How do we know we are living by the Spirit? Well, there is a contrast. The flesh does certain things. The Spirit results in different things. If you find you are practicing the things of the flesh, it is time for a course correction.

Paul names several different things as works of the flesh. After that list, he says, “and anything similar.” So this is not a complete or exhaustive list. He isn’t making a catalogue of every sin of the flesh, he’s just painting an overall picture. I’m not going to go into each of these in detail, because the main point is the overall picture. These are just a few examples of what “the flesh” can look like. However, I do want to mention just a couple of the works of the flesh he uses as examples, because some of them are not recognized as wrong anymore. My point is not to just generally condemn people. We are all sinners; we are all saved by Jesus. But living according to the flesh, as we’re about to find out, is spiritually dangerous, and often destructive to our personal lives. So we ought to be clear about some of what society calls “normal” but the bible calls “the flesh.” PLEASE do not take this as condemnation. Take it as motivation to let Jesus lead your life, instead of living to please yourself or other human beings. Even if what follows is hard to listen to, stay with me. I think you’ll find some grace if you read on through the hard stuff and hear what else the Lord has to say to you today.

One of the works of the flesh is “sexual immorality.” This is a very broad term, and it means, “any sexual activity that takes place outside of marriage.” So it includes sex before marriage, adultery, homosexual sex, pornography and, well, anything that isn’t between a married couple.

I think the culture at large has stopped believing that sexual immorality is wrong. But truth is truth, regardless of how many people believe it. According to the bible – this very passage, in fact – it is wrong. People have changed their behavior, and they’ve changed their views to match their behavior. But the truth hasn’t changed.

I have some advice for young people who find themselves in a pattern of having sex without getting married: Just get married already. If you don’t love the other person enough to marry her, then you are just using her for sex, and isn’t that just a little despicable? But if you do love her enough to marry her, what’s the problem? Go on and tie the knot already. This is basically what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. You can send me a thank-you card on your twentieth anniversary.

Another one we don’t think about much, is idolatry. When I was a little kid in Hong Kong, I saw actual idols all over the place. There was a giant statue of some Buddhist god right next to the beach we went to every week, and we saw smaller ones scattered in all sorts of locations. But in the Western world that kind of idol is pretty uncommon. However the basic principle behind idolatry is alive and well, all over the world. An idol is a false god. It is something that we treat as God, even though it is not.

In the Western world, we don’t treat statues as gods. But many people treat money as a god. People seek comfort in money. They put it first in their lives. They dedicate their lives to its service. That’s idolatry. We can make other people into idols as well – seeking comfort in them, dedicating our lives to them, rather the Lord of all Creation. In this way, mothers can even treat their children as idols, or husbands, their wives. We might turn anything into an idol: success; food; being healthy and fit. Here in Music City, USA, I’ve met a lot of people who treat music as an idol. If you seek your main comfort in it, if it has a higher priority in your life than the one true God – even if it is religious activity, but not God himself – it is an idol.

Another thing Paul mentions is drunkenness. This is another thing that our culture accepts, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone much. But the bible calls it a work of the flesh, a sin. Now, some folks might ask, “How drunk do you have to be before you’re ‘Bible-drunk?’” (Did I just invent a new phrase?) If you are really asking that question, I think you are probably already in danger from the flesh. You want to know how far you can “legally” go in indulging your flesh. I’ll talk about that in a minute.

Paul describes the works of the flesh and then writes, those who prassontes such things will not inherit eternal life. The Greek could be transliterated as “prassontes.” The root form of the word is “prasso.” Prasso means “to practice; to do something repetitively.” Here are a few places where the word is used in a similar way:

“This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices (prasso) wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.” (John 3:19-21, HCSB)

Although they know full well God’s just sentence — that those who practice (prasso) such things deserve to die — they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice (prasso) them. (Rom 1:32, HCSB)

Prasso is used frequently in the New Testament. In Galatians 5:21, the form of the word is both present tense, and active. What is important about all that, is that Paul is not referring to occasional failures. He means a deliberately chosen, ongoing pattern of life – repeated practicing – of these works of the flesh. In Romans 2:25, Paul uses the word for people who “observe” the law. In that context it is clear. Those who observe the law do not simply do one part of the law once in a while. It is the pattern of their lives. So, here, with regard to works of the flesh, Paul is talking about a present, active, ongoing pattern of life. He says, those who live this way, who make it their practice to behave in this way – those people will not inherit the kingdom of God.

So, we need to be clear. We don’t mean that an alcoholic who falls off the wagon will be automatically excluded from God’s kingdom. On the other hand, someone who continues a pattern of drunkenness, is walking by the flesh, and walking further and further away from God. Let me say too, I’ve known many functional alcoholics who lie to themselves about whether or not they are really drunk. They might say, “I’m not drunk, I’m just a little buzzed is all.” If you have a pattern of being “a little buzzed” fairly often, you are in danger.

We aren’t talking about sometimes giving in to temptation. I’m not saying that to do that is right. But I am saying that the great spiritual danger comes when giving in to temptation becomes a way of life. If you want to know how many times a week it is OK to give into temptation, my response is, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” If you want to know how much you can get away with, you are moving in the direction of flesh, not Spirit.

My struggle in preaching about this, is that I know there are some folks out there who live in an agony of guilty feelings. They worry that every little thing they do wrong is going to destroy them spiritually. To them, I want to say, “God is much bigger than that. The work of Jesus is much more powerful. Of course you should confess and repent, but don’t waste time with guilt and shame. Jesus came to remove those things. They are not part of you anymore.”

On the other hand, a new survey just this week shows that 62% of Americans think they are going to heaven when they die, and only 1.5% think they will go to hell. Other polls show that among people who believe in heaven (which is about 89% of the population), 85% think they are going there. The bottom line is, a lot of people who really have nothing at all to do with God, think they are going to be part of his kingdom after they die. And even some church-goers and people who call themselves Christians, are living completely according to the flesh.

I had a friend who was a Christian. He struggled with alcohol, and with sexual immorality (the two often go together). He was married, but at one point, he invited his mistress to live with him and his wife. As things got worse and worse, I spoke with him. I said something like this:

Imagine you are in a boat in the middle of an ocean, in water that is one thousand feet deep. You pick up a big, heavy rock, take a deep breath, and jump off the boat. You want to go down deep, and the rock will take you there fast. If you let go of the rock soon enough, you will be able to swim back to the surface. But the longer you hold onto the rock, the deeper it takes you and the more dangerous it becomes. Long before you get to the bottom, you will pass a point of no return, where you won’t have enough breath to make it back up to the surface before you drown, even if you let go of the rock.

This is you, my friend. Let go of the rock, before it is too late.

My friend did not let go of the rock. He destroyed his family, hurt many people, and died before he was 45 years old. Now, most people don’t die young just because they are living according to the flesh. My main point is that he never turned back. Once a strong Christian, he basically renounced his faith, rather than renounce his lifestyle of the flesh. And that is the point. Somewhere down the road, the choice between flesh and spirit becomes solidified. At a certain point, which is probably different for each person, at least some people become hardened and never do turn back to life with Jesus. Now, I don’t want to start a theological argument about whether or not you can lose your salvation. I am merely repeating what Paul himself wrote:

I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The apostle John wrote something interesting that may have bearing on this. He said:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that does not bring death, he should ask, and God will give life to him — to those who commit sin that doesn’t bring death. There is sin that brings death. I am not saying he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin that does not bring death. (1John 5:16-17, HCSB)

Sometimes, a sin is the result of a moment of weakness. It’s still a sin. It’s still something we ought to avoid. We should still repent (that is, reject it as a way of life) and confess (own up to it). But it is not something on which to waste a lot of time and energy. What I mean is, we turn away from the sin, we apply the work of the Jesus on the cross to it, we cling to Jesus as our holiness and move on with life.

But sometimes a sin is part of a long-term pattern of living by the desires of the flesh. We are holding on to the rock. We are going down; it is leading us to death, to separation from the kingdom of God.

Some people may want to know, “Just how far down can I go, and still let go of the rock and get back safely?” In other words, “just how much sin, how much indulging my flesh can I get away with before it is a problem?”

I think that type question is asked by two completely different groups of people. Some people may ask that, because they are worried that they have passed the point of no return. They know they have given in to the flesh many times, and when they hear bible passages like this, they think, “Oh my gosh, have I screwed it all up? Have I lost my salvation?” They want to know the answer to that question because they are worried that their sins have disqualified them.

To that first group of people, I want to repeat Paul’s first words to the Galatians:

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (Gal 1:3-4, HCSB)

Do not fear, the work of Jesus is stronger than the work of your flesh. Martin Luther says it like this:

“Those who sin because of weakness, even if they do it often, will not be denied forgiveness, provided that they rise again and do not persist in their sin.”

If you are worried about your flesh because you don’t want to be drawn away from Jesus, you are probably in a good place. You don’t have to worry. Just fix your eyes on Jesus. Remember that in him, you are already holy. Claim that as your identity, and live accordingly.

There are people, however, who simply want to know how much they can get away with. They ask the question because they want to indulge their flesh some more, if they can, and still go to heaven. These are the folks I worry about. Imagine a husband who comes to his wife and says this:

“Honey, how close can I get to having affair before it is a problem for you? Can I look at other women? Can I fantasize about them? What about flirting – can I do a little harmless flirting? What about kissing another woman? That’s not technically cheating, is it?”

I think it would be obvious that there is a problem in that marriage. If the husband wants to know what he can get away with, he is clearly not very interested in his wife, or loving toward her. These types of questions show that the relationship is in serious trouble.

It’s the same with Jesus. If someone wants to know how far they can indulge the flesh before it’s a problem, I’d have to say, “It’s obviously a problem right now.” Think about my illustration of the rock that is pulling you under water. When should you let go of the rock? Right now! However deep you are, let go of it immediately. If you are contemplating holding on to it a little longer, you already in the danger zone! If you want to know how much you can indulge the flesh (so that you can get the maximum amount of flesh-indulgence possible without losing salvation) you are already oriented toward the flesh, and not the Spirit.

But if you are walking according to the flesh – if you are in a pattern of indulging the flesh – it is time to let go of the rock. Luther puts it this way:

Persistence in sin is the worst of all. If they do not return to their sense but stubbornly go on gratifying the desires of their flesh, this is the surest possible sign of dishonesty in their spirit.

We aren’t saved by refraining from sin, or by doing good works. But the orientation of our soul does matter. Sometimes we fail. I get that. PLEASE don’t let that discourage you or hang you up. Just don’t fall into the trap of indulging the flesh as a pattern or lifestyle.