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Ordo Salutis: Spiritual Disciplines

As I have taught this ordo salutis at my church, we have exposed ourselves to the spiritual disciplines. Evangelicals regularly emphasize such disciplines as Bible reading and prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and community. They may even encourage other forms of spiritual discipline without labeling them. As far as I know, it is only since Richard Foster’s release of The Celebration of Discipline several decades ago that evangelicals have started to embrace the broad spectrum of spiritual disciplines as valuable.

Spiritual disciplines are a means of grace. They are part of the “path of disciplined grace” as Foster says. This does not mean they are the sole means of grace, but any discussion of the avenues God has appointed to distribute His grace to us would be severely lacking without mention of them. They are, as Dallas Willard says, wisdom not righteousness. In the disciplines, we do not earn righteousness but become wise toward the ways of God.

Galatians 6:8 says, “Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”  Richard Foster comments, “A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines–they are a way of sowing to the Spirit…. By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 7).

G.K. Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy something to the effect that we falsely assume that something consistent does not have life in it, such as a clock. We are wrong. Consistency is actually a sign of life. He gives the example of children who say, “Do it again,” to parents who get tired quickly and then says God may be much younger than we. Our inconsistency gives away the death within us. The spiritual disciplines are, if anything, the consistent way to let God breathe life into us.

Inward disciplines are those that one does in solitary that no one knows about. These are those Jesus speaks about in Matthew 6 where we must be careful not to get our reward from people observing our deeds of righteousness. Outward disciplines are ones that one does where there is evidence of the act. They are not necessarily done alone—in fact, some of them seem to require a relationship with others. But they are not done intentionally with others. And corporate disciplines are those done together with a consistent group of other Christians. The adjectives describe a person’s relationship to those around him while practicing the disciplines.

Think of it like raising a child. A child, as he grows up, learns new things that will prepare him for life. He learns how to set an alarm clock and wake up early, how to manage his money, how to behave around the opposite sex, how to respect his elders. All of these practices are new at one time but, in time, become a part of who he is. Eventually, he is one who wakes up early, one who can manage his money, etc. And, in time, he becomes a person who wakes up because it makes him a better businessman. He manages his money because it enables financial freedom.

We practice the spiritual disciplines not only so we can be people of prayer, etc. but people for whom prayer provides an avenue for God to change us. If we want to be people of character, of virtue, prepared and ready to rule and reign as people reflecting God’s image in the world, then we must subject ourselves to this path of disciplined grace. And we must remember that change will take time.

Dallas Willard gives correction to those who would complain about the difficulty of the disciplines, as if following Jesus were simple and easy. “Ironically, in our efforts to avoid the necessary pains of discipline we miss the easy yoke and light burden [that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11]. We then fall into the rending frustration of trying to do and be the Christian we know we ought to be without the necessary insight and strength that only discipline can provide. We become unbalanced and are unable to handle our lives” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 7).

Here is a list of some of the basic spiritual disciplines taken from Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.

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Ordo Salutis: Transforming the Body

It’s time to get back to the ordo salutis, or way of salvation. It has been a month since the last post on this.

I’ll be honest, the idea of trying to change my physical body is counter-intuitive. Isn’t spiritual formation something that happens in the unseen, hidden places of the heart and mind? How can changing my body do any good?

Dallas Willard says,

“For good or for evil, the body lies right at the center of the spiritual life–a strange combination of words to most people. One can immediately see all around us that the human body is a (perhaps in some cases even the) primary barrier to conformity to Christ. But this certainly was not God’s intent for the body. It is not in the nature of the body as such. (The body is not inherently evil.) Nor is it even caused by the body. But still it is a fact that the body usually hinders people in doing what they know to be good and right” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 159).

We must remember that our bodies are not in and of themselves evil. We are never told in Scripture to escape them. They are part of God’s good, physical creation. Jesus did not come to us as a spirit, but was the Son of God incarnate, in the flesh. And this is part of the contemporary confusion. There are two Greek words in the New Testament that get used to say “body” and “flesh,” and they mean different things, generally speaking. Body is “soma” in Greek and simply refers to our physical bodies. Flesh is “sarx” in Greek and may refer to one’s physical body, as in John 1:14 where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It may also refer to our sinful nature, or the tendency to act in sin rather than act in accordance with God’s will.

Flesh (sarx) in the NT

While “flesh” in Paul’s letters is not strictly a word that refers to our sinful nature, here are places where it does (see also Romans 7:5; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:17; Galatians 3:3; 6:7-8; Ephesians 2:3).

  • Romans 8:5-13: 5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. 7The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9You, however, are not controlled by the sinful nature but are in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. 12Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
  • Galatians 5:13-26: 13You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one 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. 16So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 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. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

To be “in the flesh” as in Romans 8 refers to someone who is not indwelt by the Spirit, who cannot fulfill the Law of God, and who therefore cannot please God. Flesh in these passages is not physical flesh, as in 1 Corinthians 6:19, where the body of flesh is the temple of the Holy Spirit and is the means of glorifying God (6:20).

Ben Witherington III writes, “The tension in the Christian life is not between old person and new person (for the old person has been crucified and is dead and buried), but rather between Spirit and flesh” (Grace in Galatia, p. 377). He advocates translating sarx as “sinful inclination.” “In other words, I think Paul is talking about the prompting within human beings for their sin (their inclination to do that which they ought not to do), not the resulting effect (a corrupt nature)” (pp. 377-378).

Paul views the death of the flesh as something that has already happened in the death of Christ. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh and its passions (Gal. 5:24). The flesh–the human powers of living that are bent to sin–is based in the physical body. Those whose minds are set on the flesh will do what they want to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 8). But those who are in Christ will not let the desires of the flesh reign in their bodies but will live by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Notice how in Romans 8 the sinful nature, the flesh, is something we can “live according to.” It can be the thing that drives us, that we obey, that we live by. Its opposite it the Spirit (v. 9). We are “in the Spirit”. Even though our bodies are subject to death because we at one time had lived according to our fleshly desires, our bodies will be brought to new life by the Spirit. The Spirit will give life to our bodies. The question is, will this life happen now or only after we die? Paul’s view is that this will happen at the final resurrection after we die. Thus, our bodies will not be completely renewed in this life, and yet they must undergo spiritual formation just like the rest of us so they are no longer slaves to the fleshly desires we have.

The flesh is not the same thing as the body. While we must deal with our flesh’s desires, we do not treat our bodies in the same way.

One of the ways we use our bodies for good or evil is in our body language. For example:

  • We give stern looks to people who cross us.
  • We cross our arms in anger, to distance ourselves from another.
  • We give people “the finger.”
  • We dress our bodies provocatively to attract attention.
  • We hide our bodies in shame by dressing in large clothing or sunglasses.
  • Our facial expressions show sarcasm, envy, jealousy, etc.
  • Our eyes, mouths, etc.

You can see into a person’s heart by the way they walk into a room or look at you. The issue is that not only do our minds begin to develop patterns of thinking, but also our bodies interact with those patterns of thinking and feeling by how they set. Our bodies reinforce, then, our spiritual formation for good or ill.

Training Our Bodies in Anticipation of the Resurrection

Our bodies will one day be resurrected bodies. Heaven is not a place for disembodied souls. The body will be redeemed fully at the general resurrection. Because we anticipate its redemption, we must train it today.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 

We cooperate with God’s grace given to us by choosing to no longer offer parts of our bodies to sin. Romans 6:12-13 says, Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” Whereas we once found it quite easy for our bodies to engage in sinful activity–it doesn’t take anything supernatural for us to take part in fornication, greed, covetousness–we now submit our bodies to Christ and His Spirit.

Dallas Willard says we can do four things for the spiritual formation of the body:

  1. Release our body to God. This is what Paul means when he says, “present our body as a living sacrifice to God” (Romans 12:1). Specifically pray about each part of your body and ask God to take charge of it and to begin giving life to each part.
  2. No longer idolize your body. Stop worrying about what will happen to it with age and sickness, stop spending so much money on making it more beautiful, etc. Take good care of it with diet and exercise, but do not make it an idol.
  3. Do not misuse your body. He says this means not using it as a source of sensual gratification outside of the sexual relationship in marriage and not using it to dominate others. This means not using it in brute force to intimidate, or using it in sexual ways to manipulate or seduce. It also means not overworking it.
  4. The body is to be properly honored and cared for. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:13b-15a, “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” This is part of Paul’s argument for them not to engage in sex with prostitutes. For us, while this may not be a temptation, we are called to treat our bodies like they are members of Christ (Renovation of the Heart, pp. 173-174).

Like everything else God is trying to do in us, the transformation of our bodies anticipates the day when our good bodies are resurrected and perfected. We train them now not in despair because they will disappear one day, but because God will use the very physical material of our current bodies to create our new ones, just as He did with Jesus.

Ordo Salutis: The Fruit of the Spirit

As we continue our walk through a Wesleyan way of salvation,we’ve seen that God wants to renew our minds, our emotions, and our wills, and that involves a necessary “taking off” and “putting to death” of old patterns of thinking, feeling, and wanting. God also wants us to “put on” and to “be clothed with” things such as the virtues, which lead to a life of character. In addition, God wants to produce in us what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” The fruit of the Spirit come from Galatians 5:13-26. What follows is exegetical work on this passage.

13You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one 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.

16So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

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. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

His argument can be summarized in verses 13-18 as follows: Your freedom is not without its limits, as if you might let your inclination to sin have its way in you. You must be enslaved to one another in love; this is your new form of slavery. Rather than trying to obey the Jewish Law as if that will make you righteous, if you love one another, you will have fulfilled the Law and do what the Law was trying to accomplish anyway. If you continue in your divisive speech patterns, this will all be over quickly. Walk in the Spirit, just as you used to be expected to walk in the statutes of the Law (cf. Exodus 16:4; Leviticus 18:4; Jeremiah 44:23; Ezekiel 5:6-7), only this time you’ll be able to not give in to the sinful inclinations you have. This new way of walking involves the Holy Spirit, who will empower you. Why? Because you cannot do both. The sinful inclinations you have are opposed to the Spirit. As I [Paul] implied earlier, let me make clear now: Those being led by the Spirit are not under the law any longer.

This last point, made in verse 18, seems to be the crux of the matter. The Galatians had a choice to make: either continue in the gospel he had preached to them or go back to trying to follow the Law. Only the Spirit, given by Jesus, could empower them to live out from under the reign of sin. It would be apparent to everyone which choice they had made based on either the acts of the sinful inclination or the fruit of the Spirit. “Evident” (Gk. phanera) is translated elsewhere as “laid bare” (1 Cor. 14:25), “plain” (Rom. 1:19), “well known” (Mk. 6:14), and “outward” (Rom. 2:28).

The list of sins in verses 19-21 has been analyzed by scholars for years. Ben Witherington III believes they are written in an A B A pattern, with the first five sins characteristic of the Galatians’ lives prior to salvation in Christ; the next eight sins what they were fighting against currently in the church; and the last two also being sins they struggled with prior to salvation. It is the middle that Paul focuses on when he writes the list of the fruit of the Spirit. “[T]he nine words called fruit are to be contrasted with and seen to overcome the eight words beginning with ‘hostilities’” (Witherington III, 1998, p. 400). If this is the case, and it seems to be, based on the list of terms Paul chooses as part of list “B”, which are found nowhere else in vice lists of popular philosophers of Paul’s day (Witherington, 1998, p. 406)—then Paul is addressing the fighting, biting, and devouring that was going on or that he assumed could go on in the Galatian church if some gave in to Paul’s opponents and submitted to the Law.

The fruit of the Spirit corresponds to “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (vv. 20-21). Whereas the Galatians were in danger of factions and division, this list is of a singular fruit, not fruits. The fruit of the Spirit begins with love, agape. Love is shown by how believers are slaves to one another (v. 13); believers must love their neighbor as themselves (v. 14). It is the most important characteristic of the Christian life.

“It must be kept steadily in view that Paul is here describing social traits, not primarily inner qualities of individuals,” says Witherington III (1998, p. 409). What he means is that this list of fruit can only be displayed in the community of believers. I would disagree that these are not also inner qualities. I think Witherington has set up a false dichotomy. If the Spirit is the one who produces this fruit in believers, then the fruit is inherently an inner reality, a virtue, a characteristic, as well as an outward social trait. The goal is not for an individual to develop the fruit of love or joy in order to display it in the world, though that is a necessary byproduct of being led by the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit have to do with the body of Christ first and foremost.

N.T. Wright (After You Believe, 2010) speaks of the singular fruit,

Just as Plato and others insisted that if you want truly to possess one of the cardinal virtues you must possess them all—because each is, as it were, kept in place by the others—so Paul does not envisage that someone might cultivate one or two of these characteristics and reckon that she had enough of an orchard to be going on with. No: when the Spirit is at work, you will see all nine varieties of this fruit (p. 195).

Paul sums up the passage in verses 24-26. Verse 24 states that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Note how he does not say they have crucified the works of the sinful nature. For Paul, the death of the inclination to sin must go deeper than simply crucifying outward works; it involves putting to death the very inclination to sin in the first place.

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). This verse reminds the Galatians that they cannot assume that their new life in the Spirit automatically translates in living out these fruit among one another. They must cultivate the fruit of the Spirit by keeping in step with the Spirit. Longenecker (1998) writes of the second verb, stoichomen,

Its use elsewhere by Paul, however, suggests ‘walking in the footsteps’ of another (cf. Rom 4:12) or ‘living in accordance with a standard’ (cf. Gal 6:16; Phil 3:16; also Acts 21:24). So here by exhorting his converts to ‘be in line’ or ‘keep in step’ with the Spirit, Paul is asking those who claim to live by the Spirit to evidence that fact by a lifestyle controlled by the Spirit. That he exhorts believers to do what it is the work of the Spirit to produce (cf. vv 22–23) is typical of Paul’s understanding of Christian ethics, for Paul never views the ethical activity of the believer apart from the Spirit’s work nor the Spirit’s ethical direction and enablement apart from the believer’s active expression of his or her faith (266).

Two Trees of the Spirit

It has been a while since I last posted a sermon. Here’s one to chew on for my one faithful reader (thanks mom).

Text: Galatians 5:16-26

Importance of Trees

Two trees. Just outside those windows stand two tall, strong pine trees. I’m guessing they’ve been there as long as this building has. To us they’re just trees. Perhaps they’re nice to look at and perhaps they’re good for shade, but other than that, those pine trees are simply that: trees.

In Biblical times, trees were more than just trees. Cedar and firs were prized and valuable trees that only grew in Lebanon. Willow trees grew along the Jordan River. Oak trees dotted the hills. Olive trees grew in groves.

Trees were also valued for their shade, making them an attractive place to pitch a tent. In a hot climate where walking was the main way of travel, a nice tree provided needed shade for the trip.

In other cultures, trees were places of worship. Some even represented the gods that were being worshiped at that location.

Trees were especially esteemed for their fruit. The Garden of Eden was stocked with trees for food. The Mount of Olives was useful for the oil extracted from the olives. This oil lit lamps.

And Jesus teaches that the tree is known by its fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. You will know a tree by its fruit.

In Revelation the New Jerusalem is described as having a river of life running through it with the tree of life beside it, bearing fruit for the healing of the nations.

Trees played an important role in culture and thought. It is no wonder then, that we hear Paul speak to us in imagery of trees when he describes how we ought to live as Spirit-led people.

Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about two trees. They are both essential to life as a Christian. Let’s look at Galatians to learn more about these trees.

Galatians 5:16-26: So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

The First Tree: Crucifixion

The first tree is found in verse 24. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” You may or may not see the tree at first. But it’s there. It’s in the word crucified.

Most of us are aware of what crucifixion is. It’s hanging someone on a beam of wood with their arms stretched apart to form a “T.” After a while they get tired of supporting themselves with their arms and legs and they slump. They then either die from asphyxiation or dehydration. Most people take at least 2 days to die if their legs aren’t broken.

Jesus died by crucifixion. He was also beaten and bruised. That’s probably why he died so quickly. 1 Peter 2:24 tells us how most people recognized crucifixion to be death on a tree. It says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

Paul is saying that just as Jesus died on a tree, just as common criminals were executed by this type of death, so we must kill our sinful nature. If we claim allegiance to Christ, we kill the sinful nature on a tree.

Why? Look at verses 16-21 again. Verse 17 in particular says that the sinful nature and the Spirit butt heads. They’re in conflict with one another. One desires one thing and the other another.

When you and I disagree about something, the natural response is to talk it over. We would discuss why we have our convictions or opinions, and probably eventually agree to disagree. That would be the end of it. We would live together peaceably.

Paul says that is no option when it comes to the sinful nature. The sinful nature is our bent or propensity to sin. We’re just geared to sin against God and others. We’re bent on getting our own way and doing our own thing no matter what God or anyone else says.

And it’s not something we’re supposed to live with. Last week we talked about being made in the image of God. About how we couldn’t be fully restored in our perfect judgment or ruling the earth or interpersonal relationships; but we can be restored in our knowledge of God and our love for Him. Being fully restored means no more bent to sin. It means no more looking God in the face and giving Him the finger.

Paul describes the acts of the sinful nature as being obvious. They are fully evident, in plain view for all to see. And they are acts, something you do. When I hear this, it says these are common actions, actions that anyone can do—even a two-year old. It doesn’t take something special to have hatred or be selfish or get drunk or be sexually immoral. Anyone can do that, as long as they are living and breathing.

And as long as they allow their sinful nature to be living and breathing. The only solution, the only viable option if you want to live by the Spirit, is the first tree. The tree of crucifixion.

The Second Tree: You

Once you’ve done that, you’re on to the second tree. According to Paul the second tree is you. Just as Jesus spoke of a tree and its fruit, so Paul does as well.

By saying we produce fruit, Paul implies a few things:

1. The fruit of the Spirit is the natural byproduct of life in the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, etc. are not another set of laws to follow, nor a list of goals to meet. They flow out of a Spirit-led life. Verse 25 says we should keep in step with the Spirit. The image Paul has is of us walking in the exact footsteps the Holy Spirit has already walked before us. Friday Jamie and I volunteered at West School and took a field trip with the students. We walked to the Al Ringling Theatre to see Aladdin Jr. The kindergarteners had to walk in pairs, one after the other. They couldn’t turn around and go back to the school to go to the bathroom. When the teacher stopped at an intersection, they had to stop. No walking on the grass; stay on the sidewalk. This is what Paul means: keep in line and follow the Holy Spirit.

2. The fruit of the Spirit can only be produced by someone who has the Spirit living inside them. Though anyone can sin, only a Christian can love with agape; have true joy, peace that passes understanding, etc. Yes, non-Christians can display this “fruit” at times, but not without that tug-of-war with their sinful nature.

3. The fruit of the Spirit give us a glimpse of who the Spirit is and what He’s like. The Holy Spirit is perhaps the most misunderstood person of the Trinity. He’s also the person we focus the least on. Yet He’s living in us so we ought to know who He is. The fruit of the Spirit help us know Him.
4. We cannot produce any other kind of fruit. Verse 16 says that we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Paul uses a double negative in that verse, which means you will “no never” fulfill what the sinful nature wants you to fulfill. If you have crucified the sinful nature on the first tree, your tree will only produce Spirit-fruit. Some say that sin is a thing; it’s something that can be eradicated or taken out of you like you take a tumor out of a person. But what if sin wasn’t the presence of something bad, but was the absence of something good. What if it were the absence of the fullness of the Holy Spirit? That would mean the presence of the Holy Spirit in His fullness would be “the opposite” of sin. And the spiritual fruit produced as a result would be a mark of that fullness.

5. Producing the fruit of the Spirit is a two-way road. You are both walking with the Spirit and being led by the Spirit. You alone cannot produce spiritual fruit; nor can the Holy Spirit force you to. It’s easy to expect this to be an either/or rather than a both/and relationship. It’s easy for us to think, “I can love. I have peace. I’m self-controlled…when we don’t have the Holy Spirit leading us.” It’s also easy to think, “God will make me act this way. Now that I’ve become a Christian, I’ll leave everything else up to God.” Both are extremes and both are extremely false assumptions. The Spirit-led person must also walk with the Spirit.

6. There is no mention of exceptions. Paul doesn’t say this is only for some people. This is for everyone who claims to be in Christ Jesus, who sent us His Holy Spirit. You can’t say, “Well, I’m just not a kind person. I’m naturally bitter and keep to myself.” Though it takes time to produce fruit, especially in new believers, there are still no exceptions. No excuses.

Got the Trees?

Today I have two trees (they were lilac bushes) with me. The one on your left signifies the first tree: the tree of crucifixion. The one on your right signifies the second tree: the tree of fruit. Some of you need them.

You might say you’re a Christian, but for some reason when you compare your life to the fruit of the Spirit, they don’t match up. You’ve tried to live as best you can. You love God and want to live for Him, but sin still rules. You need to be able to say as Paul did, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

Or you look at the list of acts of the sinful nature and know that you fit one of them. Or maybe there’s a sin you’re ashamed of that’s not on the list. You know it’s wrong but aren’t yet willing to crucify it.

Or maybe this is all new to you. You always thought “I am a sinner and I always will be one.” Christ died to set you free from sin, and He wants to give you the fullness of the Holy Spirit today.

No matter who you are, pray that God’s Spirit would produce His fruit in you.

Dumb Stuff and Doctrine

I preached this sermon December 31st as a kickoff to the series on what we believe. The theme was how knowing doctrine affects everyday choices, and how dumb it would be if we chose not to learn what we believe.

Text: Galatians 1:6-12


When I think of New Year’s, I think of two things: lists of the top whatever from the past year and resolutions. This sermon has both. We’ll start with the list, though it’s not a compilation of top stuff from 2006. It’s of dumb stuff people say.

Question: If you could live forever, would you and why? Answer: “I wouldn’t live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever,” —Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA contest.

“I’ve never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body,” —Winston Bennett, University of Kentucky basketball forward in the 1980s.

“Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life,” —Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for a federal anti-smoking campaign.

“If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.” –Bill Clinton, former president

Computer Tech Support: “What does the screen say now?”
Person: “It says, ‘Hit ENTER when ready.’”
Tech Support: “Well?”
Person: “How do I know when it’s ready?”

A man was purchasing a Coke at a gas station. He thought he had a good deal getting one for 49 cents. When he got ready to pay, the clerk told him, “You know, you could get 2 for a dollar.”

These next ones are actually from US Military Reports, describing cadets who didn’t make it. By the way, here’s the disclaimer: I in no way approve of your using these statements to describe anyone else, so once you’ve heard them, shove them out the other ear.
1. A gross ignoramus = 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus.
2. A photographic memory but with the lens cover glued on.
3. A room temperature IQ.
4. Bright as Alaska in December.
5. Donated his body to science before he was done using it.
6. Fell out of the family tree.
7. Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.
8. He’s so dense, light bends around him.
9. If he were any more stupid, he’d have to be watered twice a week.
10. If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean.
11. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
12. Some drink from the fountain of knowledge; he only gargled.
13. Takes him 10 hours to watch 60 minutes.
14. Was left on the Tilt-A-Whirl a bit too long as a baby.

People are known for doing and saying stupid things. We can’t help it. As much as we try to play it cool and act like we’ve got it all together, inevitably we mess up and make fools of ourselves every once in a while. And that’s okay. Just Wednesday night Ashley Wade thought I was weird. It’s okay. It’s normal.

Today we’re talking about something that is normal in the Church, and yet is far from being okay. It’s called heresy. Does anyone know what “heresy” means? It’s a big word that means you don’t believe the doctrine of the church, or you have a skewed view of the beliefs of the church, all which come from the Bible. Heresy isn’t disagreeing from your pastor necessarily, though it can be. Heresy would not be one Christian believing that once you get saved you will always be saved and another Christian believing it’s possible to get saved and fall away from God’s grace. That’s not heresy. Heresy would be believing that Jesus didn’t have a choice on whether or not to go to the cross, or that Jesus could never have sinned. That’s heresy.

And Paul lists heresy as one of the acts of the sinful nature in Galatians 5:19-20. He says, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy….” The word factions can also be translated “heresy.” Paul then goes on to say that those who live like that will not inherit the kingdom of God. So it’s really important to know what you believe…to not be a heretic.

But what is basic Christian doctrine? The core beliefs of Christianity. The non-negotiables. Things found in the Apostle’s Creed. I think most of us have heard it before. In case you haven’t, it reads: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”

That’s basic Christian doctrine. And this year, we’re going to be learning it. But before we do, we need to understand the importance of our 52-week journey. Odds are you’re not going to listen as intently next year if you don’t believe that what I’m preaching is necessary. By seeing what happened in the churches in Galatia, and the mistakes the Christians there made, we’ll know why doctrine is so important.

So, if you have your Bibles, turn to Galatians 1:6-12.

Paul writes to the churches in Galatia, churches he started on his missionary journeys there. And Paul’s main reason for writing this letter is because the new Christians have forgotten what he preached to them. They have forgotten what the gospel means and have fallen into heresy. We can learn from their situation why understanding what we believe is so crucial.

It reads, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

The Judaizers: Dumb Stuff

The first thing I notice about this passage when I read it in comparison with Paul’s other letters is what is missing: Paul’s thanksgiving.

Romans 1:8 says, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.”
First Corinthians 1:4 says, “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”
Second Corinthians 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles.”
Ephesians 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

Paul thanks God in similar fashion in Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians—every letter to a church, EXCEPT this one to the Galatians (See 1 Timothy 1:12, where Paul only thanks God for giving him strength, and Titus. Both letters are written to leaders of churches falling into heresy as well).

Paul obviously is writing about a serious situation, one that causes him to forget all notions of thanksgiving. He gets right to the heart of the matter. They are falling away from the gospel, from the message of the grace of Christ. But why are they falling away? That question is not so easily answered just by looking at these few verses. But if we look at the whole of Galatians, we can tell why Paul was writing. Let’s take a quick survey.

In verses 11-24, Paul talks about being a good Jew, but then getting a call from God to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, non-Jews. Then in chapter 2:3-4, he writes, “Not even Titus, who was with me (in Jerusalem), was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” So somehow Christians in Jerusalem are asking Titus, a Greek, to be circumcised. And Paul associates this with being a false brother and taking away their freedom in Christ. And in chapter 3:15-16, he says, “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Paul makes a contrast between following the law and faith in Christ.

The rest of the book is littered with references to Judaism and the law and to being made free from the law by Christ. What was happening was there were Jewish Christians in some of the churches in Galatia. They were convincing these new Gentile Christians that they needed to be circumcised and to obey the Law of Moses. They were perverting the gospel of Christ—literally “turning something into its opposite.” This word is used here and in Acts 2:20, where the sun will be turned to darkness. And yet to these Jewish Christians this was normal.

Following Jewish customs and traditions and observing Jewish religious laws was a normal way of life for Jewish Christians, whether they were Jews by birth or through conversion. For them, belief in Jesus as the Messiah of Jewish expectation enhanced, but did not replace, their Judaism. Christianity was not regarded as a religion distinct from Judaism but rather as the truest form of Judaism. These Jewish Christians had all been circumcised as infants, or upon conversion to Judaism, and they also practiced the kosher dietary laws and rules of ritual purity prescribed in Mosaic Law and rabbinic tradition. Further, they continued to worship at the temple in Jerusalem until its destruction by the Romans in ad 70, and certain Jewish Christians continued to meet in synagogues.

Yet Jesus never commanded this, nor did Paul. But because they were such new Christians, they were swayed by their Jewish brethren. It’s like how a parent has to teach their children not to talk to strangers, not to go near strangers who ask kids to come to their cars. If the kid never learns that, or learns it but forgets, odds are he/she will be just as friendly with a stranger as with his/her parents. Kids are easily conned into getting into a car for candy or to see a puppy…because they don’t know any better.

The Galatians were easily conned into believing they needed to follow the 613 commands in the Torah and to be circumcised…but they should have known better.

Paul’s Message: Doctrine

So Paul writes in verse 6: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel.” Paul had been there before. He had preached the grace of Christ. And grace is a gift from God. Jesus’ death on the cross was a gift from God. And we can do nothing to add to it. Grace has accomplished everything to bring us to God. And yet these new Christians were now being taught a new way. Follow the rules. Follow the rules, please God, it’s all good. But doesn’t following a bunch of rules in order to please God run smack dab in the face of grace? Yes. It’s like saying God’s gift of grace wasn’t good enough and I need to do more.

Paul redefines what the gospel means. He says it is the gospel of Christ that they preached to them, and that the Galatians accepted, verses 7 through 9. The gospel is all about relationship. That between God and us and between you and I. The gospel is only passed through relationship, when one person trusts another person. When one person cares enough about another person to tell them the good news about Jesus. If all of humanity lived alone, with no friendship, marriage, or family, there could be no gospel.

Paul also makes it clear that the message he preached to them was not something he made up. In verses 11-12, he says, “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” And the interesting thing about what Paul says is his choice of verbs in verse 12. When he says he did not receive it or was taught it, he is using technical terms. Terms used to describe receiving revelation by most people of his day. Paul then uses a third verb at the end: receive by revelation, apokalupsis. That word is what we get “apocalypse” from. It’s why we call the book of Revelation what we call it. It means “uncovering” or “unveiling.” When Jesus revealed the good news to Paul, He revealed Himself, on the road to Damascus. It’s like Paul’s saying, “You can know what I preached to you is truth because first, I didn’t get it from man, and second, because God revealed something of who He is.”

The Galatians were falling away, making dumb mistakes to follow the Law and be circumcised. Paul redefines the gospel, saying it is a gospel of relationships and of God directly revealing Himself to mankind.

Paul’s goal is to get them to not make the dumb mistake. He doesn’t want them to be only as bright as Alaska in December. Paul understood the differences between Judaism and Christianity. Even though many Jews wanted to see Christ as the true teacher of Judaism, and to add Him to what they already practiced and taught, Paul knew God had something else in mind. He writes in the following verses about how far he had advanced in Judaism. He of all people had made the leap from Judaism to Christianity. He knew that what you believed about Jesus and His message would radically change how you live.

If you believed that Jesus was just an add-on to Judaism and a good teacher, your life wouldn’t change that much. It would be too easy to slip into life as you knew it before He came. After all, there had been and would be many more great teachers to explain God’s Word. Jesus could be just another one of them.

But if you believed that Jesus came to show us the Father, and that He called for a radical lifestyle change, in which you loved God with all your heart and loved your neighbor as yourself…it would turn your world upside-down. Paul knew that, and wanted the Galatians to know it as well. That’s why he wrote.

For Us

For you and me today, there are implications to understanding what we believe. Christian doctrine affects the way I treat Muriel and Lewis. Christian doctrine affects the way I view coming to church on Sunday.

Let me give you an example. I believe that salvation is a lifetime experience of growth in grace. I believe that God gives me grace each day, and that without His grace, I would never meet His standard of holiness. And I believe that God’s primary way of giving grace to the world is through His church, which is made up of local churches. Therefore, I make it a priority to be in church whenever the doors are open. Let’s say I believed that salvation is only about saying a prayer and then trying to do my best. I believed that I could just read the Bible and pray, but do it all by myself. God would understand…besides, church is boring. So I don’t go to church unless I feel like it or it works in my schedule. See the difference? By not attending church, I am missing out on God’s grace. I am missing out on experiencing Him, on worshiping Him with others, on seeing people get saved. Yes, you can do all of that apart from a local body of believers, BUT God set up the church to function the way it does. By rejecting God’s church you are saying, “I think God made a mistake.”

The hard part of all of this is that our Church and the Church in Paul’s day are quite different. Instead of having only one group calling us to believe something different, we have literally thousands. Think of all the different denominations of churches in Baraboo alone: Presbyterian, Nazarene, United Methodist, Congregational, Episcopal, Lutheran, Catholic, Assemblies of God, etc. So many churches and so many messages. And on top of that, think of all the televangelists you’ve heard. By one person’s account, there are at least 33,830 “Christian” denominations. Not to mention cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unitarians, Universalists, etc. It would be pretty easy to get mixed up as to what you should believe.

And you may be asking, “So what makes you think you have all the answers?” I don’t. No one does. The Bible is God’s Word, and everything else is commentary. One of the ways we learn about basic Christian doctrine is dialoguing with each other after reading the Bible.

As we look at things like the church, salvation, death, baptism, and creation, think critically. Read the passages you are given in the bulletin before coming to church. Write down questions you may have and ask me. This won’t be like the Spanish Inquisition. We won’t burn you at the stake if you aren’t sure of what you believe.

I’m looking forward to 2007. And here’s the resolution I promised: I promise to be stretched, to be teachable, to yearn to know more of God and His Word, and to not be like some of those military cadets (gate’s down, lights are flashing but no train). I hope that you will make that resolution as well.

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