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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Are leaders born or made? On one hand, leadership qualities and gifts come from God. On the other, skills can be developed over time. It is this development over time that matters most. When it looks like a person just steps up to the challenge in the moment, odds are they are only able to do that because of years of preparation. Sanders cites Joseph as an example of someone who only became prime minister in Egypt after 13 years of hidden training with God at Potiphar’s house and in prison.
Sanders quotes A.W. Tozer, who speaks of the Holy Spirit’s “drafting” of a person into leadership.
A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position by the inward leading of the Holy Spirit and the press of circumstances…. There was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present day but was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task, and commissioned by the Lord to fill a position he had little heart for…. The man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified…the true leader will have no desire to lord it over God’s heritage, but will be humble, gentle, self-sacrificing and altogether ready to follow when the Spirit chooses another to lead.
What I see here is that there are some things that God has you and I doing today that we weren’t ready to do yesterday. Our desire to be effective in the way we lead our small groups is tied to our availability to God’s Spirit, the time we’ve spent letting Him mold us, and the seasons of life we’ve already experienced. And who knows but how God is using the time you spend weekly with others in your small group to shape their lives for future service?
As you plan to reengage your small group this fall, be in prayer about who you might ask to join your group. What phone calls do you need to make? Who do you sense is missing out on hearing from God because they are not sitting with others around God’s word and prayer?
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).
I preached this sermon last Sunday as part of our emphasis on the Holy Spirit. I got sick halfway through writing it so I understand it is choppy. The only way I was able to preach it was through God’s Holy Spirit (seasonal allergies are at war with my nose and throat).
Text: 1 Corinthians 12
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This famous quote from our Declaration of Independence really means nothing. Equality is a sham. The status quo is actually status: who makes the most money, who has the right color of skin, who lives in the right neighborhood, who knows the right people, who lives in the right country, who believes the right things…these are measuring sticks used to size up our competition.
Today I’m not going to talk politics. If I ever do from the pulpit, tell me to sit down. Neither am I going to bash our society, though it could use a stern rebuke. We don’t expect our society to operate by the same standards as we do; it’s not a Christian society. The problem is when our societal norms become our church norms.
I’ve never heard these comments here, but they’re common in churches.
“He’s an usher. I wish I could be an usher.”
“I’m surprised she’s here today. I saw her car parked at the bar last night.”
“They’re on the leadership team. Why didn’t I get picked to be on it?”
“He’s black. Doesn’t he know they have churches for black people?”
“Did you hear about their kids? In trouble at school again. Such a shame.”
The questions we’ve been taught to ask in order to compare ourselves with others at school, work, or in our neighborhoods have permeated our churches. We’re more concerned about being better than others and we’ve forgotten what God thinks of us.
We’ve forgotten that God cares about each one of us the same.
Guess what? We’re not alone. There was a church in the New Testament that thought and acted the same way. It was the Corinthian Church.
Paul addressed this issue in his letter to them, 1 Corinthians. If you have a Bible, open it to 1 Corinthians 12. We’ll look at the whole chapter. Chapter 12 starts out:
Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore, I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (vv. 1-3).
Here is what Paul is dealing with. This is a group of believers who were arrogant and proud. They did not understand spiritual gifts though they thought they did. They cared little for one another, and chaos erupted just about every time they got together. They valued knowledge and wisdom above all else. They believed that those who knew more about God were special. They also thought that this knowledge led directly to speaking in tongues.
This created a dichotomy between those with knowledge/wisdom and tongues and those without. The superior Christians and the inferior Christians.
So Paul gives them a gut check. He says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant about spiritual gifts.” This is really better translated, “spiritual things,” since the word just means pertaining to the spiritual realm. Paul’s sentence is a sarcastic rebuke to a bunch of people who thought they had it all together. Paul even acknowledges their prior experience in spiritual things in verse 2, how they had been led astray by idols. But really this is meant to say, “Hold on a second fellas. You have no idea what the Holy Spirit wants to do in you. Listen.”
He then gives them a spiritual litmus test: Those who speak by the Spirit cannot curse Jesus, and those who confess Jesus as Lord can only speak it through the Holy Spirit.
In a world like theirs, similar to ours, this litmus test was of utmost importance. With hundreds of gods to choose from, and everyone feeling like they’re a spiritual guru, this was and is one way to understand who’s a believer and who isn’t.
This litmus test had to come before Paul wrote about spiritual gifts. If they weren’t loving one another as Jesus commanded, they were in essence cursing Jesus. They claimed to speak by the Spirit (speaking in tongues) but were cursing Jesus by the way they took pride in their “spiritual arrival.” Paul needed to address the hypocrisy before teaching the truth about the Spirit and spiritual gifts.
Verses 4-6: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
His point is simple: To those of you who value tongues and knowledge so much, you’re missing out on everything else. There are many gifts, many types of service, and many types of workings. But only one God.
Spiritual gifts are only for the believer. Though Paul says God works them out in all men, we have to look at that in the context of what He is talking about. He just said they had been led astray by idols in their past. He just said that only people with the Holy Spirit can claim Jesus as Lord.
Verses 7-11: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
Paul’s basic point here is stated in verse 7: Spiritual gifts are given to each person for the common good. Each person receives a gift from the Spirit. It’s not something we can work for, not something only the spiritually elite have, and not something to be wasted or hoarded. Your spiritual gift is for the common good.
Yesterday we had the first “Fearfully and Wonderfully” Made class. And we talked about how wasting our gift is a sin. It is. Matthew 25 tells the story of the talents. The master went away on business, but before he left he gave his servants talents (money). One used the five to earn five more; another used the two to earn two more. But one buried his one talent in the ground, thinking his master would be proud of his shrewd business move. Instead his master rebuked him: “You wicked, lazy servant! You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”
Paul here says that our spiritual gifts, given to us by the Spirit, are for the COMMON good. No burying or wasting. They’re for the body of Christ.
He goes on to illustrate his point in verses 12-26.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
The metaphor of a body for a bunch of people was common. Except it was generally not used in this way. The secular world used it to keep people of lower social class in their place so they wouldn’t rise up against the powerful social class.
Paul pulls a 180, saying things like, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free,” transcending social classes. So instead of everyone trying to become the part of the body that was craved—the head—it was okay to be something else. Not just okay, but necessary.
If everyone is an eye, how can the body hear?
And here’s the point. There must be both diversity and interdependence within the body of Christ. You have to have eyes, ears, fingers, etc. that are different from one another, and yet they all depend on one another.
Your gift isn’t any more special than mine. Mine isn’t any more special than yours. I can’t be a Christian on my own; neither can you.
To summarize, let me give you ten truths about spiritual gifts.
Only believers have spiritual gifts.
Every Christian has at least one gift.
No one receives all the gifts.
No single gift is given to everyone.
You can’t work for a spiritual gift, or it wouldn’t be a gift.
The Holy Spirit decides what gifts I get.
Knowing and accepting the gifts given to me allows me to have an accurate view of myself and my part in Christ’s body.
I am to develop the gifts God gave me.
It is a sin to waste the gifts God gave me.
The purpose of my spiritual gift is to edify the Body of Christ.
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.