June 21, 2020
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
I want you all to think back to your cartoon watching days with me … there’s a specific image or moment I have in mind. It’s when one of the characters is faced with a difficult decision or moral dilemma of some kind and the creators of the cartoon are trying to illustrate the conflicting internal dialogue that’s going on in their head at that very moment. And they illustrate it by putting a devil with a pitchfork on one shoulder, and an angel with a halo on the other shoulder. And there’s this back and forth and back and forth, where each one is trying to persuade you as to what action to take. The angel is saying, “Be the good guy! Make the right decision!” and devil is saying, “Don’t listen to her. Just live a little. You’ve been good for so long … be bad once in a while.” Each one is in conflict with the other, each one is championing a different message than the other, each one is opposed to the other, trying to prevent you from doing what the other one wants you to do.
And while the cartoon illustration is probably intended to be funny more than anything, I think it honestly does a pretty good job of capturing a spiritual reality that you and I know all too well, this internal battle that you and I, as Christians, face just about each and everyday.
And in many ways, this is what our passage this morning is all about. This morning we’re launching a new sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit, and throughout the summer we’ll study a different fruit, there are 9 of them total,yet before we do that, today, we’re going to set up the series with an introduction of sorts, first by locating theFruit of the Spiritwithin its larger scriptural context, which is what we read just moments ago.
And just like the cartoon, our scripture highlights this internal battle that we face, though rather than describing it as a battle between an angel and devil, Paul, the author of Galatians, describes it as a battle between the Spirit and the flesh, by which he means the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit versus our sinful, selfish nature with its own set of desires.
Here again is what Paul says,
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.
You can see just by the way Paul describes the relationship between the two, the Spirit and the flesh that there’s this tension between them, a battle of sorts, or at risk of getting too dramatic, he’s highlighting the war that often takes place within us.
And yet, what does this actually look like? How and where does this battle take place in the everyday stuff of life?
Truth is, sometimes we feel this battle in the smallest of the things that are mostly inconsequential –
For example, think about the moment your alarm goes off in the morning. There’s one voice saying, “Get up, you’ve got a big day ahead of you!” while another is saying, “C’mon, sleep in a little, it’s no big deal.”
Or think about so many moments at the dinner table, such as the decision as to whether or not you should have a second piece of cake? On one hand, you think, “Of course, why not? It’s so good!” versus “No, you’ll end up feeling worse later on and wishing you didn’t”
Now again, to be clear those are rather silly examples. But think about some of the moments of greater consequence in your life.
Say you’re having a heated argument or fight with a spouse or friend of someone you love, and they say something that really hurts you. On one hand you’ve likely got the Holy Spirit guiding you and empowering you, saying, “Respond gently, be loving, don’t retaliate.” while the sinful nature in you is saying, “How dare they? Let them have it. Put them in their place, give them what they deserve.”
Or say you’re taking a test, or writing a resume or filing your taxes and you’re tempted to cheat or lie to get ahead. You’ve got the Spirit saying, ‘Tell the truth’, while your sinful nature is saying, ‘Just fib a little. Everyone else does. Besides, no one will ever find out.’
You see it’s this ongoing battle, this back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. The Spirit and the flesh. The guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit working against our sinful, selfish nature. And it’s a battle that takes place in moments big and small, just about each and every single day.
And as Paul shows us, the stakes between the two are really, really high. That is, when it comes to which of two we give authority to and let lead, which voice or set of desires we give way to, the consequences are very real and the kinds of actions and characteristics and lives they produce within us could not be more different.
As for the works of the flesh, the works of the sinful nature, friends, the kindest way I can put it is that it creates a whole lot of ugly. If you look up and down that list what you find is a list of offences that not only harm our relationship with God, and not only our relationships with one another, but harm ourselves as well.
And yet on the other side, through a life of following Jesus, living a life that is guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, it produces within us a whole lot of beautiful, a bunch of life giving things that not only foster an inner beauty and strength within us, but also give life to those around us, through a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience and the rest.
No doubt about it, I think we all want to be known for that second list, I think we all want our lives to be filled with and be characterized by that Spirit filled, more beautiful list.
And so the naturally the question becomes, how do we live, as Paul says, a life that is led and guided by the Spirit so that our lives naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit? Or to frame it in the negative, how do we keep ourselves from gratifying the desires of our flesh, our sinful nature that is, or how do we turn the volume down on the devil/pitchfork cartoon and keep him from living rent free on our shoulder?
We’ll for sure drill down more on the ‘how to’ as we go through each Fruit of the Spirit week by week, but for today, I want to share with you a couple everyday life kind of stories that I think will illustrate what it looks like to be led and guided by the Spirit and I’ll try and highlight some of the key takeaways as we go.
The first story took place at the Triller house, just a few weeks ago, late one night and I was about to watch a popular TV show. And let’s just say, the show I was about to watch, while popular and well known, was not the most wholesome of entertainment options out there. You certainly aren’t going find it playing on an endless loop on Disney or Hallmark channels. Not even close. So I turn on the show, and the next thing I do is close the blinds. If you know our home setup, the TV is right there in our front room facing the street where all can see. And so I close the blinds because I wouldn’t want anyone to see what show I am watching. And Callie is sitting nearby, watching this all play out, and at some point she gently and lovingly says, “Daniel, if you have to close the blinds, is this a show you should be watching?” Boom. I’m pretty sure i haven’t watched that show since.
Now, a couple things I want you to note in that example. First, think about how the Holy Spirit is at work in that moment. Paul talks about living by the Spirit, being guided in the Spirit. Well, in that moment, the Holy Spirit was speaking to me through Callie’s words. Over these next 9 weeks, I’m sure we’ll dig deeper into the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives today, but for now we can say this: The Holy Spirit isn’t necessarily going to speak to us in this booming James Earl Jones kind of voice, rather the nudging and guiding of the Holy Spirit may come through a scripture verse that “randomly” comes to mind at key moment, or on a long walk filled with silence or solitude, or maybe through the words of a trusted friend or loved one who is filled with the Holy Spirit themselves. So one takeaway here for living by the Spirit is by surrounding ourselves with people that will nurture and help grow in the following the Spirit’s guidance and fruit of the Spirit.
You see, one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is in convicting us. Convicting us of our sin or when we’re headed in an unhealthy or ungodly direction. And Callie’s words in that moment, we’re like hydrogen peroxide, sure, it stings a bit, but healing and life giving at the same time.
And notice how the Spirit’s words being spoken through Callie are also helping me and keeping me from gratifying the desires of the flesh, the sinful nature. Paul talks about how 24 those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires …
This is an ongoing part of the Christian life, an ongoing crucifixion, a continual putting to death of sinful, unholy, unhealthy things. Which is hard no doubt, but ultimately for our good. Because no matter how I try to rationalize it, watching that show isn’t going to produce the fruit of the Spirit within me, rather it’s just going to put me one step closer to the ugly list Paul describes in our scripture.
So that’s the first story. Here’s the second everyday example to help us think through how we are led and guided by the Spirit.
Pastor Tim Keller tells a story about how one day he was working on a sermon and it wasn't going very well and he was worried that he was going to have a really bad sermon for that week. (Ha. Been there!) Anyway, he said he was particularly irritated when his wife asked him to go to the grocery store. And he thought … "How can she ask me to do that? Doesn't she know I am a man of God working on the word of God for the people of God? How dare she!"
But he went anyway, thinking it will take like 15 minutes or so, right? But half an hour later he was standing in a really long line and it was taking forever. And the reason was that the check-out clerk was a woman who was from a different country and didn't speak English very well and she was new on the job, so it was just taking a super long time and so Tim was getting more and more irritated.
And then he suddenly remembered a scripture verse that he had read that morning, where it said, "Be kind to the immigrants among you." And he was like, "Oh, man! Why did I have to read that this morning? Why am I remembering it right at this very moment? Ugh, now I have to be kind to her."
But yet, then he remembered the rest of verse. What started as "Be kind to the immigrants among you," continued on to say, "for you were once aliens in a foreign land, slaves in Egypt, but I brought you out." And then he remembered, that God was saying, "I have saved you by grace, I have called you my own, you are mine and I love you. I set you free and you belong. So why don't you help this woman feel like she belongs as well?" And he said he felt love, joy, peace, patience, all the fruit of the Spirit growing in his heart in that moment just a little bit. So that when he got to the front of the line and the woman was there, he said it was this great spiritual triumph. He smiled and said, "Hello." And off he went with his groceries.
Now you might be thinking, that’s it. He said hello? How was that a spiritual triumph?" Here's why, because the real battle was inside of him. The real battle was between the fruit of the Spirit and his own selfishness that his sinful nature was encouraging was within him. But that through God's grace he conquered and could forget about himself and genuinely be loving to the people that were around him. Not in a fake or phony way, but in a genuinely loving. And the fruit of the Spirit grew just a little bit more inside of him in that moment.
God can use those very ordinary moments if we cooperate with the Holy Spirit as Tim Keller did, if we remember what he says in scripture as Tim Keller did, if we respond to the nudges he gives us as Tim Keller did, God grows spiritual fruit in us, yes, even in a grocery store. And keep in mind, that to some extent, that moment happens with Tim because he has a regular intake of scripture, of God’s truth in his life and Holy Spirit applied that very truth for him in that particular moment. And friends, if you do that consistently over time, then you will find yourself more loving, more joyful, more patient, more peaceful, more kind, more good, more gentle, and more self- controlled.
Alright, we’ve got to wrap this up. Let’s finish where we started, that is, with our kids message. Paul is very intentional with his language and metaphor here when he uses the language Fruitof the Spirit. It’s the Fruit of the Spirit, not works of the Spirit. Which tells us something important about our spiritual life and our walk with Jesus. And that is, fruit is something that is produced, or grows, when the conditions are right and when we’re closely connected to the right source, a life giving source. That just in the same way, that an apple or peach or a pear or a plum tree need to be placed in good and nutrient soil with a regular intake of sun and water you and I in order to grow and produce the Fruit of the Spirit, need to be closely connected to the right source, a life giving source, that is Jesus himself. And so my hope over these next few weeks isn’t simply that we grow in these 9 virtues, but even more that we grow in our love and knowledge and relationship with Jesus himself. Because the reality is, if we’re closely connected to him, he’ll take even the smallest of seeds and produce good fruit out of it.