Read Galatians 5:1, 13-25*
In our Galatians reading, Paul talks a lot about freedom and life in the spirit. He also contrasts the life in the spirit to life in the flesh. So, before we proceed further, I think it best to understand Paul’s designation of “the flesh”. He is not so much speaking about our physical bodies, but rather he is speaking of the things in our culture that pull at us on a daily basis.
Paul lists things such as: illicit sex, perversion, promiscuity, idolatry, drug use, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, conflict, factions, envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and similar things. As Paul says, these things are obvious. However, in our reading in Luke we find, people called by Jesus to follow him. They all are pulled away from the spirit-lead life by worldly things: homes, the dead, and family. These things are also life in the flesh.
Jesus said "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Life in the spirit is one way and one way only, toward God. Any time we let ourselves become distracted by “the flesh” we start drifting from the path that the Lord has laid out for us.
In Matthew 6:25-32 Jesus tells us to “stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? “Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?
“Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying?
“And why worry about clothes? Notice how the flowers grow in the field. They never work or spin yarn for clothes. But I say that not even Solomon in all his majesty was dressed like one of these flowers. That’s the way God clothes the grass in the field. Today it’s alive, and tomorrow it’s thrown into an incinerator. So how much more will he clothe you people who have so little faith?
“Don’t ever worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Everyone is concerned about these things, and your heavenly Father certainly knows you need all of them.”
The message seems clear: stay on the path and God will take care of you. And that makes me think of the Hymn “God Will Take Care of You”.
In this hymn, first is a list of things of the “flesh” then after each of those is the line “God will take care of you.” Here is the list with out the assurance notice how universal these “fleshly” things are.
God will take care of you,
through every day, o’er all the way,
He will take care of you.
God will take care of you.
The hymn writer, Civilla D. Martin published that in 1904. And in 1905 she published “His Eye is on the Sparrow”. She was a woman who seemed to understand this biblical truth.
“Christ has freed us so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom” We have been freed! But what is it that we have been freed from?
Sin! Amen? We are freed from sin. Praise God! We can all probably make a list of sins. However, do you know what sin actually means? The Hebrew word that has been translated as sin could also mean to miss, as in miss the target, or miss the turn in the road.
In Philippians 3:14 Paul writes, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” “I press toward the mark is a forward motion toward a specific goal … in this case that goal is life in the presence of God. Anything that distracts us from that goal is living in the flesh, living as a slave to sin.
Here Paul writes, “Therefore, be firm in this freedom, and don’t become slaves again.” Be firm in this freedom. Being firm conotes a solid belief with no room doubt, no second guessing. John Wessley, founder of Methodism, put it this way, “In a Christian believer love sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul; namely, love of God and man, which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.” I like that imagery of a heart so filled with love of God and love of man that there simply is no room for anything else. Such a heart, by its nature, would be free from sin … free from missing the mark.
Paul next warns his readers that, “You were indeed called to be free, brothers and sisters. Don’t turn this freedom into an excuse for your corrupt nature to express itself.” Human nature is to return to familiar patterns. This is why diets and ten step programs often fail. It is why people released from prison can not associate with criminals. What good is it if, after our soul is cleansed, we refill it with the same vile stuff that was in there before?
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives this warning, “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
Paul’s list of evidence that we have let ourselves return to the life in the flesh include: “illicit sex, perversion, promiscuity, idolatry, drug use, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, conflict, factions, envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and similar things. I’ve told you in the past and I’m telling you again that people who do these kinds of things will not inherit God’s kingdom.”
So, step one: let the Holy Spirit clean house in your soul. Step two: keep it clean. Step three: Don’t let the house (your soul) remain empty but fill it with the things of the spirit lead life. As for step three, here is what Paul writes, “Rather, serve each other through love. All of Moses’ Teachings are summarized in a single statement, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He then goes on to give a short list of things that are evident of living this new spiritual life: “the spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There are no laws against things like that. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their corrupt nature along with its passions and desires.”
“Let me explain further. Live your life as your spiritual nature directs you. Then you will never follow through on what your corrupt nature wants. What your corrupt nature wants is contrary to what your spiritual nature wants, and what your spiritual nature wants is contrary to what your corrupt nature wants. They are opposed to each other. As a result, you don’t always do what you intend to do.”
In Romans 7:14-25 Paul expands on this idea and confesses that he also has this problem. “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Finally, Paul wraps up this part of our scripture reading with this summation: “If your spiritual nature is your guide, you are not subject to Moses’ laws. If we live by our spiritual nature, then our lives need to conform to our spiritual nature.”
Now let us “clean house” by confessing our sins before the Lord and then refill them by being united with the Lord and each other as His one body, the church universal, though scattered around the world.
*Galatians 5:1, 13-25
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 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.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.