Monday, November 21, 2011

Good Fruit Bad Fruit

There is a great contrast talked about in the Bible regarding the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit.  I write much about living righteously in Christ and how growing in righteousness is an effect of salvation.  The other side of the argument, and an extreme position at that, is that any talk of changed lives adds law to grace.  Nothing could be further from the  truth, and I believe that Paul hits the nail on the head on this subject in Galatians. 
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not [use] liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, [even] in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!  Galatians 5:13-15 NKJV
The lesson of the liberty in Christ is a popular one. The idea that all of our sins are forgiven and that we will not be condemned for our sins is an amazing message indeed!  That pot is sweetened by the fact that we are no longer bound by God's law.  We have tremendous liberty in Christ, but Paul warns us here that we are not to use that liberty for our own flesh.  This is not adding works to salvation.  Paul is saying we have that liberty as one freed from the law and from sin, but with that liberty comes responsibility.  We are called to use that liberty to serve one another and not to fulfill our own fleshly lusts.  Please do not ever accept the message that being saved means being free to do whatever we want and not be concerned about it.  The Bible tells us a much different message. 
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Galatians 5:16-18 NKJV
Paul makes it very simple.  If we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  There is a war that goes on between the Spirit and the flesh.  The flesh interferes with the works of the Spirit and the Spirit subdues the lusts of the flesh.  We are in the middle of that battle and so long as we side with the Spirit, we will have victory over our flesh.  Think about it, have you ever sinned when you were walking in the spirit?  Surely temptations may come, but they do not overtake us until we take our eyes off the Spirit and give our attention to the call of the flesh.  This attitude is not just one for sin, but one for any situation we face in life.  This is a great message for me today because it reflects something I was struggling with at the beginning of this past weekend.  I had so much to do and a very short time to do it and at every turn, delays came up.  This on top of getting our condo ready for an open house of a process I sometimes really feel at the end of my rope about.  It is stressful to sell, frustrating to buy, and if all goes as planned, I will love closer to a job I do not like.  I was stressed, rushed, grumpy, and discouraged and I took much of it out on my wife.  The problem with that entire attitude was that there was a lot of "I" and very little of "Him."  It was all about me and while I received a few good jostles to knock me away from walking with the Spirit, my response was not to get back to walking with Him, but to kind of stay where I was and even stray away further.  I was miserable and it was really all my fault.  The Bible does not tell us to seek better circumstances, but to live through our circumstances in the power of Christ.  Life, as my pastor shared this weekend from the pulpit, is not fair.  God never promises to make the circumstances of our lives more fair, but He does promise to get us through them. 

Paul then tells us that if we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the law.  Please do not misunderstand or abuse this passage.  We need to examine the whole statement.  We like to emphasize the part of not being under the law, but we ignore the part about being led by the Spirit.  Will the Spirit ever lead us into sin or any other behavior unbecoming of a Christian?  Of course, He would not.  So while we are not under the law, if we are led by the Spirit, righteousness will be expressed by our lives.  You can not claim to be Spirit led while living in sin.  If you are led by the Spirit, you will not fall into sin.  If you are falling into sin, you are not following the Spirit.  Any time that we sin, we are not being led by the Spirit.  They are mutually exclusive of one another. Now Paul is going to give us a contrast between following the flesh and following the Spirit.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told [you] in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV
None of those activities have anything to do with the Spirit.  Those are all works of the flesh.  In terms of sin, when we follow the flesh, we fall into fornication (sex outside of marriage), adultery, sorcery, heresies, murders (and Jesus said that even holding onto anger is murder in your heart), and getting drunk.  Those are the sins (and this is not a complete list) of a life that follows after the flesh.  God will never lead you to get drunk.  God will never lead you to have sex with anyone other than your wife after you are married.  God will never lead you to commit murder or hold onto anger for your brother.  God will never lead you into heresy.  God will never lead you to sorcery and so will never speak to you through your horoscope. 

As for attitude, a life in the flesh is marked with uncleanness, lewdness, hatred, jealousy, envy, wrath, selfishness, and dissenting (in terms of trying to break apart the church).  None of these are of God.  God will never give you a spirit if lewdness.  If you tell a dirty joke or if you are entertained by dirty jokes or "entertainment", that is not of God.  If you are jealous or envious of what others have, that is not of God.  If you are full of hatred or have a bad temper, those are not of God.  These personality traits are all symptoms that you are walking with the flesh and not being led by the Spirit.   If any of these traits or any of the sins mentioned above any part of your life, you can not say you are walking with God.  You are in rebellion and catering to the flesh and forsaking the Spirit. 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV
This now is the Spirit-led Christian.  Note the complete opposition to the things of the flesh.  The fruit of the Spirit is love and all that follows are manifestations of love.  All that preceded were the antithesis of love.  First and foremost, the life of the Spirit-led Christian is full of love.  This love is expressed in the joy we have in the Lord.  We love the Lord and He loves us and that leads us to joy.  If we are loving, we are longsuffering.  We do not get impatient at others and we are willing to forgive again and again for the wrongs done to us.  Kindness and goodness are our expression of that love for others.  We are faithful because if we love God we will be faithful to those things He asks of us.  The Spirit filled Christian is gentle (or meek) in that we are not out for ourselves but deferential to the well-being of others.  And self-control (or temperance) is another trait.  Self-control is probably a bad translation because more accurately, we are Spirit-led not self controlled.  The whole idea of coming to Jesus was that we could not control ourselves or our sinful behavior.  It is only through the Holy Spirit that we now have control over the sin in our lives.  And, finally, there is peace as we rest in the hope of our salvation. 

These traits will be expressed in our lives as we are led by the Spirit.  That is because this fruit is not dependent upon ourselves, but upon the Spirit.  These are not the fruit of the man, redeemed or unredeemed.  Man is never capable of producing this fruit on his own.  When we follow the Spirit and the Spirit works in and through our lives, these characteristics naturally become part of our lives. When we rebel against the Spirit and seek after the flesh, these characteristics disappear from our lives.  This is exactly where I was last weekend.  I was focusing on myself and wallowing in my own fleshly desires and in not following the Spirit, I was not expressing His love.  My wife could attest to that.  I was grumpy.  I was not being meek, but desiring that which was for myself.  I was not being good or kind, I was being angry.  I had no peace at all, but was concerned that everything was just going to continue to go wrong.  As I was not following the Spirit, I was miserable.  Misery comes when we are not following God.  Just as the Spirit will never lead you to those aforementioned characteristics of the flesh, following the flesh will never lead us to the fruit of the Spirit.  You will find no peace in sin.  You will find no joy in a poor attitude. 
And those [who are] Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:24 NKJV
I love direct statements like this.  If we are Christians, we have crucified the flesh.  This does not say we will or we should, but that we have.  That old man is dead.  He no longer has dominion over our bodies.  It is a dead person we resurrect in our hearts and minds as we seek after those desires that were once part of our lives.  We are free from that bondage and all the misery that comes along with it.  Think about it, if you were so happy in your sins when why did you ever come to Christ?  Remember that joy when you first realized you were free from whatever sinful miserable past you have come from. Remember what it felt like to feel clean for the first time.  As time goes on we sadly forget what that felt like.  We are loosed, but we entangle ourselves again in sin that should have no hold on our lives.  We are clean, but yet we try to find mud to roll around in.  Those old passions, no matter how strong they seem, are an illusion.  They are what you once were, but now you need to live free from all of that.  As Paul said in Romans, reckon yourselves dead to sin. 

What this all comes down to is that we live with the constant choice to be led by the Spirit or to be led by the flesh.  We often fail in this choice and pay the price time and time again when we rediscover the stress, pain, and misery of following after the flesh.  My prayers as that more and more we will choose to follow the Spirit and learn the joy of being in the will of God.  Remember, following the flesh will never lead to love, joy, or peace.  At best you get a cheap imitation that quickly wears off and the misery of your predicament becomes your glaring reality.  How many people in "love" have crossed that physical line in their relationships as some expression of a false sense of love to only regret it terribly later on.  That is merely one example, but I trust you get the illustration.  Even more important, remember that being led by the Spirit will only lead to love, joy, and peace.  It can lead you to no other place because the fruit of the Spirit is dependent upon God and God will never fail. 
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.  Galatians 5:25 NKJV

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