follow the Spirit’s leading

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:25

Acts is an interesting book in unfolding something of the history of the early church following the Spirit’s leading. This is both for individuals and for the church at large. Acts is traditionally referred to as the Acts of the Apostles, but is sometimes called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, which makes a valid point. What good the apostles and early church did was always through the Spirit.

In this passage in Galatians (click above link), what is being referred to here is the fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, etc., as opposed to the works of the flesh. Oftentimes we’ve isolated the Spirit’s leading into something like what specifically we should do during the course of a day, week, month, year. What we many times call God’s leading. And that’s perfectly good, even important to ask God to help us in finding a specific job, a good spouse to share life with, a useful life for others.

What Paul was getting at in the leading of the Spirit was not just some personal inventory like whether or not I’m having clean thoughts, am satisfied with what I have instead of wanting more, etc., etc. The concern at hand is how we’re living in relationship to each other. Does love inform and form that? Or do we live in both self-destructive and unloving, unedifying ways in which we’re failing to love our neighbors as ourselves?

The Spirit’s leading is more about relationships with people than anything else. Or at least we can gather that from reading this passage in Galatians. Certainly including the good news of God for all, beginning with ourselves. In and through Jesus.

is it marked by the fruit of the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:22-23

Recently in a podcast I was listening to, it was asked whether or not “Christian” endeavors were marked by the fruit of the Spirit. We live in a day of a lot of anger in the midst of a “culture war.”  You can see this clearly on social media, like on Facebook. Often the posts seemed marked by lots of fear along with more than enough anger. What often seems missing are what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.”

This is a good test anywhere, actually. At home, or at work, wherever. Is my life marked by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? If not, then I’m not living out or showing the character of Christ. Of course it’s not like we’ll be perfect or fully developed in this. But “are we growing in it?” is the question.

This is not so much a matter of feeling, not necessarily at all. It is about the difference God’s grace and the Holy Spirit makes in our lives. Instead of the works of the flesh (click above link), the fruit of the Spirit.

Yes, it’s the Spirit who produces this fruit. But does that mean that we’re not to try to live in such fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, etc.? No. We should attempt to do just that. Not unlike the gifts of the Spirit, it is of the Spirit, but we still must do it. Something we do with the Spirit’s enabling. In the same way, we live out more and more of the character of Christ through the Spirit’s work, as actually a part of the fruit that the Spirit produces in our lives. Of the Spirit in and through Jesus.

the works of the flesh, or the fruit of the Spirit

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

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

The acts of the flesh 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, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh 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.

Galatians 5:13-26

The “works of the flesh” as pictured above (and this is a sample list) are evident to us everywhere nowadays, especially when we consider the national (US) political stage. This has always been true to some extent, but it’s especially the case now. And unfortunately it can spill over into the lives of followers of Jesus who act and react accordingly, sometimes even against each other.

Paul was facing a religious controversy, so to speak. It seems true that there’s no two issues on which people can get more hot over than religion and politics. And when you study history, go to war over as well.

The kingdom of God come in Jesus calls for its followers to be completely different, to live in another way entirely: the way of the Spirit as opposed to the way of the flesh. I think the NIV footnote here is correct concerning the Greek word σάρξ, translated “flesh”:

  1. Galatians 5:13 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit; also in verses 16, 17, 19 and 24; and in 6:8.

Unfortunately we in Jesus who have the Spirit can fall back into those old patterns and way of life. If we who live by the Spirit fail to keep in step with the Spirit, then we fall back into the ways of the flesh, and can become conceited and hateful toward each other.

Living by the Spirit is not simply shrinking back and becoming passive, even hiding. It’s our answer in Christ to what is all too common fare in the world. We in Christ must refuse to respond in kind, and that especially concerns our disagreements with each other. But even toward our enemies, our lives in our actions and words should be marked by “the fruit of the Spirit.”

This is not something we can produce on our own, but we’re responsible to yield control of our life to the Spirit so that the Spirit can bear this fruit in us. It’s up to us. Will we give in to the flesh and its demands? Or will we yield to the Spirit and endeavor to keep in step with the Spirit? There’s no middle ground, it’s either one or the other.

 

the challenge of loving each other with our differences

The acts of the flesh 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, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh 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.

Galatians 5

At my sister’s church in the Toledo area, the youth pastor gave a helpful, balanced message on Galatians 5 and the works of the flesh in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit. It was a good, fresh look and feel for me in thinking through what is a difficult subject to grasp, since in a sense, it’s well beyond us, something of the Spirit, not of the flesh, and not of us at all, apart from the Spirit’s gracious working.

In some ways I like the NIV 2011‘s change from patience to forebearance, as part of the fruit of the Spirit. As Dr. Carl Hoch, a great teacher and scholar himself used to tell us, it’s about putting up with each other. Sometimes that’s what we have to do, and we need the grace just as much as those to whom we need to extend it.

Forebearance means we learn to talk through our differences and listen well to each other with respect, then in the end we may agree to disagree and drop it. Or perhaps not even talk about some things at all. I like the former better than the latter, because I think we Christians above anyone else should model before the world what it means for Christ-like discussion on areas in which we don’t agree. That can be difficult, because we may think that some issues impact the gospel for ill, and some quite directly. But we do best when we fight with all the spirit we have by the Spirit, to listen well and if in a discussion, to ask questions. And to speak as those who know we are not complete in our understanding, and mistaken in some of it.

This thought is particularly important these days, when we have equally committed Christians who see the upcoming presidential election of the United States differently, and many if not most everyone seeing it as important and crucial in some ways. What I think ends up being most crucial about the election itself is that regardless of the outcome, we Christians remember to faithfully pray for the President and for other government leaders, regardless of whether we voted for or support their positions, or not (1 Timothy 2). And maybe it will help us to take a more responsible and wise tact with the politics of this world in general. We have to remember its inherent limitations, as well as the importance it carries. That is always the kind of thing I’m working on, because apart from the gospel, I see my understanding of other matters in some kind of flux in the effort to theologically see things more in line with what scripture says and what the church has taught. That’s part of the beauty and challenge of the Christian faith. For though the basics of the gospel are set, the specifics and details about those basics are up for fresh perspective from many different angles through cultures and time. Without for a moment losing any of the basics of the gospel: Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection for the new life in him which begins now, and is to come.

Yes, forebearance as a fruit of the Spirit in contrast to dissensions and division/factions which are included in the works of the flesh. We can’t work these out ourselves. It’s our responsibility to walk in and keep in step with the Spirit. So that the love in and through Jesus wins the day, even in the midst of all our difference.

what is the fruit?

One of the teachers of our church, Shalini, one time was talking about evaluating anything by asking what fruit it brings in our lives. Does it make us want to pursue God’s will in Jesus, or does it sidetrack us, indeed undermining that. Does it bring good fruit, or bad, rotten fruit?

In Galatians we read of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Prior to that is listed the works of the flesh: “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.” Quite a contrast.

Followers of Jesus are in a battle against the world, the flesh and the devil. It is amazing how being undermined in one area which by itself seems innocent*, can eventually open the gates to caving in in areas that clearly do matter, even if doing so only in the heart. Of course Jesus says that when we do something in our hearts, we’ve done it in God’s eyes. And we’re in a dangerous area, because we inevitably will act out of our hearts.

It is amazing too, how the Spirit can help us see during those times when the flesh seems to hold sway. We see not only the fruit of our lives, but we get insight into how this works in relationship to ourselves and our lives, and in relationship to others. That can help us learn wisdom. But only by the Spirit’s help, because left to ourselves, we’re bent on folly.

I find that entryway into what is not of the Spirit, subtle, and can even come with an apparently good, godly premise. But it is not led of God. In fact it can be contrary to previous leading. But when that leading flies in the face of my own predisposition as to what’s right or wrong in a given situation, then I can end up hard pressed to resist caving in with the same concern later.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tell us:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

God honors our exercise to do this, even if it seems like we’re not succeeding. We need to press on in the right way, which is God’s prescribed way in Jesus. Ever seeking to be led by the Spirit who gave that word. And always examining the fruit. With reference to loving God, and loving our neighbor, as we seek together to follow Jesus in and for the world.

*Not about what we might call legalistic issues, or matters in which Christians differ. But referring instead to matters which may or may not really need attention, except in prayers. How we can cave in to anxiety, fear, obsession over something.

what is the fruit?

One of our teachers at church, Shalini, has talked about testing what is good and of God in our lives by noting what fruit it produces. She was referring to the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians, in contrast to the works of the flesh. She found it a salutary exercise.

Reflecting on what she said, I began to note its relevance to my own life. When something pushed me over the edge so that my response was not a good one, I realized that something was wrong. Certainly something with me. But maybe also with what I was responding to. This I found to be especially relevant to what had become patterns in my life.

The devil would point his finger at all of us in Jesus in an accusatory way, and many times  he would be right that we have sinned in a matter. But of course wrong in his condemnation of us who are in Jesus. One day I was greatly troubled over something and prayed over and over again so as to make sure I really was praying it, and meant it. In the words of the psalmist that God would indeed search my heart, know my anxious thoughts and see if there is any offensive way in me (in the sense of plumbing the depths of my heart and life, a prayer asking for God’s convicting work so we can confess, be forgiven and cleansed from our sin) and lead me in the way everlasting. This took time, and I didn’t want to let it go until I had received an answer from God. At first I seemed to conceptualize that I was in the wrong, and perhaps an inkling toward what I might do. But it became clear to me that I was in the clear, by the forgiving, cleansing grace of God in Jesus. And that I needed to live in joy, and in the Spirit. Not in anxiety over what someone else, or others might think of me.

So this goes on as an important insight, indeed revelation to me. To go on testing everything by the fruit it bears in my life and in the life of others around me. To be ever open to God’s leading. And to seek to live by the Spirit in the grace and love of God in Jesus.

Any words you would like to share on this from your own life or thoughts?