Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (EHV)
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not allow anyone to put the yoke of slavery on you again.
13 After all, brothers, you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as a starting point for your sinful flesh. Rather, serve one another through love. 14 In fact, the whole law is summed up in this one statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Lev 19:18 15 But if you keep on biting and devouring one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
16 What I am saying is this: Walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out what the sinful flesh desires. 17 For the sinful flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit, and the spirit what is contrary to the sinful flesh. In fact, these two continually oppose one another, so that you do not continue to do these things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the control of the law.
19 Now the works of the sinful flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, complete lack of restraint, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, discord, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things similar to these. I warn you, just as I also warned you before, that those who continue to do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the spirit, let us also walk in step with it.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not use our Christian freedom to become slaves to our sinful desires once more, but, as those who belong to Christ Jesus, help us bear the fruits of the Spirit for the benefit of those around us. Amen.
Do you ever remember doing one of those experiments where you placed a flower in a jar of ink or food colouring?
Do you remember it changing colour?
You could repeat the same experiment with different colours, and no matter which colour you used, that colour would infuse itself throughout the petals of the flower, sometimes providing quite stunning results!
Do you realise the same thing happens with us and our faith? You see, whatever we immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on, then that’s what will infuse itself through all our thoughts, words, and actions!
For example, let’s say we’re focusing on receiving some form of pleasure. This could be in the form of desiring the pleasure of the latest and greatest car, TV, phone, electronic tablet, computer, fishing accessories, or kitchen appliance. It could be the pleasure of a planned holiday, outing, or event. It could be the pleasure of having a good relationship with your spouse, children, parents, siblings, or friends. It could be the pleasure of good food, good entertainment, good looking people, or good experiences. It could be the pleasure of a good reputation, a good job, a good family, or a good congregation.
By itself, there’s nothing wrong with wanting some form of pleasure. We also figure God wants us to be happy, fulfilled, and live in his good pleasure, so we figure as long as no-one gets hurt, we’re allowed to satisfy our need for pleasure.
But, as we immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on receiving this pleasure, how does this affect our thoughts, words, and actions?
What if someone or something gets in our way of us receiving this pleasure which we’re focusing on and desiring? How do we normally react? You see, if we’re led by, and taking pleasure in, the Spirit of God in our Christian freedom, we’d react with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But that’s not what we do, is it?
Instead, we’re likely to exhibit a different form of fruit. This could include, but not be limited to: sexual immorality, impurity, complete lack of restraint, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things similar to these.
When we react in any of these ways, it exposes we’re not taking pleasure in God and what he provides, but we’re idolising someone or something else.
Our thoughts, words, and actions illustrate to those around us that God no longer fully satisfies us! We’re looking to someone or something else to satisfy our selfish and sinful desires. We’re not trusting God’s ways and God’s timing, but we’re trusting in ourselves as we seek to punish those around us for getting in the way of our items and people of pleasure.
So, when we start bearing those bitter fruit of the sinful flesh through our angry outbursts, our hateful words, or our selfish desires which breed discord and division, we discover our hearts are not only dissatisfied with those around us, but ultimately, our hearts are dissatisfied with God.
This should lead us to repentance as we look to our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive us for all our sins. We need to repent of our selfish desires for pleasure in created things and look once more to God as our Creator to satisfy us in his own good pleasure with his gifts of grace, mercy, and peace.
Of course, we don’t always just focus on pleasure. Sometimes we immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on our pain.
In this case, we may be dwelling on the physical, emotional, or spiritual hurt we experienced. We might be thinking about what we’ve missed out on, such as love, compassion or understanding. We might be mulling over what happened to us and what it means for us. We might be wallowing in our misery and pain. We might be worrying about the fact we consider ourselves as the victim. We might be desiring some form of justice.
Usually, we don’t express our Christian freedom in response to our pain with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Instead, our responses include, but aren’t limited to: impurity, complete lack of restraint, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, outbursts of anger, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, and things similar to these.
When we react in any of these ways, it exposes we’re not trusting God will provide us with comfort, healing, or peace. We take matters into our own hands as we whinge and complain about others as a way of damaging their reputation, or we hit back at those who hurt us and withhold any forgiveness.
Not only this, but we despair of our trust in God. We take matters into our own hands because we’re not happy with waiting for God to provide us with healing, justice, or vindication.
Because we want justice in our way and in our timing, we supplant God’s role as Judge when we seek to punish those around us. We become the judge, jury, and executioner as we attempt to make them pay. We want them to suffer and so we won’t forgive them, hoping this hurts them more than it hurts ourselves with the poison of unforgiveness.
So, as we focus on and stew on our pain, we bear the bitter fruit of the sinful flesh through our angry outbursts, our hateful words, or our desires for biased justice which breed discord and division. We discover our hearts aren’t only dissatisfied with those around us, but ultimately, our hearts are dissatisfied with God.
This should lead us to repentance as we look to our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive us for all our sins and for an increase of faith so we can forgive those around us. We should repent of our selfish desires for justice and revenge, and trust in the forgiven and cleansed identity we have as precious and dearly loved children of God.
It’s also possible we can sin in our piety.
You may wonder how desiring to live a good holy life could possibly cause us to sin, but let’s consider this for a while.
Let’s say we want to be a good person who obeys God. We want to please God and be a good example of morality and ethics to everyone around us, and so we might use God’s word and commands as a code to live by. This in itself seems to be a good thing. We may also think the world would be a better place if only more people would live with such solid biblical foundations!
But it becomes an issue when any of us fail to live up to our own, or God’s, expectations, and fail we will! There’s only One who can live up to God’s perfect standards, and it’s not you or me. If we’re going to live by the letter of the Law, then we’re setting up ourselves, and those around us, to fail!
Then once we, or they, fail, we’re tempted to look down on, criticise and judge ourselves and those around us.
Unfortunately, we don’t always look to God for forgiveness and mercy for our failure to live according to his ways, but we burden ourselves and those around us with our own self-imposed punishments. In this way we attempt to supplant God when we’re the person to whom we need to give an account and we become hard on ourselves and burden our conscience. We become our own judge whom we can never completely satisfy.
You see, there’s no grace or freedom in the Law. When we attempt to immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on living according to the Law, or when we expect everyone else to live by the Law, then we become a slave to the Law, with its resulting fear, shame, and guilt for not living according to the Law.
As we despair of ourselves and our ability to keep the Law, or as we despair of those around us for failing to keep the Law, this will also produce impurity, complete lack of restraint, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, and things similar to these.
The good news is you and I have been freed from slavery to the Law through faith in Jesus Christ. We no longer have to live up to God’s perfect standards because Christ has kept the Law perfectly for us and he gives us his perfection and holiness as a free and undeserving gift through faith.
Not only this, but he paid the full punishment for our failure to keep the Law and its demands, so we don’t need to live in regret or shame. Why would we need to burden ourselves and our own consciences when Christ has already suffered enough for all of us?
Not only this, but since whatever we immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on will infuse itself through all our thoughts, words, and actions, what or whom are we to focus on?
St Paul reminds us to set our hearts on our Lord Jesus Christ. As we place our trust in, and rejoice in, what Jesus does for us, this will naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. These fruit always serve the body, or community, of Christ as we live out our selfless love for our neighbour.
This means we’re to immerse ourselves in the means of the Holy Spirit, such as God’s holy Word. As we read and meditate on his Word, the Spirit will help us see ourselves and our sinfulness on those pages, but it will also reveal the love and grace of God through his Son, Jesus Christ.
The words Christ speaks on those pages are spoken for all of us when he says: ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they do’ and this forgiveness frees us from slavery to the Law or slavery to our pleasures or pain.
We immerse ourselves in the promises given through our baptism into Christ. Our sins are washed away every day through repentance and faith, and so we believe we’re forgiven, made holy, and adopted as God’s own dearly loved children. We believe we’ve been given the gift of eternal life, and we trust Jesus is with us always to the very end of the age.
We immerse ourselves in the body and blood of Jesus Christ as we eat and drink in faith, believing this holy meal is given for us to assure us all our sins are forgiven, including those sins we did to satisfy our pleasures, or appease our pain, or express our piety. As forgiven people of God, we pray he’ll help us forgive others as we’ve been forgiven by him.
Immersing ourselves in the means of the Spirit, we may produce the fruit of the Spirit as it infuses all our thoughts, words, and actions with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These fruit are always for the benefit of others, always builds up the people of God, and are always the means by which we love our neighbour as ourselves.
Yes, just like a flower may be infused with the colours of the ink or food colouring that it dwells in, those who belong to Christ and who immerse themselves in the means of the Spirit will always bear the fruit of the Spirit.
By God’s grace, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, may we all immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, and set our heart on…
…the forgiveness and peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, so that it may guard our hearts and minds and words and actions as people who trust in Christ Jesus. Amen.