Friday, November 8, 2013

The Centerpiece of Our Faith - Life in the Spirit

If a Christian is free, what purpose is there then for the Law? Last week, I argued the Christians are no longer slaves to the Law. A person who is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ enjoys Christian freedom. The Law can’t save us. Right worship can’t save us. Only Jesus saves us. Well, then, back to my original question: If a Christian is free, what purpose is there for the Law? Would you believe that we are not the first group of God’s children to ask that question?

Over the last few weeks, we have set our tents near the Galatian community. If you peer into their community, you will notice that they too asked that question. In reality, there were two specific groups in those Galatian congregations: Some were saying you had to obey the Law in order to become a Christian; we talked about them last week. Others were saying the Law was meaningless for the Christian. Paul viewed each of these positions as equally disturbing, as should we.

Here is an important message for us family: Christians are free. And as free people, covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, rescued from the effects of death, we willingly become slaves. But not slaves to the Law, but, rather, slaves to Christ. We work with all of our might not to gain the approval of our Father. We work with all of our might because our Father sent His Son to save us.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not allow freedom to be turned into a military base of operations for the Flesh, active as a cosmic power. On the contrary, through love, be genuine servants of one another. For the whole of the Law has been brought to completion in one sentence: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!” but if you snap at one another, each threatening to devour the other, take care that you are not eaten up by one another!

In contradistinction to the Teachers, I, Paul, say to you: Lead your daily life guided by the Spirit, and, in this way, you will not end up carrying out the Impulsive Desire of the Flesh. For the Flesh is actively inclined against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the Flesh. Indeed these two powers constitute a pair of opposites at war with one another, the result being that you do not actually do the very things you wish to do. If, however, in the daily life of your communities you are being consistently led by the Spirit, then you are not under the authority of the Law.

The effects of the Flesh are clear, and those effects are: fornication, vicious immorality, uncontrolled debauchery, the worship of idols, belief in magic, instances of irreconcilable hatred, strife, resentment, outbursts of rage, mercenary ambition, dissensions, separation into divisive cliques, grudging envy of the neighbor’s success, bouts of drunkenness, nights of carousing, and other things of the same sort. In this regard, I warn you now, just as I warned you before: those who practice things of this sort will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit borne by the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, gentleness, self-control. The Law does not forbid things of this kind! And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the Flesh, together with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:13-26)

The portrait painted by Paul is one of two supra-human powers at war with one another, the “Spirit of God” vs. the “Flesh”. Notice, this is not our spirit or our flesh. This is not a battle that takes place inside of us. Paul is describing a cosmic battle-taking place between God’s Spirit and another entity he calls “Flesh.” But, as agents in this world, humans must contend with each of these powers. We will follow only one, and we have the right to choose.

Here is Paul’s main point in this section of the letter. These Galatians are more than mere spectators of this on-going battle. You see, earlier Paul said something special happened at the point of baptism. Back in Galatians 3:26-28, Paul says when these Galatians were baptized, they “put on Christ,” the Spirit of God came to dwell inside of them. So, borrowing the metaphor from Paul, these Galatians, having the Spirit of God in their hearts, are now soldiers who have been called into military service by the Spirit.

I love the way J. Louis Martyn in his Galatians commentary translates this passage - it’s the one I read earlier…

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not allow freedom to be turned into a military base of operations for the Flesh, active as a cosmic power…

Many of our translations read instead: “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh…” But this same word is often used as a military metaphor in 1st century writing, and that reading fits well with Paul’s context here. The scene is one of soldiers heading into battle, not guided by a set of regulations or Laws, but rather by a power that is the certain victor on the battlefield, the Spirit of Christ.

The imagery Paul uses has some very important implications: There is no such thing as an autonomously free will.  So, “freedom from” easily becomes nothing more than a transfer from one form of slavery to another: from Law…to the impulsive desire of the flesh. We will all be slaves to something. Paul says in reality, we have two options: We will be slaves to the flesh, or, we will be slaves to the Spirit of God.

And those who choose to become slaves of the Spirit of God will be known by their fruit…

A person who lives under the authority of the Spirit of God is different. Their activities are so abnormal that the world cannot help but stop and take notice. In a world that is under the control of the Flesh, those who are led by a different general stand out.

One of the greatest movies I've ever seen is To End All Wars. To End all Wars came out in 2001. It was an adaptation of the 1957 classic, The Bridge Over the River Kwai. The story changes a bit, but the message is very similar. To End All Wars is the story of Scottish prisoners of war in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. A group of the prisoners begin to study philosophy, Shakespeare, and the Bible in order to maintain their sanity in a horrible place. Soon, their Christian behavior influences many of the other prisoners, and it also amazes their captors. There is a scene in this movie where a group of seriously injured Japanese soldiers arrive by truck to the prison camp. They had been wounded by Allied planes, and they had abandoned their own posts seeking anyone who would offer medical help. What happens next is worth watching.

You see, those who come in contact with the Spirit of God are changed. They do things that stand out. They do things that make the world scratch their head. They become different!

You may not ever have an occasion to be held captive in a Japanese prison camp, but you can sure mirror Christ’s love to the world in other ways. When you refuse to take dishonest shortcuts at work just to get ahead—you are mirroring Christ for the world. When you refuse to harbor bitterness in your heart for your enemies—you are mirroring Christ for the world. When you forgive even when they don’t deserve it—you are mirroring Christ for the world. When you choose to love your spouse in difficult times—you are mirroring Christ for the world.

Recently a group of children were asked to define “love”. Here is what they came up with:
"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."
"When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth."
"Love is when someone hurts you, and you get so mad, but you don't yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings."
"Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is okay."
"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
"Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well."
"Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford."
"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."
"You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”

May I ask you a personal question: How is your life different because of God’s Spirit living inside you?

… and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:20-21 (NRSV).

We are dead people come back to life. And family, an uplifted life is a different life. Let me remind you that a life covered by the grace of Jesus is not passive.

Ann Voskamp, Christian blogger and author, recently wrote:

Grace is never passive. Grace is a hijacker. Grace hijacks the dark, hijacks the looming forests, hijacks the sins. Grace hijacks the impossible, the unlikely, the angry, the cynics, the doomed.

Your calling is radical: gloriously hijack every darkness with grace.

To love mercy and do justice and follow Christ means to be the Revolutionary Guerillas of Grace — radically turning the fallen world Upside Down.

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