Becoming A Human Being – Fruits of the Spirit

Galatians 5-22-23

Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Galatians 5: 14 – 26.  Focus on how we become mature humans beings.  Check out Rasaan Bourke and the choir!  Great anthem!

It’s been awhile but generally speaking whenever I’ve talked to religious visitors such as the Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door they have struck me as some of the saddest people I’ve ever met.

Paul said of such types as he said of his opponents in Galatia that “They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that they may make much of themselves. (4: 17)

It’s an excellent insight into the psychology of religious fundamentalists; they seem to be seeking the very freedom they are talking to you about, yet they never seem to find it. They talk about love but do not show it. They talk about salvation but on their terms. They talk about forgiveness all the while they are thanking God that they are not like those that they despise.

            For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (5:1)

So much of what church leaders do is really about keeping rules, which they believe will lead to grace. It’s an old notion that dates back to the Pharisees. There is a certain kind of prissiness that delineates who is a proper Christian and who is not. It’s a self satisfied kind of walling off from the world, an in-group mentality promising a freedom that seems to elude the very people who claim to have it.

Paul’s words “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Why does Paul say this of the very religious tradition that he had been raised in his whole life? Why does he say that slavery is tied to the law, even the laws of God? Because keeping rules does not work. Jesus had fun breaking the rules all the time. Every time he heals or dines or speaks he is challenging the very foundations upon which we build religion – rules and rituals.

At best rules makes us looks ridiculous, at worst they enslave us, making us into a parody of what we desire to be for God. What Paul is trying to do in all this is protect our freedom and protect us from rules. This was a problem for the churches in Paul’s day.

They had determined that the life and death and resurrection of Jesus meant that God had done all that was necessary for their salvation. That meant that no one had to try to earn their salvation by any kind of works—whether Eastern astrology or Greek virtue or Jewish obedience to Torah. But as in most cases where people get a taste of freedom for the first time, they have a hard time figuring out what it means to be truly free.

I think some of the goofiest myths that define our culture surround the notion of love. For example, there are many people out there who live their whole lives looking for “happily ever after.” And Ali McGraw utters one of the best examples of this type of thinking in the 1970 movie – Love Story, when she says to Ryan O’Neil, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” If you’re human, you will always be saying you are sorry. Love is about repentance. It’s about moving away from – What can you do for me? To – What can I do for you?

Many people organize their lives around these myths and spend the rest of their lives looking for their own personal holy grail of love, but it’s a mirage – a vision that is always just a little further off in the distance from where they currently are. It seems to me that once again we’re missing the whole point. St. Paul, reflecting on the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, says that the whole essence of life is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).

But we as a culture are also confused about love and freedom. We think freedom means, “I can do whatever I want, whenever I want.” We confuse freedom with “license.” License means you don’t care about anybody else, so you have no qualms about doing whatever you want, regardless of how it affects others. It’s a matter of indulging yourself however and wherever you please. But what that misses is that there are always consequences to our actions and choices. Pure self-indulgence never results in real freedom. It leads to addiction and enslavement.

When I stop to think about “the works of the flesh” and “the fruits of the Spirit,” I struggle to find words that describe how this process works in me, because this is something that comes from beyond me. It is not something I have achieved, especially things like patience, and it’s hard to translate this in terms of psychological or philosophical language but what I do find is a slowly growing freedom from things that used to bother me or worry me, or have a hold on me. And I am different.

There is more patience and kindness and gentleness then there was before. Previously, I would have written you off, quickly, and with no compassion.

Paul says “… do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self indulgences of the flesh rather let your daily life be guided by the Spirit, and, in this way, you will not end up carrying out the impulsive desires 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 each other, the result being that you will actually do the very things you wish not to do. (Vs. 16 – 18)

Paul is speaking as a pastor here. It is not so much about doing as it is about how we relate, and how we are. Fundamentally, life lived according to the way of the Spirit is life which is outside ourselves. It removes the focus from me and places it upon Christ and upon the body of Christ, the church. For Paul the world is not here for me; rather I am here for the world.

Think of the world as a great drama. On its stage… a number of actors are playing their parts… an actor of great importance [is] the Flesh… more fully … “the impulsive desire of the flesh,”(epithumian sarkos: lustful flesh) This actor is not a mere component of a human being, a person’s flesh as distinguished from his spirit. The Flesh is rather a supra-human power, indeed a power seeking to establish a military base of operations in the Galatian churches, with the intention of destroying them as genuine communities.

To live in the real world, therefore, the Galatians must deal with this powerful actor… But they are not alone… For in v.16 Paul speaks of another actor, again supra-human, the Spirit which God has also put into the Galatian’s hearts, the Spirit, specifically of God’s own son.” And these two actors are in combat with each other.

I know too well his frustration that there is something “opposed” in me that prevents me from doing the good I want. (5:17b) As he says in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

But I also I know the fruits of the Spirit. There are changes in me which I have not wrought, and which I do not own or control. These are mysterious. They seem more than the practice of habit or the acquiring of skill, although clearly this happens as well.

If it’s about me or the flesh then strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions and envy, will follow as we seek to hold our ground. Drunkenness and carousing may follow as we seek to drown our sorrows when we cannot solve the problem. If it is all too much for us to dispose of with ordinary nastiness, there is always fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, and other enmities. And these are only examples; we each have our unique scarring from where we were too attached to our own egos.

And so over the next few weeks we will be looking at the Fruits of the Spirit and what it means to be human. And we will focus on this as Paul says, “Until we are the measure and of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) Amen


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