Stop, in the Name of the Law!

Colossians 2:20-23 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

What is Christianity all about?  Have we vowed to follow Christ only to replace the Old Testament law with new law?  Is this new life just about more rule-following?  Observing some of today’s churches, you would think so!  Sermons so often focus on behavior modification or bettering the life of the Christian through specific actions. Congregants lack the joy of Christ because they fail to keep up with all of the things they are “supposed” to do.

The truth is that no formula for behavior modification will ever work because the root of sin is in our hearts.  No amount of keeping up with strict law or disciplines or rituals will keep us from being what we are: fallen and sinful.  Religion seeks to justify the believer through their actions. True justification comes from Christ (Romans 4:25). Only He can liberate us from sin.

It can make us feel good for a while to try to earn our own merit, but in the end we will always fall short (Romans 3:23). We’ll never be good enough, do enough, deprive ourselves enough to be free from sin. If we fully rely on Jesus it means we trust that His sacrifice was good enough, that we don’t need to be under the law in order to receive forgiveness from God for our transgressions, that He died once, and for all. (Hebrews 7:27-28).

More on this next week…

The Spirit as a guarantee

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us,  and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Paul wrote once about his ability to be content in all situations.  How it is that he was capable of such a steady demeanor, regardless of whether he was in prison or in comfort?  A statement in his second letter to the Corinthians gives some good insight.  He writes to them after his plans changed and he was not able to visit as he would have liked to. His attitude though is one that shows full trust in God.  He speaks of active ongoing action on God’s part (establishes us), completed action (anointed us), and the guarantee that God has given.

Paul could be content because he knew that no matter where he ended up God had sent him. When he was sent, God equipped him. And when he went, God protected him.  He knew the Lord was with him at all times because he had been given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee.  So have we.  God is with us at all times because, as Christians, we are inhabited by the Holy Spirit.  He lives in us and works through us.  We are sealed as God’s own by His Holy Spirit in us.

The Holy Spirit can do great things through us, and that includes granting us boldness to speak the truth and courage because we know we are guaranteed His presence no matter where we are.  We’re never without God because establishes us, equips us, and seals us.

 

The fruit of the Spirit – Self-control

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the spirit is…self-control

“I can’t believe I did it again.” How many times have we all found ourselves in the situation that leads to such a thought? We tried to control ourselves, but that one thing that just always seems to creep back into our lives overtook our willpower once again. Yes, we gave in to temptation.

It’s a likely scenario, both for the nonbeliever and the Christ follower. It can be very difficult to keep our fleshly urges under control, whether those urges are overeating, lusting, drinking heavily, cheating, stealing, lying, or any other number of sins. The difference between us and those who are not redeemed by the blood of Christ through accepting His gift of salvation, is that we have been granted power above what we are humanly capable of possessing. We are not impotent to change our situation. We have the Holy Spirit working in us.

In the matter of self-control, the name given to this trait referenced in the Fruit of the Spirit scripture may be a bit of a misnomer. For it is not really “self” control that we possess, so much as it is “Spirit-control”. We have been given the ability to restrain ourselves through the help of the Holy Spirit living within us, as believers. We are told in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” That one passage is reason enough to believe that we are quite capable of bearing the fruit of self-control in our lives.

Self-control is not about trying our hardest not to sin. Rather, self-control, like the other Fruit of the Spirit, is attained through submission of our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The promise

Pentecost

Luke 24:49  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

Before Jesus departed from His disciples to be with His Father, He relayed to them a promise.  This promise caused their entire lives to change.  These ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, and otherwise nobodies took part in the birth of a movement that would turn the world upside down.  That is, after the promise, and after they waited for it.

When Jesus gave His followers the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, He didn’t send them out alone to accomplish His will.  He told them that with his departure would come another.  The Holy Spirit would be poured out on them, just as promised, and they would receive power from God to do everything they needed to do to bring about His purposes.  The power of the Holy Spirit changed them from cowards who ran at the time of Jesus’ arrest and trials to bold evangelists who proclaimed the Gospel to thousands upon thousands.

They waited for this power because they knew Jesus was true to His word.  The man who predicted that He would rise from the dead had more than earned their trust.  They knew the power would come and they knew when He showed up.  There was no reason left to question, only reason to act.  And the Holy Spirit helped them to do that too.

 

The fruit of the Spirit – Gentleness

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the spirit is…gentleness

How are we to react to the aggravating situations that we sometimes face in life? Now answer the question how do we react in those situations. The answers often do not line up with each other.

Using Jesus as an example (see Matthew 11:29), we should always treat others with gentleness. We’ve spoken of kindness, and this differs just slightly. While kindness is more of a way of acting, gentleness brings up more of an idea of a state of spiritual being. While one acts in kindness, one is of gentle spirit.

We are told that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” in Proverbs 15:1, to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” in Ephesians 4:2, and also to”Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” in Philippians 4:5. Our instructions are clear. Be gentle, not harsh. Speak words of love, not hate.

We can bear this fruit through the Holy Spirit living inside of us. And we should let it show to all the world to bring glory to God and to fulfill His will.

The Spirit declares

Pentecost

John 16:13-14  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

In moments where something spiritual that once seemed unclear becomes clear, the Holy Spirit is at work.  Whether it’s a verse of Scripture or something you’re learning through prayer, God is working in you for the purpose of His own glory.  When we need an answer from God, it’s not often that we’d hear an audible voice speak to us.  It’s more likely that we’d “hear” from Him through the person of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit guides us in truth.  He helps us discern right from wrong, allows us to see what sound biblical doctrine looks like, He declares to us what God is revealing. When we’re in need of direction, it’s the Holy Spirit that shows us the way.  When we’re looking for God’s will, it becomes clear (though usually not all at once) by way of the Holy Spirit’s work. He convicts us of sin, leads us in truth, and speaks to us the things of God.

It’s because of the Holy Spirit that we’re able to bring glory to God.  He molds us and shapes us to be of godly character, bearing witness to Christ through our example to others.  He loves others through us, accomplishes the Father’s will through us, and empowers us.  He’s God in us and He’s what other people see of God through us.

The fruit of the Spirit – Faithfulness

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the spirit is…faithfulness

Our main goal as followers of Christ should be to act with the character of Jesus, our Savior. There is no better way to lead others to Him than to show them exactly who Christ is. Words make a huge impact, but nothing can compare with the example we set through our actions.

In His earthly ministry, we see that Jesus was always faithful. There is never a time that our Lord makes a promise that He does not fulfill. We also should strive for this quality. We should be faithful in all we do.

In this world filled with so many excuses to get out of everything from paying what we owe on debt to facing the consequences of sin, it takes little effort from us to be unreliable. But as Christians, we are to set the example of what faithfulness means.

Faithfulness in our jobs means putting in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. Faithfulness in our marriage means remaining true to our vows, keeping ourselves pure, not only physically by mentally as well. Faithfulness to our children means not making promises that we don’t intend to keep.

And, just as important as those examples is our faithfulness in areas that can be seen in public by nonbelievers. The world must see us living the qualities we profess to believe in. Making excuses is not Christlike. Ask the Holy Spirit to bear this fruit in your life for all to see, for it brings glory to God.

Conviction by the Spirit

Pentecost

John 16:8-11  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;  concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;  concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

What is the Holy Spirit?  Is it a force?  Something that makes people act crazy in church?  Maybe it’s our conscience?  A ghost? What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit?  What does the Bible say?

First, the point must be made that the Holy Spirit is not an “it”, but a “He”, the third distinct person of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is God, just as Jesus is God and the Father is God. His purpose is unique and He moves in the lives of people to make things happen.  Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit when He was about to ascend back into heaven.  He pointed out that once He was gone we’d still have God with us because we’d be given the Spirit.  But so few of us understand what this means.

If you’re a believer, it’s only because you were first called by the Holy Spirit.  God was working in your life to reconcile you to a right relationship with Him.  You and I don’t have it in us to move towards God without Him initiating.  Our sinful nature makes us want to move away from God, not towards Him.

The Spirit convicts the world of sin (makes us aware of our sinful nature and need for forgiveness), of judgment (to show us the penalty that has to be paid for our sin), and of righteousness (to show us the character of God and all that’s good).  Jesus no longer walks among us as our example for what righteousness and holiness are, so the Holy Spirit’s job is to reveal them to us. It’s also His job to reveal God’s character to other people through us by enabling us to show the Fruit of the Spirit. Lives are changed by the work of the Holy Spirit, who glorifies Jesus.

 

The fruit of the Spirit – Goodness

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the spirit is…goodness

The Christian faith is one that is plagued with a sometimes unflattering past. The view that nonbelievers take of the religion to which we belong is not always a positive one. Despite our best efforts to put forth a good face to Christianity, some will focus on the negative events that have taken place in history.

This is all the more reason why we, as Christ followers, should put forth the very best example at all times. In all that we do, we need to show goodness. When we are wronged, we need to react, not with more wrong, but with good.

We need to be using our time to help the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Wherever there is need, it is those who follow Christ and do His will that should be at the forefront of the effort to bring good to the situation.

And in all these things, it is not our effort that brings about good. It is the Holy Spirit in us that bears this fruit for all to see.