Galatians 5:16-26

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

1.  This is the struggle we read about in Romans 7:14-8:17.  Paul has the desire to do what is good, but cannot carry it out.  “For what I do is not the good I want to do…So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

There is no human way to resolve this conflict, is there?  We live with it just as Paul did and we find ourselves, like Sisyphus we talked about last week, pushing the rock up the incline again and again only to have it roll down each time.

That is why it is so important not to stop reading at the end of Chapter 7.  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might by fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

In other words we may fail but there is no condemnation from God.  We may struggle but there is no sense of God’s writing us off because he has condemned sin – not us.  When he looks at us he does not see our sin but the righteousness of Christ.  We are, as Paul says elsewhere, hid in Christ.  Like Adam and Eve in Eden we want to hide from him because we fall short but we do not need to hide – because we are already hidden in the righteousness of Christ.

And here we pick up on the theme for this morning.  What is it we desire?  It is not always at the front of our mind but it is our overall mindset. It is what we think about whenever we are not thinking about something else.  Dr. Stephan Schwartz, the author of “You Are Not Your Brain” was here this week speaking to the Peace of Mind conference.  He described the parts of our brain that control focus and the parts the are activated when we are letting our minds drift – and like a car out of alignment they tend to drift in the same direction when we take our hands off the wheel.  But, as Paul says thousands of years ago, we can redirect our desires and our mindset.  We are not slaves to those desires.  “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace, because the sinful mind is hostile to God…You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.”

Soren Kierkegaard put it this way, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” The brain can actually be trained to change what it desires.  That is what Scripture would call maturity. It is what Greek philosophers called the formation of habits.  It is what neuroscientists call regrooving the brain.  We can interrupt the drift and, in a sense, realign the front end. We could even call it “pneumoplasticity” or letting the Spirit reshape the pathways of the brain.

2.  So, turn back to Galatians 5 and read it through the lens of Romans and mindfulness.

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

The desires of the sinful nature are the old grooves and patterns we live with and those things to which we return so easily if not checked and interrupted.  That is why Paul says they are obvious.  We have lived with them all our lives and see the effects all around us. They not only tear apart individuals but families, communities and entire nations.  They destroy what binds us together. They do not completely go away but they can be diminished.  We are not slaves to them.

However, it is important to remember that it’s not our struggle alone.  We are combatants in a much larger fight.  Not only do we struggle but the Spirit as well is at war with the desires and acts of the sinful nature that are present in the world.  The Spirit not only helps us in our weakness and guides us in our prayers but intercedes for us “in accordance with God’s will.”  There is a Great War being fought and while we often have no idea what part we play, we know that the Spirit’s desire for our maturity is not just for personal holiness or development but to prepare us to play our part.  This is why such an emphasis on happiness and personal success is dangerous.  It takes our eyes off the fact that we are not here to make the best of our individual lives but to fulfill our assignment.  The Spirit wants to take raw recruits and turn them into veteran soldiers with missions to accomplish.

3.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature 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.”

I grew up on lists:

Ten Commandments
Sixty-Six Books in the Bible
Twelve Disciples
Seven Spiritual Gifts
Nine Fruits of the Spirit
Twelve Tribes of Israel
Sixteen Characteristics of Love in 1 Corinthians
Nine Blesseds in the Beatitudes

Can you think of others?

It was an easy way to memorize and I am grateful for it.  Knowing things as part of a list is the tutor that Paul described earlier in Galatians.  I do not despise the tutor and I know that the tutor was necessary but not sufficient.

But Paul taught in lists.  It was natural to him and reflected his training as a scholar of the law.  It helped make sure nothing was overlooked.  We all like lists. Publishers have told me that books with numbers in their titles, like five keys, four steps, ten secrets, tend to outsell others because they are practical, memorable and simple. Lists are good for other reasons. I feel better about flying knowing both pilots have been through an extensive check list prior to taking off. Atul Gawande wrote a book titled “The Checklist Manifesto” to tell what happens in medical care when doctors follow very defined checklists. “The researchers found that simply having the doctors and nurses in the ICU create their own checklists for what they thought should be done each day improved the consistency of care to the point that the average length of patient stay in intensive care dropped by half.”

Lists are like practicing our scales. They are disciplines and mental tools for getting things done. They are important. But, just as music is more than notes on a page or a painting is more than a list of colors used, the life Paul describes is more than checking off a list of virtues at the end of the day as Benjamin Franklin did.

Jesus taught in stories.  We can memorize a list but we imagine a story.  A story is like a seed planted in our imaginations and in our experience.  It grows and morphs over time.  Lists do not.  Stories take on a life of their own.  Lists do not.  Jesus was a teacher.  Paul was an instructor and lists were one of his tools.  We need both.  We need parables and imagination that grows over the course of our lives.  We need lists to give us structure and boundaries when we are drifting.

The best way for me to think of this is a puzzle – not a list.  Each piece is part of a larger picture – not a number on a list.  They are ingredients but a list of ingredients is not the same as what is created.  Sometimes we get focused on the ingredients and are overwhelmed by our lists.  In the same way, it’s good to follow the instructions but there is a bigger picture.

4.  Paul’s letters were primarily to churches – not individuals.  Why is that important to remember?

Paul was addressing a community but we too often read the letters as directed to individual believers to describe individual behavior.  Think about it this way.  When we get a note from someone who has been helped through a difficult time by the class, the note is addressed to the whole class even if not everyone was aware or participated.  It’s not directed to individuals but to all of us.  We are all included.

One person cannot alone embody all these characteristics.  The fruit of the Spirit is not all found on one tree.  In fact, had Paul given himself more space he could have likely come up with twenty more ingredients.  Think what that would have done for many of us! Paul was writing to an orchard and we do not live that way.  Otherwise, we are all straining to become perfect on our own and we will only become frustrated.  Again, we are not working toward holiness to become museum pieces of perfection but to be people part of a larger mission.

Paul was most concerned about unity – not individual development.  Only a body could show the diversity of gifts – teaching, leading, giving, etc. – and only a body could grow the fruit of the Spirit.  Look at what he says in Ephesians 5:15.  “…we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  Paul’s desire is to present the Church and not simply individuals to Christ.  “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  This doesn’t eliminate individual desire for holiness but it puts the emphasis on the Church and God’s intent that it is “through the church that the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

5.  No amount of natural effort can produce these. They are supernatural.  They can be mimicked by a few but they turn out to be fake. Fake fruit is like hanging ornaments on a tree and calling it fruit.  We can do great works.  We can imitate fruit but they are only ornaments.  We cannot turn ornaments into fruit.  They break out wherever the Spirit is present.  It is the nature of the Spirit to produce them.  We don’t have to convince a tree to make fruit.  That’s its nature.

So, what does God want for the Church?  What are the ingredients of the final product – Love. Again, this is not an exhaustive list but a picture of what the Church will be and look like if we combine them.

Joy – Deep satisfaction that is not dependent on circumstances.  Not happiness or exuberance but the knowledge that in spite of evil there is good.  In spite of ugliness there is beauty.  I love the quote from Anne Frank:  “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that remains.”

Peace – I think peace comes only when we have learned to trust that our times are in God’s hands.  It is not fatalism but knowing that God is in our future.  You may have read the book or seen the movie, “The Shack” by Paul Young.  I like something he said about being at peace about the anxieties of the future.  “When we think about the future we forget God is already there.”

Patience – This is not passivity but an active perseverance.  One author said, “It is the grace of a man who could revenge himself and does not.”  Age, while it does not always, should produce patience and resting in the gradual work of God in lives of other people.

Kindness and Goodness – “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”  Kindness is what Bishop Ryle called one of the “passive graces”.  It is hard to define. “They are no doubt harder to attain than the active ones, but they are precisely the graces which have the greatest influence in the world.”

Think about that.  The influence of kindness – beginning with those closest to you and working out – may well have the greatest influence and effect than any other evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Kind to my wife or husband.  Kind at work.  Kind with my friends.  Kind with my family.  Kindness that points to God and leads others to repentance.

Fidelity – It is loyalty and probably best illustrated by how Jeb Stuart signed all his letters to Robert E. Lee:  “Yours to count on.”

Gentleness and meekness:  The one who is strong but under control.  One who values the abilities of others without needing to compare them to their own.

Self-control:  One who has mastered the desire for pleasure in favor of joy.  It is the mindfulness that we described before.  One who has learned to manage themselves toward maturity.

Finally, as is always the case with Paul, the binding power of love.  By themselves they are a list of virtues but Love gives them life.  On their own they can even become vices but love keeps them pure.  On their own they can become legalistic and self-absorbed but love keeps them focused on playing their part in the supernatural growth of the body of the Church.

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