The Fruit of the Spirit

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Galatians 5:1, 13-16

Christians are not saved by the good works they do; rather, the good works they do follow from their being saved.

Human beings have an inborn longing for freedom. At the end of the film Braveheart, as the 13th century Scottish patriot William Wallace is being executed by the English, he utters one final cry of defiance, shouting with all his might a single, heart-wrenching word: “Freedom!” In the 20th century, these words from an old Negro spiritual are inscribed on the grave of a different kind of freedom-fighter and martyr, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Free at last.”

But despite our deep-seated desire for freedom, human beings are not free. Many, of course, still suffer from a lack of political or social freedom. They are not free to govern themselves, or speak their minds, or live as they choose, or worship according to the dictates of their own conscience. But there are other kinds of bondage in our world, different senses in which we are unfree. Some of us are in bondage to ignorance, or poverty, or social oppression; some to fear, or guilt, or memories of the past. Many people are captives to their own impulses and desires. Psychologist Gerald May has written about the psychological and spiritual bondage of addiction:

Addiction is a. . . self-defeating force that abuses our freedom and makes us do things we really do not want to do. . . addiction attaches desire to certain specific behaviors, things, or people. These objects. . .then. . . come to rule our lives. . . all of us suffer from addiction. . . The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are responsible for addiction to ideas, work, relationships, power, moods, fantasies, and an endless variety of other things. We are not free.

(Addiction and Grace, pp.3-4)

Now the Bible explains our lack of freedom in spiritual terms. According to scripture, we are born into the world as the slaves of sin. We are part of what Colossians 1:13 calls “the dominion of darkness.” According to the Bible, each human being is born “dead in trespasses and sins,” and our natural way of life is to follow “the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (that’s from Ephesians 2:1). Slavery is no longer a part of our daily experience, as it was for people in the ancient world. To say that we are enslaved to sin and evil from our very birth sounds harsh and antiquated. But what does it really mean? It does not mean that we are completely helpless victims, or that we can’t do anything good at all, or that we are not responsible for any of our actions. What it does mean is that our human nature has an inborn inclination toward evil. Put it this way: the “default setting” of our moral software is not “good” or even “neutral.” Rather, it is set on “sin,” which makes us prone from birth to follow what the apostle Peter called “the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Pet.1:18). This tendency to follow both the dark side of our human nature and the dark spiritual forces at work in the universe is the explanation behind the terrible and mysterious power of evil in our world and in our lives.

FREEDOM IN CHRIST

But here’s the gospel: Christians are free. This is one of the main reasons why the gospel is such good news. In contrast to what we all are in our natural state, when we come to Jesus Christ, when we live in and through him, we are set free by the power of God’s grace. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” Paul exclaims at the outset of Galatians chapter five. “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” he writes in another of his letters (Colossians 1:13f.) We are free because we have been redeemed and rescued from all the powers of darkness. Christians are like hostages that have been set free as a result of a stunningly successful Special Forces raid. God himself is the commander. He sent his Son Jesus into enemy-controlled territory to defeat our enemies and win our freedom on the cross.

The freedom the gospel brings to those who are justified by faith in Christ has two aspects. First, it is freedom from: freedom from sin’s binding power and guilt, freedom from Satan’s rule. But Christian freedom is also freedom from the law as a means of justification. It is freedom from merit-based religion, from rules and rituals and good works as the way to win salvation, freedom from never being quite good enough or being able to do enough to earn God’s approval. Freedom in this sense sweeps over us as a blessed relief when we realize that God loves us as we are, not because of what we are, and that we are freed from doubt, shame, obsessiveness, compulsion or whatever else would destroy our peace.

But secondly, freedom in Christ is also freedom for; freedom for doing good and becoming holy, and freedom in this sense comes to us as a sense of moral obligation. We no longer have to do good works in order to be justified. But this does not mean we can be indifferent to personal behavior. On the contrary, we vigorously pursue goodness in order to glorify God for his gifts of forgiveness and salvation. Without having to agonize over whether we’ve earned enough religious merit, we’re free to serve Christ gladly. Freedom in Christ is freedom for obedience, for service, above all, freedom for love. Martin Luther began his famous treatise on Christian Liberty with this statement: “I set down first these two propositions concerning the liberty and bondage of the spirit: A Christian man is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian man is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone.” In these two equal but opposite propositions Luther is simply echoing what Paul taught in the fifth chapter of Galatians.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14

TWO CONTRADICTORY WAYS

We have been following Paul’s argument closely throughout the book of Galatians. His primary concern has been to counteract the pseudo-gospel of the Judaizers, with its legalistic emphasis on the necessity of performing the works of the law to be saved. Paul has done this by stressing that the gospel proclaims justification by faith alone. Now by this point in chapter 5, a reader would have to be pretty inattentive not to have gotten Paul’s point. But errors usually come in pairs of opposites. The opposite error of legalism is lawlessness, or antinomianism, to use its technical name (antinomianism literally means “against the law”). Legalism, which is the attempt to earn or merit salvation by keeping religious laws and rules, is a deadly mistake. But just as deadly is the opposite, the attitude of rejecting the law altogether and living with a careless indifference towards sin. Paul was just as concerned to combat this error as the other. So in Galatians 5 he turns his attention to the dangers presented by lawlessness.

In developing his case for Christian freedom, the apostle introduces us to the reality of the Christian life. Christ has set us free from sin, as Paul cries in the great Christian declaration of independence of Galatians 5:1. But that’s not the end of it. Just as in America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, a great truth is proclaimed, but a war must still be fought to make this truth a reality. The reality of our freedom from sin is that we must fight and win the battle against our sinful habits and actions continually. The reality of the Christian life is that it is a life of daily spiritual conflict, not only conflict with the forces of evil outside us, but conflict within us. Now some people are surprised to learn that the conflict does not go away when you become a Christian; in fact, if anything it becomes worse, since the indwelling Spirit of God now begins to work seriously on our sinful nature. Some Christians also teach that this conflict can diminish over time as believers become increasingly holy or “Spirit-filled” and “Spirit-led,” and some even say that it can be won in this life by attaining a state of moral perfection. But those Christians who are wisest both in the Scriptures and the ways of the human heart know better. Our inward spiritual struggle is real, and it is life-long.

We find ourselves as Christians subject to the pull of forces from two contradictory ways of life. Paul writes, “Live by the Spirit . . . and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh” (v.17). Christians, of course, are not the only people who talk about the inner moral conflict we experience. But what’s different about Christian teaching on this point is, first, its analysis of the problem. Our conflict is not between our higher and lower natures, or our better selves and our worse, or our conscience and our desires; or between our body and soul (as the ancient Greeks taught), or between our ego and id (as modern psychoanalysis suggests). No, for Christians, the conflict is between our flesh and God’s Spirit, between our old, default nature – that is what the New Testament term “flesh” refers to – and the new nature which the Holy Spirit, now residing within us, is shaping and directing.

What is also different is the Christian view on how to win and make progress in this conflict: not simply by redoubled moral effort and greater amounts of will-power, but through reliance on the Holy Spirit’s power. Throughout the course of the nineteenth century, military technology made great strides, and the result was the development of increasingly deadly weapons. But military strategy did not keep pace; it still advocated victory through simple frontal attacks. Though conditions had changed drastically by the 20th Century, the generals still thought that what they needed to win was, in one historian’s phrase, “bigger guns and braver men.” The result of that thinking was the appalling slaughter and stalemate of the First World War. The generals were wrong, you see. What they needed was an entirely new strategy, a different way of fighting, with different weapons.

So do we. We will never solve our moral dilemma, we will never make progress really against evil by simply calling for more will-power and better people. What we need is a new way of fighting, a new weapon. The sordid sin in our lives and in our societies won’t be overcome purely by our striving to improve ourselves. That will only happen as we live by the Spirit and are led by the Spirit, walking in step with him each day. The answer to the problem of evil is not to be found in trying to become better people but in becoming new people, people who live by the power of the Spirit of God. Let Paul have the last word.

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. . . . 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.