How free do you feel today? Between the 10 month pandemic, the 10+ executive orders from President Biden’s first day, and all the other top 10’s, I honestly feel more constrained than free.
Today we’re going to pause our Isaiah series, and talk about the ongoing freedom of the believer to bear the fruit of the Spirit for the good of those around us. We’ll be following the lead of our pastor, who interrupted Isaiah to tend to the needs of his flock.
I need it. You just might need it, too. Why?
Recent events have tested us. I hear myself and am appalled, because I know that what comes out of my mouth flows from my heart. When I hear fear, harshness, complaints or prejudice, I realize the seeds of recent events are already bearing rotten fruit.
Not only that, what comes out of my mouth affects my neighbor.
Therefore, this 10 week series on the Fruit of the Spirit, following our current sermon series, is intended to be the hopeful and corrective word we need to ensure our words help others. Join me. Here’s our pastor’s main point of the first sermon in the series:
“If you’ve been born of the Spirit, then you will bear the fruit of the Spirit.”
Have you? Then you will. Walk with me through Galatians 5:13-26.
Free to Love
Paul’s theme in the entire book of Galatians is that the gospel brings freedom. The first freedom is from keeping the law in order to be righteous. The second freedom goes even farther– freedom for keeping the law through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Have you ever lived under the bondage of legalism? The Pharisees became nit-picky with God’s law, striving to please God by excelling in the finer points of Old Testament law, the ones that might escape the average Jew who was trying to raise a family and keep food on the table.
We might not be able to relate to their pious pickiness, such as tithing herbs, but we can certainly relate to our own.
We all practice legalism at some times, though not always by using God’s law. Sometimes we make up our own laws, and then practically kill ourselves trying to keep them. Laws of dieting, for instance, which dictate what I must or must not eat in order to look the way I want.
Or perhaps you’ve set up productivity laws, requiring lots of list-checking in order to feel good about your performance. I remember once becoming obsessed with the details of being a good wife, including turning my husband’s t-shirts right side out when doing laundry. I eventually rebelled from my self-imposed rules.
Eventually, legalism becomes joyless and burdensome. We can either respond by gritting out teeth and trying harder or react by becoming fed up and chucking the whole thing.
The gospel breaks this bondage. Jesus perfectly kept God’s law for us, thus his gospel frees us from legalistic law-keeping. This good news is meant to invade and reshape every detail of our lives. But it also leaves us with a choice.
What will we do with the freedom we’ve been handed? Live to please God or to please ourselves? The flesh turns us into animals, who “bite and devour one another.” But the Spirit sets us free to love.
Learning to Walk a Fruitful Path
Walking is a learned behavior. I remember helping our second grandchild Emily learn to walk. First we worked on standing. Before long she could go from squat to stand like a pro. Now she needed to learn to take a step.
Holding onto my fore fingers, she lifted one foot to take a step and … promptly fell sideways. Sideways? Yes. My Pilates training clicked in and I realized that her hip abductors were weak. Now, you might not have thought recently about your hip abductors, but they’re pretty important when it comes to walking.
How could I help her? By increasing my support so it was just enough to keep her from falling. You learn to walk by walking. And that’s a great visual for walking by the Spirit.
Paul encourages his readers to walk, minute by minute, day by day, by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Our new birth desire to please God is constantly opposed by the downward pull of our flesh, but the Holy Spirit was given to help us press forward. Look at the verbs Paul uses for the Spirit’s help:
- walk by the Spirit, 5:16
- led by the Spirit, 5:18
- live by the Spirit, 5:25
- keep in step by the Spirit, 5:25
Have you experienced the fierce temptations of the flesh? Paul did, too. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 8:15).” I remember sitting in a Bible study in high school and reading that verse for the first time. “That’s in the Bible?” I gasped, “That’s exactly how I feel!”
Free to Bear and Share Good Fruit
It’s no wonder. Our sinful flesh is a powerful enemy, with 15 of its evil activities listed in Galatians 5:19-21. Luther warns us to take it seriously:
It’s one thing to be provoked by the flesh and another thing to assent to the flesh without fear or remorse.
Counterfeit holiness won’t stand up to sin. It wimps out. But we have the Holy Spirit who both stirs and fulfills our desire for holiness.
And guess what’s even better? We have something good to give away. The fruit of the Spirit, those 9 character qualities that sketch a perfect picture of Jesus and a growing likeness in us, are ours for the sake of our neighbor.
“No fruit free produces fruit for itself, but for others. The fruit of the Spirit is for those around us,” said the preacher. “Your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are for the sake of your neighbor.”
In our current cultural moment, let’s “keep in step with the Spirit.” He will hold our hand as we put one foot in front of another in our neighborhoods, work, and conversations.
Let’s give it away as freely as we have received it.