FEBRUARY 18th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS Galatians 5:1,5-10,13-4; 5:16-26
“LIVING BY THE SPIRIT”
While waiting for the Spirit's leading from his home church in Antioch, Paul writes the first letter of many to come, this one to the four churches he just helped plant in southern Galatia.
He writes to them having heard some disturbing news. “Evidently some people are throwing (them) into confusion by perverting the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:7) Paul confronts this false gospel and those teaching and embracing it, reminding them how “God sent His Son to buy freedom for us who were slaves to (such teaching), so that he could adopt us as His very own children. And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts...” (Galatians 4:5-6)
Now Paul maps out what this freedom looks like from day to day by talking about what it looks like to be led by the Holy Spirit. “As we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)
Since coming to faith, Paul's been following the Spirit's lead. He's saying, in effect, “walk this way!” So what does this look like, to walk this way? I did some research and came up with this...
[U-tube video, “Walk This Way”]
Okay..., maybe not. So what does Paul mean that we are to led by the Spirit? How do we walk this way? Paul seeks to help his peers live out their spiritual freedom that Christ has granted them, stating, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free! Brothers & sisters, you were called to be free!” (Galatians 5:1, 13)
Free from what, one might ask. Free from two things, really - freedom from being enslaved to sin and freedom from the false gospel they're suckered into, the false gospel of legalism, of having to do certain things, keep certain traditions, being good enough, to be made right with God. It is this false teaching that Paul confronted in this letter: “Clearly no one is justified (made right) before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith'. It is by faith in Christ that we receive the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:11,14)
So one area of enslavement is the slavery to deception, to the false gospels that spread like yeast thru Christian community. As we discussed last week, they exist today as much as they did in Paul's day. Copies of that message are in the back, or you can listen online...
Another area we need freedom from is our slavery to sin. Our faith in Jesus saves us from the consequences of sin – eternal separation from God. But even though we may trust in Jesus for our sal-vation, it doesn't mean we stop sinning. We can not escape its grip simply by trying harder either or by having more rules or laws enforced. As Paul points out: “Our sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit.... They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”
Paul elaborates on this later in his letter to the churches in Rome: “I'm a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do! What a wretch I am!”
There, as here in Galatians, Paul points to the hope and freedom that Christ offers us from this wretched slavery:“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God and no longer slaves.”
Sounds familiar? It echoes what he wrote first here to the Galatians: “So I say, live by the Spirit so you will not gratify the desires of your sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:16)
So the means by which we live out our freedom from habitual sin is the same from which we live out our slavery to a legalistic approach to faith and other false teachings – by walking in the Spirit, and by seeking to actively express our faith through agape love, a love that is not based on sentiment or feelings, but on a decision to love – to love even when we don't feel like it! As Paul writes: Let us follow the Spirit's leading in every part of our lives...,, so do not provoke one another...!
How can we love the agape way? By training to do so and by learning how to be led by the Spirit of Jesus, who modeled what it looks like by loving on pharisees, prostitutes and tax-collectors...!
As Paul puts it, “Dear brothers and sisters, you were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself!'” (Galatians 5:13-14/Mark 12:31)
Paul is quoting Jesus there, by the way. He's also urging us to train ourselves to freely love others, those outside the community of faith, by first actively loving those inside the family of faith. Throughout his letters, the references to brothers and sisters are always to those in the church. The command here, as the sentence structure makes clear, is to train to love by serving one another in love.
That's why getting involved in Christian community is so vital. By making ourselves available, being reliable to perform certain tasks, that we train ourselves to overcome the urge to indulge our sinful nature..., by investing our time and energy doing something far more significant and ultimately rewarding – serving one another as Christ modeled the same among his disciples.
He modeled this when he fed the 5000, healed those who were hurting, washed his friends' feet, even serving them up breakfast following his resurrection. As he so famously said, “(I) came not to be served but to serve, and to give (my) life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
If we consider ourselves to be Christians, to be his followers, than we're to be in training to follow his lead in this area as in all other areas. Serving one another is how we get trained!
Let me celebrate two such servants among us. Cheryl Wentworth and Debbie Slack. Wherever I turn, there they are in service to all of us – whether that's cleaning the church, preparing the altar for worship, or helping to cook or clean up at Alpha – they are constantly in action, serving us in love! If you aren't already, get involved. Consider perhaps serving on Altar Guild, or cleaning crew or Alpha!
Serving, as Jesus served, helps nurture his Spirit within us and the more we do so the more the fruit of the Spirit begins to blossum within and through us. Such fruit doesn't occur by our adhering to certain rules or traditions, fruit grows over time. As we serve, fruit happens!
Paul also models and teaches Christ's followers to live by the Spirit by being led by the Spirit so that we can keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16, 18, 25) This also takes practice and training.
By doing so, we can learn to overcome temptation. “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but when you are tempted, He will provide a way out.”
(1 Corinthians 10:13)
He does so in numerous ways but most often by nudging us in the Spirit. In her book, The Helper, (one of the names in the New Testament for the Holy Spirit, by the way), Catherine Marshall tells of a young woman named, Betty, who'd been struggling for years to stop smoking.
One night she had a dream where she saw a hand with a lit cigarette in it. Suddenly the hand vigorously stamped out the cigarette. The next morning, while having breakfast Betty absent-mindedly lit a cigarette and put it to her lips but it tasted odd. Stamping it out she suddenly recalled her dream. The desire to light up vanished as she found herself wanting to use her hands to do something useful and productive. As a result she began a ministry of sending cards to shutins. The habit was broken.
For each person it works differently, but as we learn to recognize God's nudges, we experience how the Spirit is leading us out of distracting or destructive tendencies into new life. He does the same in terms of opening doors for us to be of loving service to others. Last week I had such a nudge. My afternonon appointment had just left when one of you suddenly came to mind. It was a nudge and so I called you only to learn that you'd dropped by the church and left me a note. You assumed that I was calling but I didn't know about your note. When I told you, tears flowed. It was a divine appointment!
In his book, Do What Jesus Did, Pastor Robby Dawkins writes: “To call ourselves Christ followers, to seek to do the things that Jesus did, means coming to terms with walking in His Spirit. Love was Jesus' weapon of choice, and He expressed His power in humility...,and in turn, teaching and empowering his followers to live by His Spirit. It's a message of power and right living given to us in word, sign and deed, bu the heart of it is the simplicity of love. This is the gospel of hope, a Kingdom in which beauty and power and righteousness extend from the heart of a servant King. It's a message of love and humility from beginning to end – even as we carry and minister the presence and power of the Almighty God..., to set you and me free from fear and brokenness and shame, to give us His Spirit and build us up. He came to release us...to renew the ruined cities in all the nations of the earth.”
(from Robby Dawkins' Do What Jesus Did)
Robby tells of how he and few others from his church encountered a couple of prostitutes in an ER waiting room. They offered to pray but the women said, “No, no, we're good.” A thought occurred to him. Sensing it was a nudge Robby asked one of them, 'Do you have a son? Does he need prayer?' She was taken back and said that's why they were there. He'd been badly burned.
“I'm afraid they're going to take him away because he was alone while I was working.” They could see that she was shaken, troubled with guilt and fear. He offered to pray for her and this time she agreed. He allowed the Spirit to lead him in praying for other things as well. Then, placing his hand on her shoulder, he said, 'Would you look at me? You know what? Jesus loves you. He really loves you.'
Suddenly she burst into tears. At that point her friend started to cry as well. One of the team followed suit. Placing her hand on the womans' shoulder she said, “Jesus loves you too...!” Christ's Spirit broke through their resistance, their pain and fear, and awakened the child of God within and everyone present was moved by Christ's presence and the power of His Spirit of love.
“The world is dying to hear that message of Christ's love and to experience the power of His love for them. Christ's Spirit in us gives us the freedom to act like and to be Jesus to those around us.”
(from Robby Dawkins' Do What Jesus Did)
My brothers and sisters, you were called to be free, serving one another (and others) in love! In this way, our faith becomes an adventure like no other, as we learn to live by the Spirit as we are led by the Spirit so that we can keep in step with the Spirit..., exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit!