Monday, June 24, 2013

Into the Grey - Led by the Spirit

To do something uncomfortable takes intentionality.
To do something you’ve never done that you may not want to do, means psyching yourself up to do it.
To do something that you aren’t sure about but you know is important means you make yourself do it.
It takes deliberate, intentional effort.
It took deliberate and intentional effort for me to buy my wife a personal feminine product one time.
My wife and daughters are vegetarians (which I will argue with anyone is actually a much healthier diet than most of us eat, definitely than what I eat)…It took deliberate and intentional effort to try Tofu.
It took deliberate and intentional effort to change my daughters’ diapers when they were babies.
It took deliberate and intentional effort to go on my first Carolina Cross Connection mission trip.  On that trip it took deliberate and intentional effort to act like I knew what I was doing when we built a huge wheelchair ramp so the youth that were in my group would not be discouraged.
            It takes deliberate and intentional effort for those of you who come out on a Saturday morning once a month to deliver flowers to a nursing home or prepare and deliver meals to people who need them or prepare food kits that are delivered at times when they are most needed or build wheelchair ramps or beautify the church. 
            In our scripture today Paul reminds us of something else that takes deliberate and intentional effort.  It will take a few minutes to get there, but when we do I think it will be worth it.  Will you hang with me?
Context of Galatians - Apparently the Galatian Christian Jews – at this point Christianity was still a type of Judaism – these Christian Jews were being tempted by other Gospels and there was a big debate about Circumcision.  If you were not Jewish and you became a Christian Jew should you be circumcised?  Every Jew was circumcised at birth as part of a covenant that God had made with Abraham.  There was a big debate about whether or not a non-Jew (a gentile) who became a Christian (which would be a new type of Judaism) should become circumcised.  Paul addresses this and some other issues.  He basically warns them of following evangelists of other Gospels than that of the one they have already received.
Paul addresses these issues and offers some corrective teaching and then we come to chapter 3 where that corrective teaching continues.  Read 3:1-6. 
There must have been some teaching around that was saying Jesus really was not crucified.  So Paul simply reminds them that indeed he was crucified.  The teaching that Jesus was not crucified is false teaching.  Someone, Paul says, is tricking you, is deceiving you is bewitching you.  To be bewitched is to be a victim of someone’s “evil eye” or “evil spell.”  Paul is using language that will call out the pagan aspect of what is taught so that they will hopefully see that take notice and change their ways.  Then he introduces the Spirit. 
Paul asks a question that is rhetorical, the question is how did you receive the spirit?  Was it: A. by works of the law or B. by believing what you heard?  The answer is obvious – obviously in Paul’s mind they received it by what they heard.  But they have been bewitched to believe that by following the law they gain the Spirit.
Paul asks another question. Really?  Are you so foolish?  Really?  You really think that you received the Spirit by performing good works.  You really think that by following the law of the Torah, the law of Moses, the Ten Commandments and more laws, you really believe that by doing those things you have received the Spirit?  Obviously some of them have bought into some false teaching and Paul is challenging them.  Don’t you know that you started in the Spirit and what the Spirit started in you was done by what you heard?  By living according to that Spirit?  Paul is saying: “You are trying to complete what the Spirit started by good works.  It doesn’t happen that way with God.”
            This work in you that the Spirit has started leads to good works not the other way around.  Some Christian Jews believed that their good works created the life of the Spirit in them.  No, the life of the Spirit in them leads them towards good works.  Some of these Jewish Christians have it backwards. 
            I believe some of us have it backwards as well.  We think that if we are moral, if we live moral lives, if we don’t cuss and don’t get drunk and don’t commit adultery and don’t lie and don’t steal and don’t cheat that God will give us His Spirit.  That if we don’t do those things we have the gift of the Spirit.  No, it’s a lie.  God has already given us His Spirit.  It’s not what we do or don’t do that makes the Spirit more alive in our lives, the Spirit is already alive in our lives and leads us towards the things God wants for us.
What Paul is saying is that the gospel way of life in the Spirit is not about the certainty of rules or of social status but about the certainty of living in God.  It’s about the certainty of freedom.  It’s about being no longer self centered, but others centered.  The desire of the Galatian Christians to find security in following the moral law, instead of living by the Spirit is in Paul’s mind a form of bewitchment. 
For us today, if your idea of living the Christian life is bound only in moral living you are bewitched.  If the highest Christian ideal for you is defined by morals and only morals, you are bewitched.  If a Christian is someone defined by what they don’t do, you are bewitched, the enemy has tricked you, the gospel you have adopted is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are not primarily people of morals, We are primarily people of the Spirit.  People who acknowledge with Paul, that because Jesus was Crucified and raised from the dead, the Spirit of God has been unleashed within us and through us, so that our highest ideal is not a moral standard, but the Spirit of God Himself. 
The Galatian Christians are attracted by the law.  They know the law.  The law makes sense.  The law is specifically spelled out.  Now that Christ has fulfilled the law and we have the Spirit we can follow the law and get more of the Spirit, that’s what they are thinking.  And Paul comes along and says – the law is not what we should be attracted to – God is who we should be attracted to.  The Spirit does not come by obeying the law.  Catawba, the Spirit does not come by following a set of morals.  The Spirit comes by making ourselves open and willing to follow and live by the Spirit.  It takes intentional recognition and a willingness to be shaped and defined by the Spirit.  For Christians to change their minds about their priorities we have to open ourselves up to the Spirit of God.  It takes deliberate and intentional effort to live by the Spirit.
If you live primarily by morals you will be judgmental.
If you live primarily by morals you will often feel guilt and shame because we can’t keep the standards of God.  Just like the Jews could not fully obey the law.
If you live primarily by morals you will think you are better than everyone else.
If you live primarily by morals you will be defined by what you don’t do instead of what you do.
If you live primarily by morals and morals alone, you will miss out on the freedom and joy and abundance that God has for you.
Should we have morals, yes, absolutely we should.  Those morals should be led by the Spirit not by our own understanding of right and wrong.  We don’t put our trust in morals, we put our trust in God and in the truth that God’s spirit lives in us and through us.  We don’t follow morals, we follow Jesus Christ.  IT’s not a bunch of rules, it is a relationship offered through the Holy Spirit.  And it takes intentional and deliberate effort to follow and live by the Spirit.  If you trust in morals they will let you down, the Spirit of God will never let you down.
This is hard for us.  It’s easier, it’s much easier to have a set of morals laid out before us that we follow than it is to follow the Spirit.  But it does not lead to the freedom and joy and hope and transformational life that God has for us.  Living by the Spirit leads to that life.  We are tempted by the same thing these Galataian Christians were tempted by.  We are tempted to have a check list of morals that we follow and abandon the leading of the Spirit.  And following morals is oppressive and shackling, that’s why so many Christians live in guilt all the time and think God is mad at them all the time.
Following the Spirit sets us free from that type of oppressive thinking and belief.  One of the most powerful things Satan can do is make you think you are a good person because you follow a set of morals.  That type of life will drain the joy and freedom and abundant life that God has for you. 
Following the Spirit takes intentional and deliberate effort and it is not easy but it is worth it.  Paul talks about how hard it is for us later in this same letter to the church at Galatia.   After talking about being called to live in freedom, being called to love Paul says in Galatains 5:16 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
            Let me reiterate, if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.  If you are led by the Spirit you are not under morality.  The law was a good thing that the Galatian church let become the priority and let get in the way of the Spirit.  Morals are a good thing that we often let become a priority and thus get in the way of the Spirit.
           Paul says there is a war going on inside of us.  The Spirit and the flesh are at war with each other inside our hearts, inside our minds and inside our souls.  The war is raging and it’s not easy.  The flesh desires what it wants and the spirit desires what it wants – that’s the war.  It reminds me of an Indian story. 
One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson: “A fight is going on inside of me.  It is a terrible fight between two wolves.  One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’
And so it is with the battle between the flesh and the Spirit happening within each one of us.  Which one are you feeding?  Have you intentionally opened your heart, your mind, your soul to the Spirit of God, because if you haven’t done that the flesh is winning the war within you.  If you are deliberate and intentional about living for Jesus Christ, living by the Spirit, you have a chance, we have a chance to be the people of God that He wants us to be.
To be defined not by what we don’t do, but by what we do.  Not do be defined because we don’t cuss, but because we uplift and encourage with our words.  Not to be defined because we don’t get drunk, but because we can be around people who get drunk and still show them that we love them.  Not to be defined because we don’t cheat on our spouse, but to be defined by how we sacrificially serve and love our spouse.  Not to be defined because aren’t addicted to anything, but to be defined as one who goes out of our way to help those who are addicted.  Not to be defined because we don’t lie, cheat and steal, but because we are ridiculously generous and radically hospitable.
It is easier to be defined by what we don’t do.  But that’s not living by the spirit.  That’s not walking by the Spirit, that’s living according to set of morals.  Don’t drop morals, I’m not saying morals aren’t a good thing, what I am saying is that when we let morals become our priority we leave God out of our lives.  Jesus challenged the people who followed the law, Jesus challenged the people who were supposedly moral, more than he did anyone else.  Why?  Because those people thought they knew the way to God and they missed out on what God had for them. 
            To us Morals makes sense.  Morals are something we can follow.  Morals are easier than living by the Spirit.  But we are not called to trust in morals.  We are not called to be filled with the law.  We are not called to be defined by what we don’t do.  We are called to walk by the Spirit.  To live a lifestyle where we hear and obey the Spirit and sometimes it’s not easy, sometimes it’s risky, sometimes it will lead us into the grey areas of life.  It takes intentional and deliberate effort to open our hearts and minds and souls to the Spirit of God. 
            So I ask which wolf will you feed?  The wolf of the flesh where set your own set of morals?  Or the wolf of the Spirit which may just lead you into some grey areas.  Feed the Spirit.  Open yourself up to the possibility that God actually wants to talk to you.  When you open yourself to that truth.  When you are intentional about hearing the Spirit of God, you will experience a freedom and joy and new life and new boldness that you have never experienced before.  Feed the Spirit and watch what happens.

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