Galatians 5: 19-26…”The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh 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.”
This is vital scripture to the soul reborn in the Spirit. It’s written by the Apostle Paul to the early church of Galatia, which is now modern day Turkey. Considering the central role Turkey is now playing in the ongoing saga in the Middle East, it’s interesting to compare what Paul wrote to them versus what is now present. But this isn’t a political post. If I wanted to go that route with this particular lifted scripture, I could break down all worldly politics and social movements to expose the evil that they are. Maybe another day. This is about you…and me…and the church.
When I read scripture I seek out clear and simplified instructions like these. I’m a direct person. Tell me exactly what you want from me. But God’s ways don’t match our ways, and so, we are given parables, and examples, and history, and prophecy, and the mystery remains big enough to fit all of us within its hold. But I sure love it when it’s broken down in easy to understand form. This is Paul telling us clearly what the fruits of life without God are, which end in death, and what the fruits of the Spirit are, which lead to eternal life. It is critical to understand the second to last sentence in the scripture I posted. Why? Because of how he wrote it and how those of us living now experience it. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
We have a choice to make in that regard each day and each moment. Our souls have been reborn, but we (as living human creatures) are still transforming like a caterpillar to a butterfly from dying flesh to eternal spirit. In short, we consist of both, and all of the above listed traits are still within our capability. How many great men and women of God are fallen by sexual adventures? How many by selfish ambition? For as long as we are still flesh, we are still capable of producing and being victim to its fruits. It’s very important to understand that, and it’s Paul’s dire warning he’s giving. “Keep in step with the Spirit.” It’s a choice. It’s not an automatic impulse. As your faith grows and your spiritual maturity rises, those fruits become natural impulse, but they are still a choice. We have to train ourselves to keep in step with the goodness written on our heart, and to withstand the worldliness that provides constant conflict in both our hearts and minds.
So how do we find promised peace? By posing the question that way I just put myself into the role of teacher, and that’s not what I am, as noted several posts back in my reboot of this blog. I’m more of a friendly Sherpa…an experienced guide…sharing what I’ve learned to work for me. That doesn’t mean as I take you up the mountain you might not be equipped right, and you’ll fall off a cliff if you try it exactly like I do. I need you to understand the difference. The Holy Spirit is your teacher. I’m a Sherpa. So, in that way, let’s look at the question.
When I’m on a vacation, or a sabbatical, or some type of adventure, I tap into those fruits of the Spirit so much easier than I do while living my normal life. That is just the way it is. I’ve recently returned from 4 days in the San Francisco, California area, and the fruits of the Spirit were present and abundant emerging from my being. Free flowing. The picture above was taken by my wife of me in Muir Woods, just north of the city. The atmosphere amongst the tallest trees on earth has to be about as close to a heavenly experience as we are capable of in this dimension. It swallows you in goodness. Promised peace? I was loaded with peace. Loved my fellow man, loved all creation, and loved the creator with all my heart and soul. Easy peasy. How do we translate that to normal life?
Death to self. That’s what we’re in the process of, and while on vacation or away from our earthbound obligations, it’s much easier to let “self” sink to the depths, and allow your eternal soul to soar. But then we come home to the stresses of our lives…careers, marriages, children, family, death, disaster, politics, people tugging at us to do what they want…all of those things that bring “self” back up and into defensive posture. We seek false idols that promise relief, we lash out in bitterness and hateful speech, we sow discord, get jealous or envious of those around us, and we reach for addictions to mask our pain. In short, we go right back to the fruits of the flesh. All of us do this in one way or another. We long to break the cycle but we don’t know how. RELATIONSHIP. That is the way out. Relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Relationship starts with prayer. Sincere, honest, confessional, acknowledging, thankful, selfless…prayer. Submission. That’s where promised peace begins to take root. If you’re reading this today and you do not have a regular prayer life, I guarantee you that your life is overflowing with the fruits of the flesh. You might be saved, for I don’t know the mysteries of God, but you’re not transforming. Go to your knees in prayer and begin that relationship. Jesus taught us how to pray. Do that and build around it.
Next up…study. Get your face into scripture on a daily basis. People like to say, “Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.” Yes. It does. The Bible. And if you’re reborn of the Spirit but not partaking from its sustaining bread, then your faith and knowledge will forever remain smaller than a mustard seed. God’s word is your shelter, protection, encouragement, promise…your life. With modern technology we’ve brought many curses on ourselves, but it also gives many blessings. We have access to God’s word in thousands of languages and translations. It’s a free app on your smart phone. Filled with study plans, reading guides, devotionals…everything you could possibly dream of. Free. Get in there.
Action. If you’ve given your life to Christ, began routine prayer life, and are engaged in devoted scripture study, I can guarantee you what’s coming next…action. The first book in the New Testament after the Gospels of Jesus? Acts. God is going to start pairing whatever unique gifts you’ve been loaned with the fruits of the Spirit, and put you to good use. That is unavoidable and it should be relished as confirmation of your faith. Do you know why most of the non-Christian world regards us in a negative light? Because most of us are claiming the benefits of salvation and Jesus to be our own, but we are only giving the world back the same fruits of the flesh they have. Because we claim our free gift, take it back home and put it in a locked drawer, and resume our life as it was. That’s deadly not only to you, as Paul warns, but deadly to those around us that we are called by responsibility to be lights pointing towards Jesus. If we want the fruits of the Spirit to take over our own lives, we must first give them away.
Peace. Prayer, Study and Action = Peace. That’s a simplified formula from your friendly Sherpa. Perhaps for you it will work slightly or greatly different. It’s a big creation with infinite moving parts. All are called to different tasks. But that simple formula can only lead you to good outcomes and places. It will lead you to peace. As I’ve grown in transformation I’ve learned that exact process is how I dig myself out of holes I fall into. If I’m angry, depressed, tempted, tried…I know to go back to prayer, study and action (giving away). When I do so, peace follows…beautiful, calm, comforting, hugging, smiling…peace. Just like in the picture above standing in that redwood tree. I know it’s all going to be okay. The kingdom is coming.