This is the first sermon I have written in almost 3 years, and it is something I think I am going to be doing more of.
You, my brothers, 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." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, 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, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
While I am no stranger to Galatians, it was not until a good friend of mine, while speaking at her home church’s Women’s Day service, my attention was caught by this scripture. And in examining this scripture, I notice some interesting things that previously I either ignored or didn’t pay attention to.
It is no secret that I am not a fan of Paul. I am certainly not one who equates Paul, the self appointed apostle, with Jesus, nor do I view his words as the authoritative word of God. Instead, I view Paul as a wonderful representative of the faith, eager, and sometimes overbearing, but with the later followers of the faith giving him a little too much credence.
Nevertheless, this set of scriptures strikes me as odd, because in and of itself, I have to wonder what true message Paul was trying to get across.
Paul, in this letter to the Galatians, tells, or reminds them, that they are called to freedom. But then he says that they are not to use their freedom to indulge in their so-called “sinful nature.” Paul then repeats the commandment given by Jesus, that they are to Love their neighbor as they Love themselves, and then admonishes them to cease the back biting and problematic behavior that could lead to their own destruction. But remember, Paul does say that the entire law is summed up in “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Again, Paul says that the entire law is summed up with that one additional law that Jesus gave.
Then Paul tells us that if we live by the spirit, we will not gratify our sinful natures, because that sinful nature runs contrary to the spirit. Then he says something very important. Paul says that if we are led by the Spirit, then we are not under the law. Again, if we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the law. We will return to this important point a little later.
Paul then goes on to tell us what exactly is sinful, and rattles off a long list. Interestingly enough, he starts off with “sexual immorality” then goes on to list a host of other behavior types that are sinful, warning us that living in a manner such as he described that those who do so will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Before we go any further, let’s deal with what is a “sinful nature.”
Scripture tells us that we were made in the image and likeness of God. That we were created because God Loved us. “For God so Loved the world….” So you have to wonder, if we are truly made in the image and likeness of God, how then is it possible for us to have a “sinful nature.” Because sinful nature suggests at our core that we are helpless against sin. That we were created with sin as an integral part to our core makeup.
Which begs the question – why would a God who Loves us, create us as flawed beings, where our very nature is sin?
No, I heartily disagree with Paul. Our nature is NOT sinful. Our nature is not flawed. Our nature is perfect, because our nature is Love. At the core of each and every one of us lies a Loving being, someone borne out of the Love that God has for us. THAT is our nature. Not sin. Sin is antithetical to God. And I cannot believe, I refuse to believe, that God would create beings which we be in direct opposition to the God that created us.
If we accept the notion of sin, then we must acknowledge that sin is a choice. We are not powerless against it. We are not forced into it. We make the choice to sin. It’s not the work of the Devil. It’s not the work of God. It’s us. We make a choice. If we accept the argument that we have the ability to distinguish between what is and is not sinful, then we also have the choice whether or not to commit sin.
Therefore, to say we have sinful natures would say that we are born with sin at our core. Which would mean that God created us inherently, purposely sinful. Which would further mean that if we were created in the image and likeness of God, that part of God’s nature is sinful, flawed. Which would make God imperfect, because sin, as we understand it, is imperfection.. My understanding is that God is indeed perfect. Therefore, the notion of God creating us full of sin, runs counter to the notion of God.
While I do not discount that some people do commit acts which could be considered sinful, we must acknowledge that it is a choice, born out of Free Will, a conscious choice to choose one set of actions over another. It is not something that is central to us. What IS central to us is Love. God’s Love. It is that Love that makes us not only human, that not only makes us unique, but it is what makes us able to experience and appreciate everything this life has to offer, through the veil of Love.
Again, I suggest we do not have sinful natures. We have Loving natures. Our natures are not only a part of God, they are God. Let us remember what Jesus himself said in scripture. “Have you not heard it said, ye are gods?” If, as Jesus reminded us, we are indeed gods, then how can our nature be sinful?
Lastly, Paul tells us the familiar fruits of the Spirit. And tells us that against these fruits, there is no law.
Now, this passage confuses me at times. Because in a sense, Paul is telling us there is no law, only the Spirit, which would seem to contradict what Jesus said in giving the last commandment that Paul quoted. Paul tells us to follow our spirit, but only if our spirit falls within certain prescribed guidelines. Paul tells us that if we follow the Spirit, the law doesn’t count, but then, makes a list of unacceptable behaviors which has been taken as law.
So what are we to do? How do we account for this information.
In case you can’t tell, I don’t exactly fully agree with Paul, on a couple of points.
First, the issue of freedom. If we take freedom for what it is supposed to be, you cannot be free and also have restrictions. It is one reason I think, in general, our notions of freedom are not all that we think they are.
Not to say that we need total freedom, because in actuality, we probably don’t. I do not believe people should be free to do anything they want to do. I don’t believe people are free or should be free to do anything that brings harms to others. Nor do I believe that freedom can or should be used as an excuse to act in an irresponsible manner.
Instead, I believe that the purpose of freedom should be to act in a manner in which we show appreciation and respect for the circumstances that created that freedom in the first place. It is very popular to say that the 9/11 attacks happened because the terrorists hated America’s freedom. Yet, America, like every other society on the face of the planet, is not free. We still have oppression, discrimination, prejudice, poverty, sexism, classism. Ignorance abounds, racism still exists, homophobia is being sanctioned, terrorist plots haunt us, wars are still being conducted, yet, we are supposed to value our freedom.
What freedom we do have here in America is great, for those who truly can appreciate it. Yet, an actual examination of our circumstances suggests that our freedom is not being paid for by soldiers fighting a political war, but by our very souls.
Freedom, first a foremost, is an individual thing, it is something that starts from within, then spreads to others. One persons freedom could very well be another persons oppression. So in a lot of ways, how we view our freedom is dependant on how much freedom we feel or experience.
Yet, can freedom be freedom with restrictions? Can you truly tell someone that their freedom is contingent upon following a set of pre-determined rules, that the individual may or may not agree with? And the authority from where these rules are derived are suspect?
Yes, I suggest that the authority in this case, is suspect. Paul, many, many times in scripture said he was speaking out of his own experience, from his own experience. Paul was not, as some would believe, given power and authority from Jesus or God, outside of what he claims. There has not been any verification of a special mission given to Paul outside of what is given to any minister of the gospel. It has been the actions, opinions and attitudes of the church, in it’s creation, and the aims and goals of it’s leaders and preachers that have catapulted Paul into the revered position he now holds in the annals of Christianity.
So in one voice, Paul tells us that we are free, and with another, in almost the same moment, he gives us restrictions, where we are not free.
Then there is the issue of living according to the Spirit. There has long been a debate between which should be followed. The Law or the Spirit.
It is a fact that laws are necessary. A lawless society would be dangerous, counter-productive and random. It has mistakenly been suggested that with the ministry of Jesus, the Old Testament Laws no longer apply. This is a fallacy and a downright misinterpretation of scripture. Nowhere does Jesus absolve anyone from the old laws. However, in these scriptures, Paul does seem to suggest that perhaps the laws do not apply. If we are led by the spirit.
So these laws we are to live by – what exactly are they? The Old Testament contains over 600 laws, or commandments that are given. Laws covering a whole host of issues, behaviors, actions and emotions. And it was the Old Testament, full of it’s laws, that set the stage for Jesus. It is those laws which Jesus both upheld and fulfilled, or even broke, that Jesus used as a platform for his ministry and teachings.
The laws give guidance and instruction. Like the Bible itself, the law of old is an example. The question is, are we to follow each and everyone one of the over 600 laws to the letter? Even the most ardent biblical literalist shies away from this question because they themselves do not and cannot obey each and every one of the laws laid down in old testament scripture. But at least these laws are attributed to God.
While the specific authorship may be in question, the assumption is that God, one way or another, gave these laws. It is likely that man authored these laws under the influence, real or imagined, of God, the laws were put in place, to serve as that guide I mentioned earlier.
But what is The Spirit? This is a harder question to ask, because the Spirit is far more individual and far more complex. The Laws are easy, because it is all laid out as to what is and is not the Law. The Law doesn’t really require you to think to follow. It is what it is. The Spirit, on the other hand, takes some time and some thought to both acknowledge it and figure out how it applies.
The Spirit is also more esoteric, more mystical and more spiritual. The Spirit, in my understanding, is the small still voice that resides within all of us. Whether we call it our conscience, our gut, our soul, even. It is this Spirit that is able to have direct communication with God. It is the Spirit which serves as our own internal barometer of right and wrong. And it is the Spirit which I believe we should follow more.
Paul is right in one respect. Our Spirit and the Law can be, and sometimes are, in conflict. Take the instance a few years ago of a woman who was arrested for putting money in expired parking meters. The Law said this was wrong. But her Spirit told her it was right. It was a harmless thing, to her. A random act of kindness if you will. Yet the Law sought to punish her for what her Spirit told her was the right thing to do.
The problem comes when you have someone trying to tell you what your Spirit should or should not be engaging in. As if there is a standard method of behavior that is equally applicable to each and every person on the planet., in other words, universal laws.
We must admit that there are some universal laws that should be adhered to. Such as, pre-meditated murder, rape, child molestation, thievery, physical or mental abuse of another person. Another universal law may be taking responsible actions towards others, treating them as we would want to be treated ourselves, i.e., the Golden Rule that Jesus spoke of. There may be one or two others, but I think we can all agree that the above are issues that should be universally avoided.
But when you regulate nutritional habits, sleeping habits, sexual habits, clothing restrictions – these are all items that when handled responsibly, do not do harm to others. As with anything, people can take advantage of these issues and commit acts which do harm.
Therein, in my belief, lies the difference. The Spirit does not cause us to commit any act that would be injurious to another person, mind, body or soul. The Spirit will not cause someone to suffer as a result of someone else’s actions. The Spirit will allow us to perform and experience those aspects of life which will lead to, at the very least, an internal enrichment.
What the Spirit does is strive to be liberated. The Spirit seeks to experience that which will lead to fulfillment, and in short, true freedom. Freedom from negative thoughts, negative actions, of poor thinking, of downward attitudes, of those things which do not advance the positive personal growth of the individual.
In short, the Spirit is of God. Our Spirit is that part of God within each of us. It is our link to the Creator, it is our link to the spiritual thread that goes between all of us. It is our Spirit that allows us to understand and acknowledge all that is good and right and positive in this world. It is our Spirit that allows us to know when we are making the right choice instead of the wrong choice.
Now, let us remember, way back in the beginning, God gave us Free Will. God gave us an intellect to use that Free Will. God gave us the ability to not only make choices for ourselves, but also the ability to make the choice as to whether or not to believe in Him.
So if God gave us Free Will, why then would God also turn around and restrict our use of Free Will? Why would god then turn around and say that we are then limited from the full and total exploration of the expression of our Spirit? How can a Spirit be free if you seek to restrict and regulate those things which will allow the Spirit to know freedom?
When it comes down to it, too many people try to play God, to speak for God, to act as if they have the one and only pipeline to God. I cannot count how many e-mails and letters I have received in response to the essays on my website who have sought to tell me that “god” told them I was wrong. But what makes what God told me less than what they claim God told them. Neither of us can prove what God told us, so what makes one person “right” and another person “wrong?”
This is the problem I have with some who engages in these types of dialogue. Paul admits he is expressing his opinions, which I have no problem with. What I do have a problem with is those who take these opinions and want to act as if it is God speaking directly.
God speaks to us individually. Sometimes through the written word, sometimes through a comment someone has made. Sometimes through a song, or a sunset, or a rainfall. I will never question how God chooses to speak to someone. But I do steadfastly maintain that while I do believe God to be consistent, our interpretations are not. But with the Free Will that we have been given, we have the ability to make the best choice available, because of what we have been given by God.
So what is the point of all this? The point is, Paul was correct. “If you are led by the Spirit, you are NOT under the Law.” If you follow the Spirit, then it doesn’t matter what the Law says, because you are under a different authority, a different judge, a different set of rules. Not those that God gave to someone else, but what God, personally, gives to each and every one of us.
We may not understand it, we may not agree with it. The one thing I do know is that I am not God. I cannot speak for God. I can only speak for myself and MY relationship with God. I know what God tells me. And guess what? It may not apply to anyone else but me.
So for me, I am endeavoring to live by the Spirit, according to the Spirit. I am trying my best to listen to the Spirit when I recognize it, when I hear it, and take heed. I am not perfect, so I will falter from time to time, I may fail. But at the end of the day, it’s between me and God. The Law was made by man. The Law was written by man. It may have been inspired and motivated by God, but the Spirit comes FROM God. The Spirit is above the Law.
Following the Law will not gain you entrance into Heaven. Following the Law will not make you a Saint. Nor will it prevent you from being a Sinner. But following the Spirit, YOUR Spirit, will get you closer to God. Following the Spirit will bring you freedom. It will bring you joy. It will bring you peace. It will bring you each and every one of the Fruits of the Spirit.
And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, by following the Spirit, it will lead us directly to God. After all, isn’t that what we really want?
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