Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fruit of the Spirit, Acts of the Flesh

Galatians 5 is just full of good advice, and good news, for the Christian life. Today's reading covers verses 13-26, but I'd like to focus on just a couple of points in it.

First there's a description of the fruit of the spirit, contrasted with the acts of the flesh (the NIV has "sinful nature"). Looking at the description of the acts of the flesh, it strikes me that these are all things of no value. They might be fun for a while, but they're worthless, even from a worldly point of view. Nobody would vote for a candidate that boasted of sexual immorality, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, selfish ambition, drunkenness, etc.

I think the good news regarding the fruit of the Spirit is that it's something that comes naturally from the Spirit's work in our lives. Yes, we can train ourselves for godliness, as Paul says elsewhere, but this is talking about fruit. How hard does an apple tree work to produce its fruit? We don't see it doing a lot of crunches or push-ups. The psalms paint a picture of a godly person as a tree yielding its fruit in season -- a lovely portrait.

And this passage gives a little more information about the fruit that results from the Spirit's interactions with you and me: Love, joy, peace, patience, and so on.

But along with the good news there is also a warning, down in verses 25-26:
Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
OK, so it's not all effortless; we have to keep an eye on how we are living. Because we still have the flesh, there will be a temptation to indulge in the acts of the flesh that Paul described earlier.

The alternative, viz., to walk by the Spirit (the NIV has "keep in step with"), isn't explained in great detail, but Paul does give us a couple of clues in the passage. One clue is in verse 26: he tells us not to be conceited, and that we do well to avoid provocations and envy. Another is in verses 13-14, where he recalls the command to "Love your neighbor as yourself" (from Leviticus).

In fact, he says the whole law is summed up in that one command.

A couple of chapters back, Paul said that the law was just something to lead us to Christ. Why then does he bring the law in here?

Here's what I think. Some parts of the law are like "Love your neighbor as yourself"; they give us a picture of God's character, including the character of the Holy Spirit.

Other parts of the law are like "the priests shall sprinkle its blood against the altar on all sides"; they're detailed descriptions of ceremonial regulations. I hate to divide things up like this, but I think the author of Hebrews, for example, does it.

Anyway, what I get from this is two things. First, "love your neighbor as yourself" is a good policy to pursue. Second, considering love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, sober-mindedness, I should think about what I meditate upon, and try to arrange my inner world so promote those things.

So for example when I catch myself meditating upon how I wish the world were different, it's a good idea to correct my thinking and instead think about what I can do to be a better person - a better husband, father, friend, disciple, citizen, employee, etc.

written 9/21, posted 9/22

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