30 August 2012Galatians 5:2-26
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another." (vv. 22-26)
Paul's main concern in his letter to the Galatian church is that
rather than seeking out the freedom offered to them by Christ, they
appear to be binding themselves to the slavish restrictions of the
Jewish law. He repeatedly stresses the freedom that Christians can
discover when they shake off the restrictions of the law and
instead allow themselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
But this doesn't mean that the Christian life is free from obligations - it's not a carte blanche to do whatever you fancy. Here, Paul argues that a life without law must not be allowed to slip into 'lawlessness'. Those who are "led by the Spirit" prove their allegiance to God by adhering to a high moral standard, and since they have chosen the path of the Spirit, they can no longer allow themselves to be ruled by "the flesh", or their baser, selfish instincts.
A few years ago, Channel 4 aired a series called 'Make me a Christian' in which a group of volunteers with different backgrounds gave up their normal lives and attempted to live 'like Christians' for three weeks. This involved a ban on pre-marital sex, curbing alcohol consumption and (for some unclear reason) foraging for berries in the wilderness. But this all seemed a bit of a nonsense to me. The Christian life does indeed carry with it moral obligations, but simply going through the motions does not automatically 'make you a Christian'. Those who allow themselves to be "guided by the Spirit" as Paul mentions here, behave (or do not behave) in certain ways because of their relationship with Christ. 'Right living' flows from a rich relationship with Jesus and from living a life that is receptive to the guidance and assistance that God has to offer.
And it's not just about the things we do or avoid doing - much of Paul's emphasis is on attitude and relationships. Check out how many of the sins in his list (verses 19-21) have to do with unhealthy or broken relationships. And not only must we avoid these sins and the attitudes in which they originate, we must also seek after the "fruit of the Spirit", whose presence testifies that the individual has allowed the Spirit to guide their daily living. Again, these are all about attitude and cannot be bound or dictated by a set of rules like the law.
- Read the list of the "fruit of the Spirit" again. Which of these come most naturally to you? Which do you find more difficult?
- What can you do to nurture the fruit of the Spirit in yourself and others?