Contrast is a vital component of great photography. So, I love dabbling in black and white imagery. This week's reading began exploring the early days of the church as recorded in the book of Acts. I love that we are reading of first encounters with the gospel message in various cities and then joining that reading with letters written to those same Christians later. It is real direction to real people.
So what did I learn?
One concept that jumped out at me this week was contrast. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, devotes much time to detailing what it means to walk by the Spirit. He contrasts this with the idea of gratifying the flesh, or our human desires.
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. " Galatians 5:16-17
He goes on to give a pretty detailed list of what he means by the works of the flesh:
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these." Galatians 5:19-21
Sounds a bit like the daily news, doesn't it? And just in case something specific was missing from the list, those last few words, "and things like these" close the loop.
But, fortunately, we aren't left to guess at what life walking by the Spirit means. This beautiful description follows:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23
I love that last phrase here: there is no law against any of the Spirit's fruit. In contrast, many laws have been written across cultures against the various acts of the flesh. That, in and of itself, provides some evidence to the power and value of the Spirit in the lives of mankind.
O.k. So there are good things I should embrace and bad things I should avoid. That's it?
This is about the heart. It is about a transformation from within. It is about a walk, a life-transforming relationship with the Spirit. This contrasts some commonly held perspectives. Let's consider a few.
Living by the Spirit: When Convenient
Church buildings are often packed on Christmas and Easter. And many people attend a worship service on a weekly basis. Is that it? Interestingly, nothing in either description above (acts of the flesh or fruit of the Spirit) makes any reference to attending a worship service. While our coming together as a church family is vital, that is not the defining elements of walking with the Spirit. Rather, all of these descriptors are matters of the heart. It's not about convenience; rather it's about a daily walk.
Living by the Spirit: For the Most Part
"I'm a good person!" Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said that? Maybe we don't say it out loud, but do we tell ourselves we're good? Yeah, I do, too. But none of us can live righteously on our own. If we could, we wouldn't have needed Jesus. However, it is because of our love for Him in providing His grace, that we respond with lives reflecting His will. Before Jesus' death, He told His disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15). So, we are told, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh." (Galatians 5:13) So harboring those places of secret sin in our lives is counter to the Spirit's working in our lives. This may require some heart surgery, digging deeply into those dark places that continually draw us away from the Spirit's guidance, and asking the Savior for forgiveness.
Living by the Spirit: A Transformation
Living by the Spirit involves a complete transformation, springing from within then flowing through to our outward actions. Instead of plodding along with sin-darkened hearts, we surrender to the Spirit's power and guidance to purify our hearts. Yes, we will still struggle and we will still sin. But a transformed heart will result in a life reflecting the fruit of the Spirit.
"And those who belong
to Christ Jesus
have crucified the flesh
with its passion and desires.
If we live by the Spirit
let us also keep
in step with the Spirit."
We will not be perfect, but as a child in step with his father, so we seek to walk in step with the Spirit.
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