May 17: Sowing and Reaping (it’s not as simple as it sounds).

Galatians 6:8. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 

One of the problems with law is that it causes us to think we can live by a strict cause-effect system. This of course goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when we chose a religious system of good and evil to guide us, rather than the very life of God himself. And so we were left trying to manage our lives by knowing good and evil. IF we do good, THEN we will be blessed. And IF we do evil, THEN we will be cursed. If-Then. Cause-Effect.

The Mosaic law was no different. God used this same system of life management through good and evil to reveal both his holiness, and our need for grace. What the Old Testament law taught us is that no one can live within this kind of a system. We all fail at managing our own life. We all deserve the curse, because we all do evil early and often. A strict cause-effect system, devoid of grace, will destroy us all.

There’s another really big problem with trying to live by this kind of cause-effect system- it never holds up. Those that do good suffer curses. And those who do evil get blessings. You’ve probably witnessed or experienced this in your own life.

Asaph wrestles with the prosperity of the wicked in Psalm 73:3 – For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

And Job wrestles with the cursing of the righteous in, well the whole book. Also look at David in the wilderness, Ruth, Paul, and of course Jesus. These were all people who suffered despite being “good.” The cause – effect system did not always work in their life.

When we talk about the Bible and God’s big story we can break it up into three “Acts:” Act 1) Creation, Act 2) Fall, Act 3) Redemption. This is the story line of God. Of scripture. Of your life.

Act 1) Creation tells us that the cause-effect pattern works. You reap what you sow. Good principles bring good results. Think: the book of Proverbs.

Act 2) The Fall tells us that the cause-effect pattern is terribly broken. Sometimes you reap what you didn’t sow, or you don’t reap what you did sow. Life seems meaningless. Think: Ecclesiastes.

Act 3) Redemption tells us that one day every pattern will be restored. You will once again reap what you sow because there will be no sin, or chaos, or evil to stop it. Christ’s love will win and restore everything to its proper system: good rewarded and evil destroyed. Think: Song of Songs.

OK, what does this have to do with Galatians 6:8?

Galatians 6:8 is redemption. It is pattern restored. It is cause-effect back in place inside of us.

Here’s why Galatians 6:8 is so important to understand. When everything in the natural world is falling apart and the cause-effect system is failing left and right, we can know that in the spiritual world the pattern still holds because of the redemptive life of Christ inside of us. We have a new life system that replaces the law. The cause-effect pattern of the law will either destroy you or it will fail you because of the Fall. But the life of the Spirit will never destroy you and it will never fail you. IF YOU SOW TO THE SPIRIT, YOU WILL REAP FROM THE SPIRIT ETERNAL LIFE, EVERY TIME! If you sow love, you will reap love. If you sow joy, you will reap joy. If you sow peace, you will reap peace. Faith is rewarded. Receiving grace does bring growth. Beholding Christ does transform us. Always! Every time this spiritual pattern holds.

Oh, and if you sow to the flesh…corruption. Every time.

Now the pattern is restored in us spiritually, but it has not yet been restored physically. If you are counting on your good behavior or adherence to Christian principles to change your situation, status, experiences, health, spouse, kids, friends, boss, well there are no guarantees that those things will change. But what is guaranteed is that this kind of “sowing to the flesh” might just actually destroy you on the inside, like all law keeping does.

Here’s the paradox. “To live is Christ” is to give up control. The cause- effect system is all about gaining and keeping control of your own life. That’s why we run back to the law. It’s why we choose principles over the person of Jesus. But giving up control is “sowing to the Spirit,” and this sowing will reap eternal life – which IS Jesus! You will be like him. You will gain control by losing control. You will gain life by losing it. Now that’s a pattern that we can all live with.

Where do you see yourself trying to live from a fleshly sowing and reaping (control)? Where can you see spiritual sowing and reaping in your life? Are you sowing Christ into your life? Other’s lives? What might that look like?

Bonus song: a little Tears for Fears on sowing and reaping.

May 16: Our New Law- The Law of Christ.

Galatians 6:1-2. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

The law of Christ?

Um, haven’t we just spent almost two months showing how we are no longer under the law but under the Spirit? That the law stirs up the flesh? That law keeping can never make us righteous or good?

Yep.

But the law of Christ is not that same law as the law of Moses- that law that exists outside of us and condemns us. The law of Christ IS the life of Christ that lives inside of us and frees us, declaring us not guilty.

The law of Christ is love. Not just a command to love, but a command to love that flows from the indwelling love that lives in you through Christ. This is the love that we appropriate by faith in the One who loves us and gave himself for us (Gal. 2:20). This is a law that we can finally obey, because it has already been obeyed for us, and it is growing inside of us as fruit of the Spirit.

When we live from the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit, we have already fulfilled the Mosaic Law. But that Law is no longer our imperative- Christ is. He is our ethic. Our standard. And his standard is even greater than Moses’ standard. It is a standard that requires us to love as Christ does. But it is also a standard that is empowered by a perfect love for us. So now living out Galatians 6:1-2 (the law of Christ) is just simple love. It is the opposite of 5:26- the empty provoking or envying that comes when we forget we are freely loved in Christ. So the law of Christ is never to be seen as a checklist. It is not a set of rules. It is a way of life. It is faith. It is waking up every morning and rather than asking “what do I do first to please God?” we ask “how can I trust God’s love and love others today?”

Paul tells us that now that we are in Christ and Christ is in us, the love that flows from these truths is that we will restore anyone caught in a transgression and bear one another’s burdens. Both of these describe a dire situation. A brother or sister being dominated by sin. We aren’t to go around nitpicking each other’s sins. But we are to look for those that are trapped and crushed by it.

Restoration and burden bearing is Christ. It is what he did on the cross for us. He carried the weight of sin that we could never carry. He restored our souls, freeing us from the bear trap of sin. And now we are being asked to fulfill this ministry in lives of each other. Galatians 6:1-2 is truly Jesus’ life being lived out by us, together, as a community.

It is only in community that we can live out the life of Christ. We are commanded to live in community in such a deep way so as to know the burdens of each other and know how to best bear those burdens for each other. It is in these acts of mutual serving that we will keep in step with the Spirit, and crucify the flesh. Not by trying hard to crucify the flesh, but by striving side by side with those who are carrying a weight that alone they could never bear.

“To live is Christ” is to bear burdens. To carry loads. To restore the one caught in an ongoing sin. It is only possible from the life of Christ. If you try to fulfill this ministry apart from grace, you will do it from pride or you will never do it at all because you won’t feel “spiritual enough.” Christ’s indwelling life allows you to love your brother or sister that is trapped and crushed, and to do it from love and humility- keep watch on yourself, lest you to be tempted.

Do you see the law of Christ (the law to love) as an inner dynamic in your life, or as an outside standard to live up to? How can the gospel’s truth make it an inner dynamic for you today? Are you living in community in a deep enough way so as to be bearing burdens and restoring others gently?

May 15: Look At Me. Don’t Look At Me.

Galatians 5:25-26. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

When we live from Christ’s indwelling life we are remembering that we are constantly full and constantly connected. So when Paul tells us to not become conceited, we can hear him telling us to not lose sight of Christ life in us, and the fullness it offers. In others words he is saying what he just said- keep in step with the Spirit.

To be conceited is to be paradoxically full of empty glory. How true it is that we are constantly seeking glory from things that can never really fill us up. Those things that fade too quickly like our beauty, physicality, or stuff. Or those things that can never quite give us enough glory like the job success, or our knowledge, or our behavior. These things all eventually come to and end in one way or another. Your glorious kids grow up. Your sweet spiritual growth hits a wall. Your cool friends move away. Your productive business struggles.

We are all made by God for glory. But we are made for the glory that can only come from something or someone larger than us. More glorious than us. And that of course is only God. Only God is bigger than humanity. So only God can satisfy the desire for glory that we all feel every day. When we try to fill our desire for glory with these things that fade, we will become conceited or “full of emptiness.”

Then what Paul teaches us next is extremely important: WE WILL TREAT OTHERS BASED ON HOW WE FEEL ABOUT OURSELVES. And so the progression in Galatians 5:26 looks like this:

Step 1: Failure to stay in step with the Spirit. That is, to receive the grace of Christ and his never ending love into my heart and mind moment by moment.

Step 2: Rather than filling up my need for glory (meaning, value, purpose) with Christ, I fill it up with things that fail me and leave me empty.

Step 3: I feel good at first about my attempts to find glory. So, I begin to provoke others. I believe that I am better than them. I feel superior. I lord it over people. “Look at me!”

Step 4: The things I sought glory from crash. So, I feel terrible again and begin to envy others. I feel inferior. I don’t matter. “Don’t look at me!”

“To live is Christ” prevents this progression of emptiness. Christ in me means I am always full, always satisfied. Not by my own self esteem, or self worth. The truth is we feel like we are worthless because we are. That is, apart from Christ. Without him we can do nothing. This is why we must embrace our new reality in the Spirit, by whom we are never worthless. The Spirit displays his glory through our worthlessness. Our emptiness reveals his fullness. Our weakness demonstrates his strength.

Do you feel empty of glory? Are you a provoker? Do you envy others? How does the gospel prove that you are full and not empty?

May 14: Step By Step.

Galatians 5:25. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 

Position and condition. Our position is who we are in Christ. Our new identity and reality. Our condition is how we live in light of this new reality. Our position never changes but our condition does.

In Galatians 5:25 we see both our position and condition. Position: we live [zoe] by the Spirit. This is an accomplished fact. Condition: we keep in step with the Spirit. This is an ongoing process that we pursue.

(By the way, the word “if” at the start of the verse could be translated as “since.”)

Let’s remember what we said yesterday- we crucify the flesh by focusing on Christ and his indwelling love in us. Here in Galatians 5:25 we see the same thing. We are crucifying the flesh (5:24) as we keep in step with the Spirit (5:25). Our condition can only change as we trust in our position. And trusting in our position will result in a grace driven effort to change our condition.

In step with the Spirit is a military term- get in line! Let’s do this!  Let the Spirit guide you to Christ every moment of each day. Listen to him. Follow his orders. This is faith. This is abiding. It is constant connection and dependency on God by the Spirit, step by step, moment by moment- no shortcuts.

And this is exactly how Jesus lived his human life isn’t it? By remembering how much his Father loved him, and by courageously acting from this love moment by moment. He truly lived in step with the Spirit.

“To live is Christ” is Galatians 5:25. Living by the Spirit is being in Christ. And keeping in step with the Spirit is Christ in us. When we let the indwelling life of Christ flow out of our faith, hope, and love filled life, we are in step. We are in line. We are crucifying the flesh with its deeds. We are truly living!

Are you in step with the Spirit? How is being in step with him much more than just “being good?” Are you letting faith in your position (in Christ) affect your condition in Christ (Christ living out of you)?

May 13: Crucifying the Flesh.

Galatians 5:24. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

We share in the crucifixion of our Savior. Do you remember Galatians 2:20? Paul told us that we are crucified with Christ. This was a past event, and passive on our part. We died with Christ by no action of our own. It happened TO us.

But here in Galatians 5:24 we are the ones doing the crucifying. We have crucified the flesh. This is written in the past tense, but with a continuous, ongoing result. So like the Centurion in the story of Christ’s death, we have begun the crucifixion and must see it to completion.

OK pause. We must never, never, never forget that our daily ongoing crucifying of the flesh is rooted in the spiritual reality that we have been already crucified with Christ. What Christ commands he always empowers. Every imperative is supported by an indicative. You can only crucify the fleshly remains because your old self has already been crucified, buried, and raised to new life as the new self.

So what exactly are we crucifying? The flesh. The flesh is that part of you that is all about self promotion, self justification, and just good old fashioned selfishness. It is not your physical body. It is the part of your soul that thinks it can keep the law, but actually just fails repeatedly. It’s the part that opposes the Spirit. It’s the part of you that is constantly running you between superiority and inferiority. But the flesh is not your old nature. It is not your old self. That part of you died with Jesus on the cross. It is not the deepest part of you- Christ is. The flesh is a shallow part of you that is still holding on to old thoughts, old habits, and old desires. It’s on the cross and it needs to die.

But the method by which it is dying is crucifixion. We don’t behead the flesh, or shoot the flesh, or electricute the flesh. We crucify it.

Crucifixion is slow, very slow. And torturous, and gruesome, and shameful. It’s never easy, and it’s not glorifying except to Christ. It is essential for spiritual growth, and the good news is that, since you have already been crucified with Christ, it is guaranteed.

It is also the only way to experience spiritual transformation. There is no quick fix to spiritual growth. There is no re-dedication or spiritual enlightenment that can replace the crucifixion of the flesh. If you’re looking for these kinds of experiences through magical prayers, conferences, camps, concerts or even through a greater level of commitment, stop it!

So here’s the thing: YOU DON’T CRUCIFY THE FLESH BY FOCUSING ON THE FLESH.

You crucify the flesh by focusing on Christ! We are transformed by beholding Christ. Look at what Galatians 5:24 says again: with its passions and desires. And how do we fight fleshly desires? With new desires. We never, never, never defeat a desire by trying hard to defeat the desire. We defeat a desire by replacing it with a new desire. And then we live in obedience from that desire.

“To live is Christ” is Christ’s own desires flowing from the love of Christ and the freedom of Christ that live in us. These desires have the power to overwhelm the shallow desires of the flesh. When we let our fleshly desires point us to the greater desire of our heart, the desire for God and his glory, we are letting Christ’s life in us reign in grace.

Do you really believe that you died with Christ? Are you actively crucifying the flesh and its desires by focusing on Christ and his life in you and all the goodness of God that it brings?

May 12: No More Forbidden Fruit.

Galatians 5:22-23. But the fruit of the Spirit is love…against such things there is no law.

The law stirs up our flesh, so praise God that the fruit is not law. It is Spirit. It is life. It is Christ’s life in us. You can’t “law” your way into more fruit. It’s about faith. That is, faith in Christ’s life in you is what produces the fruit of the Spirit. Not law keeping.

And yet at the same time the law is pro-love. In fact it is pro all the fruit. The end of the law is to love God and love others. The fruit would never be against the law. But like Paul has said many times we can never law our way to love. Law exists as a standard outside of us. The law is bondage, and bondage never produces love.

But the Spirit is a life that dwells inside of us. He is a standard that is already met. Therefore he is freedom. And freedom within the divine nature always produces love.

So here’s the bottom line. 1) You alone can’t keep the law or fulfill the command to love. 2) You can only love by the Spirit- faith in the indwelling life and love of Christ Jesus your Savior, who is securely in you forever! 3) The law exists to drive you to the Spirit. 4) When you love from the Spirit, oh by the way, you are also keeping the law.

If the law is about restraint, then we who walk with Christ definitely don’t need it. The Spirit never needs restraining. Love away! Stop pumping the breaks. Love freely and deliberately.

Paul is telling us that the law is no longer the operating system for those in the Spirit:

1 Timothy 1:8-9. Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners…

“To live is Christ” means that we live beyond the law’s operating system. We are living from the Spirit Operating System. The law is not for the just, but for the unjust. Those with the Spirit no longer function from the demands of the law. They live from the completed “law of Christ” that now serves as our desire changing, mind renewing, story telling, Christ imaging power for all of life. This is Christ in me, and the law can find no home where Christ dwells supreme.

Are you continuing to put yourself and others under law (check your social media)? Are you resting in your position in Christ and letting it produce the fruit of Christ’s character? Are you letting yourself see that this fruit of the Spirit, which have been implanted in you by grace, and grow by grace, have given you freely the very things that you think the law can give you? Do you believe this?

 

 

May 11: Control Your Self.

Self Control: Egkrateia.

This may be the hardest one to wrap our heads around. How can SELF control be from the Spirit’s control? Shouldn’t it just be called “Spirit control?” Am I supposed to be self controlled or Spirit controlled? The answer is yes, they are both the same thing.

How? Because the Spirit of Christ is joined to your spirit, your self. His self is your self. When you think of your self as being opposite of Christ this virtue gets confusing. But when you think of your self as being joined to Christ, this virtue is actually quite freeing and exciting.

The self controlled person can choose the important thing over the urgent thing (Keller, Galatians For You). They have learned to delay gratification. The word comes from the root word for strength. The person with egkrateia masters their desires.

Back in chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul described the battle of the desires that we all live through daily. A battle between the flesh’s desires and the Spirit’s desires.

Galatians 5;17. 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.

The self controlled person can control their desires, because they are yielded to the Spirit; walking in step with the Spirit (more on that to come). All of these virtues flow from the singular fruit of love. It is not self control if it is not flowing from being loved by God, and loving others with Christ’s love.

Therefore, the opposite of egkrateia is impulsiveness. This person is out of control and lacks will power. Love has not lead them to control themselves for the good of others.

Fake self control is willpower through more “acceptable” idols (Keller). The person who seems to have willpower but not from love, but from pride. They just want to look good.

“To live is Christ” is to have the self control that comes from knowing that you are loved eternally. Why could Christ put his desires on the back burner (like not turning rocks into bread)? He could have this self control, even in the greatest times of temptation, because he knew he was loved and he trusted God’s goodness. We too can live this way as we trust in the indwelling, eternal love and goodness of God in and for us.

Do you do whatever you want whenever you want? Or are you mad when you don’t get what you want? Are your appetites guided by the Spirit back to a deeper desire for Christ? Has the love of Christ for others allowed you to control your reactions and lusts so as to love others? Are you primarily living from your spiritual self or your fleshly self?