But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Deeds or Fruits?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We are at war. I am not talking about what is going on in Afghanistan or Iraq. I am not even talking about the controversies over the Mosque or the political upheaval which seems to be sweeping our nation of late. I am speaking of the conflict within each one of us that believes. It is a war - a centuries old war. Our nation's current enemy is, in reality, Islam. Islam is also an element in the external war against us Christians in our culture and in the world in general, but it is not the real enemy. Islam is more like a weapon in the war, just one weapon from an enormous arsenal. The real enemy is the devil, and among the enemy foot-soldiers is our own human nature, which our text calls "the flesh." The battleground of this war is the Christian himself.
Paul describes the flesh as distinct from the Spirit who guides us Christians. The flesh is our human nature, which is ours by birth. The Spirit is the spirit of God. One of the ways the Apostle distinguishes between the two is to refer to the "deeds" of the flesh in contrast to what Paul calls the "fruit" of the Spirit. Paul is speaking in favor of one and speaking against the other . This morning I want to look at this text with you, and approach it by asking the question, "Deeds or Fruit?"
It may seem strange to talk about our lives as a battlefield at times because our lives won't always seem to us as though we are at war. First, that is because the enemy is does not always look to us like an enemy, does not always appear to us to be hostile, and the battle will not seem to be upon us. Sometimes we don't recognize the struggle, even when we are in the very heat of the battle. Nevertheless, we Christians need to be mentally on a war-footing at all times, even when the war seems like it is a long way removed from us, and seems to be more potential than actual war. Being deliberately Christian doesn't always feel like a war. But it is!
It is a fight for liberty. Paul writes, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." Paul says we cannot simply do as we please. It is true! On the one hand, we are not free to do evil, because we are the adopted children of the Holy One. Evil is contrary to who we are. On the other hand, because our flesh is still sold in sin, we are not able freely to follow what is holy, because our flesh resists and fights us every inch of the way.
The battle, however, is about liberty. Paul writes, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." That is the liberty! The Gospel sets you free from the Law. Because Christ has fulfilled the Law for you, you are set free from its coercion. That means it cannot threaten you with dire consequences. It cannot condemn you. Jesus has taken the Law out of the way, and out of the calculations about where you will spend eternity. What we have done no longer either condemns us or saves us. Jesus has taken the full measure of our condemnation for sin in His flesh upon the cross. And His life, not ours, wins eternal righteousness and life and favor with God by His perfect holiness and sinlessness.
So, those who "are led by the Spirit," meaning "Believers" or "Christians" are no longer "under" the Law, and therefore are free. That freedom is not absolute. The Law still applies to us - meaning that it still teaches is right and good and holy, and it is still the will of God for our lives and conduct. It simply has lost its power to accuse or condemn us. We now are free to serve God because we desire to do so from a willing spirit, rather than because we must do so by compulsion of the Law.
The outcome of the two states, being under the Law and being led by the Spirit, are different. One produces what Paul called the deeds of the flesh. The other results in "the fruit of the Spirit".
The deeds of the flesh, being evil are not difficult to identify. "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
Most of those terms are fairly easy to understand. Immorality refers to sexual immorality. Impurity means uncleanness - we might use the word "dirty" to describe this sort of behavior. Sensuality means living for pleasure, or allowing 'how it feels' to guide your moral compass. Idolatry is pretty well understood. Gross Idolatry is worshiping another god, refined idolatry is setting anything before God in your life, money, pleasure, power, health, or family and friends. Sorcery primarily referred in those days to the mixing of potions for achieve a supposedly 'magical' effect, the primary use of which seems to have been to produce an abortion in the ancient world. Hatred - called enmities - strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger (generally violent in word or deed), disputes, dissensions, and factions are familiar to all of us in one context or another. Envying is a common form of evil - commonly seen active in "keeping up with the Joneses." And finally, Drunkenness and carousing mean pretty much what you think they do. Have a drink, yes. Get drunk, no. And regularly getting drunk is called "drunkenness" and whooping it up without decorum and self-control is called "carousing."
You may not hear a lot of preaching about those things today, but those things are declared by the Word of God to be deeds of the flesh - and are still to be counted as contrary to the Spirit of the Christian faith. Paul writes, "And things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." This is behavior unbecoming of a Christian. Damning, according to Paul. But take note of the word "practice" - those who practice such things. It indicates that those who "make a practice of", or "do these things with some frequency" show that the flesh, and not the Spirit, rules in their hearts and lives. They have deeds.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. There is a difference in the lives of those in whom the Holy Spirit is at work. This is not to say that every Christian is identical, or will be as clearly different from those ruled by the flesh as every other Christian. Some Christians are wonderful and great and obvious saints, and some are weak and immature in the faith, and not so clearly Christian in their lives at this or that point in time. But this "fruit" is that which the Spirit of God works in those in whom He dwells. If the Spirit of God is in you, and that means 'if you are really a Christian', then the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart and your life and your spirit, and these qualities are the sorts of fruit He produces in you. This also means that you can aim at being this sort of person and know that you are not working at cross-purposes with God's Spirit within you.
The Holy Spirit works love, because "God is love." The joy arises from knowing your redemption, your salvation, the rich promises of God, and from having the firm expectation that they are all true for you and will be fulfilled. Peace comes from actually trusting God - and from forgiving those whose sins cause anger and distress. We have patience because Christians forgive as we have been forgiven - and once you forgive, what is there to be impatient about? All things will happen in God's good time, right? Kindness and goodness flow from the Spirit because God is kind and gracious and good. He is so good that we overflow with His goodness when He dwells within us. God is faithful, and so, when the Spirit works faith in us, He also works faithfulness in us.
The gentleness and self-control flow out of all the things that the Spirit works in us. We are gentle because we have nothing to be violent about. God is in charge. God will provide. God will handle revenge - "Take no thought for revenge, brethren, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, 'VENGEANCE IS MINE. I WILL REPAY, SAITH THE LORD'." The whole process of living deliberately according to what you believe and confess requires constant self-control. We who believe know that "in our flesh exists no good thing", and so we must control our flesh if we wish to live out the truth of our existence as the chosen of God and the children of our heavenly Father. And the Christian does wish to do so.
Part of what Paul is telling us is that we don't have to work this stuff up in ourselves. These things are what the Spirit produces. They are "fruits". I don't imagine that pear trees struggle to produce pears. Pears are what happen as a result of the pear tree living and just going on with life. These fruits - likewise - are not our work - even though they may have sounded like we work them, as I described them, or that they were the natural, psychological results of certain conditions. They are not, they are the fruits of the Spirit.
Essentially, these things are what occurs naturally when one lives in faith, trusting God, and allowing God to work His blessings and salvation. God works them, but be warned, they often feel like you are doing it. That is the battle within us. For the Christian, God is in charge. We live our lives trying to control the flesh and allow the work of God in us to be reflected outwardly in all our dealings with others. The Battle is the question, Deeds or Fruits?
Paul writes, "Against such things there is no law." That is to say that no one is likely to object to people who are like this. No one is going to swear out a complaint against such things. The evil of the world may mock you, or even attack you for being holy, but there is no law on the books against such things. And evil shows itself to be truly evil in that love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control are things that need to be attacked. But those who persecute such holy behavior are attacking the reflection of Christ in you - not you personally.
Jesus prophesied that persecutions and hatred by the world would happen, if we were faithful. Those are things we hate to face, and fear to experience, and long to avoid. They are repulsive to the flesh, so we feel that pain and fear acutely. In addition, denying and controlling our flesh is painful. Paul referred to it as "putting to death the deeds of the flesh", in Romans 8:13, because it is so painful. But God clearly tells us in our text, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."
Those who are Christians must take the step that faith in Christ requires of all of us, the step of recognizing that our flesh, the passions and lusts of our sinful nature, is at war with our souls, and those passions and lusts are destructive of any true spiritual life. The believer recognizes that the deeds of the flesh are at war with the fruit of the Spirit. So the child of God in Christ Jesus crucifies the flesh, which is to say, the true believer is deliberately Christian. We walk by faith - but we also walk in our faith, choosing to do and say some things - and not to do or say other things - based on what we believe about ourselves, and about one another, and about God and His promises.
Finally, this living out of the Christian faith boils down to admitting that we are involved in a war. It is the cosmic war, not between abstract things called good and evil (as the world likes to imagine), but between our Savior God and the devil who seeks to destroy us by deceiving us and leading us to choose our own condemnation by word and deed. We can measure our progress in the battle to be faithful and conform our behavior to what we confess by asking ourselves, You got deeds or fruit? The flesh has deeds. The Spirit produces fruits. The Christian is filled with the Spirit, and seeks to put to death the deeds of the flesh.
So, how is it with you? Deeds or fruit?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
Send Pastor Robin Fish an email.