If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one shall bear his own load. And let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
Don't Kid Yourself
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Most people tend to be realists, except when they are dealing with their own conduct, faith, or appearance. You know how it is, you walk up to the mirror and somehow the person in the mirror doesn't look the way you have pictured him or her in your mind. They are older, or they are chubbier, or they are grayer, or they are just too real and not quite the fantasy that your mind keeps constructing. I know I am always surprised to see that strange man in the mirror. I keep wondering where my brown hair went and why I look so old. When I think about it, I look like I did last time, it is just that I seem to hold onto the memory of how I used to look - or, actually, how I used to think I used to look, which probably better than the reality was.
People do the same sort of thing with their faith-life. They tend to think that they are better people than they really are. They just sort of 'white-out' their lapses and forget about their failings and add a little shine to what they perceive as their strengths and - Presto! - they are much better people, and far more impressive Christians than they actually are. Their attendance is better, and they are more aggressive in witnessing, and they are much nicer to those around them in their memories than they were in the daily rough-and-tumble of life. My Father often would jerk us back to reality as children with the words, "Don't kid yourself". He would point out the realities we were ignoring - usually with a brutal honesty, and we would be left a little deflated, but somewhat more realistic about things.
Our text is encouraging us this morning to be honest and realistic about the realities of the Christian life. Our theme is, "Don't kid yourself".
The Word of God challenges us in this passage to live out what we believe in the light of what we know to be the true condition of ourselves and the world around us. The Apostle is pulling no punches as he addresses our conduct and the situation in which we live. He tells us that 'if' we are who we confess ourselves to be, that is, the children of God being led by the Holy Spirit, then we must live differently than others around us will. He also reminds us pointedly that God deals with reality, not with those fantasies that we so easily construct in our minds. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked." In other words, don't kid yourself.
God deals with what is, not with what we might wish or dream. He is aware of those things, too, but He sees who you are in fact, and not merely in your imaginings. If you are the child of God, being led by the Spirit of God, those realities will change how you live and think and speak. But the change is not something forced upon you. It is something possible for you, made possible by God's indwelling in those that believe. He just doesn't force you to live as He would have you to live.
There has been a lot of religious claptrap written and spoken about how God totally transforms those that believe. He does transform us, don't get me wrong, He just doesn't do it the way that so many preachers and writers depict it. He doesn't erase temptations to do what we should not do, nor does He compel us to be better people in every case. He opens the door of possibility. He gives you the ability to be that better person, and He provides the reason for the change, and He shows you the way in which you should go. If you do what is right and good and appropriate to those being led by the Spirit of God, it is by His power and leading, and so He does those things through you, but He doesn't compel you as though you were a helpless marionette, or as though nothing else is possible or conceivable. You still must do the doing of it.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. These words would not be necessary, nor would they be written, if you did not have some part in choosing and doing the things we are instructed to do. The devil is still out there, attacking and tempting Christians. Paul tells us that if we are God's people, we have been called to something more, something better than doing what is simply natural to us. We need to be on our guard against those base impulses that lie in our paths like roadside bombs, seeking to derail us and lead us astray. We are urged to exercise the self-control which the Holy Spirit dwelling within us gives us the power to use.
Of course, we will not be absolutely faithful or successful in this endeavor. Some of us will fail. Some will sin. The truth is that we will all fail and all of us will sin, each in our own ways and circumstances. Some more, and some less. We will never outgrow our need for repentance and forgiveness. We will never escape the need to hear the absolution and receive its blessing. Some of our sins will be comparatively insignificant, in our own eyes, and some of them will be huge, terrible, and will rattle our confidence and our sense of even being God's own. We may, at times disappoint one another. Sadly, some of us will even do those things that disappoint ourselves.
That is the point of Paul's admonition about if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. If we catch someone in a sin, we admonish them - or we should be doing that, we call it church discipline. We hope to restore them to repentance, and then restore them to forgiveness and joyful fellowship. But such restoration cannot be done except in humility and compassion. Humility because we, too, depend on Christ's forgiveness, and compassion, because we stand united as those who do not deserve the grace of God, but together find peace and unity in His love and unfailing goodness to us.
But Paul is also speaking about those times when we accuse ourselves and disappoint ourselves. You don't need to be a great, public sinner to feel crushed by your sins and unworthy of God's grace. At those times, and we need to be vigilant with one another to even notice those times, we need the humble assistance of others for us to truly hear the invitation of the Lord to come to Him and allow His grace and forgiveness to lift the burden from us and restore us. Paul calls this "bear[ing] one another's burdens, and thus fulfill[ing] the law of Christ."
We also need to be careful, lest we are tempted by that which has ensnared our brother or sister in Christ. That is another aspect of not kidding one's self. None of us is above temptation or sin. We daily sin much, as we confess in the Small Catechism, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. We are each liable to temptation, and while yours may not tempt me as it does you, it could, or it could push me off into a different trap of sin. We need to be honest with ourselves and always watchful, humble so that we never consider ourselves beyond temptation, and humble that we are always ready to repent and confess our sins before God, and yes, even confess to one another, and hear the gentle and gracious absolution of our Lord, and to receive with thanksgiving the gift poured out for us in this Holy Supper.
Paul reminds us that when we consider ourselves to be something we are not, we are only deceiving ourselves. We must always remember what we are: sinners, who have been rescued by the grace of God and forgiven, and restored to everlasting life by His suffering and death and resurrection. He chose us, not we Him. We are always beggars before God, and He has responded with love and kindness and given us a future and a hope. It is that reality, faced honestly and squarely in our thinking and doing, that results in what might be described as Christian behavior.
Paul mentions sharing all good things with the one who teaches us these truths. Yes, your support of your pastor is part of living out your faith in God's undeserved goodness to you. Paul makes that point and then reminds us not to kid ourselves - you reap what you sow. God makes sure of that. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap what the flesh reaps, corruption and death. If you sow to the Spirit, you reap eternal life. That is not just some stewardship principle to be used and manipulated for personal gain, it is the reality of life. God pays attention, and you cannot fool Him. Don't kid yourself. As I said earlier, God deals with what is, not with those 'pious' fictions we create in our minds.
Paul's encouragement, then, is not to allow yourself to grow weary of doing what is right and good. The structure of Christian living is the Christian saying to himself or herself, "God has been good to me and gracious for no other reason than He is good and gracious. I will imitate Him and be good for no other reason than that is who God would have me to be." Paul tells us that God would have us be good to everyone - but especially to be careful to be good to fellow believers, those who are of the household of the faith.
But don't kid yourself, you should expect none of this to feel natural to do. Some of it become tedious. We naturally want to do something, and then get on with taking care of ourselves. We can observe that natural impulse when disasters strike. We notice the immediate concern for the victims of the disaster, but before very long, everyone is back to doing whatever it is they prefer to do, and the victims are left to wallow in their circumstances. There is that initial flurry of help and concern, but human nature is focused in on the self, and we grow bored and weary of taking care of the other guy, and it doesn't take very long at all for that to happen. That is human nature.
God is in it for the long haul for us. Jesus lived His entire life for us, and then died for us. Paul writes, "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary." Don't kid yourself. There is nothing natural or automatic about this. These things are the deliberate, Spirit-powered, imitation of the love which God has shown for us. Sometimes living this out becomes quite tiresome. Sticking to it requires self-control and determination, and intentionally choosing to follow the leading of the Spirit. And in out text, Paul promises that doing so bears a reward. Paul says "in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary." That means that, when all is said and done, you will find that being the child of God in all that you do really was worth it, and God will make you able to see how it all worked according to His good will and grace.
This stuff isn't necessarily fun. But it is like Christ, and it is the will of God for those who are His people, that they should live for Him, which means living out His care for each other. It means serving God by serving one another. Don't kid yourself, God notices, and how you live reflects who - and whose - you are. Christ's life was all about you, and He asks you to make your life all about Him by making it all about one another.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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