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.
You Got Deeds or Fruit?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Our nation is at war. It often doesn't seem like we are at war, even though we know it is true, because the war is being fought elsewhere, and seemingly has little to do with our daily lives, other than the oppressive drum-beat of the main steam news media with its anti-Iraq war message. There is no rationing. There are no local hardships imposed by the war effort. Nevertheless, this nation is at war. It is a war on Islamic Terrorism. The enemy is not another country, but another way of perceiving reality, and another, dangerously anti-Christian religion.
This war is subtle, and our enemy is almost undefinable until he strikes us. Our nation has been engaged in this war with terrorists for over 40 years, and we are just recently awakening to that truth. Iraq and Afghanistan are the primary battle fronts today, so we tend not to think of the war as among us, but it is. We are a nation at war! In so many ways, this war makes a good analogy for the life of a Christian. We Christians are at war, spiritual war! Our nation's enemy is, in truth, Islam. Islam is also an element in the war against us Christians, 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."
Paul describes the flesh as distinct from the Spirit who guides us Christians. One of the ways he distinguishes between them is to refer to the "deeds" of the flesh in contrast to what Paul calls the "fruit" of the Spirit. Paul encourages one while he discourages the other. This morning I want to look at this text with you, and approach it by asking the question, "You Got Deeds or Fruit?"
You may have noticed that the sermons in this part of the church year all seem to talk about the same general topic - the living of life as a faithful child of God, or Sanctification in 'the narrow sense'. That just makes sense. Once we have learned the fundamental truths of our faith, the rest of our energy is spent living day to day while we await the call of God to come home to heaven and eternal life and glory with Christ. Sometimes living while we wait challenges us, and sometimes the task of being a faithful, confessing Christian almost sneaks on by us. At times we have crises, and at other times we have things pretty much as we want them. No matter how things strike us at any given moment, if we are faithful, we will eventually find that we must spend our lives at war, serving and confessing Christ by what we do and what we say.
Just as in this war on terrorism, our lives won't always seem as though we are at war. First, that is because the enemy is does not always look like an enemy, does not always appear to us as 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. We Christians need to be on a war-footing at all times, even when the war seems like it is a long way removed from us, and more potential than actual war. Like the War on Terror, being deliberately Christian doesn't always feel like a war. But it is!
And like the War on Terror, ours 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." Due to the nature of this war, we cannot simply do as we please. We are not free to do evil, of course, because we are the adopted children of the Holy One. Evil is contrary to who we are. Because our flesh is still sold in sin, we cannot freely follow what is holy, because our flesh resists and fights us every inch of the way. And the term "flesh" includes part of what we call our will, and part of what we call our intellect - the greater part of both, or so it seems at times. That makes the battle we fight difficult in the extreme. It is like the cartoon strip character, Pogo, once said, "We have met the enemy, . . . and he is us!" St. Paul says, "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."
The battle, however, is for liberty. "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 it for you, you are set free from the coercion of the Law. That means it cannot threaten you with dire consequences. It cannot condemn you or determine your eternal fate. Jesus has taken the Law out of the way, and out of the calculations about your eternal destination. What we have done neither condemns us any longer, nor 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. We are not free, however, in an absolute sense. The Law still applies to us - meaning that what it teaches is right and good and holy is still true, and is still the will of God for our lives. It simply has lost its power to accuse or condemn us. We 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 results of the two states, being under the Law and being led by the Spirit, are different. One result is called the deeds of the flesh. The other is called "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 refers 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 just 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 still considered deeds of the flesh - and are still 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 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 He is at work in your heart and life and spirit, and these qualities are the sorts of fruit He produces. This 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.
Part of what Paul is telling us is that we don't have to work this stuff up in ourselves. It is 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 which He produces in us by dwelling within us.
Essentially, these things are what occurs naturally when one lives in faith, trusting God, and allowing God to work His blessings and salvation by whatever means - both good times and painful, frightening, and difficult events or situations. God is in charge, what need for fear or worry do we have? The fruit of such living faith is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
"Against such things there is no law." No one is going 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. What you experience in any sort of persecution is the hatred of the world for Christ. And the true nature of 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 what those who persecute such holy behavior are attacking is the reflection of Christ in you - not you personally.
Jesus told us 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. Plus, denying 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, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."
Such as are Christians have taken 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 those deeds of 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 things - or not to do or say various things - based on what we believe about ourselves, and about one another, and about God and His promises.
Finally, it boils down to admitting that we are involved in a war. It is the cosmic war, not between good and evil (as the world likes to imagine), but between our Savior God and the devil who seeks to destroy us at last by deceiving us and leading us to choose 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? You got deeds or fruit?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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