MAR 8, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer


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           We are down to the final three messages in our Wintering in Galatia sermon series. Im curious, however.  How many of us here are studying this letter from Paul for the very first time?  Let me say, in all my years of ministry, dating back to 1975, this is the first time Ive ever preached my way through this letter, so its a first for me in some respects.  I recall studying it in seminary, given it is the earliest document in the New Testament, even written before the Gospels, but this is the first time Ive ever led a congregation through it, and we are almost done.  Just three more messages, which includes this one, remain and then we get into Holy Week.

            So in case you have missed some episodes of the series, and I wish we had the technology to do what they do on some television shows, when the show begins with the words previously on NCIS or previously on Downton Abbey, and they show a montage of previous story lines, well I wish we possessed the technology to show snippets of previous sermons to bring us up to speed, but since we dont let me briefly bring us up to date.

            The book of Galatians is in large part a rebuke from Paul to the churches in Galatia. The churches had started well. They had received the gospel. They had embraced Paul and his message, but after Paul had left them to continue his missionary journeys, false teachers came in and undermined his ministry. They began to teach that men had to be circumcised in order to truly be saved sadly it was pretty much all about men back in those days and Gentiles needed to change themselves (quite literally) on the outside in order to be truly cleansed on the inside.  It was not enough to admit sin and embrace Christ. They needed to become like Jews and, of course, this was a distortion of the gospel, a distortion of Pauls message. We do not need to do anything other than accepting Jesus Christ to experience salvation.  We do not need to stop drinking to experience salvation. We do not need to stop swearing to experience salvation. We do not need to start going to church to experience salvation. Salvation is a gift of God and happens apart from anything we do, other than embracing Christ.

            After driving that point home again and again and again in this letter, Paul turns to the next question.  Hes addressed the question, How are we saved?  How do we experience salvation? How are we put in a right relationship with God? He says we are saved, we are justified by faith and faith alone, and then he moves onto the second question.  If Jesus takes care of our salvation, who takes care of our sanctification?  Now the term sanctification is simply a fancy word describing the process of being transformed into the image of Christ, and the question is whos responsible for that?  Whos responsible for our becoming more Christlike?  Is it us?  After Jesus makes us right with God, does Jesus leave us to our own resources to grow in the faith, to become more Christlike?”  Thats the issue Paul addresses this morning.

            Listen to his exact words.  He alludes to a team effort.  Jesus does not leave us on our own.  Galatians 5:16.


            Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 


            Lets pause a moment and expand a bit on Pauls use of the word flesh. The Greek word is sarx s-a-r-x.  Not the fish.  Not s-h-a-r-k-s. Not the star of the movie Jaws, but sarx s-a-r-x. 

            And the Greek word translated here as flesh is translated differently in other versions of the bible.  For example, the New English Bible translates the word sarx as lower nature the Todays English Version prefers human nature the New International Version translates the Greek word sarx as sinful nature and the Jerusalem Bible on the other hand uses self-indulgence.  Whatever the proper translation it refers to an enemy of the Spirit, a power within us at war with Gods work of sanctification. 

            Im not a big fan of poetry, but I want to quote a poem here.  It comes from a guy named Geoffrey Kennedy.  Geoffrey Kennedy, was an Anglican priest and poet. He was nicknamed 'Woodbine Willie' during World War I for giving Woodbine cigarettes along with spiritual aid to injured and dying soldiers.  In 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross for running into no man's land to help the wounded during an attack on the German frontline.  He wrote a number of poems about his experiences, and here are a couple of lines from one of them


            Im a man and a mans mixture

                        Right down from his very birth;

            For part of him comes from heaven,

                        And part of him comes from the earth.


            Paul could have written those lines.  According to Paul we all face an internal war between the Spirit and the flesh, that which comes from heaven and that which comes from earth.

            We just got back from visiting our grandchildren, and our grandson Jack hell be six next month is really into Legos.  And we bought him a set of Legos based on the Lego movie, and he asked me to help him put it together, so I sat next to him while he built the set, and when he got into a problem I helped him solve it.  We just didnt buy him the set and tell him, Good luck.  Youre on your own now.  No, we helped him build it.  Something similar happens with the Spirit.  Jesus Christ bought us our salvation.  He paid for it on the cross, and he gave it to us as a gift, but after giving it to us he didnt say, OK, your own your own now.  Do your best with the gift of salvation that I have given you.  No, he sent his Spirit to help us build the set.  He sent the Spirit to help us grow into the image of Christ. 

            J.B. Phillips, who in 1958 translated the bible into modern English, so that young people in his congregation could understand it, said, Every time we say, I believe in the Holy Spirit, we mean that we believe that there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it.  Thats what Paul tells us.  We are not alone in our quest to grow into the image of Christ.  The Holy Spirit helps us along the way.

            Lets continue reading.  Verse 18


            But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.  Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.  I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.


            Note something here.  The stakes are high the inheritance of the kingdom of God.  If we choose to side with the flesh we cant be Switzerland, we have to choose a side if we choose to side with the flesh, well that path eventually leads to destruction.  If we desire to come to the aid of the Spirit, well that path leads to eternal life.  Now on this side of heaven, if we ever get angry or envious or a bit tipsy from time to time, that doesnt mean we are going to hell in a hand basket.  It means that we lost a battle, but not the war.  We dont take pride in being angry or envious or cliquish rather we feel bad about that. Feeling bad about our behavior, regretting our behavior, is a sign that the Spirit is within us, trying to fix what we have done.  

            Lets finish up.  What comes next is probably the best known section of The Galatian Letter.  Verse 22.


            By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. 


            When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit begins the work of molding and shaping. The Holy Spirit begins growing us into the vision God has for us. The roots of our faith begin to go deep. And as the roots grow deeper our faith starts to branch out and eventually buds appear on the branches and those buds begin to produce spiritual fruit. Jesus said something similar I am the vine and you are the branches and apart from me, you can do nothing. 

            Of course, thats one of the reason why I dont put a Christian bumper sticker on my car.  You see, Im still a work in progress.  My spiritual fruit tree is a little spotty.  I trust the Spirit is winning the war, but sometimes it seems, at least in my life, that the Spirit loses a battle or two along the way.  Thats why I dont put a Christian bumper sticker on my car. I dont want people to catch me on a particularly bad day, a fleshy rather than spiritual day.

            Im sorry that David Letterman is retiring.  I love his Top Ten lists.  I hope they continue the lists after he retires. A guy named Mike Higgs suggested a list titled The Top Ten Things People Won't Say When They See the Christian Bumper Sticker or Fish Symbol On Your Car.  Heres his list, and again its the ten top things people wont say when they see a Christian bumper sticker or fish symbol on our car. 


            10. "Quick, honey, honk the horn or they won't know that we love Jesus!"

            9. "Don't worry, kids, those people are Christians - they must have a very good reason for driving 90 miles an hour and weaving in and out of traffic like that."

            8. "What a joy to be sharing the highway with another car of Spirit-filled brothers and sisters."

            7. "Isn't it wonderful how God blessed that Christian leader with a brand-new Mercedes?"

            6. "Dad, can we follow that car with the Christian bumper sticker so we can find out where they go to church.?"

            5. "You better pull in the other lane and steer clear of those folks, if the rapture happens, that car's gonna be all over the road!"

            4. "Oh, look! That Christian woman is getting a chance to share Jesus with a police officer."

            3. "No, that's not garbage coming out of their windows, it's probably gospel tracts for the road workers."

            2. "Oh, boy, we're in trouble now! We just rear-ended one of God's cars."

            1. "Look! Let's stop that car and ask those folks how we can become Christians.[1]


            That's the top ten things people will not say when they see a Christian bumper sticker or fish symbol on our car.

            Heres the point.  We are not alone in our quest to grow into the image of Jesus Christ.  We have the Spirit working within us, and who knows, someday I might feel confident enough about my own behavior that I would put a Christian bumper sticker on my car, but Im not quite there yet.  How about you?  

[1] Mike Higgs, Preaching Vol. 14, #2, adapted.