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For this week’s Spiritual Practice, led by Ivy Anthony, click HERE.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions
21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Holy and Loving God, we praise and worship you, for you are a good God. A God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in love. We thank you that you have poured your spirit upon us. Help us be aware and present to what you are doing in and through us in this moment now and today we pray, in Jesus name Amen.
We’re in a sermon series called Listening to the Spirit. It’s so elusive. The Spirit. Such a mystery. It’s difficult to know exactly how to listen to the spirit. And what does it mean to live by the Spirit?
I get this question often. How do you know when something is from God? Whether it’s a student facing graduation trying to figure out what to do with their lives, or someone trying to discern whether or not they should switch careers. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what you should do and what you shouldn’t do.
In today’s text, Paul is trying to give advice to the churches in Galatia about how they were to live by the Spirit. He gives pretty clear answers to what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. So it seems like a good text for us to look into, as we ask how we can listen to the Spirit. But I have to warn you, the process of application should not be direct.
You see, the text, it wasn’t written for you. It was written under great pressure in Paul’s personal and ministerial life, as his churches that he planted were being influenced by other teachings, and at the brink of all just blowing up. It was written in the face of a great controversy. Meaning? It was drama for your mama.
I mean even writing a text message in the midst of a minor fallout is so hard for me. When you are emotionally entangled, every word means a great deal. Some of you know that I have been going through some drama with my mama for the past few years. It’s been a strained relationship and we don’t talk often. A thorn on my side. I miss her dearly. When she does text me, I take apart every word and comma, and reply with careful word choices that try to convey and include all that I want to mean. And I don’t know if you guys know this but that feature on text messages that tell you when someone’s looked at your text, oh God, I hate it. It’s like, it says, “READ”, and you hold your breath, they read it! And then the three little dots, letting you know that the other person is typing, displays and you just watch the three dots blink waiting. You know? No, just me? Cool.
Well, Paul was very invested in this controversy about circumcision and who can eat with who. And very passionate. I mean his intro to the Galatians letter is,
“Paul an apostle – sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.”
I mean I know he was a man of deep faith, but who writes like that?! And that was his gift too. He was audacious with his words. A gifted writer that compels rather than just tells, with each sentence. And he meant the things he wrote. He’s blunt and often very direct. Like,
“The acts of flesh are obvious!”
“Obvious”, those are fighting words. Never use the word “obvious” in a fight. And he is a bit verbose. He likes to list and include a lot of things, with lots of commas.
I’m saying these things, bringing context to Paul’s situation and maybe even to his temperament and style because that is absolutely relevant. Because when we don’t, we misunderstand the text and I have seen Bible used literally without taking context into account that can really be harmful. And this text particularly has been sometime misinterpreted to be a comprehensive list of do’s and don’t, a litmus test of who’s in the spirit or not.
So let’s break it down a bit more to see if there’s more this text can offer about living in the spirit rather than just a list of things we need to check our lives by.
First of all, this concept of Spirit versus the flesh that Paul is using to convey his point, it’s a framework. A metaphor, try to get at describing something but isn’t meant to define. In fact, through historical critical methods we know that this is a common notion that was used in that day, which was a direct influence of a widely accepted thinking from ancient Greek philosophy. Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato, ancient philosophers, had some really powerful thoughts, like the concept of how they understood the spirit versus the body. And it influenced ways we talk about religion and culture. And Paul, because he, as pioneering of faith as he was, was too a product of his time and culture, immersed in his days’ ways of thinking.
The concept of the either or thinking, the binary thinking of spirit versus body, is in one sense interesting, but we also know now that the two are more connected and integrated than the ancient Greek philosophers might have thought. The body keeps score. The body is intelligent, like a computer of its own, holding literally codes of information through DNA, we realize through science. So it’s not simply that the spirit is good and the body is bad.
So what I’m saying is that you can’t just apply his concepts to us directly and blindly. Whatever your flesh wants is not always evil. If your body’s hungry. If your body needs to shake in grief. If your body needs to stretch out and hug a tree. If your body wants to move around its legs because you’re restless. If your body is tired- you don’t have to say, “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.” and quote bible verses out of context. Maybe you need rest. Maybe you need a nap. Living by the spirit doesn’t mean ignoring your body or that your body betrays you.
One way I could offer that sort of reshapes the metaphor is, instead of saying the spirit versus the body, it’s been helpful for me to think about it as the True Self versus the Ego or the False Self. Again, this is just another framework. The True Self is that most authentic voice within, that is connected and curious and content. True self operates out of the gifts of human tendencies such as generosity, compassion, and love and acceptance. Whereas Ego, Ego is the exterior layer that came up to protect us against the dangerous world. It operates out of defensiveness and out of lack. Like, I’ll get them before they get me!
A helpful way to look at what I mean by True Self and the Ego is the Enneagram. I’ve talked about Enneagram before, but it’s an interesting tool to name how all of us have a tendency of the Ego that we end up defaulting to, that often isn’t helpful and even harmful. It’s categorized into nine different types and each type has a kind of its own preoccupation that ends up upholding and maintaining the Ego. For example, Type One called the Perfectionist thinks, Because the world is imperfect, I must do all that I can to make it right to fix it. Hence their tendency toward perfectionism rather than grace and understanding.
Or Type Two, called the Giver or the Helper thinks that because the world is in high demand of things that we need to do, to be recognized, one must help or give something. Hence their tendency toward always busily helping rather than resting and simply being loved fully.
I won’t go through all the numbers but every number, something, usually as a child, shifted in the world- the world demanded too much, the world was painful, the world was chaotic, and so all of us found ways to cope and work with that world, sometimes by overcompensating that fault.
For me, a Type Seven, my ego says, no matter what, let’s just be positive! So I often try to make things better by doing something fun to help forget the hurt, because otherwise it just hurts too much. But my true self is able to engage grief or sadness without being afraid. And my True Self leads me and guides me in truth instead of ignoring the problem.
I offer these words, True Self in place of the Spirit, and Ego in place of the flesh, because the war between the Spirit and Flesh has had a way of splitting a person’s wholeness, fighting within themselves, at odds with themselves. And that kind of teaching has resulted in sometimes even a betrayal of oneself that caused confusion about their identity.
I’ve gotten the question from a teen when I was a youth pastor, “why is everything God says is right but everything I do is wrong.” You’re not wrong. You’re not evil. Your body does not betray you. In fact, the spirit of God lives in you and works with you, the true you, who is connected, grounded, compassionate, and enough. There IS a false self at play, and we must know how to discern between the two. But at your core, your body, is not bad. To listen to the spirit does not mean you have to betray your body.
“So I say, walk by the Spirit of True Self, and you will not gratify the desires of the Ego. For the Ego desires what is contrary to the True Self, and the Spirit of True Self what is contrary to the Ego.”
Now that we’ve got a handle on the framework, let’s tackle the content deeper.
“ sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
20 idolatry and witchcraft…
and so on
Okay, so the list Paul gives. it’s not meant to be an exhaustive or a comprehensive list. I mean they all sound pretty bad but I’m just saying, he was writing his own list for the church of Galatia, not for you and your situation. This was simply Paul’s confession, his take of a life lived by the spirit. I’m sharing this text today, not to give you a list of things on what not to do and to do. There are some words of Paul’s that are helpful, but I’m sharing this text as an example of a man who really engaged himself to the situation, gave himself to the cause and named and called out things as he saw them. It’s an example, not a prescription.
In fact, Paul never meant for you to follow his lists either. The whole reason why he was writing all this was because he was trying to convey that you shouldn’t just follow things just because it’s the law.
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
The law, he means the old testament. That was their big controversy, as some were saying you must do things this way or that because of the law, the old testament said so. Paul was saying, no, we live by the spirit. We aren’t supposed to follow lists from the Bible but listen to the spirit that is alive right now. And he goes on to list some he sees, things that they were particularly facing that were particularly in Paul’s hearts at the moment. He was showcasing how one does that.
So what’s your list ? What would you name as “The acts of the flesh” or maybe another way to think of it for us, “acts of ego” that we do? What are some ego tendencies that you’ve done or seen that are harmful and contrary to the spirit of one’s True Self?
Let’s practice this together now, as a community, as Paul meant for us to do.
Write some of your ideas in the chat. What are some words that you would say are not living in the spirit? Way of the Ego?
The acts of the False self/ego are maybe not obvious to some but here’s some according to our community: power hungry, addiction, busyness and productivity, perfectionism, assuming the worst about a person…
…I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
And so, for the fruits of the Spirit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great list. But again it’s Paul’s. What’s yours?
The Bible and Paul’s words are not the final word. It is a living word, and our lived experiences that also confess to the truth faith. The Bible, in the Jewish tradition, they are meant to be in conversation with one another. There are texts that even contradict one another, like Deuteronomy laying out all the ways you stay pure and clean. And then in the book of Galatians like where our text comes from today, says you don’t have to be circumcised and you can eat with Gentiles. And so our faith, our community is also supposed to maybe not all agree on what we think is the right way or the wrong way. Maybe this is how we listen to the spirit. We disagree and listen to opposing ideas. Maybe we take into consideration Moses’ list, Paul’s list, Mikayla’s list, Jin’s list…
We get to proclaim our story and we are witnesses to life in the spirit.
So what is your picture of life in the spirit? What are your fruits of the spirit that you enjoyed? What is your understanding of what life in the spirit is, or life lived out of True Self is?
are pretty good but give me some of yours in the chat. What is your fruit of the spirit that you’ve tasted and seen? What, in your opinion, is the fruit of the spirit of our times?
The Fruit of the Spirit is freedom, collaboration, humility, rest, gratitude, resilience, boldness, vulnerability…
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”
This was the provocative message of Paul. That we are all connected to the Spirit. And the Spirit speaks through us all, even in the face of old traditions and texts and prescriptions. Even through Zoom chat. Spirit makes things new, through you. Do you know that? Do you believe that?
How do you listen to the Spirit? How do you live by the Spirit? Not by checking through Paul’s list. Maybe by coming up with your own list and sharing them with others. As you listen to your own list, may you be as audacious as Paul, passionate and bold. For the Spirit of God is upon you. Amen.