In Step With the Spirit
(Galatians 5: 1, 13-25)
The most difficult thing I had to learn at the Houston Police Academy was how to march in step. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get it. Several of my academy classmates had prior military experience and could march effortlessly, talking and chewing gum at the same time. The cadets, like me who had two left feet, were turned over to cadet Drones for extra help. A.J. Drones had been in the service and he made marching look effortless and even fun. It was like it was in his soul. Fortunately, I graduated in spite of my inability to march in step and never had to worry about starting out with my left foot when pursuing a fleeing felon.
Staying in step with the Holy Spirit is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. He starts out by saying; Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again. Freedom, what an interesting concept, especially for us Americans. We fought the King of England so we could be free to govern ourselves. We’ve got a Constitution and a Bill of Rights to prove we are free, and nobody can tell us what to do or when to do it. As an aside, I can tell you that based upon my thirty plus years in the criminal justice system, you are not as free as you think which kept us in beans and bacon. But this is not the type of freedom Paul is talking about. Christ did come to set us free, but not free to do whatever we want because that would lead us back into slavery to our former selfish desires, our lives centered on self. Rather, thanks to Christ, we are now free and able to do what was impossible before, to live unselfishly, to live a God-centered life. We don’t have to worry about keeping up with the Joneses or obsess about having to have the latest must-have whizbang 5000 which is vastly improved over last year’s model, the 4000.
Paul distinguishes between the freedom to sin and the freedom to serve when he says; You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses but serve each other through love. He says; All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. Paul warns that if we bite and devour each other, we must be careful not to get eaten up by each other. That freedom or license to sin is no freedom at all, because it enslaves us to Satan, others, or our own sinful nature. Again, I’ve had a front row seat as I’ve arrested, prosecuted, defended or prayed for someone who has succumbed to the lure or temptation of sin. Christians, by contrast, should not be slaves to sin, because they are free to do right and to glorify God through loving service. The key is staying in step with the Spirit.
Paul talks about two different ways of living. He urges us to be guided by the Spirit so we won’t carry out our selfish desires. He tells us that a person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. Paul tells us the actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. When we believers lose the motivation of love, we become critical of others. We stop looking for good in them and see only their faults. Soon we lose our unity as a people.
But then, Paul tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is, he says, no law against things like this. He tells us that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires. He says; If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.
If you desire to have the fruit of the Spirit, then you know the Holy Spirit is leading you. Being led by the Holy Spirit involves the desire to hear, the readiness to obey God’s Word, and the sensitivity to discern between your feelings and his promptings. We must strive to live each day controlled and guided by the Holy Spirit. If we do, the words of Christ will be in our minds, the love of Christ will be behind our actions, and the power of Christ will help us control our selfish desires.
My study Bible says the fruit of the spirit is the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in us. I love that the fruit of the spirit is described as spontaneous. This says to me that when we see a need, when we see something that needs to be done, a wrong to be righted, we act with spontaneity. That seems so un-Methodist to some. We don’t feel compelled to form a committee to study it and then report its findings to another committee for review and a vote. We believe we are in step with the Spirit and respond accordingly. I love that this church has given me the freedom and latitude to do what is right and to glorify God through our loving service to others. If we want the fruit of the Spirit to grow in us, we must join our lives to his. We must know him, love him, remember him, and imitate him because faith without works is dead.
A person who exhibits the fruit of the Spirit fulfills the law far better than a person who observes the rituals but has little love in his or her heart, a person who is just going through the motions. I believe that this statement describes the loving congregation of Community United Methodist Church. Because I think we are a congregation that exhibits the fruit of the Spirit we are fulfilling the law of Love your neighbor as yourself that Paul previously referenced far better than those persons who observe the rituals but have little love in their hearts for others. When I reflected back on that statement I thought of some of those churches I’ve attended in the past that were just observing the rituals, that were just going through the motions. They were not in step with the Spirit. They weren’t even out of step with the Spirit. They weren’t even moving.
In order to accept Christ as Savior, in order to walk in step with the Holy Spirit, we need to turn from our sins and willingly nail our sinful nature to the cross. As Christians, we fully understand our human faults and frailties and realize we still have the capacity to sin, but we have been set free from sin’s power over us and no longer have to give in to it. Because we are saved, we should live like it. The Holy Spirit is the source of your new life, so keep in step with his leading. Don’t let anything or anyone else determine your values and standards in any area of your life. Exercise your freedom.
Those who look to God for approval won’t need to envy others. They’ll have no need t prove themselves to others. Because we are God’s sons and daughters, we have his Holy Spirit as the living guarantee of his approval. Seek to please God and the approval of others won’t seem important as you walk in step with the Spirit.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are for your gift of the Holy Spirit who walks beside us and guides our every step. Clear our minds of our worldly desires that cloud our judgement and impedes our service to you. Remind us that you will provide us our daily bread and because of your unconditional love, we shall not want. Set our feet upon the path of righteousness and service so that we may be your servants who help distribute the daily bread and meet the wants of the lost you seek to find and bring to yourself. Instill in our faith the kind of life and energy that produces fruit and brings glory and honor to you. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.