Walk In One Spirit

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We have one divine spirit, the Spirit of God’s exclusive love(agapaō). All other types of “love” can be captured by our mortal enemy.

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE(agapaō) YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” (Galatians 5:14)

That’s it! It’s the key to God’s plan, for here and for eternity.

It’s that simple? Simple because God spoke the universe into existence. Simple because He gave us His Word. Simple because the Fruit of God’s Spirit is simple.

If you want your life filled with God, you need to bear God’s Spiritual Fruit. If you don’t want God in your life, take your chances with cruel fate.

God’s Simple Fruit

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:18)

God’s domain rises infinitely higher than any given law. If you want wordly law, enjoy its bad fruit.

The Fruit of God’s Spirit is just one fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

It’s singular, ie the fruit. It’s not one kind of fruit called love, another called peace, a third called patience, etc. Singular fruit may have many characters, like sweetness, tartness, tenderness, scrumptiousness(getting a bit carried away). Also like fruit, it might be dry, grainy, tough, or other unflavorful characteristics.

This essay would become impossibly long if I covered the whole list. Instead, I will try to do a good attempt at each time I deal with it.

To be continued …

Easy Rider

Some off-ramps don’t appear worth taking.

“Enter by the narrow gate;
for wide
is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction,
and there are many who go in by it.
(Matthew 7:13 NKJV)

Seems like everybody has written or sermonized about the broad way versus the narrow, or the easy way versus the hard. We’re talking about destinations here.

When Jesus delivered his sermon recorded in Matthew’s gospel, chapters five, six, and seven, most of His audience were common folks, like you and me. His message hit home for them, as they knew they were sinners.

The elitist religious leaders, however, were also listening, and of course He wasn’t talking to them; no one could tell them anything because they were teachers, lawyers, priests, and scribes who knew it all. That’s not to say all of today’s teachers, lawyers, and clergypeople are know-it-alls, but … well, you know what I mean.

When I examine my conscience I know Jesus was talking to me when He sat on that rock on the hillside, as the broad and easy way has always been my default path—until, that is, I decided to give myself to God through Jesus Christ. But old habits die hard; I still struggle with self-control, occasionally reverting to my old ways. Now, however, my reaction to those slips and stumbles is entirely different; where I used to seek every opportunity to sate my fleshly desires, now such slips grieve me deeply. That’s how I know I’ve changed. Another change is taking my sins to God straight away, and begging for the grace to truly repent.

Wonder why I didn’t say, “ask forgiveness”? That’s because as long as I am in Christ, my sins are forgiven. And that’s even more reason for me to feel grieved when I sin; it’s like adding another thorn to Jesus’ crown of thorns.

My reborn self doesn’t want to ride easy any longer, but I pray for God to keep me on the hard and narrow way until I can give my Savior a big hug with tears of gratitude for what He has done for me.

The Fruit of the Spirit is …

One fruit, many nuances of flavor.

Sometimes I feel condemnation when I read God’s Word, because I fail to measure up. I realize what Romans 8:1-7 tells me, but the qualifier prevents me from easily claiming the passage and applying it to myself. It is a promise, “to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Can I claim to walk according to the Spirit? The problem is, I just don’t know. If I truly bore the Holy Spirit’s fruit, would I have any doubt?

According to Galatians 5:22-25, the foremost flavor of God’s Spiritual fruit, indeed, its very essence, is love. Where is my love? What does it look like? Loving those who love me is easy, but what of those who despise me and everything I stand for? Do I truly love them?

God’s word doesn’t tell me to feel loving toward such haters, but it does tell me to treat them well, to meet their needs, to show them grace, because that is the way Jesus treated His enemies. Do I go out of my way to show that sort of love to those who refuse to receive it? I don’t want to admit my honest answer to that question.

So, what about joy, the second flavor of the Spirit’s fruit? When I feel loved, or experience good fortune, I feel joy, and that’s only natural. But therein lies the problem; it is natural joy, and not joy from God’s Spirit. Is the joy I feel simply an emotional response to some favorable stimulus? If I don’t feel loved, but feel threatened, insecure, angry, inpatient, or doubtful, what of the Holy Spirit’s joy then? In the Holy Spirit’s context, joy must underlay all other emotions, whether negative or positive. In the flesh, that is impossible.

Like joy, the Holy Spirit’s peace must transcend all human emotions. This peace is not simply a lack of conflict, as the world defines it. The Holy Spirit’s peace comes from reconciliation with God. When I know that He no longer recognizes my sins, but has chosen to forget them completely, as if they never happened, peace overwhelms me, and all that inner conflict about falling short of His expectations just evaporates away. That’s the peace that defies understanding(Philippians 4:6-7).

Another flavor of the fruit of God’s Spirit is longsuffering, or patience, as the more contemporary versions translate it. Personally, I prefer the longer word, not because it’s longer, but because it paints a more vivid picture in my mind. Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:4, tells us that love, “suffers long,” and I love that idea; love is willing to suffer(endure, not passively, but passionately), and to keep on suffering indefinitely. God expresses that idea most strongly in Psalms 27:14, where He tells us twice to wait on the LORD.

Kindness goes right along with the first four flavors combined in one sweet fruit of the Spirit. I think these five could be characterized under one label: grace, both God’s grace toward us and our grace toward those around us. Even if the fruit of God’s Spirit didn’t go any further, it would be the most beautiful of produce. But it does include more flavors, and each of the following four could stand alone under the category of Christlike character.

Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is God.” (Mark 10:18) Obviously, then, goodness is a “God thing.” Yet, the fruit of God’s Spirit includes goodness demonstrated in us. That fact, as much as any other, tells us that God must live within us if we are to bear His spiritual fruit.

In the same way as goodness, as God is faithful, we must be faithful as well if we are to bear His fruit. That means consistently being good to our word, truthful and honest. I’ll be the first to admit that such faithfulness is unnatural behavior for me, and is a tall order in this unfaithful, lying and dishonest world. Yet, we are not of this world, are we? (John 17:16)

The next flavor of God’s Spiritual fruit is gentleness. Am I wrong, or is each new characteristic becoming more challenging? God’s church has picked up the idea that we must stand militantly for our beliefs. After all, Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 9:33, “as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.'” So there you go; God told us to be as offensive as needed to get our point across. Right?

Wrong! Jesus is the Stone of stumbling and Rock of offense, not individual Christ-followers. If we are to bear the true fruit of God’s Spirit, we will behave with gentleness of spirit and mildness of disposition. In other words, meekness, just as Jesus did when he faced the kangaroo court of religious Jews.

But wait, it gets even harder; the last flavor of God’s Spiritual fruit is self-control. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have no natural self-control. But if it came naturally, it wouldn’t be from God, right? That means, at least for me, when I demonstrate self-control, as sitting at this keyboard for hours writing this stuff, I must be demonstrating the fruit of God’s Spirit. And the fact that you’ve sat reading this far demonstrates a good deal of supernatural self-control as well.

So that ends this particular list. I dealt with the fruit of God’s Spirit because the preceding few verses of this chapter reveal the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21), and I much prefer dealing with positives rather than negatives.

Remember, “against such things (the fruit of God’s Spirit) there is no law.” Oh, one other thing: Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.”

C.S. Lewis on Effort

Uncle Jack has always had a way of eliciting controversy; religious liberals accuse him of being too conservative, and religious conservatives accuse him of being too liberal. He brings out the extreme range of opinion among Christians. While I disagree with him on some theological points, I’ve found much more agreement with his Scripture applications. His statement on effort, from Words to Live By, is a case in point.

Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them.

So true, but Lewis didn’t mention the self-control required to do those things without trying.

Did I hear you say, “That’s nuts!”? Well, it’s not nuts. The only way to develop positive behaviors so you do them automatically is by developing the appropriate habits, and that takes self-control.

What motivates those positive habit formations? God’s Holy Spirit, working through frequent exposure to, study of, and meditation on his Word. That is the very first godly habit, and all the others flow from it. When God opens your eyes to the awful wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for your sins, and the depth of his love for you—personally—that motivated him to submit to that torture, you will want to let him speak to you through his Word. God will show you that he is love, and as Jesus demonstrated his love by dying on the cross for you, so you will want to demonstrate your love for him by crucifying your own desires for self-gratification, and obeying him even when you don’t feel like it.

C.S. Lewis on Humility and Temptation

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:

You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realise that one is proud. Conviction of sin comes only from God’s Holy Spirit, and self-pride is indeed sinful. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues. That is, after accepting God’s conviction of your sin, confessing it back to him, and trusting Christ for your justification and salvation. A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week.

Call this the “Honeymoon Period.”

Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.

That’s because sin is our natural condition and frame of reference. For a natural person, trying to be good according to God’s absolute standard is like a goldfish trying to live outside of his comfy fishbowl home. It ain’t gonna happen.

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

Resisting temptation is like bodybuilding; you don’t know how badly you were out of shape until you begin working out, but you will never get into shape until you persist through the initial pain. Self-control is part of the fruit of God’s Spirit, but you can’t passively receive it and then go on to actually control your impulses. It’s more of a Holy Spirit motivation to get in spiritual shape.

Only Satan makes things easy for us, because we’re predisposed to sin. It’s God who makes our lives hard, by motivating us to swim against our enemy’s current, which, by the way, will carry us to the falls if we refuse to swim for safety.

Road Maps and the Freeway

Many (many, many, many) years ago when I prepared for a cross-country road trip, I always bought a current road atlas. Of course I still had a stack of the old, multi-fold road maps, some of which were actually folded correctly, but as I said, they were old.

Time takes its toll on road maps, as the feds, states, and counties are always busily building new roads and changing old ones. You just can’t trust old road maps.

You can usually count on old topographical maps however, because mountains, rivers and oceans don’t often change position. But such maps can still include errors, and old structures are poor landmarks, as they can be demolished or moved. Face it, while some maps may be mostly correct, regardless how much you pay for them you just can’t trust them to be inerrant.

This morning, though, I happened upon a very old map to a popular destination that you can count on for absolute accuracy:

2 Peter 1:5-7 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, (6) and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, (7) and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

Here is a turn-by-turn map to being effective and fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (reference to 2 Peter 1:8)

Someone will say, “But, what about heaven? Where’s the map to heaven?”

If that’s your thought, shame on you! Yes, heaven is our ultimate destination, but bearing spiritual fruit is part of the process of getting there, kinda like filling up with gas or grabbing lunch at a local greasy-spoon. On this spiritual road, representing Christ well during this temporal life is our first priority.

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

If you need that predigested, it means we have loads of work to do before we meet the Lord in heaven. Now don’t get me wrong on this; the “heaven” part isn’t our reward for all that work, but those who are truly heaven-bound will naturally do the work out of their love for Jesus.

So, if you’re looking for a shortcut to heaven, fergetaboutit! The road to heaven is a “freeway;” free from habitual sin, free to do God’s will, free to become the person God created to be, right here in your own back yard.

Mmmm, Delicious

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

What’s your favorite fruit? Oranges? Apples? Pears? How would you describe its taste?

Our tongue’s taste buds sense sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, and sourness. And we also sense food’s fat content and spiciness. So, you could describe your favorite fruit’s flavor using combinations of any of those qualities.

But, how would you describe the differences between apples and pears? They’re similar in many respects, but when biting into a pear you know it’s not an apple. Of course, there’s the texture; even a grainy apple is less so than a pear. And you never peal a pear because its skin is tender. That says nothing about their flavor, though. When drinking pear juice you know it’s not apple juice. They’re both sweet, but besides that, you sense a certain, indefinable difference. If pressed on the matter, about all you could say is, “It just tastes like an apple.”

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” So, how does that fruit taste? We don’t know about that, ’cause we bear spiritual fruit; only God tastes it. But he did tell us how it tastes in the Galatians passage above.

To God, our ripe, fully developed fruit of the Spirit tastes like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If it lack any of those qualities, it’s not quite ready, like an unripe orange that tastes like cardboard. I don’t know about you, but when I bite into a dry, tasteless orange, it goes into the waste bin.

Fortunately for us all, God isn’t me. Where I “love” fruit only when it tastes like it’s supposed to, he loves us even when our fruit is of low quality. That’s called grace, but if we love the Lord we want to bear the best fruit possible.

If we bear no fruit, however, well, God is very explicit about unfruitful branches:

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:6 ESV)

That’s not a threat; that’s just the way it is. An unfruitful branch is called a sucker, that just robs nutrients from the fruitful branches. Are the spiritual implications obvious enough?

January 2: National Cream Puff Day

I really didn’t need to hear about this commemorative day. The best thing about cream puffs is everything. But the worst thing about cream puffs is … well, everything.

Yes, there is the crust’s buttery flavor and crispness, its flakiness, and its slight sweetness. And then there’s the cream filling’s rich flavor, its smoothness as it slides over your tongue and down your throat, leaving only its memory, and the compulsion to consume more.

The “more” part is what gets to this blogger. “Everything in moderation” works, unless one’s craving overcomes his self-control. That’s where the whatever-holic’s dogma comes into play: “Not even one!” The old Lay’s potato chip commercial comes to mind, “Betcha can’t eat just one.”

In Jesus’ time they enjoyed their locusts and wild honey, an epicurean’s delight. How would Jesus have responded to cream puffs? Good grief, he was human. How would you respond to them? But Jesus enjoyed the power to back up his wisdom. I have no doubt he would have tasted it and declared, “Get thee behind me Satan.”

cdkitchen posted an article about this commemoration, including recipes and irresistible photos.

Unnatural Acts

       We’ve come to think of an unnatural act as something perverted. But what if we call it, “Supernatural?” It’s still not natural, but the new word somehow redeems the act. Of course, lots of people view supernatural stuff as pure fiction, or plain stupid.
       Look at the way the world works: Love is a quality so rare that some folks spend their lives searching for it, as for hidden treasure. Yet, as much as we hear about love, one would think it is quite common. Adolescent girls huddle together, quietly discussing this boy or that, and wondering if what they are feeling is “true love.” If the love bug bites hard enough, a kid might wander home after school and, with a distant gaze, declare to his or her mother, “I think I’m In Love.” Then comes the question all parents dread, “How can I know I’m In Love?” As if Mom or Dad is an authority on matters of the heart. Truth be known, most parents are as confused about love as their kids.
       As often as “love” cools and sours, we may as well use it to begin a list of qualities so rare as to be considered unnatural acts. In fact, such a list already exists. And while it’s not titled, “List of Unnatural Acts,” that’s exactly what it is.
       Here is the full listing:

Love
Joy
Peace
Patience
Kindness
Goodness
Faithfulness
Gentleness
Self-control

       Properly defined, each of these qualities will be found rare enough in this world to be called unnatural acts. And what does the list’s Author call it?
       “The Fruit Of The Spirit.”
       Anyone curious enough about what makes these spiritual qualities different from their worldly counterparts will discover their defintions, or exemples, in God’s New Testament.
       And their natural counterparts — or counterfeits? That could be a long list indeed, and the subject of many more blog posts. As with most spiritual topics, many will find this unnatural/supernatural/plain-natural discussion counterintuitive(bass-ackward), but in this mixed up world, that’s natural.

Golden Chains

Psa 139:1 ESV To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O LORD, you have searched me and known me!

          Psalm 139 begins with a statement only a God-lover could make, and not resent it. What solace it is to know that I am known, and there is one Person from whom I cannot hide, one with whom I can communicate honestly, without reproach.
          That’s right, without reproach! When Adam sinned, did God suddenly blast him with a thunder bolt? NO! God walked through the garden in the cool of the day. When Adam failed to run to Him as was his custom, God called out to him.
          If only Adam had run to his Father/Creator, fallen on his face and confessed his sin in brokenness. But only when he realized he couldn’t hide, his first words were an excuse. I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.(Genesis 3:10) Even then, God refrained from condemning Adam. In vs. 11, God said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? Just a question, still leaving Adam the opportunity of confessing his sin.
          But how did Adam respond to God’s grace? The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate. What a lame excuse! Adam, who was intelligent enough to name all the animals of the garden, gave a small child’s excuse, as if he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
          Then, as a last resort, so history could not say He failed to give them a chance to confess, God addressed Eve on the issue. Her answer? The serpent deceived me, and I ate. Confession, yes. But with blame, demonstrating she had learned nothing and her heart was hardened to her own guilt.
          Only then, did God pronounce the judgment we know so well.
          So, back to King David, a man who could have his every whim, but found it necessary to praise God for the limits, or confinements, of his life. The man whose circumstances knew no limits saw the value of control from without; he knew so well that his self-control was not enough. In Psalm 139:5, he wrote:

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

          No wonder God named him The man after God’s own heart.
Father, I too praise you for reigning over me by reining me in before and behind. Your grace is without limit. Your love is beyond knowing. Your peace is a river of life. Your works are marvelous. Yeshua’s blood washes me throughout. Thank you, Father.