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"So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law....For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us." - Galatians 5:1, 4-5 (NIV)
Do you ever think about the Holy Spirit the same way you think about the Force from Star Wars? Not in a “these are not the droids you’re looking for” way, but in that the Spirit seems like a distant, abstract, hovering presence? This resonated with me more than I would like to admit. Even growing up in church, the Spirit was never acknowledged much, and I was at worst unsure of His purpose, and at best believed I could learn to use the Spirit to be a better, super Christian… or Jedi, apparently.
We tend to think of the Spirit as an afterthought to our faith, rather than central to it. But without Him, we fall into striving or apathy - we strive to keep up with perceived “rules,” or we become so burdened and exhausted that we give up entirely. Neither of these is what the Father intended for us. He wanted a relationship with us, to walk with us as His free children.
This passage is like an “a-ha!” moment to me; it brings me back to God’s design for life with Him - overwhelming freedom by His Spirit. In John 16, as Jesus’ disciples grieve His leaving them, He explains that “it is best for you that I go away because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come...” (John 16:7). Jesus knew that the Spirit was best for us. We need more than an example to follow, we need someone to walk with. My perspective and faith changed entirely when I began looking at the Spirit as a person; not a force, and not just a helper, but a Friend.
- Read Galatians 5 to prepare for the week and reflect on how you think about the Holy Spirit. Ask God to reveal new truth about the Spirit throughout the week.
"You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom." - Galatians 5:7-8 (NIV)
An inevitable truth I’ve learned since living in the Bluegrass State: in Kentucky in March, your basketball affiliations will define you -- your attire, your schedule, whether or not people hate you (I don’t enjoy basketball. Sorry, y’all).
In the same way, what we think about God -- if He exists, if He’s angry or gracious, if He’s out to get us or in our corner -- will inevitably dictate the way we live. In A.W. Tozer’s words, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (The Knowledge of the Holy).
I’ve done a lot of striving in my relationship with God, and it’s a hard habit to break. But what ultimately moved me from my hamster-wheel faith was not any of my efforts to be or do better, but knowing and encountering who God actually is, and that He desires a real relationship with His children. Christian singer and speaker Melissa Helser frequently asserts that “the Holy Spirit was the crescendo of the cross,” in that at the height of God’s vast plan for redemption was His desire to be present in our lives. The Spirit means closeness with the Father, and that changes everything.
Looking at God (and ourselves) through that lens means the essence of our faith is not what we do, it’s in our ability to live closely with the Spirit. Isn’t that freeing? And a little mind-blowing? That’s the truth this passage speaks -- that we are free because of who God is, what He has promised, and the way He fulfills that through His Spirit.
"For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers, and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” - Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)
Have you ever noticed how children have little to no reservation about talking to strangers? So many times I have listened with intent ears as an eager-hearted, random child tells me a story. Most recently, a little girl told me all about losing her first tooth. Another told me about how much she loved the color pink. Kids are such a picture of freedom; they love and live with so little fear. They have a contagious, wild, bubbling-over kind of joy.
“Freedom” is the banner held in and throughout Galatians 5; over and over again we learn that freedom is God’s heart for us. And how beautiful is that? But Paul’s challenge here is in the purpose of our freedom -- that true and authentic freedom in Christ never leaves us stagnant. A life in the Spirit is overflowing, and we can’t help but love people because of it.
In John 14:12, Jesus tells his disciples, “anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” Whoa, whoa. Did you catch that? Jesus -- the one who raised people from the dead, healed the sick, performed miracles -- said His followers would do even greater works. How often do we live like we actually believe that? We were given the Spirit so we could follow Jesus’ example, not out of our own efforts, but out of our freedom. It is our mission, as children of God, to reflect the Father’s heart and His will -- not only within the confines of our lives but in the way we serve and love others. And the Father’s heart is always about love.
Where is it that you can love your neighbor? Pray about what God is calling you to, and ask for the Spirit’s empowerment to move forward. If that could look like serving with Southland, check out our Ministries page.
"So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses… Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives." - Galatians 5:16-18, 25 (NIV)
I was a total goodie-two-shoes as a kid. I knew all the right things to do (or not do) and wore my pristine morality like a badge of honor. But if you had asked my motivation behind it, I wouldn’t have had an answer, other than “because I’m a Christian,” or “my parents told me so.”
Neither of these answers are sustainable when faced with real and ugly struggles. If our faith is limited to doing what we’re “supposed” to, we will inevitably come back to a question of, “Why”? Why has God asked me to do this? Why hasn’t God answered my prayer? Why can’t I fulfill this desire?
At the root of our why’s is a question of our Father’s character. Oswald Chambers said it best - “the root of all sin is the suspicion that God is not good.” All my doubt, anxiety, and rebellion finds its root in a panicked need to take things into my own hands. If we believed and lived as if God was as good as He says He is, our faith would be a lot more free to simply abide. To walk. To serve.
That’s what Paul challenges us to -- to surrender to and walk with the Spirit, knowing that what the Father wants for us is better than we can imagine. It is not our responsibility to single-handedly conquer our sin; it is our responsibility to submit to the Spirit.
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" - Galatians 5:19-23 (NIV)
I have a bit of road rage. Particularly if I’m running late, or driving a long distance, I tend to drive like it’s a competition and play the victim to every other driver not catering to my speed. I’m ashamed to say, it’s typically a perfect storm that amounts to exactly none of the fruit of the Spirit being exemplified.
You may have read this Galatians passage many times. But have you ever noticed that the fruit of the Spirit is singular, not plural? As in, this list doesn’t operate as a handful of separate traits -- it’s one fruit, one whole byproduct growing together. Without kindness, you will lack patience. Without love, you will lack gentleness. Without peace, you will lack self-control. None of the fruit function individually.
In moments of desperation, we tend to grasp for what we need -- patience when sitting in traffic, self-control when presented with any form of sugar (guilty), joy when it’s been a rough day -- but the Spirit doesn’t produce fast-food solutions to our problems, He cultivates a life overflowing with these reflections of God.
So what if we look more like the first part of this scripture? What if our fruit doesn’t look like the fruit of the Spirit? Simply put, “we become like what we worship” (John Mark Comer, God Has a Name). We are all living as spiritual beings in pursuit of something, and that something will dictate what fruit grows in our lives. And if we walk in worshipful submission with the Spirit, we will plant orchards.