February 12, 2023 – Worship

Live by the Spirit – (Galatians 5:16-26)

I still vividly remember one particular visit I made to one of the members of Calvary UMC in Windber. I was a pastor there some years ago. She was an elderly lady, faithfully attending worship each Sunday. She had some health issues at that time, so I visited her at Conemaugh Hospital.

   During our conversion, she said to me, “Pastor, I feel so sorry whenever I think of how bad I am.” So I said to her, “You may not want to listen to my sermon, if you know how bad I am.”

   “No, you are not,” she replied. “Yes, I am,” I responded to her.

You may remember apostle Paul confessing how bad he was. He said, I’m the biggest sinner of all” (1 Timothy 1:15b) Eugene Peterson translates this part in The Message, as “The Public Sinner Number One.” Given that even apostle Paul regarded himself as the public sinner number one, how could I not admit that I am bad!

Indeed, I often feel like I am not a qualified pastor. I am not talking about my knowledge and ability (or inability) as a pastor. What I am talking about is that, because of the sins I consciously and unconsciously commit, I am not good enough to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, I do not hesitate to proclaim the good news, because I know I stand in the pulpit not because of the merit or ability I have, but because of God’s calling in spite of my sinfulness and weaknesses. God forgives me of all my sins, renews my heart and mind, and uses me, a sinner, as His servant. Every Sunday I stand in the pulpit by virtue of His grace.

Even though God’s love is constant and His grace is always overflowing, I need to keep my heart with all vigilance (Proverb 4:23), because God sees into my heart. What you see with your eyes may not be the truth. In many cases, the truth is beyond our visibility. We, humans, do not have an insight into others’ hearts and minds. That being said, I can make you think that I am good. But God knows my heart through and through as the Bible says, Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Pharisees and scribes were outstanding leaders of Judaism. They were the ones of high social ranking, and they were unbeatable in terms of keeping the doctrines and rules of Judaism. In short, they looked so good. Outwardly, they seemed like saints, holy and blameless. But as we read the gospels, especially Matthew 23, Jesus didn’t hesitate to criticize them. The whole chapter of Matthew 23 is filled with criticism against Pharisees and scribes. Let me read a part of it.

   “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of uncleanness. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28).

The criticism Jesus hurled at scribes and Pharisees manifests how big the gap is between outward and inward reality of their faith. The religious life they showed in public seemed flawless, and yet their hearts were full of ungodly things. What is important in God’s sight is not what we do outwardly in public, but what we have in our hearts. People may see what we show to them and pay homage to us, but God sees into our hearts.

The problem is that there are two hearts in conflict within us. In Romans 7 and 8, Paul describes this inner conflict. He knows for sure that he wants to do good, but he finds himself doing evil. He is wondering why, and finally realizes that there is the law of God and the law of sin in conflict in his heart, and that the law of sin leads him to live according to the flesh, whereas the law of God leads him to live according to the Spirit.

Paul says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5-9).

An old Indian Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil––he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. The other is good––he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

   The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The old chief smiled and replied, “The one you feed.”

Like the old Cherokee chief, Paul contrasts what the flesh desires and what the Spirit desires. He also contrasts the work of the flesh––fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing––and the fruit of the Spirit––love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If we would ask Paul, “Which side will win?” then he may reply, “The one you feed.” Then how do we feed what the Spirit desires so that we may bear the fruit of the Spirit?

The answer would be “You live by the Spirit.” How do we live by the Spirit?

Paul says, Let us also be guided by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25b). By saying this, he means that we are not the ones who bear the fruit, but the Holy Spirit lets us bear the fruit. All we need to do is to entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit. If we let the Spirit lead us and guide us, the Spirit will bear the fruit within our hearts and in our lives. It is not our fruit, but the Holy Spirit’s.

We don’t need to be overwhelmed or distressed by the nine virtues Paul enumerates. Even though there are nine, Paul doesn’t say, “The fruits of the Spirit are…” Instead, he says, “The fruit of the Spirit is…” I mean, the word is in the singular, not the plural. New Testament scholars say that the fruit of the Spirit is only one – LOVE, and other virtues are subject to the fruit of love. So, we don’t need to bear all kinds of good fruits. What we need to do is to entrust our hearts to the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may bear the fruit of love into our hearts.

Our God is a God of love, and His Spirit is the Spirit of love. The Holy Spirit makes us love. If we love, joy and peace will prevail in our hearts, and we will be more patient, kind, generous, and faithful. How many times are we frustrated by our failure in loving others? How many times are we discouraged by our weaknesses in generously forgiving our enemies? As Paul says, we want to do good all the time: We want to love; we want to be patient; we want to be kind and generous. But many times we find ourselves doing exactly the opposite way. We are so desperate! So, like Paul, we want to shout out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

The good news is that we are in Christ, and that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:1-2).

So, my friends, stay in love with Jesus Christ and let the Holy Spirit guide you.

Think about it. What do you need to fly a kite? You need to let it up with the wind.

Likewise, in order not to fall down on the ground of sin but to rather fly high in the sky of goodness, what we need to do is to let the Holy Spirit guide us.

Just try to live by the Spirit! Then your life will be full of the fruit of the Spirit, not by your own ability or effort, but by the grace of our Lord. I know that we all want to love. We want to be peaceful and joyful. We want to be more patient, generous, and kind and gentle. Then, we should live by the Spirit. Let yourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit.

In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.