Had the privilege of going to preach at Queen Edith Chapel, Cambridge this morning. Great morning with a moving time of worship following the preach.
Below are my notes for preaching.
“Living by the Spirit – what to avoid”
Queen Edith Chapel, Cambridge 26/02/2012
This past week, the growing phenomenon that is Lent started!
At the heart of the cultural move in our nation is a desire for control, by giving up something that you love. For many, it is not a spiritual exercise, but is a useful challenge and discipline. For many in the church it can be a useful spiritual discipline when combined with scripture reading and prayer.
So, anybody admit to having given something up for Lent??
I’ve given up TV and radio.
It was horrible on Wednesday morning eating my breakfast in silence!
Alone with my thoughts, struggles and emotions.
So those of us who have set out on a Lent abstinence programme are choosing to avoid something, whether it be chocolate, Facebook, TV or something else.
Our title for this morning is:-
“Living by the Spirit – what to avoid”
from a scripture base of Galatians 5:1,13-21
A fitting title for the season!
Turn with me if you would to the Bible reading Galatians 5:1,13-21
READ Galatians 5:1,13-21
Now, I’m guessing that as we read the last few verses of that reading that you might have sussed the things that we should avoid!!
I remember being in a house group meeting many years ago, when the person leading the group said after we’d read this passage, ‘Well, we don’t need to think about those things because they’re not a problem for us.’
And I was sitting there thinking…. ummm…. but I’d have to stick my hand up to at least a couple of those things! And I’m sure some others in the group would do to!
I’d be very surprised if there’s one person in this room who wouldn’t have to admit before God to struggling with, or having failed at, at least one of the things listed in the acts of the sinful nature, as NIV puts it, or acts of the flesh as it is more accurately translated in the footer at the bottom of the page. For some of us it might be the battle with our sexuality, for some it might be the reality of our worship of other things, struggles in relationships, our own inward desires, our own prejudices – acknowledged or otherwise – for others it may be difficulties with alcohol or other drugs.
The reality is that this is real stuff! Not something to brush under the carpet.
If our spirituality is to be the best it can be, if we are to have the best relationship with God we can, then these things are things, as our title for today says, that we need to avoid.
BUT avoiding is difficult!
I remember hearing the evangelist J.John, speaking at a conference once – I actually can’t remember what he was speaking about – but I do remember him saying that so often we hear the words, we get the reminder that we need to do or not do something, but what we really need to know is ‘HOW’?
How do we avoid the desires of our sinful nature? The desires of our flesh?
I’m going to use the term flesh rather than sinful nature.
The difficulty with using the descriptive translation sinful nature is that we can have the idea that it’s just a part of our human nature, and that somehow, in and of ourselves we have a good part that is somehow able to outweigh and defeat this bad part.
The reality is that that is not really the case.
The fact is that the whole of us are fallen as human beings, it’s not that we just sometimes sin, the reality is that we are all by nature, sinful. We all fall way short of God’s standards – even in the good that we do – so often even in doing good, if we look at our motivations there can be underlying desires for acceptance, for appreciation and so on.
I’m sharing this to set the scene.
By nature, in the flesh, as fallen human beings we will tend towards failure in this list of the acts of the flesh. These are things which as human beings we naturally tend towards, albeit different ones of us are more prone to some things than others and prone to differing degrees of falling.
The Apostle Paul himself testified to this when he said in his letter to the Roman Christians:-
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Romans 7:18-20
‘It is sin living in me that does it.’
So, if we are to avoid these things so that we can live by the Spirit, in the words of J.John, how are we to do it?!!
There’s a four letter word used several times in this passage, and extended several times too to make the word Freedom – the iconic word used repeatedly, in the now, old film ‘Braveheart’
Freedom – a strange concept in a film about war and strife.
But that is where so often freedom come from.
Think about the celebrations in Libya over free elections this past week.
Where did that freedom come from?
Galatians 5:1 says:-
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.’
How did Christ set us free?
He went to the cross. There aside from the physical agony, abuse and pain, he also bore our sin, all the wrong stuff in our lives in his body. He bore the judgement of God on his life as he took the punishment for our sin on himself.
Our freedom has come at a cost.
It cost Jesus his life… and more!
Now, we could focus on each of these acts of the flesh and think about how we can have strategies for overcoming them…. but I don’t believe that that is what this passage is saying we should do!
There is a problem when you focus on a problem!
The problem gets bigger in your minds eye and so grows to dominate more and more.
Its why in English we have this little phrase, ‘you can’t see the wood for the trees’.
There may be a beautiful wood, but you can’t see it because you’re so caught up with the problem tree in the foreground, which has come to dominate your view, your mind, your thinking.
There may be some of us here this morning who are facing that sort of situation in our lives at present!
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the town of Phillipi he encouraged those who were anxious to bring their requests to God in prayer and to come to know God’s peace guarding their hearts and minds – and he then went on to say:-
‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’
And do you know what?
When you do that it changes your perspective.
You begin to be able to see and appreciate the beautiful wood that surrounds you, even if you have a horrible great big tree of a problem right in front of you.
So what does this mean for us as far as ‘Living by the Spirit’ and ‘avoiding the works of the flesh’ is concerned?
It’s summed up in v16
‘So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’
So, How do we come to that place?
The first thing we have to recognise is that we are Free!
It was for freedom that Christ has set us free, no longer to be subject to a yoke of slavery
as we sometimes sing!
Lyrics based on the first verse of our reading!
Do you know this morning that you are:-
Free – not to be a slave to your flesh
A good number of years ago I had a prophetic image shared with me.
In the image it was said that I was like a caged lion, wandering back and forth, except that the cage had been removed and I was still wandering back and forth in the same way, when in fact I was free to step out. It was a true prophetic word, spoke deeply into my life and allowed me to step out into the freedom that had already been given to me.
For some of us this morning, maybe we need to recognise that Christ has set us free, and that we no longer have to let the acts of the flesh, of the sinful nature, control us. Jesus has broken their power in our lives, and we can step out of the cage that they had on our lives.
Freedom is something that is often misunderstood in society!
The traditional reaction and image of folk in secular Britain is that Christianity is about a lot of rules which restrict and inhibit your life.
I want to be free to go out and get drunk, to sleep with whom I want, when I want….
but actually, that’s not freedom…. it’s slavery!
It’s slavery to things which damage lives physically and emotionally…
after all, isn’t it great to wake up with a hangover, bleary eyed, thumping head?
Isn’t it great to have damaged relationships, betrayal, hurt?
Isn’t it great to end up with serious health problems?
V13 ‘You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, the sinful nature…‘
v1 ‘…do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’
You are free!
So you can say, when the temptation comes to give in to the acts of the flesh, as it surely will, you can say, ‘Hey, I don’t have to give into you! I am free! I am no longer subject to this yoke of slavery.’
Recognise where the slavery is.
Recognise where the freedom is.
We are Free – not to be a slave to our flesh
We are also
Free – to love and serve
v13,14 ‘You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’
Sometimes we live with this feeling that we shouldn’t be seen to serve others – we don’t want to be seen to be making more of ourselves than we should, we don’t want to appear to be boasting in what we do, we don’t want it to appear as though we’re trying to earn our salvation – after all, Jesus has done it all.
Paul again, when he wrote to the Philippian Christians said:-
‘..work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his purpose’ Philippians 2:12,13
The Apostle Peter wrote:-
‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’
1 Peter 2:11,12
So you are free, free to love and serve others.
It’s alright to have pleasure in being a blessing
When you do good to others, its hard to do harm to them!
Love is not an emotional feeling, its an act of sacrificial service.
God loved us so much that he gave his one and only Son.
When you love others it will be a blessing to you, and to them.
It breaks the power of slavery which binds and damages.
V15 of our reading sums up the slavery we have been set free from well.
‘If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’
If that describes your life as a Christian, walk free from it in Jesus’ name.
He has broken the power of it in your life.
You are a new creation in Christ Jesus.
You don’t have to live in slavery to the acts of the flesh any longer.
You are, and with this I come to a close,
Free – to live and be led by the Spirit
Want to avoid the works of the flesh, the acts of the sinful nature?
Then you need to live by the Spirit.
You can’t do it on your own.
You need to be led by, live by, be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.
When you become a Christian, when you receive Jesus Christ into your life and give your life to him, to follow him and to serve him, then the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit comes and takes up residency in your life.
But it’s possible to live with someone and not interact with them.
How many marriages, friendships, children’s lives have been damaged, ruined because whilst people have lived in the same home, they haven’t given themselves in loving attention to one another?
When have you shown loving attention to the Holy Spirit in your life?
If you want to live by the Spirit, if you want to be led by the Spirit, you need to communicate with the Spirit. Tell him he’s welcome in your life. Tell him you want him to lead you. Tell him you want him to empower you. Tell him you want to love and serve others and ask him to lead you in doing that.
As you are so caught up with him, the love of God will be shed abroad in your hearts and there will be no space when the acts of the flesh rear their ugly head – as they surely will – but in his power you will be able to squeeze them out.
And if you fail, God is a loving Father, who longs to welcome you back, and to say, come on, let’s start again.
For some of us, we may have forgotten that the Holy Spirit is there.
Or maybe we haven’t forgotten, but we’ve just lived lives with him there without paying real attention to him.
Maybe we need a fresh encounter with him.
I’d like to pray as we break for coffee.
If you know that you need to get your life back in tune with the Spirit, to step into the freedom which Christ has brought for you, rather than staying in the realms of slavery to the acts of the flesh which have been broken through Christ’s sacrifice, I’d invite you to stand with me as we pray, and we’ll ask the Holy Spirit to come and help us step into the freedom Christ has bought for us, and we’ll invite him to take his rightful place at the centre of our lives.
If, during coffee time you’d value having me pray with you personally, I’ll stay around here and will happily do that.
If you know you need to respond, please stand with me now, and let’s pray together.