Galatians 5 has been rattling around in my brain all week. I mentioned in my last post that I feel compelled to discuss the phases of the spiritual Journey in the sermon this weekend. Part of that process is to focus on the “works of the flesh” that Paul lists in Galatians 5:19-20 and how they lead to pain and suffering in our individual lives and in our communal lives.
Here’s a little more insight into why I think the Spirit is prodding me on this. I have been on a strange theological odyssey throughout my life: started fundamentalist Baptist, was ordained in an Evangelical mega-church, did the M.Div. at Bethel Seminary, experimented with Emergent house church, went into a ministry coma, woke up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I find that I resonate deeply with core Lutheran theology. I think it knows how to sit in the tension of the paradox that is God.
However, the Lutheran culture is still so foreign to me, on many levels.
The particular foreignness to which I refer in this moment is an attitude toward grace and freedom that I sense among some people. I see and hear people do and say things that I would have considered “sinful” in past theological identities while they say to themselves, “Ah, isn’t it great to be Lutheran.” As if, being Lutheran means you can sin all you want because God forgives us unconditionally. I think this attitude is definitely NOT a Lutheran attitude. We have to remember that another core Lutheran doctrine is that of Law AND Gospel (see my posts on this). The Law exposes our sin and need for salvation, and it is good. We must always hold the mirror of Law up to our lives, confess our sin, and be cleansed in the baptismal waters of God’s grace and forgiveness. The Gospel (good news) is the reality that, even though we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, God’s unconditional love and promise brought us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and we can do nothing to earn it. BOTH of these realities are true (again, the paradox thing).
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go back to the hard core legalism of my past where the Gospel is reduced to “sin management” as Dallas Willard puts it. Legalism is deadly. That is one end of the spectrum. But, I also don’t want to swing to the other end of the spectrum and practice what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “Cheap Grace” either. This is equally deadly and produces pain and suffering (the “wake up call” that I will preach about this weekend).
This morning I was thinking about these things and was reminded of the study we did of Paul’s Letters during our Hart Haus era (that was the name of our house church network). So, I copied my “Food for Thought” on Galatians 5-6 from that study and have pasted it below. I still resonate with these words, written in 2005…
From Reading Paul’s Mail…
Freedom. Paul’s message can be summed up in that one word. Jesus came to set us free. This statement begs the question, “Free from what?” The Greek word that Paul uses is eleutheria and literally means to not be a slave. For the Greek culture it was only the “freeman” who could have any say or responsibility in government. A slave was nothing more than a beast of burden that possessed no level of right or privilege in society. As Americans, the idea of freedom is central to our self-identity. Our country was founded on the idea that no one person had the right to govern other human beings. We believe that there are certain inalienable rights that all humans possess. Isn’t it interesting that it has taken over 200 years for a country that claims equal rights for all people to allow equality to all people.
In our day there are great battles raging over what freedom really means. If you were to take a “man-on-the-street” interview and ask people to define freedom you would probably hear things like, “I can do whatever I want,” or “not having anybody on my back about anything.” The lines of freedom and responsibility have become dangerously blurred. Where does my freedom to do anything I want end and my responsibility to the health and safety of the community begin?
Ironically, freedom is a very scary word for the religious establishment. One of the reasons that Paul’s enemies were so afraid of his teaching is because they thought that he was teaching a doctrine of anarchy. “Without the Law,” they would argue, “how can we know what God wants from us? If we follow your ways, Paul, and just ‘let the Spirit lead’ then aren’t we opening ourselves up to all kinds of dangers? We know who we are by the laws we follow and if we step outside of that then we could lose everything, maybe even our salvation!”
In chapter 5 Paul responds to this challenge. “Yes, it is for freedom that we have been set free, but not the kind of freedom that you are talking about. You are talking about the recklessness that people mistakenly think is freedom. That is freedom according to the ‘flesh.’ I’m talking about true freedom; freedom in the Spirit.”
He goes on to define true freedom by contrasting it to freedom in the flesh. Let’s look at the lists that he presents in the original language.
The works of the Flesh
porneia – extramarital intercourse; “to play the harlot”
akatharsis – the opposite of katharsis (to be clean), thus it means to be unclean.
aselgeia – license; the sense that you can do anything you want to do; usually refers to sexual excess.
eidolatreia – a compound word combining “eidol” (the image of a god) with “latreia” (service). It means the service or worship of a humanly constructed image.
pharmakeia – the use of drugs or potions in the magical arts.
ekthra — “Hatred,” “hostility” is a disposition, objective opposition, and actual conflict.
eris — strife, quarrel, especially rivalry, contention, wrangling
zelos – “zeal;” the motivating energy behind actions; it can be well directed or misdirected; in conjunction with hatred and strife, it is a selfish motivation.
thumos – wrath; violent movement; to boil up
eritheia — The idea is “base self-seeking,” the “baseness” that cannot shift its gaze to higher things.
dichostasia – division, dissension, objective disunity.
heresis – “sects;” small divisions of distinctive belief that exclude each other. We get the word “heresy” from it.
phthonos – envy; the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others
methe – to be drunk
komos – drinking parties involving unrestraint; indulgence in alcoholic beverages and accompanying immoral behavior—‘orgy, reveling, carousing.’[/twocol_one]
The Fruit of the Spirit
agape — love; God’s kind of selfless love for the other.
chara — joy; Joy expresses the whole person and aims at sharing, as in festal joy.
eirene — peace; the opposite of war
makrothumia– the combination of “makro” (long distance) and “thumia” (wrath; violent movement; to boil up); longsuffering; being willing to put up with each other for a very long time; distancing our wrath from one another. **contrast this with “thumos” listed in the works of the flesh.
chrestotes — kindness; allowing space for repentance, even when punishment is deserved.
agathosune – the highest good possible; only God is good and He has demonstrated His goodness through His love and kindness in Jesus.
pistis — faith; faithfulness; placing trust in something and then never giving up on it.
prautes – This word means “mild and gentle friendliness.” … Gentleness is a mark of culture and wisdom if it does not degenerate into self-abasement.6
enkrateia — takes its sense from the stem krat– denoting power or lordship. enkráteia means “dominion over the self or something,” with the nuances of “steadfastness” and “self-control”[/twocol_one_last]
Here are two basic observations about the ‘works of the flesh’:
- They substitute the artificial for the real thing. Instead of true intimacy between a husband and wife, it is cheap sex between two strangers. Instead of true healing through faith and submission to God’s will, it’s hocus pocus and magic potions to get what you want. Instead of the mysterious, infinite God, it’s a hunk of wood or stone shaped into a beast. It’s all about living to gratify the immediate desire instead of trusting in the bigger-picture plan of the Father. It’s like being addicted to spiritual Twinkies when you should be eating a well-balanced diet.
- It’s all about self-gratification. The battle cry of the flesh is “look out for number one.” The flesh is motivated by trying to figure out how to get out of other people what you need to make your life more comfortable and to get what you want.
- The byproduct is division. Hatred, strife, anger boiling over, dividing into factions or ‘sects’ that are little spiritual ghettos of those who think they are “right” while everyone else is “wrong:” — these are the character qualities of the flesh. When people function according to these “basic principles” then society will become a pressure cooker for death and destruction. Sin isolates. Isolation is Hell. People who live according to the flesh are creating Hell for themselves each day.
Now contrast the fruit of the Spirit. Everything is about the other. It is about placing the needs of others above the needs of self. It’s about giving. It’s about going the extra mile and not accusing or condemning but forgiving each other. It’s about being controlled by the Spirit within you, not by a substance or a compulsion from outside you. It is the way of love. It is for this that we have been set free. In Jesus, in the Spirit, we are free to love.
There are three statements that summarize the letter to the Galatians. Paul is pleading with his people, “Don’t get roped into a legalistic religious system…
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
A man reaps what he sows.
Here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter what culture you live in. It doesn’t matter what denomination your church belongs to. It doesn’t matter what external rules you do or do not follow. What matters is if Jesus has grasped your heart and you are being changed from the inside out – a new creation. If you sow to anger, dissension, pride, etc. you will reap the Hell of your own design. If you sow to the Spirit then you will walk in the Spirit – in the Kingdom that Jesus brought to the Earth – both now and for eternity; ever growing in the love of God.