Do you have a dream? So many times we just kind of walk through life and do not make progress, just end up walking around in a circle. Do you have a dream? What do you think about? What do you dream about? What is your dream? For some of us we dream of a healthy relationship. Some of us dream of a different house, a faster car. We dream of our kids growing up strong, healthy, and following after God. Do you have a dream that is pulling you in those directions or are you simply getting up every day running around the same circle, trying to do the same thing, trying not to get led astray but really never going anywhere?
It all begins with a thought, a passion, a vision, not simply from yourself but from God because the more important question rather than “What is your dream?” is “What is God’s dream for you?” Paul tells us that “You have not begun to understand, you have not seen, you have not heard, you have not even begun to imagine the good things that God holds in store for those who love Him.”
Without understanding that, without grabbing ahold of that, we just kind of sit here and say, “Thanks Lord, but no thanks.” Can you imagine a kid at Christmas with all kinds of presents under the tree with his name on them and never bothering to open them up. That is no kid I know. That is no adult I know. You cannot wait to see what presents are for you. Then why don’t we always feel the same way about God’s presents? Are you afraid God will make you do something you do not want to do?
What are you doing with your life? Where do you want your life to go? Do you have any kind of dream? There was a girl named Agnes of Albania. She grew up, lived her whole life and never had a car, never went to college. But she had a dream. It was a dream that God planted in her and with passion and commitment she followed it. She was a nobody, an unknown. She could not do anything to change the world, but God gave her a dream. And God said, “By my power, that dream can be achieved.” You know that little girl named Agnes as Mother Theresa of Calcutta who had a dream for ministering, caring for lives that were oppressed, poor, and diseased. God gave her a dream and by God’s power, not by her strength, not by her ability, her dream was realized.
Now look at your own life. Look at the head start, potential, and resources that God has given you compared to Agnes of Albania. Do you have a vision? Do you have a dream or are you so wrapped up in your own vision and dreams that you have no room for God’s vision for your life. A dream will get you a new house. A dream will get you a wife. A dream will get you a family. A dream will get you a job. We dream of those kind of things, but you need more than these dreams if you are going to fulfill your heart. Dreaming of things will not give you comfort when that house burns to the ground or is washed away in a hurricane. That dream will not give you peace when those children you have longed for rebel against God and walk the other direction. That dream will not give you perseverance when that job you always hoped for turns out to be a drain on your family and relationship with God. That dream will not satisfy your heart when you are stuck with a boss that is always eating at you and asking you to do the wrong things. That dream of a marriage will not fulfill your heart when your spouse breaks it. It takes something more.
We most often dream about what we want to have. Most of our dreams focus on having things. “If I just had that, I would be happy. I look in the brochures and listen to the commercials and I would be so much happier if I had that.” And I will tell you, you may be, temporarily. You may be happier if you have things because happiness is based upon the happenings of your life. That new thing all of a sudden, before you know it, becomes a burden, problem or the old thing. God does not want to give you just happiness. He wants to give you joy in something beyond the situation, beyond the happenings of your life so when the bad things happen your life has something to hold on to.
Is your life, are your dreams based upon what you have? God wants your dreams. God’s dreams for you are not based upon giving you things. They are based upon who you are, not what you have. God wants to grow your life, grow your heart, enrich your mind, strengthen your arms and abilities, give you the perseverance to get through to where He wants you to be, give you the strength of the Holy Spirit to accomplish things that you cannot. With a vision from God, we begin to see it is not simply about what we have but it is about what we are. God is about developing you not giving you stuff. God wants to grow your heart.
It is not about your own willfulness, your own abilities, but Him living in you, moving in you, walking with you, guiding you, strengthening you, stopping you, starting you. Staying close to Him and sensing His love and power and vision for your life. And then to chase after those things rather than the things so many others chase after.
God loves to give good gifts to His children. He loves to see His children smile and laugh and have nice things. But when that becomes the focus, it breaks His heart. I used to love and I still love giving my kids gifts, but when those things become more important than their relationships with their brothers, sisters, mom, dad or God, then they have become a burden not a blessing. In your own life, are the things He has given you a burden or a blessing? Do they absorb your life, your time, your energy, the resources that God has given you? Or are they a blessing to your life that further develops your walk with Christ?
Read Ephesians 3:16. Dreams move you in a direction, but it is only the power of Jesus that can take you where He wants you to go. And that is what Paul longs for the Ephesians to have. This is what he prays for them. Ephesians 3:16: “I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power.” And in 2 Timothy when the church is full of dissension and false teaching, he writes: “I pray that of his glorious riches he may strengthen you, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you being rooted and established in love may have power together with all those things. Along with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is and to know that this love surpasses all knowledge that you may be filled with the measure of all fullness of God.”
As you see the things you have accumulated, have you noticed that they do not mean as much to you anymore? Are they all disintegrating? I have two cars behind my house that are just disintegrating. Paint is peeling, fenders are rusting through and I, excuse the expression, loved those cars. I spent hours and hours restoring and building them. And now they are just rotting metal and chipping fiberglass. If that was all my life was about, my life would be wasted and lost. But God has given me a different vision. Rather than restoring cars, rather than building cars, I would rather restore lives and build lives because that is what Christ is about.
God does many things without me, but it is not the same as Christ indwelling me and building my life. Because when He does it without me, when He does it on His own, I do not grow. God wants to develop you. So He is not going to just go out and do it for you. Can God do things without you? Absolutely. God can do anything, you know? But, God wants to do it through you because He is not simply about getting things done. He cares about your life and your heart, not simply what He can get done through you.
I came across something the other day that talked about the gospel and recognized that the gospel is God. Huh? The gospel is God? The “good news” is that God wants to be invested, involved in your life. The good news is not that you are not going to hell. That is good news, but the best news is that God wants to be invested in your life. God wants to be with you. He does not just want to save you and see you in heaven, not just give you a home up there so you can escape hell. He wants to spend eternity with you. The good news is God reaching, saving, and wanting to spend eternity with you.
When God strengthens us it is not with a brute strength, a forceful strength, a strength that pushes you around but He brings a glorious inner strength to you. Do you recognize the need to invite Jesus in? For salvation absolutely, but for your continued growth and strengthening in Him? I know a lot of parents, husbands, and wives who “pray God” on their kids or their spouse. “Oh, God, change him. God, fix him. God, make him do the right thing.” You need to open your heart to God’s leading in your life. We want God to manipulate people, but God says, “I do not do that, but I sure will work in somebody who wants me to be there.” But it takes your invitation, your constant connection with Him to say, “Yes Lord, I want to be what you have for me to be.” All the things God is leading you through are going to take work, effort, and obedience to let the power of Jesus dwell in your life.
“How do we let the power of God into our lives?” How do you get the power of God in your life? What can you do? What is the secret to having Jesus in your life? “I mean, I have invited Him in and I am saved, I know that but I am just not sure. It seems like some people have more of Jesus than I have. Why do I feel like I am kind of a second-rate Christian? I do not have enough Jesus. It seems like other people are just beaming and sprouting and going like crazy. I just kind of go along and try to hold on but I am not sure what He has for me.” How do you get Jesus? How do you let Him in? First, believe your beliefs. That sounds kind of stupid, does it not? Believe your beliefs. But I challenge you; I do not think you believe your beliefs. I do not think you believe what you say you believe. I think all too often you doubt what you believe. And all too often you believe what you doubt.
If you have a doubt, then you act on that doubt and it holds you back from doing what you believe you should do. “I know I should do it, but I am just not sure.” You doubt and you go nowhere. And then you believe your doubts. You will always have doubts. There is not a week that goes by that I do not wonder, "God are you really there working in my life?" Anybody else ever have a doubt about God? “God, how could you let that happen?” And that is where faith comes in. You say, “I do not know for sure, but I choose to believe. Based on what I already know about God through Jesus Christ and the grace and mercy He has exhibited throughout Scripture, I choose to depend and believe that He is good and will work for my best interest." The next step is to act on those beliefs rather than act on the doubts.
Do you believe God can do anything? Do you really believe God can do anything or do you doubt that? “I know that He is supposed to be able to do anything, but I am not sure if He can do that in my life.” Are you a believer or a doubter? God can do anything, you know! You need to hear that in your heart. You need to hear that in your ears. You need to hear that in your life. Are you willing to step out and say, “God, I am going to let you, I am going to let your power come out of me. I long for your power to come out of me. I long for your power in my life.” And then, in faith, step out and believe your beliefs.
Secondly, after first believing, reach forward. You can say you believe but until you reach forward, you are not going to go anywhere. Reach forward! God wants to live this life with us and grow our character and spiritual connectiveness with Him. That is what the fruit of the spirit is all about. God designed you to move forward in your life. Look at the way you are made. You have two eyes that face forward. He gave you two ears that are hooked forward so that you can listen and hear His voice in front of you rather than what people are saying behind your back. He gave you a nose on your face. This is the side that is going to lead you by the sweet aroma of things that God has for you. He gave you arms to reach forward. So that you will reach forward and grasp what God has for you to do. Your feet pointed forward so that you can walk toward where God leads you. Your whole balance system is made to go forward.
Then finally, abide in Him. Stay connected to Him. Abide in Jesus to absorb what He has for you. Let Him pour His power and goodness into your life. As a leaf must be connected to the branch, and the branch to the tree in order to live, so must we be connected to God through Christ in order to bear His fruit in our lives. When a leaf becomes disconnected from the branch and falls to the ground, what happens to the leaf? It dries up and dies.
I want to close by just giving you a key illustration. Have you ever seen a glowing toy? You know, a toy that you hold up to the light and then place it in the dark and it glows? Some glow so much that one can actually walk in a dark room without bumping into things. Abiding in Christ means you absorb what He has for you and you reflect that back to the world you live in. The light is not yours. It does not originate in you, like the light does not originate in the toy. But notice! Not all toys glow! Only those with a special property have the ability to glow. Only true, born-again Christians have the capability of truly reflecting Christ to the world. But notice, again! The light is not theirs! The light can only be maintained if they stay close to Him.
Power for Living (Part 2)
Do you have a hunger for God in your heart? A desire to let God be real in your life? If you want more peace, more joy, more patience, more kindness, more goodness in your life, that will only happen as you allow God through Christ into your heart and life. There are things in your heart and life that need to be pulled out by the roots so that the good things can grow and blossom. When we talk about adding the fruit of the spirit to our lives, we need to recognize that it is only accomplished through the power of Christ. It is not something that we can gut out or earn, but it is something we open ourselves to and allow Him to work it into our lives.
Growing is hard. If you have worked out in a weight room, you know that fitness and growth require effort. And with the effort comes muscle soreness and discomfort. But after some time the body adapts to the added stress and the pain and soreness go away. You are able to do the same amount of work with less effort. You become fit and healthy, more able to withstand the stresses that are placed on you. It is the same way spiritually. For God to grow you, He has to stretch you and push you beyond your present limits.
Look at Galatians 5:16. Verse 16 introduces the section on bearing the fruit of the spirit in our lives. “But walk by the spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh, for the flesh sets its desire against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. These are in opposition.” “They are in constant conflict,” it says in another version. They have different interests and goals. They are constantly trying to pull us in two different directions. Verse 18: “But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.” The Living Bible says it this way, “When you are guided by the Holy Spirit, you will need no longer force yourself to obey the laws. Be guided by the spirit and these things God wants you to do will come naturally.”
In verse 19-23, Paul contrasts the difference between the fruits of feeding the flesh, our selfish nature, and feeding the spirit, following God in Christ. Feeding the flesh simply means indulging those desires that arise from our sinful nature. Verses 19-21 describe these types of behavior. Verses 22-23 describe the fruit of the spirit that grows in our hearts as we allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives. And when we do that the spiritual life we were given when we received Jesus Christ as our Savior begins to permeate all that we are. In verse 24 it says, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh…” Are you crucifying the flesh? Do you know what that means? How do you do that? What is it? “Now those that belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
The flesh does not refer to our bodies. It does not refer to the skin, bone, and muscle. It refers to the desires and passions of our sinful nature. The flesh refers to the way we selfishly mismanage the impulses and needs of our bodies, minds, and spirits. If we allow God to manage these impulses and needs they will guide us toward Him and the way of life characterized by the fruit of the spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If we let them become entangled in our selfish nature they will produce "sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin.” It is that self-reliant focus that craves physical and spiritual sensation (as is sought through occult means) and self-gendered power and values the praises of men more than the praises of God.
And then verse 25: “Because if we live by the spirit, let us also walk by the spirit.” Walking by the spirit or living by the desires of the flesh are two opposing directions for our lives. “These two forces within us are constantly fighting to win control over us and our decisions are never free from their pressures (verse 17b).” You need to understand that there are two contrary, oppositional forces in your life. These two forces are constantly fighting. There resides in every one of us a dark recess where a dragon exists. Most often we equate the dragon with the more obvious manifestations of the flesh—sexual immorality, carousing, and drunkenness. Those things do need to be swept out of our lives. They are evil and bad for us, as well as for those we harm along the way. But I am afraid that as much as we try to clean our lives up from them, there is still something inside that is enticed by it. Consider which TV programs you watch. Consider the movies you watch. Consider the enticement there is to lust, to immorality, to drunkenness, to carousing, and all those kind of things.
Now, maybe we have those things pretty well in order but there is that other dragon that lurks in the darkest recesses of our hearts. It is powerful and has a strong grip on us. It is that assertiveness that no one is going to get in my way. I can do whatever I want. I will make these things work out in my life. And that is the scary one. That is the dragon that most of us have to fight because it is the dragon of pride and arrogance. It is the dragon of egocentric anger and resentment. It is this dragon that will eat the heart out of your spiritual life.
John Piper gave an illustration of what it means to let Jesus transform your life. He highlighted the difference between being controlled by those dragons or being controlled by Jesus. “Picture your flesh, that old ego with the craving for power and reputation and self-reliance that you have in your life and picture it as a dragon living in the cave of your soul. And then sometime you hear the voice of Jesus and He comes to you and says, ‘I will make you mine and take possession of the cave and the dragon. Will you yield to my possession?’ It means a whole new way of thinking and feeling and acting. And you say, ‘But that dragon is really a part of me. Those thoughts are a part of me. Those feelings are part of me. It is really part of me and if you kill it, if you take it away, I will die.’ But He says, ‘No, what I will give you instead is a newness of life. For I will make my mind and my will and my heart your own.’ And you say, ‘Well, what must I do?’ He says, ‘Trust me and do as I say. As long as you trust in me, we cannot lose.’
"It may sound too good to be true, but your heart hungers in hope that there might be something to it and so you bow and invite His control into your life. He takes a great sword and puts it into your hand and says, ‘Follow me’ and He leads you down to the mouth of the cave and says, ‘Now, go in there and slay that dragon.’ And you say, ‘I cannot. Oh, I have tried a hundred times and I cannot slay that dragon.’ But Jesus smiles and says, ‘But now we are together’ and He gently wraps His hand around yours to wield that sword. And as you fight that dragon, you see that the dragon is stabbed and that it lies still and limp and you ask, ‘Is that dragon dead?’ And Jesus answers, ‘Not yet. He will die. That is certain, but he has not yet bled to death and be careful because he may revive with violent convulsions and do much harm to your life so you must keep my sword in hand and strike it again whenever it raises its ugly head or spews its horrible lies. And also remember, the great dragon, the Prince of Darkness may cause earthquakes in your soul and breathe new life into that beast but with my sword and my hand around yours, this dragon’s doom is sure. He is finished and your new life is secure.’”
Can you see the image? That is exactly what Paul means in verse 24 when he says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” That dragon has been mortally wounded by the cross. It is not dead yet. It can rise back up and revive if you give it attention and nourishment. That is what Paul means in Romans when he says, “To reckon yourselves as dead unto sin but alive unto God.” Or Galatians 2 where it says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” That dragon in me has been crucified with Christ, “nevertheless, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Rather than being controlled by that dragon, rather than being influenced by that dragon, listening to the voice of that dragon, you are listening to the voice of Jesus and following the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life.
How then do you let it out? How do you walk by the spirit? The first thing is, decide who you are going to let lead you. Which voice are you going to let lead you in your daily walk? Ezekiel expressed it when God spoke to him in Ezekiel 36:26-27, “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you…. I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes.” Are you listening to that voice or are you letting that dragon raise up and instigate a lot of other feelings and behaviors that God says should not be part of your life? You need to decide who your leader is going to be and who you are going to listen to.
I have an illustration that God gave me. Two-thirty one morning I was driving back from the beach house after seeing it destroyed by a hurricane. Now, those who know me are probably asking, “Dave, I did not know you had a beach house.” I do not, I was dreaming. In my dream I was driving back from a beach house that had been destroyed by a hurricane and I was frustrated and angry at the loss of things and what it was going to take to get all those things back. I was driving back and suddenly I saw a fruit stand ahead of me. What? Well, I know why now as I think about it. A fruit vendor is out there with a sign saying, “Stop here.” And as I am driving by he hits my car with the top of his sign. I thought, “That is not fair. That is not right. Somebody needs to teach that man a lesson.” I slam on my brakes. I look in my mirror and he is looking at me. So, I think to myself “I am going to put a little scare into him.” You may say, “Well, Dave, that is not the good thing to do.” I agree. I put it in reverse and he dives behind the fruit stand to avoid me. And then, just to teach him a little lesson, I nudge my bumper up against the fruit stand. The fruit stand is made up of plywood on top of sawhorses and I knew that if I bump that first side, all that fruit is going to fall down. And you know what? It did. I pulled out and drove away as he yelled, “I am going to report you to the Department of Agriculture.” It is a dream, ok?
Do you recognize something about dreams? Inhibitions are gone and sometimes the real you or that cave opens up and those things come out. Whether it is anger, frustration, lust, jealousy, envy, all those things can come out in dreams when the dragon is not quite so suppressed. But I know in my heart I have thought many times that something is not fair and that someone needs to teach that person a lesson. I have never knocked over a fruit stand in my life and I have never tried to back over anyone. But, you see, there is a part of me inside that wants to. I am committed to keeping that dragon chained so that I will never actually do such things. As my dream indicates, that dragon is not yet dead, so I have to be wary of its influence in my life. When we choose to listen to that dragon, we are picking up all the sins that Jesus died for and we are essentially saying, “I want to hold onto those because somehow they make me, my dragon, feel better.” But they do not bless your life. They do not strengthen your heart. What feels like a fulfillment of our innermost desires, and hence our self-expression, will ultimately destroy us! Personal authenticity based on the expression of our sinful nature is wrong and destructive. It is not to be praised as it is in our “me, me, me” culture. Reread Galatians 5:19-21. Those that indulge themselves in these types of behavior as a lifestyle will never see the kingdom of God. Those that indulge themselves in these types of behavior will always resent the voice of God that tells to stop.
Consider what Jesus would have you do. What do you need to let go of? Remember, if you are a born-again Christian you have already given your heart to Jesus and you need to let Him slay that dragon within you that prevents you from following Him. You need to learn to rely upon His promises no matter the results. He loves you and cares for you. Trust Him! Let go and let God be in control of your life.
Power For Living (Part 3)
You ever try to get rid of something in your life but have been unable to do it-a negative personality, a character flaw, some unhealthy habit or attitude? And you have made New Year’s resolution after New Year’s resolution, gone to see different people, talked to psychologists, pastors, experts, and it does not go away. You make a commitment to change and you work at it really hard but you find yourself falling back into the same old character faults or problems. You want to be different but you cannot seem to change. Out of frustration you end up just saying, “I guess that is just who I am,” and give up trying to change. You settle in comfortably with glaring character flaws. The kind of flaws that result in ongoing hurt to other people and/or ongoing self-destructive behavior. But something inside you feels a bit uneasy with it. You know things should be different and part of you wants things to be different. You recognize that these flaws are not good for you or the people around you whose relationships you value.
We cry, “Lord, change me,” and expect a instant miracle, a tingling feeling that signals all is well and the old desires and ways have disappeared. But that feeling never comes and you struggle on. Do you ever wonder because of this, “Is God really there?” Pastors tell you, “Well, just let go and let God. You just have to trust God more.” And yet you feel like you have trusted Him every way you can and just do not know how to get a handle on how to change. And then you are told about the verses like Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” and you try to think new thoughts. You try to learn some new things and try to think differently about things but then something happens and it all seems to shatter and you fall with a crash back to where you were before. Paul, the great apostle, had this incredible relationship with God, an understanding of God’s truth and understanding of God’s power, wrestled with these same things. Let me read you how he says it. “I don’t understand, what I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way but then I act in another, doing the things I absolutely despise. So, if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command, God’s control is necessary. But I need something more. For I know the law, but I still can’t keep it and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously, oh, I need some help. I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good but I really don’t do it. I decide not to be bad and I find myself doing it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something’s gone wrong deep within me and it gets the better of me every time. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?” The answer, thank God, Paul says, is that Jesus Christ can help us overcome these on a daily basis as we confront them and renounce them in His name. Until the resurrection there will not be a once for all solution. That is why I long for that day when I will see Him as He is and then I will be made like Him. But until then I have to grow and follow Jesus on a daily basis. And as I do, the new self becomes stronger and the old self weakens. The best we can do now is to so starve the old self that it becomes emaciated and too weak to move against us, while, in humility, always recognizing that the threat will always be present in our lives. But this is only half of the equation. Denying the old self is only part of what it means to follow Christ.
Denying the old self does not make one to be like Jesus Christ. It is only the preparation for letting God grow His fruit in our lives. That change we are talking about comes only through the power of Jesus Christ. Jesus wants our lives to be characterized by love, joy, and peace. He wants to seed these deep in our hearts. He wants us to not just be kind to somebody else but to have kindness in our hearts. It is not that I am just holding myself back and gritting my teeth but a relaxed patience coming from the inside. This is not something that is impossible. It is something that God wants us to have.
As you look at Galatians chapter 5, you will see two lists. Starting in verse 18 you will see a list of the works or deeds of the flesh, the bad things, the things that we do not want to be doing, things we do not want to have in our lives. Starting in verse 22 you will see a list of the good things we do want to have in our lives. I want to do those things even though I may not be feeling those things. The big danger with this is that this list is not a list of things you have to do to measure up in order to be accepted by God, but these are things that God wants to bless your life with because He wants you to be like Jesus Christ.
We often focus on the external more than the internal. We try to change the externals first. We try to stop drinking, stop yelling at our wife, lusting after women or telling tall tales. We try to stop the external behavior by sheer force of will. And we can accomplish much this way. Many of the behaviors we need to succeed in athletics, music, business, and other similar things are behaviors we can improve through hard work, concentration, and discipline. But as one reads Scripture one learns that this is not how godliness and the fruit of the spirit are produced. God told Ezekiel in about 600 B.C., “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you.” God wants to work through His spirit in us. We try to do it from the outside in and God wants to work from the inside out. That is why as Christians we talk about accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. A Savior for the things we have done on the outside and also for our heart on the inside, which is desperately wicked. He wants to help us think, desire, and feel the right way.
Oftentimes you look at what God requires and you feel overwhelmed. But in fact, if you were full of love, patience, joy, peace, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, you would do what He wants you to do. It is not a list of right things and wrong things that we are supposed to gut out and do ourselves. It is what God wants to produce in us. And until you get that clear in your mind, you do not understand what it means to be a Christian. You are just trying to act Christian. You are not Christian because being a Christian is Christ living inside you by His power. Without this you are just going along with another American self-improvement program. God’s way is to build a relationship with us and then affect our inside self. Have you ever considered that God never has to be urged to be good? God never has to be encouraged to be kind or faithful. He is good through and through. From root to fruit, from start to finish, He is kind. He is patient. He is loving. He is good. It just comes out of Him naturally because that is the essence of His being and He wants to plant that in you. He wants to build this in us by connection with Him. Scripture tells us very clearly that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword and penetrates to the dividing of soul and spirit. God’s Word is like a scalpel. It knows exactly where to go and what to cut. It is amazing what surgeons can do today with the intricacy, with the microscopic surgical tools they use to cut along a nerve channel without destroying the nerve. God is able to do that in hearts and minds. He is able to spiritually penetrate and go in there and pare away the things that are destroying your soul and killing your spirit. God wants to work from the inside out in bearing this fruit in your life, not simply give you a list you have to measure up to. Have you not had enough of that? Pastors give it to you. Spouses give it to you. Your parents give it to you. Your kids give it to you. But God’s way is different. Notice something important about the two lists in Galatians 5. He calls one the works of the flesh, the other the fruit of the spirit. Why is one called works and the other called fruit? Your first thought is that work takes effort and fruit just kind of grows on its own. But that is not what it means. Some of these things that are described as works of the flesh do not take much work. It does not take much work to get angry. You cross a man and he will blow up at you just like blood will flow out of a cut. It is natural to our sin nature. You do not have to be trained to be envious. You do not have to think through and take courses to be jealous. You do not have to learn to lust. It comes naturally. It comes easily. And quite frankly, the fruit of the spirit takes effort. To be loving and kind takes a lot of effort, does it not? What comes out takes effort, but the way God puts it in is to flow naturally. That is why He calls the other fruit. What He is getting at is not that one takes effort and the other does not, it is a matter of how it is produced. Who deserves the credit for it? Who deserves the credit for the envying, the anger, the frustration, the sexual immorality, and the other things listed in Galatians 5? Who is to blame? Well, you can blame the devil, you can blame someone else, but it is the fruit of your life. It is the work of your life. It is what is coming out of it. We are responsible. But the fruit of the spirit comes from God as we allow Him to produce it in our lives. He is the one who is seeding it into our hearts and then we let it grow. Our job is to fertilize it, water it, nurture it, give it the attention it needs, give it the protection it needs. Does a tree deserve the credit for the fruit it produces? Or is it in the nature of the tree, even the nature of the seed what kind of fruit blossoms forth? If you know a Christian who is loving, that is kind, that is good, that is faithful, that is self-controlled, do not praise him or her. Praise God! Thank God for what He has done in that life.
When we celebrate communion I want you to see that you are reflecting on that same body that He sacrificed for you, in which He went through incredible injustice and yet always reflected love, peace, joy, patience, and kindness. God wants to give that same disposition to you. As we partake of the cup we are celebrating that the King of creation, the Lord of glory wants to live in our lives. He wanted it so much that He gave Himself for us. The God of the universe wants to make Himself known and felt in our hearts. Communion is not simply a ritual we go through. It is a celebration of who God is and what He has done for us. Communion is a vivid reminder of who deserves credit for our salvation. Salvation is a God-centered thing. The whole book of Galatians is a reminder to us that living the Christian life is also a God-centered thing. Look at Galatians 3:1-5: “Oh, foolish Galatians! What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? You have suffered so much for the Good News. Surely it was not in vain, was it? Are you now going to just throw it all away?” The book of Galatians makes it clear that the production of the fruit of the Spirit in the Christian’s life is an extension of the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus. Our initial saving faith is only the beginning of the gospel of Good News. It is only the initial step in the transformation process of making us like Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to tell us that the gospel of Good News is to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives. The power of Christ in us!