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05.22.16 Faith is a Water Vacation Galatians 5:13-26 Sermon Summary

by on May 26, 2016

With anything hard to understand, the easy way out is to resort to dualism: Black and white, either/or thinking. That’s why Paul is accused of being a dualist.

Summary points

  • Why dualism so attractive—it makes everything easier
  • The one dualism that does exist in Paul’s writings
  • Living in the Spirit versus in the Flesh or according to the Law
  • How faith is like a water vacation
  • How to know you’re not living in the Spirit

Paul is often accused of being a dualist. He appears to exalt the spiritual while denigrating the material. It’s an argument with some teeth. When we look at his words—“Body”, “Flesh”, “World”—and the contrasts he draws, it’s easy to think he’s a dualist. But in reality, these words are just stand-ins for the real critique Paul makes, which is against “sin.” Paul’s attitude is summed up in Epesians 6:12: “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities.”

Christian doctrine doesn’t allow for dualism. John tells us that, “the Word became flesh.” Matthew tells us that Jesus is, “Emmanuel, God is with us.” Jesus himself says that, “the meek shall inherit the earth.” And John of Patmos says this whole creation experiment is leading to, “a new heaven and new earth.” And if nothing else, the resurrection of Christ from the dead ought to convince us that the Christian God isn’t about hating the flesh, body, world, or material reality—but redeeming it.

On the other hand, there is a dualism in Paul: Either you live by the Spirit, or you do not. There is life in the Spirit, and non-life otherwise.

Paul describes life in the Spirit as “belonging to Christ,” “dying with Christ,” and people having “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires contrary to the Spirit.” To live in the Spirit is to enter the “Kingdom of God,” and to bear the “fruit of the Spirit,” especially “loving one’s neighbor.”

Life in the Spirit means to “follow the Spirit.” Following the Spirit is opposed to the “flesh,” and it is also opposed to the “law.” For Paul, the Law was intended to curb the impulses of the flesh. But as such, it is based on rules determined by the flesh. This means that the Law is characterized by the same limitations as the flesh. Paul recognizes the limits of the Law. It may offer guidance, but ultimately it does not give life. Life comes from the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:6, cf. also John 6:63)

Following the Spirit is the life of faith. It’s like a “water vacation.” Water vacations may include canoeing, rafting, kayaking, or inner-tubing. They may include lake-side fishing, deep sea fishing, or fly-fishing. They may include cruises, water-boarding, surfing, or paddle-boating. They can include para-sailing, sun-tanning, water skiing, snorkeling, or jet skiing.

The point is: Faith, as a following of the Spirit, can lead us to the serene and quiet or the robust and noisy; the fearful or the peaceful; the rush or the settled; to be alone or to enjoy with people. The thing with water vacations, as with faith, is that we are subject to the surrounding conditions versus controlling everything around us.

Faith, as a following of the Spirit, like water vacations, is so diverse and unpredictable except for one thing: The criterion of love. Paul says that no matter what, following the Spirit is a following of the one commandment that sums up them all—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

How do you know when you are not being loving, when you are not in the Spirit? Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the fruit of conceit (self-love). Conceit causes us to be competitive or envious. Competition is the active form of non-love; envy is the passive form of it. When we find ourselves competing or envying, we’re not loving; we’re not living in the Spirit.

On this Trinity Sunday, let us live in the Kingdom of God, let us belong to Christ, and let us be filled and guided by the Spirit. Let us enjoy the water vacation of faith!

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