Today my Lenten reading was Galatians 5:16-26. For any of you not immediately familiar with that passage (and don’t worry, I wouldn’t have been either) it is a letter from the apostle Paul to the people of Galatia addressing what it means to “Live by the Spirit”.
I’m sure that there are many people who go straight to this passage when they tell you what a good Christian does and does not do. Paul’s list includes sexual immorality, drunkeness, and witchraft, but it also includes jealousy, discord, selfish ambition, fits of rage and envy. I can maybe claim to steer clear of the first three, but I would be lying to you, and to myself, if I didn’t admit to feeling jealousy, anger and envy at times. So then the question I had to ask myself and I can imagine many other ask is “How can I possibly be a good Christian?” Paul says that these behaviors are the result of our sinful nature, and that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. If that’s the case I might as well give up now. How can I possibly live up to such a standard?
Likewise when reading the fruits of the Spirit, they include patience, goodness and self-control…all things I know that I struggle with. So where does that leave me?
I think that there are many people out there who read passages like this in the bible and feel defeated. Perhaps you are one of them. I know that, upon first reading this, before I looked deeper into it, I certainly was. So then what is Paul trying to tell us, or what is the meaning behind this reading?
Robert L Deffinbaugh writes that God is gracious, and unlike a bureaucrat, He deals with you on the basis of your heart. He’s not as wrapped up in the details of your life as much as He is concerned about your attitude toward Him and your desire for Him. Deffinbaugh says that the results of the spiritual life are more evident than the reasons. The Spirit evident by his fruits, rather than by His actual visible presence, and “walking in the Spirit” is simply dependence upon God.
I love that interpretation because it allows for, and acknowledges our human weaknesses. I talked yesterday about Lenten aspirations and I think that is what Paul is doing here…he’s giving the Galatians, and us a set of standards to aspire to. And those standards are based upon that greatest of Christ’s teaches…”love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:31). When we love someone, we don’t envy their successes, we celebrate them. When we love someone we want to lift them up, to see them do and be better and it has no reflection on where we are ourselves.
I think that a life by the Spirit can only happen when we “abide in Christ”. When we fully give ourselves, and our lives, up to God. When we come to know, and understand Him we find peace, and joy, and happiness, knowing that he judges us by our heart, and and our intentions. He knows that we will fail. He knows we will sin. That is why He provided us with His son, Jesus Christ; the perfect sacrifice and atonement for those sins. So instead of reading Galatians and feeling like a failure, see this as something to aspire to. Something that can only be achieved by trusting in, and walking with God. Aspire to make God a part of your daily walk and you may find yourself surprised to find how easy and attainable a life lived by the Spirit really is.