Friday, June 28, 2013

Life in Christ

This is the final sermon on the fruit of the Spirit. Recall what we have studied. The fruit of the Spirit is love, love of God and love of neighbor, joy in the Holy Spirit, peace that passes understanding in the midst of trouble, patience as we wait upon the Lord, kindness, for the Lord’s kindness leads us to repentance, goodness, doing that which is good as we are lead by the Holy Spirit, faithfulness, having faith and being faithful,  gentleness, a counterpart to kindness and is always a better way to lead than harshness.
         Today, we come to the pinnacle of the Fruit of the Spirit; temperance or self-control. Self-control is the ability to do that which is good and right, neither swaying to the left or the right, neither going overboard or falling short. Self-control is the ability to master both the body and the mind. Of course, this seems impossible and there is a sense in which that is true. Self-control outside of Spirit control is impossible. In our fallen form, we simply are not able to do that which is right.
         The only answer is to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we are empowered by God to obey God. And when we are filled with His Spirit and through this means are enabled to submit to His will, we realize that He is the One who gets the glory. We are thankful to be filled with His Spirit. We are thankful to be freed from sin, shame and guilt. We are thankful to be cleansed and justified. But we realize that none of it is of our making. The Lord attended to us merely out of His kindness and the only thing we can do is worship Him with a thankful heart.
         Having been filled with His Spirit, the Lord then calls us to walk by that Spirit. That is what we have been discussing as we make our way through the fruit of the Spirit. You do not produce this fruit in order to receive God’s blessing. The fruit of the Spirit is the result of God’s blessing you with His Spirit.
         But there most certainly is a sense in which our progress in the faith is our own. Once the Lord has filled us with His Spirit, He expects us to walk in this newness of life, grow up in grace and be productive fruit bearers. The ultimate fruit is that fruit which reveals a consistently obedient Christian, one who governs actions, thoughts and words. This person is very nearly perfect, in the sense that they are a mature Christian. That is the fruit of self-control.
         I want to make a qualification before I move on to my main point. Although I am speaking about growing up in Christ and producing the mature work of the Spirit, I am not talking about perfectionism. We do not have to perform perfectly to please God. What we have to be is ‘in Christ.’ Being ‘in Christ’ is the perfection that the Father is seeking and is the focus we are aiming at today.
         Furthermore, I do not believe that you can reach a sinless state in this life. No matter how mature you grow in Christ,  you will still have the war of the flesh snapping at your ankles. You may get some relief from particular nagging or troublesome sins. You may grow kinder and gentler as you age and mature. You may gain control over your tongue and even to some degree your judgmental and self-deceiving thoughts. However, as you do so, it becomes apparent to you just how holy God is and just how far short you fall. You may actually sin less, if we are taking a daily sin count, but your awareness of your natural sinfulness increases. This is not bad, at all. If you are growing up in Christ, then what is happening is that as you grow in the Lord, your awareness of your need for Jesus and His Holy Spirit is also increasing. While others may interpret this as you growing closer to the Lord and perhaps even some perfectionistic expectation, you, yourself, are becoming more and more aware of your need to cling to Jesus every moment. This does not make you more insecure. It makes your security more sure because you are becoming more and more aware that your only security is in Jesus, in Christ, in His Spirit.
         I want to make a segue from speaking this way into our topic today. The title of the sermon is Take Up Your Cross but the subject of the sermon is Self-Control. And I have mentioned many times that we were working our way UP to self-control as the telos of the fruit of the Spirit. Aiming at this high goal, we get near the peak and realize that there is simply no route to take the summit. We are stranded at the threshold of success.
         What are we to do? The answer is to go back to basics. I do not want to overload you with ways to practically be self-controlled. We are all different and the Lord has called us to different tasks, different lives even. The one common life that we have is the life we share ‘in Christ’. This is absolutely fundamental but we need to fully understand what the Father has called us to, being in Christ, if we are to live a full life in the Lord.

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