Freedom is a word we often talk about this time of year, especially during celebrations for the Fourth of July. At picnics and fireworks presentations, we likely talked about the freedoms we have as Americans. This is important for us to honor.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we know the true source of our freedoms. Freedom does not come from government. A government institution, no matter its composition, is not the creator or grantor of freedom. Our freedoms come from God.
Freedom is central to our faith in Jesus Christ. By our faith in Jesus Christ, we become recipients of grace and can experience freedom in our lives. Grace allows us to experience freedom from our sin and allows us to live as followers of Christ, as people of the Kingdom of God, each day. We are no longer bound by the chains of our sin, but live in the grace and hope that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
How, then, do we live with this freedom? The way we answer this question, as individuals and as a community of faith, says a lot about how we desire to live as Kingdom people and as a Kingdom community. Each of us represents the Kingdom of God in our lives. Our church is a representative of the Kingdom of God in our communities. As followers of Christ, the way we live our lives is one way we witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. How we live our lives is how others will interpret and see the Kingdom of God and the message of Jesus Christ. Central to this is how we use the freedoms Christ has given us. The question for us, today, is this: How will our freedom from God guide us? Will we use it as a free pass to live and do as we please, or will it inspire us to live lives of deep devotion and discipleship?
We could ask it another way: Will we produce fruits of the flesh or fruits of the Spirit?
Producing fruit is a key metaphor that is found throughout the New Testament. Jesus uses this metaphor on several occasions. One such example is Matthew 6:15-20. In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that a good tree, a person or community that is in deep relationship with the Father, cannot produce bad fruit. However, someone that is a bad tree, a person or community that refuses to walk with Christ, cannot produce good fruit. These are the trees that are to be chopped down. They will not inherit the Kingdom of God, as Paul suggests in our passage today from Galatians 5:16-2. Those who do not produce good fruit will not experience the Kingdom of God. How we live our lives, as individuals and as a community, indicates the types of fruit we are producing. The life we live comes out of our character and who we are in the depths of our soul. What guides our life will produce the fruits of the life we lead, which are what others experience when they interact with us.
Paul writes in Galatians 5:16-26 that there are two options for people and communities to follow and allow to shape our character. One option is to live by the ways of the world and to live according to how we would desire to live. Paul says this path is the path of living by the flesh or our sinful nature. There is a second choice we can chose. We can live by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and follow in the ways of the Lord. This is what Paul suggests by saying we are to live by the Spirit. These are competing ways of life that are at odds with each other. The ways of the Spirit are counter to the ways of the flesh, and vice versa.
The way Paul writes of these two options for life it is as if we are standing at a crossroad and are to contemplate which is the better path to take. At a crossroad, we are given two roads, or paths, to take. The two paths are not the same and will take us to different destinations. The experiences we will meet on these paths will be different, and they will shape our lives. Choosing the wrong path has serious implications. You cannot chose the wrong path and expect to get to where you hoped you were going. Thus, the choice we make here, at this crossroad of life and how we will experience God’s freedoms, is important.
One option is the path of the flesh, or our sinful nature. The path looks easy and has few challenges. It has few obstacles and the road is paved and well maintained. But, when you look closer you see some of the road signs indicates that the path is filled with opportunities to “fulfill your wildest dreams,” to “have it your way,” and to “live the high life.”
Paul speaks of this path in Galatians 5:17. This path is characteristic of a life that is counter to the ways and desires of the Holy Spirit. It is a life of self-wants and self-desires. When we take this path, we take the freedom we receive from God and use it as license to indulge in our own self. We do what we want to do. When we live for the flesh, we want things our ways, by our time, and by our agenda. It is all about me. To be honest, we have probably all journeyed on this path in our lives. We might even be on it today. There have been times and moments where we have lived counter to the ways of the Spirit.
We know the kind of life this path produces. It produces fruits of the flesh.These are characteristics that corrupts the goodness of God’s creation and the way God has made us. We take the good things of the world and use them for our own gain and indulgence. The list Paul gives, beginning with verse 5:19, is filled with things that none of us desire be known by. However, each of us can think of times when these fruits have been more characteristic of who we are or how we interacted with others.
Fruits of the flesh are produced when we have abandoned our First Love and ignored our relationship with Christ. These fruits come out when we live lives that are counter to the known will of God. When there is sin in our life, these are some of the fruits that we produce. Jealousy, idolatry, anger, bitterness, or anything of the other fruits of the flesh, comes out when we are not in a true and deep relationship with Christ. These fruits prevent us from experiencing the depths of the love of Christ and prevent us from truly witnessing the Kingdom of God in our lives.
There is a second path at this crossroad of God’s freedom. This one seems a little more challenging. The path has a few more hills and obstacles to traverse. It is certainly not an easy path. There are bumps all over the road. When we start to wonder who would take this path, we start to notice some of its signs such that read, “hope,” “peace,” “holiness,” and “love.”
The difficult path is the path of following the ways of the Holy Spirit. To be obedient to the Lord’s desires is difficult and challenging, because it calls us to look not for ourselves, first, but to seek first God’s desires. It may not be easy, but this is the path that leads to the Kingdom of God.
By choosing this more difficult path, we are making the choice to be led by the Holy Spirit. This is an act of obedience. We are recognizing the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and are desiring that the Spirit guides our steps and places us in the situations that God needs and desires us to be in. When we take this path, we use our freedom as an act of dedication and obedience. We are giving our lives and our communities to the Lord as an act of faith in response to our forgiveness. Indeed, we are making the conscience choice to follow in the precepts and desires of the Lord when we take this path.
This path produces, Paul says, fruits of the Spirit. These fruits, of course, are counter to the ways of the flesh. They are our what defines us when we are led by the Spirit. No longer are we living for ourselves, but we are living for Christ and in changes us in the depths of our soul and produces something beautiful in each of us and our communities. When we follow the ways of the Spirit, we become defined by the fruits of the Kingdom. We become people who are loving to others. We have more joy in our lives. We live at peace with one another. We are more kind to each other. There is a sense of goodness about us. We are faithful in all things. We are gentle and we are able to live with an element of self-control.
These are not just individual fruits. Indeed, kingdom fruits can are also characteristic of a community that purposely choses to walk together and follow the ways of the Lord. When a community of faith, the local church, makes the choice to follow the path of the Spirit, it is defined by these Kingdom fruits. Our churches should be known as loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and a group who can control our desires so that we are living for the Kingdom. When communities produce Kingdom fruits, it is a beautiful thing and a hopeful thing in a world that desperately needs to hear the people of the Lord believe and live out the hope of the Lord. Kingdom people and Kingdom churches should desire to produce fruits of the Spirit.
Our freedom from God allows the grace to chose the path we will take for our lives. This is what it means to have free will. Today, imagine that you are standing at a crossroad of freedom. You have been given two paths. As a community, we have been shown two paths to live. One path is a path of self-indulgence that leads to spiritual and physical destruction. The other is a path of faith and obedience to the Lord, which leads to holiness and the Kingdom of God.
What path are you taking? What path are we taking? Will you, will we, be known as people who are on the pathway of the flesh, or will you, and we, be known as people who desire to live for the Spirit and produce fruits of the Spirit?