Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross
The definition is stark and candid: “A thing that is accepted as true or certain to happen, without proof.” We live in an age where making assumptions is rampant and relentless. In current society, we make assumptions about one another based on political affiliation, skin color, and even masks. Charity and the benefit of the doubt are disappearing from too many circles, and that should have us all concerned. But, instead of panicking and giving up, Christians should see this as an opportunity to reach hearts for Jesus.
Immediately after writing about how powerful the command to love one another is (cf. Mat. 22:40; Rom. 13:8), Paul warns, “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15). The current, so-called “cancel culture,” public humiliation, online shaming, boycotting, etc., is presumptuous and worldly. While the nuances of what we are seeing these days may be unique to us, the mindset and behavior are ancient and basic. If you keep reading Paul’s words, you can identify the culprit. A failure to walk by the Spirit leads us to carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
How can we know which characterize us? It is palpably simple. Notice.
Check Your Deeds
Paul lists out 15 specific deeds of the flesh–plus an encompassing “things like these”–which keeps the practicers from inheriting the kingdom of God. Nestled among sexual immorality and drunkenness are “enmities” (hostility and hatred), “strife” (to express differences of opinion with antagonism or hostility), “outbursts of anger” (intense, passionate “boiling over” of displeasure; rage), “disputes” (a feeling of hostility or being against), “dissensions” (party strife within a community, TDNT 89; i.e., Republican, Democrat?), “factions” (division based upon different opinions or loyalties)(Gal. 5:20). If God chose to drop the apostle Paul into our country right now for a week, surely he would preach this text to us! He’s describing the current crises and even many Christians’ response to it and one another. These are very nearly half of the deeds of the flesh specifically mentioned. Read your newsfeed, look at the articles being forwarded, watch cable or online news, and the like. More personally, I need to ask if I am exhibiting these deeds of the flesh in my words and actions.
The antithesis of such deeds and the fruit which counteracts and conquers them. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (22-23). Insert each of these qualities into your deeds and see if those fleshly deeds can survive. It has become routine and expected to see the incivility and hostility of the deeds of the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit will overcome them! But we must discipline ourselves to exhibit them, even in the face of those employing those worldly ways.
Crucify Your Flesh
Sounds painful doesn’t it? It doesn’t sound like something that comes easily or naturally. But, if Jesus owns you, these “passions and desires” must be put to death (24). Kill them! Harness the hostility and defeat those desires. We cannot give ourselves the old “that’s just the way I am” pass. We are not our own. We belong to Him. Nail it to the cross of self-denial!
Chart Your Course
Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (25). “Walk” means “to be in line with a person or thing considered as standard for one’s conduct” (BDAG 946). It means living in conformity with a set standard. We don’t have to guess what that is, and understand that it will look very different from the world’s standard. We cannot stoop to their level or conform to their rule (Rom. 12:1-2).
Consider Your Brethren
To end this discussion, Paul tells us how not to treat others–“boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (26), then how to treat others (6:1-2). We gently restore one another and bear one another’s burdens. We are protective and constructive. We care about souls, and that takes precedence over winning arguments and having our incisive one-liners quoted. We see souls like Jesus sees them!
It’s discouraging to see our society losing the ability to reason and discuss respectfully. It is destructive to see our brethren giving in to such devilish tactics. May we be aware that we are not serving and honoring our Master if our means to accomplish our ends cause us to use fleshly ways. Paul says it best: “But each one must examine his own work” (Gal. 6:4). God help me to do so humbly and honestly!