[Sorry for the initial post before it was complete]
Today is the Ninth Day of Christmas. Nine Ladies Dancing reminds us of the nine fruits of the Spirit. Paul outlines these fruits in Galatians 5:22-23. Paul lists these fruits immediately after he lists the works of the flesh, 15 works of the flesh actually, to which he adds a 16th "and things like these."
Scholars debate why such fruits are listed. Many suggest that as Christians were having to live in the midst of persecution and detractors from all sides, these gifts served as a model of life that no one, not even pagans, could disagree. Other scholars argue that Paul is outlining a manner of life that stood in contrast with both the practice of pagan religion that was rampant with sexual immorality and the contemporary lifestyle that hasn't changed much in 2,000 years. Things like enmity, strife, anger, envy, and division were, and remain, common to our human experience. Our contemporary culture today thrives on envy (wanting what others have) and division (us against them, culturally, politically, religiously and ethnically). What would be common in a contemporary reflection is an outline of how we (Christians) should live and an admonishment to start "living right." No doubt, "holiness" preachers and other such Christians interested in cultural transformation articulate how we might implement and even legislate how we ought to live. I agree that this desire is rooted in a positive desire. That is, most of us want our culture to be transformed. Jesus' teaching to remove the beam out of our own eye so that we might see the speck in our neighbors' eye (Matthew 7:1-5) gives us another perspective.
Yesterday was New Year's Day. Let me ask you a question? What kind of person do you want to be? I think most of us want to be good people. We want to be kind, slow to anger, gentle, gracious people who focus on positive things in life. Now, not to sound too preachy, although I am a preacher, I am convinced that our lives can change, who we are can change, only if we allow the Spirit to transform us. It isn't that we work to be what the Spirit is, rather we allow the Spirit to work through us so that we might become who God knows and wants us to be. The Reformed Protestant heritage is that it isn't us who does that transformation, but that we allow ourselves to be open to God's Spirit so that the Spirit can transform us.
Unfortunately, we Protestants have allowed the Spirit to be that One who hangs out with us and does some magical tricks from time to time. It is not that we are spectators to God's transforming Spirit but that we are the clay that is re-molded into a new creature. Like clay, this transformation will take time, it will require God's hands to push, squeeze and bend us into this new vessel. The heat of life, like the potter's oven, sets and cures us to be useful. One Christian perspective is that the world is changed because we are changed. Let me share a few things with you, things that I need to be reminded of myself from time to time.
- We we can not be godly apart from the Spirit. The power is from within us only when the Spirit is within us.
- Left to our own devices, we are determined to have things our own way. Even the best side of us can be self serving. Outside of the Spirit, even when we do good works, we can often become focused on the credit we receive or become frustrated when we do not feel appreciated. The Spirit calls us to desire goodness regardless of who gets the credit and even to celebrate when it is only God who knows our good deeds.
- God's way is a very different way of living. God's way is radical. It requires all of you, your heart, mind, body, and soul. It is God's Spirit that grabs you, cleans you up, grows the fruit in you, and makes you in the image of Christ.
- Where there are fruits of the Spirit, the Spirit of God is at work. Trust in that truth, regardless of who, what or where it might manifest.
- Each person bears the same fruit as outlined in Galatians, but each bears that fruit differently. However, the fruits will show themselves as God cultivates your heart and brings you to fruitfulness.
- Finally, even though we are talking about individual fruit, remember that God's Spirit works corporately too. As fruit trees are only productive when they are cross pollinated by other fruit trees, so will our fruits be plentiful only when we are in relationship with Christians, in relationship with Christ's Church.
On this Ninth Day of Christmas, today is the day to resolve to open yourself to Christ and allow Him to make you into an integral part of His Body, His Church. Offer this prayer: God, make me into a new creature. Mold me into the image of your Son. Give me strength to be the person you know I can be. Give your Church the strength to be the Bride that you are calling us to be. In the name of Christ, your Son, our Lord and Savior. Amen.