How Do You Know If You're Living In The Spirit?
Last night I finished up a class I've been teaching on Paul's letter to the Galatians, and we spent a good bit of time discussing this passage:
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
For far too long, far too many Christian communities have taken this particular passage, weaponized it, and used it to browbeat people into living a "morally upright" life.
The benighted theology that undergirds all of these exhortations is based on the notion of a transactional kind of God, whose grace and favor are contingent upon a set of quid pro quo instructions.
In other words, if you live the "right" kind of life, you will be rewarded, if you don't you will be punished--if not in this life, most definitely in the next.
Not only that, the way that "flesh" is often interpreted in this passage is narrowly focused on hot-button issues of personal morality, which seem to change over time, and which also largely depend on the preferences and social worldview of the interpreting community.
For example, when I was a kid it was a huge taboo to get divorced in the Christian communities within which I was raised. In fact, it might have gotten you expelled from the church, or at the very least, you would have been shamed and shunned so much you'd leave.
But now that divorce has become a ubiquitous part of life for so many Christians, (many of whom have very good reasons for getting divorced) it no longer holds the same stigma. But I digress...
Getting back to the passage we're discussing, we need to know how important it is to read this passage more closely because when we do, we begin to see that Paul was actually addressing something much bigger than personal morality.
You see, Paul was deeply concerned about the competing interests of God's kingdom and the kingdoms of this world. He believed that there was a struggle between the evil systems that prohibited human flourishing and the kingdom of God, which sought to bring peace and eternal life.
He labels them differently in his letters, fashioning the concepts so his readers would understand. In this case, he refers to these two kingdoms as "Spirit" and "flesh."
I would argue that even though they might be saying that they long for the kingdom of God here on earth, far too many people who claim to follow Jesus are actually more likely to embrace the exact opposite.
If your version of Christianity leads you to exclude, hate other people, obfuscate the truth, despoil the earth, deny the image of God in yourself or others, etc. it's of "the flesh," pure and simple.
So how do we know when we are living in "the Spirit" as Paul puts it here? Well, it looks a lot different than what I just described.
Those living in the kingdom of God (Spirit) welcome all, honor all, love all, care for Creation, resist all forms of injustice that prevent human flourishing, seek peace rather than conflict, forgive as they have been forgiven...
Thich Naht Hahn puts it like this:
Where there is the Holy Spirit there is true presence, there is true understanding, there is true communication and true love.
It comes down to this for those of us who would follow Jesus.
We can't trick God into thinking that somehow we're being really good Christians when the kingdom we salute looks nothing like the kingdom God has initiated--a kingdom that is breaking through all around us if we have eyes to perceive it.
So live in the Spirit today and not the flesh. Pay attention to the effects of your actions and words, and see that they lift up God's kingdom and only God's kingdom.
May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.