This past Sunday, Pastor Craig gave his final sermon to us, the people of First United Methodist Church of Winter Park, and it was a compelling one. He spent time reviewing what we have learned over the last month and a half together from the letter to the Churches in Galatia and how the Good News of Jesus Christ offers us Freedom. This isn’t the freedom from something (the negative view) but freedom for something (the positive view). This positive view of freedom should come more easily to us, a freed people living in the United States, but often it gets convoluted by our culture. We have freedom from that which weighs us down, leads us astray, and breaks our relationship with God and others. Freedom is not because we are choosing to be A+ Christians or be a model for a deep spiritual walk. We have the freedom to choose another way; the fruit of the Spirit. Notice the word is Fruit, not Fruits meaning we can’t choose our favorites to emulate and leave the others out. For instance, I would love to just be a person of love, joy, and peace, but I don’t always like to practice patience (especially when I am tired) or practice self-control (especially when it involves chocolate)…can I get an AMEN?!
When we grow and nurture our Fruit of the Spirit, we have freedom from the checklist of “naughty” behaviors (Galatians 5:19-21) so we can live more like people with “nice” behaviors (Galatians 5:22-26). Understanding the both/and mindset takes time and spiritual maturity, but in some ways, it is how we move from simply being listeners to becoming leaders. We could abide by this list of behaviors because Christian culture can be a bit judge-y or because we see God as a God with a checklist looking down on us. Or we could choose to be leaders. People that others are attracted to and listen to and respect. Let me give you a personal example. Lately, we have struggled as parents to get our children to listen, especially in the mornings when they are cranky and not ready for what the day will bring. They are loud, they talk over each other, they instigate the other at times and they show little interest in listening to our directions or demands. And so in an effort to make changes for sanity’s sake, we have started using the language of leadership rather than listening. We give them a direction or ask them to do something and then when they do the opposite, we ask them to please be a good LEADER. It has changed things a bit for us. When they see themselves elevate and valued as someone that can have an influence on others, the results are different from simply just listening and obeying.
To me, I see this “naughty” and “nice” list in Galatians 5 as the difference between being a listener or a leader. Should we avoid sexual immorality, drunkenness, fits of rage and debauchery, and the rest of the “naughty” list, HECK YES! Paul is clear that we have freedom over those behaviors and choices. But what is our motivation for choosing the way of the Spirit? Is it because we are receiving praise from all temporary places or because we have been truly transformed? You see, Fruit of the Spirit is the outward evidence of an inward transformation. Just like Communion and Baptism is the outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, so too is the Fruit of the Spirit that we display, practice, and live into daily.
And so the question I leave you with is if you are really set free, how are you leading others into that freedom? If it goes beyond simply listening to the “rules” of faith and moves you toward being a leader, are others following your example? As a church, we are finding new ways every week to engage the community in the freedom that Christ offers us. Just this past Sunday I had the opportunity to walk through the Open House at the 4Pillars Counseling Center. What an incredible vision this church had voted on in 2018 and then made the dream a reality over these last 2.5 years. This Counseling Center will be one of the many ways we are helping set people free and offering an opening toward inward transformation. I am so proud to be a part of a church that wants to introduce people to Jesus so that they can be set free! May we move towards being people that not only LISTEN to the ways that God is breaking our emotional, spiritual, and mental chains but also becoming LEADERS that help set others FREE!