Step It Up

Sermon 1812 Galatians 5.1, 13-25 July 10, 2022

You remember the movie, “Groundhog Day,” where Bill Murray keeps reliving February 2nd? Because I drive by Greenspun Junior High every day during the school year, I relive my school experiences, the most distasteful, because as I drive by Greenspun, physical education classes (when the dinosaurs roamed we called it PE) are on the athletic fields and, more often than not, they are doing laps. Some run really good. Some not so good. Some don’t even walk very well. I remember my PE teacher (also the football coach, so, double the memories, double the fun) growling at me, “Step it up, Pieper.”

Step it up. You are lagging behind. Step it up. We can’t finish until you do. Step it up or you’ll run another lap. Ah, school days, school days, good old golden ruler across the knuckles days.

Step It Up

1. Christ freed us to love one another (1, 13-15).

2. The Spirit guides us to fight our sinful nature (16-21).

3. The Spirit sets the pace to bring forth fruit in our lives (22-25).

Instead of ruler across the knuckles motivation, the Apostle Paul gives us Gospel motivation.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (1).”

Christ has freed us. He has freed us from sin. He has freed us from guilt. There is no impending doom hanging over us. He has freed us from shame. We can look our God in the eye again, with no skeletons in the closet. Jesus freed us by his death on the cross where he took our punishment, our guilt, our shame upon himself. Why do you think we have a cross with Jesus on it in front of our church? Even if I preach the worst sermon of my life, we still have that Gospel motivation in front of us. All we have to do is open our eyes.

Do we need that forgiveness? Oh, yes. Over and over again the Bible calls sin a burden, dead weight around our shoulders, a yoke that makes us serve a heartless master. Why do PE teachers so ride their students? Because some are tubs. I don’t care what you say about genetics, a party size bag of potato chips and a two liter bottle of soda is not lunch. Like every chronic ailment in life, the foundation was laid in our teen years before we even took the warnings seriously. Why did my PE teacher growl at me? Because I was lazy. I didn’t want anyone to know I could run for my life with the best of them. Loading up on sin, lazily shirking what you can and should do. The theologians would call them sins of commission and sins of omission. God calls them damnable. So, yes, we need Christ to free us.

But as any good coach will tell you, you free someone for something. Getting in shape isn’t enough. It’s what you do now that you are in shape. The PE teacher wants to instill good eating and exercise habits for life. My football coach wanted me to be fast and strong enough to outrun a pass defender in the fourth quarter. Christ freed us to love one another.

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (13-15).”

We have been freed to serve one another in love. In love. Not out of compulsion, not to show others up. In love. Since God so loved us we love those he loves. The best way to show that love is to serve them, help them and make their hard life less difficult. This is not rocket science. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the path set free from the ball and chain of sin. Christ freed us to love one another.

Step it up. The Spirit guides us to fight our sinful nature.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law (16-18).”

Let’s correct a misconception we may have about the Holy Spirit. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as mild, gentle, a homebody. He is with us when we curl up with the Bible. He is the unseen editor of our prayers. And this is true. But the Holy Spirit is also aggressive, a no-holds barred fighter. Repeatedly in the story of Samson, “the Spirit of the Lord” moved within him just before he performed some mighty acts of vengeance on the enemy Philistines, killing thirty in Ashkelon, another thousand with a donkey’s jawbone at Ramath Lehi. The Spirit of the Lord rests on David and he takes down Goliath. But you already know this. As soon as Jesus was baptized he was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Holy Spirit picks fights with the forces of evil as surely as a well-trained army marches out to initiate battle with the enemy. In the Civil War General McClellan exasperated President Lincoln. He trained and trained the Army of the Potomac but never sought out battles. Finally Lincoln said, “If you are not going to use your army, I’d like to borrow it for a time.” Nobody needs to borrow the Holy Spirit’s army. He guides us out to fight and conquer the sinful human nature.

What an enemy that sinful human nature is! Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of anger, rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Who in their right mind would let things like that slide? All of these come from the sinful human nature. There is no middle ground between the Holy Spirit and the sinful human nature. War today, war tomorrow, war until the crack of doom. But it is a war the Holy Spirit will win as he guides us to fight against our sinful human nature.

But war for war’s sake is as bad as PE class making us miserable for no reason at all. Once the daily jog is over, out come the chips and soda. The Spirit sets the pace to bring forth fruit in our lives.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (22-25).”

The law condemns vice. It sets limits to evil. It puts guardrails up against the abuse of things like alcohol or prescription drugs. That’s why Paul says there is no law against the fruit of the Spirit. They are untarnished virtues. They are good to the bone. Too much of the fruit of the Spirit is just enough!

Now, I could (and should) go through each one of these, at least to a point, because I dragged you through the works of the sinful human nature. But a simple naming of the parts would not do it justice. The whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts. What Paul is promising here is a whole person, a complete individual, an unrelenting force for good. Once again, I can think of no one better than Jesus.

For a moment, forget about him being true God. He was also true Man and as true Man he needed and received the Holy Spirit’s guidance. How did the fruit of the Spirit show through in the life of Jesus? Over and over again the Gospel writers remark how Jesus loved people. He loved the young ruler who thought he was good enough to be a follower of Jesus. He showed the full extent of his love by washing his disciples’ feet. There was a joy in Jesus, exulting that the Father should reveal his plan of salvation to babes and infants and hide it from the wise. He was at peace with himself, never stressed, never pushing things. He knew when to let up, spend some quiet time apart with his disciples, and he knew when to put the pedal to the metal. He was patient to a fault, patient with his constantly erring disciples, patient with the Pharisees who hounded him like dogs on a fox hunt. Faithfulness? Though it would cost him his life he bowed to his heavenly Father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. What self-control did it take not to call twelve legions of angels to prevent his arrest? Was there ever man like this?

The Holy Spirit promises to bring forth that fruit in our lives, too. Oh, you may not see it. You are too close. You are with yourself 24/7. That’s why we don’t realize we’ve aged—we keep seeing ourselves in a mirror every day and never notice the incremental changes. But our classmates who haven’t seen us for 25 years, oh, boy, they don’t recognize us at all! But if you could look back at the way we were ten years ago, twenty, thirty years. Oh, my! What a difference! And it wasn’t because we became parents. It wasn’t because age slowed us down. It was because the Holy Spirit was working on us, day after day, carefully bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. The Spirit is not going to stop working on us until the day we enter heaven. That’s part of the glory we will have in heaven--we will fully display the Spirit’s fruit. Our former husband or wife will wail that they would have been absolutely ecstatic had we been half that person while we were on earth! Just one more reason to stay close to Jesus. We don’t want to miss out on a heaven full of the most wonderful people God could ever create.

We live by the Spirit. Notice that Gospel motivation there? The Holy Spirit creates spiritual life in our hearts. He nurtures and sustains it through the Gospel, the saving promises of our God. Let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Let us keep in step with the Spirit. There is something within us that always winds down, slows down, loses a step. It is built into our universe. They taught us in physics (in the days of the dinosaurs we also called it physics) it was something called entropy. Ordered systems tend to break down. Put another way, disorder increases. I wonder if that’s God’s curse on sin. The center of anything in this world will not hold, cannot hold.

But let’s get off the ivory tower and bring this down to the level of the pragmatic Lutherans you and I are. There is a force in us that wants to back off, take it easy, slow down. We want to complain that we can’t keep up the pace, but always end up five steps behind the leader, no matter how fast he goes. And that’s the secret to keeping in step with the Holy Spirit. Keep pace with him. We won’t lead him. He leads us. That’s his job as surely as the pace car in a race is to set the pace when the yellow flag is out. But the Holy Spirit isn’t there to slow us down. He’s there to keep us going, keep us going faster and farther than we thought we ever could go. The Holy Spirit sets the pace for a married couple so they celebrate 17 years together, 25, 50 years as husband and wife. The Holy Spirit sets the pace for a believer so they keep believing all their life. The Holy Spirit sets the pace for a parent so they are still praying for their children, even when their children are in their 50s. No, we can’t outpace the Holy Spirit. Those who try to go beyond what the Holy Spirit has in mind end up shipwrecking their faith with false teaching and false living. There are Ten Commandments. We need no more to lead a godly life.

The Gospel brings that determination in us. I want to keep in step with the Spirit. So I am going to step it up. I am not going to look for the easy path in my Christian life. I am going to resist sitting back and letting “somebody” do it. Oh, the Lord will raise “somebody” to do it as surely as he raised David to take over the fallen throne of King Saul. But look at all Saul lost. I don’t want to lose out on the blessings the Spirit has in store for me already in this life. I want to step it up. I know the Spirit will give me the spiritual grit to step it up. And, in looking back, I, you, we all will be amazed at how far we have come. So we press on, not because we must, but because we want to.

Step It Up

1. Christ freed us to love one another (1, 13-15).

2. The Spirit guides us to fight our sinful nature (16-21).

3. The Spirit sets the pace to bring forth fruit in our lives (22-25).

Yes, the budding scholars at Greenspun can be a sorry lot when they do laps for Phys Ed. I am amused every time I drive by. The swift, the agile, the willing and then the other 85 percent. A motley crew if ever there was one.

To the world we Christians must appear to be an equally motley crew. Always striving, always pushing, always eager and willing to do our utmost for our God. But even as the cynical world goes away with a smirk on their face over these naïve Christians, how they are filled with envy and long to be able to run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint.

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