We’ve been talking about the heavy loads we carry when we try to do life without Jesus for a month now. This past Sunday morning we flipped the script and talked about why life with Him is so much better than life without. Don’t miss this powerful conclusion to our series. Then, make sure to tune in starting next week as we see together through the story of Jesus’ birth how God turned the world upside down. Thanks for reading and sharing.
The Sweet Life
Alright, as we get started this morning, I have a confession to make. This may come as a surprise to some of you, so I want to make sure you’re all sitting down. I’ll wait. Okay, good. Here goes nothing. Try not to act shocked if this catches you completely off guard. I have a bit of a sweet tooth. No, seriously, I do. I love sweets. There aren’t too many I don’t like. I’m not all that thrilled with dark chocolate. Nougat isn’t really one I’ll rescue from the post-Halloween garbage dump either. The same goes with Milk Duds. I’m not really sure what the point of those are anyway. But other than that, I’m a pretty open book. I actually have a whole desk drawer dedicated to it. Okay, so really it’s more than one, but there’s one primarily committed to candy…and extra file folders because I don’t have anywhere else to put those. You have to dig through a lot of Skittles and Pretzel M&M’s to get to them, though. And I don’t limit myself to candy either. Pastries, cookies, brownies, cakes, most pies (I’m not really a custard guy), donuts (I’d probably knock you out of the way for a donut if I was hungry), and Dot Alsobrooks cinnamon rolls.
The only real trouble with a sweet tooth is that most of that stuff isn’t very good for you. Now, I don’t eat that stuff all the time. A family size bag of Pretzel M&M’s will last me for a few weeks. It would probably be longer if I could get my hands on a party-sized bag, but Walmart sells party-sized bags for every variety of M&M’s except pretzel…not that I’m bitter about that or anything. And we don’t honestly keep that kind of stuff around the house very often (admittedly, in part because it gets eaten). But did you know there are some sweets that aren’t bad for you? There are some foods that are sweet and you don’t have to feel guilty about eating them in even the slightest amount. Exhibit A: fruit. Other than something like a lemon, fruit is generally sweet…and good for you. It’s hard to beat that. Because, my friends, life is just better with sweets.
Well, this morning finds us at the end of our series, A Heavy Load. For the last month we have been talking about the challenges inherent in trying to do life apart from Jesus. The reason we’ve been talking about this is because we spend way more of our lives than wisdom would suggest is prudent trying to do it–life without Jesus, that is. And, as we’ve talked about, there are all kinds of reasons that would seem to justify that effort. You may simply not believe in Him, and so you’re wondering why we’re even talking about this. You may have been taught you aren’t supposed to bother Him with the small stuff, but you don’t want to embarrass yourself by bringing Him the ugly stuff. It could be you were made to feel inadequate to the challenge of life when you were growing up and so try to do it all on your own just to show them you can. There may be yet more reasons you try to do life without Jesus, but as we’ve said again and again in this series, the end result is always the same: life is harder than it has to be.
We’ve spent this journey so far looking at some of the different heavy loads we try to bear without Jesus. We started with anger and the reminder that our anger doesn’t solve problems. God’s kindness does. Then we talked about fear. As we said then, fear falls apart in the face of trust in Jesus. A couple weeks ago we tackled envy. We desire the things other people have because we think they’ll make us full, but envy only ever leaves us empty. Contentment fills us up. Finally, last week we took a look at the loneliness of life without Jesus. This is something far too many folks face whether by choice or circumstance. The truth, though, is that life was never meant to be something we do on our own. We need each other. Following Jesus is a team sport.
This morning, as we wrap up this conversation, I want to do something different than we’ve done so far along the journey. We’re going to flip the script. We’ve been talking about all of this through a negative lens–why life is heavy without Jesus. We’ve been talking about the challenges of doing life without Jesus. Today, we’re going to talk about the joys of doing life with Him. Life with Jesus is sweet and it is free. And I want to help you see this with a passage from Paul’s letter to the churches in the region of Galatia which ran along the Mediterranean coast of modern Turkey. If you’ve got a copy of the Scriptures handy this morning, find your way with me to Galatians 5, and let’s see what Paul had to say about freedom and a sweet life.
One of Paul’s major concerns throughout his letter to the believers across Galatia is that they learn to live in and with the incredible freedom that is found in a relationship with Jesus. Getting down to chapter 5, Paul opens with a call to do just that. Look at this with me: “For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” In other words, if you have experienced the freedom that comes from Jesus, don’t put yourself back in a box of slavery. But what does Paul mean? How do we put ourselves back in slavery? And notice the language. Finding ourselves in a place of slavery again after we have experienced the freedom of a relationship with Jesus is not something that is done to us. We do it to ourselves.
One of the ways Paul saw the Galatian believers doing this was by trying to add extra layers of obedience to their salvation experience. More specifically, they were adding elements of law-keeping. There were some folks who were saying that while following Jesus was certainly good, if you really wanted to be right with God, you had to keep the Law of Moses. Paul wasn’t very patient with this kind of thinking. Come back to the text with me in v. 2: “Take note! I, Paul, am telling you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all. Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to do the entire law. You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace. For we eagerly await through the Spirit, by faith, the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.”
Paul’s point here is that salvation and the freedom it brings us are either granted to us by faith or earned by works. You can’t have a little bit of each. It’s all of one or all of the other. Paul’s position is that it’s all faith from top to bottom. You can do things as a way of reflecting your gratitude for your salvation, but don’t ever let yourself start to think you are somehow contributing to your salvation by such efforts.
Like the burdens we have been talking about in this journey, the heresy into which the Galatian believers were falling was not something large and glaring. It was subtle false doctrine. So often, our own falls into doing life without Jesus come from small errors in thinking that weren’t corrected and gradually grew into something entirely larger and more destructive than that. It just takes a single wrong idea about God to lead us off into some pretty deep weeds. It is this kind of thing Paul points us to in the next section here. Look at this in v. 7 now: “You were running well. Who prevented you from being persuaded regarding the truth? This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough. I myself am persuaded in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.”
Paul finally lands on something here in v. 13 that points us pretty firmly in the direction I want for us to go this morning. Listen to this and then we’ll talk about it for a second. “For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.”
So, what’s Paul saying here? In Christ we have this incredible freedom. It is the freedom to do and be whatever our hearts desire. If we use our freedom to love one another–something that will keep us firmly on the path of Christ–there won’t be any limitations we will experience. But if we don’t take that path, if what our hearts desire are things that pull us away from the path of Christ, that freedom we had before is going to be diminished. The further from the path we go, the less freedom we will have. The reason for this gets right at the heart of what we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks. Life without Jesus gets heavy. Whether the load is from anger or fear or envy or loneliness or you pick the particular load you might be bearing in your life right now, we’re not going to carry that load very far before we start trying to look for ways to lighten it some. Well, there are only two places we can look for that help: Jesus or sin.
You see, sin promises to lighten our load. That’s why it always looks so good. When you get really angry, sin says, “If you’ll just lash out at your coworkers or maybe your family members, you’ll feel better.” It says, “Look, I know you can’t do anything about that one thing that made you so angry, but if you can’t hate the one who caused it, hate the ones you’re with. They make you mad enough on their own anyway. They probably deserve it.” And when you vent your spleen on someone like this, in the moment you’ll feel better. It looks like sin kept its promise. But it didn’t really because now you have a broken relationship that is only going to add another load to your already heavy burden. The same kind of thinking can play itself out through fear or envy or loneliness or anything else we might be carrying. And listen: I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know. I’m not setting before you anything you haven’t already experienced. That’s what sin does. And apart from Jesus, sin is all there is.
The thing about sin, though, is that it is a trap. Think about it. Have you ever been trapped by a fear of some kind? That fear had control of your life and everything you did you did because of that fear. There were places you couldn’t go, activities you couldn’t pursue, relationships you couldn’t develop, and on and on it went because you were being controlled by that fear. The same goes with envy. And anger. And loneliness. And whatever else you might be struggling to overcome. There is no freedom to be found there. We can say we desire freedom all we want, but as long as we keep doing life apart from Jesus, we’re never going to experience it because there isn’t freedom apart from Jesus.
Of course, my saying that may raise a question in your mind as to what exactly freedom is. I mean, you probably thought you were free. You don’t feel particularly compelled upon to make any of the decisions you make on a daily basis. But that’s just it: the slavery of sin is subtle. It mostly leaves us alone…until we try to not sin. Then it starts to reel us back in. Sin reminds us of the pressures of trying to do the right thing. It’s just easier to let a few things slide. Yes, life feels hard every now and then, but you can always medicate that away. At least you can until you can’t any longer. Sin starts us out in a cage that seems pretty spacious at first. We may not even notice the bars. But then we lash out from that anger we are carrying to make ourselves feel better, and the cage gets a little smaller. Then we let that fear dictate how we can interact with the people around us, and it gets a little smaller. We let our envy of what someone else has lead us to do damage to our relationship with them, and it gets a little smaller. In our loneliness we find a way to make ourselves feel a little less lonely on the internet, and it gets just a little bit smaller still. And all of a sudden, we start to realize just how trapped we really are.
It turns out our understanding of freedom wasn’t really as good as we thought. Biblical freedom, real freedom, the freedom found in a relationship with Jesus isn’t about being free from this or that. It is the freedom for pursuing our heart’s desire when our heart’s desire is being properly shaped by that relationship with Jesus.
Well, look where Paul goes next in v. 16: “I say then, walk by the Spirit…” Pause there a second. When Paul uses this kind of language what he means is that we are to live our lives under the guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit which we can do when we are living out of a relationship with Jesus. There is no access to the Holy Spirit and the help He provides on our own. We put our faith in Jesus–that He died and rose again and is Lord of all creation including our own lives–and He sends the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our hearts to provide us the help we need to live comfortably in the freedom we have in Him. “I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
Do you hear what he’s saying there? When you try to do life on your own, you tend to do what you want to do. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, you’re doing life on your terms. Of course you’re going to do what you want to do. The problem is that what you want to do and what Jesus wants to do don’t always line up so well. In fact, they may not line up very often at all. And the reason for this Paul spells out in the next verse: “For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.” In other words…you’re not free. What you want when there aren’t any external restrictions to your achieving that often isn’t very good for you, for the people around you, or both. As a result, we all have to live with some external restrictions so we don’t just burn the place down. And the more we try to have what we want, the more restrictions tend to become necessary. In other words…we’re not free. All of these restrictions have a name: law. The more we try to do what we want, the more laws become necessary to keep us from getting the worst of it. Well, the more laws we live with, the less free we are. But when we give up what we want and give in to what Jesus wants, that all begins to change. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” The reason for this is that what Jesus wants is always good for you and for the people around you. No laws necessary.
Paul goes on to list a sampling of the kinds of things we tend toward when operating on our own. It’s not a pretty list. He wraps it up with the rather uncomfortable reminder that living for what we want is not the way to get to Jesus. But then, in v. 22, Paul lays out some of what comes when we live life Jesus’ way. He calls these things the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, these are the kinds of things that will grow in your life when you let Jesus live through you by way of the Holy Spirit. But while we can’t push any illustration in the Scriptures too far, this is one we should push just a bit further than it often gets pushed. Where does fruit come from? A plant. Where did that plant come from? A seed. Do seeds grow and produce fruit immediately? They don’t, do they? There’s sometimes a bit of lag between planting and harvesting. This means that if you have been living life your way and decide right here and now to live life Jesus’ way, you may not see some of these fruits coming to bear in your life immediately.
What you will do is to plant a seed. To start enjoying the fruit from that seed, you’re going to have to be patient. But if you’ll commit to the path of Jesus, these fruits will grow. And if that seems like a lot of trouble to go through just to get there, just think back over the kinds of things your life was producing without Jesus. Those things tended to be pretty bitter, didn’t they? Doing life with Jesus is going to mean saying no to the things you naturally want. That’s not necessarily very much fun at first; especially if you’re used to getting the things you want. But if you’ll stick with it, I can guarantee you two things will happen. First, the things you want will start to change. After a while of experiencing the things Jesus wants and the results of those happening, you’ll start to prefer those to the things you want. That’s called sanctification. Second, you will start to notice fruit growing in your life. The fruit of the Spirit is a whole lot sweeter than what you can produce on your own, and life is just better with sweets. Life with Jesus is a truly sweet affair.
So, what are these fruits? Come back to the text with me: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Now, can we all be honest with each other in here? Who wouldn’t want more of those kinds of things in your life? Have you been living with anger? Love and joy will take care of that. How about fear? Peace will wash that away. Envy? Patience and self-control should nip that in the bud. Loneliness? Someone who is kind, good, gentle, and faithful will never lack for companionship. Each and every one of the heavy loads we bear when we try to do life apart from Jesus will be lightened by these fruits. They make life sweeter.
As Paul goes on to note in the rest of v. 23, they enable us to live with the freedom found in Christ: “The law is not against such things.” Never has there been or will there be a law demanding that people be less loving. Joyful people may drive you crazy when you’re not feeling it too, but you’re not going to go to the courts to somehow steal their joy. Peaceful people don’t even break laws. On and on we could go down this list. When you commit to doing life with Jesus and these kinds of things begin manifesting themselves in your life, you will be able to pursue your heart’s deepest desires–desires which have themselves been transformed by the Spirit–and no one is going to be able to stop you. You will be the freest you have ever been. Life with Jesus is a truly sweet affair.
Now, if you’re at all like me, you may be asking a pretty important question at this point: How do we manage this? Paul lands here and so will we: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Whoa, whoa, whoa! We have to kill ourselves to get this right? Thankfully, no. Jesus took that shot for us. What Paul is saying is that our break with what we want when we’re doing life on our own has to be so complete and total that it’s like we’ve killed it. Because if it’s not, that stuff is in us deep. It’s rooted in who we are apart from Christ. If we don’t kill it, it’ll grow back. And killing it is part of what the Spirit does in us. He gets in our heart and does a thorough house cleaning. He goes all the way to the bottom–which isn’t exactly all that much fun in the moment, by the way–and cleans out the poisonous stuff in there so the new seeds He’s planting can grow healthy and strong and produce the sweet fruits that will bless everyone around us. Life with Jesus is a truly sweet affair.
One last thing. Verse 25: “If we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” If you’ve committed to this stuff, stick with it. If you’re thinking about committing to this stuff, don’t come in thinking you can give it half an effort. Jesus isn’t interested in having some of your life. He wants the whole thing. He wants you to be free. He doesn’t want to see you carrying that burden you are trying to shoulder without Him. He made as much perfectly clear in Matthew 11: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
If you are carrying a heavy load from trying to do life without Jesus, I would like to invite you to put it down. Stop doing life on your own. It’s just not worth it. What you put in isn’t nearly what you get out. Instead, take a concrete step this morning toward doing life with Jesus. It’s an easy thing to do. Paul spelled it out about as simply as he could in Romans 10: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That’s it. Simple. And when you do that, the Holy Spirit comes flooding into your life and starts lightening your load. It won’t be an overnight process, but you will experience His presence and help immediately and that will make the aches you may still experience for a little while from the load you’ve been carrying easier to handle. In the end, life and freedom will be your reward. Life that lasts forever then, and is a truly sweet affair now. If this is something you are ready to do, I’m all ears. Let’s get together as soon as we can and talk about it. Life with Jesus is a truly sweet affair. Don’t waste another second living any other way.