Does Jesus Live in Oak Park?

Galatians 5:19-26

"Perfect what you have begun, and grant me what you have made me long for.” Prayer of Anselm of Canterbury

This week I was reading a massive book by Donald L. Miller called City of the Century. Subtitled “The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America,” it traces Chicago from its earliest days as a desolate fur-trading outpost to its emergence as a world-class city by 1900. One of the last chapters is called “If Christ Came to Chicago!” based on a book by that title written in 1894 by William Stead. It was a typically utopian 19th-century idea, but one that still stirs the imagination.

What if Jesus came to Chicago? What would he do? What would he say? Just to ask the question is to spawn a thousand others. And today’s young people by the millions have asked the question through those cloth bracelets with four capital letters: WWJD. What would Jesus do?

The idea of Jesus walking the earth today is thrilling and provocative. Last month I visited Word of Life Island in Schroon Lake, New York. As I entered the “Rock Dome” filled with hundreds of cheering teenagers, I saw a sign posted where everyone could see it: “Jesus Walks on This Island. Will you meet him this week?” It was startling to see the words put that way. Jesus lived 2,000 years ago and walked the dusty roads of ancient Judea. Does he still walk the earth today?

Does Jesus live in Oak Park? Each time I announced my sermon title to the congregation, it immediately drew a chuckle. I wonder what the laughter meant. Do we think it impossible that Jesus would come to Oak Park? Or do we suppose that the people of Oak Park would not welcome him? On that point even if we answer no, we should remember that he was rejected when he came to the earth 20 centuries ago. Though society has advanced greatly in knowledge and sophistication, the heart of man has not changed at all.

Our passage is a backdoor to the question I am asking. In Galatians 5:19-26 we are invited to consider two different ways of life. One is called the “acts of the sinful nature” or the “works of the flesh.” It describes what life looks like without God. Or to say it another way, living by the flesh is what happens when you decide to go your own way all the time.

The other way of life is called the “fruit of the Spirit.” It describes a life filled with supernatural power and dominated by qualities that could only come from God.

We are invited in this passage to consider the way we are living. Which path are we following? Flesh or Spirit? Life or death? Supernatural power or continual self-indulgence? As we shall see, living by the flesh is natural and even easy in the sense that we are all pulled in that direction. If we want to live in the Spirit, we have some tough choices to make. And we have to make them every day. But when we choose to live by the Spirit’s power, something supernatural happens.

Does Jesus live where you live? Keep reading. The answer depends on you.

I. The Works of the Flesh 19-21

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

This long and discouraging list serves several purposes. A close examination reveals that the various sins seem to fall into four categories. First, there are the sexual sins: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery. The first term refers to any sexual activity outside of marriage and includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, and all forms of pornography. Impurity speaks to the inner desire to experiment in these areas. It is what many people would do if they thought they would never get caught. Debauchery is sometimes translated as “lewdness.” It describes a brazen attitude that says, “I’m going to flaunt my sexual behavior in public and I don’t care what anyone thinks of it.”

Second, there are the religious sins: idolatry and witchcraft. Idolatry is a broad term that refers to anything good that becomes more important than God. It could refer to an inordinate love of money or possessions or of your career or even of another person who becomes more important than God to you. Witchcraft translates a Greek word related to our English word “pharmacy.” It covers drug abuse, sorcery, black magic, necromancy, reincarnation, voodoo, and what we generally call the New Age Movement.

Third, there are the social sins: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy. Hatred describes a settled hostility that distorts all human relationships. Discord means you can’t get along with people. Jealousy means you want what they have. Fits of rage means you lose your temper and then make excuses for it. Selfish ambition describes a person who wants more and more and when he has it, is not satisfied. Dissensions speak of those who enjoy causing trouble. Factions are created by talented troublemakers. Envy is an ugly sin that says, “I want what you have and I wish you didn’t have it.” Wherever these sins appear, human relationships are marred and broken.

Fourth, there are sins of excess: drunkenness and orgies. Drunkenness speaks not only of the abuse of alcohol but of its dominating, destructive control in a person’s life. Orgies is a word sometimes translated by “revelries.” You might call it “wild parties.” It certainly applies to things like fraternity parties, weekend parties, drinking parties, parties where the parents are not home, many after-hours office parties, New Year’s Eve parties, and so on. These are get-togethers where there is a combination of alcohol, exhibitionism, lowering of inhibitions, and eventually, sexual immorality.

In verse 21 Paul adds the phrase “and the like,” which means that this list is suggestive, not exhaustive. There are many other “works of the flesh.” But however long the list may be, these sins are “obvious.” Living by the flesh always produces bad results. If you decide to leave God out of your life, you won’t be able to hide the consequences. What is in the heart will reveal itself in your life (for better or for worse) sooner or later. Everything that is covered will one day be made plain. You can hide the flesh under a veil of religion and morality but it won’t stay veiled forever.

The most important point to notice is that these sins mark an unregenerate life. When Paul says that those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God, he is referring not to an act but to an entire way of life. In the end, you can have the flesh or you can have the Kingdom of God, but you can’t have both. They are mutually exclusive. Adulterers and murderers and idolaters will not go to heaven. For that matter, those whose lives are characterized by hatred and envy won’t go there either. While it is true that all of us fall into these sins at one time or another, true Christians feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit and we eventually turn our hearts once again toward heaven. There is a true sense in which exclusion from heaven is man’s responsibility. He will not come to God because he loves the pull of the flesh too much. Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. Those who go to hell are in the end those who have chosen to go there.

Heaven will be inherited by every man who has heaven in his soul. Those who live like hell will one day live in hell.

II. The Fruit of the Spirit 22-23

“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” (Galatians 2:22-23).

But there is another way to live. Paul calls it the “fruit of the Spirit.” The nine graces here enumerated are like a cluster of ripe grapes. These are not “fruits” of the Spirit but simply the “fruit” of the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit has free reign in our hearts, these graces are the supernatural result of his work in us.

Traditionally, these nine character qualities have been divided into three triads. First, there are three qualities that join us to God: love, joy and peace. Love speaks of a kind affection that reaches out to another person without regard to anything that might be received in return. Joy is godly optimism even in trying circumstances. Peace is godly contentment in spite of our circumstances. In the deepest sense, these graces come from God and lead us back to him.

The second triad of qualities reaches out to those around us: patience, kindness and goodness. Patience might be better translated by the traditional phrase “longsuffering.” It speaks of courageous endurance over time in difficult circumstances. Kindness refers to a gracious disposition toward others. Goodness is love in action.

The third triad includes three qualities that describe our inner character: faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Faithfulness means something like “dependability.” The person with this quality keeps his word, his promises, and his vows. Gentleness is often translated “meekness,” which doesn’t mean “weakness” but rather “my power under God’s control.” It’s the ability to respond with kindness under provocation when you are sorely tempted to blow your top. Self-control is “my desires under God’s control.” It especially speaks to those moments of temptation when we want to go somewhere or do something or try something or look at something that we know would not be good for us. It speaks also of the times when we break a relationship that we know is not leading us where God wants us to go.

I find it helpful to compare the “works” of the flesh with the “fruit” of the Spirit. Clearly, there is a huge difference in the two categories—not just in their result but in their origin. Fruit comes from life and life comes from the Holy Spirit. The “fruit” of the Spirit is only possible as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit who lives in us. To say it another way, we produce the “works of the flesh,” but the “fruit of the Spirit” is produced in us by the Holy Spirit as we cooperate day by day with him.

As we consider these two ways of life, it helps to remember that flesh produces only sin; it cannot manufacture a changed life. If we want the “fruit of the Spirit,” we can have it, but we must apply to God for it. That is, we must seek it, ask for it, and yield ourselves to God that we might have it. Left to ourselves, we will produce the “works of the flesh.” Only when God enters our lives will we discover the “fruit of the Spirit.”

III. God’s Design for Daily Living 24-26

Our text closes with three verses that lay before us the challenge of rejecting the flesh and living in the power of the Spirit. Having shown us two ways to live, Paul now shows us how we can choose the right path every day. His advice is simple—but it is not easy to follow. If you want the “fruit of the Spirit,” you can have it, but it will not come cheaply.

A. Keep the flesh crucified. 24

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).

The most helpful commentary I have read on this verse comes from John Stott. He points out that this verse is quite different from Galatians 2:20. In the latter verse, Paul says that we have been crucified with Christ. But in Galatians 5:24, we do the crucifying. What he means is this. When you came to Christ, you said to yourself, “I no longer want to live in the power of the flesh. I’m tired of sin and failure and compromise and living for myself. No longer will I walk in the path of sin.” By coming to Christ, you symbolically nailed your own flesh to the cross of Christ. You made a decisive break with your own sinful tendencies and said to your flesh, “You will rule me no more! From now on, Christ will be my master!” That’s what conversion is all about. You took a hammer and nailed your “passions and desires” to the cross.

And many of us said, “That’s that.” We thought we were done with the flesh. But it doesn’t work that way. Crucifixion was a means of death that was deliberately designed to be slow and agonizing. Sometimes the condemned hung on the cross for days before finally succumbing to death. The same is true with our flesh. Even though we crucified it when we came to Christ, it isn’t dead yet. Our real problem is that when the flesh calls to us, we like to go back to the cross, fondle the nails, and begin to take the flesh down from the cross.

But that is precisely what we must not do. Having once crucified the flesh, we must nail it to the cross of death over and over again. This is part of what Jesus meant when he called his disciples to take up their cross “daily” and follow him. We have died to sin and we must die to sin again and again. Martin Luther compares the flesh to a man’s beard. What happens when you shave on Monday? The beard grows back on Tuesday. If you shave on Tuesday, it grows back on Wednesday. If you stop shaving (even for a few days), soon you have stubble everywhere on your face. Crucifying the flesh is like taking a daily shave.

John Stott is quite eloquent on this point. If we are going to follow Christ, we must be brutal with our flesh. Too many of us fondle our sin and then wonder why we give in. We make excuses for our flesh and act surprised when the flesh controls our words and our deeds.

No more wimping out!

No more excuses!

No more pampering your flesh!

There must be a ruthless and uncompromising rejection of sin. We must not go easy on ourselves. Don’t pull the nails out. Instead, every single day by God’s grace, we must take the hammer of faith and the nails of true conviction and hammer our flesh to the cross of death once again. We have declared war on sin; this is no time to resume negotiations.

B. Keep in step with the Spirit. 25

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

The phrase “keep in step” is a military term that describes a soldier standing in the ranks. To his left and right, in front and in back, are a host of other soldiers. His eyes are focused straight ahead on his commanding officer. When the order to move out is given, he steps forward in perfect time, moving with his fellow soldiers, following the lead of his commander. Wherever his commander goes, there he will follow. He does not have to understand, he simply has to obey. And when the commander cries out, “About face!” he turns and marches in the opposite direction.

To be a good soldier, you must not lag behind and you must not go ahead. You “keep in step” as you follow your leader wherever he goes. This is a wonderful image of the Christian life. We are not called to understand all that the Captain of our Salvation has in store for us. We don’t need to know every detail of the Master Plan and we don’t need to know where we will go tomorrow. Our only duty is to get out of bed, get on our knees, and tell the Lord of Hosts that we are reporting for duty. Then we simply follow step by step all day long wherever he leads us. Some days that will mean light marching through green meadows under blue skies with plenty of stops for water and rest. Other days we will march under cloudy skies through deep valleys with hardly a moment for rest. And sometimes the call will come to venture into the darkness where we must trust our Lord to bring us safely to the light once again.

Day by day, step by step, we are always looking and listening and watching to see where the Lord is leading us. As I studied this verse, the words of an old hymn came to mind:

Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling, “Come, follow Me!”

And we see where Thy footprints falling lead us to Thee.

Footprints of Jesus, that make the pathway glow;

We will follow the steps of Jesus where’er they go.

Though they lead o’er the cold, dark mountains, seeking His sheep;

Or along by Siloam’s fountains, helping the weak.

Footprints of Jesus, that make the pathway glow;

We will follow the steps of Jesus where’er they go.

Then at last when on high He sees us, our journey done,

We will rest where the steps of Jesus end at His throne.

Footprints of Jesus, that make the pathway glow;

We will follow the steps of Jesus where’er they go.

One day a man was talking with a friend when a stranger walked past them. “That man has been in the army,” he said. “I know a soldier by his walk.” The world ought to know that we are in the Lord’s army by the way we walk. If people are shocked to discover at your funeral that you were a Christian, then you’ve been following the wrong leader.

C. Keep your heart right toward others. 26

“Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:26).

The final verse reminds us how quickly we can fall into the comparison game. If you want to walk in the Spirit and live by the Spirit and have the fruit of the Spirit, keep your eyes on Jesus, not on the person to your left or your right. Just keep looking at the Savior and everything will work out all right. If you are looking at your friends (in conceit or in envy), then you aren’t looking at Jesus. And if you are gazing at the Lord, then you won’t have time (or the inclination) to worry about anyone else. Keep your eyes on Jesus. That’s the main thing.

As we come to the end of the message, I am struck with the thought that the “fruit of the Spirit” is available to all of us. No one needs to walk in the path of the flesh. We all have a choice to make and we must make it every day. And most of us must make that choice a hundred times a day. Will we walk in the way of the flesh, indulging our desires and producing the ugly “works of the flesh” Paul mentions in this passage? Or will we walk in the Spirit and in step with the Spirit, following his leading moment by moment, allowing him to produce his “fruit” in us?

I began this sermon by asking if Jesus lives in Oak Park. I think I should expand the question to ask: Does Jesus live in Chicago? In Elmwood Park? In Cicero? In Berwyn? In Park Ridge? In Elmhurst? In Wheaton? In Harvey? In Orland Park?

You are the only Bible some people will ever read.

You are the only Jesus some people will ever know.

Does Jesus live where you live? The true answer is, it depends on you.

Lord Jesus, forgive us for taking so lightly the awesome privilege of representing you in the world. For too long we have lived with one foot in the world and one foot in the church. Help us to live so that no one can doubt our allegiance. May our testimony be so clear that everyone can see that we are following you. May those who watch us see Jesus in us. Amen.

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Ray Pritchard

RAY PRITCHARD

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