Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace

“Dear God, I’m doing the best I can.” —Frank (a 7 year-old, in Children’s Letters to God)

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

2 Kings 2:1-14
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:13-25
Luke 9:51-62

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:19-25 NKJV).”

PRAYER FOCUS: The Fruit of the Spirit

You just have to love American Country Music. It doesn’t appeal to everyone, and sometimes the lyrics need a bit of translating to people who don’t routinely listen to it. But there’s no denying that you can stumble across golden nuggets of wisdom in a country song.

Consider “Raising Hell and Amazing Grace” by Big and Rich.

Somewhere between raising hell and amazing grace
Is a place I keep finding myself
Yeah I get a little crazy trying to have a little fun
Then I end up back where I started from
Down on my knees, I pray
Oh Lord let me see another day
Somewhere between raising hell and amazing grace

The songwriters describe the struggle of someone who tries to live a “good” life, who knows the Bible and loves Jesus Christ, but who lives a worldly life as well, drinking and carousing on Friday nights. And so he lives in this place between the sin he engages in (“raising hell”) and the amazing grace he receives from God. The song might make more sense to an American Christian in Gulfport, Mississippi, or Houston, Texas, than to a Christian in say, New York or London. And the translation from English to Tagalog or Arabic or Portuguese might get interesting, if not downright awkward.

Don’t get us wrong, here. We’re not trying to promote any lifestyle other than becoming the “holy temple acceptable to God” that we pray for this week. But we’re not naïve enough to think that Christians live and work in any world other than the real one. We sing about our lives because the things we live are real. And this particular American country song some of you may have never before heard expresses not only the reality of many Christian lives, but also captures the very essence of what Paul is trying to explain to the Galatians in chapter 5, verses 22-23.

Writing in the original Greek text, Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit as having nine attributes. Since there is no one suitable word in Greek he uses the singular to say the fruit of the spirit is “love-joy-peace-patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness-gentleness-self-control”. The Apostle may have been thinking of the Hebrew word chasad (or chesed), which, although rich with meaning in the Hebrew language, doesn’t translate well into either Greek or English.

That means if you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, you already have this fruit-with-nine-names. The key concept is that it is one fruit. If you are loving, will you not also have joy? If you have love and joy, will you not also have peace and patience? Will you not also have the virtues of kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? But like any fruit, the Fruit of the Spirit does not spring automatically from our lives. We need to cultivate it from its bud to full maturity.

You might be kind and good, but need to work on your patience. You might have great joy and peace but need work on self-control and gentleness. The country song by Big and Rich is a tragic lament about finding one’s self “back where I started from” after being drunk on Friday and hung over all of Saturday.

Make no mistake: the “acts of the flesh” that Paul lists in verses 19-21 will war against the Fruit of the Spirit. In fact they are contrary to each other (v. 17). Fleshly behaviors hurt us. They hurt others. It is not enough to point to one or more characteristics of the Spirit’s Fruit and reason that it somehow offsets or compensates for our sinful acts.

Paul closes by exhorting the Galatians, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (v 25). So let it be with us. Yesterday in church, we worshiped God and celebrated our acceptance as His own sons and daughters. But sometime this week some of us may find ourselves “down on our knees” (again).

It’s Monday Morning. Let us pray that by living in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit we might better grow and show His Fruit. (There’s probably another country song in that…)

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