Sunday, April 23, 2017

Choices

One very important reason God wrote the Bible is to help us understand how reality works. And that’s really good because there are many counterfeit explanations of reality. Remember, Satan is the great counterfeiter. Sad to say, we’ve all been fooled by him and his lies. We don’t understand, as well as we might, how reality actually works. But Jesus has come to change that.

So, what’s the nature of reality - how does reality work - when it comes to our making choices? That’s what we’re going to take a look at this morning. And to do that we’re going to use something Paul wrote. Listen.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6.7-9


Paul is writing about choosing. He uses the image of a farmer who spreads seed in the anticipation of a harvest. He sows one kind of seed in the expectation that he will reap some corn. He sows a different kind of seed in the expectation that he will reap some wheat. He sows thinking about what he will reap.

Paul takes that and uses it to explain what Christians are doing when we choose this or that. When we sow one kind of seed, that is, make one kind of decision, we should expect a certain kind of harvest. A different kind of decision will result in reaping a different kind of harvest.

Paul teaches that we are either sowing to our own flesh or sowing to the Spirit. In each case, there will be a harvest, though what that harvest will be depends on what we are sowing. Sowing to the flesh will result in a harvest of corruption. Sowing to the Spirit will result in a harvest of eternal life.

Now, the first thing I’d like you to notice is that there are only two kinds of choices. Every choice will lead to either a harvest of corruption or a harvest of life. There is no third option, something that is neither of these, something sort of neutral. For every choice, it’s one or it’s the other. This is reality.

Now, let’s take a little time to work on definitions. What exactly are these two harvests?

One harvest is corruption. What’s that? What is the Spirit warning us about here? Well, when you hear ‘corruption’ you should think: foul and dead, something that is rotten and putrid, something disgusting. Corruption is like some animal that’s been dead for a while and stinking to high heaven. But please bear in mind that this corruption isn’t referring to something over there. What is corrupted - what is foul, dead, rotten, putrid, disgusting - would be you.

The other harvest is eternal life. This is the exact opposite of any corruption. This harvest is all about what is beautiful and lively. It’s the luscious aroma of bread that’s baking in the oven or a really good cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It’s bliss and happiness. Peace and calmness. A hug that lingers. It’s all sorts of good things, wrapped up into one package. It’s the life of God.

These are the two harvests, the two consequences of our choices. And those choices will lead us to the one harvest or the other. There is no third harvest. This is reality.

Now, reality functions in this way because of God. He makes reality work in the way that it does. He is the one who guarantees these two harvests. That’s what Paul was getting at when he wrote,

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. Galatians 6:7

So, the connection between our choices and what we harvest is a sure thing. And anyone thinking that they can somehow get around this bit of reality is trying to act in a way that will mock God - and that will never work.

All of this is a great encouragement to those who are working at sowing to the Spirit. For these, there will be a glorious harvest, a harvest of life. And that is so good. However, Paul understands that there is more to this picture.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

The work of wisely sowing is hard work. And it’s easy to grow weary of it all. It’s easy to grow weary and to give up. So, Paul stresses that there will be a glorious harvest of life - God guarantees it - but only if we don’t give up. This is Paul cheering the saints on. ‘Keep at it! Keep at it! It will be worth the effort. God promises.’ That he feels the need to cheer the saints makes clear that doing this is hard.

There is also a warning here. Bear in mind that Paul wrote these words to Christians. He was warning those Christians - as the Spirit is warning us - that choosing to sow to the flesh has dire results: corruption. It’s how reality functions. Be careful how you choose. The consequences are serious.

Now, I’ve left out one very important aspect of our text. Have you noticed what it is? I have defined the harvests. But what’s this sowing? What does it mean to sow to the flesh or to sow to the Spirit? Everything hangs on those definitions. And it’s all too possible to define them in ways that will mislead and result in harvesting corruption.

One lame definition of sowing to the Spirit boils down to being a nice religious person. But that can’t be right. Jesus wasn’t a nice religious person. And then, there have been those who have defined how we choose in such a way that we all are so totally corrupt that there is no hope of becoming anything other than that. How discouraging. So, getting the definitions right is really important.

Here are a couple of simple, but accurate, definitions. Sowing to your own flesh is about having your choices being motivated by this one goal: What will benefit me? Then there’s sowing to the Spirit. That’s being motivated by a very different goal: What will benefit Jesus? You can define these with more complexity. But why bother? What I’ve told you, though simple, covers the territory quite well. What will benefit me? What will benefit Jesus?

This fits some things that Jesus said about being one of His disciples.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34

I think that you can see that self-denial, being ready to die to your dreams and then watching Jesus so that you can imitate Him fits quite well with this definition of sowing to the Spirit.

Then, there’s also this.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:35

What is sowing to your own flesh but trying to save your life, trying to satisfy your desires in the here and now, something that will result in losing everything. And while sowing to the Spirit, that is, choosing what will benefit Jesus, will cost you - it will, in fact, cost you your life - it will result in actually saving it. It will result in enjoying the life of God, now and forever.

All that I’ve said in this sermon turns on these definitions. Where’s your motivation when it comes to making choices? Whose benefit are you desiring and aiming for?

Now, you’re getting this if you’re beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. This is very different from reminding you, say, not to steal. That’s pretty black and white. Either you took the candy bar without paying for it, or you didn’t. But when it comes to evaluating the motives of the heart, things get much more difficult. And something else from God’s explanation of reality tells us why.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

Sometimes the last person to know the motives of your heart is yourself.

So, in light of what I’ve told you, there is one more thing that I really have to talk to you about this morning. And I think that the need to talk about this topic is obvious. I want to talk to you about the necessity of prayer.

There are two prayers that I regularly offer up to the Father. Here’s the first.

Father,
Reveal more of my sin to me,
along with more of your grace,
that I might repent of my sin
and do better at following Jesus. Amen.

It is my honest desire to follow Jesus, to make decisions that have at their heart the goal of benefitting Him. However, I know that I have missed that mark - and continue to miss that mark - a lot. All too often, the benefit that I aim for is my own. So, if I am going to make any progress in this sowing to the Spirit, I will need to be changed. And not merely changed in the habits of my behavior but, more importantly, in the motives of my heart. So, repenting of my sins of wrong choices, of wrong goals, is indispensable. It just makes sense for me to ask the Father to show me where I am choosing sinfully. I do this so that I can repent. I do this in the hope that the Spirit will change me into someone who is doing better at following Jesus. I’m guessing that you all need to pray something similar.

Then, there’s this prayer.

Purify my mind,
strengthen my heart,
soothe my soul I pray,
for I am Yours. Amen.

I ask for purity of mind because that’s where the battles start. Paul elsewhere uses this flesh/Spirit pair when he contrasts setting the mind on the flesh with setting the mind on the Spirit. [Romans 8.5ff.] The battle starts in the mind.

Continuing the battle will take a heart that is resolved to fight until victory. And that is hard. So, it makes sense for me to ask the Father to strengthen my heart for the battles of each day.

These battles of life can be wearying. And that’s not primarily a weariness of the body. It’s more about a weariness of the soul. Remember Paul’s exhortation here about not giving in to the weariness. And he wasn’t the only one who knew about weariness. Jesus talked about enduring to the end. So, once more, it only makes sense for me to ask for the Spirit’s comfort of my soul so that I will not give up but rather endure to the end.

And in all of this, I am confident that the Father will hear this prayer of mine and grant it because of who I am. I am His.

Again, I’m guessing that you all need to pray something similar.

Let me remind you of my goal for this sermon - and actually all of my sermons. I want to help you to understand reality. Life in this evil, broken, wicked world is hard. Jesus calls us to live in ways that just aren’t natural to our fallen souls. But to answer His call, to work at sowing to the Spirit, is the path away from the stench of corruption and toward the glories of eternal life. It only makes sense to strive to live His way and that by His grace.

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