READ Galatians 5:13-26 (read again verses 19-21)
On Monday evening we were encouraged that the mortality rate from Coronavirus across the UK that day had dropped to 180, the third successive fall. In making this known one of the experts in the government’s evening news conference warned that there may be yet spikes in the figure and that it was too soon to say in a pattern was emerging. He spoke appropriately because last night we were told that over 300 people had died in the previous 24 hour period. The progress of 3 days reversed in one day. We hope that this increase will only be a spike and not a pattern for the future. That would be a worrying trend and our prayers must be that God in his sovereign grace will halt the progress of this virus but additionally, that even now we will learn the lesson that we as a human race are not omnipotent as we thought, that we don’t have power to control our own future entirely as we thought. Perhaps through this we will learn some humility, and Christians must trust God to bring some good from this wreckage.
Today I don’t want to dwell on the catalogue of acts of the flesh listed by Paul but two things are worthy of note as we look at this list of sinful behaviour displayed across the human race. It is easy for us to look at this list and say, this doesn’t bother me and I don’t do that and feel good about ourselves. When we come however to hatred, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and envy, these are things that are quite common and easily hidden or made private. So we shouldn’t think that what he writes here has no application to our hearts, that there are not lessons here for us. Quite truthfully, there are!
Along with that comes an implied warning that the desires of the flesh, the old man if you want, don’t die easily and we are all troubled to a greater or lesser extent by old habits. Even in saying that it is a witness to the truth of the old proverb, or is it a saying, are they the same thing? I don’t know. Confused? So am I! The point is you’ve heard it said, ‘old habits die hard’. That covers not only old ways of working, but old ways of living in a spiritual sense and we must be on our guard. Like a spike in the mortality rate during the current health crisis there will be bad days when we don’t do so well, days when we seem to regress rather than make progress spiritually. What we ought to look for is a pattern of progress.
When Paul gives the warning of verse 21 it is to people, and in the context people in the church, whose pattern of life is like this and the tell tale word is ‘live’ “who live like this”. Paul is talking about a settled pattern of life, not the odd bad day when the wheels seem to come off the wagon. The point is that we cannot live like this habitually and at the same time claim a living connection with Christ.
So, we have to ask was the profession genuine in the first place, or have we fallen away from out first love? There can be no assurance for us if we live in the old way of life whatever it entailed jealousy, fits of rage and the like. That’s why Paul’s call to live by the Spirit which we thought about yesterday is so vital. You know, we forget there is often a lot of truth contained in older hymns, ones we don’t sing so much these days and words from one have just sprung to mind....”Yield not to temptation for yielding is sin each victory will help you some other to win.” That part at least is true, each day we make progress contributes to a new pattern of life but two things before we leave this section of the letter. Remember that victory is only possible in the Spirit’s power and a warning be on your guard when we think we are strong is when we are most likely to fall. I could tell you lots of stories about that but not today.