Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Mark 14:43-52; Galatians 5:16-26; Psalm 118:1-9; 1 Kings 3-4
Our passage from Galatians has major implications for living ethically. Rather than telling us what we should do in certain situations, or what God’s view is on moral issues, it describes Christian character. A series of virtues or character traits are given that our lives should display. Less and less we should be characterised by the fruit of the sinful nature (or flesh, as some translations put it), and more and more we should see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Who would not want a life less dominated by immorality, hatred, rage, drunkenness, etc.? Who would not want a life characterised by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Yet in reality, whether Christian or not, whether we admit it or not, we continue to see things from the first list in our lives and struggle to become more like the second list. Why is that?
The first thing this passage highlights is that living ethically is a struggle. We have a sinful nature that is in conflict with our new spiritual nature (v. 17). The desire to do the wrong thing does not disappear when we become Christians. Therefore, we are to crucify the sinful nature (v. 24), or put it to death (Colossians 3:5). This implies a painful struggle, and (like crucifixion) one that goes on longer than we might like.
To put the sinful nature to death, we must first live by the Holy Spirit (v. 16). If, for example, we struggle with porn, or fits of rage, or being envious (insert whatever you struggle with), we sometimes think we must first try harder to stop sinning and then we’ll draw closer to God. We can become so focused on not doing something that we become consumed by those thoughts. Paul’s approach (and the Bible’s more generally) is different. We are called to live by the Spirit (v. 16, 25), and then the sinful desires will diminish. This involves being led by the Spirit (v.18), where we listen for his guidance and direction. Solomon knew the importance of this as he began ruling Israel (1 Kings 3). God offered him anything he wanted, and he asked for a discerning heart so that he could distinguish between right and wrong. We should pray likewise for spiritual guidance – and then listen for the answer.
We also have an active role in living by the Spirit. Galatians 5 contains two different Greek words that are translated as ‘live’ or ‘walk’ by the Spirit. One is the ordinary word for walking, but the other means walking in line, or keeping in step (v. 25). It implies a standard or example to follow. We have clear biblical guidelines on how to act in many situations. Solomon knew and followed (to some degree) the statutes handed down to him (1 Kings 3:5). The fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5 shows us the types of virtues God wants us to have in our lives and relationships. They are provided to guide us as we wonder what we should do.
For example, we may be feeling fed up with our colleagues; we may be thinking they don’t deserve to be treated well by me. Why should I remain faithful to them? As we pray about the situation, the Holy Spirit may lead us towards faithfulness (or in other situations towards confronting wrong behaviour). He may bring to mind passages where Jesus was faithful even when others treated him badly. We acknowledge how difficult this is, and ask others to pray for us. We ask God to grant us his perspective on our colleagues. We notice that God is changing our heart so that we are more concerned about doing what is best for everyone involved, rather than biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:13-15). As we do so, we may start to notice a sense of peace about the situation. We see that we didn’t lash out destructively like we might have in the past, but instead contribute to a more healthy working environment. As we walk in the Spirit, nurtured by the power of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit will flourish in our lives.