Lectionary Reflection—26 June 2016
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
For you’ve been called to live in freedom, my sisters and brothers. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you’re always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you’re not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you’re directed by the Spirit, you’re not under obligation to the law of Moses.
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There’s no law against these things!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we’re living by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
There are a couple of things I want to point out here. The first is the “sinful nature.”
I really like the New Living Translation here. For me, it sets the tone of people having two natures—a “sinful” nature and a “holy” nature. Or, as the ancient Celts might have called it, a “false” nature and a “true” nature (and I prefer this way of seeing it). The Bible I normally use, the Common English Bible, translates “sinful nature” as “selfish impulses”. And while that may be clearer for some people, I don’t find it as helpful because they’re not necessarily the same thing. For example, while I believe Christ may have struggled with “selfish impulses” (see Luke 22.39-46) I don’t believe he had a “sinful nature” (2 Corinthians 5.21; Hebrews 4.15; 1 Peter 2.22).
And this an important distinction. While the followers of Jesus in the West typically believe in Augustinian “original sin,” the followers of Jesus in the East don’t. Furthermore, and in line with the church before Augustine, the followers of Jesus in the Celtic lands didn’t believe in “original sin,” either. As John Philip Newell noted in his book, Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality, the Celtic Christians believed that “deeper than any wrong in us is the Light of God, the light that no darkness has been able to overcome, as St. John had written” (pg. 14; see John 1.4-5).
Therefore, the “sinful” nature isn’t our “true” nature but a “false” one. I liken the “sinful nature” to an addiction. Just like a person can be controlled by drug addiction so can a person be addicted to “sin.” And like some recovery programs, a person’s “sinful” nature is often (and erroneously) looked upon as her “true” nature.
Again, this isn’t the biblical picture. The biblical picture sees “sin” as something outside of humanity “waiting at the door, ready to strike” (Genesis 4.7). Moreover, it hasn’t consumed humanity completely. As noted above, the “sinful” nature can never extinguish the light of God buried deep in all humanity (John 1.4-5). It’s this “light of God” that’s humanity’s true nature. The problem is we’ve become so addicted to our “false” nature we’ve forgotten who we truly are. We’ve become convinced (no less from Christianity) that there’s no goodness in us.
But how can we know the difference? Saint Paul’s convinced that the “fruit” or the things our lives produce—the outcome of our intentions and actions—is a good indicator of which nature we’re following. He states that “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” come from our “true” nature through the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
The other point I want to make is the leading of the Spirit. Paul says we’re to follow where the Spirit leads. My question is, “From where does the Spirit lead us?” It seems from the context that the Spirit leads us from our “false” nature and to our “true” nature. That is, she leads us away from our sin addiction to the Light of God that’s buried deep within us.
Not only that, but it seems that the Holy Spirit leads us to see deeper into all things and others. To see others as our sisters and brothers because of Christ’s reconciliation of all things. To see past the broken and false things of the world to the true Light within all light, to see the true Life within all life. In other words, the Spirit of God leads us to see all creation the way God sees it.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC