Your Good Works aren’t for God; They’re for your Neighbor

Jason Micheli —  June 27, 2019 — Leave a comment

Sunday’s lectionary epistle is from Galatians 5, an oft-misunderstood and frequently misapplied text.

Just to make it clear at the get-go: The fruit of the Spirit are for your neighbor. 

     When you hear Paul’s list as Law, you think that this is prescription for who you must be and what you must do in order to be right before God. But the Gospel is that Christ by his obedience has fulfilled all the righteousness that the Law requires of you. 

     He’s fulfilled the demands of the Law for you. And he bore all your failures to follow the Law upon the cross. Because of Jesus Christ, though you are not, God reckons you as righteous. God credits Christ’s righteousness to you as though it were your own. 

     The Law, Paul has said, no longer has any power to condemn you. 

     There is now, Paul says in Romans, no condemnation for those who are in Christ and to whom his righteousness has been imputed. 

     Your sins are forgiven, once for all. You are fit for heaven just as you are: impatient and unkind, frequently faithless, and often harsh and out of control. You are Christ’s Beloved by faith and all that he has is yours now. 

     Every work of faith has already been done for you. 

     As gift. 

     And its yours by faith not by works. No work you do, no fruit you yield, adds anything to what Christ has already done for you. Everything. He’s done everything already.

     Therefore- 

     God’s not counting. God’s forgotten how to count.

     The God who no longer counts your trespasses isn’t counting your good works either (thank God).

God’s neither a score-keeper nor a fruit counter. 

The Gospel is that you are justified in Christ alone by grace alone through faith. Alone.

Ergo-

The fruit of the Gospel is not for your justification. It’s for your neighbor.

     It’s a community garden the Spirit is growing in you. 

     God doesn’t need your love or your peace or your patience. God certainly doesn’t need your generosity. God doesn’t need any of them, but your neighbor does. 

     I mean, Paul’s repeated it like 100 times thus far: For freedom Christ has set you free. 

     Christ didn’t set you free for fruit. 

Christ freed you for freedom. 

Not for a return on his investment. 

Christ freed you for freedom. 

Not so you can clean yourself up and get your act together. 

     Christ freed you for freedom. 

     Not so you can go out and earn back what he paid for you. 

     And not so you can build a Kingdom only he can bring. 

     Paul’s not blinking and he’s not BS-ing.

     For freedom Christ has set you free. 

     There’s no one else you have to be before God. And there’s nothing else you have to do for God. 

     But for the sake of your neighbor…

     God will yet make you loving and gentle and joyous. 

     You see, the question that the fruit of the Spirit should provoke in you is NOT “What must I do now that God has saved me?” 

     No, the question the fruit of the Spirit should lead you to ask is this one: “What work is God doing in me and through me-in spite of sinful me- for the sake of my neighbor?” And the answer to that question can only come to us by the same route our justification comes: by faith alone. 

      The fruit of the Spirit teach us that not only are you justified by faith apart from your works, very often you’re justified by faith apart from your everyday experience. 

     By faith apart from your feelings.

     Forget Christmas and the resurrection, in no small part, what it means to have faith is to believe about you what your feelings can’t seem to corroborate. 

     The biggest obstacle to faith isn’t science- only an idiot would think that- the biggest obstacle to faith is your mirror. 

     I know it about a whole lot of you. Surely you know it about you too. 

     You’re not always kind or patient or generous. 

     Yet the Gospel promises and the Gospel invites you to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work like a patient Gardener to yield in you and harvest from you kindness and patience and generosity. 

     And that’s an even bigger leap of faith than it sounds because because the word Paul uses for ‘fruit’ in Greek is singular. 

     As in, it’s all one gift: Love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and all the rest.

     God’s working all of it, every one of them, in you. 

     Even though you might feel at best you have only a few of them. 

    God’s working all of them, every one of them, in you. 

     Which makes the Spirit’s work in you is as mysterious and invisible as what the Spirit does to water and wine and bread and the word. 

     The fruit of the Spirit is a matter of faith not feeling. 

     By your baptism in to his death and resurrection, you are in Jesus Christ. 

     You are. 

     No ifs, ands, or buts. Nothing else is necessary. 

     And if you are in Christ, then the Spirit is at work in you. 

     No exceptions. No conditions. No qualifications. 

     No matter what your life looks like

     No matter what you see when you look into the mirror

     No matter how up and down, there and back again, is your faith 

     No matter how bare feel your basket to be.

     If you are in Christ, Christ’s Spirit is in you. 

     And the pardon of God is powerful to produce in you what your eyes cannot see and what your feelings cannot confirm.  

     God works in mysterious ways, we say all the time without realizing each of us who are in Jesus Christ are one of those mysteries. 

Jason Micheli

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