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Watch 2022 online sermons » Craig Smith » Craig Smith - Finding Freedom from the Self-Destruction of Self-Centeredness

Craig Smith - Finding Freedom from the Self-Destruction of Self-Centeredness


Craig Smith - Finding Freedom from the Self-Destruction of Self-Centeredness
TOPICS: Live Free, Freedom, Self-Centered, Self-Destruction

Hey. Welcome to Mission Hills. So good to have you with us today. I thought I’d start off our time together today with a story. I’m gonna tell you right now I’m not 100% sure the story is true. It kind of feels like an urban legend, but I’ve had multiple people in multiple countries tell me the same story. And I did check it out on snopes.com. So it might be true.

It basically is how to catch a monkey. And apparently, a very effective way to catch a monkey is you take a log, kind of a heavy log, you hollow it out, then you put something in the log that monkeys like, like an orange. And then you kind of seal up the ends of the log and you drill a hole in the middle of the log that’s just big enough for a monkey’s little hand to go through. And apparently what happens is they’ll come along, they’ll see the orange, they’ll stick their hand in there, grab the orange, but then they can’t get their hand out because they got to hold the orange. And apparently, monkeys are so stupid, that they will not let go of what they want. And they’re so fixated, obsessed with getting what they want, that they’re oblivious to the fact that people come along and throw nets over and catch them.

And first time I heard that I was like, how dumb are monkeys? Followed very quickly by another question, which I still haven’t asked, which is, “Am I smarter than a stupid monkey? Or am I oblivious to the self-destructiveness of my own self-centeredness? That I get so obsessed with getting what I want, that I’m kind of oblivious to the reality that I’m doing a lot of damage to myself and other people?” And I say not a bad question for all of us to ask. Let’s just kind of start that question, or start our time off today with that question, am I smarter than a stupid monkey? Or do I get obsessed with getting what I want to the point that it does damage to other people and to me?

What we’re gonna talk about today, in our continuing study through the Book of Galatians, is really what Paul has to say about getting free from the self-destructiveness of self-centeredness. You’re gonna grab a Bible, we’re gonna be in Galatians chapter 5, starting in verse 13 today. If you’re with us last week, you may remember that we saw that we have a little bit of a tendency to have an incomplete definition of freedom. The Book of Galatians is all about freedom. But we struggle because we don’t really understand freedom, we have an incomplete definition.

We tend to think about freedom in terms of the things that I’m freed from, the bad things that I’m set free from. But in reality, that’s only half the definition. Freedom is also about the better things that we’re freed for. And as we saw last week, unless we lean in to what we’re free for, we’ll drift back into what we were free from. If we don’t lean into the better things we’re free for, we’ll end up drifting back to the bad things we were freed from. And that’s really where Paul picks up this week in Galatians chapter 5, verse 13, he says this, he says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather serve one another humbly in love.”

And we have both things there, what I’m free from, the flesh, and what we’re free for. And so he says, “Do not indulge the flesh,” what we’re free from, “But rather serve each other humbly in love.” That’s what we’re free for. Now, it probably bears just a quick little word of explanation as to why he’s using the word, the flesh. If you’re kind of new to church, you may be confused by that. And here’s the reality, the Bible often uses the flesh as a synonym for sin. And the reason for that is not that the flesh is inherently bad. It’s not that our physical desires are inherently bad, they’re not. But and this is a key thing to understand, the desires of the flesh are inherently self-centered. The desires of our flesh and are inherently self-centered.

Now, again, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad, because God gave us the desires of our flesh, our physical appetites so that we would meet our physical needs. I mean, think about it, if we never got hungry, we would never eat and we would? We would die, right? It’s not a bad thing to get hungry. If we never got thirsty, we would never drink and we would die. If we never had sexual attraction to members of the opposite sex, we would never get married and have kids and the human race would die. So all those physical appetites, they’re not bad things, but here’s the problem, when we disconnected from God by our sin, those physical desires became problematic. And there’s a couple of things that happened.

The first one is that when we’re disconnected from God, by our sin, we end up craving what we were never meant to consume, we crave what we were never meant to consume. We begin to have appetites for things that we weren’t supposed to have appetites for. And that might be actually totally new perverted appetites that have nothing to do with what that physical desire was initially for. Or it might be that we crave them in ways they were never intended to be met outside of God’s boundaries. Or we end up craving them in quantities that we were never intended to crave them. Okay? But in some way that those desires get twisted and we end up craving we were never meant to consume because we’re disconnected from God by sin.

The second thing that happens when we’re disconnected from God, the desires of the flesh become our primary motivation. It’s not the way we’re supposed to be. We’re body and spirit. And we’re supposed to be connected to God by the Spirit. And the desires of the Spirit are very different than the desires of the flesh. But when we’re disconnected from God and disconnected from the life of the Spirit, really all that’s left is the physical desires. And so they become our primary motivator. And as we said, that the problem with that is that they’re all self-centered.

And so when the only things that drive us are self-centered motivations, we become very self-centered. And that’s really what Paul’s getting at here. He says, “Hey, guys, you’re followers of Jesus, here’s what you need to understand this is so important. Faith in Jesus sets us free from the self-centeredness that we used to live in, and it sets us free for others-centeredness. Because when you said yes to Jesus, you got set free from the desires of the flesh. You got set free from a life that was motivated only by those self-centered desires. And now you’re free for a life that’s motivated by a different set of desires. It’s the desire to serve others.” And we have to lean into that. We have to love others. That’s what we’re free for. And he says this, “For the entire Law, is fulfilled in keeping this one command. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Let’s just think about that for a moment. He says the entire Law, he said about the entire Old Testament, all 613 commands that we find in the Old Testament, he says all of them basically boil down to this idea, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” They all boil down to love. Every one of those 613 commands in some way or another points us towards what love looks like, or what love doesn’t look like so we can avoid the opposite side of it. Okay, he says it all kind of boils down to that. And understand Paul isn’t coming up with this idea. Jesus revealed this. Paul’s just repeating it. But Jesus himself is the one who revealed this. Jesus himself, pretty famously, we’ve talked about several times in the series, John 13:34, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”

Three times in that same short little set of sentences. He says, “Love one another,” so Paul’s just repeating what Jesus himself revealed. And the bottom line here is that he says, everything that we find in Scripture ultimately points us towards this reality of loving others. Now, some people might go, “Hang on a second, aren’t we supposed to love God too? In fact, aren’t we supposed to love God first?” And the answer is, absolutely we are.

But what Jesus revealed, and what Paul repeats is that there’s no loving God without loving others, that if you say you love God, but you don’t love others, you don’t actually love God. There’s no loving God without loving others because God loves people. He created them and longs to be in a relationship with them. They’re his beloved sons or daughters. Estranged from him by our sin, absolutely. But God still longs for that relationship with him for all of eternity. He loves people. And if we say we love God, but we don’t give a rip about what he cares so deeply about we’re fooling ourselves. We don’t actually love God, there’s no loving God without loving others. Now, I don’t know about you but that makes me a little uncomfortable because others are hard to love. Can I get an amen there?

Like, it is a terrible thing for a pastor to say, but I’ll be honest with you, I’m like being a pastor would be the best job in the world if it weren’t for all the people. Loving others is not an easy thing. It’s not an easy thing. And here’s why, because we spent all of our lives up until we said yes to Jesus, being driven by the self-centeredness of the flesh. And loving others always requires a certain degree of sacrifice. It requires other-centeredness, and it’s just not natural.

But here’s what I think we have to understand, what Jesus revealed and what Paul here is repeating, is that the way we tend to think about righteousness isn’t quite right. We tend to think about righteousness as following the rules. If I do what God says to do, and I don’t do what God says not to do, if I avoid the big stuff, then I’m righteous.

And what Paul is saying here because Jesus himself taught it is that loving others isn’t an aspect of righteousness. It’s not just one of the things that we do to be righteous. It’s not an aspect of righteousness. It’s the essence of it. Loving others isn’t an aspect of righteousness. It’s the essence of it. See, we tend to go, “Well, I checked off the boxes of the dos and don’ts. And on top of that, if I really wanna go for icing on the cake, I’ll love others a little bit.” And he goes, “No, loving others isn’t the icing on the cake. It’s the cake.” It’s not one aspect of righteousness. It is the essence of it, which means the best test of our righteousness isn’t the rules, it’s our relationships. The best test of our righteousness isn’t the rules, it’s our relationships.

Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying that if you love others and ignore God’s commands that you’re righteous. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, I would say that if you claim that you love others, but you ignore God’s commands, you’re not being righteous, that you’re not loving others even because it doesn’t work that way. I mean, here’s the thing, you can’t really love others apart from God’s statements and teaching about what the life that we’re called to live looks like. I mean, if I have an alcoholic in my life, and I say I love them, but I never challenge them on what their alcoholism is doing to themselves and the people around them, I’m not actually loving that person. Okay, so there’s no love apart from God’s commandments.

The problem is that we tend to stop at the commandments, we tend to stop at the rules and go, “I must be righteous because I followed the rules to this point.” Like we go, “Hey, you know, the rules, say, “Don’t commit adultery, I’ve never done that. I must be righteous.” And the reality though, is that we’re entertaining attractions to people that are not our spouses all the time. We’re doing it on screens, we’re doing it at the gym, we’re doing it in work situations, and we’re not acting on it, but we’re thinking about it. And Jesus had a word for that and the word is lust. We’re entertaining attraction to people, we shouldn’t be entertaining. But we’re self-centeredly thinking through and then those thoughts that we think become lenses that we look at the people that were supposed to be loving and they affect those relationships. Our selfishness does damage those relationships.

And Jesus actually said that, that thought life stuff, that’s every bit as bad as not actually breaking the black and white rule. I mean, the rule says, you know, “Don’t commit murder,” and we go, “I’ve never killed anybody, yeah, I’ve come close a couple of times. But I’ve never actually done it, therefore I’m righteous.” And Jesus said, no, if you’re entertaining anger in your heart, if you’re building up lenses of bitterness that you look at other people through, that’s actually every bit as bad as to whether or not you actually break the black and white rules. We have a tendency to go, you know, the rules, and what we’re told here is now the best test of our righteousness isn’t the rules, it’s our relationships. And all God’s people went?

Oh, really? My response is, “Oh, no,” but okay, all right. That’s a harder one. It’s just a lot harder. And Paul tells us here’s the reality. We live in a liminal space. And how many even know what a liminal space is? Few people some of you don’t. I’ll give you a…it’s a new vocabulary word you didn’t know you’re gonna get vocabulary lesson at church today, did you?

Liminal space is the place between what was and what will be. It’s between what we were and what we will be but it’s that place we’re not really either one. How many of you have ever woken up in the morning or kind of woken up, and you’re not quite asleep but you’re not really awake yet either, how many ever have had that? Okay, that’s liminal space. My youngest daughter’s heading off to college here in a couple of weeks. She’s no longer a kid. But she’s not quite an adult yet either. She’s in a liminal space. My wife and I are going, “Hey, we’re in liminal space. We don’t have kids that are gonna be living at home all the time anymore. But we’re not totally empty nesters yet either. So you know, we’re kind of in liminal space.”

And as followers of Jesus, we all live in liminal space. We’ve been set free from the selfishness of the flesh, and free for the other-centeredness that God calls us to. But we’re not really either one of those yet, right? We’re not fully free, we can still hear that voice of selfishness. And we’re not fully leaning into the other-centeredness that we’re called to where we kind of live in liminal space. And here’s the truth about liminal space. The thing that defines liminal space is that we have to make choices. We have to choose whether or not we’re gonna drift back into what was or lean forward into what will be.

In the morning when you wake up, you have to decide, “Am I gonna get out of bed, am I gonna go back to sleep?” My daughter has to decide, all college students, by the way, a lot of college students heading off to college soon you got to decide, “Am I gonna lean into being an adult and make decisions as an adult? Or use your newfound freedom to live like a kid?” It happens a lot in college, and it often ends up causing damage and destruction you pay for the rest of your life. If you wanna be an adult, you got to lean into making wise responsible decisions, okay?

My wife and I are making choices, you know, what are we gonna do? Are we gonna just miss the fact that we don’t have kids? Or are we gonna lean into new opportunities that we have to be on mission with Jesus with some more freedom that we have, and some new space and opportunities?” We have to make those choices. And as followers of Jesus, we have to make a choice in the liminal space that we live in? Where am I gonna listen to the voice of self-centeredness? Or am I gonna listen to the voice of other-centeredness? What are we going to do?

And Paul kind of warns us here’s what’s gonna happen if you drift back. Here’s what’s gonna happen if you listen to the old voice. He says, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be consumed by each other,” or you’ll be destroyed by each other. It’s interesting he chose those words bite and devour. They’re both eating words. He’s talking about cannibalism. And he’s doing that because he’s making an incredibly important point and he needs to drive it home. The reality is that we tend to consume each other to satisfy our cravings. We bite and devour, we look at other people we go, “What can I get from you?” That’s our primary question. That’s the voice of the flesh is the voice of self-centeredness as we look at other people in our relationship we go, “How can I get out of you?”

And when Paul says, “If that’s the way you live, if you’re biting and devouring,” working to get out of other people, they’re gonna look at you the same way you look at them. You’re looking at them as a commodity to be consumed, they’re gonna do the same thing for you. Well, you’re gonna bite and devour me? Then I’m gonna have to do bite and devour you to get what I want. And then you’re like, “You’re doing that to me, well, I’m gonna do that back to you.”

And pretty soon we got this spiral of destruction. And here’s the reality. It’s a little bit of an ironic and maybe the most ironic reality of the world that we live in, self-centeredness is inherently self-destructive. Self-centeredness is inherently self-destructive. The world teaches us but if you’re not self-centered, you’ll never get what you need. And so we say things like, “You know, you got to look out for number one, life’s a dirty game, you got to play dirty to get it.” No, that’s the world’s wisdom, and it’s not wisdom. Because it’s pulling you towards a self-centeredness that is inherently self-destructive, it actually ends up giving you much less of what you need, and none of what you actually crave in your heart of hearts, and deep in your soul. It can’t be done that way.

But he says, if you do it that way, it’s gonna play out in destruction. And here’s the reality. I know that when I described that way of biting and devouring each other and going, how do I get out of what I want out of you, and you’re doing it to me, some of you’re going, “You’re describing my marriage. You’re describing my relationship with my kids or my parents. You’re describing work relationships that I’m in,” and you may be going, “Okay, I see it, I see that that’s exactly what happens. It’s a spiral of self-destruction. But how do we change it?”

And here’s how you change it. Someone has to break the cycle. Someone has to break the cycle, someone has to say, “I’m not gonna do relationships like that anymore.” Someone has to say, “I’m not gonna do life that way anymore.” And here’s the bad news today. If you’re listening to this message, that someone is you. It’s not another person’s responsibility to break the cycle. Someone has to break the cycle and that someone is you.

How do you do that? How do you do life different? How do you do relationships, different? Paul says this, “And so I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” He says when you said yes to Jesus, three things happened. When you said yes to Jesus, our sin was forgiven. The barrier between us and God was removed. Secondly, we were adopted into the family of God, we became his beloved children in an actual relationship with our Heavenly Father. And third, he gave us the Holy Spirit, who begins to change us from the inside out, who begins to speak to us with a different voice. And what he says is you have to decide which voice you’re gonna listen to. If you wanna do life differently, wanna break the cycle, what you have to do is you have to walk by the Spirit. You have to decide to listen to the voice of the Spirit, rather than the voice of the flesh.

Again, we live in a liminal space, we hear both voices, I have not managed to find the mute button for my self-centeredness, has anybody? I don’t even know where I should be looking. But I can’t shut the voice off. But what I can choose to do is go, “Yes, I hear the voice. But it’s not the one that I’m gonna listen to, I’m gonna listen to, I’m gonna act on this voice of the Spirit.” And in that way, Paul says when we were walking by the Spirit. And really what he’s telling us is this, it’s only when we’re guided by the Spirit that we stop giving into the flesh. It’s not something we can do naturally, it’s not something we can just go, “I’m gonna try harder.” It’s only something that we can do as we listen to the voice of the Spirit. And so it’s only when we’re guided by the Spirit that we stop giving in to the flesh.

Paul says, “For the desires of the flesh,” or for the flesh desires, what is contrary to the Spirit. And the Spirit desires, what is contrary to the flesh, that they are in conflict with each other so that you’re not to do whatever you want. Because those two voices, they’re speaking radically different things. And so you can’t just go back to going, “Well, I’m just gonna do what I want.” He says, “No, that’s the voice of the flesh and the voice of the Spirit is asking something very, very different from you.”

The bottom line, he says yet you live in this liminal space. Yes, you hear these voices, and you have to make a decision about which of these voices you’re going to indulge. And really, in essence, kind of the theme of this entire section is a call to stop indulging the self-centeredness of the flesh and to start indulging the other-centeredness of the Spirit. That’s what this whole thing’s about. It’s that invitation. Stop indulging the self-centeredness of the flesh, stop listening to the self-centered voice of the flesh, and start listening, start indulging the other-centeredness of the Spirit.

And it’s at this point that Paul anticipates an objection to what he’s saying. If you’ve been with us throughout the series, you know that the Book of Galatians is an argument against some opponents that Paul was dealing with in the City of Galatians. Paul had preached the Gospel in Galatia. And the Gospel said that if you believe in Jesus, then you belong to God. And it’s because of that belonging that you begin to change the way that you behave because of the work of the Holy Spirit. But Paul had some opponents who came and they said, “No, no, that’s not right. You have to believe in Jesus, and you have to behave according to the Law, you have to follow the rules, you have to get yourself righteous enough to belong to God.”

And so Paul has been arguing about those people knows that when he says, “Hey, we got to stop indulging the self-centeredness of the flesh.” He knows that his opponent’s gonna go, “Whoa, hang on a second. That’s exactly what we’re trying to have people do. We’re on the same page, Paul, we’re all about helping people to stop indulging the self-centeredness of the flesh. We’re just saying the best way to do that, the best way to stop listening to that self-centered voice is to start obeying the Law, start obeying the rules and regulations. That’s the best way to stop indulging the flesh.” And Paul says, “No, it’s not. You’re wrong.” He says, “But if you were led by the Spirit, you’re not under the Law.” If you’re led by the Spirit, you’re not under the Law.

And what it means is not that the Law is bad. Not that there’s no use of the Law. In fact, Paul, later in his writing says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and it’s useful.” And he’s already told us, we saw it a few weeks ago, the Law guarded us until Jesus came and until the Spirit was given by faith in Jesus. The Law guarded us, it kind of limited sin so that we didn’t destroy ourselves completely. But what he’s saying now is, if you’re under the Law, you’re not under the Spirit, if you’re under the Spirit, you’re not under the Law. It’s kind of an either-or. And so what he says is, “Listen, as followers of his who have the Spirit, you don’t need to be guarded by the Law, because you’re now guided by the Spirit.”

As followers of Jesus, you don’t need to be guarded by the Law anymore. That’s not your best way to say no to the selfishness of the flesh, because you’re now guided by the Spirit. And the reality is that the Spirit can take you where the Law, can only point you. The Law, can say, “Hey, this is what loving relationships look like. And if you do these things, you’re not actually loving others. And if you don’t do these things, you know, you’re getting farther away from it.” And it can point us in that direction. But it can’t take us there. But he says the Holy Spirit can. And so if you’re guided by the Spirit, you don’t actually need to be guarded by the Law, because the Spirit can take us where the Law can only point us. You have to walk by the Spirit.

And so the question then becomes, how do we do that? How do we walk by the Spirit? And this is one of those things in the Christian life, I think that sometimes it’s over-spiritualized. I don’t know. Can you over-spiritualize walking by the Spirit? I think you can because it seems mysterious. And it seems mystical. And it seems complex. But let me simplify it radically. Let me show you practically how to be guided by the Spirit. It’s just a prayer actually, one of the best ways is to start a very simple but dangerous prayer. Give you a dangerous prayer last week, I’ll give you another dangerous prayer this week.

Here’s the prayer. “God, how do you want me to serve someone today?” Can we just take a moment right now? Let’s actually ask God, and then let’s just take a few seconds to listen, for God to answer that question. Just think about how can I serve someone? So I’ll pray it over us. But just pray this to God. Close your eyes, bow your heads. God, how do you want me to serve someone today?

How many of us thought of something we could do? Cool, do it. Is that too complex? Do it. If you thought of something you could do to serve someone do it. And you might go, “Well, how do I know that was the voice of the Spirit?” I don’t care. Because if it’s truly other-centered, it’s probably from the Spirit. Now, if you’re saying, “Well, if I could do this for them, and then that would cause them to do this for me,” okay, well, that’s a problem. That’s not other-centeredness. But if you thought, “Well, here’s how I could actually serve someone,” then let’s just assume that was probably the Holy Spirit because we know that’s what the Holy Spirit’s doing. He’s moving us in that direction. We just do it. And then when we do it, and then we go, “Okay, God, what’s next?” And whatever we find ourselves led to do we do that.

And, you know, here’s the thing, you go, “God, what can I do to serve somebody?” You take that step and then you serve somebody. And then you go, “What else could I do?” And you do that, you serve somebody and you know what we’re doing now? We’re walking. We’re walking by the Spirit. We’re walking in an attitude of looking to serve others. That’s how we do it.

Now just in case, people still want a little bit more guidance, make sure they’re heading in the right direction Paul says, “Okay, let’s talk about these two voices and what they lead us to.” He says, “Now the acts of the flesh are obvious.” And he’s speaking about the followers of Jesus who have the Holy Spirit. It’s not honestly true for you who don’t have the Holy Spirit but if you’re a follower of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit. And what the Holy Spirit’s doing is he’s making the acts of the flesh obvious, he’s making it clear to you.

Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. We spent a lot of time talking about each item on that list, but we don’t need to do it. Because, A, this is not an exhaustive list it’s just a set of examples to point us in the right direction. And B, the point of all these things is actually the same. These are all examples of self-centered behavior. That’s it. That’s what you need to know, these are all examples of self-centered behavior.

Now, most of those are probably obvious, right? You look at those and go, “Yeah, I see it. That’s a self-centered behavior.” That the two that probably people struggle with the most are idolatry and witchcraft. And people don’t immediately recognize how that’s selfish. But here’s what we need to understand. Idolatry. See, we tend to think of idolatry as anytime we worship something other than God, okay. But in the ancient world, that’s not quite what idolatry was. In the ancient world idolatry was making some kind of an image, a statue, or a figurine or something like that of a god or a goddess, and then doing things around that idol for a purpose. And the purpose wasn’t worship, the purpose was to get that god or the goddess to give you what you wanted. So if you made sacrifices to it, if you prayed to it, if you did various things around it, though, the end goal was always to convince, to manipulate really those spirits to give you what you want. It’s a deeply selfish thing.

Witchcraft. Similarly, actually, I’m not even sure witchcraft is the best translation, the Greek word there is pharmakeia, which is where we get pharmacy or pharmacology from. Now in the modern world, that’s all about medicine, right? It’s about things that help people. In the ancient world, that was about mixing up potions to manipulate people. It was about mixing up potions and slipping into people’s drinks so that they would fall in love with you love potions are very common, you could buy them in the ancient world, people made them for that. Or it was about mixing up potions and pouring them out in front of idols to get the gods to give you what you wanted. Both idolatry and witchcraft are deeply self-centered behaviors. It’s a self-centered religion, really. Every item on this list is a self-centered behavior.

And so he says, “Hey, the fruit basically, the outworkings of the desires of the flesh is selfish behavior.” By the way, that this entire list if you’re interested in this, this entire list kind of breaks down into four categories. And the four categories are this, self-centered sexuality, the first three are about that. So here’s the reality. God intended us to enjoy sex. And I know some of you were like, “What just happened? Did the pastor just use the word sex and enjoy in the same sentence?”

Because honestly, we have this idea or the world has this idea that Christians think that sex is dirty and nasty, and that’s not the case at all. God invented it, it’s great. But it’s meant to be enjoyed, it can only be enjoyed in the way it should be within the boundaries that God set for it. And the Bible is very clear those boundaries are in a committed marriage between a man and a woman. That’s what the Bible teaches. And in anything outside of those boundaries is actually an exercise of selfishness. It’s trying to satisfy a desire that’s selfish. It’s me-centered, and it’s not God-centered, but it’s not other-centered either. And sexual impurity or immorality, impurity, debauchery, those are all just examples of ways that we try to satisfy sexual desires and selfish ways.

We got self-centered religion, we just talked about idolatry and witchcraft. And the reality is, we all do the same thing. The reality is that we often find ourselves worshiping God, not because we recognize that he’s worthy of us, but because we want something from him. We go, “I’m struggling in my life right now I really need God to move. So I guess I should go to church.” And maybe you’ve never done that but let me ask you this. If you’ve ever had the thought, “God, I don’t know why God’s not doing what I’m asking him to do because I’m doing everything right. I’m following the rules. I’m giving my money. I’m giving my time. I’m doing everything God wants me to do. But he hasn’t done what I want him to do.” You know what’s happening there? That’s actually a self-centered approach to religion.

There’s self-centered social interactions, by the way, that’s the longest list because it’s the easiest place to let our selfishness come out. And ultimately, you get self-centered consumption, drunkenness, orgies, both of those are ultimately about overconsumption of all kinds of things. These are all selfish behaviors. He says the fruits or the results of the desires of the flesh, they are obvious, self-centered behavior. And he says, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

And it’s important that we understand that he’s not saying that those things can’t be forgiven. Every one of the items on that list can be forgiven. And so if you’re listening to this message, you’re going, “I’ve done some of those.” Some of you may be listening and going, “I’ve done all of those.” And you go, “Well, does this mean that I can’t be forgiven, that I can’t be in a relationship with God?” No, not at all, every one of those can be forgiven. The blood of Jesus shed on the cross is sufficient for every sin we’ve ever committed, or will ever commit.

What Paul’s saying here, and he uses a very particular Greek tense to say it, he says, “Those who live like this.” And what that means is those who continually live like this, those whose lives are characterized by this. They’re not giving any evidence that the Spirit of God is in them, which is what’s gonna be necessary to inherit the kingdom.

In other words, this is a warning for those whose lives are continually characterized by selfishness. Because those whose lives are continually characterized by selfishness, betray no evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them. There’s no evidence of they actually belong to God because if they did, they would be moving not instantaneously, not perfectly, but gradually over time moving towards other-centeredness. So it’s a warning for those who continue to have lives characterized by selfishness.

He says, “But the fruit of the Spirit.” And this is a very famous verse, by the way, if you’ve ever been to Hobby Lobby, even if you’ve never cracked the Bible, you have seen this verse. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there’s no Law. Again, we can spend a lot of time looking at each individual item on this list. But A, it’s not an exhaustive list, and B, it all boils down to the same basic idea, which is that these are examples of other-centered behavior, every one of them.

And again, that’s pretty obvious for most of them. The one I think that people might struggle the most with to see as being other-centered is joy. Because in our culture, we think about joy is very me-centered, it’s joy I have, it’s joy I feel. And we tend to think what’s joy because I got what I want. It’s not what Jesus says, it’s interesting in that same speech, where he called us to love one another. He also said this is in John 15:11. He said, “I’ve told you this so that my joy may be in you, that you might have joy, and that your joy might be complete. My command is this, love each other as I have loved you.”

And that is a very counterintuitive, or at least a very counter-cultural approach to joy. Notice that that joy and loving other is deeply connected there, right? It’s not how we tend to think about it. But the reality is that what Jesus reveals is that true joy comes from loving others. So when Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit being joy, he’s actually talking about experiencing something that is rooted in serving others, sacrificing brothers being other-centered.

You know, as I contemplate my two daughters, off in the world, one’s already out there adulting and the other one’s kind of in that liminal space, she’s moving that direction. I’m gonna be honest with you, I’m really proud of my girls. They both love Jesus, and they’re both mission-minded. They’re Kingdom-minded. They’re in very different ways. One is pursuing, extending God’s influence in the nonprofit Christian world. That’s awesome. We love it. One’s pursuing extending God’s influence in the scientific world. She’s deeply passionate about that. Very, very different approaches to living on mission with Jesus but both committed to it in ways that humble me honestly.

But then I think a little bit about how they got there, how we got to the point of being able to have that joy in them? And I will tell you this, the joy that I feel for my daughters loving Jesus and being on mission with him exceeds any other joy I’ve ever experienced in life. But how do we get there? My wife and I sacrificed. We love them, we serve them with time, with some suffering along the way, with money. I mean, so many different ways we sacrificed when we were other-centered. And when I look at what God is doing through them now, I have joy. Every sacrifice I ever made in serving my daughters I look at now and I go, “Worth it. Absolutely worth it.”

That’s what Paul’s talking about here. True joy comes from loving others. He says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” the self-centeredness of the flesh. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking, and envying each other.” He says, “Yeah, we live in a liminal space.” In one sense, the desires of the flesh are crucified, but we still hear the echoes of the voice. And so we have to make a choice. We have to accept an invitation, and that invitation is to stop indulging the self-centeredness of the flesh and to start indulging the other-centeredness of the Spirit. How do we do it?

Well, let me give you four things, four important steps to accepting that invitation. The first one is this, make sure you have God’s Spirit. Because nothing we’re talking about here is possible apart from the work of the Spirit of God in your life. And so if you’re here today, and you go, “Well, I’ve been coming to church my whole life.” Or maybe that’s your first time ever setting foot in a church. But you realize in this moment, I’ve never actually put my faith in what Jesus did for me. But maybe I’ve been sort of depending on the fact that I’m a pretty good person. And I’ve done some of the things that God wanted me to do.

That’s not how we come into a relationship with God, we come into a relationship with God by trusting the fact that he loves us so much he sent his own Son to die for us. Three days after he died to pay for our sins, remove that barrier, Jesus rose from the dead. And when we say yes to faith in Jesus, we’re forgiven of our sin, we’re adopted to the family of God, and we received the Holy Spirit who begins to change us and make it possible for us to do what we’re being called to do here.

So the first step is to ask, “Have I said yes, to faith in Jesus?” And if you’re listening to this message wherever you are and you realize the answer is no, then this is your first step. Let me ask everybody to close your eyes, bow your heads. If you’ve never said yes to faith in Jesus, today is the day. Here’s how you do it. You’re just gonna have a conversation with God in your heart right now. Say something like this to God right now.

God, I’ve done wrong, I’ve sinned, I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for being other-centered. Thank you for dying for me. I believe you rose from the dead. I’m ready to follow you. I’m saying yes to faith in you, Jesus. I accept your forgiveness, your adoption into the family of God, and your Holy Spirit. Jesus, I’m yours now and forever. Amen.

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