Part 1 in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit
Did you know one of the founding principles of our nation is happiness? The Declaration of Independence says loud and clear: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
And yet, “happy” is the last word many would use to describe their lives today -- not just in America, but around the world. Very few people are satisfied with their lives. There seems to be more depression, more worry, more fear than ever before. Countless millions of men, women and children are living each day hanging by a thread… barely making it from day to day; much less able to think about happiness. We have more technology and better communication than ever before -- these things promised some degree of happiness, but they somehow take more of our happiness away as we see and read more death, danger and depressing news in the world. The economy has us worried, the news has us down, politics has us exasperated, our weight has us depressed, our health is failing fast, and our past mistakes haunt us at night so we cannot find any rest.
Is happiness an impossible dream?
I believe that happiness is not only possible for each of us, but that it is God’s desire for you. That’s right -- God wants you to be happy! Not blissfully ignorant of the problems in the world around you -- not naive about human suffering. But of all people, his children should be people of hope and joy -- because we know there is a better way, a higher purpose, a deeper meaning to our lives. We are, above all, to be a people infused with happiness, and contagious about it. Happiness is not an impossible dream, but it is a God given right for every one of his children.
So how do we get there?
The Real Issue: Skin Walking
First, we have to recognize the false happiness that the world has to offer. Paul talks about the root of such unhappiness in Galatians 5.16-26. He talks about two kinds of people, those who walk in the flesh (I’ll call them Skin Walkers), and those who walk in the Spirit (I’ll call them Spirit Walkers).
Skin walkers live to serve themselves. They pursue happiness with the desire to acquire. They are trying to find happiness by feeding their flesh, coddling their skin, trying to lick every last drop from the bowl of earthly pleasure. Skin walkers are uncontrolled and utterly unsatisfied -- and utterly unsatisfiable. Paul lists a few of the chains of the flesh that we wear in the pursuit of happiness in verses 19-21. Cheap sex (think about the disturbing rise of internet pornography and the destruction it brings to men and women who are now forever on display in shame -- until Jesus comes back those files will not go away). Addiction to the promise of false medicines of booze and drugs. Greed that drives us to lie and bury someone else to get ahead. Uncontrolled anger and the glorification of violence, whether on screen in video games or movies, or in the streets and classrooms.
Skin walking and the desire to acquire is not just about materialism. It plays out in obsessions over 3 physical temptations:
BRAINS (the desire to acquire knowledge)
Does knowledge bring you happiness? It may provide you with a better job, which is a good thing. But the pursuit of knowledge is ultimately an empty one, and it will eventually leave you unhappy. I remember feeling confident that I was one of the smarter kids in school. Then I went to college and realized I was just one among thousands. No matter how smart you are, there is always someone smarter than you. Knowledge is a worthwhile tool, but it will not bring you true happiness. Education and the desire to acquire knowledge does not make you happy.
BODY (the desire to acquire health & beauty)
If an outsider were to observe our culture -- the way we spend money and entertain ourselves -- they would have to come to the conclusion that we have one god above all others -- the human body. We obsess over the way we look, spend untold mountains of money on feel-good treatments and look-good products. If worship is defined as honoring one thing higher than all else, then our culture is a cult of the body. Whether it is investing in hair implants or seeking the latest in thrilling entertainment, the skin is lord of most of our lives. But the desire to acquire health and beauty do not bring us happiness either, do they? When is the last time you heard someone say, “I think I look great, just the way God made me. I’m happy with my wrinkles and sags. I think my baldness makes me shine.” No, the skin is insatiable -- always hungry for more, and never truly content or happy.
BANK (the desire to acquire wealth)
Finally, materialism. The skin always wants to get more stuff. And when it runs out of room, the skin gets a storage unit. Our culture has force-fed us the false American dream -- we are conditioned from birth to look for happiness in possessions. “You don’t want that old hand me down car seat for your baby’s trip home from the hospital. You need a super-sized, mega-padded, hypoallergenic car seat with a rear view mirror so mommy can gaze into your eyes while she is supposed to be driving.” And it escalates from there. Does a better paying job bring you happiness? Does that new pair of shoes satisfy your soul? No, and they never will.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that only wealthy people worship money. No, I have seen the poorest of the poor kneel and pray at the altar of materialism. You don’t need to have money to worship it. The skin is always greedy for more -- especially when you have very little. Beware the quicksand of materialism.
In reality, none of these things -- brains, body or bank accounts -- have any lasting value. They simply cannot make you happy. Acquiring these alone will eventually leave you with nothing. The grave has no regard for health, wealth or wisdom.
Worse than that, keeping tabs on your body, your money and your intellectual prowess often become a time-consuming distraction from what really matters in life. No quarterback who constantly watches the scoreboard ever wins! We must be careful not to live skin-first, or we will find we have lost the game of life.
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me,
that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9.23-24)
The Path to Happiness: Spirit Walking
So what is the true path to happiness? Instead of the desire to acquire, Spirit Walkers are empowered by God with a desire to bless others. And that is where true, lasting happiness and contentment comes from. Paul lays it out here, starting at verse 22.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Gal 5.22-23)
Paul uses an unexpected image -- he describes Spirit Walking in terms of an orchard. He uses the picture of “fruit” -- and I think that is simply perfect!
Think about a fruit producing tree for a moment -- a healthy tree, one that is fulfilling its God given purpose in life, will bear fruit. And what is the purpose of that fruit? Is it there to benefit the tree, or to benefit others? To bless others, of course! A healthy, happy, fruit-bearing tree is not interested in keeping fruit for itself. It has one purpose. A tree that is doing what it was created and designed to do blesses the world with fruit.
And that is where you and I can find lasting, abundant, unshakable, overflowing, inexhaustible, eternal, glorious happiness. Not in the desire to acquire, as skin walkers falsely believe, but by Spirit walking, walking according to God’s original design for us, living in a way that bears fruit and blesses others. When God rolled out His blueprints for you long before you were born, He mapped out a plan that would lead you to happiness -- that design was for you to be a Spirit walker, to walk according to His ways, to bless others; to bear fruit!
Of course, we need the power and the help of the Holy Spirit to be fruitful. It isn’t something we can just whip up on our own. That, too, is part of God’s design, because He wants us to find joy in participating WITH HIM in accomplishing His good, pleasing and perfect will in the world. We are not meant to go it alone in life -- we are meant to share in the joy and fellowship of the Holy Spirit as He blesses others through us. There is a dimension of true happiness that requires community with others, and community begins when we enter into that sweet fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
Disclaimer: Flesh is Not Evil.
Before I conclude today’s message, I need to make an important distinction. What do you think? Is acquiring knowledge evil? No. Otherwise we wouldn’t teach our children to read and write. How about health and beauty? Is it evil to take care of our bodies, to exercise and groom ourselves, and to enjoy a good meal now and then? Certainly not. Even Paul the apostle says “Physical exercise benefits a little.” What about possessions and wealth? Is it wrong to acquire money, houses, land? Again, no. We must be careful not to fall into the false teaching that all matter is evil, and that only the spirit is good. Matter is neutral. This is what the Bible teaches. Everything we taste, touch, see and hear was created by God. And in the proper context, there is no reason not to enjoy any of God’s creation.
The issue is not whether you have “skin,” but whether you walk according to your skin. It is a simple question of “who serves who?” Does the skin serve the spirit, or the spirit serve the skin? Most errant theology in the form of prosperity gospel teaching falls into this fatal error -- thinking that the spirit exists to serve the flesh.
In reality, the skin of life is here to serve the spirit. The flesh is not to be rejected altogether; it must simply be kept under submission to the Spirit. The bottom line is this: as long as these things serve the purposes of God, they are perfectly acceptable -- and even holy. But as soon as they serve your purposes, they must be uplugged.
Here’s another way to say it: Leaves are necessary for the production of fruit, but they only serve the process. A tree that focuses on gaining fatter and fatter leaves but fails to produce fruit is in danger of the chainsaw. But a tree without leaves is also in danger of being cut down, because it cannot photosynthesize to produce fruit.
The point is this -- keep the skin under submission to the spirit.
“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Mt 7.19)
“What does it profit a man to gain a fortune and lose his soul?” (Mt 8.36)
Want to Live and Die Happy?
The truth is that happiness is not far out of reach -- in fact, genuine happiness is much closer than you think. Forget about the empty promises of the skin walkers. Learn the secret of walking in the spirit.
We will look at those blessings, these fruits of the spirit, individually over the coming weeks. I will have a little personal test for you to take to see how you measure up in each of the areas Paul mentioned in verses 22-23.
We will begin with love the next time I am preaching.
My prayer for you is that you will be drawn into a life of true happiness as you discover how to walk, not according to the skin, but according to the Spirit. Happiness is waiting for you. More than that, happiness is God’s desire for you. Will you pursue it? That is my prayer for you. Please pray that for me!