Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alternative Lifestyles

We know what they mean these days when they speak of "alternative lifestyles". They refer to lifestyles people may take that are not ... normal. They're not mainstream, not typical, not for everyone. Sometimes it's a reference to sexual issues such as homosexual lifestyles or "swinging" couples. Just as often it's about communes, nudism, co-ops, and such. The term includes vegetarianism, body modification, alternative medicine, and eastern religions. Lots of alternatives, as it turns out.

Paul offers two and only two.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:16-25)
He begins with the briefest of statements. You can "walk by the Spirit" or you can "carry out the desires of the flesh." That's the summary version. Those are the options -- the only two. You decide.

Paul goes on to explain the two. What do they look like? Well, "the works of the flesh" include sexual sin of all types, idolatry of all types, and sins against each other of all types. Isn't it interesting that Paul uses here the exact same phrase he used in 1 Cor 6:9-10? There he warned, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" Here he says that those who practice the kinds of stuff on this list "will not inherit the kingdom of God." That means that this is pretty important stuff. It's not about "bad" -- immoral. It's about eternity. People known for sexual immorality (a Greek term that broadly encompasses all sexual involvement outside of biblical marriage), who make a practice of idolatry, who embrace strife, who approve and perform disputes, who are known for "factions" -- the literal word is "heresies" -- people who embrace the "deeds of the flesh" are not bound for a pleasant eternity. It's not people who do them on occasion, but who make an ongoing practice of these things who are walking by the flesh and will not inherit God's kingdom.

We're all aware of the alternative. If not of the flesh, we would have to be of the Spirit. Just as the deeds of the flesh are evident, the Spirit produces fruit. Both are inexorable. The fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." All of these fall within God's law. All of these are products not of self-effort, but of the Spirit.

What decides which way we go? What decides if we inherit the kingdom or not? Obviously if we walk by the Spirit or by the flesh. Paul says that one mark of walking by the Spirit is when we are not doing the things we please (Gal 5:17). Walking by the Spirit is not satisfying our own personal desires. To walk by the Spirit requires crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24).

Two alternatives. Only two. Check yourself. Which are you? Which list speaks more closely to your lifestyle? If inheriting the kingdom of God is important to you, this is an important answer. Important warning: If "If it feels good, do it" is your primary mantra, you might find you're in an extremely dangerous position. "I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."

2 comments:

David said...

It seems like orthodox Christianity is more a more an alternative lifestyle as well.

Stan said...

Yes (where "more a more" = "more and more"). It is my conviction, given Jesus's use of the terms "few" and "many" (Matt 7:13-14), that it has always been more of an "alternative lifestyle" ... even in a "Christian nation".