A man set out to plant a garden. He purchased a large plot of ground in an area that had fertile soil, and he built a strong fence around it. Then he divided it up into sections, one section for each of his favorite foods, and carefully plowed each section into rows.
Next he painted signs for each section, showing colorful pictures of the plump vegetables and fruits he was looking forward to harvesting there: carrots and peas, tomatoes and corn, squash, beans, onions, strawberries, watermelons, and cucumbers.
Finally, when he was satisfied with his preparations, he joyfully went off to the seed store to purchase the seeds that would become the wonderful garden of his imagination. He was amazed by the variety of the seeds. Some were small and black, some were large and white, some were round, some flat. He purchased for himself some of each of the seeds he thought were the most fascinating. The seeds he liked best of all were long and skinny and shiny black, so he bought a lot of those.
Home he went and planted his seeds in the rows he had prepared, poking each little seed down into the soil with his finger. He watered them carefully and he waited. Soon small shoots of green began to appear, and the man excitedly continued to watch over his plants, watering them daily.
But as time passed, the man began to suspect that something was wrong. Some of the sections did not have any green coming up in the rows where he had planted his seeds, although all of the sections seemed to have something growing in places he did not remember planting them. Not knowing what to do about it, he continued to water his plants and hope for the best.
As time went on, the man became increasingly certain something was wrong. In some of the sections, flowers grew. In the watermelon section, something was growing that looked suspiciously like the tops of onions. In the strawberry section something was growing that was unusually tall. And the plants in the corn, squash, and bean sections all seemed to look alike.
I am sure by now you have figured out that the man did not choose his seeds well. Rather than choosing his seeds according to the crop they would yield, he chose his seeds because they were desirable in appearance. He planted them in rows, but not necessarily at the proper depth or in the proper season. And he was not sure how to recognize his plants–so when they sprouted, he was not able to distinguish them from the weeds.
Sometimes, I think, we live our Christian life that way. We want to experience the joys and blessings of the Christian life, but we choose to fill our lives with whatever we find appealing instead of pursuing those things that will produce the fruit we desire.
Consider the following passages from Galatians (Gal. 5:13-23; 6:7-9).
Gal. 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Gal. 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 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. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Gal. 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
Consider with me what it means to live by faith.
Living by Faith is, according to Scripture, the place of blessing and of fruitfulness for the believer. It is the “sweet spot.” It is the place of joy and peace. The place that feels like home. It is the place where it really is possible to be content, even in difficult circumstances. It is the place where your heart is longing to be, even though you may be unaware of it.
My question to you is, if this place of Living by Faith really is the place where you and I as believers are meant to experience all of God’s promised blessings for the Christian, why do so few seem to be experiencing it?
Perhaps it is because, like the man in the story, you are planting onions where you should be planting watermelons. Perhaps you are not taking the time to learn the difference between the weeds that need to be removed from your life and the healthy plants that need to be planted carefully and nurtured so that they can produce fruit. Perhaps you are too busy chasing after that which is appealing to the eye, but does not satisfy.
Imagine yourself walking down a peaceful path in the woods. The Bible often compares the Christian life to walking along a path. Jesus said,
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matt. 7:13-14
Picture yourself walking down that narrow path. This is your walk with Christ.
What happens if you stray from the path? Isaiah 30:21 says,
“Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” Isaiah 30:21
In other words, if you begin to stray from the path, God will gently show you that you have stepped off the path and will remind you to step back into the path and to continue to walk with Him.
But what if you ignore His instruction and do not step back into the path? According to Hebrews chapter 12, God says He will discipline you. Gently at first, and then if you stubbornly refuse to listen, eventually He will discipline more harshly. Hebrews 12:5-6 reads,
““MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
Hebrews 12 goes on to remind us that although our earthly fathers disciplined according to what they thought best, God’s discipline is always right and just, and He is always motivated by what is truly best for us.
But that is a subject for another day. What I want you to think about is what it looks like when you are walking on that path of Living by Faith, and what it looks like when you step off to the right or to the left.
So, picture yourself walking along that narrow way.
There are two ways we typically step off the path. One is the way of Legalism. When you step into legalism, you are depending on your own human effort to please Christ. This may appear in the form of limiting God by only allowing Him to do in your life what you can actually do yourself in your own human power. Or it may appear in the form of being judgmental of yourself and others – not in the good way of being discerning and having good judgment, but in the negative way of considering yourself or others unworthy of God’s grace because of human failure to live up to His standards. Legalism says, “I must earn God’s love.”
On the other side, we typically step off the path into Carnality. Carnality is about indulging the flesh. It says, “I can do what I want.” Carnality may rear its head as pride or stubborn defiance against God, openly refusing to obey what you know is right. It may appear as indulging in sinful behavior, excusing it as “the weakness of our flesh.” And as the apostle Paul points out, we may even wrongly claim that it doesn’t matter if we go on sinning, because God forgives us. In fact he states in Romans 6:1-2 that some shamelessly flaunt their sin as an opportunity for God to demonstrate His grace!
In the world we live in today, there seems sometimes to be confusion–even among believers–about what is right and what is wrong. The world encourages us to indulge fleshly desires. But listen again to what Paul said in Galatians 5:
Gal. 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
I want you to notice two points:
- The flesh and the Spirit oppose one another – you cannot have it both ways.
- If you walk by the Spirit, you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.
You cannot be in two places at once. Either you are indulging the flesh by stepping off the path into Carnality, or you are walking by the Spirit on the narrow path. Paul goes on to describe what it looks like when you step into Carnality:
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 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.
Now, I have noticed that there is sometimes confusion about what some of these words mean, so here is my paraphrase:
Indulging the flesh may include: indulging in any sexual relationship other than a one-man/one-woman marriage relationship; indulging impure thoughts, such as through pornography; speaking, acting, or dressing in a manner intended to gain sexual attention from others; giving to any other person, place, or thing that which rightfully belongs to God; participating in witchcraft, horoscopes, or other occult practices; indulging in hateful attitudes; angry quarrels; selfish jealousy; angry outbursts; selfish ambition; promoting disunity or cliquishness; envying; getting drunk, getting high, and/or partying with others who are doing so.
If any of these things are a regular part of your lifestyle, you are not walking by the Spirit. You are living a Carnal lifestyle. You are not on the path.
So, what exactly does it look like when you are walking on the path? Living by Faith is:
- Abiding in Christ, John 15:4-5
- Walking by the Spirit, Gal 5:16
- Walking in newness of life, Rom 6:4
- Walking in the Light and having fellowship with Him, 1 John 1:1-7
- Putting on the new self, Col 3:8-15, Eph 4:17-24
- Being crucified with Christ, Gal 2:20
HAVING AN ATTITUDE OF SURRENDER:
- (Continually) Considering yourself dead to sin but alive to God, Rom 6:11
- (Continually) Presenting your body as a living sacrifice to God and being transformed by the renewing of your mind, Rom 12:1-2
- No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Rom 8:1
- The fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; and against which there is no law. Gal 5:22-23
For all practical purposes, none of us walks this path perfectly. We have all strayed to one side or the other. The point is to pay attention to where you are headed so that you spend as little time as possible off the path, and as much time as possible on the path.
Why? Because it is the “sweet spot.” It is the place of joy and peace. It is the place that feels like home. It is the place of blessing and of fruitfulness. It is the place of walking with Christ. It is the path that leads to life.
How can you stay on the path? Can you guess? The key is the time you spend nurturing your relationship with Christ through the time you spend in prayer, in worship, and in reading and studying His Word. Not just when you are together with other Christians, but especially when it is just you and God. The key is “fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” (Heb 112:1-2)
Practically speaking, it all comes down to choosing which seeds you are going to plant and where you are going to plant them. Are you going to continue to step off the path to plant seeds of Carnality or of Legalism? Are you going to continue to spend time off the path as you water them and help them to grow? Or are you going to recognize them for the weeds they are, yank them up, toss them aside and leave them behind?
Stay on the path; sow to the Spirit; and you will reap the fruit of the Spirit and eternal life.
[Adapted from a sermon originally preached January 22, 2012]