Jesus raises the blessing-bar high. Many claim to be Christian. But let's make it personal and ask ourselves. Does our own behavior match what the Bible predicts for the believer?
Let's turn to Galatians 5:16-24. Listen:
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:  immorality,  impurity,  sensuality,  idolatry,  sorcery,  enmities,  strife,  jealousy,  outbursts of anger,  disputes,  dissensions,  factions,  envying,  drunkenness,  carousing, and [16+] 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 [singular] 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.
There are two powers here: "the desire of the flesh" (5:16), and the opposing power, "the Spirit" (5:16, 17, 18, 22). "The desire of the flesh" is the cultivated, intentionally chosen commitment to sin each of us has nurtured. We started with damaged flesh, a humanity not as God designed it to be. Its rational faculty, its sensory faculty, its power of choice, begins scrambled, unlike God's design for man. All have cultivated this desire. The result of "the desire of the flesh" inevitably is "the deeds of the flesh," the 16+ negative behaviors Paul has listed.
Those who practice such things will be lost. Paul had previously taught all this to the Galatians, and reprises that teaching here. If you are controlled by "the desire of the flesh," you will manifest "the deeds of the flesh." None can read your heart. But none can fail to see "the deeds of the flesh." We've all experienced the desire of the flesh and manifested the deeds of the flesh. We've all been hellbound.
But Jesus sought us. He has softened our darkened hearts. He bought us and brought us into His kingdom. He prompted us, we chose to become His subjects and He is our King. We are transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus (Colossians 1:13).
By His death on the cross He purchased us as His possessions. He gives the gift of His Holy Spirit. He makes it possible for us to be in "the Spirit," live by the Spirit, and be led by the Spirit, rather than by the desire of the flesh.
Just as every mango tree manifests the fruit of the mango tree--mangoes, so does every person who has the Holy Spirit manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Not fruits but fruit, singular. Every Christian who is truly a Christian will manifest the fruit, singular, of the Spirit.
When we come to this marker--the fruit of the Spirit--this sign, or outword indicator, what do we have? This one fruit is manifest in nine aspects;  love,  joy,  peace,  patience,  kindness,  goodness,  faithfulness,  gentleness,  and self-control. The King James version uses for the ninth aspect the old-fashioned word "Temperance."
Love is the Demonstration of Self-Control
The Ten Commandments begin with "You shall have no other Gods before Me" and end with "You shall not covet." There is a coming full circle here, a totality. We are to belong to God alone, and covet nothing that belongs to another.
Jesus' Beatitudes begin with, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and end with "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you." There is movement here from poor to poor. But in the end the follower of Jesus gains the whole kingdom.
And, there is this Galatians 5:16 description of the fruit of the spirit, starting with love and ending with temperance, or self control. Remember, God is love, and God exercises self control. It is because He exercises self control that we are not consumed. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul tells us that love is not provoked, that it bears all things, that it even endures all things. In essence, love is the demonstration of self control.
God's long patience in the working-through of creature rebellion is His ultimate demonstration of self control. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13) yet He does not consume us (Malachi 3:6).
He is working to save as many as He can. If Jesus is God and if we are made in God's image and if we are to become like God, like Jesus, then we also are to become living examples of self-control. If we have His Spirit in us, then we will show the world what is in us and what is in us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The true Christian is a demonstration of self control. He, she, is temperate. Temperance marks love.
Our Ancestors had Truth
Temperance has many benefits for us both personally and individually. In my travels I have picked up some old Church Manuals. I want to read something to you today from your Church from 75 years ago. It speaks of temperance:
That the followers of Christ should be a godly people, not adopting the unholy maxims nor conforming to the unrighteous ways of the world, not loving its sinful pleasures nor countenancing its follies. That the believer should recognize his body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that therefore he should clothe that body in neat, modest, and dignified apparel. Further, that in eating and drinking and in his entire course of conduct he should shape his life as becometh a follower of the meek and lowly Master. Thus, the believer will be led to abstain from all intoxicating drinks, tobacco, and other narcotics, and to avoid every body and soul-defiling habit and practice (Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 1942 ed., p. 196).
This was written 75 years ago, but it matches perfectly what we need today. Whether we are mothers, fathers, or grandparents, or teenagers, we should be a godly people. We should not adopt the unholy maxims or conform to the unrighteous ways of the world. We should not love its sinful pleasures nor be approving of its follies.
We all know the specifics. No unclean meat, no cigarettes, no alcoholic beverages, no R-rated movies. But are we up to speed for the world of 2017?
We should recognize our body as being the temple, the dwelling place, of the Holy Spirit. On that basis, we should dress modestly, neatly, and dignified.
You would not do this because your flesh is dignified. It's not. Because the Spirit of God is dignified, which He is, you should do it. How we treat our bodies should show whether we desire the presence of the Holy Spirit, and whether we have given thought to whether we should be in respect for Him or not. Of course, we would dress appropriate to our situation. We would not wear church clothes while gardening. We would not wear gardening clothes while churching.
Eating and Drinking
What about eating and drinking? We would do that as Jesus would do that. Jesus knew He would die quite young but He didn't eat unhealthfully. He didn't treat His body like a waste can. He ate as He dressed--modestly, neatly, and dignified. Remember, this is our Jesus. We should copy His approach. There are some things that should never pass our lips, and others we should eat only in moderation. The plan is not "everything in moderation," but "those things which are permitted" in moderation. God designed us. He knows how to feed us.
Jesus was meek and lowly and our demeaner should be meek and lowly. We are representatives of He who demonstrated the maximum self-control and even allowed Himself to be nailed to the Cross for us while we were still sinners.
We all know Satan is working against us in the area of eating and drinking. There are people called food scientists whose whole job is to discover the most addictive combinations of fat, salt, and sugar so that a food product can be made as addictive as possible. You are not only up against the devil, but some of your fellow humans who have sold out their humanity to make a buck and participate in the creation of products which are maximally addictive. But some of them may still receive God's gift of repentance.
Here are three questions to ask yourself when you eat:
- If I consume this will I feel loss of control?
- If I consume this will I feel shame, blame, and guilt?
- If I consume this am I being exploited by some corporation which designed its product to be maximally addictive?
Even if we would eat it for pleasure, some would refuse to eat it if we knew we were being exploited. When we don't eat it we receive the benefit of not eating it either way.
Energy Reduction Drinks
We should avoid all intoxicating drinks. Virtually all the "energy drinks" now marketed are laced with caffeine and other physiology-accelerating substances. These beverages are designed to destroy your body's natural equilibrium and create in you an unnatural biochemistry. It is one thing for some substances to be introduced intelligently in a moment of medical necessity, but it is another to use them recreationally. All tobacco and other narcotics (i.e. drugs designed to put your body into an unnatural state of euphoria) should be put out of our lives. No, not because we are working our way to heaven. None of us can ever work our way to heaven. But because we are copying the Master and departing from every body and soul-defiling habit and practice.
Besides, we all know that these "energy drinks" actually take away energy. They give unnatural stimulation now at the cost of an unnatural "low" later. You are buying a product that doesn't give you energy but transfers a small bit of energy to you now from energy you will not have later. And you're paying money for this effect?
Even more important is what we put into our mind. We are all only one click away from viewing evil. More than this, we are all only one click away from wasting our life viewing ridiculous videos. More than this, we are all but one click away from sending or reading frivolous messages. There is a whole industry now built on the principle of millions of people wasting their limited time producing and consuming unimportant little messages. Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying you can't text your friend or send an occasional photograph. I am only pointing out that the most valuable thing you and I possess is our time. Time is not neutral. Time is probationary. I only have a little bit of it left to prepare for eternity.
I did a little calculation recently. The average life expectancy for an American male is 76 years. When I first delivered this sermon, I had 8030 days left if I lived to that average age. That was July 1. Today is August 26 I've just burned 56 days. Tomorrow, I will only have 7974.
The Soul-Winning Effect
But I've been wanting to come to this point. We should be temperate not only because it will directly benefit us, but because our being temperate, our exercise of self-control, is soul-winning in its effect. It is an echo of the goodness of God. The goodness of God leads people to repentance (Romans 2:4). The goodness of God seen in you leads people to repentance.
The world around us is dominated by the desire of the flesh. But every person manifesting that, swimming in that, seeing that, is also given a conscience and should be able to recognize a life shining for heaven when they see it. Life in the Spirit looks different than life in slavery to the desire of the flesh. It's true that some are only just coming to faith. Some may be converted but not manifesting all the evidences of conversion. Their spiritual teachers may be deficient. And you and I can misunderstand and misinterpret what we see. We should expect to see aberrations and wrong signals. We should stop short of making ourselves judge for another.
Friends, the Holy Spirit of God will work with people when they see Christianity. After all, it is God who arranges situations so that actual Christian experience is placed in front of their eyes. It is self-control when you depart from body and soul-defiling practices. It is a help to you, but more, it is a witness to others. You don't need to do the popular thing and they don't need to do the popular thing. Corporations have spent a lot of money to make the popular thing be perceived as the popular thing. You don't need to wallow in a few moments of destructive experience just because others are doing that. Your life should be teaching others lessons of temperance.
Let's look at application now.
Of all the lessons to be learned from our Lord's first great temptation, none is more important than that bearing upon the control of the appetites and passions. In all ages, temptations appealing to the physical nature have been most effectual in corrupting and degrading mankind. Through intemperance, Satan works to destroy the mental and moral powers that God gave to man as a priceless endowment. Thus it becomes impossible for men to appreciate things of eternal worth. Through sensual indulgence, Satan seeks to blot from the soul every trace of lifeness to God (The Desire of Ages, p. 122).
Self-control is a priceless power given to man. Loss of self-control signals loss of spiritual discernment. The senses are good; the experience of proper desire and its satiation is a part of the creation God Himself designed into His world and pronounced "very good" (Genesis 1:31). But the misuse of these powers--that misvaluation which makes the sensual supreme--is spiritually self-destructive.
Dumb animals need to be trained, for they have not reason and intellect. But the human mind must be taught self-control (Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, p. 687),
You are higher than the animals. You are called to rise above being trained by food corporations and instead be taught of God.
The real greatness and nobiity of the man is measured by the power of the feelings that he subdues, not by the power of the feelings that subdue him (Ibid., p. 689).
People are looking out into their world at what? There is but little real greatness out there. There is very little true heroism. You and I can show what true nobility is by doing what is right and living the self-controlled life. Jesus came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. His mission is our mission too--to live so that others see how to have life more abundantly. We live this way, not to be saved but so that others see that God in the life changes the life. We are spiritual not animal. We can call them to be their true selves, to be what God designed them to be. We are witnesses in our world, not through word only, but more persuasively, by act.
One more short paragraph on how to live temperately:
The Spirit of God does not propose to do our part, either in the willing or the doing. This is the work of the human agent in cooperating with the divine agencies. As soon as we incline our will to harmonize with God's will, the grace of Christ stands to cooperate with the human agent; but it will not be the substitute to do our work independent of our resolving and decidedly acting. Therefore it is not the abundance of light, and evidence piled upon evidence, that will convert the soul; it is only the human agent accepting the light, arousing the energies of the will, realizing and acknowledging that which he knows is righteousness and truth, and thus cooperating with the heavenly ministrations appointed of God in the saving of the soul (ibid., p. 691).
Our work is to resolve and decidedly act, to accept light and acknowledge what is righteousness and truth, and to arouse the energies of the will, to choose the right and act on the right. This is how we receive God's grace. He gives it; He saves us, but He helps us choose cooperation.
God has called Adventists to be beacons, lightbringers, torches to truth in a place of darkness. He has called us through Jesus and Jesus only to be exhibits and examples of self-control in an age of excess and indulgence and dissipation. He has called us to live biblically-informed lives in an age when many think they have a broad experience but their so-wide lives are only one inch deep.
The ultimate human life is to learn by doing how to follow the Lamb Jesus wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4). HAYSTACKS: "T" is for "temperance." But the next letter is coming, another "A." And this once I'm going to tell you what it is ahead of time. "A" is for "Alpha and Omega."
Deer Park, WA 2017-07-01
Chewelah, WA 2017-08-26