Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

April 19, 2015


Choosing how to live is a matter of life or death


People are different. In Psalms One David says some people are righteous and some are wicked. The wicked are like chaff, easily blown away by the wind. The righteous are like trees planted by streams of water.

David draws this contrast quite sharply; the wicked perish but the righteous live and bear fruit. His warning is clear: one is the way of life, the other the way of death. There is no middle ground.

Centuries later Paul contrasts these two kinds of people with the same stern warning but with different terminology. The wicked, Paul says, live according to the flesh; the righteous live according to the Spirit.

Wicked people do what pleases them, indulging in what the Bible calls the “lusts of the flesh.” Devout Christians seek to please God by living under the control of the Spirit. It all boils down to warfare between the flesh and the Spirit. There is a war going on and our souls are at stake.

 Every person is at risk. Each of us must choose sides in this spiritual battle between God and Satan. Paul warns the Galatians that the only solution is to “belong to Jesus.” Those who belong to Jesus “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

This is no game like working a crossword puzzle or playing Solitaire. It is a life or death matter! To treat it lightly is to mock God. Recognizing how easily we may be deceived by the Evil One, Paul issues a sober warning that we shall “reap what we sow.”

Then Paul offers those chilling words that ought to put the fear of God in any thoughtful person: “Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (New Living Translation).

Paul says that when we belong to Jesus we are “guided by the Spirit.” So we may ask the question: Who is in control of our lives? When the Spirit is in control, people see in us “the fruit” of the Spirit. The Spirit produces in us “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Those not guided by the Spirit are in bondage to sexual immorality, hatred, jealousy, envy, selfish ambition, discord, drunkenness and orgies. They are under the control of “the sinful nature.”

Christians, Paul says, should exercise the love given them by the Spirit to bear one another’s burdens.  This is not an easy assignment. We tend to feel that handling our own burdens is about all we can do. However Paul will not let us off the hook; he insists that we should “work for the good” of our fellow Christians at every opportunity. Yet this is quite impossible until our “flesh” has been “crucified” with Christ! Only then can we gain victory over the desires of the flesh. Each of us must decide whether we will live by the flesh or live by the Spirit. Again, there is no middle ground!

I have known many loving Christians who habitually went out of their way to bear the burdens of others. When others were hurting or in need, they did not wait for a committee to take action. Acting in love, they reached out with rent money, groceries, a car or other assistance. Guided by the Spirit, they did what they believed Jesus would have done.

On the other hand, I have witnessed others who ignored their hurting neighbors and offered no helping hand. They always had a good excuse for refusing assistance. They were too busy satisfying their own desires to take time for others. There was no fruit of love in their lives.

John Wesley taught the early Methodists to care for one another and for their neighbors. His counsel was plain: “Do all the good you can.” When we belong to Jesus, we follow the example of Jesus who “went about doing good.” Sometimes the help people need is a listening ear and a caring heart. Sometimes it is a simple word of encouragement. At other times, it may be a month’s rent or help with overwhelming medical expenses.

While even the noblest Christians can become exhausted in serving others, Paul has no sympathy for such fatigue. His remedy when tempted by weariness: resist it! Refuse to be discouraged!  “Do not grow weary,” he says, “in doing what is right.” He reminds us that there is a reward for faithfulness: if we do not give up, we shall reap a harvest one day.

The bottom line is this: there are two ways to live. One is the way of the flesh that leads to death. The other is the way of the Spirit that leads to life. One is the way of selfishness, the other the way of love. In the end, love wins. The words on an old plaque say it well: “Only one life, twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

I came across a quote by Schuyler Colfax. I had never heard of him but discovered that he served as Vice-President under President Ulysses Grant. What Colfax said will add weight to my argument:

“Man derives his greatest happiness not by that which he does for himself, but by what he accomplishes for others. This is a sad world at best – a world of sorrow, of suffering, of injustice and falsification. Men stab those whom they hate with the stiletto of slander. But it is for the followers of our Lord to improve it, and to make it more as Christ would have it. The most precious crown of fame that a human being can ask is to kneel at the bar of God and hear the beautiful words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”

        Because that is true, I need to ask the good Lord every morning to help me live under the control of his Spirit – and not to grow weary in so doing! + + +