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TWO STOCKMAN EVENTS THIS WEEKEND

LAND OF THE THOU SHALT NOTS - OR FREEDOM IN THE SPIRIT

Stocki IF preach...

This is the script of a talk given by Stocki at Queens University Christian Union on November 6th 2003. Those who know him will know it probably turned out very different and more energetic live but here it is anyway...They wanted him to speak about the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5...

Thou shalt not wear 
Thou shalt not drink 
Thou shalt not joke 
Thou shalt not think 
Thou shalt not hear 
Thou shalt not see 
Thou shalt not say 
Thou shalt not be 
Thou shalt settle down in the trenches 
In the land of the thou shalt nots 
What on earth then can we do 
My goodness I've forgot. 

Thou shalt go to church on Sunday 
Thou shalt wear a plastic smile 
Thou shalt be content to be discontent 
Thou shalt be happy in a little while 
Thou shalt talk about the needy 
Thou shalt pray they make it through 
Thou shalt thank the Lord you're not like them
Though shalt be orange and blue 
Though shalt settle down in quarantine 
In the land of the thou shalt nots 
And everyone you ever meet 
Will long for what you've got. 

Thou shalt not even enter a public house 
Thou shalt not turn water into wine 
Thou shalt not question authority 
Thou shalt not put religion on the line 
Thou shalt not mix with sinners 
Thou shalt not talk to prostitutes 
Thou shalt not be in the world at all 
Thou shalt not be their substitute 
Thou shalt settle down in the trenches 
In the land of the thou shalt nots 
And all this talk of a radical Jesus 
Is just some Muslim, Buddhist, communist, humanist, socialist, ecumenical, new age, popish PLOT!

Many of us live in THE LAND OF THE THOU SHALT NOTS and it is not where God wants us to be. There is a bizarre little behavioural and theological quirk at play in evangelical Christianity. In evangelism there is an emphasis on how salvation is not about what we do but about what God does for us. Rooted in Paul’s words to the Ephesians, - “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2 v 8 & 9) – we find one of Christianity’s main differences with other religions. You do not find God by human or ritual endeavours. It is not what we do to get to God, it is what God does for us in Jesus death and resurrection. He has entered time and space history to be part of the act that redeemed or bought us back from our state of lostness. We do not find God. He finds us. Grace. It is Christianity in one unique concept and one amazing word.

Grace flies in the face of our intuition. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You cannot get something that easy never mind something of such enormous consequences. Our intuition finds it impossible to believe. That will always be a reminder to us of how incredible Christianity is but it has to also warn us that our natural inclination will be to not believe it. I believe that we who live with an evangelical mindset and hopefully lifestyle wrestle and struggle with this belief. We use the words and stand by it uncompromisingly theologically but I think that pragmatically there is no such belief at the engine room of our lives. Our human intuition needs to bring back systems of works. So we end up believing that you cannot be saved by works, only by grace but when you find your salvation you have to work like the clappers to maintain it. This reveals a misunderstanding of grace, a misunderstanding of our relationship with God and leads to a new evangelical legalism that is an antithesis of evangelical. 

This is not at all new and the book of Galatians is Paul correcting these three errors of thought and practice. It would seem that the people in Galatia heard the astounding truth of the Gospel of Christ’s grace and took off enthusiastically before the human intuition stalled them and through religious leaders who would seem to have had a genuine soundness they were led back into legalism and works. Paul lashes out in an anger that let us know in no uncertain terms how serious this regression is to the well being of the faith in proclamation and in outworking. The pages of Galatians are peppered with an agitation, worry and incredulous disbelief that what was going so well could take such a twist. He wants the perpetrators condemned even if it is an angel! It is the very core of Christianity that is at stake for Paul. It is what Christ died for. We were set free to live outside of the law which can only condemn us. We are cursed if we trust in legalistic religion and it is that very thing that Christ redeemed us from. 

For some of us we see grace as a ticket to heaven. Of course it is indeed that but it would be very wrong to confine it to that. Grace is the only key to unlock the gates of heaven but it has much more power and impact than that. Grace is also the engine room of Christian living. Paul said to the Church in Philippi that he was “confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Isaac Newton put it well in Amazing Grace, “Grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” There seems to be a lot of teaching about how grace works in saving us from the penalty of sin and indeed the in the future from the very presence of sin but very little teaching about how grace continually saves us from the power of sin in the present. Grace is the means of our justification and also the only means of our sanctification. Justification is the theological word that describes our positional holiness. In other words Christ’s blood washes our sins clean and therefore we can stand before a holy God righteous. A righteousness as Paul called it that is not “of my own that comes from the law but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Sanctification is the practical holiness that comes to grow and ripen in our lives as we walk in that new relationship. As Christ’s sacrifice was the means of grace that brings us justification so the Holy Spirit is the one who is the means of grace that brings the fruit of the Spirit into our lives. It is the fruit of the Spirit not our efforts to keep the law!

This is of course a radical departure from Old Testament discipleship. Similarly radical were Jesus words to his disciples – if you love me you will keep my commands. Our new relationship with God does not mean we do things because we have to. We do them because we want to. The drive within us comes from a very different source. Is this therefore a contradiction of the Old Testament? Not at all. Paul deals with this too in this letter to the Galatians. In chapter 4 he speaks of heirs who are children needing guardians and trustees but when their time comes they have full rights as adult sons and daughters.

As a father of small heirs myself I often see the difference between those who are children and have to be under the guardian and those who are mature and are set free. When I cross the road with Caitlin and Jasmine I will stand at the edge of the kerb and force them to go through the ritual. Look and listen…Look right, look left, look right again and if there is nothing walk straight across, looking both ways while you cross! There may then be a time when we are all walking down the Lisburn Road when I will say to Janice I am nipping over the road here to get a paper. I will then just head straight across. You do not see the Lisburn Road full of adults doing some sort of green cross code. Why? Are they reckless? Are they contradicting what they learned as children and tell their children? No they are a fulfilment of it.

As I walk across freely and outside of rituals and codes I am doing everything that I was taught to do but I do them with a freedom and here is the key an almost subconscious care that is driven from within my conditioning rather than from some outside system. Paul and the writers of the New Testament are always wanting us to grow up, to move on to deeper and maturer things. Rules are for the children who are just born. We need to grow up. I was struck particularly on Sunday morning in Church as we read, “Therefore let us leave behind the elementary teachings about Christ behind and go on to maturity.” The elementary things were repentance and baptism, resurrection and judgement. These things are not forgotten or dismissed but they become a part of the childish development so that we can move on to so much more.

What we need more than anything else is the fruit of the Spirit. This is what God wants to bring in our lives. Whose fruit? Not ours! These fruit are what allows us to become mature and not have to stop at the side of the road. People wills ay to me so does that mean you can do anything at all. Well if you are saying that the rule book is torn up yes but if you are saying that it is replaced by maturity and the fruit of the Spirit – no! I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where it tells us not to drink so does that mean we can go out and get hammered. Of course not. The fruit of the Spirit is self control! And yes for some of us tonight we are childish in those things and we need to set down rules about our relationship with bars and alcohol BUT we must never ever stay in that same place. We need to go grow up in faith so that the fruit of the Spirit makes it absolutely impossible for us to come into any dangers from alcohol abuse. This is the aim. 

Let me take an aside here and look at Bible reading. We have rules and regulations about that too. If we don’t read our Bibles then we feel we have somehow annoyed God and broke down relationships. We are burdened by guilt and shame. This is a return to the law and we know already what Paul says about that. But let me spell something out to you. A friend of mine said to me once that they felt so bad because they had left the Bible on the washing machine in the Utility room when they came home from Church and had not looked at until about Thursday. Now I need to say that I find it impossible to leave the Bible on the washing machine. Sometimes I wish I could. My relationship with Scriptures is not when I open it in the morning and evening. I have a moment by moment relationship with it. It is so much a part of who I am that its pages flick and turn to words that caress and collide with every person and situation and song and film and magazine article that meet me in my day. How can this have happened? Well as a spiritual baby I was legalistic and read my Bible religiously so that when I grew up it would read me.

Back to the fruit of the Spirit. There are nine that none of us can ever remember. I would like to break them into three groups. There are LOVE, JOY & PEACE which are about our relationship with God, then there are PATIENCE, KINDNESS & GOODNESS which are about our relationship with each other. Finally there are FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS & SELF CONTROL which have to do with our relationship with ourselves. 

LOVE, JOY & PEACE come from God and are dispositions. Do we know that we are loved? Have we a deep seated joy even when our friends leave us for heaven? Is there a peace that dwells at the heart of us that empowers us to love and bring joy and peace into our world? If that grace we spoke about is what drives us then we will have these things. If we are still hanging out in the land of the Thou Shalt Nots then we will never find them. Knowing in the depths of your soul that you are loved as you are changes everything. If we find them in God we will have a security in them. If we are dependent on people and circumstances for these things we will never find them. Insecurity and inferiority will mar our existence and leave us without the ability to ripen the other fruit.

PATIENCE, KINDNESS & GOODNESS are about how we treat our fellow human beings. When we know love, joy and peace from God and know that they only come from his attitude towards us and what he has done for us we will begin to be compelled to treat others in the same way. We will be slow to anger at our friends behaviour or even that of our enemies. As God gives us time so we will give time. We will learn to be as kind as Jesus was and begin to do good things to those in the world around us. Again these are not acts we do because we have to but are things that will start to sprout through in our lives as we begin to become more and more consumed by the Spirit and more and more aware of the truth of the Gospel.

FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS & SELF CONTROL are things that grow within us that come out in some ways through our patience, kindness and goodness. How are we in holding friendships. Do we run from tricky scenarios? Are we gentle in standing for truth? Are we in control of our bodies etc?

Jesus said that loving God and our fellow humans would keep all of the law. If we see these fruit in our lives it a similar thing. God does not set us down things he wants us to do. He tells us how he wants us to be. In being this we will do all we need be doing but the drive will be inward and organic and alive instead of outward and religious and cold.

So do we just lie back and wait. Not a bit of it. We can plough and water and tend. As God’s word falls in your life Jesus warned us that some might fall on the road. Have no roads. Plough it up. Some might fall in the thorns. Weed it out. Some might fall in shallow ground. Dig deeper. Make it all fall into a life that is desiring to grow up.

U2 put it well. “You know I believe it…but I still haven’t found what I am looking for.” Seek to keep moving. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians “press on towards the prize.” “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

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