Revolution, Rule, and Fruit
A battle rages inside me. It is a battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self. I have been thinking a lot about the kingdom of self since I preached that sermon, “Deconstructing Self” on April 9th. I mentioned some thought about the demise of the self in my Day 9 blog. It seems to me that a lot of what I am reading both in the Scripture and in other places comes back to this idea of the self and its conflict with the kingdom of God.
Jesus said that the kingdom of God was within us (Luke 17:21). The kingdom of God belongs to the Father. It is his kingdom with Jesus as the king. The Holy Spirit is the executor of that kingdom in our heart. He is establishing God’s rule and producing God’s fruit with in our hearts. He is doing this in opposition to the kingdom of self. (BOOOOO! HISSSSSS…). The self is busy in our hearts trying to establish his kingdom which has self as the king and self as the executor. This two are in constant conflict. Paul used the Greek word sarx, translated “flesh” or “sinful nature” in the way that I am using the word self. Check out some of these references that Paul makes to the self. Note that I am adding the word “self” to emphasize the work of the kingdom of self.
For the sinful nature [self] desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature [self]. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17)
I do not understand what I [self] do. For what I want to do I [self] do not do, but what I hate I [self] do. And if I [self] do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin [self] living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature [self]. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I [self] cannot carry it out. For what I [self] do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I [self] keep on doing. Now if I [self] do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin [self] living in me that does it. (Romans 7:15-20)
I [self] have been crucified with Christ and I [self] no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
I think it is helpful to see the kingdom of self within that is doing battle with the kingdom of God with. It makes this Romans 7 passage easier to understand. Bible scholars and commentaries have debated the meaning of Romans 7 for years. Some understand Paul to be speaking about his situation BEFORE coming to Christ. Other see Romans 7 as Paul’s present struggle. (Life Bible Fellowship Church has a brief history on this debate.) I believe that Paul is speaking of his present struggle. I think this is the clearest reading in its context. This does put me at odds with Gordon Fee. Fee stands firm in his position that Paul is speaking of his condition before coming to Christ. Fee argues that there is no struggle in Paul after he came to Christ and the Spirit came to fill his heart. I humbly disagree with Fee. I have read his argument and it seems like a stretch for me.
Paul writes in the first person using the present (progressive) tense, because he is describing the ongoing battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self. Let me take some liberty and rewrite the Romans 7 passage to clearly emphasize the kingdom of self.
Romans 7:15-20: The self remix
I do not understand what self is doing. For what I want to do self does not do, but what I hate I self does. And if I self does what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is self living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my self. For I have the desire to do what is good, but self cannot carry it out. For what self does is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this is what self continues to do. Now if self does what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is self living in me that does it.
It is the Holy Spirit who establishes the kingdom of God in my heart by producing fruit—certain character traits—in my heart. The establishment of God’s kingdom is the warfare that the Spirit is involved in against the dreaded kingdom of self. This idea is a powerful concept. I am not the warrior in this battle. I am the object. I am the land that the Spirit is battling for.
Here is today’s prayer: Lord, may your kingdom be established in my heart by the Holy Spirit. Produce within me all of the fruit of the Spirit—especially patience. I know that it is listed as number four among the fruit, but it is my number one need. Serenity Now! Amen.
“Serenity now” is a quote from a Seinfeld episode of the same name.
The episode opens with George and his parents (Frank & Estelle) riding together in the car. George is driving with his mom in the passenger seat. Frank, George’s dad, is in the back seat complaining that he doesn’t have enough leg room. He is mad at Estelle (as usual) because she tried to pull the lever to move the seat forward and the seat wouldn’t move.
Here is the dialogue:
The Serenity Now
Originally aired 10/9/97 9:00pm
Frank: Like an animal. Because of her, I have to sit here like an animal! Serenity now! Serenity now!
George: What is that?
Frank: Doctor gave me a relaxation cassette. When my blood pressure gets too high, the man on the tape tells me to say, ‘Serenity now!’
George: Are you supposed to yell it?
Frank: The man on the tape wasn’t specific.
George: What happened to the screen door? It blew off again?
Estelle: I told you to fix that thing.
Frank: Serenity nowww!