In Johnny Cash’s song, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” he sings, “You can run on for a long time, run on for a long time, run on for a long time, sooner or later God’ll cut you down, sooner or later God’ll cut you down . . . Go tell that long tongue liar, go tell that midnight rider, tell the rambler, the gambler, the backbiter, tell them that God’s gonna cut ‘em down, tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down . . .”
He gives a testimony, “O my goodness gracious let me tell ya the news, my head’s been wet with the midnight dew, I’ve been down on bended knee, talkin’ to the man from Galilee, He spoke to me in a voice so sweet, i thought I heard a shuffle of angels’ feet, He spoke to me and my heart stood still, when He said ‘Man, go do My will,’ . . . You can throw your rock, and hide your hand, workin’ in the dark against your fellow man, But sure as God made black and white, what is done in the dark will be brought to the light . . .”
This song speaks about people who do not follow God, and think they are getting away with it. In the trailer for the new movie “True Grit,” based on the 1968 book by Charles Portis, True Grit, this song is played. The message of that book is a similar message, where a man murders another man in the old west, and the story is of bringing him to justice. It is a great book, but that’s not the point.
The point has to do with what Paul wrote about in Galatians 5:13-26, where he urged the Galatians to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not satisfy the desires of the flesh,” or “live by the Spirit,” (NIV) (for JC Smith :)) Hold onto that thought . . .
. . . John 13:34-35, Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Picture Jesus in the upper room, talking to His disciples, and he tells them a new commandment. (Sorry, couldn’t find a more manly Jesus picture–not one that was reverent. Got a better one? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org). He’s not replacing the First and Great Commandment, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength;” He’s not replacing the 2nd Great Commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but He’s giving them a new commandment like the other two. This should flow out of your life. This command is the new bumper sticker He wants them to wear, that marks them as people trying to be like Him. The rabbi is telling His students the school mascot: Love one another.
Go back to Galatians. Paul writes to a people much like our churches today. Whether or not you believe they were in Northern or Southern Galatia, they had the same problems we have. On one hand, they struggled with legalism, where Christians believe that if they act perfectly it is the most important part of their walk with Christ. Usually these are people who define themselves by who they’re against or what they don’t believe in, or what they don’t do. You’ve heard, “We don’t smoke, drink, chew, or hang around those that do.” Who wants to be a part of an amoeba that constantly defines itself by what others do, that it does not?
Then Galatia had the other extreme, which were the libertines, or the eccentrics carrying out their Christian liberty. A good word to describe them is irresponsible. You can spot these Christians because they believe that they prayed a prayer and now can live however they want. They do not feel guilty when they sin, or express remorse, because they think that because all sin was paid for on the cross, Jesus doesn’t care. Kind of like a multi-billionaire handing us hundreds of dollars every month and not caring how we spend it because the supply seems limitless. That is also wrong.
In this context, speaking of living their lives like Christ, Paul incorporates Jesus’ command in the sermon on the Mount and John 13 in the Upper Room discourse: Love your neighbor as yourself! Paul says it sums up the entire law! “So then, live by the Spirit . . .” In other words, “Because of this . . .” or “Having said that, I say to you . . .” In light of your need to stop biting and devouring each other, you need to live by the Spirit, and you will not satisfy the desires of the flesh. The two, he explains, are like oil and water and cannot co-exist. You must choose, and it isn’t legalism, and it isn’t irresponsible Christian hedonism, it is in the middle like Jesus. Live by the Spirit, communion with God and letting Him lead you.
Our witness is loudest in our relationships that are closest. We should be so living by the Holy Spirit that we can open our home and let people watch us argue with our spouse and see that even in our disagreements, the Holy Spirit is there and our resolution is in accordance with God the Holy Spirit. Same with our churches, so that unbelievers are awed at our love for one another. Disciples of Jesus have this. Do you? If not, are you working on it? This is something you can’t put off.
Dr. Criswell, long time pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, TX, described this as if we all owned two dogs, one called the sinful nature and the other represented walking by the Spirit. Whichever dog you feed is going to grow stronger. So the question is “Which of your two dogs is healthy and growing, and which of your two dogs is starving?”
Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his book, He That is Spiritual, hits this nail on the head. He said that the problem is never God’s fault (I’m paraphrasing), it is ours. It isn’t that the Spirit isn’t filling us enough, because the Holy Spirit comes into our lives completely when we are saved. The problem is us not giving Him enough of ourselves.
Don’t miss this: Paul told Christians in Galatians 5 that in order to love one another, you must be living by the Spirit. You must be godly, because you can try to love someone completely like Jesus did (remember, it is “as I have loved you,”), but unless you depend on Him, your nature is not able to love others like Jesus did. The Spirit in you–Jesus who said He would be with you always, even to the end of the age–the Spirit of Christ which is the Holy Spirit–He alone gives us the power we need to love one another. In order to love one another, we have to live by the Holy Spirit.
So, then, how does what Paul is saying relate to what Jesus said in John 13? Jesus said loving one another is our ID. Paul explained that can’t happen unless we are trying to be Godly. Godliness can’t happen unless we surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit. So then, how do we surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit? Read Galatians 5:22 and following, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
What Paul describes is like two people walking up the ladder of Godliness. As long as both people continue to climb upwards, they continue to get closer together. However, if one person decides to go down and give into the sinful nature, the two naturally grow farther apart.
Followers of the rabbi from Galilee, let’s be people of love, an inner joy, people of peace, people who have patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness in our relationships and to our call, people of gentleness, and people who demonstrate to the world what self-control looks like. Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to do this. Focus on this, on what we do. Love one another greatly.
Lastly, my friend from India grew up a Hindu and now is a Christ-follower. It is interesting that He said the one thing that got him, that he could not stop thinking about when he met Christians, was their love for one another. It was their treatment of each other better than family, that got him. That eventually led him to investigate and discover the Gospel, and follow Jesus. Keep reading in Galatians and chapter 6 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” Let’s risk our lives for one another, help restore the fallen followers of Jesus, help the poor brothers and sisters (as well as the poor unbelievers), and that will be a loud witness to the world who thinks we’re irrelevant. Let’s be disciples who show love for one another.