1. What blessings come to us with the “first fruits of the Spirit?” How is grace often misunderstood? How does God’s love lead us to love others more fully?
The “first fruits of the Spirit can be summed up in the word grace. The word grace simply means “gift.” Biblically, this is the gift of God’s life-giving mercy and forgiveness. The first fruit is the knowledge – given deep inside – that we are loved and that nothing in life or in death can separate us from this love. Our journey in Christ starts with this pure, undeserved, unmerited gift. With this gift, we can truly heed the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” In Christ, there is no need to fear, even as we struggle and fall along the way. In this sermon, Wesley does make it clear that this gift is not a license to do anything we want, believing that God will love us anyway. Rather, this gift is a call to grow in this love and allow this love to transform our lives. In an often-quoted verse in Wesley’s sermons we read, “We love because God first loved us.” (I John 4:19). The first fruit of God’s love expands our capacity to love others.
2. Continuing the thought above, how does the “first fruit” of knowing that we are loved motivate growth in the fruits of the Spirit? How does the gift of forgiveness and grace lead us into a life of discipleship?
Wesley’s words might be compared to a popular distinction by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” he makes a distinction between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” To paraphrase, he says that “cheap grace” is forgiveness without repentance, baptism without growing in the means of grace, communion without confession. Cheap Grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. True grace, on the other hand, is ‘costly’ because it calls us to follow and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives us the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us…” How does this distinction help us understand Wesley’s call to grace? How might we live into costly grace? What resources does the church provide?
3. How does it feel to hear that there is no condemnation for any past or present sin? How does this good news change us?
Paul describes the gospel in many ways. In our lessons this week, he says that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ,” no condemnation for any past or present sin, inward or outward sin. This does not mean that sin is gone, but does let us know how Christ is with us as we face our sin and open ourselves to God’s transforming love.
4. What does it mean to “walk in the Spirit” and how does this differ from “walking in the flesh?”
As the Paraphrase reveals, the term “flesh” signifies our nature apart from the spirit. It is not that “flesh” is bad. In fact, our material nature is loved by God. This nature is redeemed by the Spirit and becomes life-giving in relationship with God. But apart from this relationship, the “flesh,” and a focus on the things of the world, leads us into idolatry, strife, envy, lust, greed, and other destructive forms of selfish desire. In Christ, we are able to “walk in the Spirit” and, in with our whole being, grow in the fruits of the Spirit. We are called to cultivate this fruit daily. How does this distinction help us to become all that God has created us to be?