There is a lot to unpack in any reading of Scripture, and certainly in any of the letters attributed to St Paul. We have to take account that it was written for and in a different time, different place, different language, and very different context. So when Paul is talking about witchcraft and when Pat Robertson is talking about witchcraft, they are not speaking of the same thing. Nor are they even necessarily speaking of the same thing when they talk about sexual immorality – or homosexuality.
Sadly, they’re not even talking about the same thing when they refer to The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom, as NT Wright and other biblical scholars often point out, is a place that is not in space but is yet on Earth and now rather than away and later. It is the reign and rule of God in the hearts of the people that live the new way to be human that Jesus demonstrated and taught (cf, the Sermon on the Mount). This new way to be human (to lift a phrase from Liberation Theologian Gustav Gutierrez) is a recognition of humanity’s Imago Dei – the fact that we share in the divine as we are made in the image of God and God – in the form of Jesus – shared in us, in our sufferings and glories and hurts and pains and cramps and laughs.
How do we know if we are a part of this particular Kingdom, away from the dominant kingdoms and empires of the world (and their ways of conquest and power), and the easy ways of the flesh (personal empires)? Besides the various metaphors that Jesus shared (which should also be understood in context), both he and Paul talked about fruits. What we’ve noticed in our series is that much of Christian culture talks about the fruits – and casts people in and out of Christianity based on how they believe another person acts in accordance to their interpretation of one of the “acts of the flesh.” Homosexuality is openly condemned as being “sexually immoral” but wealth accumulation is glossed over when it’s not encouraged and sanctified.
Another note: This isn’t about heaven and hell. The Kingdom of God isn’t about the afterlife (though it accompanies and carries through to that), and it isn’t about fear. It is about the here and now and about love. Let that sink in and soak for a good long while because, when it does, the power of imperialistic Christian standards die a good, silent death.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, faction and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh 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.