You know the feeling. You’ve blown up in anger, and said things you regret. You’ve broken your promise, and made a fool of yourself. You’ve fallen short of who you wanted to be, and felt that familiar, growing sense of self-disgust.
What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you seem to change your attitude? It should be simple, right? After all, you’re a Christian. But no matter what you do, you aren’t getting any better.
Scripture, at times, seems to make it sound easy.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” – Galatians 5:16-17
So, now that we’re Christians, it should just be that we live a good life, and that the Spirit will just magically keep us from doing the evil that we’ve wanted to do our whole lives. Right?
But that’s not what we experience. In fact, we experience so much failure when we think in this way that we must grapple with whether or not this passage of Scripture is even true.
Haven’t you wondered, even once, whether the promise God offers to make us holy is real?
Of course you have. And we’re both here because we have grappled with these questions, and found the Word of God to be true.
So where is the hole in our understanding?
Well, if we read on, we find that the hole in our understanding is the idea that God’s promised gift of holiness is the same as his gift of forgiveness.
We have turned from our evil and begged God for forgiveness, and he has granted it, and placed his Holy Spirit inside us, bringing us new life.
But that new life is like the life of an infant in its mother’s womb. Totally dependent on the blood of another (Jesus, the vine that we’ve been grafted into).
As we depend on him, and allow him to fill us with his life and Spirit, he bears good fruit in our lives. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23
This is obviously not automatic and immediate. Because anyone who has grown a fruit tree will tell you that fruit never grows automatically and immediately. Even a great fruit-bearing tree like a zestar apple, there’s plenty upkeep and pruning.
But our nature is even more twisted than that, because we are a foreign branch that’s been grafted onto the vine of Christ. Our nature is constantly swerving toward who we used to be.
So Galatians goes on to clearly show us how to deal with it.
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” – Galatians 5:24-26
First, when we come to Christ, we begin a life-long process of turning away from our evil (repentance). Because we’re so broken, this needs to be a constant process. We should never grow conceited and think we can do this alone.
One look inside ourselves proves that we need constant repentance.
But repentance is more than turning away from evil.
Crucifying the desires of the flesh and its passion is more than refusing to indulge them. That alone will never kill them completely.
What kills our evil desires completely is replacing them with a desire for God and his goodness and holiness. With a desire to be pure like he is pure.
And how do we do that?
Again, Galatians tells us. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” – Galatians 6:7-8
How do you sow to the flesh? You meditate on your evil desires. You crouch over them in a corner in secret, and tend them, pet them, help them to grow. This is what it looks like (and it’s hideous): Gollum precious video clip.
And what do you get from tending your evil desires? Slavery. Sorrow. Anger. Bitterness. Pain. Suffering. Separation. Death.
And how do you sow to the Spirit?
You meditate on the fruit of the Spirit, and how much you desire the freedom he offers, and all his good gifts. You kneel and raise your hands to Jesus in secret. You tend the words of Scripture in your mind, reading them over and over, until they grow and dig roots inside your mind and heart, and with every prayer and every moment spent bending your heart and mind toward God, his Word, and his good gifts of freedom and good fruit, you help the desires of the Spirit grow in your heart.
It’s simple. And costly.
The truth is, to truly change, you must spend more time tending the desires of the Spirit than you do tending the passions and desires of your flesh.
This is, after all, a part of repentance, isn’t it? To turn away from your evil, and to turn toward God!
It’s not a one-time event that takes the space of a single moment. It’s a process of continually bending our wills to God’s spiritual desires, and away from our fleshly desires.
We do this through sustained time spent reading God’s Word, and praying and meditating on him with thankfulness and worship.
Perhaps I’m a bit more wayward than you, but I have found that to stay in step with his Spirit, I need a minimum of a full hour each morning spent meditating on him and his Word.
This may sound like a long time. But the next verse in Galatians addresses this. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:9-10
This is a promise, that if we persevere in sowing to the Spirit, we will reap great reward in this life and in the next.
I am not a disciplined person by nature. I grew up a lazy bum who complained about every tiny chore (partially because I hardly had any chores to do).
Yet the hour I get in the morning with Christ and his Word is the highlight of my day. It’s the time of my greatest joy, and it gives me peace, and helps me love my family and others well. I keep it sacred because it’s my lifeline and my reward for hard work.
But that only makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
So, as you read that list of spiritual fruit, are you keeping in step with them?
If not, dedicate your heart and mind and time to sowing to the Spirit until your heart bends in joyful submission, and the desires and passions of your flesh are bled of their strength to make way for the desires of the Spirit.
Lord God Almighty, may you grant us the mercy of being faithful to your call of a new life. Give us the wisdom and strength to be obedient in giving our time to you, so that you can change our attitudes and behavior truly, and so that we can enjoy and live with you forever, and not lose confidence that we are yours. Thank you for your incredible gifts and faithfulness. Amen.
Dedicate the first hour of each day this next week to spending time with God. If you have to, set your alarm one hour earlier, and read a chapter of Proverbs, a couple Psalms, then some of the New Testament, until you’ve read the Bible for 30 minutes. Then write out 6 different prayer focuses (praise, confession, petition, thanksgiving, singing, listening), and focus on each for 5 minutes. At the end, you will have spent one hour sowing to the Spirit. Do this for one week, and let me know what changes in your life!