December 9, 2016

Keeping in step with the Holy Spirit

Today’s devotional reading comes from this passage in Galatians that contrasts the behavior of our sinful nature with the behavior produced by the Holy Spirit.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 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 5:18–26)

The first thing that catches my attention is that those who try to please God by rule-keeping are just as out of step with the Spirit as those who are caught up in the sins of the flesh. Both are self-centered, and as Isaiah says, both are sinful . . .

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Going my own way, whether toward the obvious sins of the flesh or toward what appears to be goodness and righteousness is iniquity because neither route is depending on the Spirit of God for everything I do.

Chambers says only a few Christians debate with the sordid stuff in the first list. Instead, our battle ground is between what I think is the best for me and what God says is best. Not only must I crucify the passions and desires that make up that ugly list, I must also crucify or put to death my own natural strengths. Actually, I’m realizing that these too are just as ugly.

For instance, I can love someone but only because they treat me in a special way. Self. I can have joy in my heart because I am comfortable and all is well. Self. I can be at peace because I have shut myself away from all that is negative. Self. I can be patient because I’m thinking of the reward soon to come. Self. I can be kind, good, faithful, gentle all with ulterior motives.

Self can take a pie to a new neighbor as a demonstration of my cooking abilities, not as a loving welcome to the neighborhood. Self can praise another person hoping they will do the same for me. Self can rub my husband’s back knowing he will do the same for me, not because I want to be good to him but because my life is all about me. This list is not hard to formulate.

Is the Lord being picky? Not at all. He gives me His Spirit so that I can keep in step with Him. He does not want me to think highly of myself, provoke competition with others, or be resentful towards those who are successful either in a worldly way or in their spirituality. Most of the time, these attitudes are not obvious, but He sees them.

Chambers says crucifying the flesh going to cost everything to the natural me. As Jesus said—“If any man will be My disciple, let him deny himself” — my right to myself. Chambers adds this warning, “Beware of refusing to go to the funeral of your own independence.”

This is practical. Death to self means freedom from rules, a release from sin, the abundant life that Jesus offers, and a life that glorifies God. However, when I pray that God will reveal to me what needs to be yielded to Him (crucified), I’ve learned to be prepared for a quick answer — and then to brace myself.

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