Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 6: Are you looking for the right thing?

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

Up to the day I knowingly entered my transformational journey and began to learn how to keep in step with the Spirit, I knew a lot about God and the Bible. I had been a ‘Sunday School Scholar’ all the way from the cradle to my senior year of high school. I graduated from college with high honors in Biblical studies and mastered divinity on my way to becoming a pastor. I not only could explain my theological beliefs, but could also teach the essential points of theological viewpoints that were not my own.

But I did not know God. Not personally.

Diving deeper into what it means to keep in step with the Spirit, The Spirit is not given so that I will have some kind of experience or that I will mind my manners better. The Spirit is in us so that we will know God better.

It probably is no surprise to you when I say that the starting place for keeping in step with the Spirit is a deepening knowing of God. Jesus’ life demonstrated this. Our theology demands it. But what does this mean if Bible knowledge doesn’t deliver it?

Here’s the thing. People can know their Bible pretty well and know God as a concept instead of the Being who calls them friend. A lot of believers know God as an ideal, but when crunch time comes, when the warfare is hot and life is stressing them to the max, their ideal of God fades from view.

To keep in step with the Spirit, you have to have your sights set on the true outcome—to know God better. Knowing God is a relationship pursuit instead of a thirst for the right answers to biblical questions. I often marvel at the number of Bible studies people take in without really knowing God in the end. Knowing the Word of God has displaced knowing God Himself as the goal for them.

When Jesus says “Come to me…,”  he is inviting you and me into the relationship God created us for in the Garden. It’s the ‘walks-with-me-talks-with-me’ kind of relationship that will sustain us in our darkest moments, will enlighten us for the whole of our journey.

And when we set our hearts on pursuing the knowing of God, a second reality kicks in.

By knowing God, we know ourselves. It is like having a mirror suddenly placed before your face. You see what your mind has refused to see. It is like Peter on his boat or Paul on the road to Damascus clearly realizing who they were with, and seeing themselves as radically broken men. Like they, people are tempted to say to God, “Keep your distance, because I am a wicked person.”

This is why people embrace rule-keeping over keeping in step with the Spirit. Through rule-keeping we are trying to alleviate guilt, lessening our sense of failure Making us feel like we are doing our part. Keeping the rules seems to offer us a chance to redeem ourselves to God—to think that we are gaining ground in His favor as he sees us trying hard to keep His commands.

Divest yourself of this kind of thinking. Nothing you can do will gain the favor of God. Freedom from guilt was given to you by the sufficiency of the cross. God has not given you His Spirit to watch you try hard to gain His approval. The Spirit has been given to you because God already approves you. You have the Spirit so that you would come to know God deeply—while God Himself conforms us to the image of Jesus.

The purpose of knowing ourselves by knowing God is not to make us feel guilty. Its purpose is to expose the brokenness already there inside us so that we will thirst for the life Jesus died to provide for us. Keeping in step with the Spirit allows us to hear God’s love for us in our broken state. Knowing God intimately will bring us to a make-you-a-fisher-of-men moment—a promise that our brokenness will no longer define us.

In the 30 plus years I have been on this spirit-led journey, I have come to know God better. I am no longer afraid of Him and His agenda for me. I do not wonder where He is in the middle of my worst moments when I am not doing well or life is not working out like I had hoped. Because I am keeping in step with the Spirit, I hear what He is saying and I know He’s got me firmly in his grip. He won’t let me go and he will complete the work he has started in me.

He’s got you, too. Embrace that.

-Steve Smith