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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 19: What Makes Us Holy?

Sometimes we who follow Jesus just cannot help ourselves. No matter how hard we try, we constantly stray back into making holiness about not sinning. I recently enjoyed a short book on this subject by a teacher I admire. He discussed holiness as an outcome of not sinning versus holiness as a reason for not sinning. He explained the holiness of God through this contrast. Is God holy because He does not sin or is God holy, therefore He does not sin?

This equation emphasizes the wrong point. God is holy, and therefore all He does is good. He defines all that is good. When he created, it was all good because He said so. Sin was not even a thing at creation. Instead, Adam and Eve were defined by being in image of God and stewards over creation and fruitful multiplying. Their life’s focus was being entirely open with God and each other.

Paul is alluding to this way of thinking as he ended his recitation of the fruit of the Spirit. “Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:23 NIV) Being transformed into the likeness of Jesus is not about focusing on avoiding sin, but living a life that flows out of the character you have been given. This is what your holiness is all about. This is what you were made to be.

In other letters, Paul writes about the why of the Law. In 1 Timothy 1:9-10, he explains, “We realize that law is not enacted for the righteous, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for killers of father or mother, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for homosexuals, for slave traders and liars and perjurers, and for anyone else who is averse to sound teaching…” In other words, the Law is not for us who believe in Jesus. He alone fulfilled the entire Law so that, through his death and resurrection, we would be free from sin and could live a new life altogether.

But because we see people struggling with learning to keep in step with the Spirit—perhaps see ourselves struggling with this—we fall back on depending on the ‘Do Not’ rules of holiness. What I have learned from my own journey with God is that, when avoiding sin becomes the way you tell the story of your faith life, sin gains power over you. It dominates your thinking like a song stuck in your head. No matter how hard you try to change the tune, singing a counter song to drown it out, it roars back strongly the moment you stop singing.

I spent a lot of time beating myself up before I learned this truth. I was living a rollercoaster relationship with God, trying hard to be good by not sinning, climbing up the hill of obedience. Then I would run out of strength and roll back down into the valley of defeat. Then up again. Then down again. Sin was my story, my focus, not the nearness of God. His holiness scared me instead of drawing me to Him. But when I began to learn about the Spirit’s power, I changed deep within my core.

“Against such there is no law” reminds us that, if you depend on your flesh to supply you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, you will still be waiting until the kingdom comes. This is the flaw Paul sees in the instructions on holiness the Galatians are currently being fed. Jesus plus the Law is not the gospel. It is not even a cheap imitation. It is something else—a deadly substitute. It does not produce holy living, but desperation in those who are trying to fend off sin and pride in those who think they are.

When Paul says there is no law against living out the fruit of the Spirit, he is finishing his thought that started in Galatians 5:18: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” You do not need a law to tell you to continue to grow and exhibit love, joy peace and the rest. You have the Spirit inside you. Listen to his leading.

It is like saying, “That thing you are doing . . . do more of it!” You do not need a rule to tell you to do it. By keeping in step with the Spirit, its manifestation becomes more and more you. The Spirit overrides your weaknesses and counter-tendencies to produce these amazing characteristics of the person that you were reborn to be. It is not pride, but humility, that carries you along on this journey in which you receive grace from God.

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

-Steve Smith