Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 9: What’s a Better Outcome for Your Life?
I teach people about the transformational nature of the gospel. One part of the training includes an explanation of the Seven Deadly Sins, which are deeply addictive and rob us of life. I remember the night I was wrapping up a Q&A session at one church when, out of the blue, one of the young men challenged me with, “Dr. Smith, which of the seven deadly sins do you struggle with?” There I stood in front of forty-some leaders with that question hanging in the air!
I can honestly tell you that at one point in my life, I was addicted to all seven. Each of them was leaving their claw marks on my life, my family, my ministry. Had I not come to the end of my self-protective ways and surrendered to God, I would have had much more grief to remember than I do have. That was what I shared that night, and pointed to the deadly sin that still was seeking to lure me into its trap.
That young man’s question reminded me that I have experienced a better outcome to my life because the Spirit who lives in me is greater than the enemy who is in the world. To paraphrase a song from the musical, Newsies, ‘Satan might think he owns the world, but he don’t own us!’ His lies have lost their power to kill me. The deadly sins are no longer catching me unaware. Not because I am fighting them tooth and nail, but because the Spirit is exposing and defeating them even as I keep in step with him.
This better outcome being produced in me by the Spirit is the character of Jesus. What I had before was the best I could do by reforming myself to look like Jesus. It was a ragged imitation of what God would do in me—and in you. Under the surface of my pastor persona was behavior much more in line with the ‘works of the flesh’ about which Paul warned the Galatians.
Paul lines out these works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, but not as a shaming tactic for his readers. He is merely noting that all these kinds of activities show up in believers’ lives when they are hard at it trying to live out their faith depending on keeping external rules laid out by well-meaning-but-just-as-trapped church teachers to whom they were listening. If you get circumcised, Paul states emphatically, “Christ will be of no value to you.” (Galatians 5:2 NIV) You will get no benefit from the relationship because your faith life will cease to be a relationship and become a chore. You will abandon grace—the empowering presence of the Spirit—to go it alone in your own strength. The end result is always works of the flesh, the kind of sad life that those who do not belong to Christ always live. The kind of life you might be living because you are trying to reform yourself to look like Jesus instead of being transformed by keeping in step with the Spirit.
I found out, belatedly to be sure, that it did not have to be this way. I had already been in ministry for three years before this truth came home to me. I look back on this with some incredulity, but less now after meeting so many others in ministry saddled with the same misunderstandings and trapped by the same fleshly outcomes.
The fruit of the Spirit Paul proclaims is at the heart of the Great Exchange. We have become the righteousness of God in exchange for Christ becoming sin for us. (2 Corinthians 5:21) What is this righteousness we have become? It is this core character of Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. You cannot help but see them when you rifle through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
What Jesus is, we are becoming. Not in his deity, but in his likeness as the last Adam—displaying humanity as we were created to be had Adam not rebelled against God. God has already determined He is going to conform you and me to look exactly like Jesus (Romans 8:29). So hang on as I explore in these next blogs what we are becoming as we keep in step with the Spirit.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)