"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Week 34: Keep in Step with the Spirit

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." ~ Galatians 5:22-25

A few weeks ago, God convicted me that in my effort to obey His commands, I had committed the sin of pride. The sin isn't that I'm proud of my obedience. I'm not. If you've been reading this blog, then you know it's more about my failures than my successes. My sin has been in thinking that I could transform my life by my own power---that by sheer will power I could make myself more like Jesus. That's not just been my attitude for the last year. It's been my attitude for my whole Christian life. The truth is that I'm a proud person and like to feel self-sufficient.

God's conviction has at least given me another chance to practice repentance. And, now, a bit of confession to all of you. Maybe you noticed that The James 1:22 Project has been on hiatus for three weeks. The truth is that I've been extraordinarily busy at work and home and haven't had much time for blogging. I've also been thinking and praying about whether I should continue the blog.

Over the last couple weeks, God has repeatedly brought me back to Galatians, Chapter Five. What I've grasped (and this never sank in before) is the Apostle Paul's emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in changing believers. Many times in my life, I've looked at the list of the fruit of the Spirit---love, joy, peace, etcetera, and resolved that I would change my life to better exemplify those qualities. What has never sunk in before is that all of those things (love, joy, peace, etcetera) are the fruit of the Spirit---not the fruit of human effort. Self-control, for example, is a fruit of the Spirit. In other words, self-control is beyond my control! I can't make myself be more self-controlled. According to Galatians 5:18, "If [we] are led by the Spirit, [we] are not under the law." It's doesn't say, "if we follow. . . ." It says, "if we are led."

The Spirit takes the initiative.

The Spirit leads us.

The Spirit changes our character.

The Spirit causes us to obey with right hearts.

We can't possibly transform ourselves. So, what are the practical implications? Is it wrong for Christians to make an intentional effort to do what the Bible says? Should we just do what feels right, depending on the Spirit to give us pure hearts? And, what does all this mean for The James 1:22 Project?

There's another side to Galatians, Chapter Five. According to Paul, we don't play a completely passive role. We are commanded to "live by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16) and to "keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25). God commands us (our thoughts, emotions, speech, and conduct), because we have some measure of free will. We don't have the ability to put to death our sinful nature by our own power. God does ask us, however, to choose whether we will trust and follow His plan or pursue the desires of the flesh.

I don't think "living by the Spirit" or "keeping in step with the Spirit" rules out making an effort to obey God's commands. To the contrary, I think that part of keeping in the step with the Spirit is choosing, over and over again, God's plan over our sinful desires. That, however, cannot be the end of it, or we would have a tendency to fall right back into prideful, self-reliant, legalism. To live by the Spirit means to choose, over and over again, God's plan over our sinful desires, while daily repenting of our self-reliance and confessing that we cannot conquer our sinful nature without the Spirit's power.

The James 1:22 Project continues. Stay tuned for Week 35. We're on the home stretch, with six weeks to go.