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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:22-24
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. – Galatians 5:16-18
Every hill is steeper. Every climb is longer. Such was my assessment of my first 18 months as Senior Pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas. I say this not to complain or criticize. I say it to express a challenge we all face from time to time. Things we think ought to be a snap all too often become a huge challenge. Little hills we think we can easily climb become mountains. I keep telling Diane, “It’s hard being me.” Maybe you can relate.
When it comes to self-control, or the display of any of the fruit of the Spirit, we encounter that same problem. We have a handle on a peaceful heart one moment. The next, we’re blowing our stack at some idiot in front of us on the highway! Oops. Sorry. She’s not an idiot. She’s a single mom who had to drop off the kids at school. Now she’s late and will lose her job if she doesn’t get to work on time. One minute we are filled with joy. The next moment your team fails to score a single run. The World Series is over. There is no joy in Mudville.
Why can’t we be more steadily filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Why do we fall off the wagon into doubt, distress, and derision? The classical answer is that we have a three-fold enemy of all that God wants to accomplish in our hearts and lives. The devil, the world, and the flesh conspire against the grace, love, goodness, mercy, and ways of God. But the devil has been defeated, Jesus has overcome the world, and we are new creations in Christ. Why is there still a battle?
The devil is defeated, but like the serpent he is, he continues to writhe. He is still somehow a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. The world is all around us. And the one who has overcome the world (John 14) prayed that the Father not take us out of the world. We’re in it.
And in spite of our best efforts the sinful flesh clings. I’ve seen people try to explain away this reality, saying silly things like, “a converted person does not sin.” What!?! 1 John 1:8-10 lays that idea to rest. Others try to claim that we have no hope or even a need to resist the devil. But James tells us to resist the devil, and promises that he will flee from us (James 4:7).
The difficulty we have in keeping on the straight and narrow and consistently displaying the fruit of the Spirit, and being distressed about this is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our hearts and lives. If we did not have the Holy Spirit. We wouldn’t care. But we do care. And we are distressed when we discover we’ve forfeited the fruit of the Spirit in any situation. Thanks be to God that Jesus welcomes us back. And we can pray with David, “take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation,” whenever we sin. That, too, is the Spirit’s work. And it is not too difficult for God.