There's A difference between Desiring & Being
The other day as I was preparing for a sermon and I read a portion of scripture I’ve read a hundred times, yet, it was one of those moments when truth rings out and you feel really convicted by it. I was studying Galatians 5:16-23 where Paul teaches the power of being in the Spirit. He goes on to compare the differences between the fruits of the flesh (or sinful nature) and the fruits of the Spirit.
We often look at this text and focus on the second half, where Paul outlines the fruits of the Spirit from verses 22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
When we read these words we often see them as milestones of the Spirit’s work in us. We strive to keep moving forward while assuring ourselves that the Spirit is at work.
While this is definitely true, for the Spirit of God is at work in me and it’s moving me to this direction. Its work in me incites a desire for my character and nature to be changed. Yet, while this is true I have to also look at the verses that precede this, verses 16-21, where Paul highlights how the fruits of the flesh are manifested through us.
It’s easy to desire what the Spirit is doing towards transformation and we get excited over this but do we own the manifestations of sin in us?
It became very clear to me in reading this text that I often focus on what I desire to be in Christ but I tend to be in a classic case of denial with the characteristics of the spirit of the flesh that are in me. The real me is not just striving towards holiness but the real me is still manifesting the sins of the flesh too and I have to own this.
In Paul listing the differences between the fruits of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit he is clearly informing us that our innate behavior is an indicator of which spirit we are serving.
I know what I want to be, where I want to be but those desires may be totally apart from the reality of where I really am. I have to look at those verses, “For the fruits of the flesh desire what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”
So if the fruits of the Spirit are contrary to our sinful nature and we are prone to ongoing lust, debauchery, idolatry then the indicators tell us we are functioning out of fleshly sinful nature and not the Spirit of God. Of course, these are the big ones in our minds but take note of the other characteristics – hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy. A sin is a sin before God and all are equally separating you from God and all sin indicates that the power of the flesh is in you vice the Spirit of God.
So we have to stop and be real honest with ourselves. If we are allowing ourselves to get riled up against other people due to any degree of racism, politics, social class or economics then the Spirit of the flesh is ruling us. Equally, if we are obsessed with getting ahead, grabbing power, getting rich, influencing or controlling others, then the Spirit of the flesh is ruling us too.
Look at your behavior. Review your internal quiet thoughts about people, things and happenings. That place where you speak to the real you – review your attitude, and initial reactions. You want to curse people out but refrain from doing it? You want to destroy someone’s property but don't want to go to jail? You really hope someone else you despise fails or has a bad day? These are fruits of the flesh, the sinful nature, in you and not indicative of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s be real with ourselves. We may desire to be Christ-like, but how Christ-like are we really deep down to our innate self? Are the fruits of the Holy Spirit our default mode or do we have to filter our thoughts and behaviors through what we know is right before God?
Don’t get me wrong, filtering ourselves through God’s word is how the Spirit transforms us and it is where we begin. Ultimately, however, we don't want to be filtered, we want the Spirit of God to be our default mode. We want to get to the place where we naturally reflect the righteousness of God.
Once again, lets be real about this. Let’s look at the core of who we are and let us own our sin, confess our sin before God, surrender that sin and repent. Pray the Holy Spirit reveals the sin lurking in the corner of your hearts and repent so that in all things you are surrendering yourself to God and reflecting Him.