Trying to follow Jesus is hard work, especially when it is attempted solely by our own strength and will power. It is, in fact, impossible.
I know from experience that I don’t have what it takes to follow Jesus. The truth is that given the first sign of difficulty I crumble. It is what I do with trying to write a book, to run every morning, to eat healthier, and a numerous other things that I think are important. The cold reality is that in the battle of desires my flesh takes the easier road rather than sticking things out to the end.
This is one reason why we cannot boast in our salvation: because I do not have what it takes to save ourselves. We are weak and ignorant creatures, and the experience of life shows us that we will do things that we enjoy doing, even when we now that they are not good for us. There is not one of us that doesn’t know that McDonald’s isn’t a healthy place to eat, yet millions of us eat there every day. [Confession time: I am craving a Double Quarter Pounder and french fries right now] The problem isn’t about knowing what is right and wrong, the problem is disciplining our flesh to do the right thing.
Since we lack the will power and stamina to correctly discipline our flesh, we need to the help of another if we are going to experience the new life we have been given through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That help comes from the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. (Galatians 5:16-17; ESV)The Spirit will enable us to live in such away that we will not feel compelled to give into every desire and whim our flesh has. By walking with the Spirit we turn our backs on the desires of the flesh, and we are able to live the way God desires us to live.
How do we do this? It is at this point that I wish Paul would have given us a little more instruction in his letter. It appears there is an assumption that the Galatians already knew what Paul was talking about. So let me offer a couple of my own thoughts.
First, I think it is safe to assume to walk by the Spirit is not about keeping a Law. In both Romans and Galatians Paul equates trying to keep the Law as a work of the flesh. The Law shows us what it means to live as God’s holy people in this world, but it requires our own strength and will power to keep, and thus it is said to be a work of the flesh.
My second thought is that to walk with the Spirit begins with repentance. We need to lay aside trying to become holy by our own effort and turn to God so He can make us holy. This requires that we confess our weakness, denounce our sin, and pledge our loyalty to God. It is this attitude of humility and of being poor in spirit that allows us to be open to the Holy Spirit working in our lives.
It is time to stop tiring so hard to be come holy by own efforts and it is time to start trusting the work of the Spirit in our lives. For it is the Spirit’s work, and not our efforts, which produces the changed life God desires for His people; But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22, 23; ESV). It is the Spirit’s fruit, the result of His work, that produces the type of life that God wants us to live.