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Be Careful Which Way You Lean

Fallen Trees

I love the story of The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, and one of the most impactful lines comes in an exchange between the Lorax and the Once-ler:

The Lorax: Which way does a tree fall?
The Once-ler: Uh, down?
The Lorax: A tree falls the way it leans. Be careful which way you lean.

I don’t know if Dr. Seuss read the book of Galatians before writing that line, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

We sometimes wind up in a lifestyle we never intended to be in, habitually committing the same sin and scrambling to figure out how we wound up in the destructive cycle. For some of us, it’s anger. For others, it’s lust, pornography, or an illicit relationship. It could be gossip, overeating, occult involvement, or many other things. And Paul, in Galatians, helps us to answer the question, how’d I get to this point?

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Spiritual Truth is Understood by Spirit-Guided People

We are inundated with marketing messages each moment of each day. From billboards to commercials to our email inboxes, someone is always trying to convince us we ought to “find out more” about a product or service. And sometimes, this marketing message affects the way we present the gospel. We unwittingly begin trying to convince people that the gospel is believable and therefore worth investigating further.

If we aren’t careful, we’ll reverse God’s intended order of things. We give the impression to people that if they could just fully understand the meaning of the gospel, they’d be overwhelmingly convinced they ought to believe in it. Here’s the tightrope we walk, however… the heart is only changed once a person’s mind is convinced, but our spiritual understanding of the gospel can never flourish until we have believed and been filled with the Spirit of God.

The Bible puts it this way, And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.” (1 Corinthians 2:12 NLT)

Here’s the great relief of this truth. YOU don’t have to do the convincing. You get to represent the gospel with your life and your lips and leave the convincing, the conviction, and the converting to God. And you also don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Those deep, hard-to-grasp words of God are brought into perspective as the Holy Spirit illuminates our understanding like a desk lamp in our hearts.

Spiritual truth is understood by Spirit-guided people. So if you don’t see yet, you need to believe first.

Walk In the Spirit and Overcome!

Spirit vs LawThere is a wrestling match going on inside every believer in Christ. It is the war between the Holy Spirit Who has intertwined Himself with our very being and our flesh, that part of us that acts and decides apart from the influence of God. One of the most common questions Christians ask is, “Will I ever be done with the fight, or will I always struggle like I do now?” And the answer is yes and no.

Obviously, we’ll be done with the fight and live on in infinite victory when Jesus comes to put an end to the war forever, but in this life, is real victory possible? The answer is twofold.

In Galatians 5:16-18, Paul tells us on the one hand, that it is impossible for the believer to overcome the power of the flesh. He says, “you cannot do the things that you want.” He also said in Romans 7 that he was always involved in a battle between the flesh and Spirit and couldn’t seem to feel any sense of total victory. The battle rages on. In our flesh, and as long as the old, dead body of sin hangs around, we are rendered virtually incapable of any triumph – we wrestle on.

Thankfully, however, there is a contrasting thought that, though seemingly a paradox, runs alongside our inability to overcome. It is the absolute and abiding power of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul says, “You cannot do the things that you want, but if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

We typically think of the “law” in the Bible as the mosaic law, the commandments and ceremonies that Moses gave to Israel. But the word “law” in this context more likely refers to the nature of things, such as the law of gravity or in this case, the law of our flesh. As lost sinners, we are bound to the natural law which essentially binds us to a life of continual sin. But…

If you are “led by the Spirit” however, there is freedom from the law. Galatians 5:16 is a key verse in the Christian life, “This I say then, walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Each verb tense is continuous, so literally, anytime you are continuously walking in the Spirit, you will not be fulfilling the lust of the flesh. Anytime you are not walking in the Spirit, you’ll be susceptible and vulnerable to the intense desires of the flesh, which by nature, craves the fleeting pleasure of sin.

You’re going to fail again. Why? Because you’re made of flesh. But in this moment you can have victory if you’re willing to be led by the Spirit of God. The question then becomes, are you more yielded to His control now than you used to be? Are you growing in your submissiveness to Him? Are you making forward progress in your intimacy with God?

Thank God the ability to overcome the flesh is not in me – it is in God. My willpower alone will usually let me down, but the power of God operating within me by the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit is unstoppable. Don’t just say “no” to sin, say “yes” to Almighty God!

Trying to Follow Jesus with No Help At All

John 6-63 ESVTrying to follow Jesus is frustrating. We mess up, we neglect spending time with Him, we give into temptation, and we regress into old patterns. It doesn’t make sense. This isn’t what we signed up for when we followed Jesus. It was supposed to get easier but some days it’s like we’re trying to follow Jesus with no help at all!!

And Jesus even said so! Here’s what He said… “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” (John 6:63 ESV)

Trying to be better or do better isn’t the way of following Jesus. Working harder to resist temptation and by the power of your will to do all the right things absolutely will leave you frustrated, and this shouldn’t be surprising. Jesus Himself said that the flesh, which is the primary source of strength as we try and strive and work and struggle, just refuses to help you.

But look at the first part of what Jesus said. The Spirit gives life! That’s what we want, right? A richer, deeper, stronger spiritual life? My flesh, my will power, my brain power, my inner strength is NO help at all, but the Spirit, who moves into the life and heart of every born again believer IS here to help! In fact, one of His biblical names is the Helper.

Here’s a more simple way to understand this. There are two ways to pursue LIFE in Jesus Christ once He has saved us. We can try or we can trust. Trying will lead to frustration and burnout. Trusting will lead to life and vitality. Being strong leaves us weak, but being weak and owning our weakness lets God’s Spirit show Himself strong in our lives.

Want life? You may have it. Trust Jesus. And trust His Holy Spirit every day to continue to produce real life in you!

Walk In the Spirit

On a WalkIf being Spirit-filled is a moment-by-moment process, then it is also a day-by-day process. And when we’re living our lives submissively under the influence of the Spirit, we cannot and will not at the same time give into the sinful and selfish cravings of our hearts for sin.

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness.

– Galatians 5:16 (MSG)

Other translations render this as “Walk in the Spirit” or “Live in the Spirit.” I would paraphrase it as “Do life with the Spirit.” Withstanding sin and bearing fruit are contingent upon our willingness to share our lives with the Spirit and grow in intimacy with Him. This means walking through victory and defeat with Him, good times and hard times and as-normal-as-can-be times.

If you can tell by the way a man walks that he’s a ladies’ time with no time to talk, then certainly our Spirit-filled life will show itself through our fruitfulness and friendships as well.

God wants to go on a walk with you today.

photo credit: VinothChandar