The Inside War
Galatians 5:16,17 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.
Recently, I sat with a group of recovering addicts and asked them if Christ sets us free from addiction. They agreed that Christ does indeed set us free. When I asked them how that works, I got blank looks. They truly believe themselves to be free from addiction, but I know, that if I look them up a year from now, many of them will have relapsed.
Lest we think this is just drug addicts, the rest of us are in a similar situation. Though we believe we are supposed to be set free from our defects when we come to God, we do not experience this freedom. If being a Christian means our defects are magically removed, then Christians should be the best people we know. We should not struggle with the same issues that everyone else does. We know this not to be true though. We struggle with as much pride, anger, lust and greed as the rest of the world. What does this mean? This apparent discrepancy exposes a serious flaw in our faith.
Here is the faulty belief: When I came to Christ, I was set free from my old self. I was delivered once-for-all from my defects. I don’t have to do anything now. As I have been delivered, I will never struggle again. I have been crucified and I am free in my new life. God promised, right?
We desperately want freedom from defect to be automatic and magical, but for most of us, it is not. To be sure, when we first comes to Christ and receive the new spirit life, many do experience a radical change. None of us however, are set free from all defect. We are not made perfect. The belief of instant sanctification is pure fantasy.
Paul, in today’s passage, dismissed the illusion of the perfect, easy Christian life. He said that inside of me, there is a continual war. Though my eternal spirit life in Christ will outlive my flesh life, for now, the two occupy the same body in anything but a peaceful coexistence. He said that the desires of my flesh war against my spirit life, keeping me from doing what I know I should do.
Paul insisted the only way to battle the flesh nature is to walk in the spirit. I cannot pursue both lives simultaneously, so daily, I must do whatever it takes to pursue God in me, instead of pursuing my appetites and defects. This is anything but a passive, instant process. This is a life of continually doing whatever it takes to point my life at God, denying self.
The sobriety and relationship with God that I have now did not happen incidentally. I went to treatment. I made a radical commitment to profound life changes. I get up every day and meet with God, pointing my life at him. I do not do it perfectly and I do not do it alone. God draws near to me when I draw near to him. If I want to walk the spirit life, I must pursue God like I mean it. The spirit life does not happen automatically. He daily sets me free as I do what it takes to follow him.