I've been sitting on this post for almost two weeks. It's real and personal, but explaining it took almost 1500 words--proof that I need an editor. I would really appreciate some response. What makes sense? With what can you identify? What makes you scrunch up your nose and think, "wha..."?
The butler answers the door. You ask for the master of the house, and the butler, in his high-brow, look-down-his-nose way, says, “Walk this way.” Does he mean that you should imitate him, or that you should follow him? Of course it’s the latter, although many T.V. butlers have been the brunt of jokes related to this situation.
When kids play follow-the-leader, they imitate both the manner and the direction of the one in front.
Aerosmith sang about walking in a certain manner:
“She told me to walk this way, talk this way.”
–Steven Tyler & Joe Perry
Early Christians—even before they were called Christian (Acts 11:26)—were known as followers of the Way (Acts 9:2). Did this label denote a path they took? Well figuratively, they were on a certain “path” toward Heaven, but more importantly, it spoke of their lifestyle (see Acts 2:42-47). Later, Paul encouraged the Colossian Christians to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Col 1:10 ESV; NIV renders the text live a life, which is a better explanation but weaker imagery).
Paul wrote extensively about the flesh-life and the faith-life (my terms, not Paul’s). For example,
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3–4 ESV again)
Thus, God freed us to walk . . . according to the Spirit, but that doesn’t mean we always do it. You can walk in your flesh even as a believer. That’s why Paul later told the Galatian believers, Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). It was a command—something they needed to start doing, not something that was already life-as-usual. He goes on to say (vv. 17-18) that the flesh-life and the faith-life are in conflict within us. Do you know what that feels like? I do. I’ve been fighting unnecessary battles for years.
Why do I say “unnecessary”?
Stay with me here. Remember the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)? But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Have you been trying really hard to keep in step with the Spirit (v. 25) and bear this kind of fruit? The prevailing logic goes like this: If we are really Christ-followers and have the Holy Spirit within us, then we should exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit. (There’s that word: should. I can’t stand that word. It’s just loaded with guilt no matter what words surround it.) But that logic fails me every time I try to live up to it.
These nine things, which we call the (singular) Fruit, all have a weaker or even a counterfeit human form. For example, I know non-believers who are awesome kindergarten teachers. That takes considerable kindness and gentleness. Many Americans are striving for happiness, which is an external, counterfeit form of joy. We can all be patient to a certain extent (at least with people we like). And love? I could write a whole post about how our culture has abused and overused love—especially in the form of lust. Even within our Christian circles, we try to show love because God is love (1 John 4:8), so we search inside ourselves trying to brew it up like something from the opening scene of Macbeth.
Although the context is different, it reminds me of Paul’s words to Timothy: having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5). We have this form of godliness . . . this fleshly form of fruit that was designed to be faith-filled. Our power source is our own determination, our own will. If we can just find the right formula, process, method, or spell (back to Macbeth), we will pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and forge ahead . . . because that’s what Americans do. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” right? This perspective revolves around the person: what I do, what I can accomplish, what godliness I can demonstrate. And when my own strength is exhausted, when I get distracted, when my “will” can’t find “a way”? Failure . . . again. Beat myself up . . . again. Enter a cycle of defeat . . . again. Confess . . . again.
Perhaps my point is most evident with regard to self-control. After all, it has the word “self” in it. Doesn’t that mean it comes from within us? Think about that failed diet . . . that disregarded New Year’s resolution . . . that seemingly uncontrollable tongue . . . that snooze button. Clearly, self-control is something we know we ought to pursue, but very few people can maintain it for a significant amount of time. Aren’t you tired of failure? Aren’t you fed up with “one step forward and two steps back”? That’s where I was. I know God is eternally patient, but I was tired of hearing myself even ask for more self-control.
Along with these musings on fruit and forms of godliness, the Holy Spirit brought another verse to my mind. Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead . . . (Ephesians 1:18-20). We all know this, but let me say it anyway: His Power works in us—all of His power, always available to us and through us. The Holy Spirit led me to a question:
Do I want Him to increase my own self-control or produce His self-controlled power in me?
The answer was one of those “duh” moments, but it’s harder than it sounds. Opening myself up to His power meant I was no longer in control. At all. I had this particular spiritual obstacle that I had tried to overcome for YEARS, thinking God had given it to me as a test or that it was just a life circumstance, and I wasn’t even sure He wanted to break that shackle. You know, Paul had a ‘thorn in the flesh’ that God wouldn’t take away. But in my life (don’t know exactly why), He got more glory from removing it. Since that crisis of belief, I’ve had days when I grabbed the power back for myself, and all my old weaknesses flooded back in. Walking in His power is NOT easy. Don’t hear me say that. It’s a challenge to continually be giving it over to Him after twenty years of trying to do it myself. I hope that writing about it and sharing it, albeit vaguely, helps me cement the change in my soul.
This Fruit is a whole different . . . experience. Let’s overlook The Fruit of the Spirit children’s song for a minute. (You know the one that says, “The fruit of the Spirit’s not a coconut.”) The fleshly form of the Fruit is a raisin: slightly satisfying, reasonably nourishing, but a bit chewy. There’s nothing wrong with raisins. You can live on them, and they aren’t sinful. The faith-filled Fruit, however—the one that Jesus’ power inhabits—is a big, sweet, seedless grape fresh off the vine and so juicy that it drips down your chin. It doesn’t just sustain; it nourishes. (I’m avoiding a digression into vines and branches here, per John 15, but if you want to take off in that direction, go ahead!)
On my own, I make raisins. Jesus in me makes grapes. But it’s not like I’m something special. This juicy fruit is available to everyone who is a believer. In fact, it is already in us. Finding it, living by it . . . well, it’s not complicated, but it is difficult.
For years, I (figuratively) walked with crutches so natural, so automatic, that I didn’t even recognize them. Now, when I choose to walk my way instead of His way, I am aware of the choice. I recognize that I am leaning on these crutches, which means relying on my self-sourced self-control or—more often—rejecting self-control altogether and falling down. Because I know I’m making a choice, it is sin. In some ways, I feel like I’m learning how to walk again, but in this new Way—like a toddler learning to let go of the chair.
Every time I hear the phrase, “Walk this way,” Stephen Tyler screams it in my head. That’s why I included the Aerosmith reference at the beginning. We can walk in the flesh-filled way, or we can live and walk by the Spirit, crucifying the flesh (Galatians 5:24-25). Crucifixion hurts, and afterwards, you have to figure out a whole new set of mechanics for walking because you had depended on the crutches of culturally-justified self-reliance for so long.
But nobody said the Christ-life was easy.