Spiritual Training Cycle: Submission (wk. 1/13)
Crime dramas. Not the way I normally open a devotional, but now that I have your attention. My wife loves crime dramas. I’m not sure where it started, but it may go all the way back to Hill Street Blues or In the Heat of the Night. And I love my wife, so I tolerate crime dramas – emphasis on the crime and not the drama. There is one aspect of the genre that I find fascinating, and why I was a closet CSI: Miami watcher for a few years. I love the search for clues. I love the evidence.
Evidence is the outward sign or proof of something. Scripture says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. And that’s the challenge in our spiritual lives sometimes – we want to see the evidence.
When it comes to our bodies, the evidence of fitness is all around. It’s found in our performance. It’s found in our perspective. And it’s found in our physique. But fitness itself isn’t visible. Much like the wind, we can’t see fitness, but we can see its effects through the evidence.
So, why do I say all that? Because I’m about to discuss an aspect of our lives that, like fitness, we can’t really see. Scripture calls it, “the flesh,” which right out of the gate is super confusing. Because the one part of our body it seems everyone can see is our flesh.
Our physical skin in not what the Apostle Paul is referring to in his letter to the Galatians. Instead, he’s talking about our epicenter of pride and self-willing. He’s talking about the arena of indulgence and self-assertion. That’s how German theologian Rudolf Bultmann defines the Biblical concept of the flesh. And I think he’s spot on!
Paul knows that his audience can’t see this flesh. So he introduces some evidence. You can read through the list in Galatians 5:19-21, or I can summarize it in one sentence: Without any help at all, we inherently do things we know we shouldn’t do.
Like binging. Who here hasn’t been on a good binge? That could be mowing down a sheet pan of brownies or getting lost in social media for an hour or more. Some of you have sacrificed quality sleep to binge the last episodes of a series. Others of you have suffered the symptoms of binging alcohol, dealing with a hangover the next day. You knew it wasn’t going to be good for you. But you did it anyway. You entered Bultmann’s arena of indulgence and self-assertion, and there you abandoned all self-control as you took your God given freedom and played it fast and loose. From pride to anger to envy to ambition, the evidence of the Biblical concept of the flesh is all over our lives.
Which would be a pretty lousy way to navigate life, if there was a better option. And there is. The same freedom you use to binge can also be used to battle. That’s right. You can resist your natural inclinations to be selfish and to self-indulge. And the even better news is that God gives us His Spirit to teach us how to battle those internal desires. The result is a new set of desires which are found in the evidence.
Paul calls the Galatians to walk by the Spirit, so they won’t gratify the desires of the flesh. Walking by the Spirit produces the evidence of God in our lives. Paul calls this the fruit of the Spirit. I call it our spiritual physique.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This is the evidence of who you are when you are made new in Jesus. And while some might argue people don’t have to follow Jesus to be kind and loving, I would say that God’s kindness and love are universal. They transcend the movement of faith known as Christianity, and they reach across the world with the goal of touching everyone.
But when it comes to a spiritual physique, there is so much more. This is the daily journey of spiritual transformation. The evidence of a deep and meaningful relationship with God is not an occasional heart emoji or kind word. It is someone who is being reshaped, reformed, and refined into a more distinct image of Jesus. These nine spiritual skills, or fruits of the Spirit, become the fabric upon which your most fulfilling life will be woven.
You don’t have to work hard to do nothing. You can stay home, sit on the couch, order Door Dash, and absolutely waste your life away. But that’s not who you are and that’s not what you want. You want to win the battle! Like when you win the battle with the snooze button. When you hold the last word rather than getting it in. When you comfort someone instead of being selfish. The battle you’re winning is against yourself. God is shaping your spiritual physique. And one day, maybe when you least expect it, you’ll see the evidence.
Questions for Reflection:
What’s the battle with your flesh look like?
What do you struggle to resist?
How does that struggle impact your life?