At the end of a long day, in which I feel like I've failed multiple times, the temptation to wallow in discouragement overwhelms me. I'm tired, and I want to do better - to be more. It's a far cry from where I began this morning with a wonderful discovery about God's grace vs. my works.
And yet it's not.
I'll be honest. Today I rolled out of bed feeling defeated. We had gone to bed tired and unready to begin another work week. I've been discouraged about my weight and eating/exercise habits. When I got up with Charles to feed him and play with him for the first half hour of our day, I started psyching myself up to work harder to have self-control in my eating and exercise. Mentally, I was considering how I needed to "learn" to have more self-control.
Then, I had this revelation: Is self-control something you actually learn to do, or work at, or as a fruit of the Spirit, is it something you receive simply by choosing to walk in the Spirit? Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, who couldn't stop sinking back into legalism, the "gotta-do-this-and-that-to-please-God" mentality, "Walk in the Spirit and you WILL NOT gratify the desires of the flesh."
For some reason I think I have always read this "Walk in the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh." But to see it that way is to totally miss the point! It's to take a fact and change it into a command. Walking in the Spirit keeps me from gratifying the desires of my flesh.
As a follower of Christ, I don't trade in one set of works for another. I don't trade in my please-God-for-salvation works in for become-more-like-Jesus works. Instead, being a Christian means having a beautiful, close relationship with an incredible God who transforms me to be like his Son, Jesus.
After Paul wrote the sentence above in Galatians, he mentioned the fruit of the Spirit in a list: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. In my first vacation Bible school experience, we focused on this list and how God wants us to do these things. If you peruse the Christian bookshelf you will find scads of books on how to follow this list to be a better Christian - more like the Spirit. Of course, you do it with his help, but you're still the one DOING it.
But even if I somehow manage to enact these in my life, the results are the fruit of MY hands, not the fruit of the holy, omnipotent Spirit of God. Truthfully, though, no matter how hard I try, I fail miserably when I try to show love, to have joy or peace, to be patient, to control myself, etc, in my own strength, working hard to be like Jesus.
As it turns out, however, what I really need to be working at is growing closer to the Lord - deepening my relationship with him by living with an open heart to his leading, communicating often and sincerely with him, confessing my sins and failures and receiving his grace daily (rather than trying to work my way out of the guilt I feel over them!) and getting to know him better through his word.
Paul continued in Galatians, "If we live by the Spirit [which we do as Christ-followers - the Spirit is our source of new life in Christ], let us also walk by the Spirit."
What I don't need to do is learn how to have more self-control, or how to be more joyful or peace-filled, etc, but rather learn how to walk hand-in-hand with the Holy Spirit of God. Then, HE will produce this fruit in my life and I will be more like Jesus.
Back to how I felt this evening...weary and wanting to be better at this thing called life than I am. God gives me grace every day, because he doesn't expect me to actually be like Jesus on my own. No - it is his grace that gives me forgiveness for salvation, and it is his grace that frees me from the need to perform well as a Christian.
What freedom! I don't have to "try harder" to be good. No. I just need to give myself the same grace God gives me, and learn to trust him more to work in me and produce the fruit he wants to see in my life - fruit that brings him glory because he is the one who produces it!