In any case, I'm finding that it's not too bad.
From the mouths of babes. Got me thinking...how is it that I'm 42 and still so immature? And this brings me to the whole idea of sanctification. I'm not sure what they're teaching in Bible schools these days, but for me, I left school with the concept that sanctification is a process that will happen to me over time as I walk with Jesus...I'll slowly become more mature. So why am I so immature? I look at myself in the mirror and I have to acknowledge that my flesh is as strong today as it was when I was a red-blooded 17 year old. Discipline has not tamed the beast. Walking with Jesus hasn't killed the beast. And I see this truth borne out in lives around me. I see 20 year olds just getting to know Jesus that seem full of Him, exuding love and peace in their daily lives. I see 70 year olds that have served in 'ministry' all their lives who reek of selfishness and pride. Me? Sometimes I'm like that 20 year old and sometimes like the 70 year old. It was this dawning awareness of the Jekyl & Hyde nature of my soul that led me to the place where I began to find some answers.
At the time, I was reading through Galatians and finding some pretty amazing stuff:
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (5:16)
Now I'm on to something. I'm either walking in the Spirit, or I'm walking in the flesh. Jekyl or Hyde. There just doesn't seem to be any middle ground. If I'm walking in the flesh, I'm walking in the same flesh that drove me to say "NO!" as a toddler to my parents...it hasn't changed much in the intervening years...I'm so immature! If I'm walking in the Spirit...well, it's just absolutely amazing what happens. I'm simply a different person.
So what is the role of discipline and effort? It occurs to me that there is still very much a place for hard work in all of this. But if I'm processing this right, it seems that our efforts aren't to be focused on trying to be good or defying our flesh; rather, our striving needs to be focused on staying "in the Spirit." Indeed, later in the same chapter Paul instructs us:
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit
Initially I figured that staying in step with the Spirit would be easy...after all, it sounds spiritual, not at all like work. I was badly mistaken. Keeping my mind and heart focused on God takes a level of discipline and concentration that continually tests my will. To the limited degree that I have successfully practiced staying in the presence of His Spirit, I have found what Frank Laubach wrote in the 1930's to be true:
Concentration on God is strenuous. But everything else has ceased to be so.
And so, the beast still lives. My flesh is still there, very alive and very well, thank you. If I give my flesh the captain's seat of my life, which I still do all too often, I'm capable of just about anything on the spectrum of evil. But what an incredible delight to know that even the youngest believer can walk in the Spirit and have the Spirit deliver power, fruit...and sanctification.
So, in my 40's I'm experiencing a new power over sin, a new ability to obey in the very hard things, a willingness to sacrifice where I wouldn't have before and a reveling in the joy of these things. It hasn't come from a long period of 'being a Christian'...it's come from finally understanding Jesus' words:
Apart from me, you can do nothing
Alas, I'm still not above tickling my way out of tight spot.