Let me ask you a question. Are you willing to completely surrender? I know that conceptually we are or already have. How about this: are willing to “stop trying” even when you know there is a needed change? Listen, we are all learning who we are in Jesus. I am becoming more and more confident in who I am. I am learning that my identity is secure. I meet others who are learning the same truths. Then someone comes up and says “what do I do to stop ______? I know I shouldn’t be doing this thing but still I keep on doing it.” I of course show them the finer points of who they are in Jesus. I show them how applying law drives them into a Romans 7 existence (ouch). I show them how they are free in Christ, the law brings death and the Spirit brings life. I get all that. But in the end you still have the question “so then what do I do?”
The answer is in this question “do we believe what God has said and do we trust Him?”
Galatians is a great book. I would love to peel that one back for a few hundred pages of commentary, but this is a blog, not a book selling opportunity. So I’ll be brief. Chapter 5 is where most people get all hung up on “I need to do stuff because, look, the flesh and the Spirit are all battling it out and I better stay on top of this thing or I am doomed to being sucked into the vortex of never-ending flesh motivated completely out of control behavior.” Whew!! That is even hard to type. Check out these verses in Chapter 5:
Galatians 5:17 (ESV) 17 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. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
I really like the way The Message says it:
Galatians 5:17 (MSG) 16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
Whenever you have sections of scripture like this that are dedicated to addressing behavior, remember it is about who you are and who you are not. It is about identity. The Holy Spirit is highlighting inconsistencies based on who He died to make you. The answer to the question “what should I do?” is really pretty easy. Believe. God makes it clear that He has already done the work. We are just learning to live as we are. Want to know how I know? There are always verses like these in the behavior sections:
Gal 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
James 4:6-8 (AMP) 6 But He gives us more and more grace ([a]power of the Holy Spirit, to meet this evil tendency and all others fully). That is why He says, God sets Himself against the proud and haughty, but gives grace [continually] to the lowly (those who are humble enough to receive it). 7 So be subject to God. Resist the devil [stand firm against him], and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God and He will come close to you.
2 Cor 12:9 (ESV) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(MSG) I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
The author of Hebrews makes it very clear that our “doing” should be resting. Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (Jn 6:29).
I have a friend that was a smoker, a really good one. He pleaded with God to “take this away” like most of us do at some point. After many years of trying to quit, he began to learn about who he really was in Christ. He felt that God was telling him to stop worrying about the smoking and just trust Him. So he did. He surrendered to God for provision and dedicated himself to resting in God’s promises. A short time later he was heading home from a men’s group and thinking about his first smoke of the day. Then God said something like “not today.” He hasn’t had a smoke or the desire to smoke since then. My story is similar. Free of alcohol (I was really good at that) and nicotine (the can type). The harder I tried the harder it was. When I finally trusted God completely it was gone. We have to learn to trust God in His love and goodness. He is conforming us to the image of Christ for THIS life.
I know it sounds strange for us to rest, surrender, yield, give up, trust, have faith, believe… which are all very passive, no action. Our self nature wants to be selfish and take some credit, right? We want to say we had some part in our “successful delivery from years of nicotine addiction,” right? Be honest. It is OK; God knows how He made us. So do this, press in, seek after, love deeply, strive for intimacy, read His love letter, get to know your Papa, seek more revelation, draw near, be still, edify others, speak truth about who He made you, defeat the works of the devil, seek gifts…you get the idea. There is plenty of stuff to do, but it is based on resting in who you are. Believe in Him, surrender to Him, He is the proof, He is the truth, He did it all. Enjoy the ride and be ready. His plan is way better than ours.