by Joe Leavell
I highly doubt that I am the only one who has had the frustrating experience of running the vacuum cleaner through the living room for several minutes, wondering why none of the bits of dirt and fragments are getting picked up, and then finally realizing that the suction on the machine has not been working the entire time. It’s that exasperating feeling you get when all the hard work that you put in to getting a little housework done has been an absolute waste of time. Now you know you are going to have to spend at least 20 minutes or more trying to fix the problem with the suction before starting to vacuum the living room all over again.
I think a lot of people look at their relationship with God with this kind of frustration. They see commands such as “love your neighbor as yourself,”“forgiving one another,” and “confess your sins to one another” as an overwhelming impossibility. To them, living in obedience to God is like asking them to vacuum the living room with a vacuum that makes a lot of noise but has no suction power. Many simply give up, saying that God knows we have no ability to obey His commands and so we need to just love Jesus for saving us and then do whatever we please. In this way, they get comfortable with a dirty floor. Others become legalists who double down on their efforts to obey by bragging how fancy their vacuums are and how hard they work pushing their vacuums, pretending that their floor is perfectly clean even when it is still just as dirty as the one who gave up in frustration.
Yet, God gave us commands and principles in Scripture that reflect the character of Christ. As a reflection of our loving relationship with Him, and out of a heart of gratitude for the Gospel, we are meant to desire to bring God glory through obedience. For example, the command to love our neighbors as ourselves or to love another is repeated in Scripture twenty different times in nine different New Testament books. This overarching command is so important that 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that even if we have eloquent speech, the gift of prophecy, unsurpassed knowledge, faith that is capable of moving mountains, and even giving to the point of extreme personal sacrifice without God’s description of love as the motivator, we are described as nothing. Did you catch that? It says that in God’s estimation, without His definition of love, we are equated with the number “zero.” This is how important the obedience to God’s call to love one another truly is.
So what then is this suction power that is missing? How do we actually obey the commands of God? Is it truly a hopeless cause where God gives commands that believers are powerless to obey? Are we resigned to a life of perpetual sin with no hope of becoming closer to the image of Jesus? Or worse, is He cruel to force us to figure out on our own how to muster up the strength to reflect the love of Christ on our own?
The reality is that all of us are broken by sin and in need of redemption through Christ. The key to obedience then is found in the same God who rescues us from the penalty of sin. Galatians 5:16 tells us, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The passage goes on to describe the result of walking in the Spirit. These characteristics are depicted as “fruit.” The first of this list is “love.” Did you catch that? The principle of Scripture is that the command to love one another will be able to be fulfilled when we walk in the Spirit rather than in the flesh. This character is not the fruit of personality, the fruit of abilities, or even the fruit of good works. This is the fruit (the result, if you will) of living a Spirit-controlled life. This means that the only way for us to get our proverbial vacuum to work is not by mustering our effort but by walking in the Spirit.
For this reason, do not be surprised if you come to BCA looking for answers for your broken vacuum, and we point you first to your relationship with God. Really, what good will it do for you for us to spend all of our time trying to shine up the outside of the vacuum when the real problem is that there is no suction power? You may wonder how your relationship with Jesus may have anything to do with your broken marriage, your struggle with depression, or financial struggles, but it does. Walking in the Spirit, or the synonymous “abiding in Christ” as John 15 describes, is the God prescribed way for us to bear fruit.
This truth brings freedom! It means that we no longer have to give up when we fail and sin. God has given us the ability to obey through an intentional walk with the Spirit, and He will give us the power and the will to obey. As Scripture tells us in Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This truth also brings freedom because we do not have to conjure up the ability and the power within ourselves to obey His commands. Obedience comes as we walk with God in faith, trusting Him to direct our lives the same way we trusted Him to save our souls from death.
The right follow up question is this, “How exactly do I walk in the Spirit? What does that look like in the context of my life?” We’ll explore this further in subsequent posts.
For Further Study: