“You’ll be back,” says the haunting thought. It mocks as you swear you’ll never dial that number again, even though you leave it in your phonebook or when you clear your browser’s history but leave that hidden folder (for next time?). Maybe it rolls its eyes at you when you quit smoking for the sixth time that month or when you pour that drink into the sink but keep it for deposit.
It billows around you as you try to soothe bruises you inflicted on a face or mind with a gift and a kiss, determined to control your temper in the future. You’ve felt it before, it is the sting of knowing you couldn’t stop it if you tried.
You know it because you have tried… and failed so dismally. Perhaps you’ve carried the lifeless corpse of your determined attempt to leave it all behind and cried to the heavens, “Will I ever be sinless?” It is a cry whose desperation is palpable in those who long to live up to the ideal they share with God and unbearable in those who believe they must be in sinless perfection before Jesus returns. This is the cry, not of those trying to behave their way into eternity, but of those who admire the character of Christ and wish to long for the absence of sin in their lives. It is the cry of those whose nostrils are filled with the fragrance of heavenly purity but whose flesh stinks with sinful corruption. Is there hope? Can the redeemed ever hope to live godly lives in the face of the law’s inability to cure sin? Are they doomed to reach for stars they can never grasp?
Galatians 5 does not call us to strive to stop doing bad, neither does it call us to leap at doing good for sin lies not in our hands but in our minds. Sin is not a list of bad deeds but a mindset that leads to bad deeds. As much as a shattered glass can never repair itself, we are hopeless in escaping our mindset. God offers, not to glue us back together again but to reforge us. Sanctification is an act of God.
Make no mistake, it is not effortless on our part. Living a godly life requires effort in the right direction. Sin cannot be picked out with a pair of forceps, no, it must be flushed out with the Spirit. Our effort is to not resist Him. In this chapter, Paul states that the Christian has two mindsets: the fleshly and the spiritual. The mindset that wins is the mindset that is fed and nurtured. Each day faces us with a choice: feed the flesh or the spiritual. It’s a difficult choice but we are promised power by God. It is not for us to wonder how long it will take but to trust; trust that He will lead us, step by step, to glory. It is a race won not by speed but by finishing. Fruit is produced by a process and not in an instant. At times the tree may seem dead, swaying leafless branches in the wind but as long as it sucks up nutrients with its roots, it is assured that picnic blankets will be spread underneath its shade and eager hands will pluck its sweetest fruit.