Three Christians walk into a Bible study…. The teacher is beginning a lesson on Galatians 5:19-24, the fruits of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit.
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
The first Christian listens for a moment and says to his companions as he walks out the door: “This isn’t for me. I don’t need to change; God has already forgiven me. I am going to live by faith in His grace.”
The second Christian listens to the teacher a little longer. “I know that I need to control my temper,” he says to the friend next to him. “But that is the way my father always dealt with frustration. I am just like him.” He, too, walks out the door.
The third Christian becomes increasingly uncomfortable as he continues to listen in a corner of the room. He runs through his personal and family history in his head, a history marked by broken relationships, infidelity, addiction, and secrets. But as he turns his attention back to the teacher, he is struck by the foundation of hope in Paul’s message: Godly behavior is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s work within him. It is not—and cannot be—the result of independent human effort.
Christian #3 starts to listen more carefully. “It is absolutely essential to take Paul’s words seriously, to relinquish our dependence on the deeds of the flesh to feel good and to cope with a troubling and difficult world,” the teacher states. “But it is equally essential to work with the Holy Spirit as we seek to become free from family patterns and personal sin patterns and to become like Christ and manifest the fruits of a Spirit-filled and Spirit-directed life. We cannot change ourselves; when we try, we give up, or make excuses. It is only when we allow the Holy Spirit to expose our sins and hurts and allow Him to touch us and heal us can we begin to turn from the lure of fleshly desires and pursue God’s best for us.”
The third Christian stays to the end of the study and waits for a chance to talk with the teacher. They talk for a long while and agree to continue their conversation over the next several weeks. He leaves a changed man, no longer feeling destined to repeat the sins of his fathers and prepared to allow the Holy Spirit to redeem his family history as He works in the deepest parts of his heart and soul.
When we are confronted with the personal and uncomfortable truths of Scripture, we have the same choices as our three fictional Christians. We can refuse to deal with the truth and abuse the Lord’s grace. We can look at the brokenness of our past and make excuses. Or, we can look at our past and see the roots of sin that need to be pulled in order for us to become more who the Lord has created us to be, more faithful in following Him. Understanding the reasons for our sin is helpful and often necessary in the process of Christian growth. But it is crucial that we go beyond the “reason stage.” Reasons are not excuses. They are explanations that can empower genuine repentance. But as we remember the words of the Apostle Paul, we must remember to invite the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us uncover the drivers of our sin and empower us to repent. May we choose to keep company with our third Christian and his Bible study teacher.