Guilt is Not A Fruit of the Spirit

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
(Psalm 119:10–11)

“The road to godliness is one of discipline, and discipline doesn’t come naturally to most.”
Bill Hull, Choose the Life

One of the great goals of the Christian life is that we are to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Rom 8:29), that we would “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:15), to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” 2 Peter 3:18.  This growth in the likeness of Christ is only possible by the inward working power of God’s Holy Spirit, but the Spirit uses and supplies many spiritual graces, helps for our life of faith and maturity in Christ.

These graces, or Spiritual Disciplines, are vast.  We have the opportunity to come together as a congregation for worship and prayer. We have the signs of grace in the sacraments to aid us in our walk with the Lord. We are all literate people, and have the advantage of mass-produced copies of God’s word: every home has multiple copies of the Bible, and now you can have the Scriptures on your Smart-Phone, tablet, and mp3 player. There are endless opportunities for service, prayer, giving.  All of these are gifts given from God as disciplines intended to help you mature in your faith and understanding, as you grow in love for God and one another, and are transformed in the likeness of Christ.

The road to godliness is one of discipline, using the means of grace that have been given for our growth and strength.  We are to daily take up our cross, to die unto ourselves and to live unto Christ. The problem is, like diet and exercise, for most of us, discipline does not come naturally.  We want to be like Christ, and we love the idea of worshipping regularly, of reading the Bible daily, of serving more readily. But when it comes to actually doing it, the demands of work and family come crashing in. I’d go and visit my neighbor, but I don’t know what to say, and my favorite TV show is about to come on, so maybe tomorrow…

We have good intentions when it comes to Spiritual Discipline, but the implementation is difficult.  Add to that the fact that our enemy doesn’t want you to be disciplined and to grow in grace.  Satan would rather have you “spiritually soft” and undisciplined, stewing in the regrets of unfulfilled commitments, struggling with the doubts of despairs of an undisciplined heart and mind.

Friends, the purpose of taking on Spiritual Disciplines like daily reading scripture, prayer, fasting, service, etc, is not to make you feel guilty about the times when you neglect the spiritual disciplines.  The purpose is to make you more like Christ, to lead you away from reliance upon yourself – your own wisdom, strength, and even tenacity – and turn ever more to the perfect wisdom, the perfect strength, the perfect faithfulness of God.

Rest assured, the disciplines are hard work, they take time, and we will all, at one point or another, fail in our efforts to be disciples.  The original 12 disciples often failed in their discipleship. But the point was, they kept following.  When many would be followers of Jesus left Him because of some very difficult teaching, He turned to the 12 and said, “Will you leave me too?” Peter replied, “Where else shall we go to find the words of life?”

If you made a plan to read a chapter of the Bible every day, and then one day wake up and realize it’s been a week since you’ve last read, don’t be overcome by guilt and shame and just give up altogether. Turn to Jesus, admit your lack of discipline, then pick up and read. Seek His grace today. Sit at His feet and learn from His word.

If you want to grow in prayer but struggle to pray, then plead with God would put a passion for prayer in your heart. The desire to pray is a prayer in and of itself. Don’t despair that you cannot go more than two minutes in prayer without your mind wandering. Pray through the wanderings, then come back to prayer in praise.

I will say it again: Guilt is not a fruit of the Spirit. Discouragement is never the product of close communion with Christ.  Do not despair if you are not where you want to be.  Keep putting yourself in the place where growth will occur. Stop dwelling on the things you haven’t done, or you struggle to maintain some self-imposed standard. Rest in the grace of God, trust in His steadfast love, keep running back to the nail-pierced hands of Christ who died for your disbelief and rose for your righteousness.


You Need More Gospel!

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;
repent and believe in the gospel.”
(Mark 1:15)

It never ceases to amaze me what people will do to shed a few pounds.  Here’s a couple of novel approaches that I’ve seen recently.

There’s the “Nothing But Twinkies” Diet: The theory is, Twinkies are only 150 calories, so if you eat 10 a day, that’s only 1,500 calories.  I’m sorry, but what?!?  That’s what got me overweight in the first place.

Even I see how stupid that is!

Even I see how stupid that is!

It’s similar to another fad called the “Eat-All-Day” Diet: In this program, you graze all through the day on approved foods.  I know of others who graze all day, this is what they look like…

mmm... food...

mmm… food…

Then there is the “Sleeping Beauty Diet.”  I kid you not.  The theory is that lack of sleep can often lead to weight gain, so then the reverse is true.  Sleep a little more, close the eyes, fold the hands, and you’ll see the pounds just walk away.  Wait a minute, that was an episode of Doctor Who.

Yeah, that'll work.

Yeah, that’ll work.

While I’ll give props to creating a diet based on my two favorite past times – Doctor Who and Sleeping – I’ve got enough common sense to know it ain’t gonna work!

I know I need to lose weight myself, and trust me, if there was a tried and true way to do it without having to break a sweat or take a break from sweets, I’d be all over that.  But the simple truth of the matter is this: there is only one real way to lose weight and keep it off, Eat Less and Exercise More.  If you want to shed the extra pounds, it will probably take as long as it did to gain them in the first place.  But all the shakes, formulas, tricks and shortcuts are simply an avoidance of reality – you have to eat better, eat less, and move your body if you want to lose weight.  Remember this was once the recommended way to get skinny again:

Words fail me!

Words fail me!

For every fad and gimmick in the weight loss industry, there are just as many in the realm of Spiritual Disciplines.  We don’t like the sound of spiritual discipline, it’s too much like exercise, it’s too formal and complicated.  I just want to enjoy Jesus, and know His blessings, right?

I can’t tell you how many times I hear stuff like this.  “I just want to connect with Jesus.  I don’t need the church, or some preacher, or some ‘organized religion’.  I can just center myself, and listen for His voice.  That’s real spirituality.”

Those were my words once.  I faithfully attended Bedside Baptist, covered by the tutelage of Pastor Whitesheets – I had taken the “Sleep Your Way to Heaven” approach.  Is it any wonder, then, that my faith was stagnant, my life riddled with hypocrisy, my heart full of sin?

What shook me from that spiritual stupor?  What do we need as a healthy, sustainable spiritual diet?  It’s simple: You Need More of the Gospel!

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that saves, and the only thing that will keep you saved.  It is the message that we are all desperately broken and headed for destruction, but that God, in His grace, delivers and forgives all who call on the name of Jesus Christ for their salvation.  You will never come to a point in your life where you have exhausted your need for, or the supply of, the grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are you struggling with sin?  You need more Gospel!  Don’t come up with excuses to help cover it up or justify it, confess it, repent of it, turn from it, and call out to Jesus for your salvation.

Are you wrestling with doubt – can you be sure of God’s provision for you?  You need more Gospel!  Look there and see that God loves you, and sent His Son for you, so that He could bring you into eternal fellowship with Him.

Are you wondering what your purpose is in life?  You need more Gospel!  There you will find that God has forgiven you and given you His Spirit in Jesus Christ so that wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you may share the love of God in Jesus Christ with those around you.

Are you wanting to know God better, to live more like Jesus?  You need more Gospel!  Find Him where He has promised to be, in His Word, in His church, in the preaching, the sacraments, the fellowship of believers.  God has promised to pour out His grace upon those who seek Him there – why would you look anywhere else.

Leave the spiritual gimmicks, the devotional fads behind.  Turn to the Gospel again and again and again and again.  This was the call, is the call of Christ: “Repent and Believe in the Gospel.”