I asked Marv if he would keep going if God wouldn’t reject him no matter how little or much he viewed porn, how many joints he lit up and how often he prayed. He laughed at me and called my sanity into question. But I told him it was a serious question. What if there was a way you could live for God and not have to try harder? What if you could live for God and not have to worry about being a moral failure every day? Would it make life easier?
I had his attention. I explained that God’s primary purpose for him wasn’t focused on how much he read the Bible or prayed or stayed away from porn. What God cared about is how closely a person embraces His Holy Spirit. Tears started to stain Marv’s face as he realized there was another option beyond his failed efforts. We talked for a couple of hours about this approach to living for God and by the end, he was finally convinced it might work for him. What convinced him was not some new plan I came up with but one Scripture verse. When I explained it to him, he saw that this was something he hadn’t tried before. Since the verse itself contained a built-in promise, he wanted this truth to be part of his life.
The verse is Galatians 5:16:
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
The book of Galatians features three themes. First, Law vs. Grace. Paul is teaching these new Christians at Galatia they didn’t have to be circumcised to become better followers of Christ. Circumcision was a holdover from the Law, a system that had no power to restrain sin or effect righteous living.
Second, Bondage vs. Freedom. Throughout Galatians, Paul presents spiritual freedom as the ultimate goal of Christian living. To live in bondage is to live as if the work of Christ had not affected our lives.
The third theme ties the other two together: Spirit vs. Flesh. As he will also do in Romans 8, Paul draws a map of the spiritual battlefield – The two combatants are the Flesh and the Spirit.
The most encouraging statement is verse 16. Rather than playing the shell game called “Just Try Harder”, Galatians 5:16 promises that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Those words “we will not” are a promise, a guarantee and a predictor of results for anyone. When Marv and I were talking, he naturally assumed this meant if we walked in the Spirit, the Flesh wouldn’t want to sin or to get its own way. In fact, the opposite is probably true. This verse says we won’t “gratify” the Flesh. That means, the flesh won’t get its own way, and it definitely won’t like what the Spirit is doing. In some cases, we really know we are Spiritwalking when the internal fight starts.
Some Christians measure their Spiritwalk by how easy it is to obey God, but this verse implies we will see the internal struggle start in earnest when we Spiritwalk. A great indicator that a Christian is taking baby steps in Spiritwalking is this internal fight over what they want in life.
In my counseling practice, I see trends in the Flesh that intrigue and disturb me at the same time. I see the Flesh taking its stand on three platforms: Interpersonal Relationships; Financial Decisions and Christian Culture.
Gary and Teri were cute as kittens. Not only did their names rhyme, but they often dressed in matching outfits, called each other by endearing pet names and displayed a lot of affection. That made it hard to believe when we heard Gary had been charged with spousal assault.
I heard about it the night after it happened from three different members of the church. One of our assistant pastors had already gone over to let Gary know “a thing or two from God”. The church was rallying behind Teri and doing their utmost to see she remained protected and cared for.
There was just one problem. The night before the abuse happened, Gary had been over at my house seeking advice. He had just found irrefutable evidence that his wife was having an affair with their next door neighbor. He wanted my help in knowing the best way to confront her. I looked over his evidence and agreed there was no doubt she was having an affair. I spent a long time convincing him to do things gently and with a degree of self-control.
After I heard he assaulted her, it took a few days to piece the details together. Gary had asked Teri to pray with him. She reluctantly agreed to pray and Gary started his confrontation with a plea to God for mercy and strength. Then he jumped from prayer and presented his case against her. She admitted her affair, but then launched into a long and hurtful diatribe against Gary. She laid out all her grievances against him, even suggesting he had already had affairs during their time together. (Later she admitted she had no evidence he had cheated on her…she did it to take the focus off her sin).
At one point, she threw a coffee mug at him. Gary got out of the way of the mug, and then grabbed her by both wrists to prevent her from throwing anything else. Gary is a huge man and it didn’t take much for him to both overpower her and cause pain. She bit him, and he then threw her against the fireplace. She chipped a tooth, split a lip and had a sprained wrist. Gary took her down to the hospital for treatment on the wrist. While they were there, an ER nurse recognized the type of injuries she had and asked a few questions about what happened. Teri broke down and admitted her husband had done the damage. The nurse was required by law, as a mandated reporter, to call the police.
Gary was charged with spousal assault an hour later.
I don’t blame the nurse or the police for getting involved. It is not their job to determine why one spouse hurts another. They are the gatekeepers who stop this kind of violence from taking over our society. I do hold Gary and Teri responsible for the events of that night, though not equally. I have their permission to share this story in the book, and they agree with me that they failed in many ways.
Teri’s biggest mistake came after she returned home from giving the police her statement. Being alone for the first time after the fight, Teri began to fear for her life. She knew the wife of the man she had the affair with was not a Christian and had a violent temper. She had no way of knowing if her life was in danger. So she called one of our younger pastors to come over and be with her.
He and his wife went right over and stayed with her that night. Teri decided to tell them about Gary’s abuse, but left out her affair and the reason why the next-door neighbor might be gunning for her. She laid the fault for all of this at Gary’s feet. They saw the bruises and the chipped tooth and both became angry. That’s when they began to call some of the church leaders, who then called other people. It wasn’t long before much of the church was up in arms against Gary. Many wanted him censured and if he didn’t repent to be put out of membership.
I was mortified at everyone’s actions. A few people did call me and expressed concern that the whole story had not been told. Some revealed that God showed them to stay out of it for now. I call those people “The Wise Bunch”.
Eventually Gary left the church in anger over how he was unfairly treated. To his credit, he never did tell anyone but me about his wife’s adultery. Surprisingly, Teri left the church as well. She was angry at how poorly Gary was treated in all this. They did ask me to counsel with them with the purpose of putting their marriage back together. Unfortunately, Gary’s hurt over the adultery and the betrayal that followed was all he could think about. He refused to reconcile.
(Note: Years later, the two of them did reconcile as friends, but did not remarry. I am still acquainted with both of them. She has since remarried and he has not. Yet they have a good relationship with God, primarily because they settled the bitterness and resentment that had filled their hearts).
What made me nauseous was the general attitude of all the Christians involved. There was so much Flesh floating around unhindered. The few people who acted in concert with the Holy Spirit all felt led to take a “wait-and-see” approach, refusing to take sides with either Teri or Gary.
Church leaders across the world will admit this type of situation is played out regularly in congregations. I heard of one church that split over which end of the basement the new garbage cans should be placed. That church had the North-Enders vs. the South-Enders and when the rhetoric was finally retired, the two groups could not stay in the same church together.
One church member, during counseling, told me he preferred the crowd at his local bar over the one at church. I asked why and he said, “Because at the bar you can see the knife pulled on you. At church, you never know when the knife is going to go into your back.” Ken Sande in his book, “The Peacemaker” remarks that personal conflict between Christians does more harm than any person sin we may commit. John Bevere tells us that personal offense is Satan’s number one tool in defeating the American Church. I heartily endorse both their conclusions.
If you think this point is an exaggeration, you aren’t paying attention. If the people of God practiced Spiritwalking, no conflict would be able to defeat us for long. But there is a litany of defeats marring the experience most people have in the Body of Christ.
What does this proliferation of interpersonal problems tell us? The most important canvas that the painting of our life will be seen is how we interact with others. Anyone can be righteous if they don’t have to rub shoulders with messy people. As the very old poem goes:
To live above with saints we love,
That will be glory.
To live below with saints we know,
Now that’s another story.
If just a few Christians struggled with this problem, we could possibly write it off as an aberration. But when relationship problems like adultery, fornication, spousal assault, church splits, elder abuse are all happening in the church, the logical conclusion is there is more Fleshwalking than Spiritwalking. But relationships is not the only way we measure this trend.