Living Totally: Without Guilt

by Robert Brow

Chapter 5

The Spirit

We now turn from the moral law of the Ten Commandments to being filled with the Holy Spirit. Only supernatural power can integrate our human flesh to enjoy the moral law as interpreted by Jesus, and yield the beautiful fruits of the Spirit.

In the first chapter we defined our flesh as the bundle of instincts received through the genes of our parents as they were moulded, and in some cases twisted, by our early training and the later traumas of life. And we saw that there is no point in accepting guilt for what was given to us.

But as soon as we try to follow Jesus' teachings about loving God with all our heart and and loving our neighbour as ourself, we find that our flesh and its instincts have no desire to do that. Living by the Ten Commandments and Jesus' interpretation of them does not come naturally to our instincts. So at that point the world has always suggested one of two solutions. We will call them Naturalism and Legalism.

Naturalism says we should just accept and live by our instincts. That seems to offer a way to live freely and without guilt. But we already know that our instincts will never choose to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, pray for others, love neighbours and even enemies. That is why Naturalism is no solution for those who want to take up their cross as Christians. We will define what is involved in taking up our cross in chapter 7).

Legalism is much more plausible. It is the attempt to perfect oneself by human effort. And that is done by forcing our flesh into submission to the law. Admittedly we know strong minded people who manage to beat down and control some of their instincts. But we do not find such people particularly attractive. They easily become self-righteous and condemning. The fruits they produce may not be at all what God had in mind.

Most of us find that our good resolutions to do good fail miserably. As Paul himself admitted, "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold in slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . Nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Romans 7:14-19).

At first sight legalism is very appealing to upright people like Paul the Pharisee, but it quickly fills us with guilt, and closes us off to the transforming power of the Spirit. That is why Pharisee legalism made religion so burdensome for ordinary people. And Jesus opposed it ruthlessly, as did Paul. After his conversion Paul discovered that the beautiful fruits of the Spirit can never be produced by human effort. They can only be the result of the Holy Spirit working in us.

He lists fifteen kinds of behaviour that our flesh can choose to engage in. "The works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing." But Paul says these are nothing to do with "the Kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).

In contrast to these works that humans too easily achieve, the nine fruits needed for Christian perfecting are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." And these can only be grown in us by the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23).

It seems that Paul must have learned this secret from Jesus who pictured it so powerfully in the parable of the Vine and the Branches. It is a parable about the working together of the three persons of the Trinity. As branches we are connected by faith with the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit is the sap that works in us to produce much fruit. In that relationship our problem is that we tend to grow in too many directions, and the Father who is the vinedresser may need to prune us. In any of these three directions legalism can only shut us up to our own attempts at divine fruit bearing.

The problem in the churches of Galatia was that after Paul had established them in the life of the Spirit, false teachers were able to mount a counterattack, and bring the Christians back into legalism. Instead of being moved and taught by the Spirit, they needed rules and traditions to tell them what to do and explain what they were meant to believe. This has been a recurring cancer in Christian churches, which is why from time to time Holy Spirit has to renew the events of the Day of Pentecost to make clear what genuine Christian life is meant to be based on.

So Paul pointed up the contrast between law and Spirit by asking the Galatian Christians three questions. "Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

These rhetorical questions suggest the three essentials for living freely. A Christian begins his or her learning by being inspired and taught personally by the Holy Spirit. It is faith that permits the Holy Spirit to work in us. And reverting to legalism always dries up the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. We might add that it also fills us with miserable guilt.

The only remedy for this cancer is the faith to open our hearts to the Spirit to do in us what we can never do ourselves, and in any miraculous way He chooses. If we compare guilt to a blood clot, the Spirit not only dissolves the guilt but pours in the healing and vitalising energies that we need to produce the fruit of the Spirit.

But merely feeling that we are forgiven is not sufficient. Jesus explained that a heart left vacant is an easy prey for forces which can reintroduce even worse evils that before. "And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first" (Matthew 12:44-45). This is why any work of revival and renewal in the Spirit will be accompanied by the awesome manifestations of individuals being delivered from evil forces. On the one hand we should not be upset and surprised by this. On the other hand, having being freed by the Spirit, we don't need the addiction to a diet of miraculous manifestations.

A common confusion is to imagine some experience of being totally transformed which will result in a permanent state of Christian joy and fruitfulness. When this does not happen, we wonder where we have failed. A drunkard is not someone who once had a life changing experience of being filled with liquor. He is a person who keeps going back to the bottle as a way of life. That is the shocking illustration Paul used to indicate that the Christian life is one of constant infillings. "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but keep being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18; literal translation of the Greek present tense).

We conclude this chapter with three images of the work of the Spirit. Each of them is designed to free us. In Hebrew the Holy Spirit is called the Wind of God. Throughout the Old Testament we get the feel of this creative breeze or breath in very ordinary men and women. Some of them were military leaders like Deborah and Gideon. There were unlikely people like Samson, a man of huge physical strength and a weakness for women. Bezaleel the artist did the design work for the tabernacle. The prophets kept appearing to rebuke injustice as they were moved by the Wind of God.

The Spirit moved in David, a shepherd boy who became a man of war and eventually a much loved king. But the mightiest expression of the Spirit in his life was in composing the Psalms which he first sang three thousand years ago. They are still perused every day by millions of people throughout the world.

There is also the idea of the Wind of God giving wisdom to men and women to face cruel suffering, as in the Book of Job, and in the practical conduct of their daily lives, as in in the Book of Proverbs, discovering the meaning of existence in Ecclesiastes, or even in the love fantasy of the Song of Solomon.

If we had met these men and women in the flesh we would probably have found them very ordinary, and they were not paragons of virtue, but when the Spirit touched their lives they suddenly became impressive. This is what Nicodemus found happening among Jesus' disciples, and when he came to inquire, Jesus told him he could join their number and find the same wind blowing in his life.

The imagery of wind speaks to me because I love sailing a small boat close to the water. Every puff and change and wind pressure is important. "The wind blows where it wills" (John 3:1- 10) The same wind that moves my small boat enables the gulls to fly with a minimum of effort. For both boats and gulls the art is in having the direction correct and the sails or wings at the right angle. But the same image reminds us that we should not feel guilty as windsurfers if we fall again and again till we learn to sail effortlessly.

About two years after I had begun my Christian life I was trying very hard to do all the things which preachers said I was meant to do. But nothing seemed to be working, and although I knew God had forgiven me, I was thoroughly frustrated and miserable. At that point someone gave me a little booklet by David Tryon called The Vine and the Branches, and within a few hours I was relaxed and again trusting God to work in and through me. "Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me."

The image of the vine branch reminds us that, if there is a connection with the tree, and the sap is free to come in, we can expect the inrush and life-giving power of the Spirit. So I remind myself that the Holy Spirit is responsible for every good thing that is to grow in my life. And it never helps for the branch to feel guilty. Why should I accept guilt because I am unable to produce what he alone is responsible for producing in me?

Admittedly the Father may need to prune us from time to time like a vinedresser, but again we need not feel guilty wondering if we are in good shape. Nor should I accept guilt, or ascribe guilt to others, if my branch bears plums, and the next branch bears apples, oranges or mangoes. In three of his epistles Paul makes clear that there is a rich variety of exciting differences among Christians.

The word coach is the best modern equivalent of the Greek word parakletos, which means one called alongside to help and encourage. The Latin translation advocatus expressed the idea of a lawyer called to the client's side to help plead a case. The advantage of the modern word coach is that it captures the idea of being called alongside an athlete or a team of athletes to train and encourage them to be the very best they are capable of, and then something more. No figure skater, or gymnast, or swimmer can get to Olympic level on her own. And any scruffy group of boys who want to play hockey can be excited and vitalized by a good coach.

But there again we need the idea of a variety of gifts and functions. The Holy Spirit is not the spirit of sameness. We should picture a team of hockey players, batters and pitchers, gymnasts, long distance runners, sky divers, volley ball players, deep sea divers, symphony players, actors, ballerinas, writers, and innumerable other excellences. And again there is no need to feel guilty because we cannot do what others do so beautifully. All that is necessary to try our routine, listen to what the coach says when we muff it, and slowly develop the skills she suggests to us. (It is interesting that in the Old Testament the name of the Holy Spirit is Ruach Elohim, which means wind or breath of God, and the wind or spirit is feminine.)

Chapter 6...