I have been speaking to young people — mostly high school and college age — about how to live free from sin. The best verse on which to base this idea is Galatians 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (NIV). I had been thinking about how so much of our ministry to this group is focused on sin — and how, by doing so, we may be unwittingly perpetuating the cycle of temptation and sin. Certainly it is important to minister to those struggling with sin and temptation, and especially for this particular age group, because I know that young people experience high levels of temptation, particularly from sexual temptation which is possibly at its highest level at that age. But I also think the verse points to a much better way.
In addition to talking about sin, we also have been talking some about principles of dating and marriage. As I was thinking about the two areas of teaching — sin and preparing for marriage — the strange mashup of ideas brought a very important and perhaps helpful analogy to the issue of following the Law vs. being led by the Spirit. Just as we don’t expect children to marry until they reach adulthood — since they need to mature emotionally, socially, physically, and even spiritually before they are ready — it is also true that there is a certain natural progression we should experience spiritually as we grow.
A child is raised by parents to follow certain rules that are designed to protect the child or to help the child connect better socially or to ultimately understand right from wrong in either a religious or social sense. A child is taught to obey his parents. But when a child becomes an adult, and if that child should marry, staying a child in the new primary relationship of their life would be a terrible thing! Instead of obedience in marriage, marriage partners learn to do things that are meant to strengthen the marriage and bless their partner. The motivation of these actions is love. I’m not saying that parents don’t make and enforce rules out of love, nor that children don’t obey out of love (at least some of the time). What I am saying is that the nature of the relationship has changed from one of simply learning to control one’s self to be better able to follow rules, to one of controlling one’s self for the sake of loving one’s partner.
It is probably necessary to learn rules — to have experience with trying to obey the Law — in order to recognize a number of important lessons. These include the fact that it is impossible to keep all of the rules all of the time even when we try the hardest we can; and that the rules seem to be in place to either protect us, protect others from us, or protect our relationship with God. Yet as we move from childhood to maturity — think of us as the Bride of Christ — we recognize that in order to attain maturity in faith, we have to transition from our rules-based childhood to a higher level of relating. That is, we transition from our focus on trying not to sin to a new focus on loving God and doing what builds, protects, and enhances that intimate relationship with God. The nature of our relationship shifts from being a child learning to obey to being a wife (even guys) to God.
What the verse from Galatians tells us is that transitioning from child to wife, from obedience to the Law to following the lead of the Holy Spirit, is the only way we will ever walk free from sin. Sin loses its power when we don’t take it on directly, but rather bypass it entirely because we are so focused on the One who loves us more than any other. We focus on what we are living for, not what we are running from. Jesus is the joy set before us! As we focus on him, all other things fade. Focusing on Jesus gives us power to be more than conquerors.
Fly with Christ!