By J.R. Miller
Paul states a great principle in spiritual ethics, when he says, "Walk by the Spirit--and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." He prescribes here the true rule of spiritual culture. The way to cure ourselves of bad tendencies, is to cultivate the good. It was on these words that Dr. Chalmers preached his famous sermon, "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection." The way to become cured of evil lusts and desires--is to get the Spirit of God into one's heart. Where the Spirit is, everything is made to conform to the Spirit's life. The Spirit is love. Love is the fulfilling of the law, and love drives away all evil passion, all bitterness, all hatred. Those who walk by the Spirit--will not bite and devour one another--but will help one another ever toward "whatever things are true, . . . whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report."
In another place, Paul contrasts the Holy Spirit and wine. He says, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." Nothing could be farther apart in their nature and effects, than wine and the Holy Spirit. Wine incites to all unruliness, all bitterness, all destructive tendencies. On the other hand, the Spirit is full of love, goodness, kindness, gentleness, and incites to everything that is Christlike and upbuilding. Paul is right when he says that these--that is, the Spirit and the flesh--are "contrary the one to the other." The way, therefore, to get rid of the fleshly appetites and passions--is to become filled with the Spirit, whose influence is always toward the things that are heavenly.
It is a terrible picture of the works of the flesh which Paul gives in the following verses. We need not linger upon the words in detail. They describe all forms of impurity, and then include enmities, strife, jealousies, anger, factions, envyings, drunkenness and revelings. It is not saying too much, to assert that all of these are in the line of the results of drunkenness. Just such things as these drunkenness produces wherever it is allowed full sway. Drunkenness is a most debasing and degrading vice, and the others are of the same kind. We should note well what Paul says about these works of the flesh: "Of which I forewarn you . . . that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
We should never think of calling a man a Christian who indulges in such vices. Then, we may go a step farther and say that it is impossible also for persons who live in such debasing ways to enter into heaven itself. For heaven must first begin in our hearts. We never can enter the gates of pearl, unless we have received the heavenly life and Spirit, while we stay in this world.
In wonderful contrast with this most pitiful cluster of works of the flesh, we have the virtues and graces which Paul enumerates as "the fruit of the Spirit." These are heavenly qualities. In our daily prayer we ask that we may do the will of God on earth--as it is done in heaven. These verses tell us how the will of God is done in heaven, how people live who have been redeemed and are inside the gates with Christ. It is well for us to study these qualities and characteristics of the kingdom of God in this world, also, as well as in heaven itself.
"Self-control" is also a fruit of the Spirit. The object of Christian culture is not only to know the will of God concerning our life and character--but also to achieve self-mastery. A drunkard has not self-control. He may say that he can drink or let it alone, as he chooses--but the fact is that he cannot. Indeed, men often make as an excuse for the debasing habit of drunkenness, that they cannot help it. It is a pitiful condition when a human being, made to be a child of God, made to be Christlike in life and character, is unable to control his own passions and desires, and is swept away by every unholy impulse. But it is this condition to which indulgence in any sort of evil tends.
We soon form habits for ourselves, and then our habits become our masters. When one has formed the habit of kindness, it becomes second nature, as it were, to be kind. If one has formed the habit of sobriety, of resisting self-indulgence of any kind, this quality also becomes second nature, as we say. It is easy for us, then, to refuse to do evil and choose to do good. He who has attained perfect self-control, and has the complete mastery of himself, need not be afraid of temptation. But how can one get this perfect self-mastery? It is only when Christ lives in us, His Spirit filling our hearts, and producing in us all gentle and kindly desires, all holy impulses--that we really have self-mastery.
A story is told of Henry Drummond and the way he sought to save a friend from the drinking habit. This friend's wife had appealed to Mr. Drummond privately regarding the habit of drinking into which her husband was falling, requesting him to try to save him. One day this friend and Mr. Drummond were riding behind two spirited horses which the friend was driving. As they were about descending a hill, Mr. Drummond said to him, "What would happen if these horses got out of your control and started to run down the hill?" The man said that they could not help being dashed to pieces. "But," continued Mr. Drummond quietly, "suppose in such a case there sat one beside you who was able to control the horses and save you from the disaster impending. What would you do?" The man was silent for a moment, and then said, "I should put the lines into his hands." It was not hard for Mr. Drummond to pass to the man's own increasing danger, as he was losing the mastery over himself in his indulgence in strong drink.
Christ is ever by us and we may always put the lines into His hands if we will. Paul intimates that the self-controlled life is not an easy one. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." Crucifixion suggests that only by nailing the desires of the flesh to the cross can they be put to death. No doubt Paul was thinking of the cross of Christ, and meant to intimate that only by entering into Christ's own death, by accepting Him as Savior and Master, can anyone have the evil lusts of nature put to death. We cannot by any mere child's play overcome the evil tendencies in our lives. It cost Christ a terrible death to redeem the world. It costs any man a terrible crucifixion of self to enter into complete self-mastery of a Christian.