"The emphasis is not a prison of 'Don’ts,' but the freedom of 'Won’ts.'"
Sometimes we get things backwards in our minds. This can apply to scriptural emphasis. When this occurs it hinders our spiritual progress.
For example the Scripture says, “The works of the flesh are manifest…But the fruit of the Spirit is…” (Gal. 5:19-23). The list of the works of the flesh starts with moral sins like fornication, adultery and indiscretions, followed by religious sins like idolatry and witchcraft, followed by relationship sins like anger issues, strife and jealousy, finally concluding with social sins like drunkenness and murder. Interestingly, when the text contrasts these works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, it doesn’t just list the opposite. It does not say “But the fruit of the Spirit is moral fidelity, and so forth.” The emphasis is not on not doing certain things, but rather accessing the holy life of the indwelling Spirit. When you do the fruit of the Spirit is manifest: love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance—which means you won’t do certain things. But notice it’s an overcoming positive.
The Scripture says, “Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). So some think, “If I don’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh, I must be walking in the Spirit.” In so doing their focus is on not doing the negatives. But this is merely striving in the strength of the flesh. You may indeed not do something sinful, but in your heart you want to. In contrast, when you access the Spirit, you don’t want that which is sinful. This is accessing the Holy One and, therefore, true holiness. The text indicates when you walk in the Spirit, you don’t fulfill the sinful desires of the flesh, because when you depend on the Spirit, He enables you—He imparts the very life of Christ to you. When this is the case, you don’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh—because Christ never does. Again this is an overcoming positive. The key is accessing the holy life of the indwelling Christ, who is the overcoming life himself.
The Scripture says, “But if ye be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). Why? When you follow the leadership of the Spirit, trusting His power, you manifest the fruit of the Spirit, and “against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:23). The manifest character of Christ does not violate the law. The fruit of the Spirit is love and “love fulfills the law” (Gal. 5:14). But the focus is not on obeying the law; it’s on Jesus. The focus is not on a list of “Don’ts.” It’s on a relationship with the Spirit of Jesus. You want Him so you want what He leads you to want. The emphasis is not a prison of “Don’ts,” but the freedom of “Won’ts.” This is liberating, not binding. Once again, this is an overcoming positive.
A criminal may be kept from acts of crime by being put behind bars, but a changed heart walks in love and is free from acts of crime without being put behind bars. Similarly, when you walk in the Spirit and access the fruit of the Spirit, the Spirit imparts the heart and life of Jesus to you—and then you experience His overcoming life. The Spirit of Jesus is the overcoming positive!
John Van Gelderen