For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)
If you could be any animal, which one would you be? That’s the kind of question I love to ask in Sunday School because the answers are so fun and revealing. But if I were to answer that question, I’d have to say a mule – Jenny Mule – well named. I’m stubborn, resistant to instruction or direction, and not afraid to get loud when I want my way. You may not have known that about me, but God certainly does. Like a frustrated farmer He’s been trying to get a yoke on my neck for decades now, but still I resist.
I can’t speak for mules, but for myself, I know I need that yoke. Self-discipline, self-control have never been my strong suit. I’m a master at making unwise decisions and then convincing myself and others that that decision is sound. But the results speak for themselves – nothing good ever came of them. I was, and still am, that kid who could come up with dozens of good reasons to have chocolate for breakfast: loaded with antioxidants, more time to burn off the calories, on and on. But by noon I’d be sick, just like wiser people knew.
Self-control is one of the Fruits of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Verse 24 is telling: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Have you done that? Have I? The verse from Titus, above, suggests that it is the Holy Spirit working out our salvation that teaches us how: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…”
If we accept that the reappearing of Christ is at least nearer than it was, if not imminent, then it should be no surprise that ungodliness is increasing. Consider Galatians 19-21: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like…” Sounds like the top stories on the nightly news, or worse yet, the new fall TV line-up!
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” When the pastor said we need to dare to be different, swimming against the current of culture, this is what he meant. It seems crazy to think that being and acting good, kind, gentle, peaceful, and with self-control would seem anything other than normal. But unfortunately, the news of government corruption, corporate greed, human trafficking, illegal drug use, war, violence and more point to the reality of a world where the Fruits of the Spirit are rare fruits becoming more endangered by the minute.
Like the prophets of old, we are called now to hold the line. We are called to keep on keeping on in a world where that will attract attention – a world that will increasingly be hostile to our message of peace and love and reconciliation. This is not cause for despair. In fact, it just confirms what our Lord told us millennia ago:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Perhaps that stubborn, resistant, not-afraid-to-get-loud mule-like nature of mine may come in handy after all. I pray that we will all have the courage to stand strong in Christ and find our peace in Him.
PRAYER: Lord, as your return draws nearer, continue to ripen the Fruits of the Spirit in my life. Grant me the courage to live boldly for you, and not be shaken by a spirit of fear. Develop my self-control so that I may avoid worldly passions, and live an upright, holy life in this present age, as we wait for Your sure return. Amen.