LIVING by the Spirit
When you set up a spiritual new year’s resolution, if it does not provide physical pleasure, you have started a war against yourself.
The same chemical (dopamine) that provides your happiness, sense of satisfaction and achievement, is the one that enables addiction. Like a typical drug addict, we want increasingly more on each turn (WebMD). And that need for satisfaction is in constant conflict with our pursuit of righteousness.
Human personality and psyche emerge through conflict between their natural biology and societal or external influences on their behavior. When a child is born, its behavior generally derives from internal and physical needs. As those needs are met, the brain generates dopamine to provide that sense of satisfaction and pleasure. However, as that baby begins to experience the pressures of society – parents’ demand, cultural norms and religion – that infant begins to undergo conflict. As that human ages, the internal needs become more mature and are manifested through desires of pleasure, need for control and higher desire for dopamine.
The natural conflict
Age brings more societal interaction, and moral awareness which in turns sets up a raging battle between the physical and moral– classic Freudian id versus superego. That lifelong human struggle is a war to overcome our persistent desire for pleasure and control. The same way a drug addict struggles with his addiction, we struggle to bring our physical body into subjection to our moral compass. The Apostle Paul calls this the flesh battling the spirit. That is why we wrestle with resolutions.
That is why we find it extremely difficult to overcome our evil tendencies. It is the reason you can’t stop gossip, hatred, resentment or materialism, no matter how you try. The need for physical satisfaction and dopamine is too overbearing. Therefore, our will and consciousness become enslaved by the demand of our biology. It is easy to see that manifested in others. We may look at some people and accuse them of glaring character flaws. While theirs may be glaring and highly visible, yours may be small and hidden. No matter big or small, we have our struggles and are all in need of help in order to be obedient to the spirit, but that is the struggle.
The Spiritual conflict
The Bible confirms that: So, I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in ongoing conflict with each other (Galatians 5:16-17).
Not only Freud, but according to the apostle Paul, each of us has a battle going on inside us. The Living Bible puts it this way: “Two forces within us are constantly fighting each other to win control over us, and our wishes are never free from their pressures.” Which force is going to win? What will it take for us in the coming year to live by the Spirit? Paul lamented this epic battle: Oh, wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death? The question is not should we walk in the spirit, but how do we do that?
How to walk in the Spirit and Keep Moral Resolutions:
1. If we are to live by the Spirit, we have to stop acting as if we are in control of our lives. Jerimiah the prophet said, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:20).
2. Ask for the Spirit. We have to pray each day to be filled by the Spirit. And Jesus himself assures us that God, who dearly loves us, will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
3. We have to let ourselves be led by the Spirit. We must “obey only the Spirit’s instructions.” We need to stay in step with the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can help us become and be what the Lord wants us to be in the coming year. We have to listen to what the Spirit tells us by turning to the book of the Spirit, the Bible. Spend more time in prayer, praise and study.
4. If you focus on a spiritual walk with God, your character flaws begin to disappear without notice. I struggled with a particular moral issue for years. I tried several strategies in an effort to rid myself of it. Nothing worked until I committed to an intense spiritual walk with God. One day, I woke up and had no desire for that practice anymore. The spirit took it from me, and it was through no effort of my doing. Give the spirit your time and commitment and he will make that needed change in your life.
Our Prayer: “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. . . . Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. . . . Spirit of the living God, move among us all . . . [and] make us one in love; humble, caring, selfless, sharing.” Fill us, we pray, with all your fullness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.