I have grown to be a checklist guy. I get this weird satisfaction of being able to check off an item, delete an email, or finish a task that’s on a list of some sorts. An odd empowerment comes over me with each item checked off. You could even call it a high!
One item on my checklist this week was to write the last lesson in the Fruit of the Spirit series. Now for the past two weeks I have struggled. Nothing monumental. Just a struggle – an unsettled spirit. Nothing specific. As I was reading and looking for material for the gentleness and self-control lesson, I was led to a verse in Acts 24 that made my struggle specific! But before I got there, I found a checklist! In this passage, Paul is defending himself before Felix. As Paul moves through his defense, he admits several things – in checklist fashion! (Love it!)
- That he worships God (v.11)
- That he follows the Way of Jesus (v.14)
- That he believes in the Law and the Prophets (v.14)
- That he hopes in God (v.15)
- That he believes in the Resurrection (v.15)
Great! I love being able to get out of my humbleness and begin checking off where I’ve been a good boy! (written with much sarcasm!) Starting from the top.
- That he worships God – I worship God – Check!
- That he follows the Way of Jesus – I follow Jesus – Check!
- That he believes in the Law and the Prophets – I believe in the Law and Prophets – Check!
- That he hopes in God – I hope in God – Check!
- That he believes in the Resurrection – I believe in the Resurrection – Check!
Whew! I’m on a roll! What’s next? Verse 16!
That he does his best to maintain a blameless conscience before God and men. (v.16)
I paused on this one. Mentally I tried to put a checkmark on it, but I couldn’t. Each time I did, the Holy Spirit would poke me and say, nope, not this one buddy! Side bar: Remember, part of the Holy Spirit’s job in our lives is to make us more Christlike. He can’t do that on His own. He can prod, poke, and remind, but we have to be submissive and respond to Him. That’s our job.
I wasn’t responding – unless you consider a wrestling match with the Holy Spirit responding! Have you ever wrestled with the Holy Spirit? He will WEAR you out!
After several attempts on my part to put a checkmark on this statement, I gave in, yielded, and went hunting to discover where in my life I had not been maintaining a blameless conscience before God and men. When you open yourself up like this to the Holy Spirit, it is a rather humbling experience. My eyes were opened and people’s faces were recalled from memory – people that I had been given opportunity to show the gentleness of Christ, but failed to do so. I was reminded of words spoken that left me less than blameless – not because of the words themselves, but because I had not sought their forgiveness. Other items were brought to mind as well.
Now, it would be easy to think that I’d be leading you to some big, juicy sin in my life. And I’m sure you’re ready to hear it!
There wasn’t one!
We all make decisions everyday. Some involve minor details, some are more involved, and some approach the spiritual realm. It is the spiritual realm that I was dealing with – not choosing between sinning and not sinning, but what was **most** beneficial. I was reminded of a time that Paul discussed something similar with the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 6:12 “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be brought under the control of anything.
Pause and take a look at the scripture again. Twice Paul quotes (notice the quotation marks) the phrase “Everything is permissible for me.” According to both the Holman Bible Commentary as well as the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, this appears to be a saying or a maxim in Corinth and they used it to justify a variety of illegitimate activities on the basis of Christian liberty.
Paul is quick and efficient with his two responses to the maxim.
Not everything is helpful (or beneficial in some translations)
He will not be brought under the control of anything.
You know the warning light on the dash of your vehicle – the one that tries to tell you that something is wrong? Yet you don’t want to notice its there…because it’s telling you something is wrong that’s why!!! And you don’t want to think about that cause you know it’s going to be costly to get it fixed and you don’t want to go there. So you start to ignore it. The car is running great! Must be a glitch in the computer! And over time, you believe it more and more till you reach a point where someone else gets in your car and they say,
“Hey! you’ve got a check engine light on.”
To which you reply
“What check engine light?”
You’ve become blind to the blinking warning light. And you’ve driven it so long in that state that the problem has only gotten worse. In fact, it’s now going to be a costly repair whereas had you addressed it much earlier you wouldn’t have incurred the cost.
World, meet the obstruction of my checkmark!
A blameless conscience before God and men. Did I truly have a blameless conscience? After examining the check engine light of my spirit I had to admit – no. There were some decisions made that, while not sinful, were not helpful or beneficial and they had sat unattended to. The word beneficial, in this context, has the connotations of the good for other people and not just yourself. Yes, as Christians, we have liberties. But even with those liberties, choices must be gently and carefully evaluated. Will they be beneficial? Many things are lawful for me to do, but could have harmful effects on my walk or the walk of someone else either immediately or in the future.
Sometimes we can make decisions based on our own personal interests or pleasure when the better decision would have been for the good of others in your life. This was indeed true for me.
Moving from here I needed to consider Paul’s second response – that he will not be under the control of anything. If I am being controlled by anything but the Holy Spirit, then I’m in need of a good wrestling match with Him again. Certain appetites are healthy, but if they end up controlling us, they can become masters over us, influencing us. There are many facets of life that fall under this category.
Sometimes we can find that by making the decision, we think we are exercising our Christian liberty, but its that very decision that can lead us into serving it.
Anytime a decision needs made that could fall questionable, consideration must be made to take the right course of action. It is so easy for us to not even rationalize a decision and make it, only to discover later that it wasn’t the right course of action. Christian freedom is a powerful entity. As such it must be handled gently and carefully with much self control.
Think about a whisper. Have you ever tried to carry a conversation in whisper fashion? It takes more effort and strength to keep your voice in a gentle, controlled volume. Gentleness is not synonymous with weakness. It is the opposite of being out of control. Gentleness is an extra-ordinary self-control that is completely empowered by the Holy Spirit and something we cannot perform in our own strength. In fact Paul lists gentleness and self-control as the last two fruits in his fruit of the spirit checklist!
Don’t worry – I learned my lesson with this checklist! I’m not EVEN going to attempt to check off one of those!
Like the light on the dash of my Jeep (yes, sheepishly I admit that was a true scenario) that was trying to tell me something was wrong, so to was the unsettling in my spirit. Had I listened to what my Jeep was trying to tell me, I would have avoided the costly repair.
Trying to ignore or sweep away my unsettled spirit was unacceptable to the Holy Spirit. Funny thing about Him – He loves us so much that He will permit yucky (yes I like the word yucky) circumstances to come to our days and use them to turn the eyes of our spirit His way. The repair process begins after He has regained our attention.
A constant awareness of His presence in our lives is supremely vital!
With things settled and finely tuned in my spirit, I discovered verse 16 checked off. I was satisfied with being able to check it off, but not how I normally am. This time it was such a deep satisfaction that it could only come from the Holy Spirit saying…
I like being a good boy!