Monday, 10 January 2011

Resolved #2: To Walk in Step with the Spirit

[I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by London Institute for Contemporary Christianity; it’s the second of a projected five in a short series drawing on some exhortations from Galatians 5-6 attempting to reframe new year’s resolutions.]

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh... If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16, 18, 25

How are the resolutions looking this far into January?

Surveys show that among the most common new year’s resolutions are the determination to enjoy life more, lose weight, get fit, learn something new, find true love, get a better job, pay off debts, and reduce stress. And yet, recent research by the University of Hertfordshire, from a study conducted with 2,000 people, confirms what we already suspect – that the majority of us will abandon our resolves by mid-January, with many of us not making it beyond the first week.

Still, the making of resolutions at least implies a felt-need for transformation of some kind.

Reframing resolutions – with the help of Paul’s letter to the Galatians – begins with a reminder that Christ has set us free (5:1, 13). But the freedom Christ gains is a freedom to live in the Spirit.

Those who walk by the Spirit (5:16) and are led by the Spirit (5:18), who live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit (5:25) are no longer under the authority of the Mosaic economy; nor are they bound to ‘gratify the desires of the flesh’, that way of life marked by alienation from God and each other. Instead, the death and resurrection of Christ and the giving of the Spirit have ushered in a new era in which the Spirit animates our ongoing covenant relationship with God, just as he promised through his prophets.

Of course, as Paul notes, there is conflict and struggle. Fruit needs to be cultivated; lasting change does not arrive overnight.

And that’s why the walking metaphor is so apt. Unlike the dramatic moments of decision or fresh resolve we sometimes make at this time of the year, walking suggests a more regular pattern – ongoing, mundane even – a process which takes place in the everyday where we live and where we work – on the commute, in the home, at the office, on the squash court, in the checkout queue.

In such contexts, we discover, it’s the consistent, everyday actions that make a difference, as we continue to walk step-by-step – our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

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