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A Winning Plan for Life

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

True believers in Jesus Christ wish to be successful in all their endeavours and to live victorious spiritual lives. In Galatians 5, the Bible offers us such a winning plan for life:

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:16-17, 22-23,24).

The nine fruits are all instilled by the Holy Spirit and are therefore not human imitations of divine characteristics. But first the dominance of the flesh, or old nature, must be overcome in our lives so the Holy Spirit may have the opportunity of manifesting Himself freely and unhindered through us. Many Christians do not surrender themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, thereby confining themselves to the category of failed, carnal believers in whose lives the Holy Spirit is opposed by the uncrucified flesh. In the chess game of life, this is a checkmate position in which your king is surrounded by hostile forces. Under circumstances such as this you cannot do the things that you wish, thereby nullifying your best intentions. The strongholds of the enemy must first fall in your life. As a Christian you should closely identify with the cross of Jesus Christ, where you are not only cleansed from all sin but also obtain victory over the flesh, or old man (Luke 9:23; Gal. 6:14).

A surrender of this nature is followed by being filled with the Holy Spirit as such a person has been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and is an open channel through whom the Spirit can manifest Himself in the form of various dispositions and deeds (1 John 3:18). Paul calls them the fruit of the Spirit and describes nine of them. The first three express our relationship with God, the second three our relationship with other people, and the last three our relationship towards ourselves. The first three are love, joy and peace.

Love refers to divine, agape love which is something quite different from a natural, human love. God’s love is always outwardly inclined by being disposed to giving itself in fulfilling the spiritual and material needs of others. In contrast with this, the love of fallen humanity is always self-centred. Man only loves himself and covets everything that his eyes can see. That is a characteristic of the flesh from which we should be delivered. Instead, we must be filled with the love of God. Roman 5:5 says: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” We must be rooted and grounded in this love, and realise that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). In the Name of the Lord we should reach out to a lost world in its dire need. Never contemplate the idea that agape love will render you a weakling or pacifist. There is a dynamic power in God’s love which can conquer every form of evil: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). This love is indestructibly strong. Paul says that no powers, tribulations, or even death, can separate us form the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39). Solomon says: “Love is as strong as death… Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it” (S. of S. 8:6-7). God’s love is wider than the world, deeper than the deepest sea, and higher than the highest heaven (Eph. 3:18-19). There is no crisis or problem which cannot be conquered by love, therefore, it is a power to victory in our lives. But God’s love must be perfected in us (1 John 2:5) through complete obedience to the Giver of agape love.

The second fruit is joy. A Christian should always be a joyful person because he knows that his sins have been forgiven – as severe and ugly as they may have been. He knows that his soul is saved and he is heading for heaven. This knowledge helps him not be overcome by the trials, sorrows and disappointments of life. Nehemiah said to the children of Israel, who had just gone through the traumatic experience of the Babylonian captivity: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). Paul wrote from prison: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). We should not become victims of dark thoughts that threaten to pull us down into a pit of depression. To Christians, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel because the expectation of eternal life in heaven should never fade in our hearts. We are also joyfully looking forward to a new day that will dawn over this wicked and dark world when Jesus comes again.

The Holy Spirit always establishes the peace of God in our hearts: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). You will no longer have a guilty conscience because of the things that went wrong in your life; consequently, you will be able to sleep relaxed and start every new day without dragging along with you the baggage of previous sins and errors of judgement. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us of all the sins that have been troubling us (1 John 1:7). The peace of God also guides us in all the decisions we have to take. Do not do anything unless you have the peace of the Holy Spirit in your heart that you are doing the right thing.

Paul now turns to the dispositions that determine our relationships with other people. The love, peace and joy of the Lord that we have received into our hearts must be put into action towards other people as we are committed to loving them. Our relationships with fellow humans should therefore be characterised by longsuffering, kindness, and goodness.

Since a Spirit-filled Christian experienced the Lord’s longsuffering and forgiveness, he is never quick to judge and condemn others. He easily forgives his debtors and always gives them another chance. However, this does not imply the covering of misconduct, corruption and unrighteousness as we should always insist that evil be put away (Eph. 4:31).

We are also advised that our kindness must become known to all men (Phil. 4:5). True kindness is seldom encountered in life. The kindness of the world is false and short-lived as it often deteriorates into unkindness and contempt towards others. But the Lord gives us true kindness which is sure to open doors to other people’s hearts.

Furthermore, we are committed to goodness. Our relationship with others should not only be characterised by positive dispositions but also by positive deeds. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Like the Good Samaritan, we must lend a helping hand to those in need as it will afford us the opportunity of also winning them spiritually for the kingdom of God. But we are first and foremost committed to supporting other Christians, particularly those who are doing the work of the Lord with meagre resources at their disposal.

Lastly, the Holy Spirit also wishes to instil certain characteristics in you that will determine your relationship towards yourself. There is always the danger that you may neglect yourself by failing to realise your full potential through increased knowledge, experience and dedication to the Lord. We should not be characterised by a worldly self-love which gives rise to arrogance, but by a divine self-love which will help us rise to higher heights. Our personal lives should be characterised by faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

As a person, you must be faithful and self-disciplined in everything you do. Forgetful, unfaithful and undisciplined people often have to offer excuses for their neglect. This does not promote a worthy Christian self-image. Faithfulness starts with the prompt observation of our daily appointments with the Lord and His Word. Even in a busy programme we should always make room for our quiet times, thereby ensuring that we remain spiritually strong. Many Christians are like a cell phone with a flat battery – their contact with the sender is weak or interrupted.

Furthermore, a Spirit-filled Christian’s life must be characterised by gentleness. That means that you should not be hard, inconvincible and unteachable. The Bible says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:7-8). Every person has the ability to harden his heart towards the Word of the Lord by ignoring His commandments and doing things which are only pleasing to himself. Sin, as well as the wicked world, renders one hard and unapproachable to the Lord. Your heart becomes like stone, so the seed of the Word cannot penetrate it and take root in you. Paul says: “Exhort one another daily… lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). James says: “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). Such people make progress in their spiritual lives since the good seed grows in them and yields much fruit – even hundredfold.

Self-control is also a very important personal characteristic. It indicates the ability to contain yourself before saying harsh and offensive words, or committing impulsive deeds which you may later regret. The Bible says: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32). You achieve a great victory when, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you succeed in averting emotional outbursts. When someone suddenly stops on the road in front of you to drop off or pick up passengers, then take a few deep breaths before being overcome by road anger by shouting at the offender and insulting him. While breathing deeply, ask the Lord what the appropriate words would be to say to him. Then, you will most probably be convinced to only greet him friendly and continue with your journey. When you do that, you are better than a mighty person who destroys his enemies, as you will have overcome evil with good. Under circumstances such as this you proclaim the message that there is a divine way of victory which soars high above the sick and problem-ridden world of our day. It is a godly privilege and fruit of the Holy Spirit to be able to forgive by not holding people accountable for their mistakes, as that would reveal an unpardonable spirit.

When The Holy Spirit fills our entire being and has full control over our lives we will be able to diffuse the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. The fruit of the Spirit will be evident to all people in our lives as we will do works that befit repentance. That is a winning plan for life. With reference to the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus said that rivers of living water will flow from our hearts (John 7:37-39). Ensure that this stream always flows through you. Jeremiah said: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but her leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8).

Do you continue to yield the fruit of the Spirit in a hostile and spiritually dry world? That can only happen if the words of Christ dwell in us richly, since the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Word to motivate us and keep us on the right track. A heart which contains the Word of God is a pure heart; that is why the psalmist could say: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11). Jesus Christ is the living Word. If we abide in Him we will bear much fruit (John 15:4-5). If that is a feature of our lives we will confidently look forward to the illustrious marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven, to which all true believers have been called (1 John 2:28; Rev. 19:9).

Richard Baxter 07