Many people assume that God will just empower them to live the right way and do what God wants them to do. But this is just not true! Many people think that it will come naturally to do what God wants them to do if they desire to do it. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we who are sinful human beings find it much more natural to do the wrong thing and the ungodly thing than the right thing.

Even those who are committed followers of Christ don’t automatically do the right thing or be “led by the Spirit” to do the right thing. Even here, followers of Christ need the guidance of the Spirit. They need to acquire the ability to listen to the Spirit and they need to practice living by the power of the Spirit rather than what comes naturally to all of us who live in human flesh. Read Galatians 5:19-25 Even for committed followers of Christ, they must intentionally have a plan to help them live by the Spirit rather than by the flesh. This plan requires thinking, being intentional, learning to be less reactive and much practice.

If you are going to resist temptation at the moment of truth or control your temper when suddenly something happens to frustrate you, then you have to have already been planning and preparing for these moments. No one – I mean no one – just responds to life’s difficult situations the way God would have them do without much discipline and practice. Think about it this way – no athlete or soldier just automatically is ready to compete or do battle. They must commit to much training and disciplining themselves in preparing to meet their respective challenges.

To really be a Christian, or an authentic follower of Christ, does mean to have the Spirit of the Lord within you (John 14:17). So the power of God is present in your life. However, so is the flesh – that part of us that is selfish and self-centered.  

The flesh doesn’t die when Christ comes into your life. Rather as Paul talks about in Romans 7, there is a battle that takes place daily for supremacy.  

The redeemed spirit within you only wins that battle when you allow the Spirit of the Lord to control you rather than allowing your flesh to dominate your thinking and actions. What are we trying to say here? Simply this, that if you are going to live the Spirit - filled life and experience the holiness of God in your life on a consistent (not perfect!) basis, then you, like a well trained athlete, will need to go into training.

It is one thing to accept Christ and want to live for Him. It is another to actually want this badly enough to do whatever it takes to allow Him to live His life through you. I think this is what Paul meant when he wrote Galatians 2:20 that says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me...” In other words, he found that Christ didn’t automatically live through him. Rather he needed to change. He needed to commit to his flesh being crucified with Christ so that Christ could really shine through him.

The bottom line is this: living the Christian life and growing into being more like Christ on a daily basis doesn’t just happen by accident. Nor is it something magical that just happens so we can live “happily ever after.” Rather, growing as a follower of Christ requires much intentionality and work on our part. Ultimately, it requires a lot of discipline – putting our minds, attitudes and bodies through boot camp, over and over again.  

People don’t expect to lose weight, stop smoking, get in shape or make a lot of money by doing nothing. We have come to learn that those who propose that these things could happen are nothing more than scam artists. The same is true with our spiritual growth. It won’t happen without the discipline that is required to exceed in any other meaningful arena of life.

So, the first step in spiritual growth is to recognize that it doesn’t happen automatically or magically. But rather, it begins when we take the steps to discipline our mind and our body to accomplish the goals that God wants to do in us and through us.

In subsequent articles, we will look at some key disciplines that we may want to integrate into our lives to help us get where we want to go spiritually.

By:  Jack Guyler