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But how can I change?

By Luke Thek - CPC Mission Partner serving with Ethnos360 (Papua New Guinea)

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. – Galatians 5:16-25

The contrast between directness and indirectness in some domains of Papua New Guinea (PNG) culture always blows me away. If you have gained weight, many PNG people have no problem telling you that you are fat straight to your face, while in many other domains they are strictly indirect in their communication. I, on the other hand, am typically very direct in most domains which can be a blessing and a curse in different situations in PNG.

Peter, a PNG national and a dear friend of mine, was not acting well towards his wife and everyone that knew him didn’t know why he had started acting differently. After his family had talked with him to no avail, as a good friend I knew I needed to do what I could to set him straight. In the typical indirect PNG fashion I had been encouraged to simply talk around the subject and tell stories similar to his situation in order to get him to understand. I started that way, but he just brushed over the subject and then my direct confrontation nature quickly kicked in. I directly addressed the issues with his wife, and he broke down like a house of cards. He knew he was doing wrong, and the discussion culminated in a question of his,

“But how can I change?”

How can we change? Do we put in effort? Is it all God? Some mixture of both, or something else? I believe the Lord was helping me in that time and I responded with something along the lines of, “Only with God’s help can we change.”

Galatians 5:16 says to ‘walk by the Spirit’ This seems to imply action on our part as it is a command to do this. Only 2 verses later Galatians 5:18 mentions being ‘led by the Spirit’ which clearly implies supernatural empowerment apart from ourselves. This seems to be one of the classic God paradoxes that we surely cannot fully understand, but simply sit in awe of.

Even after answering Peter adequately, I continued to consider how change and Christian living really comes about regarding ‘our part’ contrasted with ‘God’s Part.’

Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Work out your own salvation…it is God who works in you…

Is it us or not?!

As many things are with God, we find that it is both. The SPIRIT leads, and WE walk. WE work, and GOD works in us. This is walking in the Spirit. How then can we change? How can we exhibit the fruits of the Spirit? Some stuck in their own effort must stop trusting in their own work and allow God to give them His very own power to do what they cannot. Others, waiting for divine intervention, have yet to take a step and must begin to walk by the Spirit.

Peter is discovering this to a deeper degree as you read this. The Spirit led him to conviction of his constant strife with his wife, and he took the step of confession. Now the Spirit is leading and empowering Him towards peace, and he must take steps towards it while trusting God’s power to work in him during this process. Pray for Peter and others in PNG as God seeks to mature them in their faith. Also, take a few moments to prayerfully consider how the Spirit may be leading you. Then, ask Him to enable you to do those very things, for your growth and ultimately for His glory.

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