Today’s passage contains what is called a “vice list”. Verses 19-21 list behaviors that are incompatible with the free life of the Spirit; behaviors that, if they come to characterize our lives, will make it impossible for us to experience the kingdom of God.
Much of the list deals with what we in our day call a lack of “impulse control”. In other words, we are controlled by our impulses; in bondage to our desires. In contrast, the life of the Spirit creates self control, giving us by the grace of God the power to live above our compulsions, cravings, and addictions. Only then can we enjoy the freedom that is the Spirit’s gift.
I remember hearing a man talk about financial freedom some years ago. He never made much money (the forms of Christian service to which he gave his life were not lucrative), and most of what he made he gave away. But, by living simply—above his desires—he had still managed to care for his family, pay off his house, retire all his debts. He had also saved a modest amount, but because he lived simply a modest amount was all he needed.
I also remember that in a parking lot full of expensive cars, he was driving an old beater.
By God’s grace, and in faithfulness to His leading, this man was completely free. As I listened to him talk, I realized what an incredible thing that was. I saw so clearly how the way of life he had chosen—the way of life God offers—is so far superior to the life of a world built on obsession with consuming and acquiring.
He could do literally do whatever he wanted, which for him meant being free to respond to God’s call. He could give with stunning generosity. He had no anxiety or financial stress.
How are you doing with the things listed here? How am I? Are your impulses under control? Are mine? Is a lack of impulse control damaging our relationships, so that we find ourselves envious, regularly angry, at odds with others in our homes and our churches? Are our lives marked by frustration and hard feelings rather than by joy? Is there resentment or competition or complaining rather than love?
Crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires is not easy. But it is good, and—despite a world that often tells us differently—well worth it.