Sometimes it seems as if people view the Christian life as a list of don’ts. “Don’t do this” and “don’t do that” and if you manage that, then you will live Christianly. The challenge is that viewing living for Christ in this way robs the Christian of much of their joy. Instead of living for your Savior and King, you are living against the way of the world. Often time this results in individuals conforming to the expected behaviors, without any real change in affections within their heart.
The reason this may be likely to happen is that when people first profess their faith, it doesn’t take them long to realize that their lives don’t conform to the standards that God has set for His children. The easiest way to begin conforming to these standards is to eliminate the activities that are not aligned with His Word. However, simple elimination doesn’t result in addition. What is needed is not only a reduction in the things that don’t align with Christ, but an increase in the things that He commands – more love for others, more joy in serving, more patience and more peace. The challenge is that these can be hard to manufacture. Outside behaviors can be corrected and taught; affections must come from an internal change. Hence, they are called the Fruits of the Spirit. They are the result of His Work in our lives, and it is this change in affections that allows us to joyfully live for Him.
Too often, though, we are so focused on emptying ourselves of the “bad” things that fill our heart, that we don’t pay attention to whether or not we are allowing the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with the things that are of Him. It is good to rid ourselves of malice, bitterness and worry, but how much better if in their place are godly attitudes and concerns? We must be emptied of fleshly desires, yes, but we must be filled with the affections that His Spirit imparts. Paul makes this clear when he writes about the Fruits of the Spirit. Immediately preceding the discussion of the fruits of a Christian’s life is a discussion about the list of things that can be resident in our hearts that are contrary to the Spirit’s will (Gal. 5:16-26). The parallelism is clear. We should be emptied of these fleshly desires, and instead be filled with godly ones. The Spirit doesn’t leave our hearts hollowed, simply devoid of our own attitudes and affections; instead He works to change our hearts, so that the things that fill them, are the same things that are true of Him.
So the next time we are prompted to ask God to remove a sinful desire from our lives, let us also ask Him to fill our hearts with the fruit of His Spirit that will wage war against the fleshly inclination. If we struggle with anger, let us ask for patience. If we carry bitterness, let us petition for joy. If we are tempted to worry, may we plead for peace. May we seek to empty ourselves of our fleshy desires, yes, but even more so may we seek to be filled with the affections that come from Him.