What Comes Out of You?
By Eric Bluhm
There are many things in life that provoke a response or reaction from us, in particular, things that are not as we would wish. Conflicts, criticism, delays, detours, hardships, discouraging situations. How we react and what we do reveals a lot about us.
We can react out of our carnal nature, our sinful self, or we can respond from the Spirit of Christ within us. When we simply react out of our old nature, we both display and reinforce our carnality. Because the sinful nature does just that-it sins. It misses the mark. When we act out of our carnal self, we sow unrighteousness and the harvest we reap is not life, but death. But if we respond to situations and people out of our spirit, what comes out of us is completely different. What comes out of you?
You see, we are responsible for our responses. What do we do when we are under pressure from situations, and most often, from people? What do we do when there’s a conflict? When you’re corrected, or criticized, or opposed do you give back in kind? Sadly, many Christians, and by extension the church, are often better at starting fights than resolving them, and watching this, the world is not impressed. “See how they hit one another!”
But what is God’s plan for us? What is in His heart? At the center of God’s heart is His love for, and His delight in, His Son. He is passionate about Jesus, and His desire is to reproduce the image of Christ in us. So God is more concerned about what happens in us, than what happens to us. We look at our situation and want it to change. God looks at us and wants to change us.
God is sovereign. He is in control. But, as Graham Cooke says, “He allows in His wisdom what He could prevent in His power.” Why? For His own purpose for us. God is always at work in us to produce the likeness of His Son. We flow with His spirit when we align and move with what He is doing in us. And what He is doing in us is transforming us into the character and image of Jesus.
The fruit of God’s Spirit in us is His image, His character. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5: 22-23). If this is God’s plan for us, let’s look at where it can happen. Where do the fruit of the spirit grow? In bad soil. We learn kindness when someone is unkind to us, and we respond in the spirit of Jesus and treat them kindly. The fruit of kindness grows in bad soil. All of the fruit of the Spirit grow in this way. Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you.
God is mindful of what comes out of us. (See Mark 7: 14-23.) When we are pressured or provoked, what comes out? It is then that you see what is inside of someone. Stress causes us to react-it is hard for our old nature not to react. When we react from our old, sinful nature, it shows that our old nature is not yet dead. It is a mark of maturity not to react carnally, but to respond in a godly manner.
Jesus came full of grace and truth. Grace is the empowering presence of God in us to become all that He intends us to be. The right response in every situation is the one that releases the Spirit of Christ into the situation. The Kingdom of God comes into a situation when Christ comes. They are inseparable. Jesus brings the Kingdom. Jesus was full of the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to do all that the Father wanted done in every situation. He was filled with the Spirit to be all that the Father wanted Him to be and to flow completely in the purpose of the Father.
If we merely respond back out of our sinful nature, we only establish our carnality. I am not only talking about responding to people, but also to circumstances which provoke our flesh.
To be honest and open with you, the most consistent thing that provokes me is not people, but the joint whining and bickering of my children. Patience, like all of the fruit of the Spirit, grows in poor soil, and there is something about the whining of my own children that sets me off inside. Like fingernails on a blackboard, I can overlook it only so long, and I am sorely tempted on a regular basis, usually a few times a week, to respond out of my flesh. There is a definite place for the righteous, wise, and discerning use of the natural depth of a fatherly voice to control a child’s behavior. There are times I can use it quite dispassionately, remaining peaceful in my heart, using it only surgically enough to calm a spat or hurry up a stalling behavior. Wise, peaceful, sometimes even with a twinkle in my eye, I am still enjoying my kids.
The point of growth, where I run out of my own ability and need the grace of God, is the moment at which I lose my patience. I often actually give it voice: “That’s it! That’s enough!” And usually whatever follows those words simply establishes my carnality. I am no longer acting out of a peaceful place, using my fatherly, male, deep voice as a parental tool. My voice, my words, and my tone are all distinctly lacking in grace.
Pick your own area of weakness. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. The point of grace is where you come to the end of that virtue. Discipleship is asked of you at that place; that is the access point for you to have greater experience of the grace of God.
If God is at work in you to produce the character of Christ, if that is His purpose for you, then turning to Him in that moment is the most confident you can be of His grace. The very reason He allows in His wisdom situations He could prevent in His power is to insure that you get to that point, and so have opportunity to grow more like Jesus.
What are the benefits of responding rightly and in the opposite Spirit?
First, we move with the flow of the Spirit in our lives, because God is always at work in us to transform us into the likeness of His Son. Becoming like Jesus is God’s plan for us!
Second, we are filled afresh and anew. When what comes out of us is the flow of God’s character, and we spend ourselves doing what is right, we are filled afresh because nature abhors a vacuum. We cannot exhaust His grace by pouring it out towards others. The kingdom of God is within you. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Out of your innermost being will flow rivers of living water. By letting it flow out, we free it up to flow more. But when we don’t allow it to flow, we stop up our own wells.
Jesus taught us to flow in this manner, to respond in the opposite Spirit when we are opposed. He said in Luke 6: 27-31:
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you”
So when we are met with evil actions and intent, our master teaches us to not react out of our sinful nature, which is so easy to do, but to respond in the opposite spirit. In doing so, we become like Him, and we grow in grace; we are filled up when we give out. You cannot out-give God. You cannot out-spend His grace. You simply prove yourself trustworthy so that He gives you more.
Thirdly, we sow into our own future. Those who are mature are not concerned with what they are getting now, how they are being treated, or what their circumstances look like because they are confident of the future harvest.
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 2:35-36).
You can be at peace, even joyful at your present circumstances, because of the reward that is coming. May you be filled with the Spirit and produce much good fruit.
Eric Bluhm is the Director of Spiritual Growth at North Heights Lutheran Church in St. Paul, MN. He is alos a part-time staff member at Lutheran Renewal and serves on the Leadership Team of the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARC). He and his wife LaVonne have three young daughters.