I was at the gym the other day and one of the trainers had a new tattoo, a very impressive one of a wolf. ‘That’s a cool tattoo!’ I said. He got really pumped and told me that all his tattoos have a special meaning. ‘This one of the wolf, you know the story? You’ve got two wolves,’ he explained. ‘One is the good wolf that helps you and the other is the bad wolf. The question is: Which wolf are you going to feed?’
By now I was getting really pumped because I knew there was a sermon in there. ‘You’re preaching to me and I’m a preacher!’ I said. To which he replied, ‘Well, you know what it’s all about then, don’t you?’ (Amen, brother.)
It’s not a new idea that we all have a darker side to our natures that eggs us on to do things that may feel good in the moment but are actually bad for us and can even derail our lives. David writes about this in Psalms 68:30 (TPT): ‘God, rebuke the beast-life that hides within us!’ In fact, the Bible talks about this shadow side of our humanity a lot, usually referring to it as ‘the flesh’ or ‘the sinful nature’.
Once we invite God into our lives and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, there are constant clashes between the sinful nature (which wants its own way) and the Spirit (which promotes God’s way) on the battlegrounds of our hearts and minds. Galatians 5:17 (NLT) puts it like this: ‘The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.’
The struggle is real. Even the Apostle Paul writes about it in Romans 7:19 (NLT): ‘I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.’
When God encourages us to do things His way, however, it’s not to spoil our fun but to protect us from the potential ruin described in Galatians 5:19–21 (MSG): ‘It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.’
The paradox is that there’s no freedom in doing exactly as we please. Instead, we just get caught up and trapped in destructive patterns, habits, and addictions, which end up controlling us.
On the other hand, look at what we can expect when we follow the Holy Spirit’s direction in our lives (according to Galatians 5:22–23 MSG): ‘But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.’
This is where true freedom lies. Romans 8:6 (MSG) says: ‘Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.’
Which brings me back to my friend from the gym’s question: Which wolf are you going to feed? Or to rephrase it in biblical terms: Will you feed your flesh, or will you feed your spirit, which is fused with the Holy Spirit? (See 1 Corinthians 6:17.)
Here are two ways to feed your spirit and pave the way for God’s action in your life:
1. Stay connected to the Vine.
Jesus says in John 15:5 (AMPC): ‘I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.’ At our staff retreat here in Sydney earlier this year, a guest pastor asked the following thought-provoking question: ‘Are you connected to the Vine, or are you connected to the branches?’ If your only spiritual activity of the entire week is to come to church on a Sunday, chances are that you’re connected to a branch of the Vine, instead of to the Vine Himself. And while it’s vital to be planted in church, it’s absolutely essential to spend daily, personal time with God, giving Him your full attention. If you have only five minutes in the morning, start there. Give God those five minutes and see the life-giving impact this will have on you.
2. Set internal goals.
We hear a lot about the importance of setting goals, but often the emphasis is on external goals, which are all about moving up in life – achieving career success, earning a good income, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, these are important goals to have. We all have a God-given desire to live to our full potential.
Yet at the same time, it’s wisdom to know that success has its own traps. An increase in position, wealth and status can be a big ego boost, but it also means greater temptations to deal with. The blistering truth is that power, prominence and pride can be like battery acid to the spirit, eroding us on the inside if we don’t pay attention to the kind of people we’re becoming. So, while it’s good to want to get ahead in life, it’s even more important to ask yourself: Who am I becoming in all of this? That’s where internal goals come in. They shape our inner being, which is where we live from.
Imagine if one of your life goals were to exhibit more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, mentioned in Galatians 5:22–23 (NLT): ‘But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’
The good news is that when you’re connected to the Vine in a meaningful way, fruitfulness is inevitable. This is what Jesus promises in John 15:5 (and I’ve quoted from the Passion Translation here): ‘I am the sprouting Vine and you’re My branches. As you live in union with Me as your source, fruitfulness will stream from within you …’
Your part is to apply what the Holy Spirit is shaping inside you in your daily life. For example, practise patience and kindness consistently and you will become more patient and kinder over time, in the same way that, if you exercise a muscle, it will become stronger.
I encourage us, let’s keep fighting the good fight and never give up.