“But Saul increased all the more in strength . . .” (Acts 9:22).
THE PAUL WE KNOW IN HIS EPISTLES WAS A MAN OF ADMIRABLE STRENGTH. But Paul did not become strong easily or instantly. He began, like all of us, as a new Christian, and then “increased all the more in strength.” It was a gradual process, involving no small amount of diligence on Paul’s part. Let me suggest that increasing in strength requires that all of us do two things on a daily basis.
(1) Inflame the spirit with love. We have to do things every day that fuel the fires of our love for the Lord. Our “want to” has to be stirred up. That burning “Yes!” has to be made to burn ferociously.
(2) Train the flesh with discipline. Even when the spirit is filled with strong love, the flesh is often too weak to carry out the will of the spirit. It needs to be trained. So we have to build into our daily lives a training regimen that progressively makes the flesh our servant, rather than our master. The flesh has to be taught to follow our spirit’s orders. “If there is no element of asceticism in our lives, if we give free reign to the desires of the flesh . . . we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
Deeply ingrained habits of spiritual weakness and fleshly indulgence are not broken easily. Just as a small child can be trained and disciplined more easily than a spoiled teenager who has never done anything except what he or she wants to do, the longer we’ve been without spiritual training, the harder it’s going to be.
But it can be done, and it is worth it. I don’t know of a passage that sums up this important line of thought any more clearly than Titus 2:11–14. So read this slowly and thoughtfully, lingering over every word: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”
“God does not supply us with character, he gives us the life of his Son, and we can either ignore him and refuse to obey him, or we can so obey him, so bring every thought and imagination into captivity, that the life of Jesus is manifested in our mortal flesh” (Oswald Chambers).