It's not about God, it's about you

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
(Galatians 5:22-24)

It doesn't start with God, it starts with you. In fact, if we put God first, it will be a hindrance. Man wants it to be about God, because man has turned it into a competition - a contest over who is right - because it is not about God, it is about man. God is conspicuously absent. He is more likely to say, "Stay off my side." Much better to keep God out of the equation. God can take care of himself. It matters not to him whether he is acknowledged or not.

Jesus said, "Seek first his kingdom," and elsewhere he is recorded as saying, "the kingdom of God is within you." Put together, we are encouraged to 'seek first what is within you.'

It is about believing you can be more; that you are not living up to your full potential; that there is a discrepancy between what you are, and what you could be.

Plenty of people have understood that the answer to the question, "What can I do to make the earth a better place?" is, "Start with yourself. Make yourself a better person." Look at the qualities listed at Galatians 5:22 and 23, quoted at the start. How much better would our world be if we were just a little more loving, joyful, peaceful, and patient? If we could find a way to be more kind and good; if we could be faithful and gentle, and had a better handle on being self-controlled?

How can we improve in these qualities? The Bible is not always very helpful. Even here, Paul says, "Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires," as if somehow mere association with the Christ will be the cure when this is patently not true. All too often Christ is the shortcut. It means not having to undergo the difficult task of self-examination. But just so as to throw contradiction into the mix, elsewhere Paul exhorts, "Put off the old self, and put on the new." He says, "Be transformed by making the mind over," and that implies work. We cannot improve just by means of the magic application of asking for God's help.

Paul chooses some lovely words to highlight when he talks about "the fruit of the spirit." I have often appreciated Christian expositor William Barclay's insights into these words. Of love he says, "It means that no matter what a man does to us by way of insult or injury or humiliation we will never seek anything but his highest good." Of gentleness as "the quality of the man who is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time." He adds, "the adjective praus is used of an animal that has been tamed and brought under control."

What is unhelpful is Barclay's persistent insistence that such qualities are only possible with God's help. It implies that a public acknowledgement of God is necessary. The need to credit God with ones own lofty character is repulsive to many, and rightly so given religion's track record. Ironically, deference to God is often accompanied with a discomfiting self-righteousness.

These qualities are available to all, and they are not conditional on publicly (or privately) admitting to the existence of God. If there is a God, he makes these attractive qualities freely available in much the same way that he "causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

It will come as no surprise to visitors of this website that I will happily make the link between unearthing "the real you" and a re-connection with God. I am convinced that this is the understanding when Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." But, I am also certain that this experience takes place whether we acknowledge it or not. The resulting benefits remain the same.

So, how is it possible to improve yourself? It is a solution that forms the core of this website. Last weeks, The debt you owe to yourself, is a good place to start. Faith as small as a singularity speaks about being willing to let everything go. Also read Know God? We barely know ourselves, and "Your sins are forgiven". Finally, Repentance - it doesn't mean what you think it means, smooths off the edges of this misunderstood term.

Subsequently, the answer lies in asking, "What hinders me from being more gentle? More patient?" What is holding me back? The reasons will be hard to come by, since very often they reside in places we don't always want to look. We have hidden them away in the dark recesses of the heart.

Sometimes it helps to look at what we are doing. It might be an idea to bite the bullet and look at Paul's list of undesirable behaviours listed in Galatians 5:19-21.
Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Do any of these affect your life? We then need to question what is the root cause of this behaviour. Why do I do it, or why do I feel that way? Not the immediate reason, but the reason way back when.

Soften Paul's hard-edged words ("Yeah, you warned me, Paul, blah-blah-blah") by imagining that what he really means is that these things are obstructions to finding the real you. This is what the unreal you does in order to survive this world. (When we do that we might even be able to hear him speaking in a gentle voice.)

It is not about God. It is not about giving him the praise, or the recognition he deserves. It is not about meeting his requirements and benefiting by being better people. It is about you, and believing that you can be better. That there is divide between what you are and what you could be - and it is a divide that you can cross.