Yesterday I told you about a critical moment this Winter when I bottomed out and, without realizing it at the time, stepped from the path of the Spirit onto the path of the flesh (my own initiative and effort). I mentioned that the path of the flesh isn’t always heinous; all it has to be to qualify as fleshly is self-powered.

So I kept praying, reading my Bible, preparing sermons, leading teams, planning initiatives, and shaking people’s hands in the foyer. I kept spending time with my kids, going for coffee with my wife, doing household chores, and brushing my teeth. Being a mostly nice guy. But the thing about the path of the flesh is that:

1. While the fruit and destination resulting from walking the fleshly path are a world apart from the fruit and destination of the path of the Spirit, the appearance and even feel can be almost identical. That’s why I called them parallel paths. It’s like one of those stories with a parallel universe where everything’s the same, except something’s off. Like the new Burton animation Coraline; she discovers an alternate world that looks and feels just as good or better than the real world, but underneath the skin of that place, a dark and deadly secret waits, silently coiled, ready to claim her forever.

2. The real, new, redeemed you can’t walk the path of the flesh, because the real you is born of the Spirit and is designed for that path. “If I”m walking the fleshly path, but the real me can’t do it, then who’s been doing the walking?” you ask. Exactly.

3. God won’t help you walk the path of the flesh, because he wants you to walk the path of the Spirit. So your prayers will seem to go unanswered more often, your life will feel flat, your heart will seem cold and numb. He won’t be absent—He can’t be—so you’ll still see glimmers of real life, sense his Spirit beckoning. But if you want to live the flesh life, you’re on your own.

4. By definition, if you’re walking the path of the flesh, you’ve lost the real you and have been giving the old, false self the spotlight. You’ll be able, like me, to say you haven’t quite been yourself lately, which will be literally true. It will also leave your family wondering, like mine surely has, “What happened to daddy?” Well, it hasn’t exactly been daddy they’ve been dealing with.

5. Walking the path of the flesh will have a million other side effects, the most obvious being an increased struggle with vices and character issues (See Galatians 5). For me, it’s been a short fuse, petty frustration, and an amplified rawness to lustful temptations (though I’ve not given in to them for the most part). If God hadn’t awakened me from my slumber, it would have been just a matter of time before I did.

6. The subtlety of the outward differences between the two paths means they are frighteningly easy to mix up, and far too easy to justify the fleshly one in our own minds. Take my case: I was still doing all the right things. When you’re exhausted, you don’t have the energy to search your heart, so you check the obvious, outward stuff, right? Doing the right things is all you can manage, right? But where are those actions coming from?

Pretty scary stuff, at least to me. Chilling, actually. The question of the hour is, if we find ourselves on the path of the flesh, what can we do about it? Tune in tomorrow. I’ll share what I’m learning about that.