After the 1959 season, the Green Bay Packers had just gone 1-10-1, their ninth losing season in 11 years. Dominic Olejniczak -- then the president of the Packers -- became interested in a little known Giants assistant coach named Vince Lombardi. Lombardi had never held a head coaching position, so when Olejniczak recommended him to the Packers’ executive committee, one member replied, “Who the hell is Vince Lombardi?” It didn’t take long to find out. When Lombardi arrived, he told the committee, “I want it understood that I am in complete command here.” With Lombardi leading them, the Packers would win five championships.
He had a secret he called “Heart Power” – the essence of our verse this week, Proverbs 23:26 - winning the hearts of his players. “It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men…once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere.” This “Heart Power” centered on developing each man’s character, with its realization in the love each man had for one another: “If you play together as a team, you’ve got to care for one another, you’ve got to love each other, then you know you’ve got a team.”
Lombardi’s emphasis on character was centered on relationships. It is uniquely a Christian concept. And it goes against every person’s natural tendency toward self-achievement, rather than putting others first. The Bible describes the two different approaches each of us can take in our character development: the ‘religious’ approach (the ‘Old Man’, ‘in the flesh’) versus the ‘relational’ approach (the ‘New Man’, ‘in the Spirit’). This ‘relational’ approach is where Lombardi found his success. Let’s examine them both.
The Flesh (the ‘Old Man’) = The “Religious Approach” to life. This is my ability to do for God, and His corresponding obligation to do for me (my hard work is to be rewarded). I measure my approval rating with God according to my deeds (good deeds = approval, bad deeds = rejection). This approach is at the core of every world religion except Christianity. This approach doesn’t work because I have no power on my own to win God’s approval. There is no concept of forgiveness for my sins. I am trapped in a roller coaster of laws and works-based theology, never knowing whether my latest mistake has cancelled out any good deed from my past.
The Spirit (the “New Man”) = The “Relational Approach” to life. This is the heart of Christian message. It is what God has done for me, and what He, who now indwells me, is willing to do through me. Trusting what Christ did on the cross, I received His free offer of forgiveness and began to personally relate with God as my Father. Jesus did for me what I could never do – He removed the barrier separating me from the Father by paying for my sins. This ‘relational approach’ works because I don’t have to depend on my abilities. I have a Father who loves me and does the work for me, in me and through me. What’s my role in the relationship?
My good intentions aren’t enough – I must choose His ways over my own. When Proverbs 23:26 says “Give Me your heart”, God wants to indwell me, to “put on” a new man. That’s why Christians testify that their faith is intensely relational. As in marriage, you don’t just commit to someone in a contract. You give yourself, your heart, to that person. That’s what the God of the Bible is asking for from you.
In Galatians 5:16, 22-23, God’s Word tells us “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”. These fruits are His character that He produces in and through me as I rely upon His strength. To ‘walk daily in His Spirit’ (which means intentional, disciplined lifestyle of obedience to His Word), He will produce in me His character, which is the ‘fruit’ that will grow on the Vine as I yield to His leading of my life in His Spirit’.
Andy Stanley, in his book “Louder Than Words”, explains: “God does not command us to go out and attain on our own the virtues of Galatians 5:22-23. These are the fruits of the character the Heavenly Father longs to produce through me as I learn to rely upon and draw upon His strength. Character is produced through me; it is not manufactured by me. My pursuit of Christ’s character hinges on my day - today dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit to empower me toward Christ-likeness.” Through my relationship with God, I am finally capable of doing what I was incapable of doing on my own. And that’s what “walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) is all about.”
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.