We all love the list of the fruits of the Spirit that is listed in Galatians, chapter 5. But we breeze over the preceding verses where Paul lists the “fruits” of the flesh. Let’s go over this list first:
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)
Now, we will apply the list to CoDeWo’s (Codependent Women). But wait! I can hear you saying: Wow, Rhonda, this is a harsh list to apply to someone who is just trying to help someone else.
Perhaps, but unhealthy people’s fear begets our fear. If we operate from a fearful self, Satan can step in, and wreck havoc in our lives. Fear is an open door to Satan influencing our lives. He gladly walks in and starts harassing our fearful heart.
I will break the list down. I will generalize the list. Not all of these applied to me, nor to you, but each one can be a trap camouflaged under the guise of rescuing someone.
The flesh, the sinful nature, is operating in both you and the unhealthy people you are trying to rescue. You love the Lord, and perhaps so do the other people, but the flesh is dominating these co-dependent relationships. These fleshy “fruits” apply to both parties.
How does the Spirit talk to us about our lives, shining light into the darkest corners? It is part of the armor of God we wear every day. Paul outlines this armor in Ephesians 6. In verse 17, he says,
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
How does the Spirit of God use the Word of God?
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Heb. 4:12)
Allow the Spirit to speak to you about these fleshly fruits. But remember: The Spirit wants to illuminate our sin to free us, not to condemn us:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:14)
Jesus has set us free. But until we face and are healed of our brokenness that demands we act in a co-dependent way with others, we are in bondage to our past. Our salvation is secure in Christ, if we have asked Him into our heart and confessed Him as Lord, but we can still operate from a driving fear. We love the Lord, but our hearts don’t understand what His freedom truly means.
We are new in Christ, to be sure:
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Cor. 5:17 NLT)
Our old nature, however, tries to reassert itself time and time again. This is why we move from an awareness of our sins to our sin nature itself and how it needs to be crucified with Christ:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
Let’s look at these “fruits”:
Sexual immorality: How many affairs started when someone sought to help someone else? A woman or man in a teetering marriage confides in you, and soon affections between the both of you develop. You may not feel affection but perhaps the other person feels it for you. This can lead to…
Impurity & lustful pleasures: An affair doesn’t have to involve the act of sex. It can be an emotional affair where you seek out the other person over talking to your spouse. Texts, emails, social media may all contribute to an involvement that is not of God as you and the other person are enjoying this distant and “safe” involvement with another. Or, you are acting as a friend, but you sense this person is seeking more than just help, and has romantic feelings for you. You feel you should break the relationship off, but you don’t want to offend or hurt the other person. So you continue the friendship, even though you feel uneasy about it. A part of you, deep inside, is flattered by this attention.
Idolatry: Your need to rescue others begins to take precedence over your love for God. Why? You receive immediate gratification when you are in others’ lives and you have lots to do to make their pain go away. You worry, contemplate, stress over and in general spend so much time worrying about this person that your walk with God gets sidelined. To keep your guilt at bay, you tell God, “But I am helping them in Your Name!” Or, the people you are rescuing may view you as a substitute for God. They don’t have to pray, read their Bible or spend time listening to Him. They have you.
Sorcery: Let’s call this “spiritual warfare.” Some people have sadly given Satan a stronghold in their lives by their addictions, pride, hatred, compromised mental health or brokenness. If Satan is a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour, (1 Peter 5:8) then sin gives him access. You enter in with good intentions to rescue others and you run into a darkness, a kind of spiritual force that stymies your efforts. You are not sure why, but you sense something is deeply wrong with these people, yet you keep on rescuing, not knowing what to do. Or, as you attempt to rescue others, you continue to enable their sin. Not intentionally, of course, but because you do not want to offend them, you do not speak truth into their lives. You continue to step in, willing to clean up the consequences of their actions. The worst part of this is by rescuing them all the time, you feed their pride. They don’t feel the need to change for to them, all is well, and they are never at fault. Pride is the ultimate stronghold of Satan in our lives. In your effort to rescue such people, you are helping to deepen their pride, which deepens Satan’s stronghold. They are still the responsible party for this, but we are not to contribute to pride, whether in ourselves or in others.
Hostility: You, your family and those who advise you may tell you these people are more damaged than you know, and that helping them will be way over your head. You insist only you understand them and thus are able to help them. You have conflict with those who really do care for you. You side with the very people who will use you and really don’t care deeply for you. Or, you face this anger from the very ones you are trying to help, and in your need for approval, you continue to help them, allowing them to continue with this sinful emotion. They have you to blame for their choices and they know you will not argue with them on this.
Quarreling: As you rescue others, and you bask in their friendship and kind words, you will run into healthy people who disagree with your method of rescue. You will argue with them, and avoid them after awhile. You are confused: why can’t everyone understand the people you help like you do? You are then isolated with the people you are rescuing. Objectivity will go out the window, and all you are left with is their skewed view of the world. Or, the people you are rescuing will quarrel with any and all suggestions that would actually help their situation. Why? These people identify with their victimhood. They are not really seeking a solution; they want to be the center of your attention.
Jealousy: The people that you are rescuing insinuate that you have it all; because your life is so good, they trigger your guilt and you want to spread your blessings around. It has nothing to do with your wise choices and their poor choices; they are jealous of you and they can’t resist making comments. You pour a balm over their hurting hearts with your resources, time and money. Sadly, your “enough” is never enough for them.
Outbursts of anger: You have to ignore your healthy emotions in order to rescue others. You see the consequences of their actions, their pride and their unwillingness to change even the smallest part of their lives. They constantly lament their woe. You can’t hold it in all the time, and sadly, you tend to take your frustration on those closest to you. Or, you are downrange of these people’s anger, and you personalize it. You then work all the harder to rescue them. They end up controlling you with their negative emotions.
Selfish ambition: We CoDeWo’s would never admit to our spiritual pride. We dig having the world upon our shoulders, for it means we are special. We are head and shoulders above the average Christian, for we sacrifice time, effort and money to help anyone who asks. Although the burden of carrying everyone’s problems is overwhelming, our one consolation is how much we suffer for God.
Or, simply put, we enable others’ selfish ambition by doing everything for them that they could do for themselves. We feed their need to control others. If we question or go against their demands, we are discarded. Because, in the end, it is all about them and their lives. We are not special to them; we are disposable, for there is always another CoDeMo (Codependent Mode) to tap into and control.
Dissension & division: When you enable others, by excusing their sinful behavior and arguing with healthy people that you are not wrong about these people, you can divide families, friendships and churches. You try to minimize these people’s behavior and excuse the consequences with all kinds of reasons. While all of this is going on, the unhealthy people sit like a king or queen upon a throne, watching their little kingdom carry on about them. They don’t have to even think about changing while all this chaos swirls about them. They are never responsible for anything that goes on and will never admit to being the cause of the chaos. They have you to clean up the mess. So guess what? The messes never stop coming.
Envy: You envy those who can say, without guilt, “No, I will not help that person. They have a so-and-so problem, and until they admit that and seek professional help, I will not be a part of their problem.” You envy their freedom and the boundaries they set on others. Your guilt will not allow you to do the same thing and you feel powerless. Or, unhealthy people envy healthy people. Deep down inside, they want what healthy people have, but they will not plan wisely, put off instant gratification and manage their resources well. If they do not know how to do this, they do not seek professional help. Instead, they latch onto you, telling you that they should be like you, but life has dealt them a terrible blow. They revel in their special circumstances, but cast an envious eye towards your status. They either manipulate to get a piece of your pie or scorn you for having a pie. Either way, your CoDeMo is triggered and off you go to rescue them.
Drunkenness: Let’s broaden this to all addictions. Porn, food, drugs, video games, gambling—anything that puts people in bondage is detrimental to the human soul. You are rescuing those who want you to lessen the consequences of their actions. They do not want to really get help from someone who is trained to help deeply broken people. Unhealthy people would rather just sit around and talk to you about how bad their life is and how no one understands them but you. You may not understand the magnitude of their addiction; addicts are very good at hiding their true selves. They project the kind of person that they’d like to be, and it’s easy to believe that what you see is really them. But when no one is looking, they engage in their addiction. This will undermine any help you may be giving them. Because you are not a trained professional, you will not see their deception.
Or, you get involved with people who are involved with addicts. Addicts need enablers to assist them. You may be rescuing the spouse, who is in turn enabling her addicted husband. He comes to her and she comes to you. You become a surrogate spouse; you do all the things he should be doing, but he is too immersed in himself and his addiction to really take care of his spouse and family. Despite your good intentions, you are enabling this dysfunctional relationship between them to continue. Why should he change? You take care of the everyday life of his family; he can continue to live his way of life without a crisis forcing him to seek change.
Wild parties: When you are not around, what are the people you are trying to rescue doing? Who are their friends? How are they spending their money, time and effort? You may walk away thinking you had a good talk, with wonderful ideas on how these people can move ahead and improve their lives. You may have no idea how they really live. Despite all of your good talks, ideas and loving assistance, these people never seem to climb out of their holes. Why? They like their holes. They are also very deceptive about their holes.
Paul finishes up this list by saying, “and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Why? Because people who seek out this kind of life without any desire to relinquish control and surrender to Christ really don’t know Him. A life without Christ is a life lived in the dark. Your small candle of co-dependence will not truly reach into their soul and help them to desire freedom from bondage.
So, what’s a CoDeWo to do?
Let’s go over the more comforting verses in Galatians 5 and see them as describing a healthy approach to others and their problems.