The principle emphasized in that verse—and, in fact, throughout the New Testament—is that the life of the Christian is no longer his to live as he pleases: the Christian life is one of allowing Christ to live through him. It took me a long time to fully understand what that means.
The mistake I made early on as a Christian is a common one. I was trying to be a Christian. Sounds funny, doesn't it? And it was an exercise in frustration. Just to give you an example, I used to have a bad temper. If things didn’t go exactly the way I wanted them to, I typically blew a gasket. My underlying problem was that I was a terribly self-centered and selfish person. Then I began memorizing scripture, starting with the book of James. A statement in chapter one really struck me: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
I knew that I needed to work on my temper. I began making a deliberate effort to restrain myself when something angered me. To be honest, I was having very limited success. Then I ran across an old story about two Quaker women walking down a sidewalk. They were dressed in the old-fashioned garb (dark clothing, long dresses, white bonnet) Quaker women used to wear. A passer-by made a mocking statement about their appearance. After he had passed, the younger woman said to the older, “I marvel at thy restraint, sister.” The older woman responded, “That is because thou dost not see me seething inside.” It hit me that to be outwardly calm but inwardly angry was not what the Lord had to mind when He said to “Cease from anger and forsake wrath.” - (Psalm 37:8).
Jesus dealt with the principle in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The point is that sin isn’t simply a matter of what we do, it involves what we think, what we are on the inside. I realized that I hadn’t really gotten rid of my temper; I had simply moved it beneath the surface. (And not real consistently at that. I still had the occasional blowup.) How in the world could I fix that? The answer is—and I didn’t get here overnight—that I couldn’t fix it, because it was simply a manifestation of the person I really was. And temper was only one of several areas where I struggled.
Then I slowly began to understand what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” I wanted to do that, but how to get there still eluded me. I don’t remember exactly when the realization finally hit me—it certainly wasn’t in a sudden blaze of inspiration—but I finally understood that what was necessary was to allow the Holy Spirit to take control. I admitted to myself and to Him (turned out He already knew it) that I was helpless against my own nature and that I needed Him to do for me what I was unable to do. He taught me to back off, to in effect take my hands off the steering wheel and allow Him to do the steering. What I was beginning to learn was what it means to “live by faith in the Son of God.”
I still struggle with it, mostly inwardly, but a comment my wife made recently struck home. She told someone that I never take offense or lose my temper. That isn't exactly true, but it’s nothing like it used to be. And if that is what my wife sees in me, because no one knows me better than she, then the change must be considerable. And I can’t take one bit of credit. All I did was to get out of the Spirit’s way.