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Chapter 9 - Walking by the Spirit
This subject may often be avoided because it sounds mystical or even similar to what Charismatics teach. Those who try to duplicate what they read in the bible may be unaware that the supernatural gifts described were at the time only a “taste” of the power of the age to come. When Jesus establishes the kingdom for the nation of Israel, these gifts will be demonstrable again.
For most of us, our Christian life (the life we would like to lead) is frustrated by our flesh. We can read about the frustration Paul felt in trying to keep the law using just the power of his flesh in Romans chapter seven. Some try to help Christians walk a better life by encouraging them to “repent” by which they mean to summon the emotional energy from making yourself feel bad so that you may be able to resist future sin.
The word translated “repent” in the Greek simply means to change your mind. Making yourself feel bad can provide some motivation to change, but it usually doesn’t last. The bible says to put to death the deeds of the flesh which sounds drastic and seems to promise a single blow. However, the bible also says to make no provision for the flesh so that a picture of death by starvation is more in view.
If the Spirit is given the opportunity to work in us, this work should be manifest in improved character qualities;
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23
The fruit of the Spirit might be considered as similar to a crop as the result of labor . What the Spirt does is work in us the result of which is improved character.
The focus is not so much what we do or accomplish but rather being better people. In a way it might be seen as preparation for heaven. The saying, “You can’t take it with you” is often used to refer to the possessions and wealth which are left behind at death. What we can take with us are things of eternal value.
The improved character the Holy Spirit can accomplish within us is not only of value for eternal life, but has significant value in this one. Consider the list of the deeds of the flesh that is given in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit;
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. - Galatians 5:19-21
There is hardly anything that can be described as a work of the flesh that does not bring sorrow and pain. Being better able to avoid these is of great benefit. I was at a business dinner in Paris once where a customer was chiding me about how unsophisticated Americans were because we did not have the European tradition of having a mistress. I replied that I saw it as a math problem. His system at best hurt one of the three people involved. If the best you can achieve is a 67% rate of “success”, it seems not worth pursuing. I did not mention the many other problems such as the blindness one inflicts on oneself through selfishness and the deleterious effects of a pursuit of indulgence. Being increasingly free from the entanglement of the flesh has great and immediate benefit.
The first fruit of the Spirit listed is “love” (selflessness). The list of works of the flesh seem to all flow from selfishness. They also are often associated with painful consequences. Being able to chart a different path in this life is a definite blessing. However, it is possible for the Christian to ignore or even frustrate the will of God in his life by continuing in the flesh (his natural selfish inclinations).
My parents never understood that God would help them through his Spirit to disentangle themselves from the works of the flesh if they would stop “quenching” him.
Quench not the Spirit. - 1 Thessalonians 5:19
There are additional steps that can be taken that make the work of the Spirit in our lives more easily accomplished. In addition to choosing a path of selflessness (which opens a door for the Holy Spirit to work in us) there are additional things we can do.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. - Romans 12:2
Groups like the Amish and Hutterites separate themselves from the world physically but it doesn’t seem to make them better Christians. We know that Satan sets the course of the world and that he probably structures it to resonate with the flesh. Things such as wealth, fame, power, and sensual pleasures seem woven into the world system he has developed.
Recognizing the true nature of the world and choosing to avoid such entanglement can help reduce the appeal to our flesh such as greed, anger, ambition, fear, lust, and selfishness. Being able to see them for what they are helps reduce the effect they can produce.
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, - Philippians 2:1
We become Christians by being placed into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. However, this is not a single act that leaves us on our own. There is something called the “fellowship of the Spirit” that allows Christians who are walking by the Spirit to have deeper relationships (in the Spirit) with other Christians. This sort of fellowship might be seen as a Christian (loving) alternative to the world system Satan has constructed (predatory).
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; - Philippians 1:27
Paul writes the Philippians about the unity they should expect. In looking at the history of Christianity “unity’ is not the first word that comes to mind. This is because it is difficult for Christians to let go of the flesh.
In Ephesians where the “armor” of God is described, one offensive weapon is mentioned, that of the sword of the Spirit which is defined as the word of God. We can see in the temptation of Jesus how this is used.
And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. - Luke 4:3-4
And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. - Deuteronomy 8:3
Here we see Jesus not attacking like a berserker with a sword, but more deflecting the enticing words of him that would do harm.
This is an interesting example of how the Holy Spirit operates without prominence. There are four things called truth in the bible, the bible itself, God the father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit (the spirit of truth). One might see that biblical familiarity makes one closer to truth and better able to discern and avoid that which would inflame the flesh.
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. - Romans 8:26
Prayer is another activity that is vastly helpful to Christians. Even if we do not know exactly what to pray for, how to pray, or are negligent in expressing gratitude, God helps us. Growing in the knowledge of the bible and prayer are two paths that draw us closer to God and such proximity also aids in discerning truth.
We are told to be filled with the Spirit in contrast to those who are drunk with wine. This is an interesting illustration in that the alcohol in wine permeates every cell in the body resulting in impaired functionality. One might expect that in contrast to be filled with the Holy Spirit would be to have superior functionality. While perhaps not so much physically more capable (stronger, faster, etc) one would expect increased discernment, greater sensitivity to others, and a more honest appraisal of ourselves resulting in humility.
Today many people think in terms of “spirituality” which is often defined in terms of how one feels. There is an implication of a sort of ethereal, detached, or transcendent feeling. The pursuit of feelings is of the flesh and the opposite of the work of God’s Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit is not made discernable by feelings. The first King of Israel, Saul, was unaware when the Spirit had departed from him.
One reason life in the Spirit is so poorly understood much less taught to youth in churches is that churches often support the trajectory of youth from school into the world rather than provide an alternative. This entanglement with the world often promotes the flesh over the Spirit.
I sometimes relate an incident where I had worked with a woman who was a little apprehensive about going to her 20 year high school reunion. She had been to her ten year reunion and it was not that enjoyable for her. After her return I said that I would tell her how it went and she could tell me if I was right. At the ten year reunion people were trying to impress each other with what they had, where the have been, and what their future prospects were. At the twenty year reunion people were coming to terms that their previous ambitions were not going to be fulfilled and that their lives were not a successful as they had hoped. She said it was much more enjoyable without the youthful arrogance and pomposity she had experienced earlier.
It is sad that Christian youth have to spend twenty to thirty years having the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” finally punch through youthful hubris with reality when they could have been living by the Spirit and walking in truth much earlier.
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