"Be very careful, then, how you live." Ephesians 5:15
[NOTE: This paper is a reworking of an earlier paper, entitled
"The Fruit of the Holy Spirit". I have changed the focus,
added new material to what I consider central issues, and eliminated
much that seemed to me of peripheral importance. I hope that in
its present form the paper will be more helpful, in practical ways,
to those who are dealing with this issue in their lives. JM].
When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we receive
the tremendous blessing of eternal life with God. But we also receive
great blessings in our life now on earth. One reason Jesus came
was that, here on earth, we might "have life and have it to
the full" (John 10:10).
When we receive Jesus in our heart, he enables us, and calls on
us, to become transformed into a different person. Scripture expresses
this transformation in various ways. We become a "new creation"
(2 Corinthians 5:17). We "put on the new self" (Ephesians
4:24; Colossians 3:10). We are "born again" (John 3:3).
We become "God's children" (Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:10).
We are "transformed", metamorphoo,
metamorphosed (Romans 12:2). In effect, we become a new species,
with a new spiritual DNA. (Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures
are from the New International Version, and any emphasis has been
The goal of this transformation is to become like God in character.
We "are being transformed into [God's] likeness with ever-increasing
glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18) Our new self is "being renewed
in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Colossians 3:10).
It is "created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness"
(Ephesians 4:24). We are "predestined to be conformed to the
likeness of [God's] Son" (Romans 8:29). Paul wrote the Galatians
that he was "in the pangs of childbirth until Christ is formed
in you" (Galatians 4:19). We "participate in the divine
nature" (2 Peter 1:4). We have "the mind of Christ"
(1 Corinthians 2:16). We are to "walk as Jesus did" (1
John 1:6), to do the things Jesus did (John 14:12). We are letters
from Christ, written by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:3). Those
who see us should see something of Christ in us.
All this is astonishing, but it is what Scripture says and we
had better believe it and take it seriously. God actually intends
to take flawed and sinful creatures and remake us into his image.
In the Garden of Eden man was made in God's image. That image was
lost with the Fall. But now God wants to restore it in those who
have accepted his Son. To our natural minds this may seem impossible,
but nothing is impossible for God.
Not only do we take on God's character; we also receive some of
his power. When we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior the Holy
Spirit of God enters into us and takes up residence in us (John
14:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19; 1 John 3:24, 4:15). While on earth,
Jesus ministered "in the power of the [Holy] Spirit" (Luke
4:14; Acts 10:38). After Jesus ascended to heaven the disciples
received that same dunamis power
of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, 2:4). And we, who believe in Jesus,
have received it. Jesus told us that everyone who believes in him
will do the things he did, and greater things (John 14:12). Paul
speaks of God's "incomparably great power for us who believe"
(Ephesians 1:19), "his power that is at work in us" (Ephesians
3:20), his "all-surpassing power" (2 Corinthians 4:7).
We have within us part of the power by which God created the universe,
and by which he resurrected Jesus from the dead. Paul tells us to
"be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians
6:10). "It is God who works in you to will and to act according
to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13). He said, "I labor,
struggling with all [God's] energy, which so powerfully works in
me" (Colossians 2:9). He said, "I can do everything through
him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). It is by God's power
working within us that we are able to make the transformation which
he calls on us to make.
How do we achieve this remarkable transformation? Scripture gives
us a major key. We live by the spirit (Galatians 5:16)..The rest
of this paper will consider what it means to live by the spirit,
and suggest some ways by which we can begin to do so.
B. THREE WAYS OF LIVING
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes three different
ways of living our lives. As I discuss these, remember that he is
writing to believers, who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord
and Savior. Only the third of these three ways will lead to the
transformation I am talking about. We must choose which way we will
1. The Way of Legalism.
The first way is the way of legalism. In Paul's day this involved
strict adherence to the law of Moses and the rabbinical rules with
which it was surrounded. In our day, there are other forms of legalism,
but the principle is the same.
Much of Galatians, chapters 1-4, deals with this way of life.
It is focussed on rules, many of which are based on human traditions,
rather than on the person of Jesus. It is full of "dos"
and "don'ts". It is a life based on human effort. "After
beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal
by human effort?" (Galatians 3:3). It seeks to obtain justification
by our own efforts in observing the law, rather than by faith in
the saving power of Jesus Christ (see Galatians 2:15-16). "If
righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing"
(Galatians 2:21). It is a reliance on the letter of the law, which
kills, rather than the Spirit, which gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Paul calls it a life "burdened... by a yoke of slavery"
Paul expresses his dismay at the Galatians for following this
way of life,"You who were trying to be justified by law have
been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (Galatians
5:4). He says they are "turning to a different gospel - which
is really no gospel at all" (Galatians 1:6). "I fear for
you that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you" (Galatians
4:11). Essentially he is saying that those who rely on their own
efforts in doing the works of legalism are not saved. (See also
In Romans, Paul points out that the law was unable to save men
from sin. He says, "For what the law was powerless to do in
that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His
own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering"
(Romans 8:3). Those who seek to be changed into the image of God
cannot succeed if they rely on their own efforts and strength.
2. The Way of License.
In Galatians 5:1 Paul says, "It is for freedom that Christ
has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be
burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Then in verse 13 he issues
a warning, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do
not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature." He expresses
a similar thought in Romans 6:1, "What shall we say, then?
Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!
We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" Peter says,
"Do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Live as servants
[literally, slaves] of God" (1 Peter 2:16).
The way of license leads to "acts of the sinful nature",
such as those listed in Galatians 5:19-21. It leads to "deeds
of darkness" (Ephesians 5:11). It leads to "death",
while the Spirit-led life leads to " life and peace" (Romans
3. The Spirit-led Life.
Having described two false ways of life, Paul then presents the
true way. "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify
the desires of the sinful nature" (Galatians 5:16). In Romans
8:12-14 he presents the same choice.
What does it mean to live by the Spirit? I suggest that it means
to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit within us, to allow the
Holy Spirit to guide us in all things (see John 16:13), and to allow
the Holy Spirit to control all of our thoughts and actions. Paul
says, "Let us keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians
5:25). He speaks of "the mind controlled by the Spirit"
(Romans 8:6; see also verse 9), of being "led by the Spirit
of God" (Romans 8:14). He says, "I no longer live, but
Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). He speaks of being a
"slave" of righteousness and holiness (Romans 6:16, 19).
This is not easy. It takes some doing. But it is possible. God
always empowers us to do the things he calls on us to do.
This means more than just abstaining from physical (sensual) sin.
It means that we trust in God with all
our heart and acknowledge him in all
our ways (Proverbs 3:5-6). It means that "we live by faith,
not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). It means to "seek first
[God's] kingdom and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). It means
that we set our hearts and minds on things above and not on earthly
things (Colossians 3:1-2). It means that in everything we put God
It is by the Holy Spirit that we understand spiritual things.
The natural (unspiritual) man cannot understand spiritual things;
they seem foolishness to him (1 Corinthians 2:12-15). It is only
as we become transformed into God's image that we can "test
and approve what God's will is" (Romans 12:3). I believe that
if we want to hear God's voice, and to understand the things of
God, we need to live by the Holy Spiritt, and be led by the Holy
The Spirit-led life seeks holiness. "Just as he who called
you is holy, so be holy in all you do" (1 Peter 1:15; see Hebrews
12:14) It relies on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit living
within us (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). We must do our part;
we must choose, "make every effort" (2 Peter 1:5; Hebrews
12:14), and "pursue" (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22).
But without the Spirit's power and influence we cannot hope to achieve
it. It is "by the Spirit" that we "put to death the
misdeeds of the body" (Romans 8:14). The Spirit-led life is
a disciplined life. God's discipline "produces a harvest of
righteousness and peace" (Hebrews 12:7-12). It is a life of
obedience, but the obedience arises out of and is the result of
our love for God (John 14:23; 1 John 5:3). The Spirit-led life is
the result of our allowing the Holy Spirit to rule our spirit, soul
and body. Its goal is to become like God in character.
If we live by the Spirit, we will show the fruit of the Spirit,
which is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). These qualities
are the result of living by the Spirit. If we desire them, our focus
should be on living by the Spirit. I believe that if we seek them
for themselves, without also seeking to live by the Holy Spirit,
whatever of them we may think we receive will be weak, artificial
C. THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR CHOICE
We can choose which of these ways of life we will live. The consequences
of our choice are extremely serious. Scripture spells them out for
us in remarkable precision and detail. Evidently this is a lesson
that we are not supposed to miss.
In Galatians 5:21, after listing the acts of the sinful nature,
Paul says, "I warn you, as I did before, that those who live
like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." Ephesians 5:5-6
says the same, and adds a further warning: "No immoral, impure
or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance
in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with
empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those
who are disobedient." Colossians 3:5-6 warns, "Put to
death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual
immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Because of these the wrath of God is coming."
Later in Galatians Paul uses even stronger language. "Do
not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will
reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the
Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8).
In Romans, Paul again paints the contrast as one between life
and death. "Those who live according to the sinful nature have
their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live
in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit
desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled
by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God.
It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled
by the sinful nature cannot please God" (Romans 8:5-8). "Therefore,
brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature,
to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful
nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds
of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit
of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:12-14).
In Ephesians Paul uses the imagery of darkness and light. "For
you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live
as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all
goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the
Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness...
Be very careful, then, how you live" (Ephesians 5:8-11,15).
In Romans chapter 6 he uses yet another image. "Do not offer
the parts of your body to sin, as instruments [literally, weapons]
of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who
have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your
body to him as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13).
Paul tells us to crucify the sinful nature with its passions and
desires (Galatians 5:24), to "put to death... whatever belongs
to your earthly nature" (Colossians 3:5).
These letters are all written to Chritian believers. In them, Paul
puts the choice very starkly. If we believers live according to
the sinful nature, according to the desires of the flesh, we will
not inherit the kingdom of heaven, we will incur the wrath of God,
we will receive destruction and death, we will not be the sons of
God, we will live in darkness, and we will be instruments for satan.
If we allow the Holy Spirit to control everything in us, we will
have eternal life, we will be children of God, we will live in the
light, we will be instruments of God, and we will become like God
Scripture tells us that, if we would live by the Holy Spirit,
there is an inner conflct within each of us which we must resolve.
If we would live by the Spirit, it is very important that we be
aware of that conflict, understand it, and resolve it. In the next
section we will consider the origin and nature of that conflict.
D. THE INNER CONFLICT
1. The Three-Fold Division.
The iinner conflict of which I have spoken begins when we accept
Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is a conflict between his
Holy Spirit and the fleshly part of us. To understand this I believe
we need to see ourselves as consisting of spirit, soul and body.
Paul wrote, "May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
To explain adequately this three-fold division I shall have to go
into the meanings of several Greek words used in Scripture. I ask
you to bear with me.
The spirit, pneuma, (adjective
form, pneumatikos), is the eternal
part of us, the part that is able to receive the Holy Spirit. We
have "access to the Father by one Spirit" (Ephesians 2:18).
We worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23). "Spirit
is the element in man which gives him the ability to think of God.
It is man's vertical window, while psuche,
soul, is man's horizontal window making him conscious of his environment"
(Spiros Zodhiates (ed.), Hebrew-Greek Key-Word Study Bible, King
James Version, AMG International, Revised ed. 1991, p. 1750). It
is by the spirit that we understand the things of God.
The soul, psuche, psyche, (adjective
form, psuchikos), is the mind,
the will, the emotions and other non-physical parts of us that are
still tied to the fleshly nature. Quite a few Scriptures use psuche
to apply to both soul and spirit, to all the non-physical part of
us. But other Scriptures sharply distinguish between the two. Hebrews
4:12 says that the word of God "penetrates even to dividing
soul and spirit." 1 Corinthians 2:14 (KJV) says, "The
natural (psuchikos) man receiveth
not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto
him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
Unless it is guided by the spirit, our soul cannot understand spiritual
things. Jude 19 speaks of those who "follow mere natural (psuchikos)
instincts and do not have the Spirit." James 3:15 contrasts
the wisdom that comes from heaven with "wisdom" that is
"earthly, unspiritual (psuchikos),
of the devil". 1 Corinthians 15:42-46 distinguishes between
the "natural" (psuchikos)
body that we now have, and the "spiritual" (pneumatikos)
body that we will have at the resurrection. These Scriptures clearly
identify the soul (psuche) with
that which is natural, carnal, fleshly, worldly, unspiritual.
The body, (soma), is the tangible,
physical body. Another word for body is sarx, flesh, which is sometimes
translated "sinful nature". The body is God's creation
and is not evil in itself, but it is often seen as sinful or as
the source of sinful desires. Romans 8:13 says, "If by the
Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body [soma]
you will live." (See also verses 10, 11, 23.) "Do not
let sin reign in your mortal body [soma]"
(Romans 6:12; see also verse 6). Galatians 5:16 (KJV) contrasts
living by the spirit (pneuma) with
gratifying the desires of the flesh (sarx).
Romans 8:5-17, repeatedly makes the same distinction between living
by the Spirit and living by the sinful nature; the words which NIV
translates as "sinful" and KJV translates as "flesh"
or "carnal" are variants of sarx.
(See also 1 Corinthians 3:1, 3; Ephesians 2:3; 1 Peter 2:11; 2 Peter
2:18; Jude 7). Paul writes, "I know that nothing good lives
in me, that is in my sinful nature (sarx)" (Romans 7:18; see
also verses 25).
2. The Spiritual Conflict.
When the Holy Spirit comes into us, he enters into and takes control
of our spirit. When we are born again we are "born of the spirit"
(John 3:8). "Flesh gives birth to flesh, and the Spirit gives
birth to spirit" (John 3:6). "He who unites himself with
the Lord is one with him in spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:17). But
the Holy Spirit does not immediately take control of our soul or
our body. A conflict develops between the Spirit of God which is
in our spirit, and the rest of us which is unspiritual and rooted
in the flesh. Scripture refers to this as "warfare".
Not even our spirit is totally free from this warfare. 2 Corinthians
7: 1 says, "Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates
body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God."
(See also 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Even our spirit can be contaminated.
But the primary battlefield is the soul and body.
Paul tells us that there is a war going on inside us. The Spirit
and the fleshly nature are in conflict. "For the sinful nature
desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary
to the sinful nature. They are in conflict
with each other, so that you do not do what you want" (Galatians
5:17). In Romans he puts the same thought even more strongly, "For
in my inner being I delight in God's law but I see another law at
work in the members of my body, waging war
against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of
sin at work within my members" (Romans 7:22-23; see also Romans
8:7). Peter also uses martial language, "Abstain from sinful
desires, which war against your soul"
(1 Peter 2:11).
Paul describes this conflict primarily in terms of the second
and third ways of life, the way of license vs. the Spirit-filled
way. But since the way of legalism also depends on the flesh rather
that the power of the Holy Spirit, the conflict he describes applies
to that way of life also.
These passages speak primarily of warfare between the spirit and
our fleshly desires (sarx), that
is, our body. But I think we can see that our mind, will and emotions
are part of the flesh, until they have been regenerated by the spirit.
As I have pointed out above, psuche,
soul, is often used in the sense of carnal, earthly, unspiritual.
Other passages speak of our minds as fleshly or carnal. Romans 8:6-7
(KJV) speaks of the "carnal" (sarx)
mind. "To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually
minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against
God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be."
Colossians 2:18 speaks of one who is "vainly puffed up by his
fleshly mind" (sarx).
In general, our actions originate in the soul - the mind, will
and emotions - and then manifest themselves in the physical. Romans
12:2 says, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind".
It is our mind that must be renewed in order that we can be transformed
into the image of God. Then our physical actions will follow. Romans
8:5-8 says, "Those who live according to the sinful nature
have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who
live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what
the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind
controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile
to God. It does not submit to God's law nor can it do so. Those
controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." What is
our mind set on? The question is very important.
Consider also the following Scriptures:
James 1:14-15 says, "Each one is tempted when, by his own
evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire
has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown,
gives birth to death." Temptation begins in our desires - our
will and emotions, our soul. Then, if we yield to it, it takes the
form of physical action. See also 1 Peter 2:11; Ephesians 4:22.
In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus said, "What comes out of a man is what
makes him unclean. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil
thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice,
deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these
evils come from inside and make a man unclean." These are all
things that come out of men's hearts, out of the soulish part of
man. They start in the soul, and often result in physical action.
Romans, chapter 1 traces the fall of many into wickedness and physical
misconduct. It shows how the process started in the mind and heart
- parts of the soul - and then resulted in sinful action. "Their
thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although
they claimed to be wise, they became fools (verses 21-22). "Therefore
God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts, to sexual
impurity... " (verse 24). "Since they did not think it
worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to
a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done" (verse 28).
Proverbs 4:23 (KJV), "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for
out of it are the issues of life." I believe this is saying
that everything we are and do comes out of our heart, that is, our
soul. Therefore we must diligently guard our hearts. See also Proverbs
23:7 (KJV), "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he."
Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and
beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind."
I believe that the primary internal spiritual battlefield is in
the soul - the mind, will and emotions. Once the Holy Spirit gains
full control over our soul, the control over the body will follow
without too much difficulty.
We are talking about spiritual warfare that goes on inside us.
It is with this internal warfare that 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 primarily
deals. Paul says that "the weapons we fight with" "have
divine power to demolish strongholds", to demolish "arguments
and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of
God", and to "take captive every thought to make it obedient
to Christ." Each of us has internal strongholds - habits, addictions,
push-button reactions, patterns of behavior and thought - that are
rooted in the desires of the flesh and the soul. Each of us has
mindsets - ingrained ways of thinking - that set themselves up against
the knowledge of God. Each of us needs take every thought captive
to obey Jesus Christ. The battle is within us. It is in our minds,
our wills and our emotions.
God does not want us to be "double-minded" (literally,
two-souled, dipsuchos) (James 1:8;
see also James 4:8). He does not want part of our soul following
the Holy Spirit and another part following our flesh. He does not
want our soul bouncing back and forth between the Holy Spirit and
our flesh. He desires consistency. He desires "truth in the
inner parts" (Psalm 51:6). "Search me, O God, and know
my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is
any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"
(Psalm 139:23-24). Scripture "judges the thoughts and attitudes
of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). The heart, the soul, the psuche
, is the key.
When the soul has been brought under the control of the Holy Spirit
the process continues to bring the body into complete subjection.
"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and
through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is
faithful and he will do it" (I Thessalonians 5:23). God is
"able to keep you from falling and to present you before his
glorious presence without fault and with great joy" (Jude 24;
see Hebrews 13:20-21; 1 Corinthians 1:8). God is able, and he will
This process of gradually bringing the soul and body under the
control of the Spirit is the process of sanctification, of becoming
holy, because the Spirit is holy (I Peter 1:16). It is achieved
through "the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief
in the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:13; see also 1 Peter 1:2).
It is the process of being transformed by the renewing of our minds
(Romans 12:2). It is the process of putting off the old self and
putting on the new self (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10).
It is the process by which we "are being transformed into [God's]
likeness with ever increasing glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Another way of looking at this is to say that there are two spirits
warring against each other. The unregenerate body and soul are governed
by "the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient"
(Ephesians 2:2). The spirit is governed by the Holy Spirit of God.
There is war between them until we yield all of ourselves to the
The resolution to this conflict consists in our total submission
to God. Scripture expresses this clearly. "Do not offer the
parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather
offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death
to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments
of righteousness" (Romans 6:13). Offer yourself "in slavery
to righteousness, leading to holiness" (Romans 6:19). "Offer
your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God"
(Romans 12:1). "Live as servants [slaves] of God" (1 Peter
2:16; see also Revelation 1:1). In a number of the epistles the
author refers to himself as a "servant" (doulos,
slave) of God or of Christ Jesus. (See Romans 1:1; Philippians 1;1;
Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; see also Revelation 1:1). It
is as we become totally submitted to the Holy Spirit within us that
the conflict is resolved.
I want to emphasize again that this inner battle begins after
we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The letters I refer
to above were all written to believers, to the "saints"
, the sanctified ones, at various locations. They speak of a conflict
going on in the life of believers. They speak of choices that must
be made by believers. Indeed, it is only believers who can have
this conflict, for only they have the Holy Spirit living in them.
E. HOW DO WE GO ABOUT LIVING BY THE SPIRIT?
I think what I have just said is the key. We need to submit ourselves
totally and unconditionally to the Holy Spirit living in us. This
takes a decision on our part. As Paul puts it, whose slave will
we be? Will we be slaves to sin, which leads to death? Or will we
be slaves to obedience, which leads to righteousness and life? We
cannot have it both ways. "No one can serve two masters"
(Matthew 6:24) A "double-minded man" (literally two-souled,
dipsuchos) is unstable in all his
ways (James 1:8; see also James 4:8). There is no middle ground;
it has to be one or the other.
We cannot achieve this by our own efforts. The only way we can
prevail in spiritual warfare is to "be strong in the Lord and
in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10)."The battle is not
yours but God's" (2 Chronicles 20:15). But we must do our part.
God has given us his full armor of God (literally, his full weapons,
panoplia) (Ephesians 6:11); he
has given us weapons that have "divine power" (2 Corinthians
10:4). But we have to put on the armor and use the weapons. "After
you have done everything, to stand" (Ephesians 6:13). We do
all we can, and then put our trust in God.
What is our part? Here are some suggestions that have impressed
me as important. There are undoutedly others that could be mentioned.
Different things work better for different peopple, and each one
has to find what works for him or her.
Which way of living will we choose? The ways of the flesh that
lead to death, or the way of the spirit that leads to life. God,
speaking through Moses, gave his people Israel a clear choice. "I
call heaven and earth as witnesses against you, that I have set
before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life"
(Deuteronomy 30: 19-20). I believe that God, speaking through Paul,
has given us the same choice. There are two ways of living that
lead to death (legalism and license), and one that leads to life
(living by the Holy Spirit). We must choose which one we will follow.
Just as Moses, in Deuteronomy chapter 28, spelled out in vivid detail
the consequences of the choice, so also Paul has spelled them out
clearly and unmistakably.
This process of choosing is not just a one-time thing. When we
have chosen the right way of living, we then have to make a great
number of specific choices. Is this action, or this thought, or
this attitude, in accordance with the Spirit? If not, what will
we do about it?
One way of testing our decisions is to imagine Jesus Christ standing
beside us and then ask ourselves, "What would he say about
the things I want to do and say?"
Winston Churchill has said, "Character is the habit of making
right decisions". If we would have godly character, we need
to cultivate the habit of making godly decisions. We need, "by
constant use" to train ourselves to "distinguish good
from evil" (Hebrews 5:14). We need to train ourselves to be
godly (1 Timothy 4:8).
"Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock
and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7). The form
of the Greek verbs means, keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep
on knocking. Jesus told his disciples that "they should always
pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1). He told two parables to
illustrate the persistence needed (Luke 11:5-8, 18:2-9). God has
told us, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with
all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13; see also Deuteronomy 4:29;
Psalm 9:10). If we truly seek with all our heart to live by the
Holy Spirit, if we persist and do not give up, we will be able to
do it. God never asks us to do something without enabling us to
3. Listen to the Holy Spirit.
God gave us his Holy Spirit to "guide you into all truth"
(John 16:13). God, through his Holy Spirit, says to us "This
is the way; walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21). But we have to be attentive.
We have to listen. We must accustom ourselves to hearing the voice
of the Holy Spirit, to responding to his nudges and prods. We need
to take time to shut out the noise of the world and "Be still
and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).
4. Feed the Holy Spirit.
If we want to live by the Holy Spirit, we need to do all that
we can to strengthen the Holy Spirit's influence within us. This
means reading and meditating on Scripture, which is "at work
in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and is able to save
us (James 1:21). It means devoting time to praise, worship and prayer.
When we devote time to these we bring ourselves into the presence
of God. It means thinking on those things that are good, noble,
etc. (Philippians 4:8-9). It means doing all that we can to remain
in the presence of God, to dwell "in the secret place of the
most High" (Psalm 91:1 KJV).
Scripture tells us, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus
Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the
sinful nature" (Romans 13:14). The best protection against
sinful living is to clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ, to let our
entire self be filled with, and surrounded by, Jesus Christ. Paul
wrote, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians
The goal of the Spirit-led life is to become like God in character.
In order to do that, we need to spend time in God's presence so
that we can come to know what God is like. Unless we do that, we
cannot expect to live by the Spirit.
5. Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit.
"Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4:30).
"Do not put out the Spirit's fire" (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
Do not resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). I believe that we grieve
the Holy Spirit, and quench the Holy Spirit, when we think, or say,
or do things that are contrary to what the Holy Spirit desires.
"Those who live in accordance with the Holy Spirit have their
minds set on what the Spirit desires" (Romans 8:5). If we love
God we should desire to please him, and not to grieve his Holy Spirit.
We need to look at everything we think, and everything we are about
to say and do, and ask ourselves, "Will this please the Holy
Spirit, or will it grieve him?" We need to set our minds on
what the Holy Spirit desires.
6. Be Alert.
"Be self-controlled and alert" (1 Peter 5:8). "Watch
and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation" (Matthew
26:41). We need to be aware of the devices and schemes of the enemy
(2 Corinthians 2:11). We need to cut them off at an early stage,
to nip them in the bud. We need to be alert to every thought and
every temptation that is from the enemy. The process of taking captive
every though to make it obedient to Jesus Christ begins by identifying
those thoughts that are not obedient. The more alert we are to identify
them quickly, the less influence they will have over us.
7. Guard Our Thoughts.
Scripture tells us to "take captive every thought to make
it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is something
we must do constantly. The enemy is constantly putting ungodly thoughts
in our mind. He wants us to believe thoughts that are contrary to
God's word and God's character, to doubt God's word and his promises,
and to desire things that are ungodly. If we agree with him, we
are taking his side. This was part of Adam and Eve's sin; they agreed
with what the serpent said rather than what God said. The United
States Constitution defines treason as "giving aid and comfort
to the enemy". In the spiritual realm, when we accept and agree
with the thoughts the enemy tries to plant in us, we are giving
aid and comfort to the enemy. We are committing spiritual treason.
In my experience, this has been a major battleground.
We need to decide what we will think about. "Those who live
according to the sinful nature have their
minds set on what that nature desires, but those who live
in accordance with the Spirit have their
minds set on what the Spirit desires" (Romans 8:5).
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts
on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things" (Colossians
3:1-2). "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter
of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). We need consciously to decide
what we will set our minds on, and then make every effort to adhere
to that decision. .If we find ourselves thinking about the wrong
things, we need to take those thoughts captive and say, "No,
that is not what I have chosen to set my mind on."
8. Confess Our Failures.
In this battle, we will fail many times. When we slip up, that
is not the end of the battle. We need to pick ourselves up, confess
our failure to God and ask his forgiveness, and keep on going. Do
not let the enemy discourage you by your failures!
9. Do Not Give the Devil
a Place to Hold
on to Us.
"Do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:27).
Just before his arrest Jesus said, "The prince of this world
is coming. He has no hold on me" (John 14:30). We need to try
to be like that, and give the enemy nothing with which to grab hold
of us. One can think of the devil as coming with Velcro attached
to him. If we have bits of Velcro on us he can grab us and move
us as he wishes. If we are smooth, his Velcro will not attach itself
to us. We need to get rid of everything that could give the devil
a hold on us.
F. A PERSONAL APPLICATION
Perhaps I can pull all this together, and make it more real, by
a personal application in my own life. I have cancer. It started
in my colon, and recently spread to the liver and lungs. The medical
prognosis is not good.
We (my wife, daughter and I) decided to do everything the doctors
recommended, but to put our primary faith in God. I know that he
can heal me and I believe that he will heal me. No matter what the
medical data may say, God's healing power is greater. We are spending
quite a bit of time in worship, praise, prayer and listening to
videos and tapes that may be helpful. Many people are praying for
I realized that, if I am asking God to heal me, I need to make
more effort to live by the Holy Spirit, and to submit every aspect
of my life to the Holy Spirit. I believe this is an attack from
the enemy, and, if I want the enemy to flee from me, I must submit
myself to God (James 4;17). In fact it has seemed to me that God
may have allowed this illness in order to bring me to a higher level
of faith and obedience. A Scripture that has meant a great deal
to me is 1 Peter 1:7, stating that various trials "have come
so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes
even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine, and may result
in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
At this point I realized that, at times, I was allowing myself
to think thoughts that were destructive of the very faith I was
relying on for my life. I would think such things as, "God
is not going to heal me." "I'm of no value to him."
"He has nothing more for me to do." Etc. Etc. Etc. I realized
that these thoughts were contrary to God's word, and contrary to
his will for me as I understand it. I realized also that these thoughts
came from the enemy, and that by accepting them and agreeing with
them I was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. When I allowed these
thoughts to come into my mind, and agreed with them, I was not living
by the Holy Spirit of God.
I resolved not to allow these thoughts any more. I found a simple
device, that has worked quite well. When these thoughts come I simply
say, "I have set before you life and death... Now choose life"
(Deuteronomy 30:19). And the ungodly thoughts go away. Often I reinforce
this by reaffirming, out loud, my faith in God's healing power and
my belief that he will heal me, quoting appropriate Scriptures.
The thoughts keep coming back. We should never expect that the enemy
will give up easily. But they do not stay with me long.
Things in our lives that are contrary to the Holy Spirit do not
always go away this easily. But I believe that if we are determined
to get rid of them, we shall succeed. Scripture says, "Let
us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily
entangles" (Hebrews 12:1). "Throw off" implies vigorous
action. We don't just drop it or let go of it. We throw it with
all our force. When God calls on us to do something, he will enable
us to do it. "I can do everything through him who gives me
strength" (Philippians 4:13).