| Table of
In the previous chapter, I have talked about the need all believers have to be radically transformed by the renewing of our minds. One major key to making this transformation is to live by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16). To understand what this means, we need to take a close look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
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 that is needed. We must choose which way we will follow.
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 to 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. “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NIV). 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 NIV). It is a reliance on the letter of the law, which kills, rather than on the Spirit, which gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6). Paul calls it a life “…burdened… by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 NIV).
Paul expresses his dismay at the Galatians for following this way of life. “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ, you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4 NIV). “…if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all” (Galatians 5:2 NIV). He says they are “…turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all…” (Galatians 1:6-7 NIV). “I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Galatians 4:11 NIV). Essentially he is saying that those who rely on their own efforts in doing the works of legalism are not saved. (Also see Romans 10:2-4.)
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 NIV). Those who seek to be changed into the image of God cannot succeed if they rely on their own efforts and strength.
The Way of License
In Galatians 5:1 (NIV), 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 Galatians 5:13 (NIV), 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 6:1-2, “What shall we say, then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” Peter says, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants [literally, slaves] of God” (1 Peter 2:16 NIV).
The way of license leads to sinful acts, such as those listed in Galatians 5:19-21. It leads to “works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). It leads to “death,” while the Spirit-led life leads to “life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
Those, today, who allow themselves to fall into this way of license, start with a valid principle—that the true believer can be sure of his salvation. But they carry it to a false place, by saying, “Well, then, once I am saved it doesn’t matter what I do. I can sin repeatedly and God will always forgive. I can turn away from God and he will always receive me back.” This is not what Scripture says.
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 NIV). In Romans 8:12-14, he presents the same choice.
What does it mean to live by the Spirit? It means to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, 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 NIV). He speaks of “…the mind controlled by the Spirit…” (Romans 8:6 NIV; also see verse 9), of being “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14), of being “spiritually minded” (Romans 8:6). 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 living by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). It means seeking God’s kingdom first (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 first.
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 12:2). I believe that if we want to understand the things of God, we need to live by the Holy Spirit, and be led by the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit-led life seeks holiness. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). (Also see Hebrews 12:14.) To be holy is to be set apart, to be free from sin. 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 (Galatians 5:1, 16), 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 deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13).
The Spirit-led life is a disciplined life. God's discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:7-11). 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 have our character become more and more like God’s character.
If we live by the Spirit, we will show the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). 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 we may think we receive will be weak, artificial and impermanent.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR CHOICE
We must choose which of these three 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, chapters 1-5, Paul has made it very clear that the way of legalism, which depends on the flesh rather than on the spirit of God, is no gospel at all, that it accomplishes nothing of value, and that it alienates us from Christ. To go that way, he says, is to abandon your salvation, and to make Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross of no value for you. These are some pretty serious consequences!
Scripture makes even more explicit the consequences of following the way of license.
In Galatians 5:21, after listing the acts of the sinful nature, Paul says, “I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Ephesians 5:5-7 says the same, and adds a further warning: “because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.” Colossians 3:5-6 says much the same.
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 NIV).
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 NIV). “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” (Romans 8:13 NIV).
In Ephesians, Paul uses the imagery of darkness and light: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).
In Romans, chapter 6, he uses yet another image. “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13).
Paul tells us to crucify, to put to death, the sinful nature with its passions (Galatians 5:24; Colossians 3:5).
These letters are all written to Christian 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 live by the Holy Spirit, 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 our character will become like God’s character.
Scripture tells us that, if we would live by the Holy Spirit, there is an inner conflict 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.
THE INNER CONFLICT
The Three-Fold Division
The inner conflict of which Paul is speaking is a conflict between the Holy Spirit, which has come into our spirit, and the fleshly part of us. To understand this, I believe we need to see ourselves as consisting of spirit, soul and body. (See 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 is the eternal part of us, the part that is able to receive the Holy Spirit. (The Greek word for spirit is pneuma, and the adjective form is pneumatikos.) 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.” 26 It is by the spirit that we understand the things of God.
The soul is the mind, the will, the emotions and other non-physical parts of us that are still tied to the fleshly nature. (The Greek word for soul is psuche, from which we get the English word psyche; and the adjective form is psuchikos.) Some 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 pierces “even to the division of soul and spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural [psuchikos] man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually [pneumatikos] discerned.” Unless it is guided by the spirit, our soul cannot understand spiritual things. Jude 19 speaks of those who “are sensual [psuchikos] persons who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” James 3:15 contrasts the wisdom that comes from heaven with “wisdom” that is “earthly, sensual [psuchikos], demonic.” 1 Corinthians 15:42-46 distinguishes between the natural (psuchikos) body that we now have, which is corruptible, dishonored and weak, 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, sensual, fleshly, worldly, unspiritual.The body (soma) is the tangible, physical body. Another Greek word for body is sarx, which means fleshly, carnal, or sinful. The body is often seen as sinful or as the source of sinful desires. “If you live according to the flesh [sarx] you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body [soma], you will live.” (Romans 8:13). (Also see verses 10-11.) “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body [soma]” (Romans 6:12). (Also see verse 6.) Galatians 5:16 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. (Also see 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Ephesians 2:3; 1 Peter 2:11; 2 Peter 2:18; Jude 7.) Paul writes, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh [sarx]) nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18).
The Inner Spiritual Conflict
When we are born again, we are born of the spirit (John 3:8). “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6). The Holy Spirit enters into and takes control of our spirit. “He who is joined to the Lord is one in spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). But the Holy Spirit does not immediately take control of our soul or our body. A conflict develops between the Holy 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 conflict. 2 Corinthians 7:1 (NIV) says, “…let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (Also see 1 Thessalonians 5:23.) Even our spirit can be contaminated. But the primary battlefield is the soul and body, and especially the mind. That is why we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind.
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 NIV). In Romans, he puts the same thought even more strongly, “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:21-23). “The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). Peter also uses martial language, “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
Paul describes this conflict primarily in terms of the second and third ways of life, the way of license against the Spirit-filled way. But since the way of legalism also depends on the flesh, rather than the power of the Holy Spirit, the conflict he describes applies to that way of life also.
These passages speak primarily of conflict 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 speaks of the “carnal” mind. Colossians 2:18 speaks of one who is “vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.”
In general, our actions originate in the soul—the mind, will and emotions—and then manifest themselves in the physical. 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 8:5-7 (NIV) 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.”
What is our mind set on? The question is very important.
We are talking about spiritual conflict that goes on inside us. It is with this internal conflict that 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 primarily deals. Paul speaks of demolishing strongholds and arguments, and of taking thoughts captive to obey Christ. This whole passage is concerned very largely with our thought life. 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 to take every thought captive to obey Jesus Christ. The battle is within us. It is in our minds, our wills and our emotions, but primarily in our minds.
God does not want us to be “double-minded” (literally, two-souled, dipsuchos) (James 1:8). (Also see 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 inward parts” (Psalm 51:6 KJV). “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts: And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24 KJV). Scripture “is a discerner of the thoughts and intents 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. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (I Thessalonians 5:23-24). God is “able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). (Also see Hebrews 13:20-21; 1 Corinthians 1:8-9.) God is able, he is faithful, and he will do it!
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 “sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). (Also see 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).
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 now works in the sons of disobedience” (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 Holy Spirit.
The resolution to this inner conflict consists in our total submission to God. (See Chapter 16.) We need to become slaves to God rather than slaves to sin (Romans 6:13, 19). We need to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1). It is as we become totally submitted to the Holy Spirit within us that the inner conflict is finally resolved.
I want to emphasize again that this inner conflict occurs primarily after we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior and have received the Holy Spirit in our spirit. 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.
HOW DO WE GO ABOUT
I think what I have just said is the key. We need to submit ourselves 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? (See Romans 6:16.) We cannot have it both ways. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). (Also see 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 is to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might” (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, his full weapons (Ephesians 6:11); he has given us spiritual weapons that have divine power (2 Corinthians 10:4). But we have to put on the armor and use the weapons. We do all we can (Ephesians 6:13), and then put our trust in God.
What is our part? Here are some suggestions that have impressed me as important. There are undoubtedly others that could be mentioned. Different things work better for different people, 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? I believe that God, speaking through Paul, has given us a clear 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.
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 Holy 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?” Many young people, today, wear something that says, “What would Jesus do?”
Winston Churchill 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 to train ourselves to be godly! (See 1 Timothy 4:8; Hebrews 5:14.)
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. Jesus told his disciples to persist in prayer (Luke 18:1-8; 11:5-8). God has told us, “You will seek Me, and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). (Also see Deuteronomy 4:29; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 119:10.) 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 do it.
We need to seek with all our heart. We need to seek fervently (Psalm 42:1-2). We need to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), to make every effort to be holy (Hebrews 12:14). God does not want us to be lukewarm or halfhearted. He wants an intensity of seeking.
Keep a Balanced View of God
I have written earlier of the need to keep a balanced view between God as a God of love and as a God of justice. (See Chapter 5.) If we focus too heavily on God’s justice, we tend to fall into the way of legalism. If we focus too heavily on God’s love and his unmerited favor, we can fall into the way of license. Living by the Holy Spirit requires a balanced view of God.
Respond 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 must accustom ourselves to responding to the nudges and prods of the Holy Spirit. 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).
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 those who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and is able to save us (James 1:21). It means devoting time to praise, worship and prayer. It means thinking on those things that are good, noble, etc. (Philippians 4:8-9). It means doing all that we can to dwell in the secret place of the Most High (Psalm 91:1).
Scripture tells us, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). The best protection against sinful living is to clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). I do not yet fully understand what he means, but I think he is talking about a kind of relationship with Jesus that comes only from a radical commitment to Jesus Christ.
The goal of the Spirit-led life is to have our character become like God’s character. In order to do that, we need to spend time with God (through prayer, worship, Scripture, etc.) so that we can come to know what God is like. Unless we do that, we cannot expect to live by the Spirit.
Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). “Do not quench the Spirit” (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 NIV). 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.
We need always to be alert (1 Peter 5:8). “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). We need to be aware of the devices and schemes of the devil (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 devil. The process of taking captive every thought 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.
Guard Our Thoughts
Scripture tells us to take all of our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is something we must do constantly. The devil 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 the devil, 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. In the spiritual realm, when we accept and agree with the thoughts the devil tries to plant in us, we are giving aid and comfort to our spiritual enemy. We are committing spiritual treason. In my experience, this has been a major battleground.
We need to decide what we will think about (Romans 8:5). What have we set our minds on? What do we want to set our minds on? Where does God want us to set our minds? We need to keep asking these questions. 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,” and then deliberately change the focus of our thinking. I cannot emphasize this too much.
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 devil discourage you by your failures!
A baseball game is not lost because one error is committed. Men of courage do not give up a goal because of one setback. The important thing is not whether you have slipped up or suffered a setback. The important thing is whether, after a setback, you can pick yourself up and get going again, with a renewed determination.
Do Not Give the Devil a Place
We must not “give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). Just before his arrest, Jesus said, “The ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me” (John 14:30). We need to try to be like that, and give our spiritual 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.
A PERSONAL APPLICATION
Perhaps I can make this more real by a personal application in my own life. I have cancer. It started in my colon, and spread to the liver and lungs. The medical prognosis is not good.
We (my wife and I) decided to do everything the doctors recommended, but to put our primary faith in God. I know that God 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 have spent quite a bit of time in worship, praise, prayer, and listening to videos and tapes that may be helpful. Many people are praying for my healing.
I then came to realize that, if I am expecting 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 illness is an attack from the devil, and, if I want the devil 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 (NIV), 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.”
During family prayer one evening, 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 devil, and that by accepting them and agreeing with them, I was giving aid and comfort to my spiritual 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 and other ungodly thoughts come, I simply say, “I have set before you life and death… Now choose life.” (See 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 devil will give up easily. But they do not stay with me long. I think this is part of what it means to live by the Spirit. Some things we gradually grow in as we increasingly focus our attention on God. Other things we have to consciously identify and make a determined decision to throw off, reject, get rid of.
I also resolved to love and trust God no matter what happens, like the three young men who were thrown into the fiery furnace. (See Daniel 2:48-3:30.) So I have had to refuse to allow thoughts that undermine my confidence in God’s character.
Things in our lives that are contrary to the Holy Spirit do not always go away so 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 NIV). Throwing 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 all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).