“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (Gal.5:16-17).
Put off and Put on?
“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth…” (Col. 3:5), “…put off concerning the former conversation [manner of living] the old man…” (Eph. 4:22), “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communications out of your mouth…” (Col.3:8). “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh…” (Rom.13:14), “…put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”(Eph. 4:24), “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering…” (Col.3:12). The age-old question: Exactly HOW and by what means are we to obey and implement the commands of the above scripture?
Many sincere believers, motivated by the desire to serve the Lord, fall into the trap of believing they can will themselves spiritually through diligence and self-determination. In reality, our ability or good intentions are no substitute for God’s power; to believe otherwise is a form of self-deception (lack of “spiritual understanding” Col.1:9), which complicates and prolongs the struggle. This is not to say that walking in the Spirit doesn’t involve the will; it certainly does; however, not in the sense of self-reliance but surrender.
The Myth of Self-sufficiency
In every generation, there are those who genuinely love the Lord and fervently desire to obey, serve, and please Him, to live a Christ-like life. Yet anyone who has tried (on their own) to obey the above scriptures and thereby “walk in the Spirit” knows how frustrating and self-defeating it can be. However, those who faithfully persist eventually learn a paradoxical truth; yielding is the essential prerequisite to spiritual living.
On the surface, the preceding scriptural commands to “put off” the “old man” and “put on” the “new man” seem solely an appeal to moral excellence, encouraging self-improvement through self-restraint. However, regarding spiritual living, we do not ( in and of ourselves) possess the necessary power to subdue the inherent sin nature; resist the world and the devil.
In reality, we cannot entirely control our actions, thoughts, or emotions; willpower is simply inadequate, and only by God’s power can that be achieved. Anyone attempting to reform their fallen flesh knows the futility of such an effort; the resulting frustration feeds our helplessness. Fact is, we have no righteousness of our own and are incapable of consistent holiness, powerless to cease from sin altogether. Consider, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” (Rom.7:18-21).
Our own sense of self-restraint is insufficient; ironically, our fortitude is the cause of our failure! The indwelling Holy Spirit must fortify our lives. The reason for this is twofold: First, the desires, lusts, and fleshly appetites are much stronger than our willpower. Simply put, the flesh cannot overcome the flesh.
Second, self-improvement through self-restraint inevitably leads to self-righteousness and self-reliance, which is by nature a subtle form of self-deception. “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). Just as the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, self-defeat is God’s means to bring us to surrender. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). If we could overcome in our own power, then it would be our glory “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another…” (Isa. 42:8). “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7).
“…the power that worketh in us” (Holy Spirit) provides conviction to recognize the inherent insufficiency and awareness of the dynamics necessary to destroy the delusion of self-sufficiency. Walking in the Spirit is gradually learned, not earned. Remember the words of Jesus, “the flesh profiteth nothing…” (John 6:63). “Self-reliance is the cause of all defeats.” Nee
The Doctrine of Dependency
The Scriptures declare, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; our sufficiency is of God…” (2 Cor. 3:5.) This is a paradoxical truth, a fixed principle of spiritual life. Therefore, all who desire to obey and please the Lord must do so in His power: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us…” (Eph. 3:20). “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13). There is no other way!
Transformation is the result of realization; that is when we realize it’s not about us, that we are powerless to love, serve and obey God; when we finally learn that we cannot do God’s work by self-effort and self-wisdom, then, and only then, can we, “be strong in the Lord and the power of HIS might” (Eph.6:10) [Emphasis mine] “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and do of his good pleasure.” (Phil.2:13) [Emphasis mine]. Notice “work out” not “work for.” Something must be put in before it can work its way out, so“God puts into us all that He wants out of us.” The power, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col.1:27).
The Power of Abiding
As we spend time alone with God daily, allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly, we become increasingly attuned to His Presence within. “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
Consider the Savior’s command in (John 15:4-5): “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
The Christian life is a supernatural life that can only be lived by “Abiding in Christ”; maintaining an ongoing, intimate relationship with Him in His Word. Christ’s life is expressed through those who live in this vital union. Hence the apostle Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:16, “To reveal his Son in me…” The branches have no life or fruit of their own; they draw their life and vitality from their connection to the vine. No one, apart from this day by day, moment by moment abiding in Him, can live a fruitful Christian life. Spiritual living can only occur while habitually abiding in Christ; all that is outside the leading of God’s Spirit is futile.
The unyielded believer renders himself unusable in the sense of effectual service for the Lord. When walking after the flesh, we are not only spiritually barren but also like a city without walls (Prov. 25:28); spiritually defenseless; susceptible to all deception and error. The believer’s life work is to learn to not depend on his natural strength but instead trust Go’s power. The goal is to quietly, patiently learn to discern between the workings of Spirit, soul, and body. To distinguish between that which originates from the “old man” and that which emanates from the Holy Spirit. In living, speaking, thinking, praying, singing, praising, and worshiping, all must be brought under the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit by “…bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor.10:5).
There is no middle ground. It is impossible to be simultaneously led by the Spirit and the flesh. It is either one or the other; every child of God must make a choice. The simple, unavoidable truth: “And he [Jesus] said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). Spiritual truth becomes a practical reality when we surrender to the above command. The more we are concealed, the more of God’s power is revealed. “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15). The only effective way to serve God is to be “led by the Spirit of God”; to do so, you must be yielded to the Indwelling Holy Spirit.
“The only way [to walk in the Spirit] is by learning to accept, day by day, the actual conditions and tests permitted by God, by a continually repeated laying down of our own will and acceptance of his as it is presented to us in the form of the people with whom we have to live and work, and in the things which happen to us. Every acceptance of his will becomes an altar of sacrifice, and every surrender and abandonment of ourselves to his will is a means of furthering us on the way to the High Places to which he desires to bring every child of his while they are still living on the earth.” [Emphasis added] Preface (pg. #11) Hind’s Feet on High Places, Hannah Hurnard.
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24-25).
Picture credit: Discovery Baptist
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