Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Holy Spirit – Part 1

Back when I first sensed God's presence as an adult, I was taught that the third Person of the Trinity was responsible for sealing believers in Christ, and in opening up, and providing understanding of God's Word. These are very important things for Christians and right from the start I grew in appreciation and love for God, the Holy Spirit. I found it amazing how through repeated reading and studying of the Bible, passages I understood one day a verse as meaning one thing, but then another day was revealed to me by the Holy Spirit to provide a better, clearer and entirely different meaning.


But I came to see the Holy Spirit as having an even a greater role, a more equal role in the Trinity, as I started attending Hosanna Church, and through its use of the Alpha course. Initially, I sensed God's presence as I worshipped God through song. Yet, I wanted more. And as I studied about the Holy Spirit through God's Word, I came to a better understanding of the Holy Spirit's work. I have seen the miraculous answer to prayer. I have seen gifts of the Holy Spirit given out according to God's Will. And the biggest miracle of all is how a skeptical, know-it-all like me came to a saving faith.


Perhaps one day I will discuss whether the Holy Spirit's gifts described in the New Testament (most prominently in 1 Corinthians chapter 12) are still active. But instead today I wanted to discuss the battle between the Holy Spirit in a believer's life and what is described as our "flesh", the "old man", or simply our sinful nature and desires. The lead verse I wanted to use is the following:


But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17.)


So this verse in the 5th Chapter of Galatians speaks about a war that is going on in every believer's life - the Holy Spirit in a believer in Christ's life is fighting against the "desires of the flesh". All people have these desires of the flesh, but the last portion of this verse is most interesting: the Holy Spirit is working against our desires of the flesh "to keep you from doing the things you want to do." I hope you are amazed at this – we are all born with different yearnings and desires, and we call this our own personal human nature. How often is this called something that is bad, or something that we should struggle against? Instead, in our culture today, we hear things like Be True to Yourself, or as Frank Sinatra put it, he did it 'My Way', and this is somehow something good. But the Apostle Paul makes clear that doing it our way is a way that is opposed to God's Holy Spirit. The best 'you' is the one that walks by and with the Holy Spirit, and to avoid doing the things of your human nature. Are you struggling with something in your life?


We are commanded in Galatians 5:16 to "walk by the Spirit". And in Ephesians 5:18, we are to continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit. So how does a Christian do this? We are sealed with the Holy Spirit when we repent and are baptized into our life in Christ (Acts 2:38, Ephesians 4:30). Believers have the indwelling Spirit (Romans 8:11), but doubters / rejecters of Christ do not have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). We take in the Holy Spirit through His Word, through prayer, and through obedience to God's commands. And how do we know when we are not walking in the Spirit? Galatians Chapter 5 is very helpful in its description: we know we are living in our sinful nature when there are things like this in our daily walk - sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and things like these (Galatians 5:19-21). Don't look at this list and see the worst actions, and think that you are OK for not doing the worst things. Instead, ask God to reveal if there is anything in this list that He wants you to remove from your life. If you are walking in anything on this list be warned: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).


And of course, the famous list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians Chapter 5 stands as a stark contrast of the life of a Christ-follower: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When these characteristics are seen by others in your life, and Christ is receiving all of the glory for this, then you know you are walking in the Holy Spirit.


My take away for you is this – What are you working on to grow in your obedience as a disciple in Christ. God makes clear that the process of sanctification continues until the day that we go to be with the Lord. So is there something that you are struggling against, or are you writing it off as merely being your 'human nature'? And do you trust that God knows how best to live your life? Here is one more great verse about walking in the Spirit, and not according to our own sinful nature:


12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 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, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God
are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14).


So walk by the Holy Spirit this Day, and may God bless you as you do this.


Edward Oleander said...

Okay, someone has to play the Devil's Advocate, the cynic if you will. Tom, you've hit one of the true foundations of the Christian (in fact ANY) church... That without which there can be no church, because without the feelings of guilt and worthlessness that the lesson of Galatians teaches us, there is no need for salvation.

Now enter the cynic (small "c") who states that Gal 5 is really the crystallization of the churches attempts to control us, to take away our confidence in ourselves to the point that we will follow the church without question, to our own individual destruction.

After all, isn't what you've described the very method used by every military and cult in the world? Break you down, crush your spirit, then hand you something of THEIR choosing to fill the void.

The proof is in the pudding, as it were. How can one not see the Gal 5 lesson without suspicion when we have so many examples of the wickedness it produces?

There is a series of hurdles that every non-believer has in front of him. Any one of these will prevent a person from becoming a Christian (different hurdles block other religions, but the concepts rarely differ).

To my mind, Christianity has a few key hurdles:
1) Original Sin
2) Inherent Sin
3) The cause of Evil
4) Why salvation through Christ is needed

These are thoroughly intertwined, and so difficult to treat, but the Gal 5 lesson is tied into all of them, so makes a great discussion piece. So how do you respond to the cynic's suspicions about the passages you cited?

Bryan & Meggan said...

Two thoughts for you:

First, I've always found it interesting that Scripture affirms that all Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them and yet we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit, which means those are two different things.

Second, many theological works on the Holy Spirit include sections on his humility in that he is the least-revealed Person of the Trinity and his entire ministry points to Christ rather than himself.


tom wolff said...

Hi Bryan,

Thanks for your thoughts. I like your distinction between being sealed with the Holy Spirit and being "filled with the Spirit".

Now I have heard teaching on Ephesians 5:18's command to believers that we should be filled with the Holy Spirit. The teaching says that because the verb here in Greek (plerousthe)is a passive imperative, that a proper reading of this is: we should continually being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Any ideas on how we do this?

tom wolff said...


I am not sure why you think that God's Word saying that we should struggle against sin is something that is cult-like behavior. Don't you think people of character should spend time in their lives to fight against sexual sins, anger, jealousy, fighting, and drunkeness? Galatians 5 describes how followers of Christ are to do this - by "walking" in the Holy Spirit, which is opposed to these desires of the flesh. You speak of a cult's indoctrination of their followers to tear them down to make them become unthinking followers.

While Galatians 5 speaks of helping believers in Christ to grow in love. In joy. In peace. In goodness. In gentleness. In self-control. All positive things that any person of character would want. I'm sorry but your initial argument doesn't seem to have much thought behind it. Don't we all want more of the good things in our life, and less of the bad?

But your second point is more interesting - The hurdles for anyone becoming a Christian. Let me touch on one of your points (original sin) here - and I will move one of your other points (the exclusivnes of Christ) to a separate blog post.

Are people born basically good, or are they born rebellious, also called having original sin? I think people sin because we are by nature sinful. But do you have any thoughts that might suggest people are by nature good?

Bryan & Meggan said...

I would point to the verses following the imperative to be "filled with the Spirit". To be "filled with the Spirit" is to (at least):

1. ministering and worshiping with others (5:19)

2. a thankful attitude (5:20)

3. wives' submission and husbands love in the home (5:21-33)

4. a proper child-parent relationship (6:1-4)

5. proper workplace relationships(6:5-9)

and so forth.

To be "Spirit-drivenly" participating in those things is to be "filled with the Spirit"


tom wolff said...

Hey Bryan,

Great analysis of how we should be continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I think you have hit a homerun with your response.

Here is the text of Ephesians 5:18-20, with verse 18 teaching we should continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit:

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.(ESV)

So I just wanted to draw out a little more of what you said and what is contained in verse 19: singing praise to God fills up our Holy Spirit tank -a great way to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Verse 19 says we should sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and even make a melody in our hearts to God. You have made a thoughtful connection of these verses, and this has provided me with a new insight on this passage. Thank you!

Edward Oleander said...

"But your second point is more interesting - The hurdles for anyone becoming a Christian. Let me touch on one of your points (original sin) here - and I will move one of your other points (the exclusivnes of Christ) to a separate blog post.

Are people born basically good, or are they born rebellious, also called having original sin? I think people sin because we are by nature sinful. But do you have any thoughts that might suggest people are by nature good?

Answering your questions touches on more than just one of the hurdles I mentioned. Part of this might be more suited to the separate post you will be writing.

I know I ramble on in my posts, so this will have to be a shortened and simplified version, and I will keep it to Christianity (or at least the God of Abraham, whom I often term the Desert God).


I don't believe humans are born Good or Evil. We are born human. We are descended from omnivorous, pack-oriented scavengers. It is in our instincts to be territorial, and to hoard and defend resources. If you start with that as your base assumption, then a lot of "sinful" human behavior becomes explainable in naturalistic terms.

As we became more thoughtful creatures, we learned to imagine beyond the existent. We came to realize that there were loftier ideals than just feeding, mating and defending immediate living space. Only then did more modern concepts of morality, including Good and Evil, come into being. Thus was Philosophy born, and the conflict between what we ARE vs. what we COULD BE was also born.

The quest for morality has met with considerable success. Without a more or less modern idea of Good, and the social engineering basics that come with it, we could never have evolved large cities and societies. That we still fight wars over resources shows how our inner natures are still there, but we HAVE made progress. Most of humanity now agrees that we should all act better towards each other.

Christianity both aids and impedes progress on this front. The aid comes from getting a lot of people to agree on a few basic rules for getting along. It began with the Ten Commandments and was expanded by both the OT and NT texts. The Bible gives ideas like the Golden Rule a lot of favorable airplay.

The impediments fostered by the principles of Christianity are ironic because they demonize the very process that gives rise those principles in the first place! We are pack animals. Packs obey authoritarian structures. Religions seek to become the authority by which we live. Religions take advantage of our desire for pack authority to assert their own authority. Christianity ATTACKS the very pack-nature it USES and NEEDS by calling our natural instincts "sinful," and giving us rules to get around this Evil, sinful nature of ours. The declaration of our nature as "sinful" sets the stage for using guilt and shame to shape our attitudes and behaviors, which are CLASSIC brain-washing and mind control tactics used by the military and cults (as I said before).


Christianity, having set us up to feel guilty and ashamed of ourselves and our "sinful" nature, offers us only one possible solution to the guilt and shame: God.

In doing so, Christianity attempts to take credit for all of the wonderful ideas people have had for creating better societies. Christianity tells us God created morality and the definition of all that is Good. To the non-Christian, this is such blatant self-serving propaganda that it becomes an insurmountable Hurdle to accepting God. Declaring that we need "salvation" and that it can ONLY be found through Christ just reinforces the earlier propaganda about God defining Good.

I thought, as I mentioned years ago, that James Rachels did a wonderful and extremely logical job of explaining why perfectly reasonable systems of Good morality can be formed independent of God. I consider myself an ethical person, by and large, and have no need of a deity to tell the difference between right and wrong.

The Hurdle today is higher than ever... I hope this lays out the ideas I barely skimmed over in my first post, and seems a little better thought out (even though you still may not agree with my conclusions).


CHICAGO (Reuters) - The discovery of a "frogamander," a 290 million-year-old fossil that links modern frogs and salamanders, may resolve a longstanding debate about amphibian ancestry, Canadian scientists said on Wednesday.
The LONG LONG list of transitional creatures just KEEPS GETTING LONGER...

Peace and shade,