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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 10.30am service, 2004-01-25

Text: Galatians 5:16-25

Since the year began we have been meditating on the theme of 'Growing in the Image of Christ.' This theme emphasizes that our primary aim in life as Christians is to be fully conformed to the image of Christ. This involves putting off the old man, and putting on the new man (a life characterized by holiness and righteousness). In last week's message we saw that God is most pleased when He can see this new man or image of Christ being formed in us. We also learned that this image of Christ is characterized by moral purity, brotherly love, and earning an honest living.

I. Hindrances to Your Spiritual Growth

But having said all that, we must also understand that it is not easy for anyone to grow in this image. In John Bunyan's classic book Pilgrim's Progress, the Christian life is portrayed as a journey that took the pilgrim through all kinds of terrain. There were blessed seasons of feasting on wise instruction, and walking in fellowship with other pilgrims, but there were also awful times when Pilgrim fell into the slough of despond, or was caught in Vanity Fair or imprisoned in the Castle of Despair. At times he had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fight with Apollyon, the devil. All this was meant to represent the Christian's pathway of spiritual growth, which is strewn with all kinds of dangers and temptations. There are three main hindrances to your spiritual growth.

Firstly, the attractions of the world may hinder you from growing in the image of Christ. There is always the pressure that comes from your peers and from society to follow the crowd, and do what everyone else around you is doing. Against this we are told in Romans 12:2 not to be conformed to this world. And in 1 John 2:15 we are told, 'Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.'

Besides the world, there is another strong hindrance to spiritual growth that we have to face, and that is the Devil. The Bible tells us that Satan is like a roaring lion, prowling about and seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). He may try to discourage or deceive you, and plant doubts and fears in your heart to slow down your spiritual progress. That is why you have to be very vigilant and 'Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.' (Ephesians 6:11)

Now, while the world and the devil may do much to hinder your spiritual growth, they are not the greatest hindrance to your spiritual growth. There is something that does its work of hindering you right from within you: The Desires of the flesh! What is the flesh? It is the remnant of the old selfish, sinful nature that we used to have before we were saved. It is sometimes called 'the old man' (as we saw in Elder Khoo's message two weeks ago Ephesians 4:22). 

We know that when a person is born again, all his sins are removed and he stands fully forgiven before God. Sin no longer has power to rule his life, and so he can now freely choose to be righteous and to do good. However, the old nature that desires to sin is still present, like a little remnant left behind. Thus, there is usually a struggle with this old sinful nature. Even the godliest of saints have never been totally free of this struggle with the flesh. The Bible openly displays the spiritual struggles that godly men had with this old sinful nature even though they attained a high degree of spiritual maturity: men like Noah, Moses, Elijah, David, and the apostles Peter and Paul.

The same thing is true of us - although we are saved from sin, we still have to struggle against the flesh. We have a choice in this struggle: You can either choose to do nothing at all to subdue the desires of the flesh and simply allow it to make you sin. Or, you can refuse to let the flesh have its way. The easiest thing of course is to do nothing. When that happens, the flesh will soon start expressing its sinful and selfish desires again. Then all the sins will appear in your life. Galatians 5:19 tells us that the works of the flesh are 'Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like' This is a list of all the worst possible sins that can result when believers choose to do nothing, and simply allow the flesh to have full expression in their lives. In whatever variety of ways the flesh expresses itself, we must always view them with great seriousness and concern.

And so, if you can see any works of the flesh in your own life, whether at home, or at work or even in church, please do not take them lightly. At all costs the flesh must be dealt with and kept subdued! And even though you may face a daily struggle to do this and may at times be very discouraged, you must never give up your efforts to subdue the flesh. 

And this cannot be done in your own strength. You need all the help you can get. To be precise, you need God's help to overcome the flesh. And the good news is that God's help is available to you through the Holy Spirit. We must really thank the Lord for this wonderful provision of the Holy Spirit. He is indispensable to subduing the flesh within us and to growing into the image of Christ. 

II. The Role of the Holy Spirit in Your Spiritual Growth

Unfortunately there are some strange erroneous teachings about what we ought to do so that the Holy Spirit will do these things in us. On one hand there are some who teach that it means losing all control of oneself to Him. The favourite slogan used by some preachers who teach this is, 'Let go and let God!' To them, this means that you must empty yourself completely and let the Spirit of God take over all your faculties completely, without your involvement. This concept is dangerous. In fact, it is almost like that of demon-possesion, in which an evil spirit takes over control of the body of the unbeliever who has yielded himself to it, and the unbeliever does not know at all what he is doing!

Some Christians have tried to apply the same thing to the Holy Spirit, believing that yielding to Him is a mystical experience that cannot be explained (e.g. being 'slain' by the Spirit). But some of them have ended up doing strange things: For example, a person who just 'lets go' and does whatever impulses he thinks the 'Holy Spirit' gives to him, puts on a red sock on his left foot and blue sock on his right foot, goes out to an open field, and lies down on it for half an hour, comes back, and so on - doing everything on impulse. That is not the way to yield oneself to the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit does not work like the automatic pilot mechanism on an airplane. He does not work in us without us being fully conscious and involved as well. 

On the other extreme, there are those who believe that there is no need for us to make any effort to yield ourselves to the Spirit's control, since the Holy Spirit is already dwelling in us from the time of our salvation. They say that all we need to do is to consciously obey the commands of Scripture all the time, and the Holy Spirit will automatically start to work in us without our knowing it at all or seeking for His help. The problem with this is that it does not take into account the fact that even after salvation, there is still a struggle in the Christian when it comes to obeying God's commands.

Even the Apostle Paul himself confessed about having this personal spiritual struggle in Romans 7:19 'For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.' But in Romans 8:13 Paul describes the way to deal with this spiritual struggle:' 'For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.' This shows that there must be a constant dependence or reliance on the Holy Spirit, for us to subdue the flesh.

II. Your Responsibilities to Walk in the Spirit

A. The Responsibility to Keep in Step with the Spirit 

How do we do this? One of the best passages that teaches this to us is Galatians 5:16-25. Let us look at how it begins: Galatians 5:16 'This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.' The command is repeated in v.25 'If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.'

Walking in the Spirit is a conscious process that has to go on as we go about our daily activities. It means submitting ourselves to the influence of the Holy Spirit to guide us, and to lead us. Such submission can begin each day with a simple heart-felt prayer: 'Lord, I realize that I cannot succeed in living a holy life without Your help. And so I want to submit myself now to the Holy Spirit's influence; let me walk in the Spirit and be led by Him at all times.'

I make it a habit to pray for the filling of the Spirit at the beginning of each day. And I would like all of you to make it your personal habit as well. And when you pray such a prayer, you can be confident that God will answer it, because of what our Lord Jesus Himself promised about the Holy Spirit in Luke 11:13 'If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?'

But you should not expect to feel different just after you have prayed for this. You should not expect to experience a sudden 'rushing mighty wind' filling your soul. As you walk in the Spirit, you will still feel normal - that you are the one doing all your usual routine work throughout the day. The difference is that you will find an unusual ability that you did not have on your own before to produce the fruit of the Spirit which is mentioned in vv.22,23 of our passage. This fruit comprises of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Besides these things, when you walk in the Spirit, you will also find that you have an enhanced desire to obey God, and to please Him, rather than to please yourself in whatever you do. 

But this walk in the Spirit has to be maintained. The word used in v.25 for 'walking in the Spirit' can also be translated as 'keeping in step with the Spirit' This idea is similar to marching in a contingent in a parade. When you march in a contingent, you need to consciously keep doing one thing all the time: Be sure that you are always in step with the rest in the contingent. 

When everyone steps on the right foot, you better be stepping on the right foot also. But if you find that you are on your left foot, then you are out of step. And if you are out of step, you will stand out from the rest like a sore thumb and the eyes of everyone in the audience will be on you! And so you need to get back into step immediately, or risk spoiling the whole parade. 

Let us apply this to walking in the Spirit. How do you know that you have gone out of step with the Holy Spirit? When you find yourself lapsing back into thoughts and actions that are worldly, sinful and unworthy of Christ. The appearance of any the works of the flesh that are mentioned in vv.19-21 of our passage means that you have fallen out of step with the Holy Spirit 'Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings'. 

When you realise that any of these are present, even in your thoughts, you should get back in step with the Spirit. How do you do this? By confessing your sins to God, and praying once more to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The ideal situation is that you should walk in the Spirit at all times without any lapses. It is your responsibility to keep in step with the Spirit as much as possible. 

B. The Responsibility to Keep Feeding on the Word of God

In order to yield to the Spirit of God, it is also our responsibility to keep reading and learning from the Word of God. Let us remember that the Word of God is called the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:17. The Spirit of God uses His sharp two-edged sword to convict you of sins that are displeasing to Him (Hebrews 4:12), and that have caused you to fall out of step with Him. He also uses it to change you from within so that you can become more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). You also need to read the Scriptures daily, because the Spirit of God often uses this to lead and direct you to do His specific will for you. 

This is one of the wonderful results of being led by the Holy Spirit. He will show you what you need to do, and the way that He wants you to take. How does He do this? It may come while you are reading a passage of Scripture prayerfully, and even one that you have read many times before. 

But unlike the previous times that you read it, certain verses seem to stand out this time, and be personally directed at you, and you wonder why it is so. Admittedly, this may just be a subjective feeling. But you should not rule out the possibility that the Holy Spirit is leading you through His Word. If the same thing happens a few more times as you read the Scriptures prayerfully, this is very likely to be from the Holy Spirit and not your own imagination. He is using His Word to guide and direct you in what you should do. Then you must obey the Holy Spirit's leading. 

This is the way that He has led some Christians into fulltime service. It was not through a sudden rushing emotional impulse, but through applying the Word of God to them several times in a very personal manner over a period of time. This has been the testimony of many dedicated men of God. It was also my own experience 22 years ago when the Lord called me to serve Him in the fulltime ministry. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit may use His Word to guide you in making some important but perplexing decisions in your life. And the way to confirm that it is His leading and not something else, is through repeated occurrences of the very same thoughts from His Word. The Holy Spirit's leading bears the character of consistency.

Another way that the Holy Spirit leads us is through memorized verses of Scripture. If you have memorized certain verses of Scripture and treasured them up in your heart, you may find that the most appropriate verses come to your mind when you are dealing with a situation where you need the Holy Spirit's guidance. 

Do you remember how Jesus countered the Devil's attacks by the use of Scripture verses He had memorized? (Matthew 4:1-10) I have found that in moments when I had to counsel someone who had a difficult problem, or when I had to answer a question when witnessing to someone, the right verses came to my mind. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to remember what He has written in His Word, and what we ought to use from His Word for each situation we face. 

This phenomenon is sometimes called 'the prompting of the Holy Spirit'. Jesus spoke about it in Luke 21:12-15 as something that will help Christians even in times of severe persecution 'But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.'

This was true of Stephen, the first martyr who was persecuted in the New Testament Church. Acts 7 records the powerful message from God's Word that He preached without any prior preparation when he was tried before the Jewish council. And the message he gave shows how well he had read and memorized the Holy Scriptures! What was it that enabled him to remember God�s Word and use it so well? Verse 55 of that chapter says that he was 'full of the Holy Ghost'. Stephen was evidently walking in the Spirit at the time that the Holy Spirit prompted him what to speak from the Word of God!

And this brings together the two responsibilities we have seen that we need to fulfill in order to be led by the Spirit of God - our responsibility to keep in step with the Spirit consistently, and our responsibility to keep feeding on the Word of God. Dearly beloved, if you are faithful in fulfilling these two responsibilities well, your life will be yielded to the Holy Spirit, and God can use you to accomplish much for His glory! But if you do not fulfill these responsibilities, you may end up grieving the Holy Spirit. This leads us to the final part of our message:

III. The Result of Not Walking in the Spirit

Ephesians 4:30 tells us, 'And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.' How do you know when you have grieved the Spirit of God? You will not be left in the dark about it. The Holy Spirit Himself will speak to your heart - through your conscience, which is renewed and made sensitive by Him, and serves as a reliable warning bell (1 Timothy 1:5,19). 

One verse that shows how the Spirit of God uses the conscience is Romans 9:1 'I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost' 

When you have grieved the Holy Spirit, your guilty conscience makes you feel miserable with the guilt of your sins. You know that He is offended, and you may even sense a deep heaviness in your heart (eg. Psalm 32:3,4). When this happens, you must come to the Lord in repentance, putting away the sins that have grieved Him. Then the alarm bell will stop ringing, and instead of guilt and heaviness, a sense of inward peace will be restored to your heart. 

If you do not respond to the warning of the Spirit of God through your conscience you end up in a backsliden state Then you may experience the chastisement of God. This was what Israel experienced as a nation during the 40 years in the wilderness, since they did not respond to the repeated warnings given to them through Moses for grieving the Lord, He chastised them quite severely, several times.

The passage that speaks about this is Isaiah 63:9,10 'In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit: therefore He was turned to be their enemy, and He fought against them.' When Paul wrote Ephesians 4:30 'grieve not the Holy Ghost' he may have had this very passage in mind. And so, when a child of God today grieves the Holy Spirit, he may experience the same thing. As this verse mentions, God may turn against him for a time, and remove all his blessings from him. He may then experience failure, loss, weakness, or sickness, and in extreme cases, even physical death. 

However, we must be careful never to jump to conclusions that anyone who is going through severe trials must have grieved the Holy Spirit. Job suffered the most severe trials on earth, but it was not because he had grieved the Spirit of God. But it is also true that trials may indicate to us that the Holy Spirit is grieved by us. 

Hence, we should examine ourselves: If you have not been walking in the Spirit as you should for some time, and you do not heed the warnings He gives to you through your conscience, and then you experience difficult trials, this may well be the Holy Spirit telling you that He is grieved with you.

I trust that this will show you how important it is to walk in the Spirit. This morning we have learned what it means to do this. We have seen that it is not something that happens automatically or without our personal involvement.

We are much involved in fulfilling two important responsibilities: Firstly, to keep in step with the Spirit, and secondly, to keep feeding on the Word of God.

Let us be careful to fulfill these two responsibilities well, for if we keep walking in the Spirit, our lives will soon be blessed by His leading and guidance, and will be used for God's glory. But if do not walk in the Spirit, we will then produce the works of the flesh, and end up grieving the Holy Spirit instead. May the Lord help us therefore to make a firm commitment to keep walking in the Spirit.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25