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The Way We Grow: Part II
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Flesh


The Way We Grow: Part II

Our Part: Being Filled with His Spirit

Now we get to a “this is your part” area. The influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is somewhat contingent on our cultivation of his presence and influence. That influence can be like the slow intravenous drip beside a hospital bed, or like a flowing river.

Let me give you an example. Have you ever been to a party where the atmosphere just seemed to cultivate lust: darkness, the conversations, flirting, what people were wearing, alcohol, music, and, yes, even lava lamps (I’d better stop. I’m beginning to get aroused.). There is an atmosphere that cultivates this influence. Now, let me tell you about the Holy Spirit’s influence, but first, let’s get out of this party.

There, that’s better, I couldn’t even think in there. We can cultivate greater sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s influence when we do things that involve him. Spend time with God daily. Pray and rely on God throughout the day. Give thanks to God throughout the day. Sing or listen to Christian music. Spend time with other Christians. Memorize Scripture. Praise God for who he is. Get involved in ministry. These things turn your heart into a spiritual frat party. They cultivate your receptiveness to the Holy Spirit.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:18-20).

(For more on this cultivation, read the article on “Being Filled with the Spirit.”)

So, God works in you to will and to act, but you have a role in cultivating his presence and creating an environment in your heart that heightens his influence.

Our Part: Habitual Obedience

Now, if we follow the story of Jericho, you will note that the Israelites were given the significant task of doing laps around the city. The laps seem pointless, don’t they? But, there is a point in the pointlessness. Faith and obedience are critical to victory, but it is—in the final analysis—God who provides the victory.

Let’s look again at our Philippians passage: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

God is working in us to will and to act. Our role, however, is to make a habit of what God is doing in us through acts of obedience. We are to work out what God is working in us. It is through willful actions and choices that God changes our character. We cease to be the sort of people who sin in particular areas. We become the sort of people who turn aside from those sins. This is a major role we play in our sanctification—to make “right choices” which act out what God is doing in us. In the war on sin, habitual obedience can take different roles. Here are a few of them:

Spiritual Disciplines

Spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, we could consider “practice” choices (though they serve other functions). When you haven’t eaten for several days, your flesh begins to scream for food—Wendy’s hamburgers—to be specific. But you learn to say, “No” to your desires, and if you give in and have Biggie fries you haven’t sinned—practice choices.

Choices to Avoid Temptation

If I were an alcoholic—which I’m not, thank you very much—I might not have the ability to turn down a drink when one is put in my face. But, I can choose not to rent an apartment over a liquor store. You may not have the ability to refrain from making poor choices while on the Internet late at night, but you have a choice of whether to get on the Internet late at night in the first place. Habitual obedience—when fighting particularly vexing sins—will often be fought and won on the choices you make to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

Choices to Be Open and Honest About Sin

Habitual obedience to be open and honest about your struggles and to bring others into them before, during, or after, will play a critical role in seeing victory over specific sins.

Choices to Stop Before Completing the Sin

In the war against sin, the first victories are often partial ones. Yet, over time, stopping yourself in the act, and ceasing to follow-through can be the turning point of the battle. Habitual obedience—choosing to stop—breaks old habits and begins to create new ones. It is the start of a change in your character from being the sort of person who does that, to the sort of person who doesn’t.

These choices will turn God’s work in you into a changed character. Like the story of the Israelites at the battle of Jericho, it is God who will give the victory. But, your obedience—like the Israelites walking around Jericho—plays a critical part.

God’s Part: The Timing

Read these verses that relate to God giving Israel possession of the land:

I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run …But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you (Ex 23:27,29).

When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers…be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deut. 6:10-12).

You may say to yourself (after you have entered the land), My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me (Deut. 8:17).

Haven’t you ever thought, “Why doesn’t God just change me and make me different?” Well, he doesn’t, pretty much for the same reasons he didn’t give the Israelites the land all at once. You would forget the enslaving power of sin. You would begin to believe that it had been your strength and will power that brought victory over sin. You’d lose your dependence upon the Lord. You wouldn’t use your new freedom responsibly. You would never fully appreciate what you’d been delivered from. You would be far less thankful … and the list could go on.

There is also a principle of ownership. Every acre you’ve bloodied yourself to recapture and annex from the enemy carries with it a sense of ownership that can be appreciated no other way. When God says, “But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate, …” he seems to be saying that if he simply gave it to us, we would never fully possess, or own it. There are important lessons of growth that accompany every battle, so you don’t want to fast forward through the process. Actually I know you probably really do, but God loves you too much to let you have the remote control.

Your Part and God’s Part: A Commitment to Fight

As the Israelites took possession of the land, there was tendency, over time, for the Israelites to get tired of fighting, especially when victory was elusive. It became tempting to say, “Okay, since we’re never going to get rid of you, why don’t you just take a tiny portion of the land, and not bother anyone.” They sought a truce. Likewise, over time, and in the face of many defeats, it can grow tempting to allow sin to set up camp in your life. You might want to call a truce. Look at Numbers 33:55:

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land, where you will live.

God required them to persevere in the fight for the land. Likewise, he requires us to persevere in our fight for holiness. Through a variety of means, God motivates us to this end. He gives us encouragement, a fresh motivation, renews our hearts and minds, and restores our zeal. Our part is to repent when we have settled for mediocrity or become apathetic. We are to confess and ask for a renewed heart to keep fighting. Our part is to persevere in pursuing God. Repentance, confession, humbling ourselves, and pursuing God are the vehicles to renewed zeal, not mustering more effort in a battle (an important nuance of the collaboration).

God’s Part: Discipline

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds (Judges 6:1-3).

One would assume that having entered the land, Israel’s days of bondage and slavery were gone forever—em, no! In fact, due to a failure to fully take the land, Israel is turned over to bondage. God disciplined Israel, and this discipline often took the form of enslavement.

One of my favorite ads that I think brings out the enslaving nature of sin, was put out by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). The visual is of a half-poured drink sitting next to a bottle of alcohol. The copy runs behind the glass, in a list, finally disappearing into the drink, reading:

This drink cost: $2.95, a marriage, a car, two children, a house ...

As God’s children, his part in the holiness process is discipline. Just like with a child, discipline and consequences help us to move beyond certain behavior. Unlike most parents, God’s discipline is never done in anger but always out of love and for our growth. God disciplines us in a variety of ways, but a major way can be allowing a certain degree of bondage to a sin.

Bondage carries with it some important lessons. It is a prerequisite for a deep understanding of God’s grace. That deep understanding can mean knowing, really knowing, that without Christ we are bound by sin. It can be the key that unlocks the dynamics of the “Spirit-filled” life—learning to depend on God’s resources to fight against sin. And, it causes us to despise our master—which, when the master is sin—bondage then, can be an important component in forsaking certain sin.

Summary

The fight for your holiness is a partnership. Each battle is different, but we have tried to look at some of the major ways this partnership plays out. There are other nuances to be sure, but if you can get your mind around these, it will explain a great deal of what you’ve experienced in your battle for purity. Your continuing battle will teach you further dynamics and dimensions of this wonderful partnership. It’s like learning to dance. As you grow, you’ll pick up the rhythm of the partnership. Eventually, you’ll stop stepping on God’s toes as he leads you to where you need to be led.

____________________________________________

Excerpt from the book Flesh available through New Life Resources 1-800-827-2788.

The Way We Grow: Part I

Rick James

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