The Holy Spirit Empowers Us To Obey God
Galatians 5:16-26, Philippians 2:12-13
If you’re the right kind of person, paintball can be a really fun sport to play. Players get dressed up in cammo and dark clothes, (usually several layers because paintballs do hurt when they hit you), wear special masks to protect their eyes and face, and then, divided into two teams, they play what basically amounts to a game of capture the flag in a wooded area or field with bunkers and barriers and other things to hide behind. The goal is to move across the field, capture the other team’s flag, and make it back safely to your own base. When a player gets hit with a paintball and it splatters on them, their hit and out of the game. If you’re not the right kind of person, I know it sounds dumb. But it really is a lot of fun.
There’s now a kind of paintball match called X-ball. It’s played with sophisticated paintball guns that shoot 13 paintballs per second, and the matches are quick and exciting. They’re also chaotic. The X-ball concept depends on five players from each team shooting at their opponents and working their way up a large outdoor field. Each team has a “coach” located in a place where they can spot the other team’s positions, and they can yell them out to their players. The goal is to “kill” (hit with a paintball) the other team’s players so you can capture their flag.
But it’s not an easy task. The main problem is that in the midst of thousands of flying paintballs it’s tough to spot your opponents. The other team can crouch and dive behind bunkers and barriers. To make matters even worse, as your team’s coach shouts the right information about your opponents’ locations, the other team’s fans start yelling false information.
It sounds like cheating, doesn’t it? Intentionally trying to confuse the other team. But it’s actually a part of the game. It’s called “counter-coaching.” Each team’s fans are trying to distract the other team with false information. Players just have to deal with it. They have to block out the distractions and focus on the voice of their own coach.
Seems like the world is full of counter-coaching these days, doesn’t it? Differing voices shouting differing things, all trying to get our attention, and our allegiance. Trying to get us to do something, cook, diet, exercise, reduce stress, THEIR way. Google anything, anything at all, and you’ll find about 15 differing opinions about whatever it is, and they aren’t even close to being the same. I’m convinced you can find someone out there touting the benefits of the all bacon diet. When I find it, by the way, I’m signing up. But regardless of the issue, whether it’s something health related, or something in politics, or morality and the right way to live, there are competing voices out there shouting at us, trying to get us to follow them. Most of those voices will mislead us.
But there is one voice that leads us on the path to life, and that is the voice of God. The problem is that it isn’t easy to listen for God’s voice. There is be plenty of “counter coaching” from the culture, from Satan, and from our own distracted hearts. As the people who play X-ball say, “That’s part of the game. We have to deal with it all the time.” And there’s only one way to combat spiritual counter-coaching: know the voice of Jesus, hanging on every word as we trust and obey him – even when every other voice is telling us to do something else.
In the Old Testament, God spoke directly at times, and through his prophets. In the New Testament, God spoke through Jesus. The voice of Jesus was the voice of God. And now, and this has been true since Jesus ascended into heaven, God speaks through the Holy Spirit. Turn with me to Philippians 2:12-13.
I know, this seems like a weird passage to look at, because it doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit directly at all. But it actually does. Paul tells us to grow in our ability to follow Jesus, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. He isn’t telling us to work FOR our salvation, but to work OUT our salvation. In other words, grow into the identity you have been given as a child of God, a follower of Jesus. And we can do that, we can grow in our desire and ability to follow Jesus, because God is at work in us. Paul says, “to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
To will and to work. Your will is your intention. It isn’t just your desire, but it includes that. It is what you want to do, and then, because of what you want to do, it is what you plan to do. And out of your will, the desire and plan, comes action – what you actually do. And God is at work “IN YOU, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” I like to play disc golf. So let’s say I wake up on a warm day this summer and decide I’m going to play disc golf after work that day. I have the desire to play. So, before I leave the house, I make sure to tell Becky that I am going to play a round after work. And I decide what course I think I want to play. I put my disc golf bag in my truck, and if I want someone to play with, I text that person to see if they want to meet me at the course to play. Desire has led to a plan. Intention. Will. And then, after work, I head out to the course to play. That’s the actual doing.
When you place your trust in Christ, God begins to “work IN you, both to will and to work for HIS good pleasure.” In other words, he begins to change your desires and intentions. Your will. Over time, our thoughts and emotions begin to come more in line with the thoughts and emotions of Christ. God also empowers you to begin to act in ways that are pleasing to him, actually following Jesus as you go through your day to day activities. So how does God do this? How does God “work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure?” Through the Holy Spirit, God living in you, Christ living in you. Flip back a few pages in your Bible to Galatians 5. Look at Vv. 16-18. This is where the rubber meets the road in the Christian life.
Walk by the Spirit. Pay attention to and follow the voice of the Holy Spirit, who is living IN you. Learn to obey God as God, through the Holy Spirit, speaks into your life. Just as the X-ball players have to learn to tune out the competing voices, the counter-coaching by learning to tune INTO the voice of their coach, to hear that voice above all others, even if the others are louder, so we have to learn to tune INTO the voice of our coach, the Holy Spirit, who is speaking the words of God, and the Word OF God (the Bible) to us.
The competing voices Paul calls the flesh. But he doesn’t mean just the physical body, or the sinful nature we each have. When Paul talks about “the flesh,” he’s talking about the influence of an era on us as human beings. He’s talking about the times in which we live, and the ways in which our time, our culture and society and our human traditions and values, run contrary to life in the Kingdom of God.
We live in a dog eat dog world, and this is true in every arena of life – the political realm, the business world, even social life. Do what you have to do to win the election, regardless of the cost. Do what you have to do to get the laws and bills you like passed. Make the deal. Climb the ladder. Gain power and influence and control. Make more money. Spend even more money. Do what you have to do to get the right friends, friends who can help you climb the ladder. Friends who will make you look better, or who are connected in your community in the right way. Do what you have to do to get the girl, or get the guy, even if it means betraying a friend. When you no longer want that person, or they no longer suit your needs, find someone else. After all, the only thing that matters is your own happiness.
Now, this doesn’t mean that every person who doesn’t follow Christ, who lives their life following the flesh, is evil, as our world defines evil. People who live this way can look really good from a certain perspective. Successful, talented, always moving up. Perhaps even kind and generous at times. They may even go to church. Not everyone who follows the voice of the flesh is antagonistic to God. Some are indifferent to God. They just don’t care one way or the other. They can take God or leave him. God becomes just another tool to use as it suits. And others are ignorant of God. They don’t know, and they don’t know what they don’t know. That’s a dangerous way to live. It’s like driving a car down the freeway with a blindfold covering your eyes. You can get hurt, and others can get hurt too.
I mean, look at the list Paul gives … traits of life lived following the flesh. Look at Vv. 19-21. This isn’t a comprehensive list. Paul comes right out and tells us that. That’s why he says, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” “Such things.” Things LIKE this. But there are some characteristics that all of these things share that define life lived following the flesh, listening to the counter-coaching. Every single one of these things is selfish and self-centered. And those are two different things. Selfishness gets at greed and hoarding things for yourself. Self-centeredness is thinking only of yourself. They’re related, but they aren’t the same thing. These things also objectify and use others. Selfishness, self-centeredness, viewing others as objects to be used and actually using others instead of acting in the best interests of others. These are the marks of life lived following the flesh. Me. Mine. My happiness. My pleasure. My gain. These are the only things that matter. Others are tools to be used, and when I no longer need them, I set them aside and find new tools to use. This is the influence of our era, our traditions, our assumptions and values.
BUT … there is another way. The way of the Kingdom of God. Following the voice of the Holy Spirit as he speaks words of life over and into our lives. Look down at Vv. 24-26. Those who belong to Christ, those who have placed their trust in Christ, have crucified the flesh with its selfish passions and desires. We no longer slaves who have to follow the voice of the flesh. We are set free to follow the voice of the Holy Spirit, to keep in step with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
The Holy Spirit becomes our coach, our guide. Yes, there are many competing voices out there, seeking our attention and loyalty. And some of them are louder and more attractive, but they all lead to the same place … death. It takes discipline to learn to tune the other voices out and tune in to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The good news is if you have placed your trust in Christ and seek to follow him, the Holy Spirit lives IN you. He doesn’t need to shout. He can whisper in your ear, if you’re tuned in to him. Here’s the deal though – he has to be in charge. He isn’t a soldier fighting on your behalf. He’s the commander guiding you into battle.
So what does the voice of the Holy Spirit sound like, anyway. We have to be careful here, because a LOT of people will come up to me and say “The Holy Spirit is telling me …” and then they share their own agenda, their own desires. They know what THEY want, and they either mistakenly believe that every desire of their heart must be in alignment with the will of God, or they willfully do so. Either way, the Holy Spirit takes the blame for a lot of misdirection and misspeaking in the body of Christ.
How do we tune into the voice of the Holy Spirit, and know that it’s the Holy Spirit, and not my own desires? Well, the first step is to be aware that it COULD be your own desires. Always recognize that you COULD be wrong, and share what you think the Holy Spirit is saying with humility, not aggressiveness and arrogance. And maybe run it by a few other people first. Invite them to pray with you.
And then, and this is crucial, become familiar with what the Holy Spirit’s work looks like. We call these the fruit of the Spirit, and again this isn’t a comprehensive list, because Paul again says, “Against such things,” against these kinds of things, “there is no law.” Look at Vv. 22-23.
If following the voice of the flesh leads to selfishness, self-centeredness, and using others in some way, and ultimately to death, following the voice of the Holy Spirit leads to life. Look at the characteristics of a life lived following the voice of the Holy Spirt, keeping in step with the Spirit.
Love. Loving God with your whole self and your neighbor (which is anyone) as yourself. Love that is self-giving and focused on the good of others, not self.
Joy. The pleasure of knowing God, and an awareness of God’s love and provision regardless of your circumstances. The contentment of knowing your life is in God’s hands, no matter how good or bad the situation.
Peace. Solid, uplifting connections with others. Not just peace in your heart, the absence of anxiety. Peace between you and others.
Patience. Gentleness in the face of others mistakes and failures and a slowness to become offended.
Kindness. Treating others well, helping them and building them up.
Goodness. Generosity. Genuine sacrificial benevolence of the good of others.
Faithfulness. Others feel safe counting on you, relying on you.
Gentleness, or forbearance. Proper, effective restraint of your anger or your power. Not acting in harsh and judgmental ways, even when you’re right.
Self-Control. The mastery of your passions. The ability to control your desires and passions rather than just give in to them.
These, and things like them, are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t just expect us to develop these characteristics in our lives. He actually enables us to live this way. He doesn’t just give us the desire and will to live this way. He gives us the strength to actually do it. Not because we deserve it or have earned it or are now spiritual enough, but because the Holy Spirit lives in us as followers of Christ, and because God in his goodness “is at work IN us, to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
So there you have it. Six sermons on the Holy Spirit, God’s other Christmas gift. Is this a comprehensive Biblical analysis in totality of the work of the Holy Spirt? Absolutely not! That would be impossible for anyone to do. John ends his gospel by telling us “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” How much more so the work of the Holy Spirit, the presence of Jesus in the lives of millions of followers of Jesus around the world in this age and in every age? But it is a good start.
The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ.
The Holy Spirit regenerates us for life.
The Holy Spirit seals us for redemption.
The Holy Spirit lives in us for relationship.
The Holy Spirit fills us to be transformed.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to obey God.
I’d like to close by inviting you once again to pray, asking God to fill you with the Holy Spirit in a fresh way, committing yourself to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and, under his command, to begin to live more fully the life that God has for you in Christ. Let us pray.
Dear heavenly Father, I know that I’ve been born of the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit and am indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That why asking you for a fresh work of the Spirit in my life is an easy thing to do. You are quintessential generosity—the most bighearted and openhanded Father imaginable. You won’t give us snakes and scorpions, when we ask; but grace and more grace, and still more grace! Hallelujah, many times over!
So Father, not doubting your promise one bit; and, without shame or hesitation, acknowledging my need, I ask for a fresh stirring and filling of your Holy Spirit. Several things motivate me to ask for a new work of the Spirit in my life.
I know that, apart from your Spirit, I can’t believe the gospel and love Jesus, the way I want to. So Father, by the power that raised him from the dead, free me from my under-believing and over-compensating. Open the eyes of my heart to see more of Jesus. Dazzle me with his delights; buckle my knees with his beauty; put me face down on the ground from a renewed awareness of his glory and grace; grant me jaw-dropping wonder and awe, in response to Jesus’ majesty and mercy of Jesus, and the perfection and completion of his work for us.
Grant me power, with all your children, to know the height, depth, width and breadth of Jesus’ love—a love that surpasses knowledge; the only love that is better than life; the only love that is enough. You’ve poured out his love into my heart before; do it again, and again and again. May the love of Jesus be the most compelling and propelling force in my life; turning my whining into worship; my timidity into fearless faith; small dreams into a kingdom vision; my hesitation to risk much, into a life of gospel adventures.
By the grave-robbing, kingdom-advancing, Christ-exalting power of the Holy Spirit, restore to me the joy of your incomparable salvation; renew my love for the beauty and freedom of holiness; and intensity my awareness and excitement about the occupied throne of heaven.
Indeed, Father, you ARE working in all things for your glory and our good; and you ARE working all things together after the counsel of your will; and you ARE summing up all things in Christ. Hallelujah, what a Savior, Jesus is; hallelujah, what a salvation he has won for us! So very Amen I pray, in Jesus exalted and awesome name! Amen.[i]