At the end of the day, though, trying to make our spiritual pursuit of holiness another human goal will end in failure, tears and a wretched feeling of helplessness. Reading self-help books and undertaking strategies to increase our responsibility and initiative may help us to lose weight, live healthier, and crush that resumé; but they will not help us meet our spiritual goals. No amount of self-control ever conquered habitual sin or led to a holy life. We’re just not that strong. Not by ourselves. Human effort cannot produce divine results.
I’m not trying to be depressing. In all honesty, I’m so excited about how this truth empowers me. It helps me say no to sin, make time in my schedule to read God’s Word, and remember that serving in my church is so incredibly worth it. I know you know this truth. I have known this truth for a long time, but I like my independence. I like to do things by myself.
Sometimes I think God placed His own Spirit inside of us at salvation with a sense of irony. Yes, as Christians our spiritual power comes from within us, but it does not come from us. This is so contrary to our natural inclination that it's really easy for us to forget. I know it is for me.
“But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you." Romans 8:11
Wow. Just wow. Taking time to think through what that means is important. And awesome. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells inside us to bring us to spiritual life. The same power that resurrected Jesus is available to every believer when temptation strikes. Helpless? I think not.
I cannot even begin to touch the vastness of what’s available to us as believers from God’s own Spirit residing within us, but here are a few takeaways that God has brought home to me in deeply personal ways recently. All of them have to do with the presence of sin in our lives. That’s not to say the Holy Spirit’s work is restricted to helping us conquer sin, but if you think about it, His presence within us is God’s way for us to strive for holiness. His Holy Spirit works to produce His own holiness within us.
#1 God’s Spirit Within Us Empowers us to Recognize Sin
We are very stubborn creatures. If you aren’t, I am. I have a way of justifying my sin because I like it. Even when I can see its bad consequences in my life, I cling to it because I think it satisfies me even though it doesn’t. But since salvation, God’s Spirit in me has a sometimes-undesired knack for tapping me on my heartstrings until I’m forced to acknowledge a sin for what it is in my life—something that God hates. Something that Jesus died to save me from.
If you’re calloused to the fact that Jesus died for your sins, you’re in a dangerous place as a Christian. If you find yourself in that place today, pray to God.
When the Holy Spirit within us has made us aware of sin in our lives, the motivation to change comes from the gospel knowledge that tells us Christ died for what we are currently doing. That knowledge is what convicts our hearts and causes us to repent.
#2 God’s Spirit Within Us Empowers us to Reject Sin
Conviction and repentance are the first hand-in-hand steps toward holy living. But they mean nothing if they are not followed by a distinct change in our lives. This could be a small change—throwing away a particular movie or book because we know it holds temptation for us. Or it could be a much more noticeable change—filling your church pew consistently every week.
Remember how God’s Spirit causes you to recognize and repent of sin in your life? One of the most important changes that happens in our Christian life is saying “no” to that same sin the next time it tempts us. That’s right—saying “no” before you commit the sin.
Recently I was struggling with a selfish desire to sin that I felt completely powerless to fight. It had been a long day. I was tired, and I just wanted to give in. It was an area of weakness in my life so easy to slip into and justify, even though (see point above) I had already been forced by the Spirit’s conviction to recognize it as a sinful behavior. In my weakness, I sent a pleading thought to the presence of God. An undeveloped thought that I can’t really express in words, but essentially it boiled down to:
“It’s just one more time, God. I’m tired, and I don’t feel like fighting.
And all the Spirit had to do was send those last words right back at me. I don’t have it in me. I don’t have it in me?!? Wait a minute. I have God’s own Spirit in me!
My tired mind grasped onto that thought. I didn’t really want to win against my sin in that moment, but thank God my flesh isn’t the only part of me now. The new nature Christ gave me at salvation wants to please Him even when my flesh is weak. And with that one thought—that remembrance that God’s Spirit can enable me to do what I can’t on my own, a prayer came to my lips. A very simple prayer:
“God, I can’t resist this, but You can. Please give me Your strength.”
And that was it. An immediate smile spread on my lips and a feeling of peace and rest swept over my spirit because God’s Spirit had won the battle for me. All I had to do was ask.
I’m not saying that rejecting sin and sinful desires is easy. But I’m saying it’s not a struggle we fight on our own. If we try to fight it with our own strength we will lose. God’s Holy Spirit is there in the midst of temptation. He knows the struggle going on in your heart and He is there to provide the power you need to reject sin.
#3 God’s Spirit Within Us Empowers us to Replace Sin
Many times just saying “no” to sin isn’t enough. It’s a necessary start, but it won’t magically erase an ingrained habit. We follow habits—even sinful ones—so instinctively, that you might find yourself opening your mind up to temptation without much thought simply because of the time of day, the location, or your emotional state.
If you don’t know what to do in the place of a sinful or draining habit, just ask God. Believe me, He’ll have plenty of ideas.
We have been called to live holy lives. We’re not perfect, so we can’t live perfect lives, but God knew this long before we did. He provided His Spirit to give us the power necessary for sanctification. In his book New Morning Mercies, Paul David Tripp put it this way:
“God knew that my need as a sinner was so great that it was not enough for Him to just forgive me; He had to come and live inside me or I would not be what I had been re-created to be or do what I had been reborn to do. I need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit living inside me because sin kidnaps the desires of my heart, blinds my eyes, and weakens my knees. My problem is not just the guilt of sin; it’s the inability of sin as well. So God graces His children with the convicting, sight-giving, desire-producing, and strength-affording presence of the Spirit.”
As a Christian woman, I don’t have to blindly trust in the creeds of empowerment this world has to offer.
And therein lies the answer.
As a daughter of God, I have access to an inner power that no self-help book or feminist creed of the world can give. I have the Holy Spirit within me. There is no limit to His power. The only thing limited is my faith and my belief. John calls the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of truth”:
“And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” John 14: 16-17
We have access to God’s own Spirit on a day-in-day-out basis. Oh if I could only learn to ask before I act! What a reservoir of divine power resides within you and me—within every single believer! And how much more would we see the fruits of God’s work in our lives if we learned to simply tap into that inner power.
How will you tap into God’s Spirit today to empower yourself to recognize, reject, and replace sin?
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