The Promise of the Spirit
© C. O. Bishop 2/14/15 THCF 2/15/15
Galatians 3:14, 5:16, 22, 23; Ephesians 1:13, 14; John 14:16; Hebrews 5:11-14
Last week I had intended to explore the Promise of the Spirit more thoroughly, but we ran out of time; so today we will go on with that same topic, as it is introduced here in Galatians, by the Apostle Paul.
Paul introduced the Promise of the Spirit as a contrast to the Curse of the Law, here in Galatians; primarily because these believers were being harassed and seduced by false teachers who were persuading them to turn away from the pure Grace of the Gospel and depend upon their own ability to keep the Mosaic Law. He showed from the Old Testament that the Law had always been a curse to those who could not or would not keep it. He reminded them that the Jews had never been able to keep it, and that, as we saw elsewhere, the only thing that had ever saved them from the inherent curse in the Law was the Grace of God extended through the sacrifices.
The whole concept of Grace, and how it is intertwined through all the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation is a pretty amazing study. We somehow have gotten the idea that Grace was a new thing at the Cross. There is a reason why, in Revelation 13:8, Jesus is called the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth”. He is the Lamb! He was the Lamb, pre-figured in the Garden when God clothed Adam and Eve in the blood-stained skins of the first animal sacrifice. He was the Lamb, when Abel came by faith, bringing a blood sacrifice for his own sins. He was all the lambs at that first Passover, when all Israel huddled under the Blood of the Cross, still wet on the lintels and doorposts of their homes. When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and called him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World”, he was pulling together all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and showing how they were concluded in Christ. Those old sacrifices could only cover sin, not take it away; the Blood of Jesus finished the job, and took away Sin. That is why He is also the Lamb in the account in Revelation 5:8-10.
He provided clean vessels into which he could pour His Holy Spirit. And we embrace that promise by faith, today. Whether the new believer knows it or not, he or she is indwelt by the Holy Spirit the moment he or she believes the Gospel, placing his or her trust in Jesus’ finished work at the Cross. This, again, is pure Grace. By the way, this aspect of God’s Grace is new! The Old Testament believer had no such privilege. Only some of the prophets seem to have had the indwelling Spirit, and even for them it seems to have been a temporary arrangement…or, it could have been at least. David prayed and asked that God not take away the Holy Spirit, in his prayer of confession (Psalm 51:11). But, to you, and to me, the Promise is secure: Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “…will be with you forever” (John 14:16.)
There are certain things that are definite results of the indwelling person of the Holy Spirit, and will be true of every believer at all times, regardless of circumstance or behavior. There are other things which simply should be the result of His presence. Let’s look at both.
What Is the Result of the Gift of the Holy Spirit?
- He is the Seal of my position in Christ until I get my new body. (Ephesians 1:13)
- He is the Earnest of our inheritance—the “down-payment” if you like. He, Himself, is the promise, and yet He is also is God’s guarantee of the eternal promise of redemption. (Ephesians 1:14)
- He is my Advocate before the throne, praying for me when I don’t know how to pray. (Romans 8:26)
- He (along with the study of His Word) is my Defense against bad teaching, and the traps of Satan, set for unwary believers. (1st John 2:20-28; Galatians 5:16-23)
- He is my Guide: the one who leads me into all the truth of God’s Word. (John 16:13)
- He is my Comforter: the one who encourages my heart in times of trouble. (John 14:16)
- He is my Bodyguard and Commander: he makes the Word of God the “Sword of the Spirit”; He is the one who makes the Written Word function as the Living Word: alive, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12)
A person with the seal of the Holy, Living, Spirit of God dwelling in him, is permanently free from the guilt of sin before God. He or she need never again fear condemnation from God. But: that believer is also constantly convicted of sin, and reminded of the need for forgiveness and obedience every time he or she falters. We are drawn to confess and renounce our sins, and so to have our fellowship restored, because the Holy Spirit does not abandon us when we sin: He loves us and draws us back to God. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be with us forever. That is a pretty precious promise all by itself! We need not worry that God will forget his promise and take back His gift.
In Psalm 51:11, when David prayed “…take not thy Holy Spirit from me”, he was speaking from the perspective of one not living in the Church Age. He did not have a permanent promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit (as we have), and, because of the sins he had committed as God’s servant, he feared losing that special, spiritual privilege he treasured as a prophet of God.
I fear the loss of fellowship, because of sin. I fear displeasing the God who saved me. I fear displeasing the God who has become my true Father, through re-birth. But I know by His promises that I do not need to fear abandonment. His promise stands on record: (Hebrews 13:5), “I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.” That’s the promise of God, through the Spirit.
All the things listed above are simply facts: they are true of every believer whether or not he or she is in fellowship with God, whether or not there is unconfessed sin in his or her life. They are positional truths, true about you because you are in Christ. But there is so much more available on a moment-by-moment basis, which is not just positional—it is also conditional. It is conditional upon being in fellowship with God, obedient to his Word and His leading. It requires confessing and turning away from sin. These are things that should be the direct result of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, but which are tragically lacking, much of the time, in most believers’ lives.
What Should be the Result of the Gift of the Holy Spirit?
In 1st Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul told the church at Corinth that they were carnal Christians—not spiritual people— and babies, though no longer mere natural men, either. In Hebrews 5:11-14, he told the recipients that they had become babes, needing again to be fed milk—baby-food— instead of adult fare. Why? What had happened, there, that left those believers in such a shameful state? Were they not indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Certainly they were! But, as he succinctly pointed out to the Hebrews readers, “…strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who, by reason of use (practice), have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14) So, there is a matter of practice, exercise and experience, here…A person who is indwelt, but not filled with the Spirit of God, is behaving (and thinking) exactly as if he were not saved at all. And even when we are walking with Him, it still requires practice—exercise, as Paul called it—to gain strength and maturity in one’s walk with God.
The Holy Spirit can only guide someone who is actively walking with Him. And, over a period of months and years of daily choosing to walk with God, applying the Word of God to your life, and being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, one can actually grow stronger. It gets easier to walk. Is that a surprise? It shouldn’t be.
Walking, for an infant, is nearly impossible, but within a few months, crawling has begun, and a few months later, walking is not only possible but expected. There comes a time, very soon, when, if a child is not walking, then the parents will be very worried, and will consult a physician. Paul is reminding the Hebrew Christians that they are long past the time when learning to walk should be an issue…he says that they should have mastered walking a long time ago and be teaching others. Instead, he says, they have again become babes, and have to have someone spoon-feed them the scriptures. They are not able to feed themselves, let alone feed others. That is a very sad statement …and still completely applicable today.
Led by the Spirit
In Romans 8 we see that if we are indwelt by the Spirit of God, then we are expected to be led by Him. That is the normal Christian life. We are not supposed to be wallowing in sin and self-pity, amidst all the usual baggage that seems to follow us today. We are supposed to be led by the Spirit.
Give some thought to how a baby human learns to walk: he or she does so primarily by instinct, but also by encouragement from those around him or her. Each one is different. Some learn quickly, some more slowly. But each learns by doing, and success only means getting up and walking again, each and every time we fall. How different that is, from the life of a baby antelope, for example: In the case of the antelope kid, it only has a few minutes to a few hours, at most, to gain enough strength and coordination to not only walk, but to move quickly enough to keep up with the herd. It learns to walk instinctively, and likewise learns to feed instinctively. Predators follow the herds, hoping for an exposed or weak baby. Survival is entirely dependent upon the individual’s ability to become strong and fast, in the shortest time possible.
In the case of a human baby, most parents will continue to support a weak or developmentally disabled child regardless of cost, and will not abandon that child to predators of any kind. In the case of the baby Christian, Jesus will never abandon you; but you are in danger of harassment and damage from enemies, so long as you neglect to walk with the shepherd. If you hope to have a happy, fruitful walk with your Savior, you need to be doing just that: walking with Him!
What Happens if We Do Walk with Him?
I don’t like to jump ahead, but in this case it seems right: the answer, spelled out by Paul in Galatians 5:16, is that “If you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.”
Let’s take a sample problem:
Let’s say I am out of fellowship with God because of sin, and I know it: Let’s say that anger is the issue, because of how someone at work is treating me. So, eventually, I come to the realization that my anger is not helping the matter, and, in fact, is feeding on itself, and I am getting worse; I am beginning to curse under my breath, and am hating my tormentors. What solution is there? I am not being led by the Spirit, and am not walking with God. I am not being obedient (Jesus said “love your enemies and pray for them that despitefully use you…”), so I am not experiencing His Grace and blessing. How can I change?
The first step has already happened: I am recognizing that there is a problem in me, not just in those who are mistreating me. But the next thing is to do what God said to do: confess my sin. (“What? I’m not sinning, they are!”) Until I confess that I am sinning, and see it the way God sees it, there is no cure. God has a solution for sin, not “problems”. What was God’s solution for sin for the whole human race? It was Jesus’ blood at the Cross. And all I had to do to appropriate that Grace to my own life was to confess my need for a savior and place my trust in his finished work, at Calvary.
But now, though I have already been washed clean at Calvary, I am again looking at a pair of very dirty feet attached to my own already-washed self. They need to be cleansed, through confession. What sin am I confessing? First, I am confessing the anger. God commands that I put aside anger. He calls it by several different names, but all with the same root cause. In the Old Testament, in Psalm 37:8, He commands “Cease from anger and forsake wrath. Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” My anger had already begun to fester into a desire to return evil for evil, even if only in words. So the anger is beginning to bear the fruit of evil. In the New Testament, Ephesians 4:31, he says “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice”. Notice how he uses a whole nest of ideas, all in the family of anger, to point out a weakness in my character. I can’t say, “Well, that wasn’t anger, it was frustration.” Sorry…that is just a euphemism for anger. Things aren’t going my way, so I am frustrated…angry and distressed, perhaps, but still angry. Irritated? Annoyed? Miffed? Hey, how about this one: Righteously indignant! Really? In this condition I want to call myself righteous? No, I need to see that the anger itself is sin, and that it has already resulted in evil thoughts and hurtful words.
So, I confess my sins, placing my trust in his promise to forgive, and God is faithful (just as he promised) to forgive my sins, and cleanse me…again.
Then I set out to walk with him. I obey Him by praying for those who I think are mistreating me, and asking for God’s mercy in their lives. I focus my attention on His blessing and his command to bless them. I look for ways to be a blessing to them. So there is a practical outworking of His Love and Grace toward them. If there are people I have hurt with my words, then I go to them and confess as well… “I said things I had no right to say. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
Will I stumble again? You can count on it! But perhaps next time I will get up a little more quickly and toddle on, rather than wallowing for so long in self-pity. Meanwhile, there is much to be done.
Jesus told Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” I can seek to do that. He says we are to serve our employers as if we were serving him (which we are.) I can seek to do that as well. He commands, “Husbands, love your wives….” so I can give attention to that. He gives many commands in the New Testament that contribute to a walk with Him, and none that cause me to fear his rejection. “Love one another…Let not your heart be troubled…Be anxious for nothing….” Etc. We are given the Holy Spirit to enable us to serve, as well as to give us the will to serve.
Although we will spend more time on it at some later date, it would be well to examine the Fruit of the Spirit while we are talking about the Promise of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22,23 is stating a contrast to the works (plural) of the Flesh. Paul states that “the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, Temperance; against such there is no law.”
I would only point out two things, here, in closing:
- The contrast, here, is between “works” (things we do by choice) and “fruit” (things borne out by virtue of character). An apple tree does not bear apples because it tries to do so, but because it is its nature to do so. We would be astonished if it bore any other fruit. So the fruit of the Spirit is what normally results when a believer is in fellowship with God.
- The other is that the works are plural, while the fruit is singular. Though all the works of the flesh came from the same corrupt source, the list is interminable—in fact, the list ends with a catch-all phrase to indicate there are many more: it says, “and such like”. If you think your pet sin is not mentioned in the Bible, think again. That is where it is listed. All unrighteousness is sin, whether it is specifically named or not. There are things we may reject as a culture, that God does not condemn, but there are principles by which we can recognize a specific practice as falling within the wider scope of sin, and a work of the flesh.
Meanwhile, the Fruit is singular, though nine aspects are listed. Each of the nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit is only a part of the whole. The whole fruit is either there or it is not. This is not a “fruit smorgasbord” from which we are to take our pick. We are to walk in the Spirit and the result should be the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh.
Lord God, help us to recognize our sins, and confess them. Fill us with your Spirit, and rule in our hearts. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. We ask these things in order that we my honor your Son, Jesus. It is for His sake and His glory we ask these things in His Name. Amen