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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

How Does The Holy Spirit Empower Obedience?

Traffic on everystockphoto by saadGod Wants Spirit-Powered Obedience

God does not want obedience that’s just will-powered, teeth-gritted, or “I’m supposed to.”

He wants obedience that’s Spirit-powered.

That’s a constant theme in Paul’s letters –

  • The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience … (Gal 5:22)
  • If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8:14)
  • Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal 5:16)
  • If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  (Gal 54:25)
  • Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal 3:3)

What Does That Mean?

How does the Holy Spirit empower obedience?  What does he actually do?

Let’s say I’m stuck in traffic, and feeling angry and frustrated.  Impatient.  Since the fruit of the Spirit includes patience (Gal 5:22), that means the Spirit can overcome my impatience.

But how does he do that?  How can I experience his obedience-producing power?

What I Used To Do

I’d take some deep breaths, maybe look at the clouds, relax my shoulders — and try to feel patient.

Sometimes that actually worked.  I’d feel more patient, and think that was produced by the Spirit.

But was it?

Was it the work of the Spirit — or just my own effort?

Couldn’t what I experienced have been experienced by unbelievers who don’t have the Spirit?

Which made me wonder — how much of my obedience was empowered by the Spirit?  And how much was just my own effort?

To answer that I had to figure out –

What The Spirit Does

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3;18 –

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)

Being transformed into Christ’s image is another way of describing obedience.  And Paul says we are transformed into Christ’s image by beholding the glory of the Lord.  And it’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to behold the glory of the Lord.

So the Spirit helps us obey by enabling us to see Jesus’ glory.

But how does that cause us to obey?

Seeing His Surpassing Worth

Paul tells us in Philippians 3:8 –

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Jesus’ glory IS the all-surpassing worth of the Universe.  When Paul felt Christ’s all-surpassing worth, he was so satisfied that he turned from everything else to gain more of Christ.

And when we turn from everything else to gain more of Christ, we will obey, for two reasons –

  • because our hearts won’t be drawn to sin since we are so satisfied in Christ (Jer 2:12-13),
  • and because our hearts will want to obey so as to gain even more of Christ (Phil 3:8; John 14:21).

All this happens as the Spirit helps us feel Jesus’ all-surpassing worth.  But how does he do that?

Through His Sword

Paul explains in Ephesians 6:17 –

Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

This sword has lots of uses.  But one is to cut away the scales of unbelief that grow over our spiritual eyes.  When our vision is clouded by these scales, we see less of Jesus’ worth.

But the Spirit uses his sword — the word of God — to cut away those scales.  As we pray over God’s Word the Spirit will cut away our unbelief so we once again see and feel Jesus’ all-surpassing worth.

And as we saw above, when we see and feel Jesus’ all-surpassing worth, we will obey.

So let’s get real practical.  How does this help my impatience while stuck in traffic?

Back To The Traffic Jam

There I am.  Stuck in traffic, feeling angry and frustrated.  Impatient.

Why am I impatient?  It’s because at that moment I am not seeing and feeling all I have in Christ.

Here’s why I say that.  Let’s say you just left a lawyer’s office where you heard about a previously unknown relative who had died and left you his massive fortune.  Whoa.

So as you were driving away, and found yourself stuck in traffic, would you be feel angry and frustrated?  Impatient?  Not a chance.  Your joy in the unexpected windfall would so fill your heart that you’d be fine with the traffic.

Here’s the point: you and I have Jesus Christ who is infinitely better than any financial windfall.  So, when we are impatient in  traffic, it’s because we’ve stopped seeing and feeling the all-satisfying glory of Jesus Christ.

So what can I do?

First I would ask for more of the Spirit’s work in my heart.  Then I’d pray over specific verses in God’s word, trusting that the Spirit would use his sword to cut away the scales of unbelief.

As I do that, God will answer my prayer (Luke 11:13).  The Spirit will cut away the scales of unbelief (Psa 119:18).  I will once again see and feel Jesus’ glory (2Cor 3:18).  That will grow until I have such joy in Him that my heart is completely satisfied (Psa 73:25-26).  And I will be patient.

That did not happen through will-power, taking deep breaths, or trying to feel patient.  That came about by the Spirit.

The Spirit empowered me to obey.

Putting It All Together

The Spirit empowers obedience by using his word to help us see and feel the glory of Jesus, so we are fully satisfied in him, and long for more of him.

When this happens, we will obey –

  • we will love Christ supremely, because we will feel his all-satisfying worth (Phil 3:8)
  • we will love others, because our hearts will be overflowing with joy in Christ (Heb 10:34)
  • we will forgive those who hurt us, because the gain we have in Christ more than makes up for what they did (Matt 18:32-33)
  • we will battle lust, because nothing is worth losing an all-satisfying Treasure (Matt 5:8)
  • we will be devoted to prayer, because prayer brings more of Christ’s presence (Jam 4:8)
  • we will study God’s Word, because that’s where we most powerfully meet him (Psa 43S:3-4)
  • we will share the gospel, because that’s how we receive even more of him (1Cor 9:23)
  • we will obey all his commands, so we will have more closeness to him (John 14:21)

Comments?  Feedback?  Thoughts?

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Category: Motivation for Obedience, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, The Work of the Spirit

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13 Responses

  1. John Thomson says:

    Excellent comment. Really well put and wisdom that is strangely lacking in much evangelical thinking.

  2. Sarah says:

    Hi Steve,

    I love this post– very practical and helpful. One question I have is what are we to think when this doesn’t happen like you explain it? What happens when I am stuck in traffic with an impatient attitude, I ask for the Spirit’s help, I pray over specific verses but I DONT feel the impatience lifted and I don’t feel more satisfied in Christ? Where is the proper place to go to from there? Is it right to assume that I haven’t prayed long enough, hard enough, etc.? Should I assume there’s a sin in my life that’s keeping me from his all-satisfying presence? Is there some other reason why the Spirit may not act in the way you describe above?

    thanks!!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Sarah –

      So what’s going on if I’m praying over God’s Word but experiencing nothing?

      This is an important question because God’s Word promises that if we will come to Jesus we will have our heart-thirsts satisfied (John 4:13f; John 6:35; John 7:37-39); that when we hear with faith God will provide His Spirit to us (Gal 3:5).

      But that promise does not necessarily mean this happens immediately. So — what’s going on if I’m experiencing nothing?

      It could be that it’s been a while since I’ve sought God — and so there’s layers of unbelief or hardness of heart that need to be broken through.

      It could be that I’m willfully refusing to repent over some known sin. (When I wonder about this, I find it helpful to pray Psa 139:23-24.)

      It could be that I’m not really coming in Jesus’ name; maybe instead I’m coming in my own name, thinking I’ve been good enough or that God owes me.

      It could be that none of the above are the issue — but that God in great love for me is letting me seek him for a while without receiving anything. I think that’s what’s going on in Psa 13 and Psa 42. This is loving of God because it’s good for my soul to wait on Him, and it makes the light of His countenance all the brighter when I finally see it. When this is going on, I find it helpful to pray psalms 13 and 42 — very powerful.

      Can you think of any other reasons?

      And again — thanks for your question. Excellent — as always :)

      Steve

      • Sarah says:

        I appreciate your response. I think it helps to have some options to walk through when I find myself in that place…

        I find the first option very interesting, “it could be that it’s been a whie since I’ve sought God– and so there’s layers of unbelief or hardness of heart that need to be broken through.” I’m going to explore this one more. :)

  3. Luke says:

    Wonderful post Steve. Thanks for sharing this practical wisdom. I know that many times I’ve done the whole relaxation technique routine thinking that the change came from the Spirit and other times I’ve actually experienced the Spirit waking me from my stupor to see the wonderful glory of Christ surpassing the temptations, frustrations, etc. that are besetting me. Learning to walk by the Spirit now that I live by the Spirit is quite a difficult process but God is faithful to complete the work He’s begun in me. I thank God for your faithfulness to share and for Him using your posts as trail markers to keep me on His path.

  4. Joy says:

    I’m so thankful that GOD sent me to this wonderful page.. This really made me realize the overflowing goodness and glory of GOD in JESUS. . Obedience of my heart comes from the Spirit… Praise be to GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Meredith says:

    This is an amazing word! Thank you!

  6. Sara says:

    I loved this, Steve. I’m thinking, “who is this guy”? Thanks for posting! I echo Joy!!! Praise God that I can’t obey Him without Him! I tried too long to will myself to holiness :) all I ended up doing was focusing in myself and the shame and guilt of never measuring up. Thank you for helping me see even more clearly. I bet God is using you to help others that don’t post comments. You are a blessing. Peace and grace to you.

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