Jan 30, 2013
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)
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And here are some related posts you might find helpful –
If Faith Can Change Me -- Why Isn't it Working?
The Faith-Joy Connection
Will-power vs. Spirit-power
- Don’t settle for just knowing the truth — FEEL the truth (a 4-min video)
(Picture from Everystockphoto by saad.)