Keep in Step with the Spirit


Nearly everywhere I turn, I am confronted with evidence pointing to an alarmingly low level of spirituality in the American church. A friend regularly sends me information documenting the fact that American Christians are shockingly ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches and are definitely not “smarter than a fifth grader” when it comes to understanding the Bible. National pollsters have repeatedly documented the fact that regular church attendance has little or no impact when it comes to shaping the behavior patterns of the people of God. Christians are just as likely to sue their neighbors, cheat on their income taxes, engage in inappropriate sexual behavior and divorce their spouses as the general population. In fact, one recent survey actually showed a slightly higher rate of divorce among evangelical Christians!

Sadly, this does not appear to be a new problem. Yesterday, I found these words in a book I am reading: “Many Christians are careful to observe certain times, places and rituals of worship; but when the service of the church is over, they are but like those that profess no regard for religion. In their manner of life, in the way they spend their time and money, in their cares and worries, fears and pleasures, indulgences and diversions, it is often impossible to distinguish professing Christians from the rankest unbelievers, until they once again unite to sing of their love and devotion to Jesus.”

That sounds like something A. W. Tozer (a former editor of this magazine) might have written, but it actually comes from William Law, who wrote those words in England in 1761!

I probably know a bit more about the Bible than most fifth graders, and I am happily living with the woman I married nearly 40 years ago, but I am very conscious that my “manner of life” in the way I “spend my time and money,” in regard to my “cares and worries, fears and pleasures and indulgences and diversions” may not be as distinctively “Christian” as it ought to be. When unbelievers look at me, do they ever think, He looks like Jesus?

The Apostle Paul offers some very appropriate counsel when he says “. . . live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of your sinful nature. . . . Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:16, 25). That’s great advice. But how do we actually do that?

I believe that there are at least four obstacles that can keep the Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer, from working in our lives and keep people from seeing Christ in us.

The first is ignorance. When Paul arrived in Ephesus (Acts 19), he encountered a group of disciples who had never even heard of the Holy Spirit. Without a knowledge of the Holy Spirit they were left with no relational connection to the One who had come to be their Savior. For many professing Christians in our own day, the situation is nearly as desperate. Having little or no instruction with regard to the person and work of the Holy Spirit, they remain strangers to His fellowship—without power and functionally disconnected from the source of all life and light.

The second obstacle is the continuing presence of sin in our lives. We have been delivered from the penalty of our sin by virtue of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. But if we then continue to disobey God’s commands, we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). As a result, we cannot enjoy His presence and power. We are impotent. When I have sinned, the only way to restore the power is to confess my sin (1 John 1:9) and begin again to obey.

The third blocking agent is fear. As Christians, we are called to surrender control of our lives to the Holy Spirit of God. In fact, it is the idea of being “out of control” that underlies Paul’s thinking when he writes, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Many times, because we are afraid that He may embarrass us or take us places we do not wish to go, we “quench” the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19) and hinder His work in our lives.

The final obstacle is perhaps the most prevalent. It is apathy. The single biggest reason we do not see the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives may simply be because we do not really want it. In the final analysis, the old Puritan William Law may have gotten it right. He said: “Most Christians are just as holy as they intend to be.” I think Jesus would agree. He said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6).

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