Becoming a Christian is a colossal demonstration of power in so many ways. When an individual trusts in Christ for reconciliation to God, big things happen. Christ’s lordship is joyfully embraced. The soul’s knee is eagerly bowed. The guilt is instantly lifted. The Bible is hungrily inhaled.
And in the most glorious display of spiritual coup d’état, God the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the soul. He is a great gift, essential to our well-being. And as he settles in, he begins to storm the citadel of our sin. It’s a fight, but there is victory. The Spirit comes to slay the fortress of the flesh.
“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:17).
The true power of the Spirit is demonstrated by an identifying of the flesh, attacking the flesh, and subduing the flesh. It’s what the Spirit does. There are battles, and, sadly the flesh sometimes seems to prevail, but over the longhaul, the Spirit drains the lifeblood of the flesh.
One of the great demonstrations of the Spirit’s power is how we respond when our sin is addressed by others. It’s often painful, but through the necessary inquiry of others, the Spirit works to identify and crucify remaining sin.
“The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov 15:31-32).
Less and less are the days of our flesh protecting, promoting, and parading itself. The Holy Spirit is too good to allow it. And too powerful. The Holy Spirit is alive. He never takes a soul-sabbatical. Again, there are battles. It’s rarely clean. But the Spirit is never waving the white flag to our flesh.
So, if we are someone who cannot have our sin confronted and cannot respond in genuine humility to confrontation, it’s a potential sign that we do not have the Holy Spirit.
“He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Prov 29:1).
“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise” (Prov 15:12).
I am not saying that one is not a Christian if they struggle to respond humbly to confronted sin at times. However, if we habitually respond in a fleshly way to confronted sin, we would be hard-pressed to conclude that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not like a rock-star hockey goalie, looking to slap away inquiries into the soul’s sin. Quite the contrary.
“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:6-7).
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).
The Holy Spirit is no more friendly to the flesh than hungry cheetah’s are to gazelles. Like the gazelle, the flesh does just fine in a big yard by itself, grazing, prancing, and enjoying itself. But drop that famished feline in there and things happen. The cheetah will have to run, chase, and exert, but it’s going to subdue. That’s what hungry cheetahs do. Now, if that gazelle is never being subdued, but prances around unthreatened and unsubdued, we could not conclude that there is a cheetah in the yard with it. So it is with our sin and the Spirit.
The subduing of the flesh is a feat accomplished solely by the heroics of the Holy Spirit. To appreciate the Spirit’s power, consider a few contrasts between a Spirit-filled response to reproof vs. that of the flesh.