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.
When receiving legitimate reproof:
- Our flesh defends self, self’s glory, and self’s words at the expense of God and others. By the Spirit, however, we defend God, God’s glory, God’s word at the expense of self.
- Our flesh gets most worked up about someone having the nerve to point out our faults and sins. By the Spirit, we get most worked up about having offended God and sinned against others.
- Our flesh meticulously analyzes our own behavior, searching for evidences of our moral success, and holding it up before others as evidence that, in fact, the one confronting them is way off. By the Spirit, we humbly look for evidences of our own moral failure, and hold it up before God and others as evidence that we do have specific sin and, as such, greatly need Christ.
- Our flesh frequently claims to be confused when our sin is addressed, being unable and/or unwilling to see our own deeper heart pride, and will use its own spiritual fog as a red herring from other issues. By the Spirit, we experience clarity when our sin is addressed, are able and willing to see our sin/pride, and will identify and confess, without a red herring tactic.
- Our flesh may claim to be a sinner, imperfect, and in need of Christ, but when it comes down to specific examples, it will not be willing to see and embrace them, and may offer surface and insincere apologies. By the Spirit, we claim to be a sinner, imperfect, and in need of Christ, and when it comes to specific examples, we are willing to see and embrace them, genuinely acknowledging our own fault.
- Our flesh will learn how to respond to sin being addressed by manufacturing surface-level, manipulative apologies, though having no godly sorrow over sin. By the Spirit, we will respond to our sin being addressed by sincere, heart-level confession and requests for forgiveness of specific sin.
- Our flesh wants to wrangle about words when its faults are addressed. By the Spirit, however, we get straight to the issue, willing to sincerely confess fault and ask forgiveness.
- Our flesh sees itself as pretty great, searches for specific examples to prove it, and is proud. By the Spirit, we see ourselves as wretched from the heart, with specific examples to confess, and is humble.
- Our flesh, if it acknowledges fault, will do so in order to get the pressure off itself and get people off our back in order to look good and maintain public image. By the Spirit, however, we will acknowledge faults in an attempt to reconcile with others so as to maintain Christ’s public image.
- Our flesh will approach change, after reproof, in a way to appease the person; to manipulate the individual so that they do not “take things the wrong way.” By the Spirit, we approach change, after reproof, in thankfulness that God is appeased towards us through Christ, with the goal of serving others in our behavior.
- Our flesh will express sorrow for sin due to getting caught and a lowering of others’ applause of ourselves. By the Spirit, however, we will experience sorrow for sin due to dishonoring Christ and failing to love him.
- After reproof, our flesh experiences joy as a result of people laying off and figuring out how to secure others’ approval again. By the Spirit, we experience joy as a result of uncovering and confessing our sin, and consequently thinking, living, and worshiping in a way pleasing to Christ.
- Our flesh experiences peace after reproof when we appear righteous externally and can get back into the spotlight of our subcultural praise. By the Spirit, we experience peace after reproof, knowing that, though we deserve hell for our sin, Christ loves us, endured our penalty, and we subsequently have peace with God.
14. Our flesh seeks to diligently align external behaviors and words to the social pressures of people. By the Spirit, however, we seek to diligently submit our beliefs, doctrine, and actions to Scripture.
15. Our flesh persists with a log in its eye. By the Spirit, though we often accumulate eye logs, they are removed through repentance.
Let’s not undervalue the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, especially when it comes to dethroning sin. One of the great vantage points of this holy spectacle is when our sins is identified during reproof. Whether the moment of salvation, or the many moments of sanctification, one of the grand displays of the Spirit’s muscle is enabling us to see, hate, and turn from of our sin, and, in humility, turn to Christ. And if you find yourself constantly in the flesh category, call out to Christ for mercy and forgiveness, whereby you will receive the great gift of the Holy Spirit, who gives that light and life.