So what does Walking in the Spirit mean?
I guess the first obvious response is, by not walking in our old natures (flesh in the old English). Paul devotes a couple of chapters to this struggle in Romans 6 & 7. His treatment of this vital topic clearly shows that our old nature (or soul - consisting of our mind, will and emotions) is at war with the new nature that God creates and wants to develop in us. We must first make the choice to accept God's forgiveness for our sin, made possible because the punishment for our sin was paid for by Jesus on the cross. At this moment of decision, our spirits are made alive by becoming reconnected to God through the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, coming to dwell within us.
Yet it is apparent that just because we have made this choice, and now have a fledgling relationship with God, that this old nature keeps making an appearance and causing us to sin.
So how should we deal with this old nature, which I'll call our unredeemed (as yet) soul. Clearly we are, or should be, a work in progress. That is, as we grow day by day, our nature (character) should become more like that of Jesus.
Key disciplines that help with this growth process are:
But as we soon discover, and Paul so succinctly puts it, we have “sin living within us”. Rom 7:17.How can this be, I have both the Holy Spirit AND sin living within me?This is because while we have made an initial transaction with God, and entered a new family via being adopted as His child, it is only our spirit that is made alive to Him. The initial transaction occurred because we made a choice (an act of our will) due to being in some way persuaded (our mind was involved) and often impacted by our emotions. But, not long after this event, we become aware that our mind, will and emotions still tend to follow familiar paths and we make choices that we know (how?) are wrong and thus the war Paul talks about begins.
The initial sin in the Garden of Eden was simply Adam (and all of us since then) choosing to obey our own will and not the will of God. We also know that God has made man unique in all of creation by giving us “free will”, the permission to choose. Do not think that this free choice is free, as in "no cost", it always costs something, because every choice has consequence. Furthermore, God does not violate our will, we, and only we, get to choose to obey God or to go our own way.
So back to our war – we have our old sinful, unredeemed soul warring with our spirit man that is now in relationship with God. So how do we deal with this unregenerate soul that continues to want its own way, and continues to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Firstly,I think it helps to understand that the fruit of that tree in the garden, did indeed make us think that we can correctly decide between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lies. This is however clearly not the case, as we have been making bad calls ever since, that hurt us and those around us. The real effect of eating this fruit is that we keep rationalizing and justifying to ourselves that we CAN decide correctly - SO WRONG!
Secondly, we need to recognize that truth is a person, not some abstract construct in our minds.Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NIV. So truth can only be truly understood and experienced through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A very exclusive statement!So, my soul continues to do as it pleases, thinking it knows best, it very cleverly presents all the reasons why I should make a particular choice, react in a particular way, and if negative consequences ensue, my soul will justify why I'm either not to blame or why I'm just no good and will never be any better.
Why do I react to certain events the way I do? What is it that causes me to panic in certain circumstances? I believe that all these (and all the other scenarios you're thinking of) are due to our unregenerate soul trying to remain in control – walking in our own strength, in our old nature and not Walking in the Spirit.
Thus what do I do? Try harder, read the Bible more, fast, pray, forgive others, forgive myself ....... the list goes on. While these disciplines are good and necessary to build into our lives, they miss a key ingredient.
And so the war continues.
Because my will is mine to choose with, and God permits us to choose, I am responsible for my choices. So how do I make the correct choices? We have already seen that left to our own devices, we seldom make the choices God wants, and thus, as we bear the consequences we look for someone or something to blame, or we erect walls in our minds - no go areas - so that the pain or hurt of our unresolved issues are buried - alive. We also often tend to blame God and ask why he allows ….... but we all continue to keep making these choices fueled by our unregenerate soul.
The Bible talks about, dying to ourselves, picking up our cross, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, my yoke is easy and my burden is light. There are many references to our need to make choices that deny our self will. What does all this mean?If I have made this first connection with God, my sins are forgiven, I have His Holy Spirit living inside of me, but all too often the dark side seems to be dominant.
Clearly, the answer is to be led by the Holy Spirit living in me and thus walk being led by the Spirit – see Galatians 3.But how can I do this, my will has to be exercised and I'm in control of this.
In Matthew 16:19 and then again in Matthew 18:18, Jesus tells us that the keys to the Kingdom and the truth is that “... whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
So twice Jesus makes this statement. If something is repeated in the Bible, we need to take note. Here within a few chapters He reiterates a key that we have usually interpreted in a particular way. I think there is another perspective with which we can view and ultimately use this key so that the gates of hell (a defensive structure) cannot prevail but must fall and give way. Our soul; mind, will and emotions; consistently react defensively to justify our choices. These defensive reactions form strongholds within us.
Let me first paint a couple of word pictures for you.
I am sure most of you have seen a three legged race. This is where two people have one of their legs tied to the other person's, and then they compete in a race. Imagine if one of those people was much bigger and stronger than the other. If the two worked together, the smaller and weaker one would be able to do much better because of the strength and size of the other. I believe this is a picture of us being yoked with Jesus by His Spirit living inside of us. If we choose to bind our will to His, then by His leading the way and us relying upon His strength we are going to be able to make the choices that God wants us to make.
Another picture. You have all seen those pictures of a very young baby bound tightly to a mother while she goes about her work. The baby is obviously a unique individual but dependent upon the mother. The mother is able to achieve a great deal but still care for and nurture the baby.
In both of these pictures, the weaker one is bound to the stronger. Let us read Matthew again. Whatever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven. Two key thoughts - “whatever” is all encompassing, it means anything at all. So if we choose to bind our will to God's, our mind to His, what do you think will happen in heaven? It will be done! So now what happens to my will? I have made the choice as the weaker, less able (should that be unable?) one, to bind my will and mind to His. See Philippians 2:5.
I believe this is a valid and life changing perspective to enable us to truly Walk in the Spirit.
Trying to pull ourselves up, by our boot laces, clearly doesn't work. The war that rages within us as we try to make God led choices really needs a better weapon.
So the first challenge: Pray regularly, at least once a day as you get up in the morning, but also as often as you remember, to say:Lord, I bind my mind and will to yours today, please lead me to say and do the things, to make the choices and responses that you want me to, and not those that come naturally to mind. I choose to submit my mind, will and emotions to you today. I believe that as I bind my will to yours here on earth, that in the heavens your will, will be done by me today. Amen”
So on with the war. Why is it that when certain events or memories are triggered that all the same old feelings arise and the same helplessness, or anger or hurtful response or …... occurs? All without any conscious effort on my part. Are there areas in your life that you feel powerless to control? Where do these things come from?
Once again, I believe the unregenerate soul is very willing and active to remind us of some learned or avoiding behavior so as to remain in control. All the things that have hurt us in the past, the wrong responses we have developed that enable us to avoid taking responsibility, the issues we have tried to bury and ignore, the list goes on...... Each of these has developed into a stronghold that prevents us from breaking free and behaving and feeling differently (correctly? from His perspective) and ultimately preventing us from doing His will in each and every situation.
There are two keys that we need to understand, utilize and practice.
The first is that facts are facts, and we cannot change the actual events from our past. What happened, happened. However, our response to what happened can be neutralized! We can acknowledge wrong reactions, repent and ask God to forgive us for our wrong response, and ask Him to heal that wounded part in us. Even if we think our response was justified, remember we need to see things from God's view point as only He knows the truth! Our soul is very accomplished at finding ways to blind us to His truth. God however knows our heart and there is nothing hidden from Him. Because this involved an act of our will, we need to change our mind and ask God to deal with and loose us from the consequences of our wrong choice.
Second, that it doesn't matter if we were wronged or in any way are able to justify holding onto un-forgiveness – see Matt 18. We must forgive others – period! This is not an option in our lives if we want to be forgiven by God for our sin. We must forgive others. See the Lord's prayer. This is another choice we get to exercise. Choosing to forgive in no way says that whatever event happened was okay! Rather it says, God, I choose to let go of the hurt and pain of this offence and leave it to you and ask you help me forgive this person and heal the hurt and pain I carry. So that I can respond and react as your Spirit leads me and not driven by the defensive walls around my wounds.
Both of the above involved an act of our will and we need to get our act straightened out and in line with God's will and plan – irrespective of what our unregenerate soul may try to sell us.
These two areas are tough strongholds to deal with. We are likely dealing with the very core issues in our lives. This is where the rubber meets the road, the very essence of who we are.
Thus I want to re-iterate, we need to bind our mind and will to God's. This puts us in the very safest and most secure position from which we can then deal with the second part of our Matthew 16:19 or 18:18 verse. ”....and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The actual word for “loose” here actually means, to so break free, that the parts are smashed beyond repair. They cannot in any way come back together – now that's what I call freedom!
So now the second challenge prayer:Lord, having bound my will and mind to your will and mind I am now safe to ask that you loose me from those strongholds that I have established in my life that are not in accordance with your will, plan or purpose. Please forgive me for my reaction and response and choosing to live according to my idea of right and wrong. Please help me to forgive ________ for _______. Please take away the hurt and pain that I feel, and neutralize the power of this memory to control my life in any way. Help me to now with your strength, and the power of your Spirit within me, to build new responses and new thoughts and habits, in accordance with your unique plan and purpose for me.”
The process of dealing with these areas in our lives will go on, probably for most of our lives as we need to consistently submit our will to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I have prayed these prayers many times, and will continue to do so. I believe that it is only as we submit all we are to Him, that we will become all God has created us to be, and thus to have the kind of impact needed, to once again turn the world right side up.
I believe by taking our will and submitting it to Him, that His activity (the Holy Spirit) in our lives, begins to put our lives back into the order that God wants for each one of us. To be so led by His Spirit that our wills reflect His, that our actions would be those that He would take and thus we will be Walking in the Spirit.