There is an old story about a missionary who was talking with an American Indian about his spiritual life. When the missionary asked him about his struggle with temptation and godly living, this person said that it felt like there was a battle going on inside of him. The missionary asked him what the battle felt like and he said, “It’s like there are two dogs inside me that are fighting for dominance.”
The missionary then asked, “Which one is winning?
The Indian replied, “It depends on which one I feed the most.”
So it is in our spiritual lives. There is a battle raging within. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but “…with powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). This is true. But, what we are talking about involves something more than competing worldviews. It involves the ancient struggle between good and evil. The battlefield for this spiritual struggle is in human hearts, with the eternal destiny of each soul on the line.
When it comes to the battle raging within, the question we face on a daily basis is essentially the same question faced by the person in the story above. Which dog are we feeding the most? Over the next few lines we’ll discuss how this battle came to be, as well as the God-given strategy for victory.
First, we must remember the basis for Christian confidence. Romans 8:1-2 says, “1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Through Christ the life-giving Spirit sets us from law’s death grip of sin. This is further explained in verses 3-4, “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in human flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
There is the contrast. Well, actually, there is the conflict. The sinful nature and the Holy Spirit lead people in two separate directions to two vastly different destinations. No where in the Scriptures is this made clearer than in Galatians 5:16-26, “16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Second, we need to see why these two are in such conflict, why it is that they are leading us in oppositional directions. It is quite simple, really. The sinful nature leads to slavery and death. The Spirit leads to life and liberty. These two are set in contrast in Galatians 5:1-15 where we read, “1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will have to pay the penalty, whoever that may be. 11Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
These verses make it clear that the choice is ours. One road leads to slavery. One road leads to freedom. The contrast is stark. The consequences are monumental: life verses death! In Galatians 5 we see that this is even in the case when it comes to well-intentioned religious people.
(1) The false teachers in the Galatian churches would probably say that they were merely trying to preserve the purity of the church and help these Gentile converts by giving them a set of guidelines to follow. In reality, though, they were seeking to institute a performance-based system of religion motivated by the sinful nature.
(2) The truth of the Gospel as taught by the Apostle Paul stood in direct contrast to this. This is made clear in Galatians 5:5-7 where we read, “5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. 7You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” Here it is abundantly clear that the Gospel of Christ centers around faith-based obedience which is motivated by love.
This is the basis of freedom in Christ and is key to understanding what it means to live by the Spirit.
Living by the Spirit is not a call to hear and heed a mystical sense of right and wrong that God mysteriously places within us. It is, instead, a call to express the reality of faith through obedience to God which is motivated by love. Perfect performance is not the object, but purity of motive is. Thus the key, the thing that counts with God is faith expressing itself through love. This is the essence of a Spirit-driven life. Choosing to walk by the Spirit leads us to become all that God wants us to be. It leads us to Christ-likeness.
Hence, we see why Paul prayed as he did for the followers of Christ in Ephesus. In Ephesians 3:14-21 we are told that he prayed, “14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
This is not a formula for prayer. It is a prayer formed in the context of the marvelous purpose God has for the community of people who follow Christ and in view of the intense spiritual warfare into which we are thrust. Indeed, Paul knew what it was to be on the front lines in this struggle. He knew that these believers were there as well. Thus his prayer for them formed a God-given strategy for victory. He prayed for them in the best way he knew how. He prayed for them as we should pray for one another. He prayed for them the prayer that we should pray for ourselves. He prayed for the very thing that should be the prevailing desire of our hearts. He prayed that they would be strengthened with power through the Spirit of God in their inner being so that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith!
Is Christ living in you? I pray that you are being strengthened with power in your inner being through God’s Holy Spirit so that Christ might dwell in your heart through faith. Would you be so kind as to pray for the same for me?
© Bill Williams
July 23, 2006