Living a holy life, free from sin’s power
The apostle Paul boldly declared that he loved God’s Law with all his heart. Yet he kept failing to keep God’s commandments on his own mental ability, because there was some “power” was at war with his mind. This power is the sinful nature of the human heart. Later, Paul continued to explain that the true Power to defeat sin comes from the Holy Spirit – if we allow Him to rule over our hearts and control our minds.
Romans 7:22-23,25 NLT I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Romans 8:2-6 NLT And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
God gives the Holy Spirit to every believer who repents of all their sins and is baptised in Jesus’ name. He is the Helper who dwells in our hearts and is always with us. It is almost as if Jesus never left the earth and is with us every second of every day.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ESV And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
Acts 2:38 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
John 14:15 ESV 15-19 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Yet breakthroughs over sin do not come automatically, because we can still choose to over-rule God’s Spirit. It is only when we give the Holy Spirit full authority over our hearts that we have the power to overcome sin and obey God’s Word faithfully. Henceforth, we become “slaves” of God and righteousness, in the sense that we find we cannot return to our sinful nature, our old master. Only a heart that’s wholly led by the Holy Spirit is capable of fulfilling the standard of Jesus’ teachings.
Also, see How to test for the Holy Spirit.
Romans 6:17-18 ESV But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Romans 6:22-23 NLT But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Anyone who continues to self-rule, in opposition to God’s Spirit, will not experience breakthroughs over sin or attain eternal life. It is as if they are still spiritually dead. These are whom the Bible calls the “sons of disobedience.”
Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
It is important to note that a life of true holiness cannot be attained by our self-effort. This only leads to “dead works,” religiosity, and hypocrisy. A holy life that pleases God comes as a result of placing our faith in the Holy Spirit obeying Him.
Hebrews 6:1 ESV Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
Some signs of a heart that is fully submitted to the Holy Spirit include:
- Spiritual vitality and physical well-being | Proverbs 4:20-22 NLT My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart, for they bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body.
- Spiritual growth and good fruit, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self control etc.| Luke 8:15 ESV As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
- Goodness for ourselves and our children | Deuteronomy 5:29 ESV Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!
Symptoms of a sinful nature
Jesus Himself warned us that out of the human heart comes “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness.” A heart that is not completely yielded to the Holy Spirit will continue to bear such bad fruit.
Mark 7:21-22 For from within the hearts of men come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness.
We can put on our best appearances before people, but we cannot hide the sinful nature of our hearts from God. He examines our hidden motives. God’s Word reminds us that our attitudes count much more than our words or our actions.
1 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT … Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.
Anyone who is still a slave to their old sinful nature, instead of a “slave of God,” will:
- Exhibit bitterness, jealousy, and selfish ambition | James 3:14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
- Show disregard for God’s warnings about all forms of idol worship | 1 Kings 11:4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.
- Lack control over our tongues | James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
- Think our success comes from our personal effort and abilities | Deuteronomy 8:17-18 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
- Seek to look good before others | Luke 16:15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
- Fail to give God glory or thank Him for everything | Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts.
- Fall for the cares of this world | Luke 21:34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.
- Neglect to care for brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need | Deuteronomy 15:7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,
Satan targets our sinful nature
Just as the Holy Spirit is the Spirit who brings us life, Satan is the spirit who brings death. The devil is called a murderer and he persistently seeks to seduce our hearts and corrupt our minds. We see three explicit examples of this amongst Jesus’ disciples.
John 8:44 NIV You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
- Satan prompted Judas Iscariot’s heart to betray Jesus, who later carried out his plan. | John 13:2 ESV During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,
- Satan filled Ananias’s heart with ideas to lie to the Holy Spirit. | Acts 5:3 ESV But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?
- Satan instigated Peter to focus on the things of man, rather than on the things of God. This is why Jesus rebuked Satan when he turned to Peter at the Last Supper. | Matthew 16:23 ESV But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
The devil continues to do the same amongst Christians today. He fills our minds with rational sounding arguments on why we should go back to our sinful patterns, instead of choosing to obey the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 10:4-5 ESV For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
It is, therefore, vital to grow in spiritual maturity and learn to recognise the works of the devil in our hearts.
2 Corinthians 2:10-11 ESV Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
Satan prompted Judas to do something evil, Ananias to lie, and Peter to think about earthly things. How often have we also betrayed the Holy Spirit by choosing to do evil instead of good, told a lie to get out of an inconvenient situation, or stressed about earthly matters? When we follow such patterns, we are in reality, following Satan.
Persistent disregard of the Holy Spirit leads to eternal destruction
Every time we succumb to something that goes against God’s commandments, we grieve the Holy Spirit and glorify Satan.
Ephesians 4:26-32 ESV Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
When we persistently harden our hearts and refuse to heed the Holy Spirit’s promptings, we show God that we are happy to “insult and disdain the Holy Spirit” and “treat the blood of His Son as if it were common and unholy.”
Hebrews 3:7-8,10-11 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion… Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
Hebrews 10:29 ESV How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
God is nobody’s fool. God will extend His unending grace to those who recognise their need for the Holy Spirit’s help in every circumstance, but He will not tolerate the insolence of those who refuse Him and “trample” on Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for us. Eventually, such followers will meet a fiery end, just like any other non-believer.
Hebrews 6:4-8 ESV For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
The Bible gives us a vivid example of this with Ananias and his wife. Both of them were not spared more than 24 hours after they blatantly lied to the Holy Spirit. Ananias and his wife dropped dead on the spot. Today, we may not witness such dramatic examples, but the spiritual death in our hearts can be very real.
Acts 5:7-10 ESV After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
Recognising the onset of spiritual death
Every human heart is equipped with an inbuilt spiritual “alarm system” to alert us if we are disobeying the Holy Spirit. These alarm bells include:
- Anxiety, despair, stomach ulcers, an aching heart | Lamentations 1:20 “Look, O Lord, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious…
- Mental confusion, lack of clarity, continuation of impure practices | Ephesians 4:17-19 NLT With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
- Feeling far from God | Isaiah 29:13 And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
When we experience any of these alarm bells, it is a clear signal that we need to quickly go back to God and invite the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and inform us of the sin that has grieved Him. It may be that we think we are innocent and righteous in our own eyes, but God weighs our hearts according to the standards of His Son, Jesus Christ, not our human ones. We all need God’s guidance on how to live a life that pleases Him.
Psalm 139:23-24 NLT Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Proverbs 21:2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Acts 8:21-22 … your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.
God will gently correct us and lead us into His ways, and refresh our spirits every time we repent. God is a good and gracious Father, who is forever patient and forgiving to those who humbly seek Him. How we miss out of His grace when we don’t turn to His Spirit for wisdom, counsel, and correction.
Proverbs 1:23-33 NLT Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise. “I called you so often, but you wouldn’t come. I reached out to you, but you paid no attention. You ignored my advice and rejected the correction I offered. So I will laugh when you are in trouble! I will mock you when disaster overtakes you—when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster engulfs you like a cyclone, and anguish and distress overwhelm you. “When they cry for help, I will not answer. Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me. For they hated knowledge and chose not to fear the Lord. They rejected my advice and paid no attention when I corrected them. Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes. For simpletons turn away from me—to death. Fools are destroyed by their own complacency. But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm.”
Also, see A prayer for breakthrough.
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