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As kids, we almost all inevitably faced the temptation at one point or another to slip our favorite candy bar into our pocket at a store without paying for it. So easy, and harmless, right?
That’s what a 38-year-old New Jersey man seemed to be thinking when he robbed the exact same 7-Eleven store at knifepoint four different times in four days—just to satisfy his craving for candy. His escapade began on a Monday and came to an end on Thursday as he was caught red-handed with a dozen Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups stuffed down his pants and later pled guilty to first degree armed robbery. He said to the Judge, “I know I shouldn’t have done it, I know it was wrong, but I couldn’t help it. I would do anything to get my hands on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.” 1
That story illustrates exactly what Paul is discussing with us in Galatians 5:16:25:
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
There is a tug of war that goes on in our hearts; in yours and in mine; where on the one hand we desire to serve and follow Jesus and on the other, we desire to serve and follow self. I call it the war within; what do you think?
The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. (Galatians 5:17)
Paul not only writes about it in Galatians, in his letter to the Romans he admits he struggles:
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 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. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:21-24).
Most of us identify with Paul. All of us struggle with the things we say, do and think.
I can’t believe I said that! An unkind word, superficial boasting about oneself. Or in a moment of anger; blasting someone, maybe a curse word or two. A tidbit of gossip, a flirtatious quip.
I can’t believe I actually did that. Went to a bar and got loaded. Was unfaithful to my spouse, ratted out a friend, told a lie. Took the promotion a fellow worker deserved; called in sick when I wasn’t.
I can’t believe I thought that. So filled with anger I wished him dead. So filled with un-forgiveness, I wished her harm. So filled with lust, I wanted someone who belonged to another.
All of us struggle.
To win the war within, Paul brackets today’s text with verse 16 and 25. In both places, literally it reads “walk in the Spirit.” Today, I want to say four things about walking in the Spirit that will enable us to resist temptation and win the war within.
Walking in the Spirit means to, first of all, believe that God’s Spirit does live in you.
When Jesus was with His disciples in the Upper Room on the night before He died He promised that after His death and resurrection God would send the Holy Spirit.
And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it isn’t looking for Him and doesn’t recognize Him. But you know Him, because He lives with you now and later will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
This promise is not limited to John.
Ezekiel 36:27: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
Romans 8:9: “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
I Corinthians 3:16: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
Galatians 4:6: “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”
II Timothy 1:14: “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”
Believe; that is exercise your faith in the word of God that what it says is true. And even though you cannot fully, or even partially, explain it, accept it as fact. God’s Spirit lives in you.
Believing this is so very important. If I believe I have the ability to craft a sermon that will help people, then that belief propels me back to the task at hand and I give it my best shot. If I believe I have the ability to work on an automobile engine, or wire a house, or ride a horse with expertise, or whatever, then that belief gives me not only confidence in myself to get the job done, but also the wherewithal to accomplish the task.
If we have faith that God’s Spirit dwells in us, it gives us confidence and the wherewithal in His ability to get the job done in and through us.
Paul writes the Philippians “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).
That means God’s Spirit is available to you to help you when it comes to battling temptation. He is able, more than able.
Second, ‘walking’ in the Spirit is a cooperative effort between you and the Spirit.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the Spirit would automatically give us a shot every morning to enable us to tackle the day and be just like Jesus? But the Spirit does not work that way; He needs our cooperation. That’s because the Holy Spirit collaborates with what the church has called for centuries ‘the means of grace;’ methods through which God works for the purpose of making us holy.
And what are the ‘means of grace’? Worship is a means of grace. When Christians come together to praise God, to pray to God, to encounter God, the Spirit gives us grace to become more Christ-like. Similarly, the church has said that baptism, communion, fasting, fellowship, meditation and serving others are ‘means of grace.
But the two most important ‘means of grace’ that will enable us to walk in the Spirit are prayer and God’s word; God’s word and prayer.
In this series we have already seen through Jesus that the word and prayer are two tools He has given us to battle temptation. In His first round with temptation in the desert, Jesus defeated temptation by wielding the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. And in His last battle in the garden, it was prayer that enabled Him to overcome.
Today, we are considering the third tool in our temptation toolbox, the Holy Spirit, who will more and more empower us to win the war within as we cooperate with Him by availing ourselves of the means of grace.
Third, it is important to note that the verb is progressive present tense command, a literal translation of which is “keep on continually walking.’
Or as the Amplified Bible renders it: “But I say, walk habitually in the [Holy] Spirit [seek Him and be responsive to His guidance], and then you will certainly not carry out the desire of the sinful nature.”
To become holy we must develop holy habits of feeding on all the means of grace.
As we create and nurture the right habits, what once seemed difficult becomes easier and easier until it becomes an ingrained part of life . . . a habit. To develop a habit, we must set aside a predetermined time each day. Don’t just say that you will get around to it sometime today for people who leave it to chance seldom develop the habit.
Christians who develop holy habits gain the victory over sin and self because holy habits enable us to walk in the Spirit (not rocket science).
In an interview for Rolling Stone, actor Jeff Bridges was asked what advice he wished he would have received at age 20. Bridges said: I got the advice—I just didn’t take it! My dad would say, “It’s all about habit, Jeff. You gotta get into good habits.”
And I said, “No, Dad, you gotta live each moment as it comes.”
And dad says, “That’s a wonderful thought, but that’s not what we are. We are habitual creatures. It’s about developing these grooves.”
“As I age, I can see his point. What you practice, that’s what you become.” 2
The more we feed our spirit nature by all the ‘means of grace’ the more we will win the ‘war within.’
I know that some of you are thinking, that’s not my experience.
Some of you may be thinking right at this moment, I’ve tried and failed so many times, I have come to accept I’m a failure at this stuff.
In that regard, some of us feel like the Apostle Paul did.
Oh, what a miserable person I am!” Paul agonized. Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:24).
If he would have left it there we would all be miserable. But he didn’t leave it there! Aren’t you glad he continued:
Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25).
He will not only forgive us; He WILL also empower us through His Spirit to lead a victorious over temptation and sin, Christian life.
Do you have a sin that you have tried to beat but instead it keeps beating you? You may be tempted to give up fighting, but we must not give up! We need to be WD-40 Christians. Did you know that WD-40 got its name because the first 39 experiments failed? WD-40 literally stands for “Water Displacement – 40th Attempt”. Imagine what your car door would sound like if they had given up.
It may take you 40 attempts to win the battle with temptation and replace the sin in your life with godliness. It may take you 140. No matter how long it takes, don’t give up. God through His Spirit will keep giving you the strength to fight and win the war within
He loves us so much and view us much differently than the way we often view ourselves.
The story is told of a somewhat primitive culture where brides where purchased from their parents using cattle as an exchange medium. An average woman might merit the price of two cows. An exceptional woman might bring three, while a less desirable family might receive an offer of one cow.
Into this society a rich suitor came looking for a wife. All of the families paraded their daughters before him, and everyone was surprised when he chose the most least desirable woman in the village. Perhaps it’s a bargain he’s after the townspeople speculated wondering if he might offer chickens instead of cows. But weren’t they were all shocked and surprised when he gave six cows and quickly whisked her away for an extended honeymoon.
When they returned months later, no one recognized the new bride. Gone were the slumping shoulders and dull eyes. She was a new person, radiating beauty and confidence. No, her husband didn’t pay for her to have a makeover. He simply showed her in as many ways he could that she was important and valuable to him.
And she began to act the part, to see herself as he saw her. And for the rest of her life she was known by all as that villages only six cow woman. 3
When God looks at our lives, He doesn’t just see what we are; He also sees what we can become. Talk about important and valuable:
Since God did not spare His own Son but freely gave Him up for us all won’t He also freely give us all things?
All the things necessary to live a life that pleases Him. With the assistance of the Spirit of the Living God, you and I can win the war within.
1 Ethan Adams, PreachingToday.com; source: Associated Press, “Thief with a sweet tooth admits robbing same store 3 times,” The Washington Post (3-13-17)
2 Green, Andy. The Last Word: Jeff Bridges on Dylan, the Dude and Surviving Box-Office Duds. [Rolling Stone, August 26, 2016]
3 Compiled by Miller, Kathy Collard and D. Larry. God’s Chicken Soup for the Spirit. [Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Starburst Press, © 1996]. Page 272.