There are many attributes that Christians [should] have in common. Scripture paints pictures for us about the love we have and are known by, but perhaps one of the more overlooked attributes of the believer is the internal struggle against sin.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire 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 5.16-17
When we come to God for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ by grace, we are born Spiritually. Jesus called this the “second birth”, and it is the moment when our eternal, Spiritual life begins. This life will not taste death, even though our physical bodies will. And this Spiritual life is the result of the Holy Spirit taking up residence within us and empowering us to grow in Holiness.
The entire purpose of the Law and the Old Covenant (Old Testament) is to reveal to us that we are incapable of keeping God’s commandments and honoring Him with our lives. Thus He offers us forgiveness and salvation, and gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey and be holy.
But since we remain in our bodies and have not yet been freed completely from our sinful nature, our spirit and flesh are battling one another. Paul says that the desire of the flesh are things that we please. Sin feels good, it is alluring, it is pleasurable; at least in the moment. And the only way we can refrain from doing those things – those very things we please, is to walk by the Spirit.
John Owen puts it simply:
“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
As long as we remain in our bodies, they will have temptations and desires that are sinful. Unfortunately, that is just the way it is. And Scripture tells us plainly that our flesh and Spirit will be at war with one another. That means that we can simply test ourselves by examining the battle going on within ourselves. Is the Spirit convicting you? Does your heart feel like a battle ground sometimes? Take heart! This is perhaps the most affirming attribute of your Spiritual health possible.
If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then it means He does not reside within you – because none of us is perfect in our own nature. If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then get on your face and ask God to forgive you for your sins and send you the Spirit. If you have been quenching the Spirit for so long that you did at one point feel His conviction, but now no longer do, then get on your face and ask Him to reveal the sin in your life and those things that are distancing you from Him. He will respond. He will reveal it to you – if you are not already aware of the sin.
Many times we can grow frustrated with ourselves, for struggling with the same sin repeatedly, or for finding victory over one sin and suddenly finding ourselves in a new one. But we should rather find this as an encouragement. The Holy Spirit’s role is to convict us and sanctify us:
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”
– John 16.8
So let us take comfort in the conviction of the Spirit. Let us live by the Spirit and therefore not give in to the desires of the flesh. Let us lay ourselves continually on the altar and ask God to refine us, and then we can say with David that God’s correcting staff comforts us – because we know His presence by His chastising work in our lives, He is not leaving us to our own devices.
– Ps 23.4