Power and Freedom in the Spirit
Paul Clarke, Bishop's Stortford, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Before reading this article please read Galatians 5 and 6 carefully and prayerfully.
‘Power!’ – ’Freedom!’ – ‘Spirit of God!’ These words must stir within us aspirations for a greater and more dynamic experience of God’s working in our lives and that of the believing community to which we belong. And, yet, what do they mean, and what would the impact be where they are experienced? The purpose of this article is to address, not the outward form of participation when the church meets, but rather the inner reality of the power and freedom of the Spirit of God that so revolutionizes our lives that it energizes and inspires corporate worship and witness.
Where this power and freedom are known, individual and corporate experience will include a growing understanding of the grace of God, a wonderful sense of spiritual liberty, an overwhelming love for others, a growing hunger for God, a deep longing to be filled and empowered by the Spirit of God and joyful uplifting praise. Are these our experience?
Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches shows that there are two major factors guaranteed to rob them (and us) of power, freedom, joy and vitality in the worship and service of God.
- Legalism -the imposition of external rules and regulations by those who believe they will enhance spiritual living. It is vitally important in this area that we are able clearly to differentiate between what is scriptural, and what is tradition and preference. This will stop us falling into the error of attributing scriptural authority to matters of tradition (however helpful) or preference (however to our liking).
- Licence -failure to appreciate the seriousness of sin and the inner sanctifying power of the word of God and the Spirit of God.
Paul’s missionary endeavours were constantly under threat from those who followed behind him, insisting that faith in Christ must also be accompanied by adherence to external rules and regulations in order to promote godliness, (i.e., circumcision and the keeping of Moses’ law). Paul’s response to these men could not have been more passionate. Such insistence attacked the very core of the gospel - the sufficiency of the cross of Christ to save, grace as the source of all blessing, and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify and transform.
Paul shows that the work of Christ has not only dealt with the matter of their sins (judicially) but it has also delivered them from this present evil age and its power to enslave our lives. Before the gospel came, our sins placed us in bondage so that our allegiance was to this evil age and its god, our thinking was determined by the values of this age and our horizons were framed by its boundaries. BRUCE puts it very succinctly, ‘Christ’s death delivers His people . . . from the realm in which sin is irresistible into the realm where Christ is Lord’, F. F. BRUCE, Epistle to the Galatians, p. 75, Paternoster Press, 1982.
The ultimate goal of the gospel is the glory of God. Any doctrine or practice that seeks to give credit to man for his salvation or sanctification by introducing ‘works’ of any kind or strict adherence to our way of doing things, is a different gospel and a perversion of the ‘truth of the gospel’.
Christian freedom is not a license to sin but rather a freedom to be empowered by the Spirit of God so as to serve one another in love. Where we pursue love in the power of the Holy Spirit, personal and corporate holiness will also result, 1 Thess. 3. 12, 13.
We may talk about ‘free will’ but the only truly free person is a believer in the Lord Jesus. An unbeliever can only operate under the control of the sinful nature and unless quickened by the Spirit of God would never be saved. But a believer has the power and freedom of alternative choice, not only to believe and be saved but also to yield to the Spirit of God and know the life, joy and power of His indwelling. This freedom involves:
a) self-control, not self-indulgence;
b) selfless and loving service, not selfcentered ambition;
c) yielding to the gracious prompting of the indwelling Spirit of God, not being controlled by the passion of our sinful nature;
d) positive commitment to walking in step with the Spirit’s desires and will, not our own.
Where these occur, and we know true spiritual freedom, love for others will overwhelm us, the fruit of the Spirit will be seen in our attitudes and actions, and sin will become so abhorrent that we will do all we can to live godly lives.
The power of love, Galatians 5. 13-15
Paul links love with the expression of both freedom and holiness. Where there is love produced by the Spirit of God, the flesh will not dominate.
Paul calls this principle, ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’, Rom. 8. 2. We are therefore not free to do as we like but rather to do as we ought to do. Because the natural man – that is a man without Christ – is self-centered; external regulation or insistence upon traditions can never change him on the inside. This change only comes through the love of Christ and the work of the Spirit of God on the inside. Where this new law operates, we will:
a)treat all believers gently and graciously;
b) speak kindly and well of them at all times;
c) seek their physical and spiritual wellbeing and do all we can to further this in their lives;
d) find joy in hearing of believers being spoken well of, and saddened to hear others speaking unkindly or ungraciously of them;
e) want them to know that we love them;
f) understand that love builds up, while discord, strife and bitterness divide and destroy.
Rules and external regulation cannot guarantee spirituality or force people to get along together. Just the opposite is true; rules create discord, producing pride in those who keep them and criticism of those who fail to keep them. This attitude will result in internal division and believers ‘eating up’ one another.
Walking in the Spirit, Galatians 5. 16-26
Paul also introduces the principle of spiritual conflict. Attitudes and actions come either from the ‘flesh’- the principle opposed to God at work in the old nature, or the ‘Spirit’- the power at work in the new nature. These two are irreconcilable enemies.
All of us must ensure that the Spirit of God dominates our thinking and actions. ROBERT COLEMAN says, ‘The promise of the fullness of the Spirit is not a dogma to be argued, but reality to be experienced . . . the reality of the all-encompassing, Christpossessing holiness of the Spirit is basic New Testament Christianity’. The Mind of the Master, ROBERT E. COLEMAN, p. 35-36, Harold Shaw Publishers, 2000. Where individually and collectively we are walking in the Spirit, our desires, aspirations and behaviour towards one another will be Spirit-directed and empowered. Power is available! Dissensions, rivalries, bitterness, grudges, the inner conflicts of immorality, jealousy and self-promotion have nothing to do with the Spirit of God.
The fruit of the Spirit
Where we do not positively submit to the Spirit of God in our personal and corporate lives, we may commit the very sins which mark unbelievers, including hatred, selfish ambitions, and outbursts of anger!
Fruit is the evidence of vitality in a living organism and so the evidence of the presence of the Spirit of God in the lives of individuals and local churches includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In contrast, legalism and license produce division, pride, envy and spiritual sterility.
The message is clear, and one that we must embrace; spiritual fruit cannot be produced by man-made regulations.
Fulfilling the law of Christ – attitudes must impact actions, Galatians 6. 1-10
Paul now uses lovely pictures to show that where the presence of the Spirit of God is known, our relationships should be marked by actions that positively impact the lives of one another.
As the Spirit of God changes and moulds our attitudes, this results in unselfish actions towards others. So we are busy:
- restoring those who have ‘slipped up’, i.e., those who in an unguarded moment have been caught by temptation and ‘overtaken’;
- bearing burdens - firstly, those of others, and then one’s own;
- sharing blessings that we have received;
- sowing and reaping - an abiding principle.
Restoring -The picture is of a believer who has been caught at an unguarded moment by temptation, surprised and slips up, but this is not a deliberate and premeditated act of sin. Paul’s critics - and perhaps we too today, when others do not live up to our spiritual benchmarks - would respond by:
a) condemning in a spirit of pharisaical self-righteousness;
b) proudly considering themselves to be spiritually superior to those who had fallen - such things would never happen to me!
The comparison is not one where two are tempted and one fails and the other is victorious. One falls and fails because he is tempted; the other does not face this temptation. The one who is able to help in this situation is described as being ‘spiritual’. In this context, a spiritual person is one whose behaviour and conduct is moulded by the Spirit, 5. 16, who is led by and open to, the Spirit, 5. 18, who displays the characteristics (fruit) of the Spirit, 5. 22-23, and who keeps in step with the Spirit, 5. 25.
The process of restoration must be undertaken in a spirit of meekness with a constant awareness of one’s own frailty and propensity to sin. The word ‘restoration’ has behind it both the skill and gentleness of the person restoring and the purpose of the restoration.
Bearing burdens - again a lovely picture of helping someone with a burden they are carrying. It includes sharing in their sorrows, sitting where they sit, listening and sympathizing in a spirit of empathy, confidentiality and love. It can only be done in a spirit of unselfishness. It’s the opposite of indifference.
Two words are used for burdens. Referring to those borne by others, the word refers to a heavy burden, Gal. 6. 2, but when referring to that carried by the individual believer, Gal. 6. 5, it refers to a soldier’s pack, whether light or heavy, W. E. VINE, Dictionary of New Testament Words, Oliphants, 1969. In a society where to admit weakness is considered a failure, many believers carry burdens, pains and sorrows, afraid to be thought of as weak and failing. Where are those who will engage in this ministry today?
Sharing Blessings – attitudes controlled by the Spirit will create mutual interdependence and a willingness to share the blessings we receive. For example:
- the Gentiles share the blessings of the gospel with the Jews, Rom. 15. 27;
- the prosperous believer shares temporal blessings with those in need, Rom. 12. 13;
- those who are taught, share temporal things with those who teach, Gal. 6. 6.
It may be that the Galatians were not fulfilling their responsibilities to those who taught them the scriptures. Living in fellowship with one another is all about mutual interdependence, each one of us fulfilling the ministry we have received from the Lord and using our gifts and blessings for the good of the ‘body’.
Sowing and Reaping – this is an unchanging principle of life, as fixed as that of the law of gravity. It has to do with the law of cause and effect. God is never outwitted and neither can He be treated with contempt as though He is unable to respond. The principle remains true in all avenues of life and service, not just in the area of farming! Sowing to the flesh means selfish aims and the accumulation of possessions for selfish ends; sowing to the Spirit relates to living out Christ, sharing what we have with others, showing gentleness, kindness and love.
In answer to the question, ‘How long do we keep showing meekness and helping others?’ Paul says that we are not to grow tired in well-doing because the principle of sowing and reaping always works. We must then look for, and grasp, the opportunity to do good - to all believers and unbelievers. Investing ourselves in the lives of others is a wonderful template for both evangelism and pastoral care. Let’s be alert to the opportunities that exist to pray for others, care for others and share with others.
The challenge is clear. The gospel brings us into the glorious freedom of life in the Spirit of God. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty! Let us not then devise our own rules and regulations for each other - whether these relate to which Bible version is being used or to the manner of our prayers or to how meetings should be structured. These are matters outside of right to impose a view on others however well intentioned. Such insistences are inconsistent with Christian liberty and will rob believers of joy, power and spiritual vitality, and foster pride, discord and broken relationships. Let us rather aspire to know the freedom of the word of God and the empowering life of the Spirit of God. Where such freedom and power exist, we will know:
- the love of Christ overwhelming us for others;
- freedom from selfishness and pride in our thinking and/or relationships;
- the fruit of the Spirit produced in our lives and churches;
- true discipleship, i.e., godly self control; vibrant participation in worship and praise;
- A desire to share blessings and do good to all men (but especially believers), confident in the promise that such things will eventually result in a joyous harvest for God.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Paul Clarke Following senior executive roles within the Lloyds TSB Group, Paul took early retairement in 1998 to devote more time to teaching and pastoral responsibilies within his local church. He has been an Editor of Service since 1998.