So, you’ve become a Christian…walked the aisle, prayed the prayer, spoken in tongues, experienced miraculous healing, received Jesus into your heart – whatever your starting point might be. The point is, you are a Christian, and now you’re wondering why you are not automatically walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Why do I keep sinning? Why doesn’t God do something to stop me?” I know – I have had the same thoughts, the prayers of, “God, please help me!”
I don’t want to give the impression that God doesn’t give us power and strength to resist sin, but for a long time I didn’t really latch onto God’s answer to my cry: “I already did help you. My Son already died and rose again to set you free from bondage to sin. Go read Romans 6 again – it’s all in there. You don’t have to sin. You’re free from slavery to sin!”
I didn’t want to hear God’s answer. I wanted Him to give me brokenness – to force me to obey. I didn’t want to have to choose not to sin, to discipline myself “…and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5)
Let’s go back to Galatians 5. Just because the Holy Spirit is living in me does not mean that I am allowing the Holy Spirit to control me, to guide me, to shape the way I think and act. There is a constant battle between the flesh (the lustful desires and actions laid out in 5:19-20) and the Spirit. God does not force us to obey Him – he leaves it up to us to decide to love Him and serve him and to choose to walk in the Spirit. It is all our choice. God lays out the gift before us, and gives us His Holy Spirit to live in us when we become Christians, but we still have to choose to obey. He won’t force it.
If we keep feeding the flesh, keep choosing to give in to temptation instead of choosing to humble ourselves and accept the Holy Spirit’s help, we won’t live godly lives. If we continuously choose to disobey God, then we have to wonder whether we were ever saved to begin with, since a true Christian is not characterized by the continuous choice to rebel against God (as opposed to desiring to obey, and failing because I am not accepting the help God is holding out to me).
It can be confusing, and lead to despair if we let it. Satan wants to convince us that we can never really follow God, and that he doesn’t really love us because he doesn’t make us obey. We need to be like Paul, who perseveres even though he sounds discouraged and frustrated with his own ability to follow God: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Romans 7:15-25
Paul does not give up the fight, and neither can we! We must be determined to follow God, and focus our hearts and minds on the Spirit rather than the flesh, fighting hard with every weapon we have; prayer, scripture, fellowship, etc. That is why openness is so key: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:7-9
Note how John ties together openness (walking in the light) with fellowship with the verse we have all probably memorized about being forgiven when we confess our sins. It all goes together. Without openness, no brokenness. No brokenness, no confession. No confession, no forgiveness and cleansing.
So, all that is to say, just because I am a Christian does not mean that somehow I will automatically walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and be devoid of sin. Instead, it means that my greatest desire will be to love God and obey him, and that even though I still sin I keep bringing it to light, keep confessing, keep changing into the man he wants me to be. Everyone seems to know Romans 8:28, but 8:29 gives the purpose: “For to those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn of many brothers.”
I hope that helps, somehow.