The Holy Spirit - DEVELOPING CHRISTIAN CHARACTER

CHAPTER 10 

DEVELOPING CHRISTIAN CHARACTER

God?s Word clearly teaches us that the Holy Spirit is vitally concerned with and instrumental in the believer?s spiritual development. God intends that our ambition in life will be that we might grow spiritually. We are to grow in spiritual maturity and experience (II Pet.3:18), in our understanding of the truth (II Tim.3:14-17), and in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus (Phil.3:8-14). Spiritual progress is not only seen in our knowledge of the Word, it is displayed and is only actually true when its principles are expressed in our lives. God?s purpose is that every one who belongs to Christ will show moral and spiritual likeness to His Son (Rom.8:29, 12:1-2, II Cor.3:18). This great, transforming work is brought about by the Spirit when we allow Him to have His way and accomplish God?s will in our lives. He will not be satisfied with anything less; neither should we be satisfied with a partial conformity to Christ, a mediocre representation of what should be fully true in every life belonging to Him.  The great ambition of the apostle Paul was to live Christ (Phil.1:21) and to ?win Christ? (Phil.3:8) in a way that he might realize in his experience all that was possible for Him to be in the Lord Jesus. Our profession doesn?t mean very much if we are content just to be saved, to know we will never be in hell and will be in heaven, and along the way to live so that there is no clear reflection of Christ, nor development of that fruit that was seen so clearly in Him and which He desires to see in us. Peter says, ?he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure? (II Peter 1:9-10). The things lacking are those characteristics that express real faith (1:5-7) and they are to be developed and seen in the child of God, those unique qualities that were only perfectly seen  in the Lord Himself.

The believer?s experience is often like the man in Romans 7. The great truth of our identification with Christ in His death so that we have died to sin is developed in Romans 6. We are to reckon that to be true as God says it is true and to act in agreement with it in our daily life. But in some way, we find out that there is no power in self alone to live for God. The ability to carry out these things in practice must come from the One Who indwells the believer for this purpose. So when we finally come to the realization that there is no ability to overcome the effect of the flesh by law-keeping or self-effort, the God-given solution is brought before us in chapter 8. This is the chapter of the Holy Spirit that we all need to study and understand. About eighteen times we read of the Holy Spirit, and victory results now where before it has been all ?I? with its failures.  We commence from the position we enjoy, in that there is no condemnation to one who is in Christ Jesus (even though we realize our failure and discouragement when looking at self, such as in chapter 7). In chapter 8,  we find what the Spirit of God is doing and producing in us. The key to spiritual growth for a believer is for him to consciously  realize His presence and purpose and  develop deliberate submission to His power and control.

We find first of all in Rom.8:2 that the law (controlling principle) of the Spirit of life has made us free from the law of sin and death. The law itself, written in stone, brought death and condemnation because of man?s failure and inability to keep it. We are condemned when we apply its legal requirement to ourselves. In 7:9 we find that the commandment itself stirs the human heart to disobey, and it works to bring death to the individual (7:11). In addition,  the  principle  of sin  seeks to  work in  the life of the believer, and that working produces death and ineffectiveness for God. What  provides  deliverance  from  this  awful  power? Not self-will or self-working, but the principle linked with the Spirit Who produces life by making real to the believer his link with a risen Christ (6:4,9,11). His work is to produce in us a life that operates on this principle.

Next we are told that the characteristic of those He is speaking of is that they ?walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit? (8:4).  Before salvation, the direction and manner of their life as well as the aim and motive of their living  was to please self without consideration of God?s will. The idea of life as a walk indicates progress and movement; it speaks of the person involving himself in an activity with a purpose in view.  This present manner of living stands in sharp contrast to the self-centered, unrighteous living manifested by the worldling. It turns our attention toward the indwelling Person Who gives power to the child of God to live in a different way with desires to  please the Lord. This is God?s intent for every believer.

When this desire is lacking in ourselves, we are showing a lack of exercise in the spiritual realm. We are also showing little appreciation for the love and work of Christ that has brought us into this sphere of fellowship with Himself. We owe a debt (8:12), the sense of which produces a response in the soul; that response expresses a moral obligation that results in a desire to do what is according to His will. In Gal.5:16, to ?walk in the Spirit? is the first teaching that counteracts the idea some had (and have) that if we do not use the law to restrain sin, then we have nothing to restrain the flesh from exerting itself. That would result in a life of sin and fleshly indulgence.  However, this is not true. The Christian life is not lived, as some mistakenly think, by trying not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, so that as a result, we would be walking in the Spirit. If it were possible for us not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh by self-will and effort, that would not mean that we would be walking in the Spirit,  and that kind of  life would only be Phariseeaical, legal and miserable. It is only by allowing the leading and controlling of the Holy Spirit that anyone of us can live a life of righteousness and in this way bring pleasure to God. The entirety of life (as God intends us to live it) is to be centered in the spiritual realm with the Spirit of God controlling, empowering and directing the believer?s life for God. C. A. Coates, writing on Romans 8 says, ?People sometimes speak of the ?higher? Christian life, but there is no truly Christian life LOWER than ?the Spirit life on account of righteousness?. May we know what it is to walk in the practical and experimental power of the Spirit as life!?

Then we learn that there is a work done in our minds (8:5-6), so that the patterns of thinking are altered. The first part of the verse clearly speaks of the unsaved man, the man who is ?after the flesh.? All he can do is ?mind the things of the flesh,? because he has no power or ability to do otherwise. That is the normal course of his life. Eph.2:3 depicts the character of life before salvation, that we were ?fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.? No higher level of life could be attained, no matter how refined or educated it might be. The Spirit?s work  is to turn the mind with all its purposes and intentions so there is a desire for and appreciation of the things of God, His word and all that is according to His will. In addition, the Spirit gives us the ability to personally enter into those spiritual elements and to see them carried out in our lives. We read in Romans 12:1-2 of our personal responsibility toward this as well, to be ?transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.? This is a response on our part to the work of the Spirit within us, a response resulting from His work and impossible without that work. In Romans 8:9, He has the lovely title, ?Spirit of Christ.? Through this expression, God is bringing to our minds the One Who desires and is able to  fill the mind  of the  believer  with  Christ and to bring Him before us in a personal and experimental way.

THE FLESH VS. THE SPIRIT

At this point we need to state clearly the nature of the conflict and the character of the antagonists involved in this spiritual warfare. We are not far along in the Christian life before we learn there is something that hinders our spiritual progress and seeks to counteract all the work God wants to produce in us. Some say that it is ?the old man,? but God tells us that the old man has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6). What is the ?old man?? It is the entirety of the unsaved man, what he was in Adam, in his sins, condemned and judged guilty by God. That ?old man? has been put to death under judgment in God?s reckoning when Christ died. But there are influences, effects, continued impulses and desires that remain to plague the Christian all the way home to heaven. That accumulated working of resistance to the things of God is ?the flesh.? Sometimes in Scripture, the expression ?flesh? refers to the physical body, but that is not the meaning when we learn that the flesh is evil and contrary to God. The flesh is what we are when not controlled by the Holy Spirit. There are deeds that result both from the flesh controlling and from the Spirit controlling, and they are mutually exclusive. There really is no area of one?s life that is ?neutral? for all is either of the flesh or the Spirit.

The flesh is always and unchangeably contrary to God and God?s will (Rom.8:7 ?. .the carnal mind? is the ?mind of the flesh.?) ?The flesh lusteth (opposes strongly) the Spirit, and the Spirit the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would? (Gal.5:17). It cannot be changed in its character, for it is incorrigible and always against the spiritual. God never intends for us to improve the flesh or seek to use it for God. King Saul pictures for us a man trying to bring the ?best? of the flesh to use it for God and then thinking that God will be pleased with it (I Sam.15:3,9,21-23). Agag is a picture of the flesh, a descendent of Amalek. The sacrifice of the flesh and all it produces, be it ever so pleasing and attractive to men, cannot be accepted by God. The life and service of the Pharisees, with all their desires and good motives allowed, was only at best the service of the flesh, an outward conformity with legal observances that God rejected and the Lord Jesus condemned. We must be careful that we as believers do not try to serve God by bringing the ?best? the flesh can produce to try to use it for Him. All service for God must be done in the power of the Spirit through the yielded life of a child of God.

We might wonder at times why God allows the flesh to continue in a person after salvation. Why does He not remove this hindering, grieving thing from which we all long to be free? We quote Samuel Jardine?s comment, ?There is a hidden wisdom in our Lord?s permission of the continued presence of ?the flesh? in the child of God. It thwarts and humbles him. It creates searchings of heart that would be unknown if he were immediately relieved of that old nature. Thus there are struggles that ensue and lessons are learned in which spiritual character is developed . . . as the grim reality of corruption within himself grips the Christian?s heart, he learns to brand it as thoroughly bad and wholly incapable of improvement.?

Gal. 5:19-21 lists the ?works of the flesh? with all their detestable evidences seen to some extent in every life. There are works listed that we all condemn, but the flesh can be seen in lesser ways as well, some of which are tolerated and excused. All are still the works of the flesh. The idea of ?works? seems to give the thought that some may be produced without the others being seen. Every person does not have all these expressions of the flesh. However, they are all completely contrary to God and His will, for those that do such things ?shall not inherit the kingdom of God.? That is to say that these things are not to be the characteristic practice of the child of God.  These are the  marks of one who is not saved at all.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

In contrast to the previous list, Gal.5:22-23 lists the ?fruit of the Spirit.? It is important to see that this is not what we produce in ourselves; it is the result of His Presence and power at work in our lives. It is a manifestation of His work now being seen through our new nature. It is the effect of a living reality that should be true of every believer. That fruit was seen fully and completely only in the Lord Jesus. It is very profitable to consider these nine expressions of that precious fruit fully developed in His blessed life. It is in Him that we see ?all the virtues of this lovely cluster of spiritual fruit. . .in Him was seen the highest attainment in spirituality in its Godward, manward and selfward relations. Love flowed in every movement of the Lord Jesus (John 15:10; 13:1; 14:21). Joy abounded in His fulfillment of His Father?s will (Heb.12:2; Psalm 40:8; Luke 10:21). Peace encompassed Him amidst ?the strife of tongues? and the discords of men (John 14:27; I Peter 2:23). Kindness, attributed to God and required of us was a constant attitude (cf. John 8:11). The bounty of goodness was exhibited in His miracles of healing and provision (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38). Fidelity shone as He honored His Father, as he worked the works of Him that sent Him and dealt with men as ?the light of the world? (John 9:4-5). The immense moral strength of this perfect character appears in His meekness. Meekness that bows His head to receive ?the yoke?, that submits to ?the contradiction of sinners? and finally to ?the death of the Cross? (Matt.11:29; Heb.12:3; Phil. 2:8). The attitudes of the Man Christ Jesus in circumstances of stress and difficulty whether occasioned by friend or foe showed Him to be in perfect self-control (Lk.22:61; I Pet.2:21-23). The complete portrait is that of an ideal and harmonious personality!? (Samuel Jardine).

This fruit is to be personally expressed in our lives as well. They are not separate fruits, as if one person could have ?love? but not have ?joy? or any other one of these. These are not ?fruits? but ?fruit? seen in its nine-fold development. They are a reflection of the character of Christ seen in these ways as the Spirit produces them in the life of a believer who is yielded to Him and who allows Him to work as He desires. They come through walking in the Spirit (Gal.5:16,25) and being led of the Spirit (Gal.5:18). It is the spontaneous result of life in the Spirit as God intends and desires it.  If it were more clearly present, we believe others would be attracted to us to learn more of its cause.  We must freely admit that many, if not most, of the problems encountered in assembly fellowship are because of a lack of this fruit. Those problems that cause disagreement do not usually concern the fundamentals of the faith;  rather they are usually caused by one?s hurt pride, an offended ego, a deficiency of love or the lack of meekness on the part of saints. It is also true that failure in these aspects of Christian living harms the testimony that should honor Christ and attract sinners to Him for salvation. We acknowledge that our weakness and ineffectiveness in Christian testimony is usually due to a lack of this fruit.

May our very brief consideration of this subject stir our hearts that we might not be satisfied with anything less than full conformity to our blessed Lord Jesus. God desires to make us like His Son; this will be fully realized when we are with and like Him forever, but may it be true to some extent now.

It is said that in St. Peter?s, a church building in Cologne, Germany, there are two pictures standing side by side depicting the crucifixion of Peter. The two are virtually identical and the explanation is given as follows: In the early 19th century Napoleon ransacked the city and stole the original picture that had been painted by the artist.  While the  first picture was away, the artist, without the original, painted another picture. In time the original was restored  to the city  and the  two  were  placed  side  by  side. Experts now say that there is so little difference between the two that you cannot tell which is the original and which is the duplicate. In like manner the Holy Spirit?s purpose is to express the exact likeness of Jesus Christ on the unworthy canvas of every believer?s life so that He might be seen in us. Without doubt, He has the ability and desire to do it; are we allowing him to do so?

"And, is it so, we shall be like Thy Son?

  Is this the grace that He for us has won?

Father of glories, thought beyond all thought!

  In glory to Thine own blest likeness brought."

"O Jesus, Lord who loved us like to Thee?

Fruit of Thy work, with Thee, too, there to see

Thy glory, Lord, while endless ages role;

Thy saints the prize and travail of Thy soul."

"The heart is satisfied, can ask no more;

All thought of self is now forever o'er;

Christ, its unmingled object, fills the heart

In blest adoring love -- its endless part."

                        J. N. Darby  (BHB 366)