“You are trying to control me!” Perhaps you have said that to someone or have even been accused of being a control freak yourself. You and I both know that no one likes to be controlled, right? And yet when it comes to the spiritual realm, every human being is controlled by either their sinful nature, or by the Holy Spirit. There is no third option. So, which one controls you?
The "fruit of the Spirit" consists of nine qualities supernaturally produced within those who are trusting in Jesus as their Savior from sin: "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22,23).
Man's sinful nature is capable of producing the opposite qualities: Hatred, hopelessness, misery, impatience, meanness, wickedness, unfaithfulness, harshness and a lack of self-control.
"Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you" (Romans 8:8,9).
So, which is it? Are you controlled by the Holy Spirit, or by your sinful nature? "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires" (Romans 8:5). What is your mind set upon: sinful things, or holy things? The battleground is the mind. Scripture instructs believers to think about "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – and anything that is excellent or praiseworthy" (Philippians 4:8).
Christians are forgiven, but we are not permitted to intentionally indulge sinful thoughts.
"Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16).
So are you controlled by the Holy Spirit, or by your sinful nature?
The “real you" is who you want to be. Those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit sincerely want to live for Christ, while those controlled by their sinful nature pursue sin as their primary objective. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
The Apostle Paul described the ongoing struggle believers have with their sinful nature. “The good that I want to do, I don't do; and the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing" (Romans 7:19). Paul clearly wanted to do the right thing. “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law…so then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:22,25).
Think of your sinful nature as the “basement” of your soul. Paul was determined to stay out of the basement. The apostle's heart and mind were consumed with Christ, and he fixed his thoughts daily upon the Lord. At the same time, Paul recognized that he was far from perfect. There were still times that his thoughts were drawn to the basement of his soul, even if only for 10 or 20 seconds. In spite of his imperfections, Paul consistently resisted the urge to think evil thoughts.
Paul was controlled by the Holy Spirit, and so are you if the Holy Spirit is living within you (Romans 8:9). “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
J.I. Packer said, “The Holy Spirit’s main ministry is not to give thrills, but to create in us Christlike character.” Charles Spurgeon said, “Without the Spirit of God, we can do nothing. We are as ships without wind. We are useless.” And D.L. Moody said, “The work of the Spirit is to impart life, to implant hope, to give liberty, to testify of Christ, to guide us into all truth, to teach us all things, to comfort the believer, and to convict the world of sin.”
It is a beautiful thing to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. R.A. Torrey said, “If we think of the Holy Spirit only as an impersonal power or influence, then our thought will constantly be, how can I get hold of and use the Holy Spirit; but if we think of Him in the biblical way as a divine Person, infinitely wise, infinitely holy, infinitely tender, then our thought will constantly be, ‘How can the Holy Spirit get hold of and use me?’”
D.L. Moody regularly pointed out that before a believer can be filled with the Holy Spirit, he or she must first be emptied. Moody said, “I firmly believe that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and self-seeking and everything that is contrary to God’s Law, the Holy Spirit will come and fill every corner of our hearts; but if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and self-seeking and pleasure and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God; and I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him when he is full already with something else.”
Does the Holy Spirit control your daily life, or is sin still your master? The biblical message to the believer is clear: “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). One of the marks of a Christian is that when the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, you turn away from it and repent. After all, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2 Timothy 2:19).
My friend, do not be discouraged by the fact that you are still far from perfect. Instead, be thankful that “God works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). And as a believer in Jesus, God has removed your sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).
The Lord's everlasting love and grace motivates believers to want to do God's will in everything we do. And so you see, living under the control of the Holy Spirit is a very good thing indeed!
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.