Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.
When I talk with people needing to make a decision, big or small, I frequently hear them refer to a mysterious inner resource:
- My gut tells me…
- I’ve got this hunch…
- My intuition says…
- My instincts point to…
- Something deep inside nudges me…
I also hear people express regret for not having listened to those inner promptings: “I just wish I had listened to my gut!” “I wish I had gone with my instincts!” I too have done things that didn’t feel right at the time and lived to regret it. I do think there is something to paying attention to our instincts and intuition.
But there is something even more needful to listen to than our instincts and intuition! As a believer indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit I want to know more about how the Spirit leads us. It is God’s Holy Spirit after all who bears “witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). It is God’s promise that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:14). I want to “Live by the Spirit” who leads us from within (Galatians 4:16).
In the last two weeks eVotionals (“Are You Headed in the Right Direction?” and “Weighing What Is Stirring Within You”), we have looked at our need to stop and be aware of the mysterious crosscurrents within us. For inside every believer there are the Holy Spirit’s breathings against the undertow of sinful self-interest.
In today’s Scripture the Apostle Paul reveals these inner movements: “what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh”. What the Apostle Paul calls the “flesh” (sarx), refers not to our physical bodies but to what we are apart from God, i.e. our sinful self-interest. And who among us does not feel this inner battle: the desires of the Spirit opposing the desires of sinful self-interest! It is important that we not only pay attention to this battle, but that we know how to discern the opposing movements. (Note: last week’s practice of the Examen is a good way to begin.)
Paul says that when we “live by the Spirit”, or in daily reliance on Him, He produces “fruit” within, namely: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). It is important for us to go with those movements of the Holy Spirit that lead us in the way of “love, joy, peace…”
But what do movements contrary to the Holy Spirit feel like within us? How can I recognize those inner nudgings that always lead me wrong? I jotted down the list below. See if it helps.
Love: hatred; resentment, hostility, contempt, enmity, apathy
Joy: despair, futility, misery, hopelessness, defeatism, gloom
Peace: anxiety, fear, weary, distress, tension
Patience: impatience, irritability, frustration, intolerance
Kindness: meanness, spitefulness, cruelty, inconsiderateness
Generosity: greed, selfishness, stinginess, cheapness
Faithfulness: untrue, deceitful, treacherous
Gentleness: harshness, callousness, ruthlessness
Self-control: immoderate, unrestrained, rebellious
The Holy Spirit’s fruit of love, joy, peace, etc., always leads us in the right way. The downward pull of hatred, despair, anxiety, etc., always points us in the wrong direction. “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh.”
You might find it helpful to take a few moments to do the following practice:
- Take a moment to recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence around and within you.
- Now ask the Holy Spirit to search your innermost self. I like to pray David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you recognize any nudgings in the way of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
- Then ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify downward pullings opposite the Holy Spirit leadings.
- Thank the Holy Spirit for this time of communion and ask Him to help you live in daily reliance on His power and love.
Grace and peace,
photo by Sapphire Dream Photography