Pastor David B. Curtis


Controlled by the Spirit

Acts 13:52

Delivered 06/14/2009

We ended chapter 13 last week with the disciples filled with the Spirit:

And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52 NASB)

For our study this morning we are going to look at the subject of being "filled with the Holy Spirit." To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with joy. Last week I said, "When Christians are filled of the Holy Spirit, their circumstances do not matter. Bad things may happen to them. But the Holy Spirit gives them joy. It is joy that nobody can take away. When you are controlled by the Spirit you will be controlled by joy." If this is true, and I believe it is, this tells us how important it is to be filled with the Spirit.

So for our study this morning lets see if we can come to a working understanding of just exactly what it means to be filled with the Spirit. To start let make sure we understand the distinction between the baptism of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit.

The baptism with the Holy Spirit is the work of Jesus Christ in putting us into the church, the Body of Christ, through the agency of the Holy Spirit. A believer is baptized with the Holy Spirit at the moment of his conversion. It is not a second experience, it is not subsequent to salvation. The moment we are saved, we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, we don't do anything to receive it except believe the Gospel.

Paul teaches this in 1 Corinthians. In chapter 12, verse 12 Paul begins to deal with the concept of the church being the body of Christ:

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12 NASB)

We are the body of Christ, and within that body there is unity and great diversity:

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13 NASB)

Here Paul answers the question, "How did we get into that body?" We were not born into it as infants; the Body of Christ does not consist of everybody in the world, only certain individuals are in it. So how do we get into the Body of Christ? His answer is clear, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." That is the "baptism with the Holy Spirit"

"We were all baptized"-past tense. It happened at salvation. That is why there is no command in Scripture to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. There is no exhortation to receive the Holy Spirit-you already have Him.

All Christians have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, but not all Christians are filled with the Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit places us into the body of Christ it is a positional act of God. The filling of the Spirit gives us power day to day to live in joy and victory.

And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52 NASB)

We saw last week in our study of this verse that when Christians are filled of the Holy Spirit, their circumstances do not matter. The Holy Spirit gives them joy. It is joy that nobody can take away. When you are controlled by the Spirit you will be controlled by joy. So let's try to understand how we are filled.

Believers who have the Spirit are commanded in Scripture to be controlled by Him.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18 NASB)

When Paul says, "Be filled with the Spirit" he is giving a command to believers. The word "filled" is the Greek word pleroo, which means: "controlled by." If we are not controlled by the Spirit what are we being controlled by? The flesh.

Paul tells the Galatians that there is a conflict between the flesh and the Spirit:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 NASB)

Here we see a contrast between the Spirit and the flesh. This struggle is made clear in the next verse:

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17 NASB)

What I want us to see from this verse is that struggle is a normal part of the Christian life. Many Christians prefer not to hear this truth, because they want a Christianity that proclaims "all victory all the time." They want a guarantee that all their problems will be solved if they will follow the right formula. But the conflict between our flesh and the Spirit is continual and inevitable.

Thus, with the same mouth we curse, and we bless. We love, and we hate. We serve, and then we steal. We proclaim Christ, and then we lie to our friends. We read the Bible, and then we watch vile movies. We sing in the choir, and then we commit adultery . And so it goes. The manifestations differ, but all of us feel the struggle in one way or the other.

When the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, God did not allow them to conquer it all at once. Because there were many entrenched enemies in the hills of Canaan, the Jews had to fight for every inch of it. Then they had to fight to keep what they conquered. It took them many years to possess the entire land. I believe this is a picture of the Christian life. There is victory to be had, but it will not come easily or quickly. We are in a warfare with the flesh, which will not easily yield its ground. Whether we wish to admit it or not, we will struggle with sin and temptation as long as we live.

Too much contemporary teaching on this topic seems to imply (if not to state directly) that a Christian may reach a place or a state where the struggles of life disappear altogether. Such a teaching is both false and unbiblical. It is also dangerous, because by promising what it can never deliver, it sets up Christians for failure and immense discouragement when they cannot achieve the promised "victory" over sin.

The Quietists were mystics of the late seventeenth century who believed that a one-time surrender to God would initiate a passive union with God. The Quakers were influenced by the Quietists. Hannah Whitall Smith's The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1952) and the sermons of Charles Finney both promote the idea that a Christian needs to do very little but rely on the Spirit. Quietists believe that walking in the Spirit does not require any effort on our part, and when there is effort, we hinder the holiness that God wants to accomplish. The concept of surrender in quietism is vital to living a virtuous holy life. Some believe that when one completely surrenders, he receives a second work of grace so that the sin nature becomes eradicated, and the Christian supposedly never sins again.

But Galatians 5:17 should make it clear that no one escapes the conflict. No one can avoid the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. No one gets a Christian life free from outward pressure and inward turmoil. And there is no second blessing or spiritual experience that can magically propel you to a state where you no longer struggle with sin. That won't happen until we get to heaven. Between now and then, we walk the hard road, fighting every day to stay on the right path.

What are we battling? The Flesh! What is the flesh? Paul uses the word "flesh" to mean: "something that is totally human, with no special grace attached." In Paul's use of the term "flesh" in Galatians, he does not simply mean: "possessed of a physical body"; rather, he means: "limited to only a physical body and the physical strength it contains."

So the flesh is what you do in your own power, in your own strength, what you can do yourself­which is legalism. Legalism is anything that I think I can do in order to make myself more righteous before God. It is human achievement; it's a form of self-righteousness.

In Paul's view, flesh and Spirit fall into redemptive-historical categories, serving to elucidate the contrasting natures of the two covenant ages. Seeking to live by law really boils down to seeking life independently of God, which was the basic sin of Adam. To walk after the flesh is to seek life in terms of what man can accomplish of himself.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8 NASB)

If we take "flesh" here to refer to a sinful life, then sowing to the Spirit would mean living a holy life. This would mean that everlasting life is a product of living right. This would be salvation by works. We know that salvation is not of works.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, (Romans 4:5 NASB)

What Paul is saying in Galatians 6:7-8 is: when a man seeks to gain the gift of God by human possibility, the very act itself is sin, because it bears the fruits of self-righteousness. You cannot earn a right standing with God by what you do.

Walking after the flesh was not a problem only faced in the first century. Many today are walking after the flesh, they are trying to gain favor with God by their works. They are trying to please God by the things that they do. A good example of this would be Catholic theology, which says: "By my deeds I can not only earn merit for myself, but if I earn more merit than I need to get into heaven; my extra merit goes into the treasury of merit to be applied to someone else to get them our of purgatory." What that says is not only can I by my merit earn my own salvation, but I can over earn it and apply what is left over to someone else's salvation. That is walking after the flesh. And to walk after the flesh is to be condemned. If you are trusting in something that you've done to get you into heaven, you'll never get there.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 NASB)

What does it mean to "Walk by the Spirit"? This is very important for us to understand. To "walk by the Spirit" is the same as being "filled with the Spirit" which is the same as "abiding in Christ". So let's see if we can practically define what these mean.

All of us have heard preachers say, "Let the Spirit lead you," or "Allow the Spirit to control you," and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do we walk by the Spirit? You walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6 NASB)

Living faith always produces love. But Galatians 5:22 says love is a fruit of the Spirit. So if love is what faith necessarily produces, and love is a fruit of the Spirit, then the way to walk by the Spirit is to have faith:

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. (Galatians 3:23 NASB)

The coming of faith liberates a person from being under law. But what does 5:18 say? "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." How then are we led by the Spirit? By faith. By meditating on the trustworthiness and preciousness of God's promises until our hearts are trusting in Him. This is how the Holy Spirit fills and leads:

Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5 NASB)

The Spirit does his mighty work in us and through us only by the hearing of faith. We are sanctified by faith alone. The way to walk by the Spirit and so not fulfill the desires of the flesh is to know the promises of God and trust them, rest in them.

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20 NASB)

Who is the Christ who lives in Paul? He is the Spirit:

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" (Galatians 4:6 NASB)

How, according to 2:20, does the life of the Son produce itself in Paul? How does Paul walk by the Spirit of the Son? "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God." Day by day Paul trusts the Son. Day by day he casts his cares on God and is borne along by the Spirit. How, then, do we walk by the Spirit? The answer is plain. We walk by faith. And we do this by meditating on His unspeakable promises day and night and resting in them. We should be trusting in Him all the time. The more we think about our dependence on Him, the more consistent we will be in trusting in Him and in walking by the Spirit.

Listen to what Martin Luther had to say: "When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh."

Paul put it this way to the Colossians:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 NASB)

"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you"- the word of Christ can be either the subjective genitive (the word delivered by Christ) or the objective genitive (the word about Christ). I think we can take it both ways­we should let the word delivered by Christ and the word about Christ richly dwell in us.

"Dwell" is from the present active imperative of enoikeo, and means: "to live in," or "to be at home." Paul calls upon believers to let the Word take up residence and be at home in their lives. We are familiar with our home; where all the closets are, where we have items stored. We must thoroughly acquaint ourselves with the Word. The Word should become so familiar to us that we know it like we know our homes. The idea is to let the Word of God dwell inside and live at home in our lives. The Word of God needs to inhabit us. This is more than just reading the Bible.

Paul adds that the word is to "richly" dwell in us. "Richly" is from an old adverb plousios, which has the twofold meaning of quantity and degree; it means: "abundantly, applying it and using it in all its teaching, but also using it constantly, at all times and in all circumstances."

Now, I want you to see something about this text in Colossians that is very important. Look with me at:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18 NASB)

Paul tells the Ephesians to "be filled with the Spirit," then he says:

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19-22 NASB)

Paul tells the Colossians, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you...," then he says:

... with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (Colossians 3:16-18 NASB)

It is clear that these two concepts, "letting the word of Christ richly dwell within you," and "being filled with the Spirit" are identical, because the passages that follow each are so similar. The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word richly dwell in one's life. Therefore, the two are the same spiritual reality viewed from two sides. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word. To have the Word dwelling richly is to be controlled by His Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the author and the power of the Word, the expressions are interchangeable. In other words, the WORD-FILLED CHRISTIAN is a SPIRIT-FILLED CHRISTIAN.

The Word of Christ is the only source of truth we have about God:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (2 Timothy 3:16 NASB)

Paul is saying to Timothy that the Bible comes from God. He is its ultimate author. The Bible provides information that is not available anywhere else. The Bible is divine self-disclosure. In it the mind of God is revealed on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture, we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is and what he values. In the Bible, God reveals himself.

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3 NASB)

We love God by living in obedience to Him. How can we possibly do this if we don't spend time in the Bible to know what obedience is?

He is our Creator and Redeemer. If we are going to live a life of purpose, we must know who He is and what He expects from us. The only place that we can get that information is from the Word of God. And I believe that the only way we can walk by the Spirit is to have the Word dwelling in us.

We grow in our Christian walk as we read and study the Bible. The only place where we are going to hear God's voice is in His Word. The world around us will always be giving us the view of the flesh, but we'll only get God's view as we spend time in His Word letting it abundantly dwell within us.

Paul is not saying: Let the Word of Christ have a few minutes of your time. He is saying, "Let the Word of Christ LIVE in you!" God's Word should permeate every aspect of your life. When something happens in life, a scripture should come to your mind as to how to respond to the circumstance. When this happens, and we yield to the Scripture, we are walking by the Spirit.

The Greek word for "walk" in Galatians 5:16, is very ordinary. It means to walk from one place to another. It's in the present tense, which means: "keep on walking." To walk means: "to take a series of small steps in the same direction over a long period of time." Walking implies steady progress in one direction by means of deliberate choices over a long period of time. To walk in the Spirit means something like: "let your conduct be directed by the Holy Spirit" or "make progress in your life by relying on the Holy Spirit." It has the idea of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide every part of your life on a daily basis.

Walking is slow compared with driving a car or flying in a plane. It's not flashy at all. And sometimes walking can be tedious, slow, dull, drab, and downright boring. And yet if you've got to get from point A to point B, walking will get you there eventually. All you have to do is just start walking and don't stop until you get there.

Every day all of us make thousands of decisions. Most of them seem tiny and inconsequential.

Certainly most of them seem to have no moral component. They are just little decisions we have to make. Will I get out of bed? Will I take a shower? Will I eat breakfast? If so, what will I eat? Will I drive to work? If so, what will I listen to while I drive? Who will I talk to today? How will I relate to my coworkers? Where will I eat lunch? What time will I leave work? What will I say to my spouse as soon as I walk in the door? Will I sit down, or will I go play with my children? And on and on it goes, all the way down to something like: Will I tie my shoes and tuck in my shirt today?

The crucial insight is this. There is no such thing as a truly neutral decision. Because every choice we make is intricately linked with every other choice before it and every choice we will make later; all our "little" choices are not really little at all. Every choice we make either takes us a step toward the Spirit or a tiny step toward the flesh. And even the "meaningless" choices lead us in one way or the other. The fact that we can't always see the implications of a decision doesn't mean they aren't there.

To walk by the Spirit implies that we are maintaining an ongoing communion with God. We are exercising those spiritual disciplines that keep our hearts focused upon the Lord, that turns our feet away from sin, that warms our love for Christ. How are you going to walk by the Spirit if you are not in any sort of communion with Him?

Paul goes on to say that if we walk by the Spirit - "You will not carry out the desire of the flesh."

Paul's use of a double negative in the Greek could be expressed in English by saying: You will absolutely not gratify the desires of your flesh. This is a promise, but the fulfillment of this promise depends on the implementation of the command - walk by the Spirit. What a great promise! This promise should make us be very desirous of walking by the Spirit.

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17 NASB)

We could interpret this as grace and legalism are opposed to one another; they're two completely different belief systems. Legalism is ultimately an issue of the heart. It actually has to do with your core belief; and the only place where this can really be changed is deep down in your heart; what you believe to be true.

Either you believe: I can make myself more like Jesus; I can accomplish my own righteousness; I can complete my own salvation, therefore I live that way. Or you believe: My flesh cannot make me more righteous; therefore I am totally dependent on the Spirit of God within me to accomplish this. It is going to have to be Him, because I can't do it. Those two views are opposed to one another.

That is why Paul says I cannot, then, just do as I please; because my natural bent, my natural momentum is to do it myself. That's what comes easily; that's what comes naturally. And if I just do as I please, that's the path I'm going to go down. Paul says basically, that you have to make a conscious effort if you're going to walk by the Spirit. It has to be an intentional choice that you make to acknowledge: I cannot do this myself; I must be yielded and dependent upon Him.

A missionary and a Native-American Indian Chief were talking when the missionary asked,"How are you doing? What has the Lord been doing in your life and the life of your people?" The Chief told his friend about those who were coming to know Christ, and how God had been faithful, when he stopped in mid-sentence. He said, "I have seen the Lord work in marvelous ways among our people, but I have to be honest with you ­ it is like there is a war going on in me. It is like there is a good dog and a bad dog that are living in my heart, and they are always at war with one another." The missionary knew what the Chief was talking about, because he was describing his own life. The missionary reached out, grabbed the hand of his friend, and asked, "Which dog is winning?" The Chief said, "The one that I feed the most."

Think about that, believer, do you find that to be true in your own life? Do you find that it's the one you feed the most that wins the battle? What happens when we feed the flesh? And what happens when we feed the Spirit? So many believers want to feed the flesh, and then wonder why they have no victory in the Spirit.

To live by the flesh is depending upon the resources and abilities of the physical body, or humanness. To live by the Spirit is depending upon the resources and abilities of the Spirit, whom God gives by grace through faith. In both cases, the fundamental issue is "depending." The critical difference is the object of the dependence. In "living by the flesh," the person who is living is depending upon what he is and has as the result of his physical heritage (genetic composition, intelligence quotient, education, etc.). In "living by the spirit," the person who is living is depending upon what the Spirit of God is and has - and what God has promised to do through Him.

Walking in the Spirit is not some mystical experience reserved for a few special Christians. It's God's design for normal Christian living. It's nothing more than choosing (by God's grace) to take tiny steps toward the Spirit day after day after day. Those tiny steps do not remove the struggle, but they allow you to walk by the Spirit even while you feel the pull to go in another direction. The pull of the flesh is always with us in one form or another. But we can choose to walk by the Spirit every day.

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