Walking in the power of the Spirit
Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-15
WikiPedia: “Popular psychology (sometimes shortened as pop psychology or pop psych) is the concepts and theories about human mental life and behavior that are purportedly based on psychology and that find credence among and pass muster with the populace.”
Psychology Today Magazine – Mar. 25, 2013: 4 Things Psychology gets wrong – Alice Boyes, Ph.D.
Four experts to point out psychology advice they’ve read or heard in the popular press that they disagree with (or where the research points to more nuanced recommendations).
Visualizing Having Achieved Your Goals. “Research has found that imagining you already have achieved a goal weakens your motivation to work towards it because when you feel like you already have something it’s natural to feel like nothing more needs to be done.
Personal Empowerment. “True personal empowerment is not about having a feeling, it’s about having a real impact on our environment and the people in it. Studies show that acquiring real personal empowerment involves a process of taking actions that demonstrate real world results.
Change Happens When You’re Ready?…In my more than 20 years of experience, I’ve come to understand that “ready”–or the tipping point of change–often means ‘when the consequences of our behavior outweigh the value of that behavior to us’. In other words, when the pay out (consequence) becomes greater than the pay back (value) we are prompted by circumstance to change what we are doing.
Positive Thinking “I’ve seen the harm it’s done to people who live with chronic pain or illness. When they’re repeatedly told that if they’d just think positively, they’d get better, they then blame themselves when that fails to happen.
I am sure Dr. Smith can tell us loads about Pop-Medicine. Like this poor guy who bought into the colloidal silver trend, and after 4 weeks developed irreversible argyria. No, he is not a Smurf – but I’ll bet he feels like one.
But Christianity and Biblical Theology suffers from the same ailment: Concepts and theories about the spiritual life, that gain widespread traction among Christians, which may be rooted in little or no true Biblical exegesis.
One of the places where this occurs is when we begin to talk about what it means to walk in the Spirit, or be led by the Spirit, etc.
Often, the teaching on that subject is drawn more from some people’s experiences and what may be their correct or incorrect analysis of those experiences, than what the Bible actually teaches on the subject.
It is into those troubled murky waters I want to wade – if only a bit today. And that, by drawing first from what Jesus modeled for us in the Gospel of Luke, and then comparing that with what Paul taught in Galatians chapter 5.
Let me be clear at the outset, this study today is not about the gifts of the Spirit. That will be the subject of another sermon or two down the road.
Today is about living a Spirit filled, or Spirit led life. And it may be far different than many of us have conceived.
We must see it NOT in terms of popular Christianity – what has passed into the zeitgeist of the Church but may not actually be Biblical – and instead see it as modeled in Jesus in Luke 3-4 and, explicated by Paul in Galatians 5.
Let’s look at the passage in Luke 1st.
4 things in a progression.
- The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus (Luke 3:22)
- Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan (Luke 4:1a)
- He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for 40 days, being tempted by the devil. (Luke 4:1b-2a)
- It is after this – “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.”
Compare Galatians for a similar pattern –
- “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6)
- Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16)
- But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal. 5:18)
- And so Paul’s concluding statement on the topic: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal. 5:25)
There is an implication here which will become more clear as we go; that keeping in step with the Spirit implies the Spirit has an agenda and some place He is wanting us to go – and that walking in Him requires letting go of trying to get the Spirit to bless our agendas and activities, and living out His.
Which I would argue is the equivalent to Eph. 5:18 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
And this, is virtually parallel to the statement that after having been led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit.
- We receive the Spirit at regeneration…
- But we need to be consciously growing in deliberate dependency upon the Spirit so that we are FILLED with Him (be being filled – Eph 5:18), so that He becomes the chief influence in our lives…
- So that we might walk in the Spirit
- In which power…we conquer.
Now it is reasonable to ask why it is Christ had to receive and be filled with the Spirit since He was God incarnate? This is a key factor in the incarnation: That in His incarnation, He lived setting aside His divine prerogatives – tho not His divinity – and living in dependence upon the Spirit the same way He expects us to.
As John Owen points out in his works: “The Holy Spirit, in a peculiar manner, anointed him [Jesus] with all those extraordinary powers and gifts which were necessary for the exercise and discharging of his office on the earth: Isa. 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” It is the prophetical office of Christ, and his discharge thereof in his ministry on the earth, which is intended. And he applies these words unto himself with respect unto his preaching of the gospel, Luke 4:18, 19; for this was that office which he principally attended unto here in the world, as that whereby he instructed men in the nature and use of his other offices.”
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 171.
Or think of Jesus’ own words in 12:28 where He says that is it by the Spirit of God that He casts out demons. A denial of which is the unpardonable sin.
So it is WE are taught in the NT to seeking after a life lived in the same Spirit.
But here, we must take notice of the special or primary focus of being Spirit-filled and/or Spirit led: Jesus was LED by the Spirit into the wilderness, to do battle with temptation – and return in power of the Spirit.
Galatians calls us to walk in the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit and to LIVE in the Spirit – that we might not FULFILL THE LUSTS OF THE FLESH!
A Spirit led life is not one filled with mystical experiences, but first and foremost one that confronts the temptations of the Devil, in the environment of this hostile, fallen world, and, the desires of our sinful nature – and conquers all 3 in love.
This is why we seek to be always about the business of being filled with the Spirit – that we might walk with Him and be led into all holiness – JUST AS JESUS!
So Jesus in Luke:
- The Spirit poured out on Him
- The Spirit leading Him (full, under His influence supremely)
- Returning in the power of the Spirit
For us: The Spirit is constantly leading US back into these confrontations until we too learn to conquer in Him – as Jesus did.
So this leads us to look at 2 things principally:
I. What this Spirit-led life looks like out of Galatians
II. 3 keys central to acting it out in the power of the Spirit in Luke.
I. The Life Lived: Galatians 5
We have two contrary lists in the text, and need to see how they impact one another.
The principle we need to grasp is: Galatians 5:16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
The text DOES NOT say, walk in the Spirit and you’ll receive secret messages or impulses about all kinds of extraneous matters – but that when you do indeed walk in the Spirit, you’ll not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
This is the emphasis – the primary point to grasped.
As a side note here, when people think about seeking the power of the Spirit – we do have to ask WHY? Why do we think we need the Spirit’s power? To preach the Gospel? NO. Romans tells us that the Gospel itself IS the power of God unto salvation.
Some think we mean by it that we ask for this power for success in our ministrations – but look at both Jesus and Paul, and the rest of the Apostles. Was Jesus NOT walking in the power of the Spirit when the crowds left Him? Was Paul not preaching in the power of the Spirit when he was persecuted and stoned? Or Stephen when he was martyred? These are not the success stories we think of when we seek to be filled with the Spirit.
Or, it is power to work wonders or miracles? That falls into the category of the gifts of the Spirit.
We DO need the Spirit to make our efforts on the Gospel’s behalf successful, but that’s not the same as walking in the power of the Spirit.
In the Gospel’s case, we most often need the power of the Spirit to overcome our own fleshly cowardice and reluctance in sharing the Gospel with others – but not to have more power in delivering it.
The power of the Spirit is not to be able to give witness per se, it is to BE witnesses, to be living examples of lives energized and influenced by the Spirit so as to live and walk as one renewed by the Spirit of God so as to resist the Devil, deny the flesh and love not the world!
Let’s map it out as practically as we can the way the Scripture does.
Galatians 5:19–21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
It is only the Spirit-filled life that can conquer the expressions of these things in us.
Galatians 5:22–24 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
In simple terms, the first group, are crucified or put to death, by the second – which is the life of the Spirit lived out in the Believer.
How does one overcome sexual immorality, impurity and sensuality?
Through goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
Idolatry and sorcery are divested of their power by love toward God, joy in what He has provided, and faithfulness toward Him as Lord.
Enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions cannot rule in one who is filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
Just as joy, peace, goodness, kindness and self-control leave no room for envy, drunkenness, and, orgies.
The Spirit-filled life is not a life of personal direction and secret messages from God, it is a life that confronts and conquers sin! Which can ONLY be done in the power of the Spirit.
Yes, the Believer lives in a state of what John Newton so aptly calls “secret communion with God” – a life lived in the awareness of His presence and of interaction with Him all the time. But the purpose of this life is to live in holiness! Not to pursue urgings and promptings regarding things that have nothing to do with growing in grace and and being conformed to the image of Christ.
Newton counsels: I apprehend that we lose much of the comfort which might arise from a sense of our continual dependence upon him, and, of course, fall short of acknowledging as we ought what we receive from him, by mistaking the manner of his operation. Perhaps we take it too much for granted, that communications from himself must bear some kind of sensible impression that they are his…yet it is very possible that we may be under his influence when we are least aware: and though what we say, or write, or do, may seem no way extraordinary; yet that we should be led to such a particular turn of thought at one time rather than at another, has, in my own concerns, often appeared to me remarkable, from the circumstances which have attended, or the consequences which have followed…This gracious assistance is afforded in a way imperceptible to ourselves, to hide pride from us, and to prevent us from being indolent and careless with respect to the use of appointed means; and it would be likewise more abundantly, and perhaps more sensibly afforded, were our spirits more simple in waiting upon the Lord. But, alas! a divided heart, an undue attachment to some temporal object, sadly deadens our spirits (I speak for myself), and grieves the Lord’s Spirit; so that we walk in darkness and at a distance, and, though called to great privileges, live far below them. But methinks the thought of him who is always near, and upon whom we do and must incessantly depend, should suggest a powerful motive for the closest attention to his revealed will, and the most punctual compliance with it; for so far as the Lord withdraws, we become as blind men; and with the clearest light, and upon the plainest ground, we are liable, or rather sure, to stumble at every step.
As it is not always easy to distinguish between the temptations of Satan and the workings of our own evil hearts; so it maybe equally or more difficult to distinguish these assistances from the effects of gracious principles abiding in us, or from the leadings and motions of the Holy Spirit. 
And I would add that to occupy ourselves with trying to do is to go on a fool’s errand.
Now let’s go back to Luke to see some absolutely critical keys in all of this.
II. The 3 Keys LUKE 4:1-14 – If we would walk in “the power” of the Spirit…
We look at Jesus’ 1st temptation and how he overcame.
And here is the lesson –
- (1-4) There is no discomfort or pain that excuses or justifies any sin:
Living in the power of the Spirit allows us to serve God, not our desires and needs.
Jesus could not let the temporary but present and urgent sense of desire and need, allow Him to act contrary to what He knew was the Father’s will.
The spirit of the age is to pursue our “passions”. How often we hear that even in the Church. How about pursuing Christ’s passions for us?
When we let the culture dictate what is right or wrong, political correctness, our feelings or anything else but the Word of God – we will be powerless to confront sin in ourselves or anywhere else.
- (5-8) We must abandon all attempts to arrive at God’s promises without pain and the cross:
Placing His will (His goal of conformity) above our own is how we die to self.
If we are married to an idea of Christianity that is rooted in our comfort and desires being rights which it is God’s responsibility to see to – we will look at all suffering and self-denial as wrong and aberrant and we will act to alleviate our discomforts at any cost.
Matthew 10:38 “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
Our cross quite simply is anywhere our will conflicts or “crosses” His. We cannot battle sin apart from embracing the pain of self-denial.
- (9-13) We must abandon all need for ANY perceived status in the eyes of any but God Himself:
God’s opinion of us is the only one that ultimately matters.
We see it in the fearlessness of Jesus in refusing to be influenced either by the smiles or frowns of any or all but His Father.
How we personally court the favor of some and fear the displeasure of others.
And when Christians court the favor of the world, or fear it when we appear politically incorrect, irrelevant, old fashioned or lacking in coolness or whatever – we can no longer battle sin, for we are seeking the Worlds’ blessing above the Father’s. We’ve become idolaters.
Jesus is going to face these same 3 again isn’t He?
On the cross, how He would be tempted to stop the pain of His crucifixion – if He were not resolved to do the will of the Father, regardless the discomfort and pain.
He will have to pray in the Garden – not my will, but yours be done.
And He will have to endure the temptation cast at Him by His mockers: If you are the Son of God – come down from there and save yourself. Prove who you really are!”
If Jesus were not walking in the Spirit, these contradictions would overcome Him – even as they often do us. But when we set this aside, we find ourselves living in a power far beyond our own.
Let me close with this one thought.
We have often used the phrase around here that the Christian life is meant to be lived, indeed only CAN be lived, in conscious, constant, deliberate dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
It is what Jesus purchased for us, and, what He afforded us in His resurrection and sending the Spirit for us.
But just as with anything else we are given, we must take advantage of it in order to have the benefit of it.
It does no good for a starving man to have a warehouse full of food, if he won’t enter it, unpack it, prepare it and eat it.
The Believer must be aware of his/her need, and consciously look to and call upon the Spirit to live in His power, in living out the love that is His fruit in order to crucify the lusts of the flesh.
There is no other way. He does not animate us like puppets. We lean upon Him in actuality – and find Him sufficient in looking to Him by faith.
This, is the heritage Christ has left us in His ascension.
 John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 506–508.
 John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 418–419.