Yesterday we were considering the miracle of ‘new birth’ and the fact that the Lord has taken away our old stony heart and given us His heart. He has also given us His Spirit in order to help us to live from that new heart, and not return to the old. He promised this through the prophet Ezekiel when talking of a new covenant, saying ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ Ezekiel 36:26,27.
It is interesting therefore that Paul, on several occasions, felt the need to spell out to the young Christians of his day exactly what that would look like. In Galatians we have that beautiful list of all the fruit of the Spirit, contrasted with the ‘works’ of the flesh. Galatians 5:19-23. In Colossians he encourages them to ‘put to death’ their earthly nature, (the evidence of which he then lists), and to ‘put on’, to clothe themselves, with some very lovely qualities which sound very like the fruit of the Spirit just mentioned. Colossians 3:7-14. Then to the Ephesians he wrote, ‘You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which being corrupted by its sinful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.’ Ephesians 4:22.
Paul clearly noticed a struggle going on in the members of the early church. A struggle with which he identified, Romans 7:21-23, and with which we can probably all identify. I have a new heart, I am a new creation, and yet I sometimes behave like I haven’t, and I’m not. For Paul winning that battle often came down to two things; firstly recognising that there is a choice, i.e. my will is involved here, and secondly that what I allow into my mind is a key to the kind of choice that I make.
I believe that one of the difficulties in living from our ‘new heart’, or the ‘new man in Christ’ is that most of the information that we collect day by day, comes through our five senses or through our memory. All day long we are hearing things, seeing things, reading things, absorbing things, or we may be remembering things, bringing things into our minds that, if we are not careful, can simply ‘trigger’ our ‘old man’ reactions. We may find ourselves getting angry, frightened, irritated, impatience, lustful, etc. etc.
A keen sense of injustice can turn into ‘it’s not fair’. Noticing someone else’s good fortune can turn into jealousy. Hearing the news can feed our anxiety. Picking up an insult, however veiled or unintentional, can stir anger, or self rejection, and so on and so on. In other words we need to be careful that what comes to us through our mind, (or via my heart to my mind) doesn’t get to stir up the ‘old me’, but gets to come through to the ‘new me’. “So how do we do that?” I hear someone say.
It seems to me that it is about becoming strong in our spirit. Because we are now spiritual beings, we get to gather information not just through our five senses but through our spirit too. It is through our spirit that we hear the Holy Spirit guiding us, checking us, reminding us of the fruit that He wants to produce in our lives. We hear His reminders from the Word of God that we have hidden our hearts, Psalm 119:11. In each and every situation we want to hear from the Holy Spirit loud and clear, in our spirit and mind, so that we can then choose to live from the ‘new’ us, not the old.
I think that there are several ways to become ‘strong’ in our spirit. We can use the gift of tongues to ‘build ourselves up’. When encouraging the right use of the gift of tongues Paul said, ‘He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself’, builds himself up, I Corinthians 14:4. He also said ‘I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you’. 1 Corinthians 14:18. No wonder he was so tuned into the leading of the Holy Spirit, and so strong in His faith and determination to follow the Lord.
We can also build ourselves up by joining with others to worship and enter the Lord’s presence. This can help too to make sure that we are continually being filled with the Holy Spirit as we, ‘speak to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.’ Ephesians 5:18,19. We can furthermore feed our spirit with the truths from the Word of God, allowing the Holy Spirit to use those words to renew of our minds, but more of that tomorrow. Finally we can build up our spirit by ‘always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Ephesians 5:18:20. And this is very good news because it means that we can choose to build ourselves up in our spirit anywhere, at any time, with or without anyone else around.