The Holy Spirit and Ethics

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INTRODUCTION

Can the Holy Spirit make a difference in a person's life? Of course He can. But that really isn't the question most of us should be asking. If you are a believer or have been associated with a Bible-believing church for any period of time, you know the answer is "yes."

Will I yield to the Holy Spirit so He will enable me to make ethical decisions? This is the right question! The central truth of this lesson is "The Holy Spirit influences Christians to live ethically." One of the Holy Spirit's roles here on earth is to lead us in truth. Truth enables us to make right ethical choices, regardless of how difficult some of the choices may be. Although Scripture doesn't always provide a "thou shalt" or "thou shalt not" statement for each of the situations we encounter, the principles are there. We then must have the wisdom and strength to make the right choice, regardless of the economic or positional impact.

The desires of our flesh are often at war with spiritual truth. In those situations we need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to forge ahead and do what is right. No one is exempt from these settings; however, some believers may face more of them due to the nature of their work and their personality. For example, if you are a person who greatly desires the approval of others, you might be prone to make decisions that make you "look good" and receiving the acclaim of others. Or, perhaps your income is determined by sales and commissions. Will you "stretch the truth" to make the sale?

When believers allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lifestyle and decisions, there will be no ethical conflicts or compromises. We will do what is right, even if it hurts. However, doing right always brings the blessing of God's favor despite the discomfort of our choice.

Making ethical decisions enables a believer to "sleep soundly" at night, knowing truth based on the Word of God and the guidance of Holy Spirit has prevailed.

I. SPIRIT-TRANSFORMED LIFE (John 16:8; Titus 3:3-8; 1 Cor. 6:19-20)

A. Freed by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8; Titus 3:3-8)

John 16:8. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.

Titus 3:3. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.

4. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,

5. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

6. Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

7. That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

8. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.

One aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is clearly stated in the initial verse of our lesson (John 16:8). He is here to repress the actions of sin. One dimension of that occurs within the life of believers. If believers cannot live ethically and eradicate sinful tendencies in their lives, how can they expect sinners in their fallen moral state to follow paths of righteousness?

Usually we see the role of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter - the One who stands alongside to defend. However, here we see the Spirit on the other side of the legal fence. He stands as the prosecutor bringing attention to people's sins. The purpose isn't just to cause people to feel guilty, but to bring them to righteousness.

The Holy Spirit's convicting work in a person's life is what causes her or him to realize their pitiful condition. As Paul writes to Titus, he lists specifics of unbelievers' sinfulness. We understand not all unbelievers are involved in every type of sinful activity. However, the unbeliever is heavily influenced by personal passions and the desire for pleasure which may be immoral and/or illegal (3:3). This leads to foolish and disobedient actions which may result in ongoing consequences.

Paul emphasizes how sin deceives. It may cause us to assume we are having "the time of our life" or on the road to great happiness when in reality this is a major deception. Instead of being on the road of freedom we are enslaved. This enslavement could be to drugs, sex, greed, or frivolity. All of them speak of being in bondage to the enemy of our soul who seeks to destroy us.

Rescue from this state of bondage cannot occur by our own attempts to do good. No number of positive deeds will change our sinfulness into righteousness; only "the kindness and love of God our Saviour" (v. 4) can save us. Verse 5 emphasizes the process of spiritual renewal being the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, which makes us "heirs having the hope of eternal life" (v. 7 NIV).

The freedom we experience through the work of the Holy Spirit isn't totally separated from our own actions. We cooperate and maintain what has been done in our lives by daily following a lifestyle of holiness which is in accord with God's Word (v. 8), but even that is made possible through God's grace.

B. Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

19. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

20. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

Though we are freed by the Spirit and enjoy Christian liberty, there still are rules of conduct which govern how we live. Here at the end of a definitive statement on sexual immorality (vv. 12-20), Paul presents the biblical view of the believer's human body.

He clearly underscores the unity of the spiritual and the physical. Our physical body isn't an entity separate from our spiritual nature. Unlike those who say the actions of the body have no connection with the spiritual relationship with God, Paul points to our body being "a temple of the Holy Spirit" (v. 19 NIV). His indwelling and covering of us places us at the service of God. We are not being independent self-serving agents. At the price of Christ's sacrificial death, we can be free from the bondage of sin. Once we accept this offering, a transfer of ownership occurs. Now we are Christ's! The Holy Spirit's regenerating work places us in the privileged position of glorifying God (v. 20). This is to take place in the words of our mouth and the actions of our bodies.

II. SPIRIT-CONTROLLED LIVING (Rom. 8:1-9, 12-14)

A. Life Through Jesus Christ (vv. 1-4)

1. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

2. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

3. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.

4. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

So many forces seem to be reaching out to control us. The media and various advertisements attempt to draw us to a particular view or to purchase specific products. Our line of work and job setting influences our free time and family involvement. Family members and friends also are wanting and needing our time. So, who or what exerts the greatest influence?

When it comes to our ethical positions and actions, it is vital for us as believers to place first priority on the Source of our life. Through the sacrificial act of Christ on the cross, we no longer are bound to the clutches of our human nature and the Law (vv. 1-2). Under the old covenant, God provided a system which pointed to sin and offered a means of reconciliation, but it did not possess the power to provide an atonement for sin which did not need to be repeated on a regular basis. The Law provided some types of righteousness but not as seen in the new covenant. The provisions of the Law were through natural means of sacrifice offered through humans (priests) on people's behalf. It was "weakened by the sinful nature" (v. 3 NIV).

Everything changed when God sent "his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering" (v. 3 NIV). Now spiritual life flows from within through the ministry of Christ. We are united with Christ and empowered to live through the Holy Spirit who initiated the change and desires to be an ongoing change agent. For that reason we seek to grow deeper through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We desire to foster an environment in our lives that will allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow and spiritual gifts to become evident. We desire and strive to "walk . . . according to the Spirit" (v. 4 NASB).

As we walk in the Spirit, we make right choices. Those choices allow the principles of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit to dominate us rather than allowing the desires of the flesh to control us.

B. Life Controlled by the Spirit (vv. 5-9)

5. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.

6. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

7. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

8. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

9. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

What does it mean to be of a "carnal mind," or sinful nature?

Some individuals are said to be "so heavenly-minded, they are of no earthly good." Repeatedly through the history of the Christian church there have been those who so desire to be spiritual and separated from sin that they develop heretical practices and doctrines. Just the opposite is to be so earthly-minded there can be little or no spiritual good evident.

What is the balance for which we should strive? God hasn't called us to be odd just for the sake of being different. Our difference is for the sake of obedience to the will of God and conforming to His standard of holiness. The struggle is living in this world but not being so influenced by its temptations that we forget who we are in Christ. Unless we watch carefully, the tentacles of sin can entwine our lives until our spiritual life is squeezed to death.

For those who are materially minded, the stress of life easily dominates. Marked contrast can be found in the life of believers. Through the power of the Holy Spirit there is not only eternal life but peace, even when surrounded by intense struggles. That doesn't mean we never face the unknown and have no questions as to why certain things are happening to us. However, we know where to turn for security in the darkest days.

Anyone who does not have Jesus as Savior and Lord and a life controlled by the Spirit is in rebellion against God. One such person may not appear as hostile as another, but it doesn't change the reality. They are all living in spiritual death.

A second question arises: How do I allow the Holy Spirit to guide my life? The next verses address that issue.

C. Life Led by the Spirit (vv. 12-14)

12. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.

13. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

14. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

We are going to die. However, there is life after death. The big issue is, will it be life eternal with the heavenly Father, or will it be in a state of eternal punishment because of our sins?

Verse 13 shows the path to spiritual death and complete separation from God—living "after the flesh." It's not that our bodies in themselves are inherently evil; remember, God created the human race in flesh. Living according to the flesh means allowing our inherent sinful nature to govern our beliefs and actions. Not everyone is as bad as she or he could be. But that does not change their fate without Christ and being led by the Holy Spirit.

When we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, the continuing evidence of this relationship is our being "led by the Spirit" (v. 14). Galatians 5:16-25 shares the distinctive or difference in our life when we are walking in the light and direction of the Holy Spirit. There are two dimensions which are a part of being Spirit-led. First is carefully following the directives of Scripture with a spirit of submission and joy. Second is personal interaction with the Holy Spirit as He impresses and pushes us in the direction of truth and fulfillment of God's will. God's Word and the Spirit are always in accord.

III. FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT (Gal. 5:16-25)

A. The Contrast (vv. 16-18)

16. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

18. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Do you wonder how some individuals claim to be believers but have such questionable ethics? Perhaps they go to church regularly and may be generous contributors but think nothing of rude, demeaning treatment of others. Saving face receives greater status than being truthful. This portion of our lesson explains why such actions occur.

Too often individuals who have experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit forget that this experience isn't the completion of their life in Christ. Our daily living is to cultivate and demonstrate the indwelling of the Spirit. We are to continually demonstrate what it means to live and to walk in the Spirit. Otherwise, we can easily backslide into fleshly living.

These verses clearly indicate a contrast of behavior between being Spirit-led versus following the desires of our sinful nature. Not only are they opposite from each other but are in conflict. We either commit ourselves to Christ and the work of the Spirit, or we indulge ourselves. No middle ground exists.

B. The Sinful Nature (vv. 19-21)

19. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20. Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21. Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul provides a sample list of the actions of the sinful nature. Though not comprehensive, it provides a cross-section of attitudes and actions that rise out of the sinful nature. We can divide this list into four segments (NIV):

  • Sins of our sensual being (sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery)
  • Sins arising from superstition (idolatry, witchcraft)
  • Sins of our temperament (hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy)
  • Common excesses (drunkenness, orgies, etc.).

It is easy for believers to assume because of becoming a Christian they will be immune to these sins. Such delusional thinking makes them ready targets for the eruption of the sinful nature. Assumptions not based on truth lead to a variety of downfalls, some far beyond ever thought possible. We fight an ongoing battle with our human nature. This demands our daily striving to live a sanctified life through the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit.

C. The Fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-25)

22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23. Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

24. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

25. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

This listing demonstrates the ongoing results or evidences of the person who lives and operates within the dimension of the Holy Spirit. These are not the virtues of "super Christians." They are the norm for all believers who suppress the old sinful nature and allow life in Christ to blossom in their lives.

Notice the indication of their being "the fruit," not "fruits," of the Spirit. This demonstrates a linkage. They are connected virtues coming from the same source. This emphasizes our not having the option of working to demonstrate some while not developing the others. Yes, we may have to work harder in one dimension than another. Personality, background, and current settings will either positively or negatively influence us. However, as we strive to walk in the light of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, His fruit will develop to the honor and glory of God.

Individuals who lived under the Mosaic Law did not have the privilege to develop these virtues through the Spirit. Now that we have been justified and regenerated through the Spirit, we have the opportunity to crush sinful passions, appetites, and eruptions through Him as well.

CONCLUSION

Living an ethical life in human flesh and surrounded by a sinful world can be a reality for each one of us. When we have been transformed by the Spirit and controlled by the Spirit, we will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. Experiencing and claiming salvation isn't sufficient. We must allow the ongoing work and direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

GOLDEN TEXT CHALLENGE

"IF YE LIVE AFTER THE FLESH, YE SHALL DIE: BUT IF YE THROUGH THE SPIRIT DO MORTIFY THE DEEDS OF THE BODY, YE SHALL LIVE" (Rom. 8:13).

It is the power of the Spirit that enables us to live as children of God. This idea is not limited to life beyond the grave but includes life in this present world, enabling us to live victoriously over sin. To be a child of God, but with no power to live up to all that this name implies, is a mockery to God. It also suggests the absence of spiritual life. Paul said, "If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die" (NIV).

There is provision through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, not only for the accomplishment and assurance of adoption into God's family, but also for a life of victory as children of God. Paul specified the Holy Spirit as the direct agent in killing the flesh. We are enabled to live as victorious children of God because the Holy Spirit accomplishes this death to self for us when we consider it so by faith.

No wonder Paul believed we have a responsibility to not live after the flesh but to live after the Spirit. It is not only our privilege but also our obligation to live a life of practical holiness. God has provided all that is needed to make such living possible through the Holy Spirit.