I know women with strong personalities, and yet they are submissive to God and pliable in His hands. I also know women who are outwardly quiet and seemingly compliant, yet they seethe with inner bitterness, anger, and rebellion!
There’s a huge difference between being “spirited” in the flesh—rebellious and self-willed—and being Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.
As a young woman, I professed to be a Christian, but the summer before my twenty-first birthday, I truly acknowledged my need of a Savior. Though most people would have described me as a “good girl,” that night I fully understood the rebellion in my heart.
Though I gave my heart to Christ, I cannot say all defiance was completely squashed. Yes, I saw God change my allegiance and desires. I was no longer at war with God. But there would still be the lingering effects of my rebellion from years of cultivating the flesh that refused the Lord’s control.
I still had a rebellious spirit in some areas—some rooms of my heart where I refused to yield.
A Rebellious Spirit
Though a Christian is “in Christ” and all things are becoming new, it may take a lot of chastening, a lot of discipline, to learn to let go of the vestiges of a rebellious spirit.
Rebellion opposes authority, and it was, in fact, the first sin. Rebellion against God’s authority, His right rule over us, is at the root of all sin, both in Satan and those who fell with him and in the human heart (Isa. 14:12–14; Rom. 3:23). When we fight for “rights” and rebel when we don’t get our way, the sin of rebellion affects our hearts, our homes, our churches and communities.
The rebellious spirit is cultivated in modern society. Today, it’s acceptable, almost expected, that we will question authority—parents, teachers, police officers, church leaders, etc.—and pursue our own agenda.
A rebellious spirit can be manifest in open resistance or an inner defiant and insubordinate heart. The Hebrew word meri translates to the English word we know as “rebellion,” and its root is mara, which means “bitter; unpleasant.” In the New Testament, similar words are “disobedience” and “sedition”—rebellion undermining authority. In the Greek, the word for disobedience goes deeper, associated with disbelief and obstinate inner attitudes.
Obviously, this is not God’s plan for His own. He is not the Author of such confusion; He wants everything done decently and in order with respect for authority. In Romans 13:1–7, Paul outlines how Christ-followers should respond to authority, whether it is human authority or God’s.
That doesn’t mean we may not suffer for doing well and submitting to sinful human authorities, but it does mean we are to obey God and leave judgment to Him, knowing He will ultimately make all things right.
Characteristics of Rebellion
As a woman, there is nothing wrong with having a strong personality, as long as I remain within God’s guidelines for a “gentle and quiet spirit.” But there are characteristics of rebellion that show it’s in direct opposition to God’s design for His creation.
According to Scripture, rebellion is against God, is a habitual attitude in evil people, and is even comparable to idolatry and witchcraft (1 Sam. 15:23). It can open the door to a “cruel messenger”—Satan’s control, spiritual bondage or ugly consequences. A rebellious spirit was and is personified in Satan’s pride, casting doubt on God’s authority (Gen. 3:1–13).
Because their spirit is not surrendered and faithful to God, the rebellious live in a dry, “parched” land. Rebellion robs people of God’s rich blessings, and rebellious disobedience against God leads unbelievers to spiritual death.
The Spirit-Filled Christian
For many years, I misunderstood the teachings about the Holy Spirit, because I saw biblical truth misrepresented in people’s lives. The truth is that Jesus promised we would be given the Holy Spirit—a permanent gift to all believers, with no conditions except faith in what Jesus has accomplished for us, given at salvation.
The gift of the Spirit is a “seal,” a down payment or guarantee of the believer’s future glorification in Christ in heaven. But the filling of the Spirit comes as we yield to Him so He can possess and use us fully, and Ephesians 5:18 commands that we be filled with the Spirit.
The Spirit-filled life is in direct opposition to a rebellious one. For example, the rebellious person wants to get revenge while the Spirit-led person will forgive. The rebellious spirit is self-exalting; the Spirit-led will seek humility. The rebellious seeks a fight, but the Spirit-led follows the words of Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
When I return to the rebellion of my flesh, I grieve the Holy Spirit and quench (stifle) His activity and control in my life. Any kind of sin—including a rebellious spirit—hinders the Spirit’s filling; but confession of sin and renewed obedience to the Lord is how I maintain that filling.
D.L. Moody said, “We are leaky vessels, and we have to keep right under the fountain all the time in order to keep full of Christ.” Yesterday’s filling is insufficient for today’s needs. I must depend on the Lord and be filled with the Spirit of God every day. And when I am filled, my life overflows with the good fruit of the Spirit.
Being rebellious is a choice. So is being Spirit-filled.
Paul explained the need and the process in Ephesians 5:15–18:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil . . . understand what the will of the Lord is . . . be filled with the Spirit.
The walk of the believer—walking is a metaphor in Scripture for practical, biblical living in the moment—enables us to make spiritual progress and allows the Word of God to make us holy in His Truth (John 17:17; 1 Peter 1:14–15).
To be led by the Spirit is to stay in step behind Him, not wandering off into worldly philosophies and “my rights” agendas.
Staying in step with the Spirit isn’t optional. It’s crucial, because my flesh is in direct conflict with the will of the God. I praise God that as a believer I am seeing Christ methodically helping me “crucify” my flesh with all its ungodly passions and desires as He renews my mind with His Truth. As a result, I find myself desiring more and more to do His “good and acceptable and perfect” will (Rom. 12:2).
My inner “spirited” rebellion is being replaced by a strong desire to yield to God’s control and obediently follow the Spirit’s lead. My script has changed, and by His grace, God is being glorified in and through my life.
Do you have a “spirited,” rebellious attitude, or have you surrendered to the control of the Holy Spirit? How do you know?