Life in the Spirit

Sept. 28, 2019 Kelly Needham

Session Transcript

Kelly Needham: Well, guys, you’ve made it to the final session of Revive! Woohoo! I’m excited for what God has for us for the rest of our time together. And like Nancy said, I am new to this stage, but I’m not new to Revive Our Hearts.

I counted them up, and this is actually my eighth Revive Our Hearts event to be present at. Has anybody else been to eight or more? Look at that! I see a few of you guys. I’m sure some of you watching have been to eight. I know, Betsy Gomez, I’m thinking of you. She can’t be here, and she’s been to so many.

My first event that I attended was in 2010. I went to the True Woman conference in Ft. Worth, and I left with a journal full of notes, a heart full of vision, and just new passion for my life! And so, after that, I was determined I was going to be at every one after that. 

Well then, 2012 came around and at that time I had a one-year-old and a two-month-old and my husband was traveling, so we decided it was not the best for me to attend . . . but the livestream was happening. So I tuned in to the livestream for that event, and I will never forget. I have one memory of the very opening session of True Woman ’12.

I’m at home. I’ve got it all synced up on my TV, and my notepad is out on my kitchen table. I’ve got my one-year-old eating dinner, and I’m feeding her bites of food, scribbling notes in-between that, and then nursing my two-month-old—all at the same time! (laughter) It was quite the feat of multitasking, but I was determined I was going to be present and learn!

I know some of you women watching the livestream right now, I know that there are those of you chasing little children around right now, and you’re probably feeding kids or trying to break up a fight. Who knows what you’re doing, multitasking right now? But I pray that God will give you grace to pay attention and learn while you’re doing all of those things!

In 2013, after that, I was here every year since. It’s an extreme honor, because of that, to be standing here with you right now. Because I’m usually sitting right where you are, in this exact room, in those chairs, on the other side of that screen. That’s where I’m usually at. And because of that, I know exactly what I’m asking at this point in the conference.

At this point in the conference, in the last session, I’m asking, “What do I do now!?” Like, “I have so many things that I need to change or fix, or God has convicted me so deeply that I’m just struggling and go, “What do I do when I go home? Like, this is all fine and good right now in this isolated moment . . .”

Even on the livestream, you may have set aside a weekend of normal tasks to “be here” and pay attention. “But what happens when I go home to my kids or my husband, that old conflict with a friend that’s left unresolved, to my apartment, my roommate, my really messy house that I left in a flurry, my job, that conflict I have with my mom, that mile-long to-do list and email inbox waiting for me when I get home?” 

I always feel afraid that everything God has done in my life here is just going to go out the window as soon as I walk home! And so, what I’m asking at this point in every conference is, “Tell me what to do to make it stick! I want lasting change, not just a mountaintop experience that comes and goes. I want an entirely new normal! 

Is anyone else asking that today? Has God moved in your life and you want to see, “How do I go home changed for good?” Well, the good news is, that’s exactly what we’re talking about right now. What actually empowers lasting change? What makes it possible?

We’re going to turn to the book of Galatians for our answer. I’d love for you to have the text out in front of you. And what’s really neat is, in your bookbag you’ve got the book of Galatians! It’s in this little ESV journal. I didn’t even know that. That wasn’t planned, but if you want, you can use that. 

If you don’t know where the book of Galatians is, because we’re all in different stages of our Bible literacy, ask a friend. No shame! But get to Galatians chapter 5. I’m going to read it for us and then we’ll talk about it. So Galatians chapter 5, starting at verse 16, through verse 25.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 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.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 

So as we look at this passage, I want us to notice three things as we seek to answer this question: What actually empowers lasting change? The first is this: That there are only two powers at work in us. You see it right away. There’s the flesh and the Spirit, right? There are only those two that we see show up again and again.

Now, I want to briefly define “the flesh,” because in some parts of our Bible the flesh is a reference to human existence or the state of being human. But that’s not the case here in Galatians. In this letter, the flesh is a way of describing our human desires apart from God’s redeeming work in our lives. It’s describing what we bring to the table apart from God.

Or to say it another way: the flesh is self apart from God. Now, I don’t know if you see what’s happening here yet, but Paul has just put everything we bring to the table apart from God as being “of the flesh.” And did you see that list of the works of the flesh? It is not good! So, is it really true that what we bring to the table apart from God is not good?

Is it true that I have no good to offer on my own, of myself? Well, that’s actually what your Bible says! Paul says it in Romans 7:18: “I know that [there’s no good] in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Jesus says the same thing in John 15:5, that “apart from me you can do nothing.” The reason that it’s hard for us to embrace this, though, is because when we read that list we see things in it like sorcery. And I’m pretty sure there are not many practicing witches that attended today. If you did, or if you’re watching online, we’re thrilled you’re here. You could be at no better place. 

But we see a lot of external things listed in the works of the flesh that we don’t always see in our own lives, but sometimes the mess that our flesh creates is not just on the outside. Sometimes it’s on the inside. Things like jealousy, envy, strife, anger. 

But no matter what type of mess our flesh is creating—whether it’s visible on the outside to others or it’s hidden in our own hearts—it is a result of self-living apart from God. And so when we ask this question: “What empowers lasting change?” we’re forced to concede that there are only two powers we can look to for change. We can pursue change in our life by the flesh or by the Spirit. Or there are only two people we can look to for change: we can look to self or we can look to the Spirit.

The second thing I want you to see in this passage is that the Spirit and the flesh don’t get along! You see it in verse 17: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.” 

So there is no change that’s going to happen in our lives half by the flesh, half by the Spirit. They don’t work together. There is no neutral ground here; it’s one or the other. They are opposed to each other.

And then the third thing I want you to notice about this passage as we answer the question: “Where does lasting change come from?” is that there’s only one command given to us here. Now, that doesn’t seem like it, does it, because there are two really long lists here of behaviors, right? You see the works of the flesh in verse 19: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry.

You see the fruits of the Spirit, right? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. But I want you to look at them. These are not to-do lists; they’re not! It doesn’t say in verse 19: “Don’t be sexually immoral, don’t be impure, don’t be sensual.” It doesn’t say, “Be loving, be joyful, be peaceful, be patient.” It doesn’t say that, does it? 

These are descriptive lists. They are meant to help us identify the works of the flesh in our life, or to identify the works of the Spirit. They’re more like lists of symptoms helping us see whether we’re healthy or not. It’s not a list of things to do to become healthy. 

This drives me crazy! Because you know what I want? I want a to-do list! I want to walk out the door and I want: “God, I want You to give me the five things I need to do to change and see lasting change!” We want the programs; we want the five steps to freedom, the ABCs to change. And you know what, that’s probably because that’s what the world around us gives us.

It’s how the world around us tells us change is found. If you have a problem in your life, you pick a solution! Go to the self-help section of your bookstore, find which solution works for you, and then you work really hard to get that change made in your life. Your bookstore might call it “personal growth,” but it’s all the same.

Every book on that shelf is telling you something: that change is possible for you with the right plan and the right amount of effort from you. “Change starts by looking here.” That’s what the world tells us. And if we can just be honest today, we say that that message is super-attractive! Right? It’s a kind of good news. It’s saying there’s hope for change, and—guess what?—it’s in you!

But that’s not the good news of the gospel. The good news of self-help says, “There’s a plan.” It gives you things to do. The good news of the gospel says, “There’s a Person and His name is Jesus!” It gives us a Person to trust. I want to try and help us see what this feels like, see the difference between these two forms of good news that we hear.

Imagine that you fell into a pit; it’s really dark and far down. You can’t reach the top; it’s muddy. You’re stuck. After trying hard to get out yourself, you realize there’s no hope for that, so you just start crying for help. 

And a man walks by, sees you down there, and says, “Hey, guess what? Good news! I’ve known people who have been in this pit before. I know how they got out! If you just feel around the sides of that wall, there are some places that are a little firmer than others. And if you’ll just wedge your foot in there just right, and then find another firm spot in the wall, you can start pulling yourself up and you’ll be able to get out. I’ve seen it happen!”

Great! You start working on that and trying to find those places that he said were there. You’re getting muddier by the minute; you can’t get out. And in your exhaustion, you sit down and look up and realize there’s another man standing there. He’s just passed by and seen your situation and says, “Hey, guess what! I have good news! I know a man whose job it is to get people out of pits! That’s all he does! Let me go get him for you!” 

Now, both men brought good news. Both men said, “There’s a way to get out of the pit!” The first man’s good news was a plan: “Here’s what you can do to solve your problem.” The second man’s good news was a person: “Here’s someone who can save you!” 

And you know which one we like better, right? We like the first. It gives us something to do; it makes us feel like the control is in our hands. We don’t like being dependent on other people. We don’t want to wait for the man to come and get us out of the pit. We’d rather know that we can get out of pits ourselves. Then we’ll feel more confident the next time we fall into a pit because we’ll have the skills to get out. 

But the problem is, as soon as we start looking here to get out of the pit, as soon as we start looking to self to solve the problem--guess what? What are we walking in? We’re walking in the flesh. And out of that will flow the works of the flesh—things like envy when someone else gets out of their pit before us and we start feeling envious of them. Or fits of anger when all our hard work to get out of the pit isn’t working and we just give in to frustration. Or drunkenness, we numb the pain and despair we feel that we can’t get ourselves out. 

Have you ever been there? In a pit of sin or suffering, longing for change, chasing after it with everything you’ve got, but you still keep coming up short? Having all the best intentions of the world and still falling into sin. You finally give up living for yourself and decide, “I want to live God’s way,” and yet every step you take toward Him seems to pull you farther away. 

Have you been there? It can be so tempting to just give up and say, “Oh, well, I guess this life of following Christ isn’t for me.” Or become a cynic and say, “Well, I guess God helps everyone else but me,” or “Maybe I’m just too far gone. My life’s just too messy for His help.” I know how that feels.

Several years ago God convicted me of some deep-rooted spiritual pride in my life, and I had genuine godly grief about it, just like Mary talked about. I was grieved! I didn’t want it anymore! I was seeing the humility in Christ in my Bible that just shocked me, and I wanted that! I want that humility!

And so, you know what I did? I doubled down on all my spiritual disciplines. I’m reading my Bible two hours a day; I’m praying; I’m asking all my friends, “If you see pride in me, will you call it out?” I’m confessing any form of pride I see to people. I started working so hard! “I’m going to be humble!” (laughter)

And you know what happened? About a year into that pattern, a friend of mine sat me down and said, “Hey, Kelly, I need to talk to you. I know that you’re really wrestling through some stuff in your life, but you have your head so focused on your own life and your own steps and your own obedience that you’ve lost the ability to see the challenges that are in other people’s lives.”

“I’ve got stuff going on, too, and you can’t even see it!” I tried so hard to get out of my pride on my own, and I fell into a different pit of pride and self-obsession! See, it’s possible for us to pursue the right end, that we can have the right goal, but we can pursue it by incorrect means. It’s possible for us to pursue godliness apart from God!

That’s what the Pharisees were doing, the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. It’s possible for us to pursue righteousness by the flesh. It’s not enough for us to leave here headed in the right direction. To simply desire to get out of our pit is not enough. How we pursue transformation matters! In fact, that will make all the difference!

Our own efforts for lasting change often come up short because they are wrought in the flesh, in our own efforts, and not in the Spirit . . . which brings us back to that third point. There’s only one command given in this passage, and you see it right at the beginning in verse 16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit.” That’s it. 

You see it again repeated at the end in verse 25: “Keep in step with the Spirit.” That’s it! This is God’s answer to our desire for lasting change and victory. It’s Spirit-dependency. Only when we walk in dependence on Him will we see the fruits of the Spirit grow in our lives.

Today I don’t know what pit you find yourself in. Maybe it’s a pit of financial problems or a marriage problem that seems too big to solve. Maybe, like me, it’s the pit of pride. You’ve seen it in your heart this weekend, and you’re desperate to get out. Maybe it’s a pattern of sexual sin that you’ve been in so long, you don’t know how to break it.

Maybe it’s a pattern of addiction to screens and social media. Maybe it’s suffocating loneliness; even when you’re in a crowd of people it doesn’t go away. Maybe it’s the pit of depression and anxiety or envy. You’re seeing the longings of your own heart met in everybody else’s life but yours, and it’s driving you crazy. 

Whatever pit you’re in, I promise you this: the world is going to tell you “good news!” There’s a way out, there’s hope for change, and you’ll find it in yourself. Just find the right plan, work hard, and you’ll get there. But today, in this passage in Galatians, God is giving us a better word than that! He’s giving us a firmer hope.

“Yes, there is a way out of the pit. It is not a five-step plan, though. It’s a Person, and His Name is Jesus!” It’s not dependent on you or me but on the Spirit of Christ. When we walk by the Spirit, you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. It’s a promise!

Okay, so at this point you might be thinking, Yes, Kelly. You’ve convinced me not to depend on myself, but . . . like . . . what in the world does that mean? “Walk by the Spirit.” How does one walk by the Spirit? When I get home and all my anxiety hits me in the face again, what do I do?

When I see that family member and all those old hurts—that unforgiveness and bitterness—choke up and grab my throat and try to choke me out, what do I do then? When temptation comes knocking on my door late at night, how do I walk by the Spirit? Well, Paul’s words here in that phrase give us two things to consider. 

We have to ask the questions: “What does ‘walking’ mean?” and “Who is the Spirit?” Now, for most of us whom God has blessed with the ability to be able to walk (which is a huge gift, by the way!), what do most of us do when we wake up in the morning? 

You kick your feet over the side of the bed, and then you walk to the bathroom, and then you walk to your closet, and then you walk to the kitchen and make coffee or tea. You might walk to your kids’ rooms. You might walk to make their lunches. You might walk and grab their backpacks and put them in the car. You walk and get your briefcase or your backpack for work and put it in your car.

And then you drive to work, and then you walk to your desk, and then you walk to take a break. Walking is something we do all throughout the day in all the in-between moments of our life. So what Paul’s calling us to do here is not this one big moment or even this one thing we do in the morning. He’s calling us to an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute habit—just like walking. It fits into all the in-between moments of our day. That’s the first thing we need to know about what it means to walk by the Spirit. 

And then secondly we need to ask, “Who is the Spirit?” I want to give you four simple points about the Spirit. We could talk for a whole series of messages about the Holy Spirit, but four things for us today. 

First, He’s a Person. The Holy Spirit is a Person. The Bible gives Him a pronoun: “He.” This is not a formula or a force that we’re talking about. When we’re talking about walking by the Spirit, we’re not talking about a new system of living. We’re talking about a relationship. It’s a relationship with God that empowers change. So He’s a Person.

Secondly, He’s God. The Spirit is God. He’s equal to yet distinct from the Father and Son. That means the Holy Spirit is not your buddy that you can listen to sometimes and ignore when you don’t want to. He deserves our ear, our attention, our obedience!

And third, if you are in Christ and you’ve trusted Christ, guess what? He’s with you—forever!—the Bible tells us. He’s with you right now when you leave. He dwells with all those who have put their faith in Christ, so give Him the common courtesy you would give any other person in your presence. You would acknowledge them and their activity in your life. Consider that: the Spirit is with you. Don’t act like you’re alone in the pit. You’re not. He’s with you. 

And lastly, the Spirit has a role—a specific function—in our lives. I’m just going to list some of the things the Bible tells us about His role in our life. The Bible calls Him primarily a “helper,” but how does He help us?

The Bible says He teaches us all things and guides us into all truth. Who do we know is the Truth? Jesus, right? Jesus said, “I am the Truth.” The Holy Spirit:

  • He reminds us of Jesus’ words. 
  • He testifies about Jesus. 
  • He glorifies Jesus. 
  • He helps us in our weakness. 
  • He intercedes for us. 
  • He helps us feel the reality that we are children of God by the blood of Jesus!
  • He gives us power to follow and obey Jesus. 
  • He helps us understand the things God has given to us in the gospel of Jesus. 

Whose name is coming up a lot here? Jesus, right? The Holy Spirit’s job primarily is to keep putting our eyes on Jesus our Savior. You see, being a Christian is not about one moment of salvation but a lifetime of being saved by Jesus out of one pit after the other.

And the Spirit’s job is to keep us looking to Him, keep us trusting Him, over and over and over again. So what does it look like to walk by the Spirit? Let’s put it together. I would say walking by the Spirit is this: it’s living our life hour by hour letting the Spirit lead us to Jesus

I chose that word “letting” on purpose, because the Spirit always wants to lead us to Jesus! But just sometimes we don’t let Him. We’re so determined to do it on our own! We are too busy to hear His voice. But if in every challenge we face, we would just stop for two minutes and pray, the Spirit would be able to lead us to Him, to lift our eyes off of ourselves and to cry again to our Savior, “Jesus, help me right now. I can’t do it!” 

See, God’s answer to our desire for lasting change is not a five-year plan; it’s a five-minute plan. It’s not providing what you need to make it to next year; it’s providing what you need to make it through today. It sure feels better with a five-year plan though, doesn’t it? We don’t really want the hourly one.

It feels so much safer, it gives us more control. But I promise you this: in five years of self-dependent effort, you’ll look up and realize you’re going in circles. But if you will choose to be content to walk in hourly dependence upon the Spirit of God, you’ll look up in five years and realize you’ve made more progress than you thought was even possible!

I want to give us four simple phrases, as we close out this session in this moment, to help us remember: “Am I walking in self-dependency right now or am I walking in Spirit-dependency?” 

  • Self-dependent people focus on rules, on what they can do. But Spirit-dependent people focus on Christ and what Christ has done already.
  • Self-dependent people look inward for strength, to themselves. But Spirit-dependent people look outward for strength, namely to Christ. 
  • Self-dependent people believe they are spiritually wealthy, that they have something to offer. But Spirit-dependent people know they are spiritually bankrupt. They believe what Jesus says that, “Apart from You, I can do nothing.” 
  • Self-dependent people seek to reform their old ways, to turn bad habits into good ones. But Spirit-dependent people seek to crucify old ways. They know there’s nothing worth reforming about that old way of life. It just needs to die, so that Christ can live through them.

Spirit-dependent people can say with Paul, earlier in Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Lasting change is possible when you leave here! It is! It’s promised to you. If you will walk by the Spirit that you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. When we walk by the Spirit in hour-by-hour dependency we’ll see change happen. The choice is set before us today when we leave: Who are we going to depend on when we walk out these doors? Self or the Spirit?

Don’t believe the message of the world, that you have the strength within you to accomplish the changes that you want to see in your life. It sounds good, but it’s a lie. Only the Spirit can produce lasting change. The good news is today that, if you are in Christ, He’s with you every moment of your day!

In every challenge you face, in every circumstance that seems too big for you, He’s with you. Trust Him! Walk with Him! Let’s pray.

God, we are so prone to look to ourselves for change. God, I know. I have been sitting in this room ready to leave, and I’ve already made a list a mile long of all the things I’m going to do when I get home to change my life for the good. But, God, if it’s not wrought in dependence on You, it doesn’t produce anything.

God, we want to be changed women; we want to be different next year. Would you help us to be content in hourly—in minute—dependence? 

So, I’m just going to ask you where you are. I don’t know what plans you’ve been making for when you go home, what changes you see that need to be made in your life. But will you give those plans to God? You might open your hands and present Him whatever things you know you need to do when you go home, things you want to do. Give Him those plans.

Will you ask Him instead, “God, help me not to trust these plans. Help me to trust a Person; help me to trust You.” Take a minute to ask Him to make you content with hourly dependence. 

If you’re in a pit today that you know when you go home is going to be waiting for you and you’re really overwhelmed with how to get out, will you just talk to Jesus about that right now? Thank Him that He’s with you, that He’s able to get you out. Praise Him for that. 

God, we just confess to You our love of self-dependency. It’s in the air we breathe and the culture we live in, and we love it, God. Forgive us. We’d rather depend on ourselves than You. Would You help us, God? Help us! Help us to be dependent people.

Help us to embrace dependency as a way of life—dependency on You—because we do want to see change, God, and we know only You can bring it. The best plans in the world can’t accomplish what we need. We need a Person. We need Jesus.

So we acknowledge we need you, God. We thank You that You want to help. Would You be with us as we leave here? In Jesus’ name, amen.