Walking in the Spirit — The Freedom of Holiness
The church is a missionary agency representing the kingdom of God on earth. As long as our Lord is on mission here in the world and as long as we call Him Lord, we also are co-missioners with Him. We are Spirit-empowered witnesses of the presence of the coming kingdom of God.
If we have confessed Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we have a witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts (Gal. 4:6) but God did not call us simply to have a witness but to be a witness. The Spirit bears witness to Jesus, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,” (John 15:26). Now the witnessing Spirit empowers us to be witnesses, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
How can we be that witness in a world so violent, so depraved and chaotic? Only as we allow the Holy Spirit to fill and empower us and as we daily submit to His leadership. It is important that we understand discipleship as a daily submission to God, a day by day, transforming walk in the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit was at work in our lives before we were aware of His presence — preparing us for commitment to Christ, enabling us to turn from our sins and to make that commitment to the Lord. When we surrender our lives to Christ, the work of the Spirit enters a new sphere of activity, consecrating the life which we have committed. This work of consecration or sanctification in the believer is a work of the Spirit but requiring the cooperation and yieldedness of the believer.
It is a work of such importance that Paul said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12,13). It is not insecurity that evokes fear and trembling, rather, it is a holy reverence for the awesomeness of the task. It is God who is working in us, God who is working through us as witnesses in this world, God who is preparing us to live with Him forever. Because it is God who works in us both “to will and to work” and because we have come to know Him in the most intimate terms of friendship, we enter this work of consecration with reverence.
We also are confident that the Lord will accomplish His purpose in us and through us. Paul expresses this confidence to Timothy, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). We may be confident that having committed ourselves unto God, we too will be kept and consecrated as we yield ourselves to God’s sanctifying Spirit.
Discipleship is a day-by-day yielding up of the old self characterized by self-reliance and self-concern and living the new self characterized by Spirit-reliance. Paul says in Romans 12:1 that we are “to present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” This is not an extraordinary requirement but rather our “spiritual / reasonable service.” It is entirely right that we yield our living to the sanctifying Spirit of God, for this is the natural consequence of the surrender we made to the Lordship of Jesus. Once we have given sovereign control of our lives over to God, we no longer are our own, as Paul reminds us, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
The believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit and we are an offering being consecrated as a holy sacrifice unto God by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter said in I Peter 2:5 that we are a holy priesthood and we are the spiritual sacrifice which is now pleasing to God — the only sacrifice which God still desires — the living sacrifice of a holy life.
Walking in the Spirit means being set apart unto God, yielding daily to the consecrating fire of God's love, being deliberate about our dedication. Walking in the Spirit is a progressive act, a process whereby the believer matures more and more into the likeness of the indwelling One. The result of this process is freedom.
How strange that the sanctified life is sometimes caricatured as a life of religious slavery when in reality, walking in the Spirit is the only journey which leads to true liberation. As we live, the Spirit sets us free “from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) thereby giving us the freedom to choose life. This freedom is not available to those still under the law of sin and death. Whatever choices they make, until they come out from under the law of sin and death, they cannot choose life. Neither can they truly live. Any so-called lifestyle not submitted to the Lord of life who came to set us free from death and give us life, and life more abundantly, is not really a lifestyle at all but merely a disguised form of dying — a deathstyle.
As we walk in the Spirit we do find ourselves dealing with weaknesses in body, mind, emotions and personality but the Holy Spirit, “that same Spirit which raised Christ Jesus from the dead” (Rom 8:11) ministers life to us. Living in a confused culture, times of confusion come upon us but the Spirit of truth witnesses to our hearts of our true identity as children of God, crying out “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:7). As we walk through the perils, temptations and lies of a dying world we are in constant need of fellowship with God and though we do not always know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit intercedes for us “with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
To walk in the Spirit is to walk in liberty. But there is a misunderstanding today of our freedom in the Spirit. Most people associate the concept of freedom with independence: freedom from restraint or restriction, freedom from authority, law or conscience, freedom from want or need. For many people, freedom is the opportunity to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, free to satisfy whatever desires they have. But true freedom has nothing to do with independence. True freedom is not liberty to do as we like. True freedom is liberty to become who we are designed to be in Christ.
When the Bible talks abut freedom, it does not speak of independence. It speaks of transformation: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17,18). To be truly free is to be transformed in the grace and knowledge and likeness of Jesus.
When is a caterpillar most free? When it can eat anything it wants? When it can go anywhere it wants? When it can do anything it wants? No. A caterpillar is most free when it becomes a butterfly.
If a caterpillar had emotions and language, it might say that the process of becoming a butterfly can be frightening, unsettling, confusing, restricting (“I was in this cocoon. It was really dark and I had trouble moving around”). But that cocoon leads to true freedom.
The process is called metamorphosis, from two Greek words:
meta which means change;
morphe which means form.
Metamorphosis is not about outward change in the sense of something looking different. Paul reminds us that “Satan disguises (transforms in the KJ) himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), but the word “disguise” is a word referring to outward change (therefore, disguise). Metamorphosis is about inward change, the transforming of the substance of something.
A caterpillar is transformed in substance into a butterfly. A butterfly is not an improved caterpillar, not a worm with wings. It is a new creation.
Metamorphoo is translated into English by the word transformation. It is the word used in Matt. 17:2 when speaking of the transfiguration of Christ on the mountain. It is used in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It is a word which has to do with inner change, the changing of the substance of a person.
It is the word we just read in 2 Corinthians 3:17,18, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
When Paul talks about liberty, he speaks of transformation. When the New Testament talks about freedom, it talks about being transformed in the image of Christ. A Christian is not an improved sinner. Not a sinner with wings. A Christian is a new creation being transformed into the image of Christ and therein is true liberty.
Do we still sin? Yes but we are not sinners with wings. We are new creations in Christ, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
2 Corinthians 3:18 reveals two truths about this transformation:
1. It is a process, it is gradual. We are “being transformed”. The verb tense is present continuous, indicating an ongoing process. This process has a beginning: when we come to Christ in faith. It has an end point: someday in His presence.
2. This transformation is something the Holy Spirit does in us — it is “from the Lord, the Spirit.” I cannot transform me. God can.
How does the Holy Spirit bring about transformation? Let’s review these earlier lessons on the work of the Holy Spirit.
1. First, He turns us to Christ. This is called repentance. Repentance is necessary prior to transformation. Repentance is not simply a prayer we pray — it is a reorientation of the way we think and act. The Holy Spirit shows us our sin and how our sin has separated us from God; convinces us that this has grieved God and incurred His judgment and enables us to turn from those actions, choices, thoughts that have separated us from the true and living God.
2. Then the Holy Spirit convinces us of the forgiving grace of God available to all who trust in the saving work of Jesus on our behalf, convinces us that in Christ Jesus our sins are forgiven, our guilt is washed away by the cleansing blood of the Lamb. He gifts us with faith to believe this Good News which results in new birth, regeneration which is the beginning of the process of transformation, enabling us to surrender and commit our life, time, talent, our being to Christ.
3. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into union with Christ, immerses us into a living relationship with a living Savior, focuses us on Christ in His word, in prayer and in worship. We become in the image of that which we worship. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). The effect of continually beholding is continual transformation into the image of the One we behold. The promise is, “We shall be like Him” (I John 3:2).
4. This process of transformation involves refining, purifying. The prophet Malachi compared the ministry of Jesus to a refiner’s fire and “a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver” (Mal. 3:3).
What does the process of refining involve?
In the old days, a refiner of silver heated the silver, which caused the impurities to rise to the surface. He skimmed off the impurities and continued the heating and skimming process until he could see his reflection in the molten metal. This is what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives — skimming the impurities until He can see the image of Jesus in us.
5. This process of transformation involves restoration.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8,9). As the Holy Spirit enables us to confess our sins to the Lord, we are not only forgiven of sin but cleansed of sin’s disfiguration and brought into a process of restoration. In fact, we could say that this entire process of spiritual regeneration and sanctification is the restoring of the image of God in a human soul, an image which was marred in the fall of Adam and Eve.
6. Transformation is a pursuit. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebr. 12:14). We are not passive bystanders in this process. Rather, we are active participants, pursuing transformation, cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit. To use the image of a track meet, we are not passive spectators but active runners, pursuing the prize. Only the Lord can transform us in His image but He does so as we make this transformation our pursuit.
7. Transformation involves the continual act of surrender. Paul says that we must “present (our) bodies a living and holy sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). The picture is of a sacrifice laid on the altar. That is an intentional act. As we continually surrender our lives to the Lord, holy transformation is a work which God produces in us: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thes. 5:23).
Only God can produce His holiness in us but He does so only as we yield our lives to His work. The Holy Spirit takes God’s word of truth and applies it to our hearts and empowers us to live that truth but we must choose to live it. When the Spirit of God pierces our heart with the truth of our sin, we accept accountability by confessing our sin. Confess means to say the same thing — we agree with the Lord. As we submit to the Holy Spirit and obey the word of truth, as we commit ourselves to live that truth day by day, as we confess our sin and open our lives to God’s restoring grace, we are progressively transformed in the grace and knowledge and likeness of Jesus.
Our will is involved in this. We choose to refuse sin. We choose to resist temptation. We choose to do that which is holy. We choose to obey the truth. We choose to repent when we fail. We choose to accept God’s restoring, forgiving grace.
David the Psalmist prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23,24). Only God can show us what is truly in us and only God can truly change us and He does so as we pursue purity of heart, as we make it a priority.
8. This process of transformation has two goals.
a. The immediate goal of holy transformation is a life that glorifies God.
The Lord’s desire for us in this life is that we will be “a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). God has prepared works for each of us so that we can glorify Him with the time, resources, talents and opportunity that He gives us (see Eph. 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”). As Stanley Horton points out, to be set free in the Spirit is to become a bond-servant of the Lord. 1 It is to enter into a whole new dimension of Spirit-inspired decision making. It is to go when the Spirit says go, to stop when the Spirit says stop.
b. The ultimate goal of holy transformation is, as we said, the restoration of the image of God in us.
Paul says that the purpose of the equipping ministry of the church is that “we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). The fulness of Christ — that’s the restoration of the image of God in us.
Regarding Jesus, Paul says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (Col. 1:19); and John adds,“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
Paul says, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete” (Col 2:9,10). “Have been made complete” is a perfect tense verb which means that the outcome is eternally established.
John assures us, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I John 3:2,3). When Jesus appears, when our vision of Jesus is perfected, then our transformation in Him will be perfected — we will be like Him, pure in Him.
Someday we will stand before God blameless in holiness. The Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus loves the church and gave Himself up for her, “So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:26,27).
That is the ultimate goal of transformation, that we would stand before God, corporately and personally, holy and blameless. Paul said to the Corinthian church with all its back story of paganism, with all its struggles and sins, “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2). If you think the virgin birth is a miracle, how about this — generations of men and women coming out of idolatry, manifold expressions of paganism and self destruction, presented before God as a pure, virgin bride.
That future day is so certain that the writer to the Hebrews says, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebr. 10:14). He does not mean that we have been made perfect today but that our present position before God is perfect and our future standing before God is perfectly secure. Just as the saving work of Christ on our behalf if timeless, so is His sanctifying work. Truly, as Paul said, we can be “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 1:6).
In a violent world where the foundations of society are being shaken, everyone seeks security. Here it is — as we walk in the Spirit, led by the Spirit, transformed by the Spirit, eternally secure in the Spirit, we experience the greatest of all freedom — free to live out the design of God for our lives, free to glorify the Lord with those works which He purposed for us, free to grow into the fulness Christ, “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
To be free in the Spirit is to realize that our lives are no longer our own, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “… you are not your own … you have been bought with a price” (I Cor. 6:19,20).
If our lives are no longer our own, if we have been purchased by the almighty, all-wise Creator of the universe who is now transforming us in His likeness, leading us according to His purpose which cannot be overcome or nullified, are we not truly free and truly secure in our freedom?
In Acts 16 we read of Paul’s freedom in the Spirit. He and his fellow workers were traveling through Phrygia and Galatia and were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (16:6). They then attempted to proceed into Bithynia “and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” (16:7). Following this, the Lord gave Paul a vision of a man in Macedonia pleading for help and so they went to Macedonia. This is freedom — to be led by the Spirit. The closed doors were an expression of freedom in the Spirit. The open door was an expression of freedom in the Spirit.
In Acts 20:22-24 we read of Paul’s liberty: “And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”
The word that Paul uses for “bonds” is the word used of the shackles which bind a prisoner. But for Paul, the earthly, secular definition of freedom — life without chains — does not compare to the wondrous liberty he found in being an “ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20). And because the “word of God is not imprisoned” (2 Timothy 2:9) and because “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18), he was able to endure and prevail as a free man, a truly liberated man.
Walking in the Spirit, free in the Spirit, Paul was able to fulfill the purpose for which God had designed him even through persecution, beatings, shipwreck, imprisonment. At the end of his life, Paul was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
At the end of life, there will be nothing more precious than to be able to look back and say, “I fulfilled the purpose for which God designed me. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” That is the liberated life.
Transformed by the Spirit, we are free in the Spirit, free to faithfully run the race set before us, free to fulfill the ministries to which God has called us. We are free to do this with all the supernatural authority, with all the empire-shaking power, with all the peace, love and joy which God is able to pour out upon us and within us through His precious Holy Spirit.
Consider and receive the blessing of Jude, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24,25).
1. Stanley M. Horton, What The Bible Says About The Holy Spirit (Springfield, Missouri, Gospel Publishing House, 1976), p. 163.
1. When Paul talks about liberty, he does not talk about freedom. Rather, he speaks of transformation. What does he mean?
2. How does the Holy Spirit bring about transformation in us?