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Jul 8, 2024

Recorded July 7, 2023 Buckling the Belt of Truth, lesson 3

THEME:  following the SPIRIT’s lead

I will not read all the verse numbers, nor will I always cite which translation I am quoting from. If I don’t say which translation, it is either NLT or GNT. The complete information is found in the episode notes.

One of the mistakes I made in trying to find victory over my evil desires was thinking that the spiritual reality of my death and resurrection with Christ was going to be the key that would give me total victory over sin. It doesn’t work that way. But the reality I find is that the Holy Spirit empowers all the truth about our unity with Christ. The Spirit is actually the Answer to the prayers we made based on the first two lessons for bucking the belt of truth.

He is

  • our rescuer from evil desires (our ‘flesh’) which is bent on taking us to spiritual death.
  • He is the power for transformation,
  • the creator of a new creation,
  • the motivator of our hearts.

But realizing the role of the Holy Spirit is not like finding a key to anything. He is a person. It would be insulting to His personhood for me to give you steps for using or controlling God’s Spirit. You must get to know Him. 

The personhood of the Holy Spirit actually made it difficult for me to write this lesson. Let me give an example: In my first draft I wrote the next heading as “How to get the Spirit.” How insulting that must be to Him! And I beg his pardon. He is not a thing we obtain. People do slip sometimes and talk about marriage that way, like, “Where did he get that wife?” or like insensitive advice to a woman, “You need to get a husband.”

Gale and I have built our relationship over 51 years, over many tough times, and through the crucible of taking our family to live in a different culture. Yet I still need to keep a close eye on maintaining my relationship with Gale. Now, the tricky thing is, if I were able to go back in time to 1972 to give myself advice, I would not be able to articulate a set of steps for how to keep Gale happy. Living with the Spirit is like that. I can’t tell you very much about how to know Him, while paradoxically, I know He has been my friend. So that next heading is:

How do we start a relationship with the Spirit? The answer is incredibly simple.

John 7:37-39 GNT

On the last and most important day of the festival Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, “Whoever is thirsty should come to me, and whoever believes in me should drink. As the scripture says, ‘Streams of life-giving water will pour out from his side.’” Jesus said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were going to receive. At that time the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not been raised to glory.

This agrees with Rev. 22:17 GNT

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” Everyone who hears this must also say, “Come!” Come, whoever is thirsty; accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it.

So the simple answer to how we start a relationship with Him is to come to Him in prayer and ask Him to start his work in your heart. I’ll give pointers about how to pray at the end of this lesson.

Cooperate with the Spirit:

We must understand that God’s Spirit is the Author of Scripture. Therefore, we can know that He wants to do his work in us in a way that matches what we find in Scripture. The memorizable verses to support this are 2 Peter 1:20‭-‬21 (NLT):

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

Your results may vary:

In Eph 4 and Col 3 (by using verbs related to clothing) Paul gives us two metaphors, telling us to take off the clothes of our old life and put on the clean clothes of our new life. This process is directed by the Holy Spirit. My experience leads me to conclude this: There is more to our part in the equation than simply surrendering to the Spirit. The Spirit wants to motivate and help us, but He doesn’t want to do everything for us. We don’t get to be lazy. 

This is why some believers have stories of amazing overnight changes that happened in their lives when they believed in Jesus, but then afterwards, it seems that all of us find left-over problems in living according to God’s will that only can be conquered with personal effort and spiritual understanding. For me the Spirit immediately changed the way I talked. For others the Spirit gives immediate freedom from anger or various kinds of addictions. But after that, there always seem to be plenty of things left over for us to work on under the patient help of God’s Spirit.

Ephesians 4:21‭-‬24 NLT

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

What kind of things can be thrown off? Immediately after those verses Paul rapidly lists such life changes as stopping

  • lying,
  • anger,
  • stealing,
  • bitterness,
  • outbursts of rage,
  • and slander.

Please know: There is no fakey-ness in ‘putting on’ the new clothes that the Spirit gives. When such changes come welling up from inside you, be brave and allow them to show, like wearing a pair of obviously new jeans. Read the Bible daily and the Spirit will direct you in applying your new wardrobe. Sometimes following the advice of well-meaning friends will lead to frustration. They will want you to change everything all at once.

The Holy Spirit is the engine empowering our spiritual transformation. 

I take that idea from the book of Romans. In chapters 5-7, Paul talks of the victory we have over the power of sin and death, but I find no hint of how that victory can actually be obtained. Then suddenly in chapter 8 Paul starts talking about the Holy Spirit.

Here is how Paul comes back to his topic after a long parenthesis in chapter 7:

Romans 8:1‭-‬3 NLT

So now there is no condemnation for those who [*are one with//belong to] Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

Romans 8:4‭-‬8 (NLT)

He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

Paul’s intention is absolutely clear here! Believers can “follow the Spirit’s leading.” Both NLT and GNT use the word ‘controlled’ in verse 5, but I think that word can give the wrong impression. The translators were struggling to express what is mysterious and difficult to grasp. Let me try to express it! The Holy Spirit doesn’t take over complete control of our minds, but when we are clinging to Jesus, the Spirit enables us to know how to think and act. In verse 4, Paul literally says ‘walk according to the Spirit’. This Greek idiom of ‘walking’ means our manner of life. NLT’s translation of ‘following the Spirit’s leading’ is perfect in saying what the Greek means. We aren’t controlled but more subtly directed, being enabled to ‘follow the Spirit’s leading’.

My team in Indonesia worked hard to translate those verses in a way that makes sense to our Indonesian readers. Please listen to how our Indonesian translation sounds when translated into English. 

Romans 8:4-6 (PET) 

God did that [declared an end to sin’s control over us] so that the right way of life required by God’s Law would be fulfilled in us because of being united with Christ. Now, we are enabled to live obeying the leading of God’s Spirit rather than going back to following our sinful natural desires.

 Allah melakukan hal itu supaya cara hidup benar yang dituntut oleh Hukum Taurat terpenuhi dalam diri kita karena kita bersatu dengan Kristus. Sekarang, kita dimampukan untuk hidup menaati pimpinan Roh Allah dan tidak lagi mengikuti naluri yang berdosa. 

Anyone who still follows their sinful natural desires lives to satisfy themself alone. Whereas every person who lives clinging to God’s Spirit is helped by Him to think according to his will. If the direction of our lives is only to satisfy our sinful natural desires, we will end up in destruction. But if [the direction of] our lives is directed by God’s Spirit, we will receive eternal life and feel calm/peace under the protection of God.

Setiap orang yang masih mengikuti naluri berdosanya, berarti dia hidup untuk memuaskan diri sendiri saja. Namun, setiap orang yang hidup bergantung pada Roh Allah ditolong-Nya untuk berpikir sesuai dengan kehendak-Nya. Bila tujuan hidup kita hanya untuk memuaskan naluri kita yang berdosa, kita akan berakhir dalam kebinasaan. Tetapi bila [tujuan] hidup kita [dipimpin oleh//dikuasai] Roh Allah, kita akan mendapatkan hidup yang kekal dan merasa tenang dalam perlindungan TUHAN. 

So, these verses claim that the Spirit can enable us to know how to think and act according to God’s will. Following the outlook/direction of God’s Spirit is what ‘ends sin’s control over us’! (I want that!) But wait! Is what Paul is saying available to only a few super-Christians— like Paul himself— or is it available to all believers? 

Truth: Yes, this is for you! You (a sincere believer listening to this) have been enabled to live following the Holy Spirit's leading. A basic principle that makes this possible is realizing that we have been united to Christ. (Rom. 8:1 We are truly ‘unified with/in Christ’.)

Your part in this is to decide clearly the direction you want for your life (v.6). There must be an intentional change of your mind empowered by the Holy Spirit and prayer. The Greek word for ‘mind’ here is phronema in v6  means ‘thought, purpose, aspirations’. Ask for the Spirit to renew your mind. We must cooperate with the Spirit!

Our part #2: In verse 5 translators struggle to express the meaning found in the Greek of ‘living according to the Spirit’ (ESV), or as NET translates it, having our ‘outlook shaped by the Spirit’. I think our part in that is to cling to, or lean on the Holy Spirit (v.5). 

I dislike the way NLT translates this as ‘letting the Spirit control your mind’. Stating it like that seems to make me more powerful than God’s Spirit.

Instead we are the weak party in our collaboration with the Spirit, and that’s why I prefer to use the word ‘cling’. This is supported by Romans 8:26‭-‬27 (GNT) which says:

In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will.

With what Paul just said about the Holy Spirit praying for us, let’s look at

John 14:16‭-‬20 (NLT), where Jesus says,

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

The Spirit is our Helper and Advocate. The Greek word translated like that literally means that He comes alongside.

The Spirit has 3 functions in this passage in John 14:

  1. He leads us into all truth.

  2. In his advocate role and just like Paul said, the Spirit intercedes for us. He prays to the Father for us.

  3. He gives us confidence in our unity with Jesus. We are not left like orphans.

Let’s put that alongside

John 16:13‭-‬14 (NLT): Jesus told his disciples,

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me.

Part of knowing God’s Spirit is to realize that his motive is to bring glory to Jesus. He never seeks glory for himself. It follows then that if we are following his lead, we also will not seek to glorify ourselves.

When Jesus mentioned to his disciples how the Holy Spirit would ‘speak’ and ‘tell you about the future’, that has primarily been fulfilled for us in His giving us the Bible. I can’t remember any times Jesus or the Holy Spirit have spoken to me in an audible voice. He nudges me in other ways, often when reading the Bible. When verses jump off the page, pay attention! He uses our consciences to tell us when we have sinned or to warn us not to sin. But, I still believe that the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit still do occasionally speak to people in what they perceive as an audible voice. From a few testimonies I have considered believable, God’s voice or an angel’s voice only come once in a lifetime. It is obviously not the Holy Spirit’s prefered method of communication with us. The Bible is the prefered method! Those who claim that they daily hear the Lord speaking to them are sadly deceived. Mascurading demons are happy to give daily messages. Similarly, my advice is to never seek to be given direction through dreams. 

How should we pray involving the Holy Spirit?

I have mentioned the importance of prayer several times. This makes me think that some listeners might like a few pointers about how to pray. 

  • The Holy Spirit does not seek to glorify himself, so the normal direction about praying should work well for us, namely,

We pray to God the Father in the name Jesus the Son and through the mediation of the Holy Spirit.

  • Most of the time I address my prayers like that to our Father in heaven. But it is perfectly fine to address prayers to any member of the Trinity.

  • If I happen to be praying about something that reminds me of  Jesus, then I will often address my prayer to Him. An example would be realizing that I have a special need today for Jesus to be with me in something facing me. So I find it natural to pray, “Lord Jesus, You promised You would be with us always in Matthew 28, and I need You to be with me today.” 

  • Similarly, I pray directly to the Holy Spirit when I am praying something that has to do with the ministries of the Holy Spirit as described in the Bible.

    • As I said above, He leads us into all truth. He is also the author of Scripture. So it is fine to invite the Holy Spirit to help you when you need direction in understand or putting into practice something you've found in the Bible.

    • The Holy Spirit pleads for us directly to the Father. So if I am praying to the Father about some urgent issue, I sometimes ask the Holy Spirit to help me bring my plea powerfully to the Father.

    • Since Paul says we are enabled to be directed by the Holy Spirit (as in Romans 8), then asking Him to remove any communication barriers is a good idea.

    • Ephesians 4:30 says: “Do not bring sorrow (grieve) the Holy Spirit.” He won’t want to direct your thinking/outlook if you have done that. It is certain that He will be pleased if you come to Him and ask for forgiveness.

    • Ephesians 6:18 (GNT) “… Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God's people.” Therefore it is certainly a good thing to pray to the Holy Spirit asking for Him to lead you in praying, giving you alertness to things He wants you to pray about.

    • Ephesians 6:17 (GNT) Directs us to “accept … the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you.” It is therefore a great idea to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom in how to bring God’s Word into your conversations.

    • Then we can’t forget to ask Him for this one too: Ephesians 5:18 (GNT) “Do not get drunk with wine, which will only ruin you; instead, be filled with the Spirit.”


We have run out of time to discuss the gifts that are given by the Spirit. Paul urges us to pray, asking to be given the most useful spiritual gifts. When someone thanks you for the way God is using your gift in your local church, don’t get proud about that. But use that feedback as an encouragement to cling even tighter to the Holy Spirit. 


Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, Paul says that as a believer in Christ, the power of sin should no longer control our lives. So my listener and I have already been enabled through the truth of your Word to live obeying the leading of the Holy Spirit. Dear Father, please give our minds a new sensitivity to the nudges of your Spirit. O Holy Spirit, help us to realize any ways we have grieved You. Please lead us in asking for your forgiveness. And teach us how to cling to You. Dear Jesus, we pray that we will remember that we are so unified to you that it is as if we died with You on the cross and now have been raised to live a life under new management. Therefore Lord, help us to realize when our minds go back to well-worn pathways that lead to the desires that used to dominate our thoughts. Help us to put our eyes back on You, Lord Jesus. Heavenly Father, I pray for my brother or sister listening to me now, if he/she struggles to believe that the Holy Spirit is in any way active in his/her life. Dear Jesus, please convince my listener that you haven’t left them alone and orphaned. O Holy Spirit, come to my listener and to me. Renew our minds and make us a new creation.

 Amen. And Gale and I say, “May the Lord bless you ‘real good’.”