Ask, And The Holy Spirit Will Help You Fight Sin ...
One Sin at a Time
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16 that "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," and it is often useful to remember that this "God-breathed" means that the Holy Spirit was inspiring the scripture writers. However, it is perhaps even more useful to remember (or realize) that the indwelling Holy Spirit can and does "God-breath" on the born-again followers of Jesus, to help each of us live better and more Christ-centered lives. All we have to do is ask.
I have been working on four distinct sets of sinful behavior that I want to reject from my life; however, on my own, I found it hard to make any inroads in those sinful traits that were now causing me so much grief. So I decided to ask The Holy Spirit to help me out - to rebuke me, to correct me, to teach me and to train me to live a life free from these sins.
What follows is my path from one to four sins, and my "proofs" that The Holy Spirit really does work within me - and if God's Spirit can and will work in me, He will work in anybody. The procedures I observe here are all possible because of the Holy Spirit. Any improvements within me are due to the blessed intervention of the Holy Spirit, and even with His help I suspect that I have a long way to go - and that's my fault.
There is nothing special about me, nothing to make me worthy of special favor. So, before I continue, I ask you this:
If you have some habitual area of sin you would like to eliminate from your life, and if you have accepted Jesus into your life, then go ahead and ask the Holy Spirit to help you, to - as Paul said to Timothy - teach you, to rebuke you, to correct you and to train you. I believe that if you ask with a sincere desire to change, the Holy Spirit will work with you. However, if you have not asked Christ to take control of your life, realize that such a born-again experience is necessary before the Holy Spirit can be inside you, from where He can help you.
Perhaps you'll receive your help in ways different from my own - perhaps you'll hear His voice, or see the words (at least in your mind's eye). But based on my experience, my unworthiness and the real and reliable impact of the Spirit, I believe that any Christ-follower can ask for these gifts, and confidently expect to receive them.
So back to my experience.
After I asked in prayer for this help from the Holy Spirit - and I chose to begin with a single and troublesome sin - I didn't know what to expect.
A red flashing light whenever a sin approached?
A blare of trumpets and a thundering voice from above?
To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure that The Holy Spirit lived within me, for I sensed no presence there. There had been no "dove" moment, no "licking flames of fire" moment, no Pentecostal rushing of wind or, really, anything else. But I knew I needed help, and I knew I'd accepted the Lord, so I asked for The Holy Spirit to catch me when I sinned. Preferably quickly enough to short-circuit the sin before it became obvious.
That first sin has many related names. Prejudice. Bigotry. Pride. Self-Righteousness. But I really think it all boiled down to Judgment, and I wanted to, as Scripture says, "judge not, lest I be judged." What this amounted to was, when I saw someone who was in some way "different," my mind immediately made a (never positive) snap-judgment on that person.
Wild tattoos and equally-wild hair and body-piercing? Snap-judgment.
Racial, ethnic and religious difference? Snap-judgment.
Political or philosophical choices? Snap-judgment.
After I'd come back to church after many years, I realized what this was within me. I quickly came to hate that sense of self-righteous judgment in myself. Yet I'd been raised up in a time when judgments were not just acceptable, but expected. It was part of my family, and part of my culture. I had no idea how to rid myself of these self-righteous snap-judgments, especially since the reaction within me seemed as quick as thought.
I wasn't sure that even The Holy Spirit (if He did dwell within me) would be fast enough - forgetting, of course, that with God, all things are possible.
What I found was this:
As soon as such a self-righteous judgmental reaction had started - before it could even gain much headway within my awareness - I "received" a clear message that I was about to sinfully judge another. It wasn't in words - at least not in spoken words. It was more like reading something that had been typed out, yet I could not literally "see the words." Yet I could "read" them, and they were always just words - no emotion came with them. No emotions of rebuke or correction. No sense of anything akin to human awareness on the other end of the words.
It was just a "knowing," in the form of a brief, declarative statement that, more often than not, froze me in my tracks before my sinful, self-righteous judgment could be fully-formed.
I'm not sure what you'd do with a message like this - but what I did, each time, was freeze my reaction in its tracks, then voice a small sub-vocal or softly-spoken prayer thanking the Spirit for convicting and rebuking me.
The more often this happened, the more quickly I was "caught in the act," stopping my next self-righteous judgment before it even got started. Occasionally, I was rebuked before that reaction could get started, and that proved to be a form of spiritual training intended to prevent sin. This, to me, was and is indeed a gift from God.
I used this "ask-the-spirit" again in dealing with homeless panhandlers. Once I ignored them with scorn, judging them but also denying them any help. I even complained to store owners who let the homeless hang out, thereby "forcing me" to run a gauntlet of real human need, "forcing me" to ignore the plight of my fellow man. In retrospect - now that I know that God expects me to help the needy instead of shunning them - I have the tiniest bit of a sense of what Saul must have felt once he realized that instead of persecuting the followers of Jesus, he should have been one of them. I don't put myself on the same plane as Paul, except that I "persecuted" a group of people who definitely included "the least of these," in the terms of Jesus.
However, after I'd returned to church after many years, I realized that I was judging these poor and hopeless fellow humans. Some might have been scam artists, but others were clearly the people Christ had commanded me to help. Worse, even when I did consider giving them a donation, I was judging their worthiness to receive my alms-gift. Someone in a wheel chair who'd lost a leg was "worthy." Someone who seemed physically able, not so much.
But, thankfully one day it was given to me that it was my "job" to offer them my blessing and my charity; it was God's job to deal with those who were running scams.
Still, once I decided to help, there were times when I caught myself changing lanes at an exit ramp to avoid where panhandlers might be hanging out. That way I wouldn't have to "judge" their worthiness, but I wouldn't have to give, either.
However, the more I thought about it, I realized that each new in-need panhandler was yet another opportunity to give - and that was a blessing ... to me. So I asked the Holy Spirit to help me to fight off my feelings of judgment and of parsimony, and He has.
Here's the best example I have of how the Holy Spirit has helped me. Just recently, I not only got into a lane away from where one of these panhandlers might be, but I'd purposely "lost myself" in my smart phone, so I could pretend (to myself) that I didn't see him.
As soon as that hard-hearted act was beyond catching and correcting, I got a most stern rebuke from the Holy Spirit. It was the inner equivalent of a scolding in bright, fiery letters (that's an analogy, folks - no real flames). I immediately had to agree with the Spirit that I'd purposefully (not entirely consciously, but not entirely unconsciously, either) avoided the man in question, because I just didn't want to be bothered. My "need" to be left alone trumped his need for generous help from a fellow human being. Me.
As I drove away, the shame of what I'd just done sank in. I really got a sense of what a "rebuke" was. It was harsh and strong because, as I thought back over it, I recognized that the Spirit had hinted that I should help this man - so I'd not only ignored the man in need, I ignored help from the Spirit - help that I'd specifically prayed to receive.
For something that is neither heard nor seen nor felt, that rebuke "tanned my hide" but good. And despite the shame and the pain, I thank God for that lesson - it's one I won't easily forget.
Knowing that while it would not erase the sin, it would at least eliminate the damage my sin had caused, I did a u-turn, got back on the freeway, went to the next exit, got off, then circled around and back on, this time heading toward "my" exit. There, I not only was able to give this hard-luck man something to help him get through the night, along with a blessing, but I also learned that earlier that day, someone had stolen his sleeping bag. So (assuming he was telling the truth, and I do believe him), he needed my gift even more than on a usual evening.
Doing this did NOT erase my shame, but at least the man on the street corner didn't have to suffer for it. Very clearly, "somebody" had caught me out and rebuked me most sternly, and rightfully so. And though it hurt, I was and am grateful for that rebuke from the Holy Spirit.
There are two other sins for which I've asked for help from the Holy Spirit, and have gotten the same kind of help. First, I realized that I was an "angry" driver - judging others for not driving the way I thought they should. Driving was like combat, and I was not about to take prisoners. But since it all remained in my mind (or at least inside my car) I hadn't given it much thought, until I read a scripture and commentary about anger, and the harm my anger does me.
So I asked the Holy Spirit for help, and the results were, no-joke, miraculous. Now, every time I even start to judge another driver and react with anger, I get a wordless message of calm, and I immediately let go of my rage and calm down. Sometimes, the Spirit even heads me off before I could react (though in each of those cases, I could tell that anger was just instants away from erupting). And I find I'm driving much less aggressively - yet, amazingly - still getting to where I'm going in just about the same amount of time.
Finally, and perhaps my biggest sin-challenge, was the sin of bearing false witness. Even as I admit to this sin of deceit, I find myself reluctant to call it lying. I'd grown up that way - I was that "bright kid" who was always creating chaos but not getting caught. Early, I learned that the "right story" was far better than accepting the consequences of my actions. Unfortunately, that was a lesson I'd carried into my adult life.
My late wife, Karol, did not find that attribute appealing, and for 20 years, I worked on this habit - without God's help, and with only moderate success. The results were much better than if I hadn't tried, but much worse than it could have been. And when, as a recent widower, Lynn and I connected and married, I re-embraced my old faith in God and began to try living more as a child of God. However, when my depression would strike, causing me to miss client/business deadlines, I re-learned the lesson that the "right story" was far better than accepting the consequences of my actions.
But just a few weeks ago, after my wife and I faced and weathered a crisis - and weathered it because I told her uncomfortable truths instead of the "right story," I realized that I no longer wanted to live that way. I no longer wanted to be a follower of the "Father of Lies," Satan.
Having seen what my own efforts could do, once again, I asked the Holy Spirit for help. So far, I am getting the help that I need, in the same recognizable ways. I know the Spirit is working in me on this, because I really did NOT want to include this sin into this blog - I'd been content to do three, which is how I'd planned things But I got a push that could only have come from the Holy Spirit, directing me to own up. I actually started-and-stopped several times before I wrote this last part. And truth to tell, I find I have a long way to go. This is a life-long sinful habit that will not be gone overnight - and won't be gone at all without the diligent help of the Holy Spirit.
After reading this back over, I do not want to come across "self-congratulating" in any sense. All glory for any of my successes in any of these four areas goes to the Holy Spirit. He has done all the heavy lifting - all I have to do is listen and respond, which is not always as easy as it might seem - but that difficulty comes from my own hard-heartedness, and not from any lack of rebuking from the Holy Spirit.
Bottom line. If you're a believer in Jesus and have accepted him as your personal savior, then the Holy Spirit lives within you. Ask Him for His help in overcoming some of your more intractable sins ... and you will receive help. Perhaps not like the help I receive, but help. The Holy Spirit is there for you, but ... hey, you've got to ask.