This is the question that Pastor Kong Hee encounters the most since he started the series on cultivating Christlikeness. Last weekend, he dived into the practical steps of gaining victory over the works of the flesh.
Over the weekend of Mar 6 and 7, City Harvest Church’s senior pastor, Kong Hee shared that the way to gain victory over sinful habits is to crucify the flesh and to walk in the Spirit.
Wrapping up what he taught over the last three weeks on mortification and vivification, he delved deeper into Apostle Paul’s writings in Galatians 5:16-25 on living in the Spirit.
“The greatest spiritual warfare is not external,” preached Pastor Kong. “The war is between the spirit and the flesh. All of us have experienced the pull on both extremes, in both directions. Should I do what is pleasing to God, or to give in to the sinful cravings and passions to gratify the desires of my flesh?”
He went on to explain the spirit and the flesh natures mentioned in Galatians 5:16. He defined flesh as “the fallen sinful nature we inherited by birth”. “At the same time, inside us, we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—the third person of the Trinity.” The Holy Spirit regenerates, empowers and sanctifies every born-again Christian.
“Until the day you arrive into heaven, every Christian possesses these two natures inside of us and they strongly oppose each other,” the pastor taught, “In our fleshly body, we will be tempted every single day, sometimes by the hour, to sin.”
CONTROLLING THE FLESH
Some may wonder, is trying harder the answer to having victory over sin?
“It’s not about how hard you try,” revealed the pastor. “The key is the Holy Spirit. The more you walk in the Spirit, the more you subdue the flesh and the more you drain the life out of sin.”
Referring to John 15:26, Pastor Kong preached that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will guide Christians in the nature of Jesus, and bring to remembrance all that He said.
In Romans 7:19, Apostle Paul, one of the holiest man that ever lived, admits that at times, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice”. Therefore, Christians should never be complacent about their ability to sin or not to sin, but depend on the Holy Spirit daily.
“A Christian is not a person who never experiences bad desires,” Pastor Kong clarified. “A Christian is simply a person who is at war with those bad desires and trying to gain victory by the power of the Spirit.”
Pastor Kong then highlighted two incentives of walking in the Spirit: one, you will have victory over the sin of the flesh; two, if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under God’s law (Gal 5:18). The law is an expression of His nature—it reveals the morality of God, and it can guide people in life, but has no power to save.
“There is no power in the law to transform us; only the Holy Spirit can do that,” declared Pastor Kong. “So something amazing happens the moment you put your faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit comes in. He dwells within us and He goes straight into our heart and changes our heart. Now, this is what the new covenant is all about (Jer 31:33 and Rom 8:3-4).”
After the Holy Spirit changes a Christian’s heart, he will find that he can obey the laws of God and the Word of God. “All of a sudden, the Holy Spirit gives us power. There is an inner transformation in us to obey God’s Word.”
THE WORKS OF THE FLESH
Galatians 5:19-21 lists the works of the flesh—which can be classified into four groups—and warned that those who practice these works would not inherit the kingdom of God.
The first four works—adultery, fornication, uncleanness and lewdness—have to do with sexual sin. The next two—idolatry and sorcery—are related to spiritual impurity. The next group—hatred, contention, jealousy, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, and murder—has to do with anger. The final two—drunkenness and revelries—are related to socializing.
“If you practice such things habitually—you do it again and again until it becomes a lifestyle—then something is wrong,” exhorted Pastor Kong. He also reminded the congregation that Apostle Paul was addressing the Galatian Christians in this passage, and therefore, this is a wake-up call for Christians that it is possible to lose their salvation. There is no unconditional perseverance of the saints.
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
The nine virtues of the fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23) are the “clearest evidence of the life of the Spirit. If you are walking in the Spirit every day, all these should be there,” said Pastor Kong. He went on to explain that God expects every believer to develop all the nine virtues of the fruit. “So you can’t say I’m not the gentle type, or I’m not gifted in gentleness.”
The question then is, how does one control the lust of the flesh and bear the fruit of the Spirit? V24 explains how to do just that: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” This is also known as mortification, a topic covered in Pastor Kong’s recent sermons.
“The crucifying is done by us but it is not done for us,” clarified Pastor Kong. “The Holy Spirit supplies the power, but you must be willing. You’ve got to be the one that actively responds to Him and says, ‘Spirit of God, come and help me. I want to crucify the flesh.’ So it’s got to be a deliberate putting to death on your part.”
He shared three points on crucifying the flesh: one must be pitiless towards the flesh nature. One must know that crucifixion can be painful, as the flesh will fight back with all it has. And lastly, one must be decisive, in order to do it daily. In Greek, “have crucified” means to do it decisively, resolutely.
“We keep doing this by the power of the Spirit, nailing the flesh to the cross daily, until the flesh hangs there, alive but powerless to sin,” preached Pastor Kong.
For Christians, the big problem is not repentance, “The problem is that we have not done maintenance on our repentance,” said the pastor. It is very easy for the flesh nature to creep back into a believer’s life.
Pastor Kong gave an illustration. “You nail your old nature to the cross, but a few days or weeks later, you start to miss it. The next time you look at the cross, you feel sorry for it. So you start caressing your old nature, then you fiddle with the nails and when the nails pop out, you carry it home,” quipped Pastor Kong.
“Then you wonder why you are unable to overcome sin! Because you did not maintain your repentance. You must learn to leave it on the cross. Be decisive in repenting; turn your mind from sin and turn in faith to God.”
Pastor Kong encouraged the congregation to call on the Holy Spirit in times of weakness or temptation; to give the gentle yet powerful Spirit permission to supernaturally give them the power to overcome sin and the strength to do what is Christ-like.
WALKING IN THE SPIRIT
Going back to Galatians 5, Pastor Kong read V25: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” This is vivification.
To understand how to walk in victory, one must know the difference between being led by the Spirit (Gal 5:18) and walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:25). To be led is passive—it is waiting passively for the Holy Spirit’s prompting and then surrendering and yielding to Him.
“But it is a very big mistake to think that that’s all there is to living a life with the Spirit,” the pastor said. Because when a Christian cannot feel the leading of the Spirit, he must learn to actively and intentionally walk in the Spirit.
The Greek word for “walk” is “stoicheo”, which means to march in step, in the line that is drawn by the Word of God.
“You walk in His virtues, in His devotion. Yes, you have fun and enjoy your leisure; but always walk in line with the Spirit. Stay in the Spirit, be aligned to the Holy Spirit,” advised Pastor Kong.
In closing, Pastor Kong reminded the church that Jesus has already done everything to give them a victorious life. “What you need to do is take time every single day to remind yourself of all the truths that I have taught you today.” He prayed for the congregation to encounter the Holy Spirit, to commune with Him and to be changed by Him.