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Living By the Spirit: Colossians 1:9-12

Healthy babies grow and it brings such exuberant joy for parents to watch the development of their little gifts from God. Parents excitedly record and boast about how their baby is holding their head up for the first time, or when they roll over, or as they are starting to get up on all fours. Not to mention their glee when they first scoot along or begin to “cruise.” We delight in the nature growth of our children.

Likewise, there is a delight to God in our own, spiritual growth. Once a person places their faith in Christ, healthy Christians grow. We see this progression of growth in Colossians 1:9-12 where Paul lays out a progression of spiritual growth that is exciting and clarifying for the life of a new believer. Growing in God’s will > Wisdom > Understanding > Walking > Bearing Fruit > Good works > Increasing knowledge > Strengthened in Christ > Giving thanks.

In verse 8, Paul commends the Colossians for their “love in the Spirit.” God’s Spirit is in the process of training us to walk with Him and Paul explains in verses 9-12 how he constantly prays that they would grow in “spiritual wisdom and understanding.” The word “spiritual” here is the Greek word pneumatike and it speaks to the idea of one who has received God’s Spirit and lives according to their relationship with Him. That is, one who is governed by the acting force of God’s Spirit upon their life.

The experiences we encounter and the responses we give to life, by God’s Spirit, teach and train us in what is pleasing and useful to Him. Though we cannot see or hear God’s Spirit, we can sense and perceive His Spirit through our inner relationship with Him. It stands to reason, then, if we are to learn to walk with the Spirit, then God must teach us the “what’s” and “how’s” of this relationship with Him so that we might live in full, consistent surrender to His Spirit.

Some people improperly believe that we should shut down this inner interaction with God because God “does not work like this any longer.” More commonly today are those who believe that our emotional impulses are really God’s Spirit communicating with us. The first are often driven by the flesh because they no longer seek God’s presence in their lives. The second are often equally driven by their flesh as they improperly attribute their emotional reactions to the Lord. Both extremes are wrong and both extremes fail to understand the process of how God trains us to discern what is His Spirit and what is our flesh.

The primary classrooms where we learn to discern between the promptings of our flesh and the Spirit are trials and testing where God guides us assess the results of what we have done. Scripture calls these results “fruits” and gives us several passages which guide us to assess the fruit of our actions to determine their origin (e.g. Galatians 5:19-23, James 3:15-18,etc.). The overall teaching of scripture is that the fruit of the Spirit’s working through us will produce attitudes within us and conditions around us that are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Likewise, when we have been governed by the flesh, our actions will produce “fruit” which is characterized by impurity, division amongst God’s people, following the world, etc. Results that include division, wrath, etc. are those actions that were prompted by the flesh.

The challenge for God’s people is to learn and be trained by the course of life so that we are able to discern the difference between operating by our flesh and the Spirit, hence being pneumatike that is, governed by the Spirit and not by our flesh. This training process can only happen gradually as we encounter various situations, respond with various responses, and over time discern what produced love joy and peace versus what produced enmity, discord and anxiety. In my early life, I was so often discouraged by my own spiritual failures, but what I didn’t understand was that each success and each failure was an opportunity for me to learn to discern the source of my actions and overtime, God used these lessons to bring me along the progression of becoming increasingly governed by the Spirit rather than the flesh. Each failure showed me that since the fruit was bad, the source was my flesh. Each success showed me the reverse. Each was important in my growth in Christ because each taught me over time to cease operating by the flesh in how to operate by the Spirit. These are lessons and truths I’m still learning now as I evaluate my own life in light of its fruit.

Like with my own experiences, I find that so often when people come to Christ they are so discouraged by their slow growth in Christ. As was the case for myself, it is possible that they have been so fully immersed and enslaved to the world, and the influence of the Spirit may be so foreign to our souls, that it takes an exceedingly long period of time for us to learn to uncouple our enslavement to the world, and to slowly wash and purify our hearts and minds with God’s Word and prayer. This person may be frustrated with their own slow growth in Christ because it takes a long time, requires much thought and meditation, and is inherently fraught with failures along the way. Yet their path must be walked and the sooner they can learn the skill of following the inner promptings of Christ and not their flesh, the sooner they will walk in the peaceful fruits of righteousness.

Well, at this point, my kids are up, bouncing around, and it looks like the my day has begun.

Grace and peace,

Russ Brewer

Russ Brewer

Rescued from the domain of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Undershepherd of Grace. Husband of Corinne. Father of three. Chew-toy to Zeke...