In John 16, Jesus promised His disciples that eventually the Holy Spirit would come to indwell those who came in faith, relying on nothing else for salvation but Him. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, we see the reality of an indwelling Holy Spirit mentioned again and again - 2 Timothy 1:13, “The Holy Ghost which dwells in us;” 1 Corinthians 3:16, “The Spirit of God dwells in you;” Romans 8:11, “The Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you;” Galatians 4:6, “God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.”
In Scripture we find that at conversion the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the believer and begins to do His work in the heart and mind of the believer. Many myths abound as to the work of the Holy Spirit, but as we read Scripture the purpose for the indwelling of the Spirit is quite clear. The Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer to communicate to the believer the truth of God, and to facilitate the believer’s attempts to communicate with God. This ministry takes place primarily through two means: Scripture study, and prayer. Studying the pages of Scripture regularly allows the Holy Spirit to work through the Word of God to change the hearts and minds of God’s people. Through prayer, believers come before God asking what He has told them to, all the while facilitated by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit comes inside of the believer to help him do what he was previously unable to do. Before the working of the Spirit in the believer’s life, Ephesians 4:18 describes man’s desperate situation with God, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” The Holy Spirit has come and now enlightens the darkened mind. He mends the alienation, allowing enemies to be called “sons” and to petition God as their Father.
But inside of every believer is also something else constantly at work, constantly warring against the Spirit. Ever since Adam first sinned in the garden, every human being has inherited a sinful nature from him. In Romans 6, Paul tells us that before we were converted by the grace of God, we were slaves to sin. Our very nature and our consistent tendency was to do sin. We could do nothing else. Having been converted, now, we have the ability through the power of the Spirit to obey God, but the war is not over. Because we still exist in sinful bodies, with sinful minds, and sinful hearts, there is a constant war between our sinful nature (our flesh) and the Spirit at work in us.
As Paul makes his arguments in Galatians 5:17-23, he displays the difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit that comes from a Spirit-led life. Paul explains simply that if we are obedient to the guidance of the Spirit by the Word of God, then we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Paul’s argument naturally follows the flow of the rest of the book up to this point, because he has been explaining the inadequacy of trying to earn God’s favor in our own works. In this moment, he clarifies another reason for why earning right standing before God is impossible in our own strength. By nature, our flesh only produces that which is polluted and sin-laced. We must be helped by the Holy Spirit, and that help only comes after conversion.
Food for thought: What are the two factions at war in the believer?