How to Break the Power of Self When You Abide in Christ

Inconsistency in your walk can indicate a breakdown in abiding; the process of maintaining a full, dependent, and intimate relationship with God through following Christ.

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This chapter is the final in a series exploring the role of self in your response to the difficulties of life. You have followed the story of three fictitious Christian friends who, through unbelief brought on by a season of suffering, allowed self to capture control of their hearts. As a result, they produced fruits of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).

With wise and gentile counsel (Galatians 6:1), the three friends are now, through the act of surrendering and cultivating humility, starting to find periods of spiritual strength in their walk. There are times of sweet fellowship and thankfulness to Christ, but disappointments can return, and they find themselves retreating to old self-focused thought patterns and behaviors.

Sue and her husband are meeting with an elder as they work to restore their marriage. Sue’s husband has forgiven her for her adultery, and there has been growth in both of them. Sue is repenting of her false worship structures, and her husband has taken his first steps in caring for her soul. But his slow pace of gospel understanding and practice tempts Sue to fall back to the control of self.

Mitch is meeting with an accountability partner and turning from his sin. Structures are in place to limit access to porn, and his spiritual disciplines are back, yet he finds himself falling after a period of freedom.

Alice is regularly meeting with a counselor, and growing in her understanding of God’s sovereign care and goodness. Her identity is shifting from one of a victim to a child of God. There are good and bad days.

Some feel that their own life is not what it should and might be. Many of them can look back to some special season of spiritual revival, when their whole life was apparently lifted to a higher level. The experience of the joy and strength of the Savior’s presence, as they learned that He would keep them trusting, was, for a time, most real and blessed.

But it did not last: there was a very gradual decline to a lower stage, with much vain effort and sad failure. They would fain know where the evil lies. There can be little doubt that the answer must be this: they did not know or honor the Indwelling Spirit as the strength of their life, as the power of their faith, to keep them always looking to Jesus and trusting in Him.

They knew not what it was, day by day, to wait in lowly reverence for the Holy Spirit to deliver from the power of the flesh, and to maintain the wonderful presence of the Father and the Son within them. – Andrew Murray

Throughout Scripture, the command to abide is of first importance. During the ministry of Christ on earth, His initial call was to follow Him (Matthew 4:19), but His most significant appeal was to abide (John 15:4).

As a Christian, regeneration provides two options for life; you can trust in “self,” or abide in faith. This response from you is not a one-time decision, but a continual, moment by moment choice. The Christian life is a lasting resolution to move away from self and choose the path of faithfulness (Psalm 119:30).

It is crucial to recognize that abiding is only possible apart from the presence of self. Self is the great enemy of a Christian and is unwilling and unable to cast itself out (Matthew 12:26). Any attempts to abide while under the control of self is fantasy. Your only hope comes externally from the power of the Holy Spirit.

Abiding Benefits

Abiding is the only way to receive the full power of the Spirit, allowing you to have daily, hourly and constant victory over the flesh and sin. The mind-map briefly highlights the context and the benefits of abiding.

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The left-hand side of the mind-map shows the setting of abiding. Abiding does not stand alone but is intertwined and dependent on the steps of surrender, and the cultivation of humility. Likewise, abiding gives power, wisdom, and teaching to prompt surrendering and the cultivation of humility.

There is mysteriousness in the sequence and how everything connects, but instead of becoming fixated on the unknown, I would encourage you to examine your heart and work to grow in all three areas.

The right-hand side of the map shows the promises attained from abiding.

Soul Health – Sin has left your soul restless, full of shame, fear, and guilt. There is evil from within and without that compounds the problem of sin on your soul.

Abiding restores communion with God. In Christ, you share in His righteousness, and there is redemption into His family. The presence of the Holy Spirit comforts and brings rest to your soul. This communion is the means of finding a peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7), and in learning contentment whether in surplus or want (Philippians 4:12).

Wisdom – abiding allows for the teaching of the Holy Spirit, as He reveals Christ, provides you with the mind of Christ and brings you spiritual discernment in life.

Christian Walk – From the power of the Holy Spirit, your Christian walk is strengthened, as the Holy Spirit guides and counsels. You experience fellowship with Christ, a new love for others, and a genuine thankfulness towards God.

The Problem of Self

Self is always looking for ways to regain control in your life and can succeed when there are pockets of unbelief, unwatchfulness in living, or a lack of gospel understanding. Self will use these weaknesses to entice you with worldly prospects and lead you to wander away from Christ.

Without recognizing “self’s” controlling influence, many Christians pursue their Christian walk with wrong, selfish motives (James 4:3), resulting in a powerless self-centered Christianity. When self is in control, you are unable to abide despite your attempts.

Self will pursue a self-centered Christianity, tempting you to seek Christ solely to fix life’s problems and achieve a better life (e.g., marriage, career success, control in life, et cetera). While gospel application can improve your life in many areas, these horizontal desires can never become primary. This false worship prevents abiding from taking place and blocks the receipt of Christ’s grace.

When self is in control, the spiritual disciples, designed to nourish and sanctify you through receiving living water, will take on a self-serving, legalistic nature, and promote self-sufficiency and self-promotion (Matthew 18:9-14).

Prayers become singular focused, petitioning God for blessing, and relief from suffering. The praise and worship of God disappear. I am not saying you shouldn’t pray for deliverance and change, but when your prayer life shrinks down to this one aspect, your worship structures are likely inverted.

Time in the Word can become a legalistic checking-off-the-box activity, or becomes a pursuit of wisdom gaining, looking for the perfect verse to help advance personal desires. For example, an angry husband can use verses as a means to manipulate and gain control over his wife.

Time in prayer or the Word should transform you by shaping your thinking and emotions by providing instruction about God, yourself, and the gospel. Spiritual disciplines should leave self in a weakened state, and help your roots-of-faith dig deeper to tap into Christ’s nourishment.

Self-reliant Christianity is void of Holy Spirit nourishment and will lead to discouragement, increased unbelief (lack of faith), bitterness, cynicism, and a hardening of the heart. You will become tempted to give in to sinful alternatives.

How to Abide

Abiding is staying constant in your relationship with Christ, achieved by following and living like Christ. It is not a passive activity, but one conducted moment by moment, pursuing a deep relationship with Christ.
With faith, and obedience in place, you must cling to Christ, and work to know Him by:

As mentioned earlier, a lack of surrender and the loss of humility prevents you from abiding. The other significant hindrance to abiding is a lack of faith.

With the increased significance of emotions in today’s environment, many will look to their feelings to detect the Holy Spirit’s presence. If the desired excitement is not there, discouragement can enter as you fear the full blessing was not received, leading to unbelief.

You must remember the whole process of Christianity is one of faith; not just limited to salvation. Once you know Jesus, love Jesus, accept Jesus as your Savior, you must trust the Lord and firmly believe He will give you a full Holy Spirit blessing. Abiding requires faith.

With a lack of faith, Christians will find themselves caught in a cycle. Difficult situations lead to uncomfortable emotions, and “self” driven interpretations can question the Lord’s nearness, tempting you to retreat to old-self, sinful behaviors.

Conviction of the Holy Spirit will bring repentance, and restore abiding, but without faith, the cycle will start again. A lack of trust limits the full development of your ability to abide.

As with our friends, their weak faith tempts them to wander and lose traction in their Christian life. They fail to believe the Holy Spirit’s presence is there to overcome any difficulty, and able to equip them with the power to live a joyous, righteous life.

There is a vital relationship between faith and obedience. Obedience increases trust, and in turn, faith encourages obedience (Psalm 1:3).

Summary

The working of the Holy Spirit provides comfort (John 14:27), guides (John 16:8-10), and enables life (Romans 8:6), but only achieved by abiding in Christ. Successful sustained abiding only occurs when surrender, humility and faith work together to allow you to abide by and experience the full blessing the Christian life offers.

Despite the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit after regeneration, self-directed living leaves many Christians struggling. Hopefully, this series exposes the great nemesis and secret workings of self. Self desperately wants to remain in control but provides no power or solution for the sin and its impact on your life.

“Self” will hijack righteous anger to fuel and justify self-serving desires. “Self” fights against surrender and will use the weakness of the flesh, and the temptations of the world to tempt you toward self-confidence, self-will, and self-effort.

The mere presence of “self” displaces the Holy Spirit and results in the loss of humility. Again, “self” twists the interpretation of emotions, tempting you to doubt the nearness of God, tempting you away from abiding.

I hope and pray this series helps you to know yourself better, encourages you to fight the good fight of faith, and most importantly, helps you to enjoy the deep fellowship with Christ that abiding brings.

Call to Action

  1. Are your spiritual disciplines conducted under the operation of self or are they based on the operation of the Holy Spirit in your life? Here is a hint. The story of Mary or Martha can provide some guidance (Luke 10:38-42).
  2. What can you change to make this time more like Mary’s approach?
  3. What carries more weight in your thinking; your emotions or the truths of the Bible?
  4. How can your spouse, or Gospel friend help you in your abiding?
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