Serve in the Spirit


There are two ways to serve God. One is to serve in the energy of the flesh; the other is to serve in the power of the Spirit.

Serving God in the flesh simply means relying on your own natural abilities, the things you received at birth—your natural talent, intelligence, gifting, charisma, etc.

Serving in the Spirit is quite different. Consider Paul’s words:

God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son.

Romans 1:9

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Romans 7:6, nasb

Many of my books stress that the secret to our Lord’s remarkable life and ministry is that He didn’t live by His own natural powers. Rather, He lived by His Father’s life, which indwelt Him by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

John 5:19

As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.

John 6:57, kjv

When it comes to God’s work, the Lord forbids reliance on our natural ingenuity, skill, energy, and talent. Instead, He calls us to serve “in the Spirit,” which means to completely rely on His indwelling life as the energizing force of our ministry.

It’s a question of sources. But the difference is night and day. Especially in the impact your ministry will have here and in eternity. (That’s not a bad title for a book, by the way!)1

A quote attributed to both William Booth and Hudson Taylor says, “There are three stages of every great work of God. First it’s impossible, then it’s difficult, then it’s done.”

That’s an excellent description of what it means to serve God in the Spirit. It’s humanly impossible. But when you look back and it’s accomplished, you’re not quite sure how it happened. It was Christ living through you, rather than you living by your own natural strength and energy:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Galatians 2:20, nkjv

You will face insurmountable problems throughout your ministry. Some of them will echo the problems Jesus and the early apostles faced. But a monumental difference exists between handling a problem with Christ and handling it with your own understanding, wisdom, cleverness, and energy.

The servant of God who handles problems with Christ draws on a power and wisdom that exceed his own.

Have you ever considered how Jesus handled hot-boiling criticism? Have you ever noticed how He got out of impossible situations?

Jesus faced those dispiriting dilemmas by relying on His Father’s life, which explains why He gave such out-of-the-box responses, transcending human reason and logic.

Put another way, He lived by the tree of life rather than by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

T. Austin-Sparks explained it this way:

“When I took you, I not only took you as the sinner that you might regard yourself to be, but I took you as being all that you are by nature—your good as well as your bad; your abilities as well as your disabilities; yes, every resource of yours. I took you as a worker, a preacher, an organizer! My Cross means that not even for Me can you be or do anything out from yourself, but if there is to be anything at all it must be out from Me, and that means a life of absolute dependence and faith.”

At this point, therefore, we awoke to the fundamental principle of our Lord’s own life while here, and it became the law of everything for us from that time. That principle was: “nothing of (out from) Himself,” but “all things of (out from) God.”

“The Son can do nothing of (out from) Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing: for what things soever He doeth, then the Son also doeth in like manner”

(John 5:19).

“I can of Myself do nothing: as I hear I judge”

(John 5:30).

“My teaching is not Mine, but His that sent Me”

(John 7:16).2

Though this principle is foreign language to many ministers today, it’s clear as day in 2 Corinthians 4, which I regard as the basic “textbook” for Ministry 101.

The work of Christ’s cross, when applied to your natural life, is designed to break your dependence on what you are by nature.

Consider the words of Peter:

As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:10-11, nkjv

Notice that Peter says to minister with the ability that God provides. The NLT puts it this way: “Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies.”

This statement is a clear reference to relying on Christ’s life and power rather than our own.

A naturally gifted person will feel tempted to lean on his gifts when he ministers. But whenever he does this, people will be impressed with his gifting, not with the Lord or His power.

Read carefully these words by Paul:

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

1 Corinthians 2:2-5

Paul resisted the impulse to draw on his natural speaking gifts because he knew that if he did, those who heard him would place their confidence in human wisdom and strength.

Instead, Paul understood that the secret to releasing God’s power was to be desperate, refusing to trust his own giftedness, but instead, relying fully on the power of God.

Serving in the Spirit rather than in the energy of the flesh is one of the key ingredients to having spiritual power.

A large part of that is to be suspect of your own giftedness and desperately depend on God’s power “with great fear and trembling.”

Taken from 48 Laws of Spiritual Power: Uncommon Wisdom for Greater Ministry Impact by Frank Viola. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.  All rights reserved.

Frank Viola has helped thousands of people around the world deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply so they can experience real transformation and make a lasting impact. Viola has written many books on these themes, including God’s Favorite Place on Earth, From Eternity to Here, and his landmark book, Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. His blog, Beyond Evangelical, is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.

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