In answer to a question I received:
Christian teachers are always going on about how to defeat lust it's not going to happen through sheer willpower, but it'll have to be through the power of the Holy Spirit. But this is supremely confusing for everyone I've talked to on the subject. What exactly does it look like to be relying on the Spirit rather than on our own power? What does the one relying on the Spirit look like compared to the one attempting to defeat sin on his own power? Both would need to physically and actively do things to avoid and defeat sin -- so it is simply a matter of cognitive awareness of either that makes the difference? That is, if I am cognitively understanding my need to defeat sin as something I have to do with my power or if I am cognitively understanding that God is doing the work through me -- is that what makes the difference?
I doubt most Christian preachers and teachers who talk this way really know what they mean by it. I doubt they’ve thought it through.
1.In many cases, I suspect they say it because it’s a nice, pious sounding thing to say. But they make it seem as if the difference between someone who relies on the Holy Spirit and someone who doesn’t is that as long as we say we rely on the Holy Spirit, then we rely on the Holy Spirit. Telling ourselves or reminding ourselves that we rely on the Holy Spirit is what makes us rely on the Holy Spirit.
But from a theological perspective, if you’re a real Christian, then the Holy Spirit is already at work in your life. It’s not a light switch that you have to consciously turn back on every morning when you get out of bed.
Even if you’re a backslider, the Holy Spirit is still active in your life—to effect a spiritual restoration.
2.In other cases, it may involve a kind of quietism. I don’t do anything; the Holy Spirit does it for me. Indeed, if I try to do it myself, then I’m getting in the way of the Holy Spirit.
Again, though, this fails to appreciate how God is at work in our actions. It’s not as though I must be in abeyance for God to be active, or God must be in abeyance for me to be active. God can be active in my activities
3.Now lots of folks are deeply involved in a ritualistic form of works-righteousness. If you follow a set of spiritual exercises, like the Rosary or the Rule of St. Benedict, then that will make you holy.
There is something fundamentally autosoteric about that approach. It treats salvation or sanctification as a technique. Become a spiritual technician. Use the right words in the right order. Perform certain actions in a certain sequence.
Not surprisingly, this is a pan-religious phenomenon that transcends any particular religion. Catholic monks and Buddhist monks use different words and actions, but the underlying technology is the same. The same mechanistic and manipulative approach to sanctity or piety. Feed your vices into the Sanctitron® and watch them come out virtues.