Living with and by the Spirit

I just love Romans chapter 8. Go, take a moment, and read the whole chapter. Take your time. Soak in those familiar verses: “you received the Spirit of sonship, and by him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’” (v.15). Or this one: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” (v. 26). How about: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31). Or this, one of my all-time favourite verses: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (v. 38-39).

This chapter is Paul’s how-to guide for the church in Rome, a how-to on living with and by the Spirit. What do I mean by this? When we became Christians, we accepted not just Jesus into our lives, but the Holy Spirit (whom Jesus promised to send in John 16:5-16). The Spirit is the one who guides, comforts, and sanctifies us. And this is just fantastic news. We know from Romans 8 what the Holy Spirit is doing for us, right now:

  • Sets us free from the control of sin.
  • Allows us to call God Abba Father as sons and daughters, not slaves or subjects.
  • Intercedes for us in prayer, so that we do not struggle alone.
  • Is the guarantee of future resurrection and eternity with God.

This is living with the Spirit. It is acknowledging all that He is doing for us, even when we’re not aware of it. It is living in the freedom that He has secured for us. It is looking with surety towards the day when we will see God’s face. It is the deepest gratitude imaginable for all that God has given us, through his Son and his Spirit.

There’s a second aspect to all of this: living by the Spirit. Because did you notice, in Romans 8 earlier, that there are a few caveats in there? It isn’t as simple as ‘believe in Jesus and go to heaven when you die.’ God always requires a response from us. Read this full section here (Romans 8:12-17), and note the emphases I’ve added:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die: but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Do you see the response that God requires of us here? And this is certainly not the only time Paul (and other New Testament writers) makes it clear. Have a look at John 15:18, James 2:14-17, 1 John 3:18 or 2 Peter 1:5-8 (& many more). We are called, in every moment of every day, to live by the Spirit. We are called to set our minds, every day, on what the Spirit desires (Romans 8:5). We are called to stop conforming to this world (Romans 12:2), and to take captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5).

If I’m pushing the point a bit too hard, there’s a good reason, I promise! Paul’s words in Romans 8 have two sides to them, and I think we often miss one of those sides. The first side is comfort, reassurance, and hope. We are sons and daughters, we are free, we are saved for all eternity. But the second side is a spur, a call to action. Because we live with the Spirit, let us, therefore, live by the Spirit. The Christian life is not a one-off saving moment, although that moment is incredibly important. The Christian life is living, every single day, by the power of the Holy Spirit, being transformed, renewed, perfected.

Can I challenge you today to pay attention to the Holy Spirit? See the ways that He is living with you, comforting and encouraging you. See the ways that He is calling you to participate in his sanctifying work in your life. See that the hope that He offers is not just for eternity, but for right now: through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Rom. 8:2). Let’s live by the Spirit in that amazing freedom today.

SONG: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) by Chris Tomlin