In Paul’s survey of the Gospel in the epistle to the Romans he declares that all have sinned (3:23), that the Lord Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses (4:25), and that by simple faith we can be freely justified (3:21-26).
To those thus put right with God in Christ, not only is it true that the Lord no longer reckons sin (4:8), but also it is true that God gives to us the Holy Spirit.
This makes possible an entirely new life. Instead of living according to the flesh, we can now live in the Spirit. This new and transforming experience of the Spirit of God dwelling within us is the crowning gift of God’s new covenant in Christ’s blood.
This is the gift which has been enjoyed by all who are Christ’s since the day of Pentecost which followed our Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.
It is some of the practical consequences of this gift that Paul indicates in Romans 8: 1-17. Let us read these verses, and seek to discover what they teach.
The present practical benefit is twofold. It can be described and out to be consciously and openly enjoyed in two ways. On the one hand, the Spirit of life sets me free from the power and hold of sin and death (v. 2). On the other hand, the same Spirit can enable me to act rightly and to live a life in which the requirements of the law are actually fulfilled (v. 4).
The fundamental change is a change of nature. By the gift of God’s quickening Spirit a new nature is brought to birth in us, a nature born of the Spirit in contrast to the sinful nature that is born of the flesh. True living participation in Christ is impossible in any other way. For anyone who has not the Spirit dwelling in him in this way does not belong to Christ. Possession of the Spirit is, therefore, in God’s sight the indispensable mark of the true Christian (v. 9).
The spheres in which change is wrought are twofold.
1. The mind (vv. 5-8). The Spirit works from within outwards. He begins with the heart or mind and gives us new thoughts and desires. This is urgently needed because sinful man’s natural thoughts and desires are not pleasing to God.
The new God-given mind of the Spirit delights in the ways of life and peace, instead of in the ways that naturally seem right to man but are in fact the ways of death.
2. The body (vv. 9-11, 23). Christ is the Saviour of the body. This is a distinctive and crowning truth of Christianity.
As we confess the Creeds, Christians believe in “the resurrection of the body”. So Paul asserts here that even though this present body is mortal and dies because of sin, yet the indwelling of the Spirit, who dwells even now in our moral bodies, is given both to renew our inner spirits day by day as long as we live on earth, and one day raise our bodies in the likeness of Christ’s own resurrection glory.
Our consequent obligation and calling (vv. 12, 13) are here and now to live to the Spirit and not to the flesh. For, as long as we live in this body, it is possible wrongly to indulge carnal appetites and only to hasten death. But, on the other hand, the new life in the Spirit can so supersede the old life in the flesh that the sinful habits of the body can be made to wither and die, and like dead leaves to fall off as no longer a living part of us. This is the way even now to lay hold of more of the eternal life.
The outworked results of such living in the Spirit are manifold. Paul here mentions some important ones (vv. 14-17).
1. The experience of being guided personally and directly by the very Spirit of God himself, so that we know that we are choosing and doing the will of God.
2. Deliverance from bondage and fear, and a freedom of access and intimacy in direct communion with God himself, so that without restraint we call him our dear and darling Father.
3. The full assurance by such decisive witnesses of the Spirit in the inner sanctuary of our own souls that we are without question children of God, truly adopted into God’s very own family as his veritable sons and daughters.
4. The sure and certain hope of final glory — the possession of our full inheritance.
For the Spirit who witnessed of Christ that he must first suffer and then enter into his glory, similarly witnesses to all who are Christ’s that if we suffer with him now we shall be glorified with him then. So life in the Spirit is life for evermore; it means walking in the path that shines more and more unto the perfect day.
This article was first published in the Australian Church Record on 12 June 1958. In this series we hear reflections on Scripture from the Rev. Alan M Stibbs.