Man, I can’t believe I missed this one. Last year we spent three weeks on the nature and work of the Holy Spirit (here, if you’re interested), and I completely missed one of the most important passages about him! I guess it’s ok, though, since we can look at it now.
But before we get to the subject of the Spirit again, we need to deal with a potentially thorny couple of verses, namely vss. 12-13. Here, finally, we get to a command, sort of. He’s made all sorts of declarations about who we are in Christ and what this means, and now he comes to something we need to do, something which is up to us, at least partially.
Always keep an eye out for conjunctions and other connecting words. Because of what Christ did and has done, because of the Spirit’s present and future work in our lives, we no longer have any “obligation” to the “flesh,” (sinful nature). As he said in chapter six (and as we discussed), we exchanged one master for another. Over your soul could be a sign that says “Under new management.”
Yes, we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing. But as his redeemed children, our obligations didn’t stop. No, we just have new ones. We have an obligation to “put to death” the misdeeds of the body. How do we do this?
One word: Cooperation. Specifically, cooperation with the Spirit, working with him. Once again we have perfect balance between truths in tension. We put to death the misdeeds of the body, and this is not an accidental homicide. We choose to do this. We make a conscious choice to take positive steps to stop doing what wounds our Father and instead do what pleases him. But we do this not by our own strength: We do it by means of the Spirit, in his strength. What does that mean? In practical terms, it’s nothing you haven’t likely heard before: Read your Bible, pray for his strength, spend time with other believers, etc.
Now here’s where it requires careful thinking on our part. He says that “if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Now, considering that the rest of the Bible--Paul especially--teaches salvation by grace through faith and not by works, what does he mean by this? Well, it could mean 1) physical death versus spiritual death (i.e., our Father’s discipline which could result in our physical death), but that doesn’t seem to be the sense here. Or it might mean 2) living the abundant life in Christ in the here and now vs. not, but that doesn’t really fit either. With all its potential difficulties, based on the context, I think he’s talking about 3) By putting the misdeeds of the body through the Spirit, as imperfectly as we all do it, you’re showing that you belong to Christ and thus have eternal life. At least that’s the best explanation I have.
Now we get to my favorite part of today’s passage, and there’s so much here that we’ll likely carry this into tomorrow. If you’re a child of God, one of the marks of that is you’re led by his Spirit. And in complete contrast to the slavery that once held you in bondage, you’re no longer in chains. In the truest sense, you’re no longer a slave to anyone. The only One who really has the right to call you his slave doesn’t call you one. His name for you is not “slave.” It’s “beloved son” or “beloved daughter.” The Spirit within us is not the spirit of bondage in any way, shape or matter or form. He’s the Spirit of freedom. The Spirit of adoption. The Spirit of testimony. You’re led by the Spirit, all right. And where does he lead? Well, according to this passage, he leads right past the angels into the lap of your Papa on his throne. More tomorrow.
Papa. What a word. So much meaning in so little a word. Spirit, lead on. I’m listening, and by your power, I’ll follow right into the arms of my Papa.