Since, we were all in the body of Christ while he was dying on the cross on our behalf, we have been justified, declared righteous (Rom. 5:18-19) and have been reconciled with God (Rom. 5:12).
Romans Chapter 7 teaches us that we are re-created by God, when we turn towards Christ and surrender our lives to follow Him (2 Cor. 5:17). As a result, those who belong to Christ are no longer under the obligation of the law, but under Christ to produce fruit of righteousness for God through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:4-6).
But then, a follower of Christ has to face struggles to live a holy life. And this struggle is not because of two different natures inside the human body, but because of an external influence – the virus of ‘Sin’ (or power of sin) that is still found within the member of the physical body (Rom. 7:17).
The question of whether it is possible for a disciple of Christ to live a holy life arises. Whether it is possible for a disciple to overcome the power of ‘Sin’ in his life. Romans 8 reminds us, ‘YES’ there is a possibility to live a life of victory over sin. Verses 5-6 would help us find an initial answer concerning how such a life is possible.
According to verses 5-6, we are called to turn our focus away from the things of this world and move towards the Holy Spirit. And when we do so, it enables us to get disconnected from the worldly life, so that we might focus on what the Spirit desires. As a result, we begin to live according to the leading and directives of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s explore ‘living according to the Spirit’ further based on Romans Chapter 8.
Chapter 8 is the most important chapter in the book of Romans (and perhaps the whole of the New Testament) concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christ-followers. The word ‘Spirit’ that refers to ‘Holy Spirit of Christ’ is the most frequently used word in this chapter. In fact, 68% of its occurrence is in the entire book is found in chapter 8.
Holy Spirit brings us into no more condemnation but a New Life (Rom. 8:1-4, 14)
v.1 The ministry of the Holy Spirit does not begin after a person has surrendered their lives to Christ, but before that, as we are made into a new creation in Christ. According to verses 1 & 4, when a person is in Christ (when he/she identifies himself/herself with the death of Christ), then two things happen:
1 – the believers get justified and are no longer under condemnation (because the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in us – verse 4).
2 – And as a Christ-follower receives justification, according to verse 2, he/she receives a new life through the Holy Spirit – whom Apostle Paul refers to as the Spirit of life. It is the Spirit of Life through whom we are delivered from the law or power of sin and death.
So, ‘death’ is not reigning in us anymore but ‘life’ – Life of the Holy Spirit. This may sound like a repetition of Rom. 7:1-6, where Apostle Paul has already shared about the true nature of the life of a Christ-follower. Why is Paul bringing the same point again in different words? Let us remember that these are not just Apostle Paul’s words, but words of the Holy Spirit. And I believe that the Holy Spirit is trying to emphasise two things:
The new life offered through trusting in Christ is not possible without the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ. There are some who teach that a person may believe in Christ but the reception of the Holy Spirit is a subsequent experience, whose proof is the Holy Spirit.
I believe that the Bible does not present such teaching. In fact, Apostle Paul goes on to say (verse 9b) that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. It is true that the Bible talks about being continuously filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18), but it does not talk about the Holy Spirit coming into disciples’ life after they have trusted in Christ.
The second more serious implication – a holy life (characterized by victory over sinful nature) is possible only through the power of the Holy Spirit because it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit (verse 2) that Christ-followers are freed from the power of sin & death.
Illustration of a Pig: If you give a ‘pig’ a good hot water shower and put scent and perfume over it and nice ointment over its skin, and after that, if you leave it open, will it stop going to the garbage? No! Why? Because it is still a ‘pig’ – In the same way, those who do not have the Spirit of Christ cannot live a holy life, because it is through the Holy Spirit that we are transformed into a new creation.
Point of this illustration – Unless our basic constitution is transformed through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it is futile to live a life that can please God.
Holy Spirit leads us into new affection(s) (Rom. 8:5-7, 15-16)
Verse 5 shares that those who receive a new life in Christ through the Spirit of Life, experience a change in their affections – the things they are attracted to. Earlier, they used to like to focus on and engage in worldly things, but now they do not like those things anymore. But when a person puts their trust in Christ, they not only receive a new life through the Holy Spirit, but they also receive new affections for the spiritual things.
But you may say that though I have put my trust in Christ, I still like the worldly things. Let us understand what happens once a person receives new life in Christ. They receive the Holy Spirit who begins to develop affection for things of God.
But let us not forget that the virus of ‘sin’ is still there within the bodies of Christ-followers. And, so while the Holy Spirit develops righteous desires in us, the ‘sin’ continues to exert its authority over us and to attract us to live under its directives. But in verse 2, we saw that we have already been freed from the law of sin and death. So, we are now called to ignore it and focus instead on the Holy Spirit.
We can understand it with an illustration – Old Employer versus New Employer: Suppose that you changed the company you worked for and joined another company. In this case, if your previous employer would call and ask you to work for him, will you listen to him? No!
Why? Because you are no longer working under him; and you now have responsibility to work for the new employer. Right? In this illustration, the previous boss is the ‘law of sin’ found in the human body and the second employer is Christ who rules through His Spirit – who is the Spirit of Life.
But perhaps you had developed a deep emotional bonding with your previous boss, and so you still would like to work for him along with working for your new boss. In that case, verses 6 & 13(a) clearly states those who live according to the dictates of the previous boss i.e., ‘Sin’, such a person will eventually experience death and destruction.
Feelings are powerful: Our feelings are very powerful and they exert a great influence upon our behavior. They almost tend to run our lives. But this is not how our lives are created. The feelings can be and must be influenced and trained by our thoughts. The believers are empowered with the Spirit of Life, who is also called as ‘teacher’ and ‘counsellor’ in the Bible (John 16:13).
We must ask the Holy Spirit to renew our minds through His truth and influence our thinking so that we may begin to develop affections (emotions) for the right things – the spiritual things. Let us remember that our spirit has been fully perfected in our spirits, but our bodies, emotions and minds are yet to be made perfect.
Through being sealed with the Holy Spirit, the Lord has given us a potential to move into a life of perfection, but it is up to us (as Christ-followers) if we are going to make intentional choices each day (in fact, each second) to focus on the things of the Spirit.
Practical Application: As part of the initial strategy to move into the life that is lived under the influence of the Holy Spirit, I recommend the following confessions, a prayer and a resolve to be made at the beginning of each day:
I have passed from death to life and now I belong to Christ.
I am no longer obligated to the law (or power) of sin to obey its commands (which leads to death and final destruction), but I am now indebted to the Spirit of Life (the Holy Spirit) to honor His desires (which leads to life and peace).
I ask You, Oh Holy Spirit of Christ that you influence my thinking and attitudes and let new righteous desires and wholesome emotions be birthed inside me through the renewing of my mind.
I resolve to live this day while staying focused on You, Oh Spirit of Life and on your ways/leading and I surrender myself to live a life that is pleasing to You, because I realise that life that is lived to fulfil the desires of my flesh cannot please you (Rom. 8:8).
Holy Spirit is our 24/7 Companion (Rom. 8:14-15)
A follower of Christ has both the ‘laws’ or powers of ‘Sin and death’ on one side and ‘Spirit of life’ on the other side, both claiming for attention. We are to train our feelings/emotions so that we may develop godly affections and also make an intentional resolve to focus on the Holy Spirit so that we might know what He desires.
The question comes, how can we remain focused on the Holy Spirit in our day-to-day lives? Verse 14-15 gives us the answer. The new life in Christ is not like going to the Holy Spirit ‘now and then’ to get instructions or counselling, but living 24/7 in His fellowship. It is like living with your family members. Moreover, it is through the Holy Spirit that we develop so close intimacy with God that we don’t fear anymore but instead freely call Him Abba, Father! (v.15)
Another truth is that while you cannot be with your family members all the time, but thanks to God, who has poured His Spirit in us, who is with us at all times, even when we are sleeping. Remember the words of Lord Jesus Christ in John 14:17:
“…the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
The Holy Spirit is with us and inside us – so that we may always be with Him and be able to stay connected with Him. If you are still not listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit but to the desire of your flesh as a lifestyle without any repentance, then I believe that there could be two possibilities:
Either you have not come to know Christ personally, or you are living a life to please yourself and not God. Why? Because verse 8 clearly states that “those who live according to the flesh cannot please God.”
It is also very important to remember that according to the Bible, living according to the flesh does not just mean to live a sinful life, but it includes even the good works that we may do in the flesh, apart from the leading of the Holy Spirit. That is why our good works are not able to please God but are considered as dirty and filthy rags before the Holy God (Isa. 64:6).
This means that in order to live in the Spirit, we will have to make sacrifices – which is our fourth and final point of this message.
The Cost involved in Living a Life with the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:17, 25)
As we have seen, we are now under a new employer – the resurrected Christ (Rom. 7:4); and we now have a new companion – the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2) and we are called to bear fruit of righteousness for God (Rom. 7:6). However, does it mean that because you are under the Spirit of life, and living to please God, life will be nice and all sorted out? I believe not!
The Bible says when you and I will begin to progress in a life that is focused on fulfilling the desires of the Holy Spirit, we will experience opposition and sufferings (2 Tim. 3:12). Why? Is it because you are doing anything wrong? No, because now you belong to Christ and now you are living a life of truth and righteousness and we begin to face opposition from those who are opposed to God and to the values of His Kingdom.
The Bible tells that this world is temporarily under the control of the evil powers and we as Christ-followers experience opposition from such powers (1 John 5:19).
Suffering meant here is not the suffering we experience due to our mistakes, but suffering we must endure because we now belong to Christ and because we have resolved to live according to the Spirit of life.
In such times of suffering, if we continue to live a life focused on the Holy Spirit and live under His influence, and not give up, the bitter cup of suffering leads to sweetness in the end. In Rom. 5:3-5, we read that suffering eventually leads to a deeper experience of God’s love. And it also produces ‘hope’ that does not disappoint Christ-followers in the end.
That is why, at the end of his journey, Apostle Paul could say, “I have finished my race and now a crown of righteousness is waiting for me” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). What about us? Are we willing to undergo sufferings, rejections and persecution as a follower of Christ?
Photo by Alicia Quan on Unsplash