Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Living in the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
Romans 8:5-9

If you are a Christian, then you live under a new law which Paul calls the law of the Spirit of Life. We used to live under the old law (all the rules in the Old Testament), but not anymore. Christ's death set us free from both our sin and that law. But how are we to understand this new law and how do we live under it?

If you read the Old Testament you'll find the following overarching storyline. God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt and makes them His people. He makes a covenant with them. If they will obey his commands He will lead them into a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey and will bless them immeasurably. However, if they fail to keep his commands, He will send the nations around them to attack them and take them into exile. The majority of the Old Testament presents a cycle of events that gets repeated over and over again. The people of Israel fail to obey God. He punishes them and sends them into exile. They repent. He forgives them and brings them back to the Promised Land. Then they refuse to obey him again and the cycle repeats. 

This cycle creates a sense of despair in the reader. One begins to realize that God's people are simply incapable of obeying His law. We will never get it right. But, this despair is the darkness against which God chooses to cast His hope. Repeatedly in the Old Testament, God promises that one day this cycle will end. One day He will make a new covenant with His people, a covenant that can't be broken because it isn't dependent on our obedience but on His righteousness. This covenant won't be written on tablets of stone like the Ten Commandments were. It will be written on the hearts of men. (Check out Jeremiah 31:31-34 for a classic O.T. example of this promise.) Through this covenant He will forgive our sins and draw us into a new, deeper relationship with Him.

Paul's primary point above is that the new covenant is here. Our relationship with God is no longer based on what we do. It is based on what Christ has done. Those of us who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior live under this new covenant. We are forgiven by God and his law is written on our hearts because God’s Holy Spirit dwells inside us. Yes, we do still have a sinful nature and we can still mess up and allow that nature to control us. BUT we also have the Spirit of God living in us, teaching us and guiding us. Now we are able to “set our minds on what the Spirit desires,” and by so doing we are able to please God! (This is only implied above but is stated more explicitly in II Corinthians 5:9 and I Thessalonians 4:1). Paul is saying that the cycle is broken!  If we have the Spirit inside of us, we are different!

So how do we live under this new law? We live by faith and we live in accordance with the Spirit that God has placed inside of us. Now this is something that those of us from more conservative religious backgrounds aren't as comfortable with. It is hard to quantify and explain the Holy Spirit, but remember that Jesus said the greatest commandment is "to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). If nothing else we must remember that our lives as Christians are more about our relationship with God than they are about what we do. If we get the relationship part right, then the Spirit will change our hearts and right actions will follow. Whereas, in comparison, getting all the actions just right doesn't change our hearts at all. 

For further reading this week… see what other Scriptures have to say about how we ought to live now that we are Christians.
   - Hebrews 12
   - I Corinthians 10:23-33
   - II Corinthians 3:7-18 & 4:7-18
   - James 2:14-26
   - I Peter 1:13-2:3
   - II Peter 1:3-11

No comments: