When the subject of the Holy Spirit is broached, we enter an uncomfortable realm for many believers. While the person of the Spirit is not debated among charismatics, evangelicals, and mainline Protestant groups, the nature and power of his presence are.
Regardless of our differences in those areas, one thing is certain: we cannot live a victorious Christian life without the presence of and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Paul has dealt with the sinful nature and its effects in the unbeliever’s life as well as how the flesh causes believers difficulty when we walk by it. He will now compare life controlled by a sinful nature with life dominated by the Spirit of God. One results in failure while the other leads to victory.
The flesh cannot control where the Spirit does. Some translations use the word flesh while others prefer sinful nature. As mentioned previously, these terms may be used interchangeably, but for our purposes, we will use the word flesh and make a distinction between it and the sinful nature.
Sinful nature is what we are controlled by before trusting Christ but what is removed and replaced after we make that decision (2 Corinthians 5:17). Thereafter, we do battle with the flesh, which is our old pattern of behavior learned before our encounter with Christ. Since they are learned, it takes time to unlearn them and learn more appropriate patterns that emulate Christ. Believers are no longer controlled by the flesh even though we still battle it as Paul has described in the previous verses.
As long as we exist in our earthly bodies and in a world tainted by sin, this battle will rage, but we are victors in Christ as we learn to let him live through us giving us the power to live an abundant life of obedience to his commands. While we will occasionally commit acts of sin, sinful habits will not govern our lifestyle. We learn to let God’s Spirit control us rather than sin, and what we were once comfortable with will no longer satisfy.
Paul appears to conclude that the presence of the Spirit is proof of our relationship with Christ when he says those who don’t have the Spirit are not believers. Based on the text, it appears believers are given the Spirit at the moment they trust Christ as Savior, though this does not mean they are controlled or consecrated by the Spirit at that time. This comes by sanctification—the lifelong process of growing into Christlikeness through spiritual disciplines.
The Greek word for dwell—oikeo—is interesting and comforting. It draws a picture of a home in which God’s Spirit takes up residence. He resides in believers and is God continually dwelling in us. The Spirit’s presence is evidence we have changed positions and that God sees and considers us in a different light. No longer are we sinners in position but saints cleansed by the blood of his Son—although not sinless. Believers are in the process of becoming who God already sees us as in Christ.
Life in the Spirit holds many benefits, one being eternal life. Eternal life in itself is not a benefit of being a Christian for all people will live eternally in one of two places. Our earthly bodies die, but our souls continue to exist until they are again reunited with our resurrected bodies.
The quality of eternal life is what is different for the believer. We begin to experience its benefits immediately after trusting Christ as our Savior, though we won’t experience it fully until our final state. This will come in the new heaven and the new earth created by the one who redeemed us. Our hope is for more than this life (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Our bodies will die because of sin. Whether humans would have died had they not sinned is debated. Some maintain death was part of sin’s curse while others believe God did not create the human body to exist forever. It would appear sin’s effects included death for our bodies as well as death for our spirits. Sin brought immediate spiritual separation for Adam and Eve, and each person is now born separated from God. The good news, however, is that in Christ our spirits are alive and will never die.
Theologians differ in their beliefs about the human composition. We are either spirit and body; spirit, body, and soul; or just body. These delineations are variously referred to as trichotomism, dichotomism, and monism. Defined they teach we are spirit, soul, and body; spirit (soul) and body; or simply a radical unity.
Another view offered—and one probably more biblical—is termed conditional unity. Our normal state is unity. This agrees with monism. However, this condition is broken down at death so that our immaterial part (soul or spirit) lives on while the material (body) decomposes. At the resurrection, we will return to our material state but with new bodies no longer subjected to the effects of sin.
Regardless of our position on the above, there is a part within us that is not material like the body and that is who we truly are and will be after our bodies die. Those who die prior to Christ’s second coming will experience a temporary non-body existence but will have their spirit reunited with a new body at his second coming. It is this belief that comforts us and that we use to comfort others. We use it to console ourselves when friends and family members who are in Christ die. We have the hope of seeing them again. The same Spirit who brought Christ back to life will cause us to live eternally.
Not only is there the benefit of eternal life, but there is also the advantage of having the Spirit enable us to act as Christ directs. The Spirit gives assistance with daily problems and guidance to deal with them. He aids us when we are in situations where we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for. God’s Spirit empowers us for Christian living and service. And it is the fruits, gifts, and callings of God’s Spirit which enable us to effectively serve in God’s kingdom work.
Believers are under no compulsion or obligation to obey the dictates of the flesh. Satan will tempt us through our flesh, and he learns our areas of strengths as well as the areas we think we are strong in—our areas of overconfidence. But by the Spirit of God, we have the power to overcome temptation. God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, and he will always provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Following fleshly patterns of living after trusting Christ will result in a defeated spiritual walk and failure to realize God’s plan and purpose. We cannot serve two masters. But if we walk according to the Spirit, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh, and this will result in successful spiritual growth. We are in debt to God’s Spirit, for we owe our regeneration to him. We make the effort to grow spiritually and to walk according to spiritual dictates, but God enables us to succeed. This is a process, not something that happens immediately. In fact, it is this lifelong process that prepares us for eternity.
The process of training ourselves in godliness includes prayer, confession, studying God’s Word, fellowship with other believers, service, worship, and meditation. Along with the positive is the negative of putting to death anything that draws us away from God. This may be thoughts, words, or actions.
The Believer’s Position in the Spirit (vv. 14-17)
Believers are children of God, and possession of his Spirit is proof of our identity. In Ephesians, Paul says we are sealed with the Spirit (1:13). A seal showed ownership. God’s mark is placed in us. As his children, he leads us by his Spirit. When we request this, God is more than willing to oblige. We can know the mind of Christ as well as the right decision to make in any circumstance if we will look to God for guidance by listening to the still small voice of his Spirit speaking to ours.
Believers are also adopted. In Roman culture, the person who was adopted lost all rights in the old family but gained the position of a legitimate child in the new family. He became full heir to his new father. As God’s children and joint heirs with Christ, all that belongs to him belongs to us, and that is everything. God’s Spirit reminds us of whom we are and of whom we belong to. His guidance is there regardless of whether we always feel it.
Because of our position, we can live with boldness. We can approach God’s throne of grace with this trait and confidence (Hebrews 4:16). We are not like the cowering slave afraid to draw near to his master. Rather we have the privilege of saying, “Abba, Father.” Abba is the Aramaic term for father and akin to saying, daddy. Nor has God given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). We live confidently knowing God’s Spirit is blazing a path before us.
The Holy Spirit is the assurance we belong to God. He is the inner guarantee God provides that enables us to know without a doubt we are God’s children. God speaks by him and reminds us of his promise to forgive and redeem all who ask. Nothing can separate us from God’s love any longer. Once in his family, we are safe.
Since we are joint heirs with Christ, all that belongs to him is ours and this includes suffering. We have identified with Christ and have been adopted by God, which gives us the same rights and position as Christ. We can possess the same kind of relationship Jesus had with the Father while on earth. As the gospels relate, suffering was part of this journey and an element we don’t normally enjoy. In Paul’s day, Christians faced social and economic persecution and even death. Some still do. We must be prepared to face whatever form of suffering that comes as a part of the Spirit-filled life because the darkness of evil will always attempt to snuff out the light of Christ.
But even in our suffering, we can live with victory and confidence that we belong to God. God’s grace has resulted in complete forgiveness.
Martin Wiles is an author, teacher, and freelance editor currently residing in Greenwood, South Carolina. He and his wife Michelle are founders and editors of Love Lines from God (www.lovelinesfromgod.com). Wiles has authored Grits & Grace & God and Grits, Gumbo, and Going to Church (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas), Morning By Morning,Morning Serenity, Grace Greater Than Sin (America Star Books), Authentic Christianity (Smashwords) and is a contributing author in Penned from the Heart (Son-Rise Publications), and Rise (Chaplain Publishing). He has served as Regional Correspondent and Sunday school lesson writer for the Baptist Courier and also written for LifeWay’s Bible Studies for Life curriculum. He has also been published in Open Windows, Proclaim, The Secret Place, Upper Room, Light from the Word, Reach Out Columbia, Mustard Seed Ministries, Journey Christian Newspaper,Common Ground Herald, The Quiet Hour, and Power for Living. He is a regular contributor to Christian Devotions, and PCC Daily Devotions, and is a regular contributor for the Dorchester County Eagle Record, the Orangeburg County Times and Democrat, and the Greenwood County Index Journal. Wiles also serves as the Managing Editor for Christian Devotions and as an assistant Editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolina. You can follow him @linesfromgod.