Thursday, April 10, 2008

14. Life in the Spirit: Receiving the Spirit

I am just off to a meeting with the Education Bureau here so I am posting this now in case I don't have a chance later. As I say below, it has taken Paul some time to get to the Holy Spirit in Romans. Now he has, he shows how central the Holy Spirit is to living the Christian life. As we shall see over the next few posts in this series, what he says is very radical indeed. No wonder he got into trouble if this was the sort of thing he said!

I hope your week is good!

14. Life in The Spirit: Receiving the Spirit

Quite amazingly, in Romans Paul has only mentioned the Holy Spirit a couple of times before chapter eight. These are suggestive references certainly, but it is only now in chapter eight that he discusses the Holy Spirit. The terms in which he does so show that his hesitancy hasn’t been because he thinks the Holy Spirit unimportant, far from it, rather he has been waiting until he has dealt with sin, righteousness, and the Law. Having written in chapters six and seven that the believer should live a life of righteousness, and having shown why this is impossible through the Law, he now turns to the secret of living lives pleasing to God.

Paul has said in Romans 5 that it is through the Holy Spirit that God’s love is poured into hearts. Now he is even more dogmatic:

‘Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.’ (Romans 8:9)

For Paul to have the Holy Spirit is an absolute and fundamental requirement. Paul assumes that if anyone is a believer then they have received the Holy Spirit. However, this is not simply an academic assumption, a theoretical deduction that we make, for Paul having the Spirit is something that we should know about. It is through the Spirit that we ‘cry, Abba! Father!’ (Romans 8:15) This is the language of experience, feeling, and relationship. Paul would find it inconceivable that a person could have the Spirit and not know about it.

This is not to say that he limits what form that experience should take or reduces it to a particular expression, but if someone has the Spirit, they will know. They will be able to answer the question that Luke records Paul asked the Ephesian disciples:

‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ (Acts 19:2)

It is a simple question to which Paul expects a simple answer. It is important to repent of sin, to have faith in Christ, to be obedient to the Gospel message, but a person will get nowhere if they haven’t received the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, Paul describes how the Holy Spirit is essential in understanding what God wants to give us:

‘Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.’

It would be interesting to explore the significance of this for theological study. Is the confusion we encounter in Biblical interpretation partially due to the fact that it is often carried about by those who are not, as Paul would put it, spiritual? But that is an issue for another day!

By giving us his Holy Spirit God enables us to live life in the dimension of the Spirit rather than in the dimension of the flesh. The Spirit sets us free from the Laws which keep us enslaved to sin in the dimension of the flesh and makes possible the life he has told believers in chapter six they must live as ‘slaves of righteousness’. But even more startling, Paul tells the Romans that the Spirit makes it possible for us to achieve what has hitherto been impossible:

‘… so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’ (Romans 8:4)

Paul has gone to great lengths to show how it is impossible for people to keep the Law because of sin. Righteousness, he has explained, cannot come by the Law or by the works of the law. He has told the Romans that they are now dead to the Law, freed from it and do not serve God in that way. In Galatians, he warns the Christians that they are not to return to the Law.

So what does he mean by this statement about the Law being fulfilled in us?

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