Christians all over the world pray for God’s spirit to be with them and to lead them. But what does it mean to be led by spirit? And if we are among those led by spirit, who are we, really? Paul answers both of these questions in his letter to the brothers in Rome, most specifically in chapter 8 of the book of Romans. Let’s examine that chapter.
Paul begins by clearing away all the superfluous baggage that those Jewish Christians living in Rome may have carried with them as concerns their own standing before God.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
– Romans 8:1-4
So we first learn that those in union with Christ are set free from the condemnation associated with failure to keep the law. Instead, they are declared righteous by means of their faith. In other words, when they manifest faith in Jesus, the Father counts that as righteousness. There is no more a need for sacrifice and offering. The law concerning atonement for sins has been fulfilled. Christians are now under the “law of the spirit” and when we walk according to that new law, we are counted as righteous before God.
When we today reach back to bring the law code into the 21st century and hold ourselves and our brothers to strict observances, we are no longer walking according to the spirit. We have gone back to the weak and beggarly things and are walking according to the flesh. When we do this, we are not pleasing God.
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”
– Romans 8:5-8
How do we know if we are “in harmony with the flesh?” By what we focus on. If our minds are primarily upon the things that cater to the flesh, such as work, entertainment, fashion, pleasures and passions, even our continued life in the flesh, we are “minding the flesh.” This lead to condemnation. Instead, our minds should be on “the things of the spirit” such as contemplating how to gain accurate knowledge about the Father and draw closer to the Him, how to imitate the Christ, how to complete our assignment as ambassadors, how to better serve our brothers, and even our future spirit life in the heavenly kingdom. These works are an indication that God’s spirit dwells within us and that we belong to the Christ.
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For 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. ”
– Romans 8:9-13
But what of those who do not claim a heavenly hope? When you ask one of them how they see their future, they relish in thoughts of playing with animals, picnicking in parks, living in fabulous houses, having pleasurable parties and gatherings, and having plenty of good food and drink. Their minds are most certainly on the things of the flesh since they are seeking to live forever on the earth in the flesh enjoying the things of the flesh. Paul’s words indicates that, rather than living forever, such ones are “sure to die.”
But, you may ask, is it not possible to “live in accord with the spirit” and still have an earthly hope? Paul’s words do not seem to indicate so. Notice his next words:
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
– Romans 8:14-17
According to Paul, everyone who is led by the spirit – that is, everyone who is “living in accord with the spirit” – is a son of God and a joint heir with Christ. Conversely, however, if we are not sons of God or joint heirs with Christ, we are “sure to die.”
But we need not fear, for Paul goes on to tell us that all mankind is offered sonship with God and release from the flesh.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
– Romans 8:18-23
Ever since mankind was “subjected to frustration” – that is, lost hope as a result of Adam’s sin – we have been waiting for “the children of God to be revealed.” What does that mean, “the children of God to be revealed?” Well, a revelation is an exposure of something not formerly known. So the scripture does not mean that mankind always knew they were sons of God and were only waiting for them to be designated. Instead, it infers that we really had no idea of it prior to Christ’s advent. Paul is telling us that mankind was waiting for some kind of hope, and that hope turned out to be a revealing that we are sons of God.
This “revelation” sets us free from the sentence of death and grants us the hope of attaining the status of children (sons and daughters) of God. And once we accept that hope and receive the token of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), like Paul, we earnestly await the actual adoption which occurs when we are released from our bodies. Yes, for sons of God, our death is not likened to a termination of life, but to a release from our bodies!
Paul goes on:
“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
– Romans 8:24-25
He explains that what we are hoping for we have not yet seen – it is in the heavens. For if we already have what we hope for, it is no longer a hope, but a reality.
Since our hope is in the heavens and will only be attained after the release from our bodies, it will require endurance to maintain that hope. And we have help from the spirit:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
– Romans 8:26-27
The spirit not only leads us, but its pleads for us. Not on behalf of the whole world, but only on behalf of those who belong to the Christ – the holy ones, the sons of God. (Romans 8:14)
We also get help from all of God’s creations:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
– Romans 8:28-30
Again, the spirit leads “those who love him,” the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters,” referring to the sons of God.
And finally, we also have the help of the Christ:
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
– Romans 8:31-34
Yes, brothers, those led by the spirit are the anointed sons of God. We see no indication that the spirit leads anyone who does not belong to the Christ.
Neither can we claim a secondary application of the scripture as “companions” and “friends” of the anointed – meaning those with an earthly hope. For what benefit could they obtain? They can imitate the anointed, but ‘only those who contend according to rules’ receive the crown of life. (2 Timothy 2:5) Really then, when we reject the hope of everlasting life in the heavens, we are placing ourselves outside of the operation of the spirit and outside of God’s purposes.
We know that those with an “earthly hope” pray for the spirit’s direction. They serve the Father with as much sincerity and fervor as the sons who have accepted their inheritance. They must realize that if they are thus led by the spirit, they are, in fact, sons of God! The spirit leads no others! They are indeed running the race, but they must “contend according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5), inside the Father’s arrangement of openly accepting their sonship.
Finally, Paul tell us:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– Romans 8:35-39
Nothing can separate us from this hope. The only way we will not attain to it is if we refuse it by pursuing fleshly, earthly things. We pray that anyone who continues to cling to an “earthly hope” will wake up and grab hold of their heavenly inheritance. It is waiting for them and no one can snatch it away. Thanks be to the Father.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
– Colossians 3:15