But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
~Romans 7:6 (ESV)
As a continuation of the theme of the Spirit’s work to transform us, I thought it would be helpful to explore the difference the Spirit makes in our interaction with God’s law. Yesterday, Nathan unpacked the truth that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12, ESV), as well as the ongoing struggle we have with our sinful nature to obey the law– a struggle that involves suffering and putting things to death.
Romans 7:6 alludes to the fact that how we engage in this struggle has been forever changed by the life and death of Jesus and by the sending of the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit is the fulfillment of an Old Testament promise:
“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:24-28, NIV, emphasis added).
Our ability to obey the law is directly tied to the Spirit being in us. It is God, by the Holy Spirit, causing us to will and to act in accordance with his purposes (Php 2:13). It is no wonder, then, that Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be filled with, to be inebriated with, the Holy Spirit (5:18). The law is no longer the focal point of our faith. Instead, we are to fix our eyes of Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2) and live in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25), setting our minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:5).
Rather than having an external checklist of things to do for God (the written code), we have an internal compass (the Spirit) who directs us moment by moment. The Spirit empowers us to live in accordance with God’s law and guides us back when we stray. Our greatest hope for growth in the Christian life, then, is to actively cultivate our relationship with the Spirit and surrender ourselves to the Spirit’s leadership and direction.
Admittedly, this can be a challenging and often subjective endeavor, one that requires careful attention to Scripture, tradition and reason. But it ultimately develops more of an actual relationship with God instead of mere legalistic duty. As we see our faith more and more as a journey with God living inside of us instead of simply rules to be obeyed for a distant deity, we are drawn into the powerful reality of being children of God. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God” (Rom. 8:14).
Lasting transformation happens as we obediently walk in relationship with the Spirit, journeying in Jesus’ footsteps, seeking to honor the Father. It is here that we learn to be God’s children and grow up to be like our brother, Jesus. What’s more, we get to do this together, encouraging and helping each other along the way.