“ . . . be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans12:2)
Living “life in the Spirit” can be described as a way of setting our hearts on the leadings of the Holy Spirit. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul is very clear that the power of the Holy Spirit is an integral part of the gospel that he had traveled the world proclaiming.
According to Paul, we all have some areas of our lives which are of God and very pleasing to him, and others which are not so good. Paul understood that only by living in the Spirit can we continue to build up those parts that are pleasing and gradually do away with the parts that are sinful and displeasing.
Paul was realistic about how challenging this can be. In one of his most famous passages in Romans, he cries out, “I don’t understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). Doesn’t our own experience confirm this dilemma? Each of us has our own forms of erratic behavior. In one setting, we can be generous to a fault yet, in another setting, we can be completely selfish. At one moment we are kind and thoughtful, and in the next moment we are angry and intolerant.
Is this the way God wants us to live? Does he really want us to be haphazard in our actions? To use Paul’s words, does God really want us to be alternately controlled by the Holy Spirit one moment and by our selfish desires the next moment (Romans 8:5)?
Brothers and sisters, God does not want us to act and think haphazardly. He wants us to be able to know whether our thoughts come from the Holy Spirit, from the devil, or from our own fallen nature. He doesn’t want us to be left wondering whether our thoughts and actions are pleasing to him. No, he wants us to know that we really can recognize when our behavior is of him and when it isn’t. He wants to assure us that we have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us grow in our ability to discern God’s will and the movements of his Spirit within us.
Asking the Right Questions. It’s clear that if we want to live in the Spirit, we will have to look at the way we think and act. We will have to begin asking ourselves questions like, “Why was I so loving in this situation but then became so angry in that situation?” “Why was I so happy in the morning but became upset by midday?” “Why is it that I can be so kind toward some people and so cold, even resentful, toward others?”
In addition to examining our motives on our own like this, we will also have to begin asking the Holy Spirit himself to probe us and examine our hearts. This is at the core of living in the Spirit. We do need to use our natural reason, which is a precious gift from God, but we also need to ask the Holy Spirit to show us what is good in us and what has to go.
While it may seem hard at times to tell the difference between what is of God and what is not, we can be assured that if we persist, the wisdom of the Spirit will sink in. If we make it a habit to reflect on our experiences, and if we spend time in prayer every day, we will see real changes in our lives.
More Than Conquerors. How can we be so confident? Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, and he really does want to give us the strength to change. He wants to give us his grace, which is far more powerful than human willpower. When we know we are justified by Christ, and when we are striving to live in the Spirit, we can become “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). With God’s grace we can overcome every area in our lives that is controlled by sin. We can become more holy each and every day. All God asks is that we let his Spirit heal and build up all the good things of our nature. With this combination of God’s grace and our cooperation, we can’t go wrong.
Most of us are a mixed bag. Some of our behavior and thinking is of the Spirit, and some is of the flesh. Yet, we should have great hope. We don’t have to conform to the ways of this world. With a little effort each day, we can be transformed as our minds are renewed. We can begin to understand and embrace God’s will for our lives. We can come to know all that is good and acceptable and perfect by the power of his Spirit (Romans 12:2).
Recall your favorite teacher and the impact this person had on your life. This kind of transformation is so small compared to the power of the Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus. A teacher can make us a better thinker or a more creative person, but only the Holy Spirit can lift us up to the power and presence of Jesus.
When we know that we are justified by Christ, we know God’s love and we know that we will be with him forever. This is the indelible mark that God wants to stamp on our hearts. This is the one insight that will move us to please God in everything we do and cause us to want to live in the Spirit. May God bless your prayer and examination:
Five Questions to Tell Where Your Heart Is
1. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Do I believe right now that Jesus has set me free from sin? Do I have a sense of gratitude, hope, or peace, knowing that I am no longer under condemnation?
2. “Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). What thoughts are preoccupying my mind right now? Are they true, honorable, just, pure, and gracious (Philippians 4:8)? Or are they concerned with anger, enmity, impurity, selfishness, and division (Galatians 5:19-20)? Can I turn to Jesus right now and ask him to deliver me from anything that is not pleasing to him?
3. “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). Do I know in my heart that I am a child of God? Do I know that I can experience my Father’s love, strength, and guidance right now? Can I ask the Holy Spirit to convince me that God loves me more than I can ever imagine?
4. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Romans 8:26). Do I experience God lifting me up and filling me with comfort, peace, and joy? Do I have a sense in prayer that Jesus is with me and is listening to me with love? Is Scripture coming alive for me in an increasing way? The Spirit loves to help us come in touch with the throne of God!
5. “I am sure that . . . nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). In the face of the challenging situations I will encounter today, can I hold on in faith to the fact that nothing can separate me from God’s love? Even if I don’t “feel” the love of God, can I still hold on to the fact of God’s unconditional love? Let the Spirit build up your confidence in God today.