I’ve got a confession: I often view the Holy Spirit as nothing but a useful tool.
This thought dawned on me as my wife and I sat down to watch through the Star Wars Saga (wife’s first time, my second).
Anyone who knows anything about Star Wars has likely encountered talk of the “Force.” Throughout the Saga, the Force is given several names: It, Life Current, Sight, Life Wind, and Luminous Mist. According to Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Force is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” As with most energy fields, the Force is something which can be controlled – even manipulated. In the final analysis, the Force is simply a metaphysical tool to be used for good or ill.
What does Star Wars have to do with the Holy Spirit?
Well, as I watched Star Wars I realized that I often try to “master” the Holy Spirit like a Jedi tries to “master” the Force. In other words, I treat the Holy Spirit as nothing more than a magical instrument given to me for my own self-fulfillment and self-realization. This is why, in prayer, I can find myself asking God to do things that, in the end, would only serve my own purposes – not His.
Maybe you’ve experienced a similar feeling. Maybe you’ve been tempted to see the Holy Spirit as your Holy Vending Machine. And maybe that’s left you feeling like God never answers your prayers (at least, in the way you think he needs to). Well, if you’re like me, you’re ready to stop treating God’s Spirit like the Force and start treating him like the third Person of the Trinity.
This is where Romans 8 comes in. Claimed by many as “my favorite chapter in the Bible,” I’ve found it strange that many seem to miss Paul’s emphasis on life in the Spirit. And that’s okay. It’s why we read the Bible over and over again. God’s always got something new to show us, which is why I want to spend the rest of our time pondering what Paul has to teach us about God and his Spirit’s saving work in our lives. But first…
The Force of Sin
In the early chapters of Genesis, two damning powers entered the world: sin and death. Genesis 4:7 personifies sin as an animal “crouching at the door.” Likewise, Paul, in Romans 6:16, says that fallen humanity has become an “obedient slave” to sin and is thereby subjected to death. John the Revelator sees this sin-leading-to-death as ending, ultimately, in a “lake that burns with fire and sulfur” (Rev 21:8). Thus, from Genesis to Revelation, sin is seen as a powerful, death-dealing force, and it one which has infected us all (Rom 5:12). This leads us to the first few sentences of Romans 8, wherein all of the bad news of our sin comes to a crashing halt.
Life in the Spirit
1. The Spirit Sets Us Free
Rather shockingly, Paul proclaims that “those who are in Christ Jesus” have been set free, not only from God’s just condemnation of sin, but from the jurisdiction of sin and death itself (Rom 8:1-2)! How did this happen? Paul explains:
For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (8:3)
All of this comes to us as a gift (Eph 2:8). And that gift culminates in the sinner’s freedom. How could it not? For “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17).
Christian, God the Father has sent the Son and poured out the Spirit for the sake, yes, of his glory, but also your freedom.
2. The Spirit Indwells Us
According to Paul, God’s Spirit is nothing like the Force of Star Wars. He – the Spirit – is not an impersonal power vulnerable to human manipulation; nor is he some kind of energy field which humans tap into from time to time. No, the Spirit of the Living God is omnipotent and omnipresent. He is both incredibly personal and totally free (cf. John 3:8). And, as Paul says,
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Rom 8:11).
As the Spirit dwelt temporarily in the tabernacle and temple of the Old Testament, and as the Spirit dwells eternally in Christ (Col 2:11), so now the Spirit has come to dwell in you forever. This means, among other things, that you are no longer your own (1 Cor 6:19). It also means that your purpose in life is not found in some kind of pre-existent ‘True Self’ which has been buried through years of suppression and shame – how exhausting! Rather, your ultimate sense of purpose is rooted in Christ and what he has already made of you.
Christian, not only are you free from sin and death; you are free from the burden of having to make something of yourself.
Be free and be who you are.
3. The Spirit Leads Us
Unlike the Force in Star Wars, which one “masters” over time through meditation and other self-calming practices, the Spirit of Christ sovereignly confronts us. It is not we who make use of him; it is he who makes use of us. For, apart from God’s Spirit, we are utterly lost in a plethora of destructive patterns which lead, ultimately, to death. According to Paul, we are not the masters of our own destiny; rather, we are clay in the hands of God the Potter (Rom 9:21).
The glorious reality of the Spirit’s indwelling presence (as seen above from Romans 8) means that the sons and daughters of God are not left to themselves. No, they are led by the Spirit of God himself (Rom 8:14). This means, among other things, that we must relinquish all the control (we think) we have over our lives. We are not our own anymore. Even more, believers can now approach the throne of grace with a sense of freedom, knowing that God will surely lead us into the paths of life (Ps 16:11).
Be free, be who you are, and march in step with God’s Spirit.
You are safe in his hands.