Paul has made it very clear throughout Romans that salvation is a gift from God and that we can do nothing to earn new life. By His grace and mercy, God sent His Son into this world to die in our place so that we might be reconciled to Him and have the promise of eternal life. We have heaven’s privileges granted to us not because we were born to them but because God graciously chose to adopt us as His own heirs. Now that we have been granted the benefits of Christ, Paul writes that we are under obligation to “put to death the misdeeds of the body.”
There are those among us who have bought into the idea that once we are born again through the Spirit, we become responsible for our own spiritual state. The Lord has redeemed us with His own precious blood, but it is our job to remain redeemed and work toward godliness. Paul, however, very clearly teaches that both our redemption and our sanctification are the work of God in us. It is “by the Spirit” that we “put to death the misdeeds of the body.”
Left to ourselves, we Christians will fall back into sin. If we are not Spirit-led, our focus quickly turns away from God, and we begin to crave the things of the world once more. Paul writes, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:2–3). Only as we are led by the Holy Spirit are we able to keep our focus on the things that are above.
The Greek word for led in verse 14 is the word used to describe the way an animal is led by a harness. God does not call us as a person calls a puppy, hoping that the little dog will be obedient and come running. Instead we are led by the Spirit to do the good works that God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Yes, we have an obligation. But the obligation is not to “repay” the Savior for the salvation He provided in His sacrifice. That would be impossible. Nor is it our obligation work out our sanctification by ourselves. That, too, would be impossible. Our obligation is to be led by the Holy Spirit so that we become more Christlike in our everyday living and thereby share in the blessings that are His. Obviously there is an active and a passive side to this kind of life for the Christian. Like the leading of a horse, some Christians will follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit more readily than others. Even that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The influence of the Holy Spirit on the believer is not only protective but also corrective; He not only directs but He also controls. The Holy Spirit’s work is not sporadic but constant, not repressive but encouraging. The Spirit maintains our tie with God, and through Him we may cry out to the sovereign, almighty God, “Abba, Father.”
The word Abba in Aramaic means “daddy.” It is the word young children in Aramaic-speaking countries use to refer to their fathers. It is a term of affection. Aramaic fathers hope that “Abba” is their child’s first word just as fathers in English speaking countries wish to hear their young child say “daddy.” A minister friend recalls visiting the Holy Land and being impressed by the children running to meet their fathers crying out “Abba, Abba!” This is how the Spirit directs us to address the great Creator of heaven and earth—with a childlike faith!
This was a foreign concept the Old Testament church. The Israelites knew that God was a personal, living Being. They emphasized God’s righteousness, holiness, and faithfulness. The exaltation and unapproachable majesty of God was clearly displayed by the Holy of Holies in the temple. Only the High Priest was permitted in this most sacred place—and then only once a year. The Old Testament refers to God as “Father” only fourteen times.
Jesus often spoke of God as “Father” in the four gospels and taught His disciples to address God by that name. To all that the Bible reveals to us about God—He is the almighty God; He is the omniscient and omnipresent God; He is incomprehensible; He is invisible, immutable, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good—we can add He is our Father. Through the Holy Spirit we can know God not only as the Judge who holds impartial balance in His hand, not only as the Captain of all the hosts of heaven, but as our Father—Abba.
Amid all the joys and glories of heaven, no sweeter, no higher form of address will ever be put in our mouths than the one given to us by the Spirit. In childlike awe and trust we can come to the almighty God, through Christ, as we would come to a loving father. It is through Christ’s atoning work on the cross and the Spirit’s work in our lives that we are granted the privilege and joy of calling God our Father.
As adopted children we are brought out of our bondage to Satan and into a new life. Even so, Satan seeks to lure us away from this new life by filling us with doubt concerning our membership in the family of God. How often I encounter people still battling with Satan on their deathbed, unsure of their salvation. They look to their past sins crying out as did Paul: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Rom. 7:24)?
The Holy Spirit, however, does not give us the assurance of our salvation based on our actions but based on His leading. We do not cry out, “I am God’s child!” Led by the Spirit, we call on God saying, “He is my Father.” In that, we look away from ourselves to the One who established the Father-child relationship with us. We do not boast in “I am a chosen child of God” but are humbled by the fact that in His grace God chose us to be His children.
There is a subtle although vast difference between the two points of view. One focuses on self, the other on God. For example, when Paul is in prison in Rome, he calls himself a prisoner of the Lord (Eph. 4:1). He sees everything in his life in terms of Christ—how the events of his life were to be used in order to bring glory to God and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Similarly, in the Old Testament, David found his joy and security in God’s presence (Ps. 16:8–9). Earthly troubles did not disturb David or Paul, because they were being led by the Spirit. Christian maturity is being led by the Spirit to see all events in life (both positive and negative) as a means to bring glory to God.
Led by the Spirit, the focus of our lives becomes one where we long to bring glory and honor to the One who has adopted us. Paul writes, “I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (Titus 3:8). The more we are led by the Spirit, the more we bear the fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22–23. All too often we interpret the fruit of the Christian as great works of ministry within the kingdom. Certainly we can achieve great things through the Spirit, but it must begin by being clothed with love, joy, peace, etc. Only then will the work we do be for God’s glory rather than for ourselves. Only then can we truly have an assurance of our faith in spite of circumstances around us.
The Spirit does not promise to lead us in places where there is no suffering. On the contrary, our suffering with Christ is a necessary prelude to our exaltation. The Spirit descended on Jesus not to free Him from His suffering but to enable Him to be obedient even unto death. The suffering we face in this life does not disprove that we are children of God. It is, instead, evidence of our adoption. The Holy Spirit will often lead us right into the battlefield—but He will also guide us through that battlefield. Those who are led by the Spirit are granted the power and ability to endure the battle and to be victorious in the battle.
Often our suffering is similar to the suffering of the world. Both Christians and non-Christians endure many of the same hardships, the same aches, and the same heartaches. Both Christians and non-Christians face economic adversity and business failures. The Christian and the non-Christian both experience death. In these the Christian is given strength, patience, and comfort from the Holy Spirit as he looks for the second coming of the Lord.
And yet, the Christian’s suffering is different from the suffering of the world. We suffer in our sin. Although we strive to live a godly life, it grieves us that we fall so far short of our goal. Even in these failures we can take comfort that the Holy Spirit continues His work in our lives. Paul wrote that we may be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). In the comfort that the Holy Spirit will complete His sanctifying work in us, we press on, striving to be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Our loving Father has rescued us not only from the penalty of sin but He also continually rescues us from the power of sin. And that magnificent day is coming when He will remove us from the presence of sin.
Points to Ponder and Discuss
1. What is the believer’s obligation according to Paul? Why?
2. How does the Holy Spirit lead you to do good works?
3. How does the Holy Spirit teach us to address the almighty God? What does that mean to you?
4. How do you know that you are a child of God? At what point did you become an heir?
5. Jesus says of the Christian, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt. 7:20). What are the “good fruits” of the Christian? How do you recognize them in the Christian?
6. If Christ has died for us, why must we still suffer with Him?
7. What is the difference between Christ’s suffering and our suffering?
8. How is the suffering of a child of God different from that of the unbeliever?
9. What does it mean to share in Christ’s glory?
Rev. Wybren Oord is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.