There is a great interest in spirituality today. Go to any major bookstore and you will find many books that purport to instruct about spirituality—sometimes they are located among the other self-help books like books on dieting, time-management, etc. And that is what authentic spirituality is not—self-help. Living in the Spirit has to do with responding to the ways that God comes to us. Christian Spirituality is about interacting with the presence of God, who is Spirit.
The Apostle Paul frequently contrasts two kinds of living: in the flesh or in the Spirit (Romans 8: 12-25). In this extended passage, he describes how the Spirit of God becomes the primary motivation and enabling in the life of the Christian. Belonging to Christ and having the Spirit are for Paul one and the same.[i] The Spirit gives one the kind of life that matters; in the Spirit one is assured of God’s acceptance and sustaining, active power. In the Spirit, one is delivered from the futility of sin and death; of course, Christians will still sin—and will one day die. But the Spirit is transforming us, fitting us to live with God eternally—and to become authentic expressions of forgiveness and grace in this life. We are able to pray to God lovingly, without fear, because we know that we belong to God. We are able to live according to the spirit, no longer enslaved to habits that would wound us--or others.
How can we identify persons living in the Spirit?
· They seem to exhibit a certain freedom, a capacity not to take themselves too seriously. Grace and humor are closely related; they acknowledge the truth of the human condition—prone to wander, in need of frequent redirection through the presence of the Spirit.
· Such persons are able to risk newness—for they know that the Spirit is always bringing new things to birth. One of the things Scripture teaches us about the Spirit is that things rarely stay put; God as Spirit is always calling persons beyond where they find themselves.
· Those who live in the Spirit are persons of prayer. They confess their sins to God and others without fear of being diminished as a person. They know their frailty and need of grace. The Spirit prays through them, supplying groans for those things that are “too deep for words.”
· Persons who live in the Spirit know deep in their bones that they belong to God. This awareness can make all the difference in the valleys of life. The presence of the Spirit is the strong assurance that God will not leave them comfortless and wherever they go, they are accompanied by the One who never forsakes them.
· Persons who live in the Spirit are characterized by joy. We know that David’s most egregious sins (Psalm 51) do not cause him grief forever; his joy, his delight in the goodness of life with God returns. J.S. Bach wrote: “When I have lost my joy, I have lost my connection with God.” The Spirit is our connection with God, who can restore the joy of our salvation.
Humans are a remarkable, living mix of dust and spirit—the stuff of this earth enlivened by the presence of God. It is a life of companionship and promise. It is life that lasts.
Molly T. Marshall
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[i] James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary, 38A (Dallas, TX: Words Books, 1988), 444.