Paul is acknowledging that even though we live by the Spirit, the sinful nature is still inside us. In fact, it will be with us until we are changed at Jesus' second coming. Even though that nature is in us, however, Paul admonishes us to "live by the Spirit." Sometime the struggle between our automatic impulses and the prompting of the Holy Spirit seems a greater battle than we can manage.
If we feel responsible for keeping the sinful nature suppressed, we will probably not succeed. Only the Holy Spirit can do that job.
Sometimes it's even hard to know how to pray about these internal conflicts. Sometimes it's hard to know how to think about the Holy Spirit's role in us. Does he make us good? Does he make us keep the law? Does he remove our desire to do wrong?
Dale Ratzlaff recently suggested this understanding: the Holy Spirit does not live in us and make us keep the law. Rather, the Holy Spirit's role is to keep our sinful natures "dead." As we learn to trust him, increasingly we release to him our weaknesses and struggles.
Jesus has promised to seal us with the Holy Spirit. As we submit to him, we can know that he is responsible for the control of our sinful natures. We can rest in him, and we can know that as we walk through our day, he is looking out at the world through our eyes; he is speaking through our mouths; he is touching the world through our hands. We can actually think of him interacting with the world through us.
When we live by the Spirit, we are not under the law. This fact does not mean, however, that we throw lawful behavior out and become self-serving and impulse-driven. With the Holy Spirit in us, we are subject to something much greater than the external commandments. We have The Law, God himself, actually living in our hearts. The law was merely "a shadow of the things that were to come" (Col 2:17). The reality is that now we have God's Spirit prompting our interactions. The law of liberty and love is in us, and the Holy Spirit directs our choices and responses with more compassion and responsibility than the law ever could.
We still have to make choices. We still have the moral responsibility to decide to let the Holy Spirit give us the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16) instead of allowing our genetically sinful natures to propel us into sinful behavior. It is not legalism to choose to shun temptations. Each time we face temptations we can choose to submit to the Holy Spirit. That choice is a decision not to indulge our automatic responses. It is also an acknowledgement that we can't avoid sin by willpower. We can only have victory over sin when we choose to be internally submissive to Jesus.
Paul lists behaviors that come from the sinful nature in verses 19-21. If we let our impulses drive us into these acts instead of submitting our temptations to Jesus, we are dishonoring the Holy Spirit. But if we are responding to our relationship with Jesus, we will begin to see the fruits of the Spirit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In Colossians 2:14 Paul says that the "written code, with its regulationswas against us andstood opposed to us." Galatians 5:21, however, says "Against such things [the fruits of the Spirit] there is no law." The Holy Spirit is not subject to the 10 commandments. The Holy Spirit, in fact, is The Law. Because the Holy Spirit is above the written law, when we are filled with the Spirit we are not under the law either. We are now subject to The Source of the law instead of to a set of written commands.
The 10 commandments were not able to explain the Law of Love. They were not able to help us make subtle, loving decisions based on individual needs. The 10 commandments demanded perfection and judged our failure. The 10 commandments promised us death.
But Jesus takes the responsibility for our perfection away from us and bears it himself. The Holy Spirit takes responsibility for our being able to exhibit the love of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not under the law, and when he lives in us, neither are we. Instead, we are responsible to him. We are also responsible for allowing him to give us insight and understanding that goes beyond the mere requirements of the 10 commandments.
As true Christ-followers, we cannot remain loyal to the written law. If we are, we hold onto controlling our own lives. If we make decisions based on the written law, we are denying the reality of the Spirit in us. If we are loyal to the written law, we are placing something temporary in the place of the Holy Spirit.
Living by the Spirit will never flaunt the law. Living by the Spirit does not give us permission to be self-indulgent. But living by the Spirit acknowledges that God is superior to the law.
The Holy Spirit is The Law of the New Covenant. When we cling to the written law, we are clinging to an obsolete system that God abandoned when Jesus died on the cross and the temple veil ripped.
When the Holy Spirit came to his new temple, the hearts of believers, on the Day of Pentecost, a new reality began. Now, instead of measuring ourselves by an external standard, we have the mind of Christ in us to teach and direct us moment by moment. Now we are not responsible for getting our behavior into line; rather we're responsible for submitting our hearts and desires to Jesus and allowing him to direct and change us.
As Christ-followers, we are obligated to take our eyes off the law, to "get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." (Gal. 4:30) If we look to the law, we are denying the New Covenant that Jesus gave us at the price of his life. If we look to the law we are saying that we don't trust the Holy Spirit in us to direct us. We are saying we'd rather take control ourselves.
The law draws us away from Jesus. It takes our hearts back to rules and regulations. It takes us back to a system of religion that was meant to give guidance to people who still lived under the curse of sin. The law keeps us in bondage; it prevents us from experiencing freedom and victory. We live in continual awareness of our sin.
If we look to the law, we deny Jesus' sacrifice for us.
But if we embrace Jesus and his sacrifice, we will live by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. We will experience grace and freedom and love and forgiveness. We will experience victory over our sinful habits more and more.
If we acknowledge the Holy Spirit in us, we will find rest and confidence. We will stop worrying about the future and about our shortcomings. Instead, we will live in a continual awareness of peace and victory.
The Holy Spirit gives us rest from our worry and fear. He gives us Today. No longer will our lives be focussed on learning from the past to prepare us for the future. We will live in the present, confident and aware of the love that holds us and guides us.
The Holy Spirit crucifies our sinful natures on a day-by-day basis because we accept the grace of Jesus' crucifixion.
Our calling is not to fix our eyes on the law or good behavior. Our calling is to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)
Our calling is to walk in truth and love.
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