Living by the Spirit

live-by-the-spiritA core teaching of biblical Christianity is the fact that our salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). We understand that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and his finished work through his death, burial and resurrection. An equally important truth is not so well known, or at least understood. For not only are we saved by grace through faith, but our sanctification is also a work of God’s grace by faith.


In Romans, chapters 6, 7 and 8, Paul explains that in Christ we can now “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4); we are “no longer enslaved to sin” (6:6); we are to present the members of our body as instruments of righteousness to God (6:13); God’s plan for us in Christ is “that we may bear fruit for God” (7:4); and God’s design for us is “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (8:29).


It’s abundantly clear that God’s plan for us not only involves salvation from the penalty of sin, but also deliverance from its power and control over us. This work of God in our lives we call sanctification and it too is by faith. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). And Galatians 2:20 explains, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”


I’m not suggesting that we find complete deliverance from the power of sin in during our earthly life. But we seem to excuse ourselves and expect very little of God’s transforming work in our lives. John explained this tension well when he said on the one hand, “No one who abides in him [Christ] keeps on sinning” (1 John 3:6). And on the other hand, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).


In Romans 8 where Paul contrasts living according to the flesh versus living according to the Spirit, he is explaining the futility of trying to live in a manner pleasing to God “in our flesh” or in our own strength. Romans 8:5, “Those who live according to the flesh [i.e., seek to live in the power of their flesh through sheer will-power or self-discipline] set their minds on things of the flesh [how to beat sin by trying harder and through external means and measures], but those who live according to the Spirit [i.e., live in the power of and influence of God’s Spirit] set their minds on the things of the Spirit [what pleases him—both motivations, desires and behaviors].”


Paul explains further in chapter 8 that the mind set on the flesh cannot submit to God’s law and is therefore even hostile toward God and cannot please him (vs. 7-8). To attempt to pursue a moral life or a life pleasing to God in one’s own strength, even if one is pursuing God’s holy standard, is not only futile, it’s rebellion! Indicators that one is operating in the flesh may include: focus on rules and standards instead of on Christ; inability to bring about the desired transformation in one’s life; frustration, defeat, continued sinful patterns and joylessness.


In Galatians 3:3, Paul put it like this, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Our hope against the power of sin in our lives is a life lived by faith in Christ. As we live and abide in Jesus, walking by his Spirit we learn to please God and say “No” to ungodliness and sin.


© 2009 Rob Fischer


1 Ray Edwards { 11.02.09 at 4:16 pm }

Well said, Rob. I think we have all to often allowed ourselves to “buy in” to the idea that we’re “just sinners” and that’s what sinners do – sin.

But when we accepted Christ, we became something other than sinners. We became saints (not by our own power, but by the gifting of God). How sad if we wallow in our old identity and keep on sinning.

Now, of course we’re going to mess up from time to time. That’s when we run to Him and confess, and he is “faithful and just to forgive”. But that’s a way different picture than saying “well, I’m still a sinner, so I might as well not even try”.

Satan must love it when Christians buy into that mindset.

Thanks for a thought-provoking article!

2 Rob { 11.05.09 at 1:13 am }

Thanks for your comment, Ray. I appreciate your additional insights!