One of the requests I have repeatedly received throughout my ministry is to preach and teach on the Holy Spirit. That stems, I believe, from the fact that the Churches of Christ have historically lacked in substantive teaching on the Holy Spirit for a variety of reasons that don’t matter to this post. I too have been developing a bigger itch for understanding how the Holy Spirit works in the life of the church and every follower of Jesus, so it’s always nice come across one of those “oh yeah” moments with the Holy Spirit. So here is one of those “oh yeah” moments that I would like to share.
Last Sunday I preached from Romans 2:17-29 (you can listen the sermon here: Columbia Church of Christ Sermons). Now, as you probably know, and not to take anything away from the rest of scripture but Romans is a theological paradise for preaching and teaching and this includes teaching on the Holy Spirit.
Well v. 29 reads, “No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” There’s actually some question about whether the Greek text en pneumati should be rendered “by the Spirit” as the NIV ’11 translates the passage or something to the affect of “is spiritual” (NRSV).
I believe the NIV ’11 is probably the better option but even if the NRSV is correct, Paul still implicitly has the Holy Spirit in mind and this is why. In Romans, Paul makes it clear that his objective is to bring about faithful obedience among the Gentiles (cf. 1:5; 16:26). In those two verses Paul is using a genitive phrase that the NRSV correctly translates as “obedience of faith” which insists that there is no faith apart from obedience to God. Then in the passage of Romans 2:17-29, Paul is criticizing certain Jews for putting stock in their outward circumcision while living in disobedience to God. Paul’s point then is that the true person of God is one who’s heart is circumcised (v. 29) which we know that for Paul, based on his previous stated objective, is faithful obedience or “obedience of faith.”
But…with this little phrase “by the Spirit” inserted into v. 29, Paul wants us to know that this obedience that characterizes the life of those who belong to God is the work of the Spirit in us which means, as Paul will later say, living according to the Holy Spirit (cf. 8:4-5). Thus, because this involves the Spirit, it takes nothing away from God’s grace, for obedience comes from the gift of the Holy Spirit that God gives to us in Christ. It also takes nothing away from our choice, for Paul also makes clear in Romans 8 that we can either walk according to the flesh or according to the Spirit and that involves a choice we must make. As Monte Cox illustrated this so last year in his keynote speech at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, living by the Spirit is like sailing. The sailor does nothing to produce the wind, rather the wind is simply a blessing received. However, the sailor must make a choice to turn the sails in such a direction as to catch the wind.
The question for us in regards to living by the Spirit is this, are we making the choice to turn ourselves in such direction as to catch (and be led by) the Spirit?
So as I mentioned earlier, a lot of Christians have asked me to preach and teach on the Holy Spirit. With that in mind, here is what I want to say in closing: It is exciting to know that more and more Christians, especially in the Churches of Christ, are wanting to know about the person and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers. There is a lot of exciting and mysterious things about the Holy Spirit. As Jesus himself said, “The Spirit blows where it desires…” (Jn 3:8, my translation). However, the first thing we should learn and know about the person and work of the Holy Spirit is that it is given to us as believers in Christ so that we can live in faithful obedience as the saints of God. There seems to be little point in knowing anything else about the Holy Spirit if our desire first is not this.