What is living according to the Spirit?

Last updated on January 4, 2022

Romans 8 is considered by many to be the climax of the Bible. It has been said: the letter to the Romans is the Himalayas of the Bible. And Romans 8 is the Mount Everest. Romans 8 describes the lives of believers. In a nutshell, it says: they live according to the Spirit. But what does that mean?

Life according to the Spirit is a transformed life

  • First of all, living according to the Spirit means being set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Paul said earlier in Romans that people without God must be sinning. That is a natural law. They can’t do otherwise. Just as a stone you let go of must fall, a person without God must sin. But if you believe, that law is broken. You are set free from that.
  • Second, living by the Spirit means that the righteous requirement of the law can be fulfilled in us (Romans 8:4) and that we have been given the power to overcome sin (Romans 8:13). The law is good, but people without God do not have the power to live by the law. But, Paul says, we do. We can say “no” to sin. By this he does not mean that we keep the law so that God will love us. No, we have already been adopted as children of God. And now we have received the power to do what the law always said we should do, but we couldn’t do it. Now we do it out of love for the Lord Jesus. He said, “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me” (John 14:21).
  • Third, living according to the Spirit means that our desires have changed. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). You long to praise and glorify God. You experience being active in a church where God is magnified not as a burdensome task but as a privilege. You long for everyone to hear the Gospel, so you commit yourself, with your time and money, to evangelism and missions. You long for other people to come to their destiny, so you want to help them.
  • Fourth, living by the Spirit means that we have become children of God. “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). God is your Father. This provides a certainty that cannot be overturned. As a Father, God never abandons His children. We belong to Him, and we belong to Him forever. That gives tremendous joy.

Fighting against sin

I must say that I am very happy that in this section it also says, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13) and not “If by the Spirit you have put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”. The latter phrase would mean that sin is behind us. For by “the deeds of the body” is meant our old self and our sinful tendencies. But the phrase is written in the present tense. Sin must be continually resisted and killed by the power of the Spirit. That is never behind us. It is quite true that sin continues to pull at us. Paul described that in Romans 7. But it is also absolutely true that we live by the power of the Spirit, overcoming sin. That is what we read in Romans 8.

So, it is good to be troubled by your sin. Because then you will want to kill the sin. If you are not troubled by your sins, then the question is: aren’t you overlooking something? How are you fulfilling the Biblical command to kill the deeds of the body? After Jesus, are you the first person ever not to struggle with sin?!? If you feel that way, it’s more likely that you’re thinking about it too lightly!

Assurance of faith

There are also people who don’t think too lightly about it. If someone says to me “Pastor, I am so burdened by sin”, I say, “Great! Then don’t do it anymore”. Then being troubled by your sin should not lead to doubts about your salvation. Romans 8 is precisely about certainty of faith. It begins with certainty: there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). This is already established when it talks here about the struggle against sin. What is at issue here is being a child of God. Who are children of God, it says in Romans 8:13? Those who are led by the Spirit of God.

How do you know you are led by the Spirit of God? Romans 8:13 says, when you put to death by the Spirit the deeds of the body. And when do you want to kill sin? Of course when you are troubled by it! So don’t let being troubled by your sin rob you of the certainty of faith. On the contrary, being troubled by your sin is an important evidence of your faith.

If you live according to the Spirit, and thus struggle against sin, then the objective truth that there is eternal life through faith in Christ becomes a subjective assurance in your heart. For then this happens, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). Circumstances can be difficult. Even brothers and sisters in the church can attack you. The devil may try to make you doubt. It doesn’t matter, because the Spirit of God gives you that deep inner conviction that you are a child of God.

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