I was taught that living a spirit-filled life would be fairly simple. Ask Christ to fill me in response to the command to “be filled with the Spirit”; he would do it and – boom – I start acting like Jesus.
Reality tells me otherwise.
Romans 7 says it best. I know the law. I love the law. I can’t follow the law.
Everything I want to quit doing, I keep doing. Everything I want to do, I find impossible. I am “wretched” and miserable. I find myself in an impossible situation.
If we are true followers of Jesus, we desperately want to please him. We want to follow him closely and let the people in our world know who he is and how much he loves them, by watching how we respond to people and to life. (If this is not our desire, then perhaps we need to question the reality of our faith. Perhaps we haven’t truly met him. But that’s a whole other topic.)
When I first responded to Jesus, I was deliriously happy. Everything made sense and my heart changed. I was a brand new person, just like the Bible had told me I would be. I wanted to please God because he had done so much for me. This has never changed.
But as I got older and life got more complicated – husband, children, ministry, then grandchildren and the beginnings of “old age” – I found that I could not just determine to be Christ-like and it would happen. Yes, the Holy Spirit lets me know daily that I truly am a child of God. (One of the ways he does this is by convicting me powerfully when I am not glorifying his name. If I was not his child, he wouldn’t bother.) But many times if you watched my private world or knew my private thoughts, you would say that I am living a Romans 7 life to the T. At those times, I am not a happy person.
Of course there is an answer to this dilemma. There has to be. Paul asks the question “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?” (Romans 7:24) Notice that he doesn’t say, “What can I do to get myself out of my predicament?” or “Where can I find an answer to my problem?” He says “Who will free me?”
When I first met Christ, Romans 8:1 became my favorite verse because I had lived a woefully sinful life. It says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Jesus Christ from the power of sin that leads to death.” I have been freed from my greed, my idolatry, my immorality, my irritability, my selfishness, even my anxiety. I have been freed from sin. It is a done deal.
The key to living free is remembering this every day – every hour. Saying a prayer to be filled with the Spirit means nothing if I don’t realise that Christ has changed me, has given me a “heart of flesh” in the place of the one that was once cold and dead. My accuser tells me I haven’t changed when I have a selfish, irritable day. God tells me something else. He tells me to live in reality. He tells me to quit pretending to be an unbeliever.
What freedom and joy there is when I live in the truth. The Spirit of God is alive in me and if I believe it -“abide” in him - the results follow. I don’t get angry in traffic. I really listen to the poor woman who doesn’t know how to end a conversation over the phone. I am calm and loving in my disagreements with my husband. People see Jesus in me.
Romans 8:12 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.” What a glorious truth.
I was recently at the funeral of an elderly lady who lived and walked in the Spirit of God consistently for most of her life. The funeral went on for two hours as people praised God for her joyful and resilient spirit. I do not have her personality, or her life experience, but there is no reason why I can’t be known for living in the joy of Christ for the rest of my days.
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