LEARNING TO LIVE BY THE SPIRIT
For the Jewish people, the coming of God in Christ was a fulfilment of ancient promises and was a culmination of the promises God had made to the people. The people of God were to move from being a people who operated by an external law to a people who operated by an internal law. They were to live as God’s people in the Spirit of God. This was God’s ultimate desire. He truly wanted the people to be able to make decisions in life that were based not so much on a reading of a code of laws ensuring that they were following the letter but rather on reflecting on the ultimate point of the law and that was to enable them to live their lives in the vision for life as God created it.
We know full well that there are many philosophies in this world. Each one seeks to direct our lives and give our lives meaning and purpose. For those of us who have chosen to put our faith in the God revealed through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, that means not only seeking to understand the mind of this God but also to be willing to accept and follow the path for life that this God has made known to us.
Perhaps you have never thought of seeking to understand the mind of God. So often we have been instructed and encouraged to simply follow the rules and commandments. But this does not lead us to be people who have made conscious thoughtful decisions about our lives and the way we have chosen to live our lives. If our choice to believe in God as revealed in Jesus Christ is simply a way of ensuring that we will live beyond the plane of this earth, then we have missed the point of our faith. To want to be part of the kingdom of God in heaven involves a willingness to be committed to realizing the kingdom of God here on this plane and in this time. The grace we receive from God that brings us forgiveness of sins and puts us into a relationship with God that cannot be broken by time or death is realized in our commitment to seek to understand God’s plan for life in general and then doing our best to put that plan into action in our own lives.
Something else we need to be conscious of is that religion is not the opiate of the people – as Karl Marx professed. Religion and faith are not meant to dull us or give us the belief that we have no responsibility for our words or actions. Our faith does remind us that we will have a life beyond this life and that we will come to the place where the will of God is perfect, but it does not take away any choice or ability to reason from us. Living by the Spirit of God is not a matter of simply saying yes to the Spirit and that then somehow our bodies and minds are controlled so that we do whatever the Spirit says without question.
The role of the Spirit of God – as expressed through the Gospel of John and as emphasized by Paul in his teaching – is that of guide, counsellor and teacher. In prayer, the Spirit of God can provide to us the words we need to express things that we struggle to know how to say but the Spirit does not control that struggle. Asking for the help of the Spirit of God does not take away any of our personality or mind but rather enhances our personality and helps us to more clearly see the path that we are to take through any struggle or hardship or situation that we may face. The Spirit of God will inform us of what the will of God is and will seek to educate us so that we can make decisions that will align our wills with that of God, but the Spirit does not make puppets of us.
It is clear from the very beginning of time that we were created as thinking beings that God expected would be able to respond and make decisions about our lives for ourselves but recognizing God’s gift of life and recognizing God’s right to be the Lord of all life. God’s desire to have us not eat of the tree of good and evil was his way of protecting us from so many of the dilemmas that that knowledge would bring. Yet somehow we believed that that knowledge would change our relationship and enable us to be an equal footing with God. And so we live in this generation – as every generation before and every generation after will – knowing good and evil and being faced with the challenge of allowing the Spirit of God to teach us what is good in the sight of God and how we can do good in the sight of God and in the presence of one another.
When you went to school, you were taught lessons – how to read, how to count, how to be creative. You listened to those teachers because they knew something you did not. When you went to work, you brought skills with you from your education, but you also learned from others how to apply those skills. You learned other lessons from your parents and other significant persons who took the time to guide you and help you.
In effect, that is exactly what Paul is saying to us here. We all need to learn from the Spirit of God lessons that will lead us on the path to living this life to the best of our ability and help prepare us to want to be part of that eternal kingdom life.
Paul very clearly lays out before us behaviours that he sees as unspiritual from a Christian perspective. I am sure that all of us can see ourselves exhibiting at least one of those behaviours at some time or other in our lives. His warning that those behaviours will not allow us to inherit the kingdom of God is not to have us despair of ever inheriting the kingdom of God but rather the warning is to help us see what does not contribute to what Paul describes as the whole law of God: Love your neighbour as yourself.
Paul wants us to be conscious of behaviours we may find present in ourselves that actively move us away from the Spirit of God and that harm our relationships with one another. He then encourages us to realize how the Spirit of God can guide us.
But we can only be encouraged to let the Spirit of God guide us and direct us if we are willing to accept and acknowledge that the Spirit of God is the source of our life. For Paul, the gift of the Holy Spirit from God was the most significant event in his life. Because God had granted him that gift he felt that his life had changed forever. And so, his willingness to allow the Spirit of God to guide and teach him, to lead him into the whole truth of God was a decision that came from his own mind and heart.
If we decide to live by the Spirit of God, then we are also to learn from the Spirit of God. Paul says, we are to walk by that Spirit. And as we walk by that Spirit, we will find ourselves more and more willing to live our lives with the Spirit of God as our centre and willing to walk this life as people who are centred in God. That centering should lead to a community life that is empty of self-conceit, provocation of one another and envy of one another.