Romans 8:12-17 (NKJV)
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
The key word here is “led.” For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. OK, but what does it mean to be “led” by the Spirit? Are we all led by the Spirit or is this something we should strive for?
Both. All Christians have the Spirit and are led by the Spirit. That’s why Paul can say, to all his readers, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’” The Spirit is by whom we cry out, “Abba Father.” That’s Spirit led.
But Paul is also exhorting us here. Recall the context. We can’t stop sinning, even though we want to. But now we live according to the Spirit and are thus not under the law. Paul summarizes this in Galatians 5:16-18.
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (NKJV)
He’s commanding us to walk in the Spirit. But how?
This goes back to the previous passage, where Paul referred to what we “set our minds on.” As a practical matter, much of the challenge of walking in the Spirit is figuring out what He wants us to do next. That takes focus.
We need to set our minds on the Spirit so that we stay plugged in and don’t miss anything.
People who don’t know Christ think that being a good Christian is all about memorizing a bunch of rules and striving to follow them. That makes some sense. After all, it’s how we teach children to be safe. (Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t run with scissors.)
But being a good Christian is something else entirely. It’s more like an advanced listening skill. We are to walk according to the Spirit. The key to doing that is to set our minds on the Spirit.
While there are some obvious rules we should use to test spirits (see 1 John 4:1) our main task isn’t to obey rules but to follow the Spirit’s leading.
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