Life by the Spirit – Part 1
One of the things I mentioned last week was the fact that in some ways we are more blessed than brothers and sisters in difficult places in the world, but in other ways they are more blessed than us. One of the ways that they are more blessed than us is that, because of the difficult of their situation, they feel the need to rely on the Holy Spirit. Now, we need it just as much as they do, but because we are blessed with such comfortable lives, we do not feel the need as sharply. We have fallen into what the Lord warns Israel of in Deuteronomy 6:10-12:
“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
The danger for the Israelites is that the blessings would be so abundant and free that they would forget the Giver who made them all possible. Is it not the same with us? The awful thing about our sinfulness is that we are prone to forget the Lord because of our abundant blessings instead of praising Him more. We have such abundance that we often forget that it is God alone who gives. So in the midst of all these blessings, we begin to feel self-sufficient. We begin to feel as though we have created all this abundance by our own hard work. We begin to feel as though we are entitled to these blessings.
Our brothers and sisters in Tunisia experience life differently. When they come to know they Lord, it is very clear to them that they must urgently rely on the Lord. There are times for them that, unless the Lord provides, they go hungry. Unless the Lord provides for them, they have no home or shelter. They must rely on the Lord when they are rejected by every family member and friend they’ve ever known. They realize their dependence on the Lord when no one will hire them because of their belief in Christ. And so they often times have the privilege of a more intimate knowledge of the Holy Spirit than we do. They BELIEVE that the Lord will act on their behalf. They have the audacity to pray and EXPECT God to answer their prayers. They read the Bible and actually order their lives according to the promises they see there. And they are not acting in such a way as to give God a way out if He decides not to come through. They don’t do like we often do: “Ok God, I’m going to expect you to provide for xyz, but just in case you don’t I’ll set this money aside, or make a back-up plan.” They live in such ways that if the Lord does not come through, they are sunk. I think one of the main things that enables them to live this way is their reliance on the Holy Spirit. They have been pushed to live by the Spirit because there is no other choice for them.
So, originally I was set on walking us through the passage in Romans to show us what living by the Spirit means, what it looks like. However, I realized yesterday that we need to take a step back in the process so that we can better understand the Holy Spirit. Before we address the questions of what living by the Spirit looks like, we need to ask: as Christians, what is our relationship with the Holy Spirit? What does the Spirit do for us? What does the entire Bible teach us about how God has interacted with His people regarding the Holy Spirit?
So, before we look at the Romans passage next week, what I’d like to do is set it in the context of the history of salvation. What I mean by that is this: I want to briefly show you how all that has happened in the Old Testament has led up to the writing of the Romans passage. This will help us understand what Paul is writing to the Roman church, and it will help us understand the gravity importance of what he says. So, what has the Bible said up until now about the Holy Spirit, and how does that prepare us for what Paul says here?
To help us see this, I want to frame it with a principle I mentioned last week as well: where there is water, there is life. I think that God interacted with Israel in such a way that water is often a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It becomes explicit as you move further through the Bible. So, let me walk you through some Scripture so you know what I’m talking about.
Towards the front of your Bibles, the way this theme works itself out is when people are saved through or by water. We see God working through water to give or preserve life in His people in every single case. Consider these examples:
- Genesis 6 – Noah was saved from the water, and the entire earth was reborn after the floods of water.
- Exodus 2 – Moses – he survived because he was hidden in the water when all the other male children were being killed
- Ex. 17 & Num. 20 – Israel – God provided abundant water from the rocks in the wilderness
- Exodus 14 – Israel – God parted the sea to let them pass through; did the same with the Jordan river
- Judges 15 – Samson – God again provides water out of a rock when he’s dying of thirst
- 2 Kings 2 – Elijah and Elisha – God parts the river for them just like Israel
- Once we get to the Psalms, we begin to hear the Psalmists speak of thirsting for God. So this idea of God providing life and salvation. (Psa. 42, 63, 143)
- As we move from the Psalms into the prophets we see the idea has grown into the image of water flowing from God himself (Eze 47), and God’s judgment is often described as making the land thirsty or withholding water. (Amos 5:24/8:11)
- Now, this is where it gets more exciting: through the prophets, we see that God has intended this relationship between water and salvation all along.
- “And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Shittim.”
(Joel 3:18 ESV)
- “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”
(Zechariah 9:11 ESV)
- “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.”
(Zechariah 14:8-9 ESV) — “living water”! That’s important.
So, with all of this as background, we get to the gospels. All of this talk about God providing water for the life and salvation of his people over and over again culminates in Jesus Christ.
Our first clue to this is in Matthew 3:11. In this we see John the Baptist shifting the idea of baptism. As John is baptizing, he is doing so to symbolize the salvation of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea, and the salvation of Moses through the waters of the Nile ( reference 1 Cor. 10:1-2), but John says, “Jesus is coming, and when He gets here he’s not going to use this symbolism of water anymore. He’s going to actually DO what all this symbolism has pointed to: He’s going to baptize you in the Holy Spirit!” AH, this is so exciting! John the Baptist here is saying that Jesus will bring the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 44:1-4:
“For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
like willows by flowing streams.
(Isaiah 44:3-4 ESV)
And the climax comes in the book of John. Throughout the Old testament we see God saving His people with water, then promising to pour out life-giving water on Israel. With John the Baptist in Matthew 3 we get the final building block of this upward climb to Christ. The very top of the mountain, the fulfillment of all this water imagery foreshadowing God’s salvation is in two passages in the gospel of John. The first is a story that we probably all know. It’s the story of the woman at the well.
“A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
(John 4:7-14 ESV)
“Living water”! Just like in Zechariah! Jesus tells this woman, in essence, “I AM the God is Israel! I gave them water in the desert. I parted the Red Sea. I promised to pour out living water. Here I am to do it!” He is proclaiming in this passage that all of these foreshadowing of the salvation of His people through water, all of these prophetic promises to satisfy the thirst of Israel with living water, all of these have reached their fulfillment in HIM! HE is the source of the water of life.
But He doesn’t stop there. He actually goes on later to tell us what the water of life is. If it’s not physical water, it’s got to be something. What is it? We’ve already said it several times – let’s make it more clear. John chapter 7:
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
(John 7:37-39 ESV)
The water of life that is foreshadowed through the Old Testament, which is promised by the prophets, and which Jesus says is completely in His power to give to anyone who asks…is the Holy Spirit. Again, Isaiah 44: “I will pour out water…I will pour out my Spirit…” John the Baptist in Matthew 3: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…” We see this first baptism in the Holy Spirit in Acts at Pentecost. We then see it throughout the New Testament as the apostles lay hands on the believers and pray that they would receive the Holy Spirit.
Every person who becomes a follower of Jesus Christ is baptized by the Spirit, because the Spirit is the one who creates eternal life in our hearts. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Salvation comes through the living water of Jesus Christ, and the living water is the Holy Spirit. Just as it is true that where there is water there is life, where the Spirit is, there is life. So we receive eternal life through the Spirit’s work in our hearts, but not only that: we continually thirst for more of the Spirit. In the beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us: “Blessed is the one who thirsts for righteousness.”
So I think the NT call to be thirsty; to drink from the living water of Christ, is telling us that we should live by the Spirit constantly. The Holy Spirit IS the water of life which Christ has given us for our eternal salvation, but we should thirst for MORE of this water every single day. We should ask God to give us MORE living water. We should pray that He would give us MORE of the Spirit. For plants to exist in the first place, they must have water. You crops would not exist without water. But ALSO, they must have a constant supply of water to survive. In the same way, our eternal salvation would not exist without the Holy Spirit being in our hearts, but we still require a constant supply of the Spirit to survive as Christians.
And THAT is life by the Spirit. It is a constant thirst for the Holy Spirit to act in our lives. It is life which daily seeks to drink deeply from the living water of the Spirit which is in us. Life by the Spirit means that we rely on the Holy Spirit as closely, or MORE closely, as we rely on water. We are led by the Spirit, we pray by the Spirit, we worship in the Spirit, we exhort each other in the Spirit, we share the gospel to make disciples by the power of the Spirit. We do ALL things with a constant attention to the Spirit. We are always listening to discern where the Spirit is leading us, and what God would have us do.
In a more tangible sense, how do we do that? How do we develop a thirst for God? How do we develop a reliance on the Spirit? How do we train ourselves to be sensitive to His leading? ANSWER: We constantly push ourselves to spend more time in prayer, in reading the Word, and in seeking God. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It SOUNDS simple, but for most of us it isn’t. How many of you spend more time now seeking God through prayer, fasting, and reading the Bible than you did this time last year? Do you spend more time doing these things now than 5 years ago? 10 years? Do you do them at all? You see, it sounds simplistic, but it takes discipline to cultivate these things. But we must! And God is able and ready to supply every ounce of strength it requires as we seek and thirst after Him. Live by the Spirit!