We have looked at the parallel passage in Romans 8 where Paul wrote more extensively on the subject of the life in the Spirit to help us appreciate how the various exhortations in Galatians 5 and 6 can be interpreted and applied wholesomely. But there are more aspects on this subject we need to consider as well.
The Spirit is given to believers as a powerful gift, dwelling in us, to enable us, not only to combat the sinful nature of the ‘old man’ and to put to death (mortify) the misdeeds of the body but also to empower us to fulfil the requirements of the law, to strengthen us to be holy, and to transform us to be like Christ, and to ultimately glorify us in the consummation of God’s plan at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.The Spirit is the third Person of the Godhead, and by His ministry, He brings the reality and experience of the Father and the Son to the believer such that the believer can have intimate communion with the Triune God and experience the joy, the pleasure, and the presence of God in the life of the believer (Romans 8: 5-8, 9,14-16 ESV).
We have considered the fact that once we were enslaved to the devil, the guilt and power of sin, but this has changed when we become Christians, and we have a new Master in Christ, One who is gracious, merciful and loving and He ‘lifts us up’ to become the persons He desires us to be (Romans 8:1-3) . The Scripture does express this ‘new creation’ as no longer being slaves to sin but now being slaves to righteousness; Paul addressed himself as the bond-slave of Jesus Christ. But we must not retain the idea that we are compelled as a slave to serve God and righteousness by the concept of what a slave is.
The Spirit of God gives us a definite assurance that we are God’s children (vv15-16) and we can relate to God intimately and call Him ‘Abba’ (daddy). We serve God and love Him not as ‘slaves’ compelled to do so; we serve to please our God and Father – we are heirs of God and God has reserved an ‘inheritance’ for us to share with His Son, our elder brother Jesus – everything that is Christ’s is ours (vs 17). We are ‘slaves’ because of love, gratitude, and a deep response of seeking the honour and glory of the Triune God, and in a family relationship that is heavenly and eternal. We know in the depths of our hearts that the Triune God loves us so deeply and sacrificially that nothing we can do for Him in return can fully and truly ‘repay’ Him for all that He has done for us from eternity to eternity.
But we must not forget that our present experience is one of suffering and weakness in the context of a fallen world, with the reality of spiritual warfare, and a decaying body (under the weight of sickness, deterioration and death – vs 18). Even the creation groans under the frustration of its growth-decay cycle and it is waiting for its liberation from this bondage when Christ returns (vs 19).
We have received the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our salvation (vs23), the first fruits. We groan and ‘suffer’ as we wait for the rest of the payment when our bodies will be transformed (cf 1 Corin. 15:35)
What this means is that salvation is ‘already’ and ‘not yet’. Our present experience is one of suffering, groaning, weakness and pain until the final transformation and consummation of God’s eternal plan of salvation. We should not be deceived into thinking that the experience of life on earth is one triumph after another, with healing, prosperity and well-being to be expected as if we have arrived (the teaching of triumphalism, prosperity gospel).
But we need not lose heart. Romans 8 ends with the assurance and promise: God is at work in all things for our good (vs 28). In verse 29, Paul brings us to eternity past and shows us that God knows us before we existed and this ‘good’ ls God’s plan to make us like Jesus – He desires a people of His own and a family like Jesus, the first-born, the one in unique relationship with the Father, but also one of us because He is the firstborn brother. This ‘good’ is not health and comfort and wealth.
We need to remember that the Lord Jesus said that if anyone would come after Him, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Him. The cross speaks of suffering, death and weakness. But the cross also speaks of weakness leading to true strength in God, death leading to life (resurrection), and suffering leading to glory (the ascension and glorification of Jesus). If we deny ourselves, and take up our cross and follow Him, we would find strength from God in our weakness, new revitalised ‘life’ as we deny ourselves and our ‘rights’, and the promise of glory even in our suffering – this is the hope we have in Christ!
In the meantime, we do not lose heart; God the Father is above us, ruling and undertaking, Christ walks besides us and intercedes for us from the Father’s right hand and the Spirit lives within us, indwelling us, working from within to complete and perfect God’s plan of salvation for believers as individuals and for His new community and recreation.