Imagine that your house is a single cell that measures 6 X 8 feet. In your house, you have a bed, table, chair, locker, a few shelves, lights and a window. You have access to a community bathroom located at the end of the hallway. Every day at 7:00 am, 11:30 am, 5:00 pm and 9:30 pm. you must stand and show yourself in your cell to be counted before the Keepers of the Law. You may not leave your cell, except at set times for set purposes. You eat what is served to you at the appointed times: that’s one of the many rules in your life. You may see your family on the other side only at appointed or pre-arranged times. At all times you are being watched by security cameras or the Keepers of the Law. There are many rules governing what you can and cannot do. Many of these are the official laws that you must obey or face punishment, but there are also many unofficial laws made by the inmates, most of who are jockeying for position. To disobey these rules, many of which you have never been told, is also to face punishment.
If this sound like prison: it is! But it’s also a fairly accurate description of a life that is lived by the flesh and not by the Spirit. A life that walks according to the flesh needs all sorts of rules and laws to keep it in line, because it is a wicked child who will not internalize the difference between the wise man and the fool.
Let me explain the difference between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit another way. Sometimes, we get the idea that Paul is saying that life in the flesh is one that tries to keep God’s Law and that life in the Spirit is one that needs no law. But this is to twist Paul’s words and to allow for the antinomianism he so carefully warns against.
First, I must ask a question. “What was/is the purpose of the Law?” There are a lot of answers one could give. It is to teach us right from wrong, and to restrain evil, but especially it is a schoolmaster who is to lead us to Christ. And this, I believe, is the difference between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit: that a life in the flesh pays more attention to the laws than to the One who is the end of the Law.
But even after we have been given the Spirit, we are subject to be tempted to think that life in the Spirit is a kind of spontaneous, gleeful, lawlessness. Me genoito! God forbid! How can life in the Spirit deny what the Spirit has inspired men to write – that love is the fulfillment of the Law, because love is the royal law that gives life (see Galatians 5:14, James 1:25, 2:8).
Here’s another way to see what I’m trying to say. I tried for years to please God, more or less, by trying to be good in various ways. I’m not saying that I didn’t have true faith or understand grace, but I still thought much of my sins. Somewhere along the road, years ago, God told me to fish on the other side of the boat, and that I really only had to keep one Law to please Him: to love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind. In other words, I’m mature enough and have been instructed enough in the ways of the Lord, that if I seek the Lord (knowing Him and His will), I will better please Him and keep His commandments than if I try first to keep the commandments so that I might come to Him. It’s a deductive spirituality, and not an inductive one: I don’t build up to God using my own bricks of obedience but rather I build upon Christ Himself and from there I know where to put the bricks.
Take a look at what Paul teaches about the Spirit, and you will see amazing, wondrous, pleasing things. There is a carnal mindset, and there is a Spiritual mindset, which leads to life and peace (verse 7). If the Spirit of God dwells in you, then you are in the Spirit (verse 9). If you live by this Spirit, you will put to death the deeds of the body and will live (verse 13). In other words, the keeping of the Law isn’t contrary to life in the Spirit but the Spirit is the One who encourages and empowers us to please and obey God, as did the Son. As many as are led by the Spirit are the children of God (verse 14), and the Spirit Himself bears witness to us that we are the children of God and therefore the heirs of God (verses 16-17).
What is this inheritance? It’s not some earthly treasure, and it’s not even some golden city in heaven. Our inheritance, our treasure, is God Himself, to whom the Spirit brings us.
I’m not saying this very well because I’m still saying it too much with my head. Here’s what I really mean: that if we have true faith in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit and if we have the Holy Spirit then we will live by the Spirit, who will lead us to fulfill the law by more perfectly loving.
What I mean is that if you have the Spirit, then you have the Father and the Son, for He is the Spirit of adoption. Even on earth we have riches undreamed of. I wonder sometimes what a life that was perfectly lived in the Spirit might look like on me. I wouldn’t look like someone who just did what he wanted and was spontaneous and had a goofy smile all day long as he shafted his friends and broke his vows and didn’t work with his hands but was oh so spiritual. This is simply selfishness, no matter what holy words are used to mask it.
But it wouldn’t look like what my life often looks like: always looking over my shoulder to make sure I’ve done everything right and always fearful that I’ve not done things right. It would not be a life lived among the atoms of individual laws but an entire life lived among the One who is the Lawgiver, the perfect keeper of the Law, and my Treasure.
It would be a life that sometimes fell down at the feet of Christ because I know Him to be the burning vision of the book of Revelation. It would be a life spent on my knees because I acknowledge Him to be the Lord and my Judge. I’ve got that part down pretty well, at least in my head. Who knows? Maybe this is what the Spirit is trying to show some of you so you won’t be so flippant about Him or what He commands.
But life in the Spirit for me is to escape the prison of the Law that I sometimes make for myself. It is to see that Jesus is not only the burning Sun but also my Brother. I’m not convinced that “Abba” means “Daddy,” as so many glibly assume, so I won’t presume to assume that interpretation.
But I do know this: that because I’ve been adopted by God and made his child and heir, I’m privileged not only to call Him God and Lord and King and Judge but also, simply, Father. I’m also allowed, assumed, to be able to cry out to Him as a child, with all of the trust and confidence and intimacy of a child to his human parent.
And this is what I’m struggling to say today: that I desperately desire the fullness of this Spirit so that I may more frequently, passionately, and completely seek my Father and cry out to Him. I want to cry out in all my need and suffering and sorrow, and I want to cry out in all of my happiness and wholeness and joy!
I have been released from the prison house of the flesh and sin and the law! It’s time to live like it!
I want to be like a little child whose father has been gone on a trip and has just returned. I want to come bounding into His arms and tell Him how my day went and babble to Him and spill my guts and hopes and fears. I want to come to Him so He can hold me and comfort me and put His strong hand on me and call me “son” and send me out with His blessing and trust! I want to come to Him the way that little Gloria used to come to me sometimes: holding out her arms and waddling to me, saying, “Hold to you?” I want to know Him and His holy will so well that He is exactly what I want without having to think about it or debate it or question it!
My mother tells the story of when she was little and used to live in a house at Glenside, Pennsylvania, 2 blocks from the Reading railroad station. She used to wait for her father, my Grandpa Jones, to come home from work. When he got a little less than a block away (she would know what time to listen for him), he would let out a whistle like a bird, and she’d run to meet him. She’d hug him and walk home with him the rest of the way, and he’d buy a huge Charms lollipop and divide it into 5 pieces, one for each kid at home.
This is the kind of life in the Spirit that I want today and every day.
No, I want even more, Father. Even these words are words I’m writing for others. I want to talk directly to you, to run into your arms and be with You. I want to know what it means to be free through Your Son and to live in Your Spirit. I know no other way, Father, than to come to you, just as I am, to leave these black and white pages and inhabit the world where flesh and blood and spirit meet. And so I’m coming now to talk to you, my Father.
Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
What is the Spirit telling you about coming to the Father? How is He telling you to come? What is He asking you to say and to hear? How is He telling you to see the Father?
Resolution: I resolve to come to the Father today, to seek Him and His will. I resolve to start with prayer and wait until He tells me more.