Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.



May 2021



Life in the Spirit

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Some of the most comforting promises in the New Testament are those that refer to the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of the believer.  My thoughts immediately go to the Upper Room and Jesus’ parting words to the disciples. After the shock and awe of his announced departure, Jesus said to them, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”[1] Jesus pledged that he would not leave his disciples as orphans. With his departure “another Helper” would come who would be like him in supplying everything needed to obey his commission. As we can imagine, this was a difficult teaching for the twelve. How would this happen?

Then came Pentecost, and the Spirit of the living God was given to the church.[2]  The disciples then began to understand that God did not dwell in a building made with hands, but the living God dwelt within every believer, just as Christ had promised. In Paul’s letters, he would emphasize the seal of the Spirit on the believer’s life and that “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”[3] Through the saving work of Christ, the new covenant established that God’s law would not be written on tablets of stone, but on the heart of the believer.[4]  The prophet Ezekiel referenced the new covenant with great hope as he declared the word of the Lord: 

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.[5]  

The Spirit’s Power for Altar Living

I’m drawn to this important doctrine because the Holy Spirit’s power is essential to presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices.  Life on the altar is not empowered by human grit but by the Holy Spirit. I believe we could include the beautiful ministry of the Spirit in Paul’s reference to the “mercies of God” in Romans 12:1.[6]  

An overview of Romans reveals that there are twenty-seven references to the Holy Spirit in this letter. Romans 8 carries the lion’s share as Paul mentions the active work of the Holy Spirit on behalf of the believer seventeen times. This chapter is a treasure trove of insight into the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer’s life:

-Romans 8:4 reveals that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

-Romans 8:5,6- “Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds of the things of the Spirit. To set our minds on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

-Romans 8:9,10- You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

-Romans 8:11– If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

-Romans 8:13- Through the Spirit we put to death sin in our lives, 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.”

-Romans 8:14- For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

-Romans 8:15- you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

-Romans 8:16- The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

-Romans 8:26,27- the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

These are amazing promises! Life in the Spirit is one of the most treasured blessings we can know because the Holy Spirit supplies the power of God to our frail life and efforts. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit:

-We can live pleasing and obedient lives before the Lord 

-Our minds are continually renewed for God’s purposes 

-We are empowered to overcome sin 

-We are led as sons of God

-We are adopted into God’s forever family and He becomes our “Abba! Father!”

-We are helped by the Holy Spirit moment-by-moment because he intercedes for us. 

The Holy Spirit’s Help and Intercession

R. A. Torrey was a faithful Christian leader in the span of his life (1856-1928). Torrey was a man of scholarship as well as devotion. He graduated from Yale University and Yale Divinity school, as well as studies in Germany.  He pastored what would later be Moody Church in Chicago as well as providing oversight of the Moody Bible Institute. He would later found Biola University in Los Angeles and served as its dean. 

Torrey was honed in the crucible of suffering. He referenced in his booklet, Death Defeated and Defied: A Message of Comfort, Consolation, and Cheer, “A little daughter aged nine years and twelve days, left our home to go to be with Christ.”[7] This little girl named, “Elizabeth,” was killed in what the world would call an accident. The funeral came, and as they looked at the freshly dug grave Mrs. Torrey was heard saying to her husband, “I’m so glad Elizabeth is not in that box.”  Their grief increased until finally they made their way home.

The next morning Torrey began the walk to his office down the streets of Los Angeles. The loss overtook him causing him to pause and lean against a light post.  He claimed in that moment that the grief broke over him afresh. The loneliness of her absence.  The terrible feeling that they would never hear her laughter again, never see her face, never witness her growth. As he leaned against the light post, he began to pray and this is what he experienced:

“And just then, the fountain, the Holy Spirit whom I had in my heart broke forth with such power as I think I had never experienced before, and it was the most joyful moment I had ever known in my life.  It is an unspeakably glorious thing to have within you a fountain ever springing up, springing up, springing up, ever springing up 365 days in every year, springing up under all circumstances.”

Dwight L. Moody was a contemporary of R. A. Torrey. He was a man with sixth grade education and preached with unpolished speech, nevertheless Moody was used mightily by God in both America and Great Britain. In one of his biographies, Moody recounted a significant moment in which the Holy Spirit brought power to his struggling ministry:

One day, in the city of New York — oh, what a day! — I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name . . . I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world — it would be small dust in the balance.[8]

Life on the altar requires the Spirit’s power and enablement. Jesus told his disciples, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”[9] How wonderful it is that God has given to us the Holy Spirit who accomplishes within us and through us works we could never do on our own.  

The Spirit and the Gifts Are Ours

Martin Luther’s famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” reminds me of the church’s need for Holy Spirit empowerment in our efforts to advance Christ’s Kingdom. In the hymn, Luther describes the cosmic battle between the prince of darkness, who has no equal on this earth, and the Lord God Almighty who is sovereign. We are warned in verse 2 not to trust in our own abilities, “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving will be losing.” Our efforts to advance in this spiritual struggle will be in vain if we rest in our own resources. The hymn concludes with great triumph and encouragement for the people of God.  God’s victory is sure because his word is above all earthly powers. God will have the final say. But until then, believers are encouraged in the battle because “the Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.”  May we press forward with confidence and courage in the Spirit’s power as we point our generation to the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. 

[1] John 14:16,17

[2] Acts 2:1-47

[3] Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:9

[4] Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12

[5] Ezekiel 36:26–27

[6] In earlier posts, we emphasized the importance of the transition in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…” Paul is referring back to all of God’s redeeming grace through Christ set forth in Romans 1-11. Certainly, Paul’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s ministry is included in God’s rich mercy to us.

[7] Torrey, R. A., “Death Defeated and Defied: A Message of Comfort, Consolation, and Cheer” (1923). Biola Publications. 3.

[8] W. R. Moody, The Life of D. L. Moody, New York: 1900, p. 149.

[9] John 15:5

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