With these words Jesus was launched into His ministry, which could not begin until He had been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus always was and never ceased to be God the Son; but He came to earth to serve God’s will and purpose as a man. And as a man – even the sinlessly perfect man – He had to be empowered by God to do God’s work. The Holy Spirit of God had to inundate and saturate His humanity – His being – if He was to carry out God’s will for God’s glory.
The first stage of His ministry, a kind of initiation into the human condition, was a grueling round of temptations by the devil himself. The first man, Adam, had fallen flat on his face at his very first temptation (Gen. 3). Now Jesus, the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), had to be initiated in the same way, and He had to overcome that same tempter. How did He do this? Read on.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from (baptism in) the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for 40 days being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, He was hungry … When the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (Lk. 4:1-14).
Of course Jesus never fell to temptation. He overcame it in the power of the Holy Spirit, who filled Him and led Him. In fact, the contest was not simply between a man and the devil; it was the devil against the Holy Spirit, and the victory was never in doubt. Thus Jesus, fully under the Spirit’s influence and control while assaulted by the devil’s full arsenal of temptation, emerged still fully under the Spirit’s control. Awesome submission! Magnificent victory!
We humans are utterly helpless to follow our Savior or to serve or honor Him in this life apart from the power and enabling of His Holy Spirit. Praise God, the same Holy Spirit that filled, led and energized our Lord Jesus as He confronted the devil, and in every moment of His earthly career is with us and within us. And Jesus promised that the Spirit would be with us forever (Jn. 14:16) to guide us, instruct us and enable us.
Jesus taught His disciples about the Spirit’s coming, and the gifts and abilities He would bring them (Jn. 14-16). This same Spirit inspired Paul to also teach us about the Spirit’s work in our lives. One chapter especially, Romans 8, is a landmark chapter on the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life.
In the first seven chapters of Romans the Holy Spirit is mentioned only a few times as Paul lays out the foundations of our faith and our new life in Christ. But in chapter 8 the Spirit explodes into the text 20 times! At the end of Romans 7 Paul sounds extremely frustrated, nearly defeated, in his struggle between his new-born desires to live for God and the sinful instincts of his human nature. Listen to him: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate … I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing … who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15-24). It sounds like the overwhelming frustration of an addict.
If Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ and mature Christian leader, struggled with an energetic and persistent sinful nature, don’t we? Clearly, we are all hopelessly addicted, not to drugs, sex or alcohol, but to self – to my flesh and to its urgings and cravings! All other addictions are simply expressions of this fundamental soul slavery.
Paul knew that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18). We know this too, in theory, but we often forget it. As humans, we are all helplessly “hooked” on self and sin, and thus condemned before God. But Romans 8 triumphantly proclaims that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), not only with respect to our sinful past, but also our present power to live beyond sinning!
“For the law of the Spirit of life has set (us) free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (8:2). All of our sins were judged when they were laid on Jesus Christ and He bore them in His body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). Now He has sent His Holy Spirit – the very Holy Spirit who indwelled and empowered Him against the devil – to fill and empower us. A new rule is in force in the believer’s life: the rule of the Spirit that frees us in Christ Jesus from the ongoing rule of sin and death. We now carry it in our new-birth DNA. What a supernatural resource! How did God accomplish it? “By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (8:3).
With what result? “In order that the righteous requirement of the law (that law that we cannot possibly fulfill) might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:4). We now “walk by the Spirit, and … will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16-23).
The text goes on to say, “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (8:5). Our behavior follows our mind, our thoughts and our inner heart: “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts (and behavior)” (Mk. 7:20-23). And James tells us that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (Jas. 1:14).
We are being taught about the Spirit’s power and role in our new-born lives so that we can focus our minds on what concerns the Spirit, what comes through His guidance and motivations in our hearts.
“You … 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” (8:9-10). Only true believers in Christ have the Spirit and are under His rule. The Scripture never depicts the Christian as “doing his own thing.” It is our new-born supernatural instinct to behave, or walk “according to the Spirit.”
So if we try to live our lives on our own terms, we are a living contradiction of our Christian identity! It is the believer’s characteristic behavior to live under the rule of the Holy Spirit. Self-will is not Christian behavior, though sadly we all indulge in it, effectively “grieving” the Spirit’s leading in our lives (Eph. 4:25-30).
But since “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He … will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11). Dead bodies can’t bear fruit for God. But the Spirit in us resurrects an otherwise dead body, infusing it with the vitality of Christ and capable of bearing fruit for God.
“So then … we are debtors, not to the flesh … but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (8:12-13). Our only obligation to God is to live the Spirit-energized life that He has freely given us. We owe nothing to that old flesh that only gets us into trouble with God. We are free to serve our new-born destiny – to serve our God!
How do we “put to death the deeds of the body”? By the Spirit and through grace we are equipped to “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Ti. 2:12). To say a final “No” to such deeds of the body whenever tempted is to effectively kill them. This should be the behavior of every child of God empowered by the Spirit! “All who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God” (8:14).
“You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (8:15-16). The Spirit is our divine awareness of our status as God’s children, and our motivation to live the life that is natural for His children. And we are not simply empowered by God’s Spirit, but we actually have God’s nature; we have been born anew of His seed (1 Pet. 1:23; 1 Jn. 3:9). God’s seed, God’s very nature, cannot sin!
As God’s children we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (8:17). Remember that it was our sin that caused the corruption that permeates creation. Our Savior took the blame for our sin and suffered God’s wrathful judgment in His own body (8:3). Now, though we are redeemed, creation at large is not yet redeemed, but “waits in eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God … (when) the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:18-21).
In this world we still suffer the effects of sin. Our Savior bore the root cause of our sin, but the creation itself is still desperately sick under sin’s effects. Until the full and final result of His redemptive work is realized, we continue to live with those effects. But, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (8:18). When our Savior takes us from this world, our bodies will at last be redeemed from sin’s curse. Then He will re-create the universe in flawless perfection.
But for now, creation writhes in the pains of that coming re-birth (8:19-22) – the physical and moral earthquakes that daily rock our planet. “Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the … Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved … (and) we wait … with patience” (8:23-25) to be finally saved, spirit, soul and body, from the presence and power of sin, when all creation will be finally liberated from the bondage to corruption that has reigned since the first sin in Eden.
Creation groans, we groan, and the Spirit within us also groans, sharing our distress and connecting us to the source of power to endure and succeed. He “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” (8:26-27).
Just as God heard His people’s groaning under Egyptian slavery and remembered them (Ex. 2:24-25), so now “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer” (1 Pet. 3:12). Our groaning is heard by the Spirit and presented to God as His own groaning; and our anguish and our needs are made known to God in harmony with His will, and we are kept in vital contact with Him who is working out His will in us.
So our distress is not pointless. Paul said: “This light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28-30), which is to transform us into the image of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ!
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org