This morning Paul will conclude his teaching on sanctification. Thus far we have learned that it is the second step in the salvation process, following justification (step one) and preceding glorification (step three). Sanctification begins with the act of regeneration, which sets up a lifelong conflict between the believer’s new righteous spiritual nature and their old fleshly carnal nature.
Sanctification is defined by Southern Baptists as follows: “Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life.”
Over the past few weeks we have highlighted various aspects of this definition, emphasizing that sanctification is an ongoing experience that begins at the moment we are born again and continues until the day we die. It is the process of spiritual growth and maturity in Christ. We are sanctified as an act of God’s grace as He sets us apart from the world for His own purposes.
The one component of sanctification we have left to discuss is the role of the Holy Spirit in the process. It is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within a saved person that enables them to overcome the lusts of the flesh and to live in obedience to the commands of God. The activity of Holy Spirit is critical to Christian growth and development. How can we hope to become more like Christ if we neglect the leading of the Holy Spirit within us?
Today’s sermon has 4 major points - The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, The Leading of the Holy Spirit, The Influence of the Holy Spirit, and Our Obligation to the Holy Spirit. We will examine these verses in a different order than they were written, simply for the purposes of clarity.
I. THE INDWELLING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Romans 8:9-11)
Although a redeemed person still retains a body of flesh they are not to be considered “in the flesh” but rather “in the Spirit”. This is because the Holy Spirit lives inside them. God sees saved people through the lens of Christ’s righteousness which is affirmed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The presence of the Holy Spirit within a person is the evidence that that individual belongs to God. If the Holy Spirit is absent, that person does not belong to the LORD. There are many ways that the Holy Spirit makes himself known within the life of a person, and these proofs should be visible to some degree in all Christians.
Notice in these verses that there is a clear distinction between the Spirit of God (which is capitalized) and the human spirit (which is not capitalized). We must understand the spirit of a man is not the same thing as the Holy Spirit. When a person comes to Christ, they are made spiritually alive through regeneration and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. These are two separate and distinct, yet simultaneous, actions.
II. THE LEADING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Romans 8:14-16)
The Holy Spirit plays several different roles in the life of a Christian. Scripture says that He helps us when we pray and that He secures our salvation, among many other things. Of chief concern in these verses is the Spirit’s leadership in our lives. Those who allow themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit are called the sons of God.
The human spirit of a saved person has been made alive to God and will recognize Him as Father. Only the spiritual nature of a man is able to see and know God. The spirit of a regenerate person will instinctively seek guidance from the Holy Spirit.
The Christian has not received a spirit of slavery to sin, but rather a spirit which is forever free from the fear wrought by sin. The Holy Spirit is in agreement with our human spirit, both testifying that we are indeed children of God if we have been born again. The Holy Spirit enters into the believer’s life in order to lead them and assist them in the process of Christian maturity and to assure them of their own salvation.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Romans 8:5-8)
The Holy Spirit appeals to our human spirit, which in turn appeals to our hearts & minds (our souls). The Holy Spirit not only provides us with direction so that we can walk in obedience to God, but also provides us with the power to do so. When we set our minds on the leadings of the Spirit of God, we discover a purpose-filled life and an overwhelming peace.
On the other hand, if we allow the demonic influence of Satan to dictate our thoughts while ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit, we will find only death and destruction. The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God and cannot subject itself to His law. It is impossible for a carnally minded person to please God.
The amount of influence that the Holy Spirit exercises over a person is not the same thing as the extent of His presence within a person. A child of God is indwelt by the entirety of Holy Spirit at the point of their salvation. Over the course of their lives they will never get more of the Holy Spirit, or somehow end up with less of Him. But even though the Holy Spirit is fully present within them, a Christian still has the choice to follow or reject Him. This is what we actually see fluctuating within the life of God’s children - not the Spirit’s presence but rather His influence over our stubborn minds.
IV. OUR OBLIGATION TO THE HOLY SPIRIT (Romans 8:1-4,12-13)
Paul actually begins this chapter with the conclusion that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He then explains that he arrived at that conclusion because the Spirit of Christ sets us free from the law of sin and death. The Old Testament written Law appealed to a man’s spirit, but it was ultimately too weak to empower them to overcome the sinfulness of the flesh. Therefore God sent His son Jesus to die for the sins of mankind so that the requirement of the law would be filled, thereby freeing humanity to live according to the Spirit.
Because of the great sacrifice that He made on our behalf, all Christians owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to of Lord Jesus and to the Holy Spirit of God who was upon Him. In this passage Paul emphasizes our obligation to the Holy Spirit because He is, in part, responsible for our salvation and eternal livelihood.
We should not serve God merely out of a sense of obligation or duty. We should be motivated by a genuine love for Him and a deep gratitude for all that He has done for us. That said, we would be foolish to forget that we do owe Him a debt that we ourselves can never repay and therefore do have an obligation to serve Him with all of our being.
Last Sunday I said, “Sanctification allows us to become what justification already declared us to be.” It affords us with the opportunity to enjoy the journey rather than be immediately transported to the destination. But if we are to become more like Christ, it will happen only as we allow the Holy Spirit to take the lead over our lives.
The Holy Spirit can be compared to the West-Texas wind. Where I grew up in the Permian Basin the wind was always blowing. In a similar way the Holy Spirit is always stirring. The question is, “How are we going to set the sails of our life?” If we discount the breeze of the Holy Spirit, we might set our course in another direction and be controlled by the lusts of the flesh. But if we turn our sails to catch the Spirit wind, not only will He direct our course and lead our spirits, but will also propel us forward with greater power and efficiency. This is what it truly means to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”.
Christian growth and maturity require the activity of the Holy Spirit. His working in our lives is paramount in the ongoing process of sanctification. As our spirits submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit within us, and then exercise control over the fleshly nature that still lingers, we are increasingly sanctified and set apart for purposes of God.