Discipleship – the Life of the Spirit
In a word, the life of the Spirit is love.
God’s love is patient (Exodus 34:6), tenacious (Hosea 11:8-11), lavish (Luke 15:11-32), sacrificial (John 15:13), and extends even to His enemies (Matthew 5:44-45). The Scripture goes so far as to say that God is love (1 John 4:8). Furthermore, it says that this God, who is love, came to earth in the man Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9). Now, through the Holy Spirit, this God dwells in the hearts of all those who believe in Jesus (Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:22; 2 Timothy 1:14; James 4:5).
The Holy Spirit awakens and strengthens faith in Jesus. In this way, he enables us to know and share the love of God our Father.
The Spirit works by focusing our attention on what Jesus said and did. His words and actions reveal the boundless depths of his love for sinners. The more that we hear of and meditate upon his love for us, the more we will love him in return, and the freer we will be to love others.
Whatever else they may do, “Spirit-filled Christians” and “Spirit-filled Churches” continually read about Jesus, talk about Jesus, pray to Jesus, and worship Jesus. To know Jesus is to love him; to love him is to obey him (John 14:15); to obey him is to love others (John 13:34); to love others is to be filled with the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17); to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be taught about Jesus (John 14:26). The life of the Spirit is an upward spiral of being loved and loving in response (1 John 4:19).
Any honest assessment of ourselves and our churches reveals that we often fail to manifest God’s love. This is to be expected. Like all living things, the life of the Spirit grows and develops over time, gradually changing people, families, churches, and the world. This growth takes many different forms and comes about through many different means. Study produces greater knowledge; prayer cultivates a sense of God’s presence; worship imparts a sense of God’s glory; the practice of love in relationships makes manifest God’s mercy. But while the means and forms of the Spirit’s work vary, they all direct us to Jesus, with the goal that we “abide in him” (1 John 2:27).
New Christians follow the Spirit’s lead without even realizing it. Like newborn babies who cry out for more milk, new Christians cry out for more of Jesus, and the Spirit gladly fulfills their desires. Those who have experienced seasons like this look back on them fondly, and rightly so! But precious as they are, we must not use such seasons as the only yardstick for the life of the Spirit.
Babies who grow into mature, healthy adults learn how to trust and wait for good things instead of demanding them. They also learn that some “needs” are actually “wants,” the lack of which they can accept. In the same way, the mature life of the Spirit exhibits love for and hope in Jesus, even in the midst of suffering:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
It is important to note that the life of the Spirit grows in both individuals and groups (families, friends, and congregations). The Spirit does not manifest his presence and power in the same way in each person. This is by design, with the goal that all Christians will perceive their need for one another, and will use their own gifts gladly for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Paul explains that the Spirit does this, as he does everything, in order to glorify Jesus:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
If I were to sum up “the life of the Spirit” in one sentence, it would be this: The life of the Spirit is a God-given, shared desire to know Jesus deeply, to love Jesus fiercely, and to share this love sacrificially. It is this desire – this spark of new life – that the “grace killers” in Galatians seek to extinguish.