None of us can overcome our sins and shortcomings without God's help. And God makes that help available to us through His Holy Spirit. But what exactly is that Spirit? How does it help us to change? And how do we receive it?
"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. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Romans:8:13-14).
None of us can overcome our sins and shortcomings without God's help. Even if we could by our own will alter our actions, only God can change our hearts.
This is why Paul appealed to members of the church in Rome not to be "conformed to this world, but [to] be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans:12:1-2) through the power of God's Spirit.
Earlier in this epistle, in chapter 8, he helps us understand how the Holy Spirit works in the life of a Christian. In verse 14 he writes that "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." Here we see that, to be considered God's children, we must be led by the Spirit of God.
He continues this same thought in verse 9. Here Paul dogmatically states that if you do not have God's Spirit dwelling in you, you are "not His." This is why it is vital that we repent and be baptized—so we can surrender our lives to God and receive the gift of His Spirit.
Paul elsewhere writes that you have "Christ in you" if you are a Christian (Colossians:1:27). It is through the power and influence of God's Spirit that we allow Christ to live in us.
Having received God's Spirit, Paul described his new outlook on life: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians:2:20, KJV).
Buried with Jesus in the watery grave of baptism, Paul now lived a life that was no longer his own. He described his transformed life as one of allowing Christ to live again within him. This is how we please God—by emulating His Son. Paul urged other believers to "imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians:11:1). He tells us to "let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5, New Revised Standard Version).
However, we cannot succeed at living a converted life strictly through our own efforts. We succeed through the use of God's power and help. Therefore, the glory and credit go to Him.
To imitate Christ we must ask God for help, through His Spirit, so we can bring our thoughts, attitudes and actions in line with His. We must allow His Spirit to become the guiding force in our lives to produce the qualities of true Christianity. We must ask ourselves whether we are truly being led by God's Spirit or are resisting it.
To grasp how God's Spirit works within us, we must understand what God's Spirit is. Many are confused on this point.
First, understand that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct "person," along with God the Father and Jesus Christ, forming a "Holy Trinity." There simply is no biblical evidence to support the common belief that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person alongside the Father and the Son. In Scripture the Holy Spirit is instead described most often as the power of God at work in our lives. This power emanates from God, allowing us to be "led by the Spirit of God" (Romans:8:14).
What does God's Holy Spirit do for us as Christians? This question affects the core of our religious beliefs, because without the power of God's Spirit we can have no deep, close relationship with the Father, nor can we become His children. It is because the Spirit dwells in us that we are called the children of God (Romans:8:14-17).
We must understand what it means to be "led by the Spirit." God's Spirit doesn't drive, drag or push us around; it leads us. It will not prevent us from sinning, nor will it force us to do what is right. It leads us, but we must be willing to follow if we are to allow God to work within us through His Spirit.
Divine help through God's Spirit
How does God's Spirit lead us? Let's consider a few ways.
The Holy Spirit keeps us in contact with God's mind. God's Spirit works with our mind. The apostle John describes it this way: "Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit [which] He has given us" (1 John:3:24). Through God's Spirit, which He gives us, we can be influenced by Him for the good. This is in stark contrast to the world around us and our own nature, which influence us toward evil.
God's Spirit also helps us come to a deeper comprehension of His truth. When Jesus promised the apostles He would send the Spirit to them, He said it would "guide [them] into all truth" (John:16:13).
God's Spirit inspires a deeper understanding of His Word, purpose and will. As 1 Corinthians:2:9-11 tells us: "But as it is written, 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.' But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except [by] the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except [by] the Spirit of God."
Without God's Spirit a person cannot understand God's divinely expressed Word and will, "for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (verse 14).
The Holy Spirit makes overcoming possible. Nothing is too difficult for us with the power of God working in our lives. Romans:8:26 tells us that God's Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. Paul, who wrote the letter to the Romans, speaks for all of us when he said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
Jesus promises Christians, "With God all things are possible" (Matthew:19:26; Mark:10:27). The Christian life is to be one of overcoming. We must realize God doesn't want us to remain just as we were when He called us. Instead, as we read earlier, we must "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans:12:2). Christianity is a lifetime of overcoming and growing— of transforming our thoughts and mind to become like Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5) .
The Spirit of God convicts our conscience and helps us see sin as it really is. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, which would be given to His followers after His death, Jesus said it would "convict the world of sin" (John:16:8). God's Spirit within us, working with our conscience, helps us to recognize and avoid sin. The guilt we feel is real when prompted by recognition of sins.
The Holy Spirit produces godly fruit in us. Just as an apple tree produces apples, God's Spirit produces a particular type of fruit in the life of a Christian. Paul lists the fruit that should be evident in those who are led by God's Spirit as "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians:5:22-23, New Living Translation, 1996). Each aspect of this fruit is worthy of a detailed study in itself, coupled with a self-analysis to see to what extent these traits are evident in our lives. You can download an article reprint series on "The Fruit of the Spirit " from our website.
The apostle Peter sums up the process of growing to spiritual maturity: "[God's] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
"But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
"Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter:1:3-11).
The Spirit of God also comforts, encourages and otherwise helps us. Jesus Christ promised to send His followers a "Helper" (John:14:16), "Advocate" (NLT) or "Comforter" (KJV). True comfort and reassurance come from God's Spirit dwelling in us. We need not be unduly worried about what may happen to us. God's Spirit gives us the assurance that whatever happens will be for the good "to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans:8:28).
This assurance provides an outlook on life that is rare in our world. Yes, a Christian can get discouraged, but it is through the Holy Spirit that we can begin to look at life differently. As noted earlier, peace is another fruit of God's Spirit in the life of a Christian.