This article is the 18th in an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit. Click here for links to all the articles in this series.
According to Romans 8, it is only those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit who can please God (8:5-8). It is the Spirit who gives Christians the hope of resurrection (Part 15) and relates them to God as children and heirs with Christ (8:9-17). In this passage, Paul briefly, but explicitly, emphasizes that this hope is directly connected to the cross (Part 17). The Holy Spirit relates us to God as children only if we are willing to put to death the deeds of the body (8:13) and suffer with Christ (8:17).
The connection between the Spirit and the cross, mentioned only briefly in Romans 8, is emphasized continually throughout the entire New Testament. Recognizing this connection is critical if we are to rightly understand and apply the New Testament’s teachings about the Holy Spirit.
What Does it Mean to Be a Christian?
The key question Paul addresses in his letter to the Galatians is this: Who is Israel? Who are those who are to be recognized as God’s true people? The Spirit and the cross are at the very core of Paul’s answer to this question. Throughout the letter, Paul emphasizes that God’s people are not identified by their fleshly characteristics. Israel is not defined as those who are circumcised as Jews, but as those who are in Christ.
But what exactly does this mean? What does it mean for our identity to be “in Christ”? Paul sums up his argument in a great climatic statement found in Galatians 2:20.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.Galatians 2:20
Although Paul does not yet mention the Spirit by name, he does speak of the indwelling of Christ – “Christ lives in me.” Even more specifically, Paul speaks of Christ in terms of his self-sacrificial love. Christ, who lives in him, is the Christ “who loved me and gave himself for me.”
According to Paul, to be “in Christ” means that Christ is “in” them, so that what is true of Christ is true of them. It would be reasonable to conclude, therefore, that a person in whom the crucified Christ lives would themselves be a person characterized by the same kind of self-sacrificial love we see in Christ.
But rather than stating this conclusion quite so explicitly, Paul develops this conclusion by discussing the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of the Crucified Son
Following the discussion of Christ’s self-sacrificial love, Paul’s co-crucifixion with him, and Christ living “in” him, Paul immediately reminds the Galatians that they too had received the Spirit.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?Galatians 3:1-5
Paul says that the Galatians had “received” and “begun by” the Spirit, a reference to the time of their initiation into Christ. Moreover, Paul says that their conversion was in response to the message about Christ’s crucifixion. “It was before your eyes that Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”
Once again, the Spirit is inseparable from what we see in Christ on the cross. It was initially the preaching of the cross that led to the Galatians reception of the Spirit. Moreover, Paul goes on to specifically identify the Spirit as “The Spirit of his Son.”
But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father!”Galatians 4:4-6
Just as Paul was “crucified with Christ,” and now had Christ living “in” him, so too when the Galatians responded to the message about the crucifixion, they too received the Spirit of God’s Son who was sent into their hearts at the time of their conversion.
A Spirit of Self-Sacrificial Love
Both Paul and the Galatians had received the Spirit of God’s Son at the time of their co-crucifixion with him (i.e. baptism, Gal 3:27). Paul goes on to describe walking in the Spirit as a life of self-sacrificial, Christ-like, crucifixion-style, love and faithfulness.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.Galatians 5:6
Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.Galatians 5:13b
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is not law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.Galatians 5:22-24
In other words, the past act of Christ’s faithful obedience and love, namely his crucifixion, is applied to the lives of those who are “in Christ” through the Spirit as they live with that same kind of faithful obedience and love (and joy, peace, kindness, etc).
The Mind of Christ
As was observed at the beginning of this study (Part 1), the word “Spirit” was always closely connected to a person’s words, or thoughts, or mindset. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is described as a very particular mindset, namely that of Christ on the cross. This is emphasized not only in Romans and Galatians, but throughout the entire New Testament.
For example, in Ephesians Paul stresses the importance of maintaining the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3). Paul then urges the Ephesians to be “renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:24). That means putting away things like lying, anger, theft, and corrupt talk (Eph. 4:25-29), which according to Paul would “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30). Instead, Paul urges the Ephesians to mimic the example of Christ, or more specifically, the example Christ on the cross.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.Ephesians 4:32-5:2
Similarly when Paul reminded the Philippians of their “participation in the Spirit” (Phil. 2:1), he had something very particular in mind. It wasn’t the idea of following a still small voice in your heart. Nor did he reduce it down to simply following the Spirit-inspired scriptures. Paul reminded Christians to remember their participation in the Spirit so that they would maintain a particular Christ-like mindset.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:1-8
This was not just Paul’s viewpoint either. John also viewed the presence of God’s Spirit as the imitation of God’s love.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us His Spirit… So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.1 John 4:13, 16
By “love” John specifically had in mind the kind of love we see in Christ on the cross.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.1 John 3:16
The True Church
How then do we recognize the true people of God? The question is as relevant today as it was when Paul wrote Galatians. When all is said and done, this question can only be answered by going to the cross.
Not only was Christ crucified, but when Christians were baptized, they were put to death with him (Rom. 6:1-4). But this co-crucifixion did not end in baptism. Baptism was only the beginning. The whole world, with it’s fleshly passions and desires, must be crucified to the Christian, and the Christian must be crucified to the world (Gal 5:24; 6:14-16). When we live in this crucified way, we can say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
This then, is at the very heart of the New Testament’s teaching about the Spirit. Christ’s church is not defined by their fleshly identity. They are recognized as such because they have been crucified with Christ. The cross is the dividing line between the Christ’s church and the world. So it was in the first century, and so it is today. That is why Christians must keep in step with the Spirit.