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THE SPIRIT - PART II
THE WAY TO LIVE_DOT III (YOUR ROLE) // CHAPTER 23
Our soul represents our thinking, attitudes and desires. Our body represents our actions and the physical consequences—good and bad—of our actions. Our thinking and perspectives must come from somewhere. Those things must originate from something beyond our body and soul. Ultimately, our soul and bodies are followers of our spirit.
Every person who ever has or ever will walk this planet has a spirit. Having a spirit may give us a sense of morality. It may give us a conscience. It may help us understand that there is life beyond the present. But there is no guarantee that we will live a good life simply because we become aware that we have a spirit, soul and body.
If each person on this planet has a spirit that connects back to God, how do we explain the evil we see in our world? There are people who walk the face of this world and perpetuate evil acts, despite God creating them in his image. There are people who treat others with contempt and refuse to see them as created in God’s image.
Socrates and Plato believed that people are born good and that as we go through life, we forget our basic goodness.[i]We begin to do what is wrong and think that it is right. To counteract that, we must seek wisdom and virtue in philosophy, and only by those things can we attain moral goodness. Through philosophy we remind ourselves of what true moral goodness is.
The ancient Stoics believed that good and evil were purely personal judgments and principles. We cannot truly know what is objectively good, only what is good to us, and what is good to us is living by the virtues we select. They believe the evil we do is because of our inability to live by virtue, and the goodness or evil of others is not our concern because that is not within our control.
Many philosophical explanations for the battle of good and evil within us fall short. Are we inherently good, evil, or somewhere in between? This is an eternal question we have asked since the beginning of time.
Are human beings inherently good? Did you teach your children to lie? To disobey? Or to be selfish? We do not teach these things to our children. We go to great lengths to teach them not to be selfish, disobedient and untruthful. These things are not taught to our children; they are already within their nature.
Our bodies and even our souls are naturally drawn to sin, making mistakes on purpose. Why? Paul says in Romans 5, sin has been part of our nature since Adam and Eve in the garden. All of us have sinned and are sinful. Our flesh—our physical body—is sinful; our entire bodies are ruled by sin, as Paul tells us throughout his writing.
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. // 1 John 2:15–16
All of us have physical cravings. We have appetites for food, fun, experiences and even people. The more we pursue these things, the worse we often feel. Eating a whole large pizza sounds like a great idea, until after we eat it. Many people enjoy alcohol to excess, until the hangover. Pornography and promiscuity attract us until we are flooded with regret. We think physical cravings will satisfy us, but they are empty calories. We eat plenty but find ourselves malnourished.
We have cravings in our soul: desires for significance, achievement, influence, wealth and what the world calls success. Filling ourselves with these things only increases our hunger. Without proper nutrition, we experience all kinds of illnesses.
What does our spirit crave? Purpose, meaning, a connection to God himself. We often think that by pursuing the cravings of our body and soul that our spirit will be satisfied. That is never true.
“Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” // John 3:6
Our spirit may come from God himself, but what about our body and soul? Science tells us that our physical traits are inherited from our parents. They got theirs from their parents and so on, all the way to Adam and Eve.
What about our soul? Our thinking, attitudes and actions? The world around us does a great job of shaping those. Our parents, upbringing, culture, societal expectations, wealth and environment shape most of what we feel about the world. This often happens long before we could process these things maturely.
Because of its intangible nature, we tend to neglect our spirit. We listen more often to our body and soul. We think that satisfying our body’s and soul’s cravings will fulfill the longing of our spirit. But that is the road to nowhere.
God knew that. Jesus did too. Remember that philosophy is merely choosing the best way for us to live. Jesus invites us into living life his way and following him. His first followers could talk with him face to face and be coached along the way. He trained them himself in his philosophy. That’s what great philosophers do. They don’t just teach a philosophy, they live one, and they actively direct, correct and encourage others to do the same.
Jesus’ biblical story concludes with his final sacrifice and resurrection to bring about God’s plan. Once he was resurrected, he left the earth and his disciples. But he didn’t just leave them to themselves. He promised to send a helper, an advocate. The New Testament calls this helper the Holy Spirit.
If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them. // John 14:15–21
That term Holy Spirit may sound strange. It’s not a term you would probably hear outside of a church. It seems mystical and foreign. Let’s remind ourselves that we are more than just human beings living in a physical world. Our human form is driven by a spirit longing for connection to something more than what we see and feel.
You and Jiminy Cricket
We should strive to resist the cravings of the body and soul. We should embrace the cravings of the spirit and allow those cravings to lead us to the Holy Spirit.
This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. // 1 Corinthians 2:13–14 NIV
It’s not just our spirit. It’s the Spirit. The Stoics believed that our pneuma was our connection to the logos. Our spirit is our connection to the Holy Spirit. It is the thing about us that is created in God’s image to connect back to him.
God didn’t intend for us to live our lives alone. We aren’t on a solitary spiritual journey to fulfillment. When Jesus was here, he was a helper for his disciples. He guided them and convicted them when they made mistakes. At the end of his time with them, Jesus tells his disciples that he is leaving a helper to help them. We use the term Holy Spirit to describe the helper that Jesus has sent to walk through life with us and help us, guide us and make us aware of what we need to do at certain times.
The Holy Spirit works in our lives a lot like Jiminy Cricket does in the movie Pinocchio, trying to keep us off the wrong track and on the right track. Again, the theologians are angry. Call it a feeling, a voice or a leading. The Holy Spirit is who confirms in us the truth of who Jesus is and helps us live a good life by following him. When we decide to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit begins to lead us and walk alongside us through life. In John 16, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins. Being convicted and being led are two different experiences. People can be convicted but still refuse to listen. Just like Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket. To be convicted is to become aware of how our sin separates us from God. This is stronger than our conscience, shame or guilt. Conviction is the realization that our sin will prevent our spirit from ever being connected to the God that created it. Conviction makes us aware of the futility of our self-righteousness. Through conviction, the Holy Spirit invites us to accept Jesus’ gift of grace.
To allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, we give him the steering wheel of our life. When the Holy Spirit leads our spirit, we make changes in our own life based on our convictions. The Holy Spirit is much more than Jiminy Cricket. To be led by the Holy Spirit is to allow God to transform you into a new person my changing your thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Following Jesus requires the Holy Spirit. Our spirit being led by the Holy Spirit requires us to follow Jesus.
Believing in Jesus is simple. Following him is hard. Simple ≠ easy. That’s why we need help from the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is a simple concept, but the state of the world reflects how difficult it is to live out this concept.
Yes, we have a spirit that is created in God’s image, but we have a choice to make regarding our spirit. In Romans chapters seven and eight, the apostle Paul spells out this tension.
“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.” // Romans 7:15–16
We often feel this way, don’t we? We know what to do and we want to do it, but we do the things we know we shouldn’t do. This is part of having a human experience. We are all predisposed to sin, to miss the mark. If we decide to follow Jesus, it’s not just about accepting his story or our role in God’s plan. It’s about understanding that to play our role, we need to be more like Jesus in how we live. We need to turn from our body’s and soul’s cravings to true spiritual fulfillment. This can only happen when we allow the Holy Spirit to lead our spirit.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) // Romans 8:1–9
The nature within each one of us is drawn to sin. It’s part of being human. We have a body, we have a soul. It is natural to want to give in to what our soul and body desire. There is a spirit within each one of us that God has created. The Spirit of God is meant to guide our spirit. This Holy Spirit doesn’t merely help us “not sin.” If we choose to follow the Spirit, and therefore Jesus, we will live a good life no matter what our external situation looks like.
Explaining the unexplainable
How does the Holy Spirit work? Once we choose to follow Jesus, do we all get superpowers like spiritual wizards? Do we forget about our body’s or spirit’s cravings?
The Holy Spirit operates in unexplainable ways. The New Testament teaches us that there are gifts and abilities that the Holy Spirit can and will give us. Many of the churches I grew up in made these gifts of the Spirit a priority. It can be easy to place a priority on spiritual gifts since they can encourage, strengthen and comfort us. However, spiritual gifts are not Christian superpowers, nor are they the primary proof of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.
When we decide to follow Jesus and live like him, we must also learn how to be convicted by his values. We should allow the Bible to shape the virtues we live by. We need to allow our spirit—our pneuma, what animates and drives us—to be led by God’s Spirit so our soul and body can reflect God’s plan for the world—the logos.
The majority of the New Testament shows us how the Holy Spirit means to work in our lives to lead us and guide us to be like Jesus. We must remember as we read the stories of the New Testament that we are not human beings having spiritual experiences, but spiritual beings having human experiences.[ii] It is essential that we allow our spirit to be governed by the plan and purpose of God. That must be our highest aim.
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. // Colossians 3:5
Paul tells us to not just ignore our cravings but to put them to death—bury them in the ground and walk away forever.
God wants us to live a good life. That is his plan. He means for your life to have impact beyond itself. We must understand who he is, who we are and the role we play to do that. To play our part well, we must allow our spirit to listen to his Spirit.
Fruit tastes better than gifts
It’s not enough to believe. The real question we should ask when living our lives is the effectiveness question: “How is that working out for you?”
If you’re a Jesus follower and you’re reading this, how is following Jesus working out for you? Is your life better, worse or the same as it was before?
In John 15, Jesus tells us that if we follow him well, we will bear fruit. Throughout the Gospels, he tells us that there is good fruit and bad fruit in nature, so there is good fruit and bad fruit in humanity.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. // Galatians 5:22–25
Jesus has added us to the covenant, to Abraham’s family. He is asking us to go produce fruit. Jesus says,
“You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” // John 15:16
The question is not “What do I believe?” it is “What is the fruit of my belief?”
When we decide to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit works with us to help us understand real virtue. True virtue is created by God and shown to us in Scripture. As we understand virtue, the Holy Spirit helps our thoughts, attitudes and actions align with the virtues of God. Our gifts, spirit, soul and body work together to produce this fruit. This is where philosophy and theology can come together to equip us to live a life of purpose, meaning and impact. A good life.
The gifts of the Spirit are gifts; we don’t have to work for them. Each of us have gifts based on who we are and who God wants us to be. We should not make these our priority. Our priority should be demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in our thoughts, attitudes and actions. Jesus tells us in John 15 he chose us to bear fruit, not operate in gifts. Gifts are important and gifts are great. But gifts are not our goal. Fruit is.
All of us should have convictions. But we should have the right ones. We should have virtues, and those virtues should be God’s virtues. When we live by our conviction to follow Jesus, we are listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can and will help us to live a life of virtue. This doesn’t mean we get superpowers. It means we have help to live the life we’re designed for.
The Stoics had it mostly right: We should live a life of virtue. We should focus on what we can control, not what we can’t. We should deeply consider our thoughts, attitudes and actions. And we should do this so we can live a good life and make a great impact on those closest to us.
Stoicism is a powerful tool, but we need more than a philosophy. Knowing ourselves is just one part of our journey. We need a relationship with the maker of the plan—God. We need to follow the plan that became a person—Jesus. And to do this, we must allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to produce good fruit.
[i] Plato, Phaedo (Oxford World’s Classics), trans. David Gallop (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2009).
[ii] “You Are Not a Human Being Having a Spiritual Experience.”