The Holy Spirit: Romans 1 – 7

You may have noticed that I skipped Acts. I did. I’ll get there, but I think it’ll help to let Paul teach us some more about the Spirit before we take on some of the very challenging texts in Acts.

The Spirit and Jesus’ Resurrection

(Rom 1:1-6 ESV) Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,  2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,  3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,  6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

Very early in Romans, Paul teaches that the Spirit resurrected Jesus.

Paul calls the Spirit “the Spirit of holiness,” rather than “the Holy Spirit.” The same Greek word is found in the Septuagint Psalms, where it means majesty. Therefore, the idea seems to be that the Spirit not only provided resurrection but majesty — because the post-resurrection Jesus was something more than the Jesus who walked Palestine, having been given a spiritual body and seated by God at his right hand.

A spiritual gift

(Rom 1:11-12 ESV)  11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Some believe Paul is referring to a miraculous gift from the Spirit, such as one of the gifts mentioned in 1 Cor 12. The Greek is charisma, the word often associated with gifts from the Spirit, so a gift of some sort is surely in mind. But most of the gifts associated with the Spirit in Paul’s writings are not miraculous in nature. Beyond that, we can’t say.

Circumcision of the heart

(Rom 2:29 ESV) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

This is a linchpin verse in Romans. “Letter” is gramma in the Greek, meaning “writings,” in contrast to pneuma, the Spirit. Paul is clearly contrasting the written Law with the Spirit — even though the Law was inspired by the Spirit. So the contrast isn’t really between the Spirit and its inspired writings. It’s, rather, the contrast between external law, studied and obeyed by people, and internal law, given by God through his Spirit.

This becomes obvious when we consider the origin of Paul’s expression. The passage is an allusion to —

(Deu 30:6 ESV) And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

And this verse is a contrast to —

(Deu 10:16 ESV) 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

The flow of Deuteronomy begins here in chapter 10. God calls the people of Israel together just before they enter the Promised Land and restates his laws. After all, nearly all were unborn or children when the Law was given at Mt. Sinai. And God demands the Israelites’ hearts —

(Deu 10:12 ESV) 12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul …”

Mere superficial obedience wasn’t good enough. God wanted obedience, but it had to be obedience from the heart. Therefore, it wouldn’t be enough for the flesh to circumcised; their hearts must also be circumcised.

God then spends chapters detailing his laws for the Israelites. Then he pronounces blessings on Israel if they obey, and curses if they disobey. In chapter 30, he declares that even if they disobey, and so they suffer all the curses of the book, nonetheless —

(Deu 30:1-3 ESV) “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you,  2 and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul,  3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.”

God says even after the curses come true, he’ll gather his people, and then he promises,

(Deu 30:6 ESV) And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

This is an astonishing promise. This time God himself will change their hearts — and the hearts of future generations — so that they will “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” God will do a miracle — changing their hearts himself — because they will have failed to do it by themselves, even with the help of the Law.

You see, you can command a change in heart, but commands work from fear and so produce fear and not love. To gain true love, God has to change our hearts for us.

Now, notice that the effect of this change is love for God. It’s not a doctorate in theology. It’s a change of heart — but it’s the most important change imaginable. It’s a change that brings life.

Love poured out

(Rom 5:3-5 ESV) 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  5 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.

We have hope ultimately because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts” through the Spirit. Paul copies the language of the prophets, who promised an “outpouring” of the Spirit when the Messiah comes. Paul connects those prophesies with Deu 30:6 to show that the outpouring of the Spirit is also an outpouring of love into our hearts.

Commentators like to debate whether this is God’s love poured into us or God causing us to love others. It is, of course, both. Deu 30:6 focuses on our love for God — which is what is poured into us through the Spirit. But we cannot love God and not love those made in his image. It’s all true, as we’ll see in more detail as we go.

Service in the Spirit

(Rom 7:6 ESV) 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

The “written code” is, of course, a reference to the Law of Moses, but the point isn’t that it’s written, so much as that it’s external. “Written code” translates grammatos, meaning writings. Obviously, Paul said this in an epistle, which is itself a writing. He’s not saying that God is finally providing better writings. No, consistently with the previous verses, he’s speaking of the Spirit’s working on the heart of the Christian rather than the Christian’s having to read the writings and obey them all by himself.

(Rom 7:11-14 ESV)  11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.  12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.  13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.  14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

We tend to read “spiritual” as meaning “religious.” But the word actually means “from the Spirit.” Paul’s point is that, even though the Law is inspired by the Spirit, and therefore “holy and righteous and good,” it only brings death because it shows sin to be sin. Hence, the Law offers no hope, because it only makes for greater sin.

But Paul’s argument isn’t limited to the Law of Moses, as his contrast is between “writings” and “Spirit.” It’s not that we now have better writings. It’s that the Spirit now writes the Law on our hearts (Heb 8:10) so that we “walk in all [God’s] ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” The command is fulfilled in us by the power of God working in our hearts through his Spirit.

Now, some will delight in debating whether this denies free will — and I’m really, really tired of Reformation debates. The First Century issue that Paul addresses is how God helps us overcome our inability to obey as God desires through the Spirit. This much is clear: the goal of our receipt of the Spirit is —

(Deu 30:8 ESV) 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today.

The Spirit changes us to become obedient people. You see, God so desperately wants us to be saved that he enters our hearts and minds and changes us to become obedient people. As he says in 7:6, the goal is that we “serve” — but that the service is by means of the Spirit.

Now, if we fail to serve as the Spirit prompts us, we do so in opposition to God’s work in us. To fail to serve is to resist or even “outrage” the Spirit (Acts 7:51; Heb 10:29 ESV).

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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