Living by the Spirit

Living by the Spirit equals moving in intimate oneness with God. 

You can be a Christian, yet not live by the Spirit. You might even think it preferable that way. But saying yes to Jesus Christ – and then saying no to the Holy Spirit – is as tragic as being born but never maturing past infancy.

The New Testament says:

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1).

“Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 MSG).

“Live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 NET).

If you want to live by the Spirit – or you’re at least interested in considering it – you may wonder how it works and how it looks. Some of you want to write from the Spirit, and you wonder how that works, too. And you who have already experienced living by the Spirit know: There’s always more to learn.

So let’s explore a wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 2 that often gets lost in translation, but is crucial to see.

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

writing from the Spirit

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Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one (vv. 9-15 ESV).

What do you see in Paul’s contrast of the “natural person” and the “spiritual person”? Our minds, guided by English translations, typically see a contrast between the Christian and the non-Christian. Unlike them, we (spiritual persons) freely accept and readily understand the things of God.

Those who have received Jesus Christ as Lord do have a spiritual capacity others do not. But we do not have any room for pride. Indeed, far too often we do not act on the access we have. We do not accept and understand what the Spirit says. So let’s look again.

In the original language, this passage not only distinguishes between the “natural person” and the “spiritual person.” It also distinguishes between the soul and spirit within each of us.

Spirit-to-spirit communing

One phrase in verse 14 is translated “natural person” (ESV); “natural man” (NASU); and “the man [or person] without the Spirit” (other translations). Ah, but the Greek, psuchikós ánthroopos, can be literally translated the “soul person” or “human soul.”

The human soul does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they seem foolish, and the soul is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The human spirit judges all things …

The Message rendering of verses 14-16 amplifies the term “human soul” this way: “the unspiritual self, just as it is by nature.”

The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit — God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah’s question, “Is there anyone around who knows God’s Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?” has been answered: Christ knows, and we have Christ’s Spirit.

Ah, yes. A second picture is emerging. Christ’s Spirit within us communes with our human spirit. Spirit-to-spirit, we access stunning things we haven’t seen, heard or dreamed, things our Lord wants to show those he loves. To receive what the Lord is releasing, we have to humble our souls. Otherwise, we quench and grieve the Spirit. We shut the communion down.

Sometimes when the soul mutinies against the spirit, we recognize the disconnect, but don’t know what’s wrong or why. That’s a good thing if it propels us to the Lord, to seek the answer.

All too often, though, we don’t recognize soul mutiny at all. We seek spiritual truth via the “unspiritual self,” latch onto what sounds religious but does not breathe with God’s life – and believe, because we’re Christians, that we have spiritually discerned.

The tragedy multiplies when we write or teach this soul logic to others seeking spiritual truth.

Spirit-to-spirit imparting

Living by the Spirit equals living Spirit-to-spirit: God’s Spirit and your spirit in open communion, you breathe out what he breathes in. You move in intimate oneness with God.

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Living by the Spirit, you speak from your human spirit by the Holy Spirit into the spirits of others – and they into yours. Similarly, when we write from the Spirit, we write to the spirits of others. They receive in their inmost being what God has poured out and we have passed along.

Ah, but even when revelation or understanding comes through a person, no one is settling for a second-hand word. Rather, as each of us relates to God Spirit-to-spirit, the breath of God in the words of the one speaking or writing sparks direct communion between the hearer and the Lord.

Spirit-to-spirit blessings

You who love the Lord, who want to live by the Spirit (and perhaps to write from the Spirit):

Be blessed to receive the Spirit of God, fully, continually, in the same way you receive breath.

Be blessed to recognize when your “unspiritual self” is usurping the place of your spirit and trying to figure out the truth. Renounce such a foolish and self-defeating mutiny. Cooperate with your Lord in humbling your soul, so Spirit-to-spirit communion can thrive.

Be blessed to see the extent to which you have been taught to believe and act on, to speak and write, what did not come from the Spirit, but from the soul. Refuse the deception that insists, “Not you! You’ve avoided this error, and so has your branch of the Body of Christ.”

We all live with the soul-spirit struggle. All of us, at times, speak or write from our own imaginations, and mistakenly believe it has come from God. Sadly, our US church culture – evangelical and charismatic – has colluded in reinforcing this pattern, instead of helping us recognize and reject it.

In the name of the living Spirit, called in Hebrew Ruach HaKodesh, I bless you with eyes to see:

  • how thoroughly we’re trained to believe and impart religious stuff based on human wisdom;
  • how loudly we’re applauded and how highly rewarded for suppressing the spirit and speaking from the unspiritual soul.

As you see the true picture emerging:

I bless you with courage to stop, turn around and go a different way.

I bless you with unhindered Spirit-to-spirit communion – wide-open access to the incredible things God freely gives you because he loves you; grace to move in intimate oneness with him.

I bless you with breath to impart what he reveals, in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit of God.

. . . . . . .

psuchikós ánthroopos, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Interlinear Transliterated Bible.

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