The Holy Spirit in Romans


In the May - August 2015 issue of Guidelines, author Richard Littledale explores six different roles of the Holy Spirit as described in the book of Romans.

The six different roles are:

Introduction and first reading

Many regard Paul as a 'man of letters'. With his Jewish pedigree, his rabbinical training and his schooling at the university of Tarsus, he was certainly that: he makes no secret of it when he describes himself as a 'Hebrew of Hebrews' in Philippians 3:4 - 6. Furthermore, some of the most tightly argued passages anywhere in the New Testament are found in the letter to the Romans. In the pages of this letter, Paul deals with weighty matters of law, grace, Jewish heritage and imputed righteousness, to name but some - but is there any room for the Holy Spirit among all that theological argument?

In fact, right from the start, Paul makes it clear that his answer is 'yes'. Before the first (very long) sentence of the letter is complete, Paul has acknowledged the role of the Holy Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus, who 'through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power' (Romans 1:4). He goes on to describe the Holy Spirit's integral role in every aspect of the Christian's life, both individual and corporate. Christianity without the Holy Spirit is as inconceivable as a balloon without air or a bird without wings.

This week, we shall look at six different roles of the Holy Spirit as described by Paul in Romans. As is often the case in the New Testament, the Spirit is described more in terms of function than in terms of character. I have called these functions of the Spirit 'hallmark', 'compass', 'guarantor', 'interpreter', 'engineer' and 'glue'. You won't find Paul using those six words, but we shall see him describing those six functions. The list is not exhaustive, and you will find other mentions of the Holy Spirit in Romans, as well as the references chosen here. As you work through these different passages, you may find that there are other descriptions that work better for you to describe the work of the Holy Spirit.

As a young man I always wanted to make a big impact for God, and a wise Christian friend gave me this advice: 'Richard - it's not about you having a monopoly on the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit having a monopoly on you.' Sound advice indeed!

Unless otherwise stated, quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible.

The Spirit as hallmark

Read Romans 2:25-29

We often use the phrase 'in spirit' as a substitute for 'not really', as in, for example, 'I'll be there in spirit'. To Paul's fellow Jews, he was a heretic who had gone soft on the demands of the law in his pursuit of Christ. They believed that he had sold out and brought shame on the faith of his fathers. Here he explains that nothing could be further from the truth.

For centuries past, circumcision had been a badge of honour to the Jewish male, declaring his place among the chosen people, but Paul dares to question whether that is really what makes him a Jew: 'A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly' (v. 28). He goes on to say that what matters is a 'circumcision of the heart' (v. 29). Such talk falls very awkwardly on our Western ears. However, despite the embarrassment it causes, the point stands in any age and any culture. The 'trappings' of Christianity, whether it be a sticker on the car, a badge in our lapel, a Bible tucked under our arm or even the habit of churchgoing, are not the heart of the matter. It is the attitude of the heart, rather than any physical sign, that truly marks us out as God's people.

We might even say that obeying the demands of a Spirit who resides within is harder than keeping rules that exist outside. Inner attitudes never stay hidden for long: as Jesus said of false prophets, 'by their fruit you will recognise them' (Matthew 7:16). If we truly have a relationship with the Spirit of God, it means that he will coax, nudge and prompt us to behave like God's people. When we do those things, we end up as much a part of God's people as anyone who bears a physical mark of recognition (v. 26), and maybe even more so (v. 27). When that happens, the presence of the Spirit to guide us and prompt our righteous actions serves as a hallmark of our membership in the family of God.

Each of us must decide every day whether our life will be lived by the internal nudge of the Spirit or by the external influences of the world, even the 'Christian' world. Do we bear the hallmark of God's presence today?

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Guidelines | The Holy Spirit in Romans (PDF Download)

Guidelines | The Holy Spirit in Romans (PDF Download)

Bible study for today's ministry and mission Richard Littledale, edited by Lisa Cherrett and David Spriggs £0.50

A PDF download of Bible reading notes from Guidelines on the theme of the Holy Spirit in Romans written by Richard Littledale. These notes were in the May - August 2015 issue. The notes look at six different roles of the Holy Spirit in the book of Romans, described more in terms of function than in terms of character. The six functions are Hallmark, Inner compass, Guarantor, Interpreter, Engineer and Glue.

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