Christians all over the world pray for God’s spirit to be with them and to lead them. Jehovah’s Witnesses are no exception. In fact, a common sentiment among Jehovah’s Witnesses is that the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society is a “spirit led organization.” But what does it mean to be led by spirit? And if we are among those led by spirit, who are we, really? Paul answers both of these questions in his letter to the brothers in Rome, most specifically in chapter 8 of the book of Romans. Let’s examine that chapter.
Paul begins by clearing away all the superfluous baggage that those Jewish Christians living in Rome may have carried with them as concerns their own standing before God.
“Therefore those in union with Christ Jesus have no condemnation. For the law of that spirit which gives life in union with Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For, there being an incapability on the part of the Law, while it was weak through the flesh, God, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk, not in accord with the flesh, but in accord with the spirit.”
– Romans 8:1-4
So we first learn that those in union with Christ are set free from the condemnation associated with failure to keep the law. Instead, they are declared righteous by means of their faith. In other words, when they manifest faith in Jesus, the Father counts that as righteousness. There is no more a need for sacrifice and offering. The law concerning atonement for sins has been fulfilled. Christians are now under the “law of the spirit” and when we walk according to that new law, we are counted as righteous before God.
When we today reach back to bring the law code into the 21st century and hold ourselves and our brothers to strict observances, we are no longer walking according to the spirit. We have gone back to the weak and beggarly things and are walking according to the flesh. When we do this, we are not pleasing God.
“For those who are in accord with the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those in accord with the spirit on the things of the spirit. For the minding of the flesh means death, but the minding of the spirit means life and peace; because the minding of the flesh means enmity with God, for it is not under subjection to the law of God, nor, in fact, can it be. So those who are in harmony with the flesh cannot please God.”
– Romans 8:5-8
How do we know if we are “in harmony with the flesh?” By what we focus on. If our minds are primarily upon the things that cater to the flesh, such as work, entertainment, fashion, pleasures and passions, even our continued life in the flesh, we are “minding the flesh.” This lead to condemnation. Instead, our minds should be on “the things of the spirit” such as contemplating how to gain accurate knowledge about the Father and draw closer to the Him, how to imitate the Christ, how to complete our assignment as ambassadors, how to better serve our brothers, and even our future spirit life in the heavenly kingdom. These works are an indication that God’s spirit dwells within us and that we belong to the Christ.
“However, you are in harmony, not with the flesh, but with the spirit, if God’s spirit truly dwells in you. But if anyone does not have Christ’s spirit, this one does not belong to him. But if Christ is in union with you, the body indeed is dead on account of sin, but the spirit is life on account of righteousness. If, now, the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his spirit that resides in you. So, then, brothers, we are under obligation, not to the flesh to live in accord with the flesh; for if you live in accord with the flesh you are sure to die; but if you put the practices of the body to death by the spirit, you will live.”
– Romans 8:9-13
But what of those who do not claim a heavenly hope? When you ask one of them how they see their future, they relish in thoughts of playing with animals, picnicking in parks, living in fabulous houses, having pleasurable parties and gatherings, and having plenty of good food and drink. Their minds are most certainly on the things of the flesh since they are seeking to live forever on the earth in the flesh enjoying the things of the flesh. Paul’s words indicates that, rather than living forever, such ones are “sure to die.”
But, you may ask, is it not possible to “live in accord with the spirit” and still have an earthly hope? Paul’s words do not seem to indicate so. Notice his next words:
“For all who are led by God’s spirit, these are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: “Abba, Father!” The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.”
– Romans 8:14-17
According to Paul, everyone who is led by the spirit – that is, everyone who is “living in accord with the spirit” – is a son of God and a joint heir with Christ. Conversely, however, if we are not sons of God or joint heirs with Christ, we are “sure to die.”
But we need not fear, for Paul goes on to tell us that all mankind is offered sonship with God and release from the flesh.
“Consequently I reckon that the sufferings of the present season do not amount to anything in comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed in us. For the eager expectation of the creation is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will but through him that subjected it, on the basis of hope that the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now. Not only that, but we ourselves also who have the firstfruits, namely, the spirit, yes, we ourselves groan within ourselves, while we are earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom.”
– Romans 8:18-23
Ever since mankind was “subjected to futility” – that is, lost hope as a result of Adam’s sin – we have been waiting for “the revealing of the sons of God.” What does that mean, “revealing of the sons of God?” Well, a revelation is an exposure of something not formerly known. So the scripture does not mean that mankind always knew they were sons of God and were only waiting for them to be designated. Instead, it infers that we really had no idea of it prior to Christ’s advent. Paul is telling us that mankind was waiting for some kind of hope, and that hope turned out to be a revealing that we are sons of God.
This “revelation” sets us free from the sentence of death and grants us the hope of attaining the status of children (sons and daughters) of God. And once we accept that hope and receive the token of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), like Paul, we earnestly await the actual adoption which occurs when we are released from our bodies. Yes, for sons of God, our death is not likened to a termination of life, but to a release from our bodies!
Paul goes on:
“For we were saved in [this] hope; but hope that is seen is not hope, for when a man sees a thing, does he hope for it? But if we hope for what we do not see, we keep on waiting for it with endurance.”
– Romans 8:24-25
He explains that what we are hoping for we have not yet seen – it is in the heavens. For if we already have what we hope for, it is no longer a hope, but a reality.
Since our hope is in the heavens and will only be attained after the release from our bodies, it will require endurance to maintain that hope. And we have help from the spirit:
“In like manner the spirit also joins in with help for our weakness; for the [problem of] what we should pray for as we need to we do not know, but the spirit itself pleads for us with groanings unuttered. Yet he who searches the hearts knows what the meaning of the spirit is, because it is pleading in accord with God for holy ones.”
– Romans 8:26-27
The spirit not only leads us, but its pleads for us. Not on behalf of the whole world, but only on behalf of those who belong to the Christ – the holy ones, the sons of God. (Romans 8:14)
We also get help from all of God’s creations:
“Now we know that God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God, those who are the ones called according to his purpose; because those whom he gave his first recognition he also foreordained to be patterned after the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, those whom he foreordained are the ones he also called; and those whom he called are the ones he also declared to be righteous. Finally those whom he declared righteous are the ones he also glorified.”
– Romans 8:28-30
Again, the spirit leads “those whom he called,” the “firstborn among many brothers,” referring to the sons of God.
And finally, we also have the help of the Christ:
“What, then, shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who will be against us? He who did not even spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, why will he not also with him kindly give us all other things? Who will file accusation against God’s chosen ones? God is the One who declares [them] righteous. Who is he that will condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died, yes, rather the one who was raised up from the dead, who is on the right hand of God, who also pleads for us.”
– Romans 8:31-34
Yes, brothers, those led by the spirit are the anointed sons of God. We see no indication that the spirit leads anyone who does not belong to the Christ.
Neither can we claim a secondary application of the scripture as “companions” and “friends” of the anointed – meaning those with an earthly hope. For what benefit could they obtain? They can imitate the anointed, but ‘only those who contend according to rules’ receive the crown of life. (2 Timothy 2:5) Really then, when we reject the hope of everlasting life in the heavens, we are placing ourselves outside of the operation of the spirit and outside of God’s purposes.
We know that those with an “earthly hope” pray for the spirit’s direction. They serve the Father with as much sincerity and fervor as the sons who have accepted their inheritance. They must realize that if they are thus led by the spirit, they are, in fact, sons of God! The spirit leads no others! They are indeed running the race, but they must “contend according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5), inside the Father’s arrangement of openly accepting their sonship.
Finally, Paul tell us:
“Who will separate us from the love of the Christ? Will tribulation or distress or persecution or hunger or nakedness or danger or sword? Just as it is written: “For your sake we are being put to death all day long, we have been accounted as sheep for slaughtering.” To the contrary, in all these things we are coming off completely victorious through him that loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things now here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– Romans 8:35-39
Nothing can separate us from this hope. The only way we will not attain to it is if we refuse it by pursuing fleshly, earthly things. We pray that anyone who continues to cling to an “earthly hope” will wake up and grab hold of their heavenly inheritance. It is waiting for them and no one can snatch it away. Thanks be to the Father.
“Also, let the peace of the Christ control in your hearts, for you were, in fact, called to it in one body. And show yourselves thankful.”
– Colossians 3:15