Throughout his letters to the emerging Churches of the first century, Paul consistently wrote about two themes. The importance of grace over the law, and the tension existing between mind, body, and spirit. As an excellent student of Church law, Paul came to know, through his relationship with Jesus, that when placed beside grace, legalistic thought becomes shrill and ultimately a deterrent to the development of disciples of Jesus Christ. In regard to the relationship between mind, body, and spirit; likewise, he argued for the emphasis on the Spirit. In his letters to the people of Rome and Corinth along with those to Galatia and Ephesus, he wrote that while we may not always trust our physical yearnings, we can rely on the work of the Spirit in our lives.
In Romans 8:12-17, Paul speaks of the “spirit of adoption” we find with Christ in relationship to God. He says that this relationship welds us to God and nothing can sever it, not even death. In verses 1-11 of the same chapter, he puts forth the understanding that to live for human wants and needs is to die spiritually, while real living is found in an existence lived toward God.
Paul was writing from his life experience rather than lofty heights. He shared as much in Chapter 7:14-16, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way; but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes that God’s spiritual command is necessary.” (The Message) Paul sees this as a life-long process, but not something we always get right. A couple of examples in his letters are: Galatians 5:22-26, “…The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law…” “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” (New Revised Standard) Then to prove he is with us in the Spiritual quest, he writes in Philippians 4:14-15, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you.”
The Apostle was acutely aware of lock step certitude in matters of faith. His own rigid adherence to absolutes with regard to interpreting the call and claim of God on the lives of believers had caused him to lose his sight both literally and spiritually. Only when he began to view life through the lens of the grace of Christ and the leading of the Spirit did his sight become clear and strong. For Paul, a restless spirituality is one that will never rust.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald