Is there nothing we do to help ourselves?

Does a Christian’s life depend entirely on the Holy Spirit, or are there things we do to help ourselves? What about depression, for instance? Do we just wait on the Spirit to cure us, or can we use human resources too, like counselling, medication and positive thinking techniques, and perhaps even some religious exercises as well, like meditation?

Fortunately, Paul explains in Romans 8 what the Spirit does, and what only the Spirit can do, because there are needs in our lives where we cannot help ourselves. It is only “by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body,” for instance (verse 13). The Spirit is the only cure for our sinful nature too, and the only means by which we can fully meet the righteous requirements of God’s law (verse 4) and want to please God rather than resist him (verses 7-8). The Spirit is also the only means by which we understand the relationship we have with God, that we are his children (verses 15-17), that we belong to him (verse 9), and that he lives his life in us (verses 9 and 11) – so that even now we can begin to experience “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (verse 21). It’s the Spirit who gives us hope in a frustrating, decaying world (verses 23-24), and the Spirit that testifies with our spirit that glory awaits us (verses 16-17). And if we are weak in any of these things, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (verse 26), and “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (verse 27).

“What, then, shall we say in response to this?” Paul asks in verse 31. His answer? “If God be for us, who can be against us?” To Paul, that’s the starting point for a Christian. It is not what we can do to help ourselves, it is what God has done, is doing and will always do for us as his adopted children and heirs. We also have Jesus Christ “at the right hand of God interceding for us,” verse 34, so that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us,” verse 37.

On the other hand, Paul does accept that even when we know we’ve got all this going for us, we still “groan inwardly,” verse 23. It is quite normal for us to get depressed and frustrated. Who wouldn’t be in this world? But rather than place our dependence on human resources as our first step, Paul emphasizes dependence on the Spirit because it’s the Spirit who keeps our spirits up and gives us the hope that saves us (verse 24).

It’s only the mind that’s “controlled by the Spirit” that has “life and peace,” verse 6.

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