How then does it ‘work’ that someone is transformed into the image of God’s son? – if that is the ultimate goal of the Christian life.
Yes, the new life begins with death – and is sustained by a continuing ‘putting to death’ of the old. But how? How can the old be done away with? How is the Christian life more positively understood than death, if ‘death’ = not living a certain way?
The answer for Paul (and other NT writers in different ways) is the Spirit of God.
One of the most inspiring and significant verses (I think) in Romans is this one:
‘the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to all of us’ (Rom.5.5)
Notice how Paul reminds the Roman Christians of the decisive moment of their conversion. He points them to the role played by the Spirit and includes himself along with his readers – see the ‘our’ and the ‘us’.
In other words, this experience is something normative for every believer, whether Paul or the Romans or you or me.
We are very familiar with the idea that by faith alone, only through the grace of God, believers are justified.
But are we as keen to insist that by faith alone, only through the grace of God, believers receive the gift of the Spirit, who brings them into a dynamically transformed experience of God’s love? An experience captured by the image of a generous overflow of love into the heart, which is the core of human identity.
It is impossible to know God apart from the Spirit. This is why Paul insists again and again that it is the Spirit alone who can give life.
The Spirit is called the life-giver 11 times in the NT, 10 of those references are linked to soteriological new life. Take Romans:
Romans 8:2 – The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus will set you free
Romans 8:6 The flesh’s way of thinking is death but the Spirit’s is life
Romans 8:13 living according to flesh is death but if by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:11 ‘Spirit of him who raised Christ – will give life to your mortal bodies’
1 Cor 15:45: the last Adam is a life-giving Spirit
2 Cor 3:6 it is the Spirit who gives life (letter of law kills)
1 Cor 12:23 all believers are given ‘one Spirit to drink’
The image of drinking water is one of dynamic life within the body of Christ.
Gal 5:15 ‘If we live by the Spirit’
Gal 6:8 sow to the Spirit shall reap eternal life
The basis for this transforming life is the is the death and resurrection of the Son. What is his (life over death, victory over sin) now becomes ‘ours’.
Put another way, pneumatology and eschatology are inseparable. Life in the Spirit now is a present experience of life in the new age to come. The future has been brought right into the here and now. Christian hope isn’t merely that one day things will be better. It is a sure and certain experience that God’s future age is already here, witnessed in the outpouring of the Spirit into believers hearts and lives.
The Nicene Creed gets it right
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life