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Sermon: Life in the Spirit

Here’s my first sermon at Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church preached on October 17th, 2010.  The text is Romans 8:1-8 and the focus is on living in the Spirit by reclaiming God’s Lordship in our lives. Soli Deo Gloria.


This passage in Romans is profound, deep, and powerful, so allow me to present us with a framework, a thesis, for which we can unpack it this evening.  Here’s the thesis:

Christ has freed us from life in the flesh for life in the Spirit for gladful submission.

This evening we will look at each part in detail as we walk through it together.

Section 1: “Christ has freed us”

Let’s look at the first section of the thesis, “Christ has freed us.”  Paul loves to write sections like this from Roman’s over and over again in his letters.  He always includes the power and summary of the Gospel when he writes to a brother or sister in Christ.  This section is no different.  If the Gospel, Christ’s saving work on the cross for both you and me, is not stated frequently, we miss out on the core truth of Christianity.  For at the heart of our faith and relationship w/ God rests God’s unfailing love for both you and for me.  May we never forget this.

Let’s begin to walk through this and look at v. 1 together [SLIDE].  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  What a powerful statement.  There is no condemnation!  From what?  Were we condemned?  Yes.  Paul says earlier in 3:20, For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  When Paul refers to the law, he refers specifically to our inability to adhere to God’s commands in Scripture.  We can think of the Ten Commandments as a starting point for a description of the law, but it is also everything else God has commanded in Scripture.  So we see that the condemnation that Paul is speaking of has to do with our right standing before God, or actually our failure to be in relationship with God through sin, through breaking God’s commands.  Human beings are sinful, this is a hard truth but one that is too numerous to account for in Scripture, but nonetheless true.  We needn’t think hard or look past the front page of any newspaper or magazine to see that sin is universally present.

But what is sin?  This is a big question.  I’m sure we have all heard different examples and metaphors for what sin is and isn’t, and I’m sure we all have different thoughts that run rampant in our mind when someone even mentions the word.  But for the purpose of this section of Romans, let us define it:

Sin is putting myself in the place of God, or in other words, sin is claiming lordship over my own life.

Is this not true of all humans?  I think specifically of Adam and Eve in the garden.  Both were told by the Lord to not eat from the one tree in the garden.  What this command entails is a relational structure between God and Adam and Eve.  God in the Garden of Eden was Lord of all, including Adam and Eve.  Did they create the universe?  Did they give breath to man?  Did they create the mountains and the seas?  No.  Yet, sin was born through their actions in eating the fruit from that one tree.  Why?  Because the very structure of relationship between humanity and God was obliterated by their denial of Him as Lord over their lives.  For both of them went against His expressed command to not eat the fruit.  They denied God lordship over their lives and instead usurped that role as lords over their own lives, picking and choosing what was best for them.

How many of you have children who at one point in time defied a loving command that was given for their own good.  Don’t touch the stove, it will burn you!  Eat your vegetables, they will make you healthy!  Don’t hit your sister!  How many of us when we were children defied such commands.  In the sinful nature of humanity rests a battle, a battle of wills.  Adam and Eve chose their will over the will of their Lord.  I was a trouble child.  I remember defying my parents commands just for the fun of it, because I could, because I desired to be Lord over my own life.  Sin entails a broken relationship with God in which we claim to be lords of our own lives.  Sin is ultimately a battle of the wills.  We want to be Lord over our own life!  This is what humanity was condemned for as Paul states in v. 1.

But thank God the verse goes on [SLIDE] to state that there is NO condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  For v. 2 states that For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  Christ is the key to everything in the Christian’s life.  For we have been freed from the claim of sin upon our lives that condemned us to live apart from God wallowing in our own lordship, to being freed for a relationship w/ God through Christ Jesus our Lord.  We have been set free.  LET THAT SINK IN DEEPLY.

Instead you and I often live as if we are still in bondage to other lords in our lives.  If I were to ask you to write down three things that you think this world or country worships, things that Lord themselves over our lives, what would you put?  We don’t need to go far to see the answers to a question like this.  Any major social media webpage, any major television show, and any major magazine will confirm the human condition.  Many of us are allowing things in this world to Lord over us in ways that are unhealthy.  We allow our entire lives to be shaped by a desire for money, a desire for more, and when we get that raise or promotion we are left feeling unhappy, unfulfilled.  Or how many of us squander the stewardship of time, the stewardship of life that God has given us in front of the TV watching nothing more than shows which promote the lordship of wealth, sex, music, physical beauty.  I could go on, but it’s important for us to realize that lordship entails how both you and I steward the gift of life that God has given us.  How do we go about doing this?

vv. 3-4a give us the answer and the fullness of the Gospel message which cries good news to both you and I [SLIDE].  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.  Let us begin by noting that salvation, the reclamation of our relationship with God, making God Lord over us again, falling to our knees and saying “thy will be done” over the desire to follow our own will, begins not with us, but with God’s initiative.  For it states in the first words of the verse that God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  What is this law that Paul speaks about here?  I would argue that the law, for Paul and for you and I, is nothing less than the word of God, Scripture.  And what is Scripture but an account, a revelation of God to humanity revealing His will for our lives, revealing what is truly best for us as the people of God.  The Israelits believed that if they adhered to every command that God had given them in the Bible, they could attain righteousness before God.  The problem is that no one can do this, for Paul states that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Following the law then in its entirety is impossible.  We cannot save ourselves! We cannot follow the law of God perfectly as the the reformer Martin Luther states: “As I said before it is absolutely impossible for us to fulfill the Law by our own power” (102).  We need help.  If sin is impossible not to commit then I’m in trouble.  We must ask then, how does one attain salvation if we cannot adhere to the commands of God?

Paul answers this by stating that through Jesus Christ the law has been fulfilled on our behalf by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.  This is crucial to the gospel message.  This is the apex of life for every person.  God, by his own initiative and love for us, sent His only Son to be the righteous human being that we couldn’t be.  He fulfilled the law of God perfectly by living a sin free life, dying the just punishment that you and I deserved, and rising from the dead.  The requirement of the law upon us is impossible for us to fulfill.  Thank the Lord that God fulfilled it for us in Christ.  He is our helper!  He saves us since we cannot save ourselves!  Know this, God loves us enough to enter a human frame and die the death that you and I deserve in order to free us from our sinful condition, namely lordship over our own lives, saying “my will be done” instead of “thy will be done.”  God, in Christ died for you and for me so that we might live.  LET THAT HIT YOU.  There is nothing we can do to merit salvation. NOTHING!  It is a gift from God!  This is the Gospel folks, the good news.  That you and I are no longer bound to the power of sin in our lives, but we live as Christ lived, righteous to the last breath.  When God looks at you and me he sees us.  He sees me and all of my iniquity, my shortcoming, my sin, my desire to be lord over my own life.  But instead of holding this guilt against me, he sees Christ’s righteousness.  In one sense God’s love for us blinds him of our sinful desires to be our own Lord.  This is powerful.

Section 2: “From the flesh”

Let’s look at section two of our thesis together, “From the Flesh.”  v. 4b is the hinge upon which this whole passage swings [SLIDE].  In Christ you and I, according to this verse, walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  The word flesh here is meant to symbolize the life that you and I lived before we had a relationship with God, the life in which we were lords over ourselves, the life in which we battled over whose will was superior.  A life that was wholly oriented toward anything other than God.  Life in the flesh overturns the lordship of God in our lives as it did for Adam and Eve.  However, you and I who are in Christ Jesus are no longer lords over our own lives.  We have given the reigning scepter back to God because of the work Christ Jesus accomplished in abolishing sin in us and reconciling us to himself.

As many of you know I was hospitalized a few weeks ago for severe back pain.  I was walking as I normally do down the steps outside of our apartment.  I don’t know what happened, but one moment I felt 100% healthy and the next I was on the floor of the stairwell in agony.  I did not know what hit me nor what to do next.  Few things break the human will like injury and illness.   Few things in life remind us that we are not in control, that you and I cannot govern our lives with ultimate certainty.  That we cannot say, “I will make it out the door today unscathed.”  When I walked through those hospital doors I gave up my will as Lord and controller of my own life; I laid myself bare to the will of my doctors to help me.  God in Christ Jesus is no different.    In Christ we set aside our will, life in the flesh, so that His will might be done in our lives, embodying life in the Spirit.  Christ is the surgeon of the heart and soul who knows best.  May we not wait until we are begging God in prayer at the bottom of a stairwell to live in the Spirit and submit our will to the will of God.

Therefore to walk in a manner that brings us back under the guiding hand of God is to walk in the Spirit, a gift from God that enables both you and me to live as one under the Lordship of God’s command.  Without the Spirit we live as if we were back in the flesh, Lords over our own lives.  But the power of the Spirit enables us to live focused upon the goodness of God and the calling upon our lives.  Primarily, for Paul, the Spirit’s job is to enable us to walk as Christians.  In Christ we are freed from the flesh, we are able to walk under His Lordship.  This is the hinge which I spoke of earlier.  Without the Spirit, one cannot live as a Christian.  It is the Spirit which strengthens you and I, which spurs us to love God, which calls us to be a people for God’s glory and which reveals sin in our lives.  Because of the love of God in Christ Jesus we have been called to walk in this Spirit, a manner worthy of the people of God.

Section 3: “For life in the Spirit”

Let’s move on and look at the third part of our thesis, “For life in the Spirit.”  Paul’s message turns here from the power of the Gospel, to the implications of the Gospel.  The work of Christ on our behalf implies a change that we are to turn from our old ways, the ways of the flesh, and toward the new life, life in the Spirit.  Paul continues this dichotomy between flesh and Spirit in vv. 5-6 [SLIDE]. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  The mind set on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  We have already seen that returning to our old ways of sin, life in the flesh would be silly.  Indeed it is silly when compared to life in the Spirit, a life that grants peace and hope, life as it is supposed to be.  It’s as if you presented someone with two options for dinner: on the one plate you have week old fried spam and on the other you have gorgeous steak with all the fixings.  In so doing, Paul reveals the folly to us who would choose to return to a life in the flesh vs. that of the Spirit.

But what does life in the Spirit entail?  We have had a wonderful few weeks in this series to see just that, to broaden our understanding and hopefully our desire for the power of the Spirit to transform our lives.  Life in the Spirit means to set one’s mind upon the Spirit as Paul says.  Now what does Paul mean by the word mind?  Is he talking about the faculties with which you and I think, the brain, the ability to store information, that 2+2=4?  Maybe, but I highly doubt it.  The mind for Paul is the throne if you will, of all of our being, our character, our actions, our desires, our love, our hope.  According to this word mind here in Romans, Paul is referring to the driving force behind who we are.  Setting our mind then upon the things of the Spirit is nothing less than living, or walking as Paul says earlier in v. 4 oriented towards a goal reflected in the Gospel.  This is reflected in a pattern of behavior with the Spirit’s leading.  You and I can only live as Christians, as someone who gladly submits to the will of God in our lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  For the Spirit itself is the means by which our will is gladfully given up so that the will of God might be accomplished.

At the heart of what it means to therefore live in the Spirit with our mind set upon things of the Spirit is our character, who we are as disciples of Christ, as children of God in response to the work of the Gospel.  Paul states the gospel in vv. 1-4 as the foundation and reasoning for why you and I should live in a manner worthy of Christ’s love.  At the heart of the gift of the Spirit is a changed life.  A life that is no longer lived for our own desires, but a life that reflects Christ’s love for us for everyone to see.  A life in which you and I are not characterized by our sinful desires, but are instead characterized as a man or woman consisting of the fruit that the Spirit has brought about within us.  Paul states what this fruit looks like in Galatians 5:22-23a:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…

To set our mind upon the Spirit, to live as you and I have been called in Christ Jesus, is to bow our knee to His will, to change who we are and bring it within line to the likeness of Christ, being filled with such fruits as we just mentioned.  This is an impossible task, since we are sinners.  But God gives us the strength to seek it, to seek real change in our lives through the power of the Spirit.  Will we conquer it in this life, will you and I attain these fruits in perfection?  BY NO MEANS.  Just because you and I are in the Spirit does not mean that our sinful desires will not still have a hold upon us.  What it does mean however is that you and I are constantly being transformed into the image of God.  The Gospel cries out to you and I that we might change our lives.  That the character we exhibit every day might reflect God and the work the Spirit is accomplishing within us.  May we set our mind, our whole direction and compass, upon the Spirit and the power of God to change us, to make us like Christ.  May we not return to the things of the flesh, but may we keep our gaze upon the power of change God can and does enact within each of us through the power of the Holy Spirit!  We cannot do it alone, but thank goodness everyone who is in Christ has the Spirit within themselves.  We are not alone, don’t think so for a moment!

Section 4: “For Gladful Submission”

Finally, let us look at the final portion of our thesis, “For gladful submission.” We come to the closing verses of this passage, vv. 7-8 [SLIDE]:  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  Whereas vv. 1-4, the gospel section that we covered was truly about God’s grace in our lives, these last four verses are about the implications of that grace.  In this section Paul discusses submission to God.  The problem we discussed earlier, about our desire to be Lords over own lives, is abolished in Christ and continually abolished when we set our minds on things of the Spirit.  Paul calls us again here to submit, in the power of the Spirit, to the will of God.  Submission, bending our will to the will of God, is the greatest means by which you and I can glorify God.  The greatest way in which we can acknowledge God’s love for us and say thank you.  Thank you for not giving up on me.  Thank you for loving me more than I deserve. Thank you for giving me life.

Our desire, as Christians, should be to glorify God by pleasing him and him alone.  To live with the mind set upon the Spirit is not to live according to what the world would have from you and I, wealth, fame, etc.  Instead our desire to please God comes when everything you and I do is for Him alone.  I often ask myself, am I doing this because it is what the Lord would have for me, or am I doing this of my selfish desire to be Lord of my life again?

God calls both you and I in the power of the Spirit to gladfully submit to His Lordship.  Now why did I add the word gladfully?  It doesn’t appear in our text.  Because submission that isn’t gladful, is not submission.  It is bondage.  When I proposed to my wife she accepted gladfully, with joy.  If she had instead been bound under some form of bondage to simply comply with my demands and say yes, the entire relationship would have been shattered.  There would have been no truth.  When God desires you and I to act in a certain manner, does he want us to do so grudgingly or happily?  Does God want us to love him out of forceful submission or gladful submission?  God desires that we love him, of our own being, in such a way that he is glorified through our joy in him.  Without our joy resting in God’s love it is a deceitful relationship.  Gladful submission is key to walking in the Spirit, to setting our mind upon the things of the Spirit, to being in the Spirit.  We please God when we are joyfully seeking him, when we are joyfully seeking to display his glory by the transformation of our character in the Spirit.  We cannot lose this joyful submission to God as life continues to pound on us week in and week out.  We must hold on to the joy that comes from the power of the Gospel and our love of our God.

So may we revel in the power of the Gospel, the love of God for us.  May we desire to overturn the lordship which we falsely claim as our own and give it back to God.  May we turn from the ways of the flesh and seek life in the Spirit.  And above all may we love God with a reckless joy that transforms us as Children of God and glorify Him alone as Lord of all. Amen.

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