Going home alone? - Romans 8:1-17

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 26th November 2000.

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It was an exciting day for the 4 year old boy. He was going to the big town with his Grandfather. And grandfathers being as they were, thought the little boy, he was bound to buy him a brand new toy. When they arrived the little boy slipped his hand into that of his grandfather’s and they made a beeline for the open market. This was always fun, thought the lad. First, a ride on the small merry go round at the top of the square, followed by a hot dish of mushy peas coated in mint sauce from the mobile stall nearby. And then the moment he had be waiting for - the toy stall. That is when things began to go badly wrong. For one brief moment the little boy turned to look at some interesting items on the stall on the opposite side of the busy thoroughfare. And that is when he realised his grandfather couldn’t be seen. Panic gripped his little heart. What was he going to do? He found himself being slowly swept along with the crowd until he came to what turned out to be a dressmaker’s shop. So bravely in he walked. ‘I’m lost’, he said, fighting back the tears, ‘I can’t find my grandad.’ ‘Poor mite,’ said the women who fussed around him like mother hens. ‘Just you sit there in the shop window,’ they said reassuringly, ‘perhaps your Grandad will spot you. Here, have a chocolate biscuit.’ So there he sat perched on a high stool with a million and one fears flooding his mind. What if he never saw his Grandad again? Perhaps he wouldn’t ever get home, then what? He might have to spend his life in one of those places for lost children, what did they call them? A froster home. Well, that did it, nothing could hold back the steady stream of tears. It was then one of the ladies of the motherly variety came to him with a big smile on her face. ‘Is your name Melvin?’ she asked. I nodded, rubbing my eyes. 'Well, here is someone for you.' I turned and there standing in the shop doorway was a policeman and beside him my grandad. It was like a scene from the Godfather reunion, hugs and kisses all round. I very tightly held on to my Grandad’s hand or rather, he held tightly onto mine, and off we set for home.

It need not be long in becoming a Christian that a similar sense of panic can overwhelm you. You have turned to Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour. You are now a child of the King. But the journey home, to that heavenly kingdom seems so long and arduous. Anything could happen. Maybe your new found faith receives some sort of a set back. But it is then that the Christian discovers something quite wonderful. He finds the fears like that of 4 year old Melvin Tinker, that he will never get home alone, are really quite groundless. For God has given the Christian someone who will accompany and encourage him all the way to heaven. Not a grandfather but the Holy Spirit. And just how he does that is what we are going to be discovering tonight as we turn to Romans chapter 8. And I want us to look together at this tremendous passage under three headings: the liberation of the Spirit, the gift of the Spirit, and the leading of the Spirit.

First of all, the liberation of the Spirit -v1-2 (read) . Some of you may have seen the film ‘The Green Mile. It is a story set on death row in a prison in the Southern States of America in the 1930’s. All the men in that section of the jail face the death penalty -execution by the electric chair, a particularly gruesome way to die. The ‘green mile’ in the title refers to the length of corridor, the floor of which is painted green, along which the prisoners have to walk to their execution. All the inmates know that that is the only way out of their cell, their fate is sealed, short of the miracle of receiving a pardon. Now the sobering truth is this: according to Paul’s argument in chapters 1- 3 of his letter to the Romans, because of our appalling rebellion against our Maker, the disgraceful way we abuse him and each other, we all have to walk the ‘green mile’. As we leave this life we inevitably face the prospect of judgement in the next life. We have all failed and there is no way out left to ourselves. And yet, Paul says here, ‘Therefore ,there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ Tell me, what would be good news to those murders waiting to tread the green mile? You have just won the lottery? There is a new suit of clothes waiting for you? Its chicken and chips for dinner? No, the good news would be ‘You have just received a pardon- you are free to go.’

My friend, that is precisely the good news Christians have embraced. And the way that news has come to them , and could come to you, is through the work of the Spirit- v2 ‘because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death’ How come? v3-4 (read). What that means is this: Jesus, God’s own Son, lived the perfect life. He came in ‘the likeness of sinless flesh’ that is, it was a real body like ours, but unlike ours was sinless. So, why then did he die since he didn’t deserve to? He died as a ‘sin offering’ , i.e., he died on the cross in our place, as our substitute, bearing away our sin, taking the judgement we deserve in our stead. In short God carried out our death sentence on him. So the law is satisfied- the verdict-death for sin, and mercy is shown- forgiveness for sinners who put their trust in Jesus which is what v 4 is all about. And it is as this message is told that God Holy Spirit works, opening closed hearts, enlightening dark minds to believe it and love it.

So the first major role of the Holy Spirit then, is to convert, to produce Christians, people liberated from the fear of death and the prospect of hell. Now that is a miracle and as long as you live you will not see a greater miracle than that. ‘Ah’, you say, ‘now you are exaggerating’ Surely it is all a matter of simple choice. People can choose to accept Christ if they want or choose to reject him, all the Holy Spirit does is add a little perfume, making Christ seem attractive.’ Well, that certainly isn’t what Paul thinks and neither is it what experience confirms. To grasp the shear magnitude of Christian conversion look at what Paul says about the gift of the Spirit in vv 5-9.

Paul makes a simple and straightforward division. Humankind is made up of two types of people and they are the only two categories that really matter. You are either a Christian or a non-Christian. You can be a black Christian or a yellow non-Christian. You can be a rich non-Christian or a poor Christian. The adjectives are an irrelevance. What matters is where you stand in relation to Christ. And how you stand before him is dependent upon whether you have the Holy Spirit or not, as evidence of your belief -v9 ‘If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to him.’ But look at how the non-Christian is described in v5ff -this was Melvin Tinker before he became a Christian so I have nothing to brag about- ‘He lives according to his sinful nature’, 5, his ‘mind is set on sinful desires’, v5 his ‘mind is death’ v6, his mind is ‘hostile to God’ v7 .It not only does not submit to God’s law it ‘cannot’- v7. They cannot ‘please God’ v8. Now surely, it is going to take some amazing power to change someone like that isn’t it? This person is spiritually dead, morally self-centred, despising God , with a mind which is unwilling and unable to go God’s way. Now do you see why from one point of view evangelism is so difficult? But also do you see why the greatest walking miracle you will ever meet is a Christian believer and that the greatest miracle you can ever experience if you have not yet done so is to become a Christian?

So how do you account for the change? By the gift of the Spirit who sets to work as the Christian message is explained. If you feel that God has been speaking to you, drawing you to himself, stop resisting and go with it, surrender to him tonight by confessing your need to get right with God and your belief that Jesus has done everything to meet it on the cross. That is what you need to do.

Now it is important to stress that there is no ambiguity as far as Paul is concerned in v9. You either have the Spirit of Christ or you do not. If you are a Christian you do, if you are not a Christian you don’t. And Paul does not make any further distinctions between those Christians who have been baptised with the Holy Spirit or have received the Holy Spirit or been sealed by the Holy Spirit. When you look at the NT they all refer to the same thing anyway -the giving of the Holy Spirit at conversion. So the only time Paul uses the term ‘baptised in the Spirit is in 1 Corinthians 12:13 where he says ‘For we were all baptised in the one Spirit. And since we are talking here about God the Spirit who is a person, you cannot have more of a person or less of a person dwelling in you. You either have that person present or you don’t. Certainly we can have a good or not so good relationship with that person, coming more and more under his influence and that might be linked to what the Bible terms the ‘filling of the Spirit’ as we shall see.

But you say, ‘what of the experiences which people claim to be of the Holy Spirit-like falling down or whatever it might be?’ Well, you have to make a distinction between having an experience, which is unnecessary to deny, and the interpretation of that experience. And whether or not an experience we have is authentically of the Spirit will be linked to his purpose in our lives, what he intends to do. And it is in relation to that we can test whether or not something is really an experience of the Spirit. As we have already seen his primary role is to glorify Christ by bringing people to believe in him as the Gospel is taught and to continue living out that gospel

Which brings us to the matter of the leading of the Spirit ?v9 ‘You ,however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit ,if the Spirit of God lives in you’. The word ‘controlled’ is not in the Greek text. It is simply ‘You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.’ So what does being ‘in the Spirit’ or being ‘controlled’ by the Spirit involve? Well, we have already been told in vv5-6. It all has something to do with our minds.

There are some Christians who give the impression that the Holy Spirit replaces our minds, so they won’t do anything until they are led by some continuous stream of inner promptings, as if we were to be some Spirit- controlled robot. No, the Holy Spirit does not replace our minds, he renews them so that we learn to desire what he desires. But, you say, how do you know what that is? Well, according to Paul, it is the exact opposite of what our sinful nature desires. And that can be summed up in one word -self. There is that commitment to careerism, self-fulfilment, materialism, feeling good about yourself. In all of these it is the self which is at the centre of our horizons-not God. So here is the first test to see whether what is being offered is of the Spirit or whether we are really living in the Spirit. What does it appeal to? Is it self? So you are busy moving from one religious meeting to another looking for a spiritual high-why? Well, it makes me feel good? You are wanting a religion which is open ended, free from obligation , commitment and cost. Why? Well, then I can be the one who chooses what I want to do. We may be more willing to go to a Christian celebration than get out to do some ‘coal face’ evangelism. Why? Well, it is more comfortable and enjoyable. It is simply what the world wants but we make it acceptable by dressing up in Christian guise. Self your see.

More positively how will we know what it is we are meant to set our minds on, so we are led by the Spirit as Paul says in v14? Well, the most obvious place to look is where we are looking at the moment ,the book the Holy Spirit inspired to be written, the Bible. If I write down in a letter what my hopes and dreams are, what I consider valuable and to be of benefit, and you want to know those things the obvious thing for you to do would be to sit down and read what I have written. Likewise we are to turn to the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God and that way we are led by the Spirit as our minds are filled with his truth and as he enlightens those minds and changes our hearts. Sure it means hard work-thinking, but that is a mark of being led by the Spirit. The person who has the Spirit does not give up thinking, they think much harder. They read too. Do you? Christian books I mean? What about using the tape library ? They are all part of God’s provision to help shape our minds so that they become more like the mind of Christ.

Which brings us to the next obvious thing to do in order to be led by the Spirit. We have already been told that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. So if I want to know what a Spirit filled life looks like, then I need to look at the only human being who as God was constantly filled with the Spirit and that is Jesus. And when I turn to him what do I see? Certainly not a self centred individual. But someone who served and suffered and whose mind was full of the Scripture so he could quote it at ease and live by its teaching. And this is one of the most striking things about the Holy Spirit, he imparts self-control. There is not a single recorded instance when Jesus appeared like a drunken man-not one. He was never too loud, or emotionally out of control. He was rational, supremely so, that is why his teaching was so rich and balanced, full of substance not froth-that is the mark of a Spirit filled man or woman. He is mentally disciplined, Jesus walks into a place and he is totally sober, aware of his environment and his audience, that is why he is so sensitive in dealing with people. He handles the situation wisely, without hype. There is nothing crude ,vulgar, impersonal or egotistical about Jesus and neither should there be with anyone who claims to be filled with the Spirit. Jesus is the Spirit-filled man par excellence .But we don’t see him behaving in an uncontrolled, frenzied way. Yes, there is zeal. Yes, there is passion. There is nothing dull about the mind and life on fire for Christ. But then there is nothing animal- like either which characterises someone filled with the Spirit- that is the way of the sinful flesh. No, the Christian man or woman will be like their Saviour in this respect- fully together. And that is what you see in the book of Acts with folk who are said to be ‘filled with the Spirit.’ When this happens it is not by some technique which is employed -do these things and the you will be filled with the Spirit, it is the sovereign work of the Spirit himself and it always leads to a witnessing to the Gospel. So on the day of Pentecost the disciples were simply together in prayer and then filled with the Spirit they proclaim the Gospel. In Acts 4:8 Peter and John are brought before the religious rulers and ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ Peter gives a reasoned defence of the Gospel. Later, after the prayer meeting in the same chapter, we read of how they were all ‘filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.’ The same goes for the first Christian martyr Stephen in Acts 7 . ‘Full of the Holy Spirit’ he gives one long Bible study. And again this is not surprising, for the Spirit of Jesus witnesses to Jesus. To be filled with the Spirit is not a matter of self but of service, service for the Gospel. That is a measure of a Spirit filled Christian.

Which brings us to the main operation of the Holy Spirit which in the sphere of our behaviour. The focus is not on some inner subjective religious experience-that we call the Holy Spirit- but living a life pleasing to God by the Spirit. It is the sinful mind that does not submit to God’s law, according to v7, whereas by implication it is the mind led by the Spirit which does. As we read in v 13 ‘You will put to death the misdeeds of the body.’ So those led by the Spirit will watch their language, will keep their promises, will work hard for a living , will be busy with acts of compassion, visiting the sick, seeing what good they can do in the world. They will have a concern for the lost as Jesus had a concern for the lost. Do you? Well, those are the marks of being led by the Spirit. It is obvious really. Now are you beginning to see how you can tell the real thing from the sham and the bogus? Don’t be impressed by show, look at the deeds, in fact lets look at our own life and see what we find there.

You see, all of this is part of the Holy Spirit’s ultimate goal of preparing us fit for heaven- v11 and v15-17 (read). The Spirit enables us to call God ‘Abba-’ an Aramaic term of intimacy which means dear Father’. But this is not necessarily an utterance of ecstasy but a trusting cry in agony. I say that for two reasons. First, Paul here talks about sharing in Christ’s sufferings. There will be more of this next week, but suffice to say that as we walk through this world, there will be times when we will feel so worn down, so frustrated, so pained by what we see and experience, that it is then we cry out ‘ Abba -father’, longing for a better world when we shall see our dear heavenly Father’s face for real. That is when we need the Spirit so much isn’t it? to help us cope living in a world full of suffering. And that is the second reason why I think this cry is mainly uttered when we find ourselves in the midst of a spiritual battle, for that is when Jesus said these words. As he lay prostrate in the garden of Gethsemane ,soaked in sweat, full of terror because of what lay before him in the agony of the cross, then he cried ‘Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ Those are the words coming from the lips of one whose mind was set on the things of the Spirit.

So let me say, there is no condemnation for you if your are a believer in Christ. But that doesn’t mean being idle. He has given you his Spirit, now work with him. Oh yes he will make sure we get to heaven in the end, we do not go home alone, but he will do so by working in you, challenging your selfishness and he will polish you so that bit by bit you will become a little mirror image of his Son reflecting his grace and glory.

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