Sanctification - Romans 8:1-17
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
There is the story of a woman who had a small house on the coast of Ireland at the turn of the century. She was wealthy but frugal. And so the people were quite surprised when she decided to be the first to have electricity in her home. Several weeks after the installation, the meter reader appeared at her door. He checked the meter and asked if her electricity was working. She assured him it was. Well, he said it’s just that your meter shows hardly any usage at all. Are you using your power?' Certainly.' she answered. 'Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on the lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off again.' I am sure you see the point: here was a woman who was tapped into the power but hardly used it. Her house was connected but not altered. And you know sometimes Christians can be like that when it comes to their lives. By definition they have the Holy Spirit within them who provides power for change, but although connected, their lives are little altered. And the teaching of our passage tonight is that that should not be. Here we come to the next great ‘shun’ of Christianity- ‘sanctification’, the process whereby we become conformed more closely to the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. And central to this process of change is the work of the Holy Spirit. There are three things our passage focuses for us about how this change takes place.
First of all, there is a new freedom–v1, ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. Some of you may have seen the film ‘The Green Mile’ starring Tom Hanks. 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, which 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 from the Governor. 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, we all have to walk the ‘green mile’. As we leave this life we inevitably face the prospect of judgment in the next life. We have all failed and there is no way out left to ourselves. And yet, Paul says, ‘Therefore, (what he is about to say follows from all that he has been saying up to this point) there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ Tell me, what would be good news to those condemned waiting to tread the green mile? You have just won the lottery? There is a new suit of clothes waiting for you? It’s pizza for dinner? No, the good news would be ‘You have just received a pardon-you are free to go.’
That is precisely the good news Christians have embraced. And the way that news has come to them, and could come to you if it has not done so already, is through the work of Christ applied by the Spirit of Christ- 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, ‘For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’ What that means is this: Jesus, God’s own Son, lived the perfect life. He came in ‘the likeness of sinless flesh’ that is, he had a real body like ours, but unlike us he never sinned. So, why then did he die since he didn’t deserve to? Paul tells us, he died as a ‘sin offering’. In short he took upon himself our death sentence on him. So the law is satisfied- the verdict-death for sin is carried out and mercy is shown- forgiveness for those 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. Do you see?
So the first major role of the Holy Spirit is to convert, producing Christians, people liberated from the fear of death and the prospect of judgement and so glorifying Christ
And this results in a new orientation, vv 5-11.
Humankind is divided into the only two categories which ultimately matter. You are either a Christian or a non-Christian. And how you stand before God 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.’ And the difference between the two could not be more marked.
Look at how the non-Christian is described in v5ff –(by the way 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. In short, sin and being orientated towards sin is Christlessness. The very opposite which characterised Jesus characterises us before we come to know Jesus. Now surely, it is going to take some amazing power to change someone like that isn’t it, to transform a mind set on those kinds of things? This person is spiritually dead, morally self-centred, despising God with a mind which is unwilling and unable to go God’s way. Nothing but a supernatural work of God is going to do.
But when the Spirit sets to work through the Gospel message the result is amazing, 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’ 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, think the kind of thoughts he thinks, and have the priorities which are his priorities. And the results are very practical. Let me illustrate what I mean. The great American evangelist, Billy Graham, was once interviewed on TV by Sir David Frost and was asked outright, ‘Are you ever tempted by the lusts of the flesh.’ And in response Dr Graham told this story. He said, ‘One of my evangelist colleagues was in Paris some years ago and one night he phoned me. He said that he had been to a Christian meeting and as he walked back to his hotel past some of the seedy night clubs and sex shops of Pigalle he felt these powerful temptations to give in. They were so strong. He said, ‘Billy I just want you to know that was the battle that was going on within me last night, but this is what I did. I took the key to my hotel room, locked the door from the inside and I threw the key out of the window so I couldn’t get myself out of the room for the rest of the night. It was the only way I figured I would be able to fight it.’ Then Billy Graham went on to say to David Frost: ‘If you are tempted God has promised to provide a way of escape- if it was Joseph who had to leave his garment behind and flee or this evangelist who locked himself in his room, I tell you the Holy Spirit provides a way for Christians to escape and the world does not know this.’ You see God changes not only what we do but what we want to do.
Which brings us to the key idea -a new relationship.
In verse 9 Paul talks about Christians being ‘in the Spirit’, being indwelt by ‘the Spirit of God’ and having ‘the Spirit of Christ’. Do you see how the Holy Spirit, brings into our lives the entire Trinity, which is why he speaks of the Spirit of God (the Father) and Christ (the Son). In other words we are brought into a new relationship with the entire Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by the Spirit. In some ways the illustration I began with can be misleading if pushed too far, because to speak of being ‘connected’ to God, like a house is connected to electricity, can give the impression that it is all very impersonal, having some kind of power. Rather, it is all very personal, being related to a person and that person working in us. If sin, according to verses v 8 is Christlessness, then holiness is Christlikeness.
This is so important. If we think of changing as a Christian to be a matter of following a method or cultivating a habit, then we are going to end up with mere moralism, ‘I have got to summon up some kind of inner strength with God’s help’. But all that that will result in is a new form of slavery, fearful that we have never done enough, prayed enough, read the bible enough, evangelised enough. That is not why God sent his Spirit to dwell in us according to verse 15, ‘The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again.’ Instead, the Spirit is sent that we can have a deep and satisfying relationship, ‘rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’
One of the things you notice about children and young people is that they imitate who they see, and particularly whom they admire. They are not just sat down and told to do this or that, they just pick up things. And as a parent it can take you by surprise hearing your children coming out with things which you realise they have picked up from you. It may be that a younger brother looks up to, and copies, his older brother. Sure, they have their own personality and ways of doing things, but the influence of others is unmistakable.
Well, who are Christians to be like? Well, the very name tells you ‘Christ’. We are God’s sons by adoption; Jesus is God’s Son by nature. In fact he is our elder brother and well worth imitating. We are told in v14 to be led by the Spirit, as Jesus was led by the Spirit after his baptism, and led out into the wilderness to be tested by suffering, which, according to verse 17, is also the lot of his followers. And so the way to become more like Christ is to look more and more to Christ. This is not something mystical, it means getting to know him as he is presented to us in the Bible. It is as we become entranced by his goodness that we want to become good. It is as we see his life of service that we want to serve.
But it is more than external imitation this change happens, it is by an inner transformation, the work of Christ’s Spirit within us. This is not a self- help programme with Jesus put before us as a role model to follow; this is a divine help process with Jesus Spirit put within us to work out. It is as we get to know Jesus more and more, that these cold hearts get to be warmed more and more.
The 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon describes this sanctifying process like this: ‘I cannot liken it to anything that I know better than the snow which melts in the sun. You wake up one morning, and all the trees are festooned with snowy wreaths, while down below upon the ground the snow lies in a white sheet over everything. Lo, the sun has risen, its beams shed genial warmth; and in a few hours where is the snow? It has passed away. Had you hired a thousand carts and horses and machines to sweep it away it could not have been more effectually removed. It has passed away. That is what the Lord does in the new creation [he is talking of Christians]: His love shines on the soul, His grace renews us, and the old things pass away as a matter of course…Where His blessed face beams with grace and truth, as the sun with warmth and light, he dissolves the bands of sin’s long frost, and brings on the spring of grace with newness of buds and flowers.’
And that’s right. You know, as you come under the sweet alluring song of the Spirit of Christ by looking more and more into the life of Christ, the siren voices of the world attract you less and less. You find yourself adopting new priorities, new affections, so that things which mattered to you an awful lot at one time- getting that career, getting that money, getting all those friends and adulation, appear to mean very little compared to getting to know the Lord Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be a struggle and having to make some hard decisions, but get your vision right, (and that vision is the person of Christ) it does become a whole lot easier. He is the one who melts the frost on our hearts. But as in any personal relationship it has to be worked at. The Spirit will be prompting you to take hold of those means whereby he will change you and what you want- studying the Bible, reading Christian books, making a bee line to Christian meetings and times of worship like this- don’t resist him.
And that it is primarily by looking to Christ that we become like Christ is underscored by what Paul says at the end in verse 17, ‘Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.’ That is looking very much to the future and the return of Christ, entering fully into his inheritance. In his first letter, the apostle John says that ‘when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). I love the way Mike Reeves describes this, he says, ‘That full, unveiled, physical sight of the glorified Jesus will be so majestically effecting it will transform our very bodies around us. The sight of him now by the Spirit makes us more like him spiritually; the sight of him then, face to face, will finally make us-body and soul- as he is. Contemplating Christ now is thus like seeing the morning star at the peep of day: both enchanting and full of hope. It is light for now with the promise of so much more to come. It is a taste of heaven.’
Let me ask: do you want a taste of heaven? Well, since heaven is where Christ is, the place of supreme beauty and love, for he is beauty and love, then as you become more acquainted with Christ through his Word, loving him in his people, sharing his Gospel in the world, that taste will become ever more sweet and ever more real. And this is given a name- sanctification.
 Mike Reeves, Life in Christ p 88.
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