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Life in the spirit - Romans 8:1-17

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 26th November 2006.

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Are you someone who wakes up on a Monday morning with a smile on your face? Would you say that are you someone who likes what you do for a living or do you sometimes fear you may have the worst job in the world? Be thankful that you are not a nettle string maker. If we lived in about 500AD then any one of us could have undertaken the great task of making strings out of nettles. Let me wet your appetite by explaining what the job involved. The brave individual would begin his day by wading through waist-high stinging nettles and would grab them by the handful. With a cavalier attitude towards pain our brave hero would then hobble back to his processing hovel to continue the next stage. He would bite off the nettle-leaves and would then split the nettle stalks to remove the tough inner fibres. Can you imagine this? Itís painful just to think about it, isnít it? So why do it? Well, because after the nettle fibres were dried out they were used for making shirts and string. How many of you fancy quitting your job to become a nettle-string maker?

Or how about to become a whipping boy? This exciting occupation was a possibility during the 16th century. Here was the dilemma faced by the school teacher of royalty. How could the future King or Queen of England be disciplined for inappropriate behaviour? Understandably, the school teachers were reluctant to whack their slipper against the royal behind. But what could they do? Discipline must be carried out otherwise chaos would reign. Enter the whipping boy. You would be fed, housed and clothed by the royal court but every time the sweet prince or princess decided to rebel against authority you would hear the shout, ďGet me the whipping boyĒ, and then you would have to endure a royal caning on your future sovereignís behalf.

I think there are two crucial questions to ask whenever we contemplate changing employment. First of all, what are the benefits of working for the new boss? And, secondly, what responsibilities will my new job involve?

Becoming a Christian is like changing your job. A Christian can be defined as someone who is under new management. A Christian is someone who has stopped working for themselves and is now under the leadership of Jesus Christ. Sin is all about self-government. Before we become Christians we are self-employed. We serve ourselves. We make the rules, we allocate the time, we call the shots. Fundamentally, we are in charge.

By contrast a Christian is someone who has decided to change the management structure of their life. A Christian is someone who has decided to take themselves off the top of the tree. They have chosen to give up their self-employed status. They have changed direction in life and now consider themselves under new management.

Becoming a Christian is like changing your job. So letís ask the first of my two employment questions: What are the benefits of working for the new boss? Listen to what Paul says in Romans 8:1-4: ďÖthere is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,  4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.Ē

Admittedly this is complicated stuff. Easily confusing. Get the general point in verse 1 where Paul says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Must be about our freedom from the penalty of sin.

But then you look at the reason given in verse 2 and it doesnít seem to fit. I would have phrased it differently. Something about Jesus dying on the cross for my sins. Paul does say this in verse 3 but before he gets to verse 3 he writes verse 2. Now surprises like this should make us sit up and pay attention. And we should ask again and again: Why has God inspired Paul to phrase it like this?

Now at this point someone will say or at least will be thinking: Isnít this overly academic? Making it unnecessarily complex. Face the text rather than skip over. If we really believe God has inspired these words and not simply the general gist then we should examine the small print to find out why it is there. Like anything in life: When you fail to examine the small print you can find yourself in serious hot water later.

So letís try and work out what Paul means in verse 2. He says: through Christ Jesus [or more literally in Christ Jesus] the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

To understand this we need to remember that Romans chapter has not accidentally dropped out of the sky from outer space. It is part of a reasoned argument in a letter. We see this from the verse first 1. The word Ďthereforeí.

And whatís the basic primary school question we should always ask whenever we come across the word Ďthereforeí in the Bible: We must always ask what is it there for? And to find the answer to our question we must look back to what has come before. When we do this here and examine Romans 7 we discover that the previous chapter of Romans is all about the Jewish law. Remarkable contrast when you compare the key words of Romans 7 and Romans 8. Romans 7 the word law is used 31 times and the Spirit is mentioned once in verse 6. Whereas in Romans 8 the word spirit is used 21 times and 19 of those refer to the Holy Spirit, whereas law is only used five times and itís never mentioned after verse 7.

Two implications

o       Romans 7 is about the Jewish law.

o       If you are looking for the normal Christian experience then you wonít find it in Romans 7 but in Romans 8.

o       I know this is controversial. Many people think the end of Romans 7 describes the struggle of the Christian. I donít think it does. There is a struggle mentioned in Romans 8 but Iím not convinced Romans 7 refers to the Christian experience of life before Jesus returns.

o       Now what Iím about to argue is not agreed by everyone so I ask you to be a good Bearean. Mentioned in Acts 17 as those who were keen to study the Scriptures. If this doesnít convince then please reject what Iím about to say.

First of all, let me show you what Paul has to say about the Jewish law.

o       Good place to start is 7:4-6. Will come back to vs 6.

o       Then 7:7-12.

o       From 7:14 I think he is describing the position of a converted Jew before the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. Who was regenerated but not empowered. Itís very vivid Ė in the present tense.

o       He loves the law Ė 8:7 says the sinful mind is hostile to Godís law.

o       But no power to keep it.

o       Keeps on getting knocked down. He cannot do it. But is this really the Christian experience?

o       I cannot relate to it. There is a battle but itís not total defeat every single time. There are moments of victory.

o       But this individual is torn and needs rescue. Which leads to the cry of despair in vs 24.  Weíre told in vs25. And summary.

o       Answer is found in 8:1. We need rescue from the condemnation from the penalty and power of sin. And thatís what Paul says is available to this person in Jesus Christ.

o       Why? Answer in verse 2. Law of Spirit of life must refer to Jeremiah. Frees people from the two problems they face because of their sinfulness in connection with the law. The power of sin and the penalty of sin.

o       How is the penalty dealt with? Verse 3. Sin is condemned in sinful flesh.

o       What was the ultimate purpose of sending Jesus to save his followers? Verse 4. Some interpret this to mean the judicial sentence. Others the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us. But in light of what else he is saying I think this refers to our renewed life. Thatís what the law was unable to give us since it was weakened by the sinful nature (flesh). But the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, who writes Godís law on our hearts, gives us the solution. Our desires change and the power is now there.

Helpful picture is of someone on death row. What is their greatest need? Not a new set of clothes. A special meal at breakfast. But liberation from the penalty. But not just this. But a new life outside. God does both for us.

So contained in vs 1-4 are two benefits of being a Christian. Freedom from the penalty of sin and freedom from the power of sin. Let me apply both these truths to our situation.

1)      Freedom from the penalty of sin

Most of us have not come under the condemnation of the Jewish law but we are still under the condemnation from our rebellion against God. Without Christ we are facing judgement and so need to take refuge in our wonderful saviour. Once we have we need to hear those words of vs 1.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Not a whole amount that must be worked off through religious deeds or through requiem masses or through a short say in purgatory. The life changing affirmation of Scripture is this: there is absolutely no condemnation for those who take refuge with the saviour.

What is the first thing you do if a police car draws alongside you on the motorway? As you start to wonder how it got there without you noticing it you glance at the speedometer to check your speed. And then you start replaying the last five minutes. And why do this because police cars often invoke lots of guilty feelings when we are in their presence.

There is a danger of always feeling guilty as a Christian. Worrying what will happen if God happens to see what Iíve done in my life? Well letís face up to the facts. God does see. We cannot hide our inner self from our creator. And we have sinned. But there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So we need not feel guilty. All the wanted posters with our picture on them have been taken down. God is not hunting us down. We have freedom from penalty of sin.

2)      Freedom from the power of sin

Very easy to get the Christian life the wrong way round. So I come across people who sense a need for God but then in their own strength they try and change their moral character. Itís always if they view the church as the spiritual equivalent of the Boots Cosmetics Department, and frequent visits will make them acceptable to finally meet God face to face. But according to the Bible we need a dramatic internal overhaul by the Holy Spirit. We are forgiven first and then the power is released to change our behaviour.

And we see why this is necessary in vs 5-8. Which is where Paul compares the life of someone who has the Spirit with the life of someone who does not have the Spirit. So listen to what he has to say. Read vs 5-8.

Affects the minds. Mindset. How we argue. What we pursue. What we value. The doctrine of total corruption, where we see the spread of sin into every area.

Why is the mind/mindset of sinful man death? Now and eternally. Jesus in Mark 8. Give up to gain.

But here is the great promise. When we change employer, when we give our lives to Jesus we have a new power to battle with our sin. Or in the words of vs 9.

It will take time to see the changes. Some will be sudden others more slowly. Itís a bit like when a business changes management. The day the management changes the whole thing looks pretty similar to the day before, but there is a new hand at the controls, a new leader setting the directions, and over time this will start to have effects we can see. The important thing is to understand that a change has taken place. A Christian does have freedom from the power of sin.

But until we die we will not have freedom from the effects of sin. The power might be broken but the effects still remains. Or as Paul puts it in vs 10-11. I love this verse because he balances realism with expectation. Promise of future resurrection bodies. But the reality now is that our bodies are dead because of sin.

And donít we know this all too well? The aging process. The grey hairs. The thinning hair. The stiffness. The pains in the joints. The eyes. The ears. The things that just donít work anymore. The decay that sets in over the years. Our bodies are dying every second. Why? Because of sin.

General sin of a fallen world. People age. People get ill. Things stop working.

Also effects of particular sins. Not all problems can be traced to particular sins but some can. Alcoholic, the drug user, the person who sleeps around and catches a STD. Can any of these people become a Christian? Of course! But will everything be wonderfully transformed the minute they reconnect with God? Their spirit will be alive but the effects of sin will remain until they die.

This is important. How people cope with the more general effects of sin and also the effects caused by their particular sins.

Part of my responsibility as a full time Christian leader is to prepare people for dying. Itís very difficult in a culture which is scared of death. But what of Christians? How do we face up to our decay? Sometimes we ignore it and delude ourselves into thinking that God will always intervene to cure us. Sometimes he does but more often he does not. And instead he wants us to live out last days with the confidence that death is not the end but an amazing future awaits those who take refuge with Jesus. And he wants us to talk about these things with each other. So when you find yourself in that situation with a Christian brother or sister who knows they will soon be with the Lord then talk about these great promises. Why not turn up Romans chapter 8? Read through it. Talk it about. And then thank God for the future he has prepared for the followers of Christ.

What are the benefits of being a Christian? Freedom from the penalty of sin. Freedom from the power of sin and one day there will be freedom from the effects of sin.  Great benefits which need to be contemplated.

But what about the responsibilities of being a Christian. Itís all very well talking about the fantastic benefits but as with any new job our new employer expects us to behave in a certain way. And so I want to end tonight by talking about one of our major responsibilities as a Christian. Find it in vs 12-13.

Doesnít complete his sentence in verse 12. Live according to the sinful nature you will die.

In two ways. Death now but you will also show that you are not truly converted. But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

Now here is the battle I was talking about earlier. Penalty gone, power broken but like the effects the presence of sin still remains. And thatís why we are commanded to put to death the misdeeds of the body.

The old fashioned name for this is the mortification of sin. Pop down to Wesley Owen Christian bookshop in town and I suspect you will find very few books with the titles: ď10 easy steps to body mortification.Ē Or ďMortification for the couch potato.Ē You just donít find those books today. Instead our Christian bookshops are filled with titles on self-improvement and self-fulfillment.

You may know that Wesley Owen takes its name from two Christian men: one called John Wesley and one called John Owen. John Owen was a 17th century church leader and during his life he wrote an 86 page book called ďMortification of sin in believers.Ē Today mortify often has the sense of being embarrassed and ashamed. But in 17th century English to mortify something meant to kill it. In his book he put it like hisĒ ďBe killing sin or it will be killing you.Ē

Until we believe we are at war with the remnants of sin, until we realize the stakes are high, then we will probably just play at Christianity. We will drift in and out of church but we will probably do nothing more.

There will be no vigilance, no passion, no wartime mindset. We will play at the faith. But if we do we are in danger of death.

Let me remind you of what Jesus said in Matthew 18:8: "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire." Not literal. But vivid language designed to shock us into action. He is saying: you are not playing a game, you are fighting a war. And what is at stake is your very soul.

There is a violent streak to Christianity. Now itís not against other people. There is absolutely no justification for violence in the name of Jesus Christ. The crusades were not Christian crusades. They were crusades by power hungry men who corrupted the message of Jesus to suit their sinful pursuits. But nevertheless there is a violent attitude required in the Christian life. And itís against our sinful nature.

This is how one Christian writer puts it (John Piper): ďIt's a violence against all the impulses in our own selves that would make peace with our own sin and settle in with a peacetime mentality. It's a violence against all lust in ourselves, and enslaving desires for food or caffeine or sugar or chocolate or alcohol or pornography or money or the praise of men and the approval of others or power or fame. It's violence against the impulses in our own soul toward racism and sluggish indifference to injustice and poverty and abortion.Ē

What are the misdeeds of the body? They are the deeds we are about to do prompted by our sinful desires. So how do we kill them? How do we mortify them? How do we put them to death? Verse 13. By the Spirit. Not just let go and let the Spirit or stand before a mirror each day and shout ďI am a tiger, I can overcome sin today.Ē No itís a practical working together, where we take certain steps that result in the power of the Spirit working in us.

What steps should we take? Verse 5. Set our minds on the things the Spirit desires. How do we know? We have a whole book dedicated to what the Spirit desires. Word/Spirit together.

You may know the story from Greek mythology about the Sirens. They were part female, part bird, who sang a beautiful song from the rocks, and enticed sailors towards them, and towards their doom. The song was so beautiful they couldnít resist Ė and so they were drawn to their death. One sailor Odysseus managed to get past by putting wax in the ears of his sailors and tying himself to the mast so that he couldnít steer the ship towards them. Now of course thatís one way we can fight sin. We can block our ears to its call, and tie our hands, so we canít give in. And we do need to do that sometimes. Turn off the Internet. Put the computer in a public space, Sometimes we need to put the misdeeds of the body to death by not letting ourselves be enticed.

But let me remind you of Orpheus. He was another sailor who ventured past the Sirens. But his strategy was very different. He succeeded by playing a more beautiful tune than the Sirens and so his sailors were not drawn to them.  

What is the best way to mortify the sinful nature? What is the most excellent way to crucify the selfish instincts? It is to allow the Spirit to play a more beautiful tune. And we do this when we focus our minds on the things he desires and let these truths filter through to the very core of who we are. Let the promises of God flow into our lives.

And the result? Well according to verse 13 we will live. Paul saysÖ

Why is this? Not because weíve earned it. But look at what he says in verse 14. Why is the because there? Being led by the Spirit is being led into battle. Evidence that we are sons of God. Son in those days was an inheritor. They would live.

Adopted sons. All the same rights. Not universal fatherhood of God. All Godís offspring but only the followers of Christ as his sons and daughters. Assurance if we come to Christ Ė we are promised a share in his future glory.

How can we be sure? Not that we are perfect. Not that life is a breeze. But when we feel the tension of the battle. Itís not a bad sign when we struggle but a good sign. There will be successes and for that we thank the Lord. But we are in a battle.

Wonderfully we have been freed from the penalty of sin, and for its enslaving power but until the effects of sin are removed at the day of resurrection we are on a war status Ė so letís pray that God would keep our eyes fixed on the things of the Sprit so that in this next week we will indeed put to death the misdeeds of the body. Letís pray. 

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