Life in the Spirit

Life in the Spirit

Romans 8. Paul keeps spelling out what our new life in Christ is to look like, Christ in us and Christ for us. And here is a picture of that as he continues. So we look to the reading of God’s word if you please join me in prayer. God of all mercy, you promise never to break your covenant with us. And amid all the changing words of our generation, we ask then that you would speak your eternal word that does not change. Father, Father, that we may then respond to your gracious promises with faithful and obedient lives. And Lord, that in all that we say, in all that we do, that we would reflect that we indeed are your children made in your image. We pray and ask this all through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. Romans 8:5-13. We’re reading the first few verses. 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. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace.

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. The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Please be seated. An electric car and a gasoline car have two totally different power sources in order to operate, excluding hybrids from this analogy. If you take your Tesla to the gas station to fill up, you’re going to be stumped. The only thing that you find is the windshield, wash your reservoir, you add gas to it, it will do nothing to your mileage. It will make a mess. Both cars have all the same parts to operate, that make them cars. They have tires, they have seats, they have steering wheels, windchill wipes, all the normal things, but two very different power sources that animate them, that make them go. In Christ Jesus, the believer, is under a new power source and is no longer dominated by the flesh. It’s entirely different. You still have all the normal parts that make you human, that make you you. But if you are in Christ, the Holy spirit now dwells in you.

You are no longer living under the old humanity in Adam. You are living under the new humanity in Christ. And yet at the same time, the challenge for us is dealing then with our own sin. If we are in Jesus and we’re no longer under the old self, why do we struggle so much with our sin? Why is living the Christian life so hard? Why does sickness and disease have its way with our bodies? If I am in a new realm, why do I feel the pull of the old one so strongly? But do you realize that you feel it? You care about it. That’s not what everyone else does. There is another power at work in you that is highlighting the newness that is there and anything in conflict with that of the old you now care about. And because we are in Christ Jesus, we are to set our minds on the new life that’s controlled by his spirit. A quick reminder of where Paul has already taken us. The very beginning of chapter 8, Therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Why? For the law of the spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Jesus became our sin offering for his people. The penalty was done away with, and he died in our place. And that is so important because all day long, whether it be through a whisper or maybe through a shout, Satan is in our ear, reminding us and telling us of how terrible we are. He accuses us when we fail of the many sins that stand against us. And yet for those in Christ Jesus, they have a verdict already given, paid in full by Jesus. There is now no condemnation that stands against us. That is really good news. And Paul then continues to elaborate this. He goes on to describe this new spiritual condition. And in doing so, he talks about competing mindsets, competing responses. In verse 5, 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. Christianity has a lot to say about what and how we think. It’s not self-enlightment. It’s not you go out by yourself and figure it all out on your own. Paul is setting a contrast between flesh and spirit.

If you remember from last week, by flesh, he does not mean our physical bodies, the stuff. Living by the flesh, for Paul, it speaks about living under the realm and the domination, the dominion of sin, living by our corrupt, fallen, egocentric selves. Luther’s way of saying that is our nature deeply curved in on itself. That’s the old way. We recognize that we set our minds on the things we desire. Your mind, your thought, it goes in the direction of your affections. That’s the problem for the sinful part. Paul says, To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace. Life and peace, those are words of the covenant. When you and I are not at war with ourselves, fighting against what God has designed us for, we are then at peace with him, with ourselves, with one another. We have real life. Paul goes on, For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Now, for many, they hear that and go, Well, Paul, come on, you’ve gone too far.

Not everyone is hostile to God. Many are quite happy simply to be just indifferent to God. Indifference, biblically speaking, is hostility. There is no neutrality. None. When we talk about human depravity, we do not mean that people are always acting as wickedly as they can all the time. It means that they are not not being influenced by the spirit. They’re under a different power source. You are still living in your Adam-driven humanity if you are not in Christ. You have the verdict condemned upon you, and you cannot please God in this state. If you go working on a dirty, greasy car engine and then you come in to help fold clean laundry, it’s not going to work. There’s no way to touch clean clothes with greasy, oily fingers without staining them. You cannot simply will your hands to be clean. No more than you can simply will yourself into a new heart, a new disposition towards God. You don’t have it in you. The gospel tells us that this righteousness must come from outside of us. We have to be under a new representative, the second Adam, Jesus. I appreciate Scottish theologian Sinclair Ferguson, his remarks in this.

He said, For those who want to proclaim how great their free will is, he says, Will you yourself will to believe in God? Show me your enormous willpower by willing to love God. Someone said, Well, I don’t want to. If your willpower is so great, then will yourself to want to? They can’t. I don’t mean that they decided to show up to church for a few weeks. I mean a real heart change, a desire to follow after God. That comes from the Holy spirit in us. We don’t gin it up. Think about a stained glass window. These aren’t really stained glass, but those beautiful stained glass windows are so intricate and beautiful. The pictures in them and the sunlight lighting them up. When you are on the inside, you see them with great clarity and beauty and wonder. If you’re walking on the outside of the street, it’s just a gray blob. You don’t see the definition, you don’t see the color. Nothing jumps out of you because it’s not being illuminated to you. That’s the spirit’s work from the inside. He’s illuminating to you the Majesty and the glory of Jesus. And apart from Jesus, We cannot please God, which means there’s a defect of pleasure in us, if that is the case, because we were created to delight in God.

We were made for God’s good pleasure, not the other way around. If you get this wrong, then you will sell out to lesser pleasures. You will substitute real joy for fleeting pleasures of sex and appetite, of temporary thrills of constantly buying and shopping to get short dopamine hits. The egocentric life turns in on itself. But God has made us for an outward-facing view, to view him, to view other people. That’s what we were made for. When the focus is inward, your life, as Paul puts it, is dominated by the flesh. You live by comparison to others. You are the center of your universe, and you and I are not big enough to support that cosmic weight. It collapses on itself. And as you lived, so you die. The dying process does not suddenly make you develop a pleasure for God in the end. In the end, you get what you want. You get what you desire. Hell is the very place where human willpower gets what it wants, an existence apart from God. Now, as a believer, it’s possible to get entangled back into the old ways of the world. We all understand that. To get resnared to some of the former patterns of our life, and we struggle breaking free of those.

And Paul, he’s going to speak of the importance of that renewal of the mind, that transformation in chapter 12. But he’s telling us we live in a clash of worlds. All the old habits of the heart, they don’t go away peacefully. And so the question always comes back to us, what do you love? What do you think about? What consumes your thoughts, your time? Because your mind goes towards your affection. That’s how we were made. And no other world religion delights in pleasing God, to have affections towards him in this way. Pleasing God often a way for some to try to earn favor, maybe to get God off your back. But to delight in pleasing God first means that he’s personal. He’s not some cosmic being or nothingness or everythingness. There’s nothing personal in that. Reincarnation. It’s lived out towards some karma principle. That’s not personal life. I’m choosing to live a certain way because I don’t want to come back as something terrible, like a bug. Or worse, the moderator at a political debate. You knew you sinned there. For Islam, God is so transcendent that he does not actually engage with people. And so your job is simply just to submit so that you’re blessed in some way when he weighs out the good and the bad.

You You are not made to know God. That’s terrible. Jesus tells us that in him that we can know the Father. Like a child delights in pleasing his or her parents, not so they can be part of the family. They don’t bring the little macaroni necklaces and stuff, hoping in fear and trepidation that you will accept this, so you’ll feed them tonight. They bring them because they want to smile on your face to see you light up because you’re their mom, you’re their dad. They’re a part of the family. So two, we delight in giving God pleasure. Paul, in multiple places, he speaks of our ability to do what is pleasing to God. There’s a new mindset that only comes from the Holy spirit dwelling in us. And this new mindset is in competition with the old mindset. So are our responses. Paul says in verse 9, You, however, not in the flesh, but in the spirit. If, in fact, the spirit of God dwells in you, anyone who does not have the spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Now, we are not living in two natures. We have a single nature. Now, it is not yet free of sin.

It is yet to be truly and fully renewed. It’s still imperfect. But if we are in Christ, we are no longer dominated by the flesh. Because the Holy spirit is in us, we can now battle the flesh. We have a desire to even want to. Paul is not talking about some higher Christian life or a few elite people that make it. He’s not talking about some perfection that we can manage in this life now. Now, there are some groups out there who speak of being in the spirit in some an extra thing. No, to have Christ is to have the Holy spirit. You can’t be a spiritless a Christian. And this side of glory, no one will walk in this perfectly. There’s always been some out there who want to tell us that we should live without sinning if we’re indeed new creatures in Christ, sinless perfection, higher life, victorious Christian living, it goes by lots of different names. Years ago in a Christian training group, we had a speaker come and he told us straight face that he had gone for two years without sinning. Sure you did. Two years, huh? Without sinning. The only way this works is that you so narrow the definition of sin to be almost a joke.

Coveting is an inner desire of the heart. Jesus tells us that lustful thinking is sinful. It’s not simply our actions, but it’s our thoughts. Now, these people invariably tell us that, well, thoughts are only temptations. No. Thoughts and mindsets can be entirely sinful. That’s Paul’s point. But if in Christ is in you, verse 10, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness. Meaning the effects of a fallen body, we decay, we struggle, we have disease and sickness, but the spirit is life. This is the good news. To be in Christ means you have a new operating system. In verse 11, If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his spirit who dwells in you. Everyone is going to pass through the veil of death. That is the very last enemy to be overcome. For all of us, it’s the ultimate place where we live by faith and not by sight because we cannot see what’s coming next. To be sure, we have glorious and wonderful promises, but they are beyond our current horizon.

We hold those by faith. We can’t see what we’re entering into. But here we do have control over now our responses to the things that are in front of us. That we do have. And Paul goes on, he says in verse 12, So then, brothers, we are debtors not to the flesh to live according to the flesh, where if you live according to the flesh, you will die. But if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Saying our actions, it flows out of our beliefs as a believer. It’s not an if, conditional as if this could pass them to be. It’s an if, as in since we are in Christ. That’s why the mindset is so important. We live out our responses to what we believe. Now, most of the time, we don’t really think very hard about this connection. We all know lying is wrong. So why do we lie? Because in that instance, I believe that lying was better than feeling ashamed of the truth that makes me look bad. Why? Because I believe that keeping a good image to others is more important than telling the truth in that case.

I didn’t say it’s a good belief, but it’s a belief. That’s why we do what we do, because of bad beliefs. Everyone agrees that violence is wrong. So you ask, why did you strike her? Because I had no other choice. I was losing control of the situation. And while violence is usually wrong, it’s okay if I need to use it to control her. No one says that out loud, but that’s the underlying belief. And we actually develop and elaborate ways to justify our unspoken beliefs, our unspoken mindsets. Because we say things like, well, if you wouldn’t have pushed my buttons, I wouldn’t have gotten so angry. So now I’m blaming my response on the other person for what they did, not looking at my own mindset that approved of the action in the first place. That’s a self-justifying behavior. Because if we look at it ourselves, then we have to repent of it. But if I put it onto you, well, you’re the reason that I did this bad thing. No. That’s A sinful belief in a sinful response, and we are to repent of that. And that justification process keeps ourselves in the dark and hidden from it.

That’s why in the older language, we say we mortify the flesh. We put it to death because sin is not going away without a fight. To be sure, we are justified by faith alone. We are sanctified by faith alone. We don’t start by grace and then end on sheer human effort. Both flow out of being united to Christ. We live now by the spirit. The resources for this battle are there in him. Now, that’s good news. And there are lots of ways that the Bible talks about our war with our sin, but it’s not a passive endeavor. Christians truly respond to this new life in the spirit. And sometimes it’s hard to see. There are cars driving all around us everywhere, and there are a few of them that are electric EV, the most are gas. How do you know the difference? Can’t really tell by the externals. It’s hard to tell them apart. So in the world at large, we can’t see a person’s heart. We can see their responses, we can see their actions, but the inner regenerate heart is really known only by God. We can’t see into somebody else. You might be familiar with famous quip by Woody Allen.

He talks about being thrown out of college for cheating on a metaphysics exam. He said, I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me. And the humor, of course, is you can’t look into the soul of the person sitting next to you. And so often, though, there’s a judgment where we want to be able to tell this person’s in, this person’s out, this person’s in, this person’s out. We don’t know, ultimately. But what we can know is changed actions, changed responses of a person to show externally what’s going on in the heart. And that is the judgment of the fruit. And when you see a life that’s been transformed, that was living one way, and now it’s completely the change and it’s dominated by the things of God, something’s happened to move that, that person. And that’s the ind dwelling of the spirit. That Jesus has called this person out of darkness into his light. And there’s real and substantial differences. Paul is not trying to give us this great assurance at the beginning to now to make us all afraid. He’s telling us that there should be a consistency with our new life in Christ.

The new life is real life, no longer dominated by the world, the flesh, and the devil. To be free in Christ is to be really free. Now, to be sure, it is in Christ alone. There is no military, political, educational, medical, or economic savior or solution for the problems of fallen humanity. Ultimately, it is a sin problem, and the Lord has solved this through sending his son. In likeness of sinful flesh to put sinful flesh to death in his death. And now we have been made new because that verdict no longer stands against us. We have been justified. We are not condemned. And that changes everything. His spirit now dwelling in us. And then when we see other people, we see those for whom the same spirit as in Jesus is in them. The love for Jesus has to be a love for them. How I think about them, how I respond to them, this flows out of a new Holy spirit-driven life. And that means I now want their great good. And where I don’t, I repent of that as sin. And I continue to yield my life to the spirit who resides in me.

And that is where life is found. Because we were made for life. And when we twist this around to ourselves, to our own pleasures, our own thoughts, and in just this self-centeredness, we just shrivel up and die inside. That’s the part you can’t see. If you could see into the soul of maybe someone driving by and you saw this shrunken little head or shriveled prune, an apple that’s set for months outside, that’s what a soul in that state would look like, even though they might be beautiful and successful on the outside. And conversely, you can be quite plain and ordinary. Nothing happened there. And the radiance and the glory of the beauty that emanates. And one day, those things will coalesce. The outer and the inner beauty will be the same. But we can’t see that now. But it will come. And in the meantime, we live by the spirit. We’re not dominated by the things of the flesh any longer. We war against that. We push back for all those things that are trying to move us in a different direction. A different mindset is now ours, and we cultivate that mindset. We cultivate that response that is spirit-driven.

Because in the end, it brings glory to Jesus. It spreads his love to those around us. And this is the community that we have a foretaste of that is still to come, that is ours now, though not entirely. But isn’t that the image that we want? Isn’t that worth living our Christian life for, to be participants in that with those around us? As hard and as difficult as it is, we have been given life, the spirit of life and peace that dwells in the people of God. Pray with me. Father God, as we come before you this day, we thank you. We thank you that you have given to us your son, that he has not only taken our verdict, the condamation away, but Lord, he has given us his spirit that dwells in us. But Father, because of that, we can cry out to you, Abba, Father. And Lord, we would ask that you would continue by your spirit those areas of our lives that do not line up with the reality of this new mindset in Christ, that you would not only show us in conviction, but Father, that you would continue to enable us to stand against it.

Lord, we pray that as your people, that we indeed would reflect the joy and the radiance of Jesus, of a new life, a new response, a new mindset. Thank you, Father, for your goodness and your kindness. We pray and offer all these things before you through Jesus, our risen Lord. Amen.

Discaimer: This sermon text was generated by an automated transcription service.

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