A mid-week Wednesday good day to you. Up early this morning and spending time soaking up our next reading in our quest to read thru the New Testament in a Year. This morning we are reading Romans 8:1-17...it's good stuff! Come back when you're done and we'll walk through it together.
The context that begins this lovely chapter is worth our recalling. Chapter divisions aren't always helpful as they frequently interrupt the flow of thought coming from the pen of the Apostle. It's always helpful to read back before reading on. Here's Eugene Peterson's version of the end of Romans 7 and the beginning of Romans 8 in "the Message":
"I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.."(beginning of Chpt. 8)..."With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. (7:24-25 & 8:1-2).
The 7th chapter of Romans was like driving a long hot day in a vast flat state...waiting, hoping the sign will say "thanks for visiting, welcome to the state of...." We felt the dry, dusty, sad feeling of our dismal failures to deal with our Sin, and we know from our own experiences that we can't do it on our own...we need help. We have left that futile struggle to enter the state of the liberating power of the Holy Spirit in us. "Therefore..." (8:1), begins a new truth. The old truth is that the Law was good, but incapable of either saving or making us into transformed people. Like a mirror hanging on the wall as I stand before it in the morning, the Law can show me what I need to do, it just can't help me do it. Now Paul points us to another way - the way of the Spirit.
Romans 8 begins with "there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus". That is like a doctor coming in after a test to say, "the good news is there is nothing there...you're fine!" Romans 8 ends with even greater news - there's no separation from God's life as we grow closer to eternity (8:39). In 8:1, "no condemnation" means we are secure in Christ's finished work for us. The Law made us insecure - failures, guilty, sinners. Christ has made our justification secure because it is outside of our works and is based on his work alone.
The reason why this new life is possible is because of the third person of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit. God the Father planned from all eternity to save those who would come to His Son - whom he sent into the world to live a perfect, sacrificial life. The Son, Jesus, paid the penalty of our Sin and has given us His righteousness to create this New Life within us. Now the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and begins the process of transformation - a life-long process. In the Holy Spirit, we stand before God "in Christ" (8:3), and by the power of the Spirit a new life - not driven by guilt and shame - can begin (8:4).
As in the case of Justification in Christ, so also in this place of Sanctification by the Spirit, we need to understand that the struggle of our human self is not over. We still have a "self", which the Apostle Paul calls the "flesh", and the struggle to yield, that is, to give control over to the Spirit our tendency towards feeding the flesh of self goes on (8:5-8). We may have Christ, but Christ doesn't always have us in the way he could, or should. We are like children who have learned to walk, and soon we become proud of our accomplishments and decide we don't need Mom or Dad to show us where to go, or what to do. The "flesh", or "self-will" does not yield and were much wiser if we remember that. We'd love to say we're cooperating with God's Spirit, but Paul reminds us: "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. (8:7-8).
So, are we back to Romans 7 - a frustrating sense of impossible? No, not at all. In vss 9-11, Paul lays out the superior work of the Holy Spirit - "the Spirit is life because of righteousness" (vs 10). The power that brought about the resurrected life of Jesus from death is the same power at work in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit for our new life (vs 11). Are verses 12 & 13 then to be understood as "warnings" - as if to say, "you better cooperate or you'll lose it all"? Again, No. Paul had already said to them, us, that "you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you (8:9). He has confidence in the work of the Spirit. This is where we must settle into the security of knowing Christ Jesus. When we put our faith and trust in Christ, we are declared righteous - forever, eternally - we are secure in Christ and eternal life has already begun. The Holy Spirit is given to us to indwell and begin the process of transformation, even though we still have this selfish, sinful nature. Unfortunately, as we all know, that selfish
, fleshly nature is very much alive also. The "obligation" (vs 12), literally means, "we are debtors". What is the debt? or Obligation? It is to live out the righteousness of Christ, growing in our faith through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
Think of it as moving into a new family or household. You are still you, but you now have a new place to learn from and learn about. Life in Christ is like that - we need to learn, to grow. Remember how the children of Israel were delivered from Egypt's slavery, but then had to learn how to live as free people. They failed miserably. Some of them wanted to go back to Egypt - back to slavery! The point Paul is making is "there is no life, or freedom back under the law, but there is life and freedom in Christ - the Holy Spirit will show you how". We learn, grow, change, not by living in fear, but by living by faith.
In that process, we also gain a much clearer insight into what is evil and what is good. When we see the evil at work in our mind, heart, we need to deal with it decisively, quickly. Paul says it like this: "So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For 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. (8:12-13). How can we "put to death" those deeds we left behind? We do it "by the Spirit". The old language for this is "the mortification of the flesh, through the work of the Spirit". The reality of our life in Christ is that the Spirit of God gives us much greater clarity of things not consistent with the character of Christ. Temptations, lusts, desires of selfishness, greed, coveting - they don't just disappear. We gain greater insight into what these are, and greater ability to turn away from what is ultimately unfruitful things for us. As the martyred saint, Jim Eliot said: "He is no fool who gives up that which they cannot keep to gain that which they cannot lose!"
The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift of friendship and family. Here's what we now receive in the Spirit's life:
"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (8:14-17).
Intimate family...that's what we receive. "Daddy" is the word for "Abba" in Aramaic. He leads us daily (vs 14), and we should state in confidence - I belong, I'm a child of God, not a slave serving in fear. I am a child of God, a member of God's family, and as a child, I am also an heir of God's riches. These things are given as assurance to us through the work of the Holy Spirit (vs 16).
Herein is the great position we stand in. When we hear that this is the work of the Holy Spirit, we want to check ourselves - how? where? what's he doing now? Relax...live in faith...He knows what he is doing. Watch your desires..keep them in check with what you know to be good before God. Should I try hard to be holy? Spiritual? That won't do anything except produce pride and hypocrisy. "Come as you are" - every day, and present yourself to God. "Father, here I am, what do we want to do today?"