Life in the Spirit

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 8:1-9

How would you like to get rid of guilt once and for all? There’s a way to do that, and I’d like to tell you about it today.

Listen to the opening verses of Romans, chapter 8:

It follows that there is now no condemnation for those who are united with Christ Jesus. In Christ Jesus the life-giving law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death. What the law could not do, because human weakness robbed it of all potency, God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of our sinful nature and to deal with sin, he has passed judgement against sin within that very nature, so that the commandment of the law may find fulfillment in us, whose conduct is no longer controlled by the old nature, but by the Spirit. Those who live on the level of the old nature have their outlook formed by it, and that spells death; but those who live on the level of the spirit have the spiritual outlook, and that is life and peace. For the outlook of the unspiritual nature is enmity with God; it is not subject to the law of God and indeed it cannot be; those who live under its control cannot please God. But you do not live like that. You live by the spirit, since God’s Spirit dwells in you.

Romans 8:1-9a, REB

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Wonderful words! But, of course, we all know there is plenty of condemnation for us in everyday life. The word Paul uses literally means “adverse judgment.” I don’t know about you, but I hear adverse judgments all the time: “You’re not smart enough, you’re not pretty enough, you’re not talented enough, you’re not good enough.” We feel condemnation keenly, whether it is directed at us in subtle ways, or some not so subtly. It sometimes seems as if a hand like that in the old story that appeared on Belshazzar’s palace wall in Babylon so long ago is writing across our lives: “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

Perhaps even worse is the condemnation we heap upon ourselves. If some feel condemned by the criticism or ridicule they experience at others’ hands, many don’t need any outside help at all for feeling guilty. We can generate more than enough guilt all by ourselves.

So what does the Bible mean when it says there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ? It can’t be saying that other people won’t put us down; we run into condemnation from them all the time. It must not mean that we’ll never feel guilty about ourselves, because most of us do. No, when Paul says there’s no more condemnation, he must be referring to God’s judgment. Paul is talking once again about his very favorite idea, justification by faith. The gift of “no condemnation” means pardon from God himself for the guilt of sin, offered to all who are “in Christ,” that is, who are united to him through personal faith. If you’ve been listening to any of these messages on the book of Romans, you know that we have already learned a good deal about justification by faith, this great act that is the foundation of the whole gospel message. We have seen that this is the way by which God is able to provide righteousness to sinners without compromising his own justice, because he pays the penalty of sin himself at the cross of Christ. We’ve learned that justification by faith results in peace with God, and produces hope and joy in us, though there is a hard, life-long struggle still to be fought within us against persisting sin.

TWO LAWS

Now in Romans 8 we learn how the work of the Holy Spirit is involved in our salvation: Paul opens the subject of the Christian life, the new life of growing deliverance from sin which justified Christians live by the power of God’s Spirit who dwells within them.

Paul follows up the ringing affirmation about no condemnation with an explanatory statement in the next verse. The reason we know that in Christ we’re not under condemnation (that is, that we are justified) is because through Christ the Spirit actually sets us free from sin, a process that Christian teaching calls sanctification. Paul develops this theme by talking about two opposing laws, which he calls the “law of the Spirit” and the “law of sin and death.” The “law” of the Spirit means something like “the principle of life based on the Holy Spirit,” or more simply, just “life in the Spirit.” Through the power of God’s Spirit, we’ve been delivered from the written law of God’s commandments; that is, we have been set free from the law in its condemning and accusatory role, which is the sense in which it can be called the law “of sin and death.” This expression does not mean, of course, that the law in itself is sinful or bad. God’s law is called the law of sin because it reveals the nature and extent of our sinfulness to us. It’s called the law of death because our failure to keep it perfectly renders us liable to that consequence. But in all of this the law itself remains perfect, like a builder’s plumb line which makes it clear how crooked the wall actually is. Or think of the law as a straight-edged ruler. Imagine you had a piece of paper on which you were trying to draw a perfectly straight line. You make your best effort, then hold the ruler up next to it to see how well you have done. With respect to your line, that ruler would be a “law of sin” because it would show how far you deviate from the standard, and it would be a “law of death” because it would prove that your crooked line had to be erased from a page where only the perfectly straight could be admitted. So God’s commandments (the law) reveal us to be sinners who are enslaved to sin, and condemn us to death. But, here’s the good news of the gospel: God’s Spirit sets us free from both the condemnation and the bondage of sin.

Now Paul goes over the essentials of just how God does that one more time in verses 3 and 4. The law was powerless to justify us, not because of its weakness but because of ours. So God intervened by sending his Son “in the likeness of our sinful nature . . . to deal with sin”: a significant expression, because it emphasizes the reality of Christ’s humanity while stressing the perfect sinlessness of his human nature. This combination (absolute sinlessness plus real humanity in the person of Jesus Christ) is what fits him to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. So in Christ, as the representative human, God condemns sin, in order to pardon sinners who are united to Christ by virtue of trusting him.

Two points call for special attention. One is Paul’s statement that God has done all this “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us” (v. 4). Listen to that carefully. It’s not only that the righteous demands of the law are met for us in Christ. God’s purpose in saving us is that the law’s righteousness might be met in us as well. In God’s plan for salvation, holiness follows pardon. In justification Christ’s righteousness is credited to us as if it were our own. But after we’re justified, after we’ve become Christians, we set out in living the Christian life to actually develop righteousness in our own persons as the Holy Spirit helps us overcome sin in practice. Salvation in the full biblical sense encompasses both justification and sanctification, both the “credited” righteousness and actual righteousness, for while sanctification without justification is mere moralism, justification without sanctification is cheap grace which mocks God’s holy character. The second thing to observe is the key role played by the Holy Spirit in the process of salvation. If we are justified (delivered from sin’s condemnation) through faith in Christ, we are sanctified (delivered from sin’s bondage) through the power of the indwelling Spirit. Living up to the righteous requirements of the law, which is impossible for us in our sinful nature, becomes possible when we “live . . . according to the Spirit” (v. 4).

TWO OUTLOOKS

Some wag has said that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into only two kinds of people, and those who don’t. Well, there really are only two kinds of people in the world if we believe Romans 8. There are those who live according to their sinful nature and those who live according to the Spirit. These two groups are distinguished first of all by their outlook or “mind-set.” Now you might think that the most basic difference between Christians and non-Christians would have to do with their behavior, but it doesn’t. It has to do with their mind-set, their fundamental outlook, their attitude toward life. It’s really a question of where one’s attention is fixed. Some people have their minds set on what their sinful nature desires. Their whole orientation is away from God and toward their fallen selves. In different people it finds expression in different ways, sometimes disgusting, sometimes very civilized. But the common element is an outlook centered on self. This mind-set, Paul says, is hostile to God. It produces a lifestyle displeasing to him, and it results in death. Make no mistake – the Bible says it plainly: All who follow the lead of their sinful nature can never please God and must perish eternally.

But other people are just the opposite. They have their minds set on the things of the Spirit, which orients them away from their sinful nature and toward God, and the results of that outlook are life and peace. But how does one come to have this second outlook? How can you receive God’s Spirit and come under his control? The answer is that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Having him is the same as having Christ live in you, and you can do that by putting your trust in him and inviting him to take control of your whole life.

You know, there’s no human experience quite like liberation. This past summer marked the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces in World War II. One of the most touching parts to me of all the ceremonies commemorating the invasion and subsequent campaign across France was the way thousands of French citizens turned out to celebrate as the old soldiers passed through the streets of their cities and villages, just as they had turned out fifty years ago. Maybe you can recall the stories and reports of the liberation; maybe you were even there and saw it yourself. When the American or British or Canadian troops entered a village and the enemy fled, there was a mass outbreak of celebrating: laughing, shouting, singing, crying; strangers embraced each other with a joy too great to be contained because they had been set free.

Would you like to be set free? Maybe you’re carrying a load of guilt that’s been with you a long time, weighing you down like an overloaded pack. You’ve tried repressing the guilt, but it won’t go away. You’ve tried atoning for it, but nothing you do seems to make up enough payment. What you need is not therapy or more good advice, not more ways to cope; you need liberation. You need someone stronger than your sin to come in and set you free. The law can’t do it. In our condition, values and principles and good habits and positive thinking are powerless, really. But listen to this: The Spirit of life sets us free from the law of sin and death. So there’s no longer any condemnation – condemnation of the only kind that really counts – condemnation from God for those who are in Christ Jesus. Your guilt can go, right now, today, forever. You can be set free. What a feeling! In an instant the pressure and the pain are gone, and in comes a flood of gratitude, peace and joy, and your heart, once heavy, soars like a gull on a breeze.

The only sensible thing left to do, it seems to me, is to live according to the Spirit. Wouldn’t you agree?