This morning in our studies in Paul's epistle to the Romans we come to chapter 8. And our title is LIFE THROUGH THE SPIRIT as this chapter is about the Holy Spirit of God. In chapters 1 to 7 the word "Spirit" occurs five times. In chapters 9-16 it occurs 8 times. But in this one chapter alone - chapter 8 - it occurs no less than 21 times. And mostly the word “Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit.
Let me just remind you, however, of how we have got to where we are now. Chapters 1-2 of Romans spoke of human rebellion against God. Chapter 3 spoke of God's grace to save us by Christ's death for our sins on the Cross. Chapter 4 spoke of faith which is the only way we can receive God's grace. Chapter 5 spoke of the peace that follows when we are right with God by a faith that results (as chapter 6 says) in our spiritual union with Christ. Chapter 7 spoke of our freedom from the law as a means of salvation but also of the struggle Christians have to keep God’s law once saved.
Now we come to chapter 8. Well so much by way of introduction. As we look at Romans 8.1-17 my headings for this morning are first, THE PURPOSE OF GOD; secondly, TWO MIND SETS; thirdly, LIFE THROUGH THE SPIRIT; and, fourthly. LIVING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SPIRIT.
First, THE PURPOSE OF GOD vv 1-4
There is one thing you need to understand about Paul. And that is that he loves digressions. He is not totally systematic. That is why sometimes it is difficult to follow his train of thought. In verse 1 of chapter 8 we have just come back from one such digression. It began in chapter 7 and verse 7 and was about that Christian struggle with sin. But Paul’s concern in chapter 8, as we shall see, is that we should not be standing still even though we have to struggle. Rather we should be growing in Godliness and more like Christ as the days and years go by. However, he starts off chapter 8 by giving us the gist of what he has said prior to chapter 7 verse 7 namely, verse 1:
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Is there anyone here this morning who has never yet put their trust in Jesus Christ – the one and only Saviour of the world? The message of Romans is that a failure to do that means divine condemnation – now and for eternity. But why is there now no condemnation? Answer, verse 2:
"because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me [and all believers] free from the law of sin and death."
Jesus Christ and the "law" (or principle) of the Holy Spirit releases us from the guilt and then the power that comes from the sin principle in our own lives. But, how does that happen? Well, Paul explains in verse 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."
God has taken the initiative. He sent Christ to be "a sin offering" for us. So divine justice was done. Christ died bearing our punishment for sin (that was the message of chapter 3), so the power of sin could then be dealt with. That is why now Paul is wanting to move on. He is wanting to be more practical. For he is really asking the question, "what was the ultimate reason for Christ’s death?" And the answer now is that it was not just that we might have our sins forgiven. No! The ultimate reason or purpose of our being forgiven is, verse 4:
"in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met [better, “fulfilled” as many translations put it] in us, who do not live [literally, “do not walk”] according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit."
Paul is saying that holiness is part of the purpose of Christ's coming. He came not only for justification, to put us right with God, but also for sanctification – for us to be able to live Godly lives once we are right with God – not that we will be perfect this side of heaven, but to be more and more Godly. And for that to be possible we need the Holy Spirit’s working. But (and this is very important) we don’t only need his activity. For it is not all the Holy Spirit's work while we remain passive. No! We have to work as well. Yes, we first need to become spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit as we are (to use Jesus’ words) “born again”. But then we are to “walk” according to the Spirit. You see, walking according to the Spirit is different to being alive by the Spirit. Paul writes in Galatians, 5.25: "since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit"
I labour this point because people can get it wrong. Having the life of the Spirit is God's work. “Walking” or “Keeping in step with the Spirit” is our work. Yes, it is in the new strength the Holy Spirit gives us. But we don't just sit back and let it all happen. We shall see how this works out as we look further at our passage. So let's move on
Secondly, to TWO MIND SETS vv 5-8
Paul here starts to make some general observations. He has already in verse 4 made a distinction between two lifestyles – one that is "according to our sinful nature [literally, the flesh]” and the other that is “according to the Spirit”. He now says in verse 5 that those two lifestyles are distinguished by two mind sets:
"those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."
Paul is blunt. He is saying actually there are only two sorts of people. Those who have their minds set on what the Spirit desires, or those whose minds are hostile to God. The latter are anti-God, in extreme form like Richard Dawkins. But there are millions who have a more subtle version of this hostility. However (Paul goes on), common sense says the Christian mind-set controlled by the Spirit is simply best. It results in life and peace. And social study after social study confirm that. They confirm that those who follow the Christian mind-set, on average, do better in terms of general happiness, health, wealth, marriage, child rearing and so much else.
By contrast, verse 6, says "the mind of sinful man is death". That is tragically true – sometimes even in the short term but certainly in the long term. On average, anti-God mentalities tend to the destruction of life and an unravelling of the created order. They are anti-life even when seeking to benefit life. The Human Tissues and Embryology bill in Parliament recently and focusing on abortion is evidence of "the mind of sinful man". This anti-God mind-set, verse 7, is not only hostile to God. It is "not submitting to God's law". It is immoral. The gross increase of blatant and shameless sexual immorality in Western culture is evidence of “sinful minds”. And note it is (verse 5) …
"… those who live [literally, those being] in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires."
It is, therefore, not so much that you are in accordance with the Spirit because you think according to what the Spirit desires. Rather you think like this - your mind is set on what the Spirit desires - because the Holy Spirit is at work in you life. So to some extent, just arguing with the likes of Richard Dawkins, will get you nowhere, unless God is at work by his Holy Spirit in their lives opening blind spiritual eyes and softening hard hearts. That is why prayer is so vital for evangelism. That is why you need to pray for Parliament as well as support the Christian Institute’s calls to write to MPs and speak out yourself. But it is not an either/or. For the Holy Spirit works through the word and truth of God that comes as you write and speak what is true and in line with God’s word.
But never forget the work of God’s Holy Spirit is the ultimate factor in right thinking. And never forget that once the Holy Spirit brings you to new life and you start to have a different mind set, you then need to "walk" or "keep in step with the Spirit". So you need to be careful about your thinking and not drift into selfish thinking like a non-Christian. This covers so much - and not just thinking wrong thoughts about moral issues, like abortion and embryo research. They are the easy areas as being more obviously needing Christian thought. But the Christian mind-set has to do with our preoccupations and ambitions and how we think about spending our money and time and energy. All that is what we set our minds on. But in doing so we need know what the Holy Spirit desires. Well, these are some general observations that Paul has been making. So let's move on.
Thirdly, to LIFE THROUGH THE SPIRIT vv 9-11
Paul’s now has a more direct personal application. Look at verse 9:
"You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. "
Notice, first, three equations that you have here. One, in verse 9, the Spirit of God is equated with the Spirit of Christ. Two, in verse 9, to be “controlled by the Spirit [literally, to be ‘in the Spirit’]” is set alongside the phrase “the Spirit living in you”. And, three, in verse 9, there is the Spirit living in you. But in verse 10, it is “Christ [who] is in you”. The two seem to be equated. That, of course, is the mystery of the divine Trinity of one God in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Then, notice, secondly, something very important about verse 9. It tells us what a true Christian is. It says, in effect, the true Christian has the Holy Spirit living in him or her. It is that that sets them apart from all unbelievers. In chapter 7 verses 17 and 20, Paul wrote about "sin living in me". And indwelling sin is the problem of every human being since Adam. But the great privilege of the children of God is that they now have the indwelling Spirit - the Spirit of God who lives in them. And he helps them now to fight that indwelling sin. But the non-believer lacks the strength of the Holy Spirit for that fight. And then, we are told, there is a wonderful consequence of having the Spirit (or Christ by the Spirit) in you. For there is not only new spiritual life as verse 10 says. But one day there will be new resurrection life. Look at verse 11:
"And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. "
And so finally and ...
Fourthly. LIVING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SPIRIT vv 12-17
As we have seen, there are two things you need to understand about Godly Living or living in accordance with the Spirit. One is about what you have to do; the other is about what the Holy Spirit himself does for you. Look at verse 12 and something for us:
"Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. "
We have an "obligation" to be holy. It is a duty for us, not an option. And one aspect of that obligation is spelt out in verse 13:
"For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you [not the Holy Spirit but you] put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. "
But what does it mean to "put to death the misdeeds of the body". Well, it means you have to be ruthless and "kill" what is wrong in your life. And the verb here is in the present tense. So you keep on having to do this throughout your life. It is a daily repentance and turning away from all known sins and habits and practices, and from negative and unhelpful people and negative and unhelpful thoughts - you name it – from all that is wrong. Jesus once used picture language and spoke of plucking out your eye, and cutting off your hand or foot, if temptation comes through what you see or do or where you go. This is similar to what Paul is saying when he says, you are to “put to death the misdeeds of the body”. The old theologians called it mortification. Nor is it when you sit back and think the Holy Spirit will do it for you. No! You have to do it yourself. But you do it "by the Spirit" - relying on his strength and help. So first something you have to do – you “put to death” what is wrong in your life. Secondly, you are then told of what the Holy Spirit does for you.
And there are two things here of huge encouragement. First, the Holy Spirit leads you or guides you. That is another mark of the true Christian. They listen to what God says and obey him rather than do what they want or the world suggests. Look at verse 14:
"those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God."
And that leading or guidance supremely comes through the Bible. But also where some practical decisions are needed on which the Bible is silent, leading is through God's providential ordering of events. And also it comes through the wisdom of other believers, including those of previous generations in Christian history who have faced the same challenges and problems. But everything needs to be checked by the Bible’s basic principles. And you can pray for God's practical wisdom as we have learnt in our Home Groups recently from James’ epistle – chapter 1 verse 5: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."
But James goes on to say words to the effect that you must trust God for the answer even if you don't like it. You can’t simply make up your mind and demand God’s blessing. So the Holy Spirit leads you. In the second place the Holy Spirit assures you that God is your loving heavenly father and you are truly a son (or a daughter) of God. So you can, like a child, come to him in prayer as your own personal father and cry, like a child, "Abba, Father". Look at verses 15-16:
"you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. "
I must conclude and I do so by reading 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.
Up to this point Paul has been asking his readers, and so us, to do some reality checking. Do we have this Christian mind-set or a sinful mind-set? Do we regularly put to death what is wrong in our lives and characters? Paul has been saying that God is wanting change and his moral law more fulfilled in our lives and for us to be more Christ like. But the good news of chapter 8, or the "gospel", is that by faith in Christ we can be changed by the working of the Holy Spirit. For he not only helps us have a Christian mind-st and to put to death what is wrong in our lives. He also leads us and assures us of our Sonship, helping us pray to God as our Father.
And, as our passage for this morning concludes, there is a great incentive. Paul tells us that we are not only children of God but also heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. All the glory of heaven, therefore, awaits us one day. In the meantime, however, life will not always be easy for like Christ we will be called to suffer. But the Holy Spirit means that when those hard times come you will not be alone. For by his Holy Spirit Christ will be with you and the Holy Spirit will give you all the strength to face whatever comes your way.