Good morning. On Thursday we said an earthly goodbye to a faithful sister in the Lord who had been a member of our church family for over 25 years. Humanly speaking, her last years had been really difficult, succumbing to that cruel disease that appears to take away the very faculty of the mind. Yet for all who knew her, even to the end, God’s indwelling Spirit shone brightly in Enid’s life. Those who gathered for her funeral did so in the hope of a resurrection life for Enid. It’s what we believe as Christians, it’s fundamental to our faith and yet in the pain of bereavement sometimes we can question that. Sometimes we might ask “Is this really true what we believe or just wishful thinking?”
If we’re honest, it’s not just bereavement that does this to us. That unexpected diagnosis for example, that can trigger questions. That realisation that there is less of my life left to live than I have already lived, that can prompt a few. That ongoing struggle with sin that just doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere – why, is it really possible? Friends, Paul knew this.
He knew there would be times in life when we would feel weaker, more uncertain, less sure and that is why Romans 8 is such a cracking part of God’s word, because Paul delivers truckloads of assurance for believers. And Romans 8.5-11 in particular is designed to give us assurance in this life – as we battle sin and assurance in the next – as we overcome death! Let’s pray and ask God for his help as we look at it now:
Lord, we confess that there are times that we feel weak and unsure. Please, by the power of your Spirit who is dwelling in us, would you speak assurance into our hearts this morning. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Romans 8 is widely regarded as one of the high points of God’s word. Not least because it begins, as we saw last week in Romans 8.1, with No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and it ends, as we’ll see in a few weeks, with Romans 8.39 saying that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. These are the great bookends of the chapter: No condemnation and ‘No separation’ and everything we read in between needs to be understood in that context.
Let me just remind me you where we got to last week with Romans 8.1-4.Romans 8.3 tells us that God has done what the law…could not do. What can’t the law do? Two things; 1. It can’t deal with the condemnation that I already deserve for my past sinful actions, and 2. It can’t deal with my ongoing and future sinfulness We had Romans 7.24 read last week – who will deliver me, who will rescue me? Paul asks. Romans 8.1-4 provide the most wonderfully liberating answer: it’s Jesus. Jesus deals with my condemnation for me, in place of me, on the cross, (Romans 8.3) and Jesus makes a change in me by his spirit (Romans 8.4). So what we’re about to read in the next few verses is all about the significance of this change (transformation) in the lives of every believer. Christ dying for us opens up the possibility of Christ in us through the Spirit. Two main points to share this morning: first we see in these verses that there is:
1. An Unbreakable Connection (Romans 8.5-8)
Between the Spirit and life on the one hand, but also between flesh and death on the other hand. Let’s re-read Romans 8.5-8 and try to track the contrast in these 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.
Now, what we need to get clear straight away is that in using the contrasting language of flesh and spirit Paul is describing the difference between those who are Christians and those who aren’t. He is not describing a Christian who is sometimes more captured by fleshly things and sometimes more by the spiritual things. He’s not saying that the flesh is physical and the spiritual non-physical. He is contrasting the two mutually exclusive orientations and attitudes. And Paul uses flesh as shorthand to describe the whole order of fallen humanity apart from God and its bias towards evil. So he has in mind its thinking, its value systems, goals, ambitions, desires, lusts…apart from the grace of God this is what our mindsets are locked into. And look where it leads: death (Romans 8.6), hostility to God (Romans 8.7), and an impossibility to please him (Romans 8.8).
To be a Christian is to transfer from the realm dominated by the flesh to the realm dominated by the Spirit – a realm characterised by life and peace (Romans 8.6). Now, here’s the thing, after reading these verses you’d expect Paul to immediately give some instruction. Maybe a “so, walk in the spirit” or if not an instruction, how about a warning? “Do not follow the ways of the world, it’ll end badly”. Now that will come, but these verses are unusually empty of any instruction or warning. In one sense they’re a preacher’s nightmare because I have nothing to tell you to do!
But that’s the point! We’re supposed to listen to these descriptions and be assured. Our assurance doesn’t come from what we can do, but from God has done and declared in his word. If it depended on what we could do – we’d be scuppered wouldn’t we? No, we listen to God’s word, we believe in faith what he tells us he has done and that’s our assurance! His words tells us here that those in the Spirit, those who have become Christians, those for whom Jesus’ death on the cross means no condemnation, those who have had their mindsets changed by the Spirit have a unbreakable connection with God himself!
Romans 8.6 calls it life and peace where peace doesn’t mean a state of mind – but reconciliation with God (a restored friendship with God). It’s the opposite to the hostility we see in Romans 8.7. Now, Paul doesn’t explicitly challenge his Roman readers. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a challenge here – but it’s not for the Christian. The challenge is for those who are watching who may be thinking: “This hasn’t happened to me. The Holy Spirit hasn’t changed my mindset. In fact, I’m not at all bothered about pleasing God in how I live. I do live a good life, I don’t swear, I give to charity and put the needs of my friends and family before my own”. Which in one sense, is great – if this life is all there is.
But if it’s not, and that is you, then the implicit warning here, is that such a way of living leads to death and eternal separation from the very one who wanted you to come into existence.To ignore God, to deny his authority, to have your mind set in an opposite direction is a perilous situation to be in.
Maybe today would be a good day to ask the Lord to change your mindset to one that leads to life. Because once God has, you’ll be on:
2. An Unbreakbale Trajectory (Romans 8.9-11)
That leads to life now and into eternity. That’s my second main heading this morning from Romans 8.9-11: An unbreakable trajectory. Romans 8.9:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you…
So, if there was any doubt among Paul’s original Roman readers as to which camp they were in, Paul spells it out for them, and by implication for all Christians, they/we are on the side of the Spirit. Likewise, the positional status of those not in the Spirit is also clarified:
…Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
Of course, to state we’re on an unbreakable trajectory to eternal life may raise questions for you, such as “If this is true, why on earth do I keep on sinning?” Consider the believer battling with specific temptations and seemingly winning, not just for weeks, but months and years even. Surely this is evidence of their sanctification and growth in maturity. Then, in a moment of weakness, out of nowhere, they find themselves in a place they thought they had long left behind, succumbing to that same old temptation. Or what about our toleration of those so-called ‘little sins’ in our lives: a stretch of the truth here, a bit of gossip there, an uncontrolled outburst justified there or another couple of drinks here? They weren’t that bad, and then all of a sudden what you thought was small and inconsequential has blown up and caused massive damage and pain to those you love? I was brought up short this week by how easily I’d entertained lying in a bid to make myself look better. I could go on, couldn’t I, with examples? How can we be in the Spirit and yet keep on thinking like that, doing that, saying that, keep on giving in like that?
We’re back to the territory of chapter 7 – “why do I do the things I don’t want to do and not do the things I do want to do?” Well in one sense that comment perfectly articulates the truth of the Christian in this unbreakable connection and trajectory. Because our very frustration at our actions, our anger, our despair, our regret, our intention to resolve the situation and get it right when we’ve got it wrong – all these things are evidence that we are on the unbreakable trajectory towards eternal life. Romans 8.10:
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
In other words, if you’re a believer, yes it’s true that your body is still subject to physical death and decay, you’re prone to sin, tempted to let the flesh take control, but it’s also true that the Spirit is in you now imparting life. And, as we said at the start, that’s only possible because of what God has done for us through Jesus on the cross. It’s incredible to think that without the cross, if the Holy Spirit took up residence in us we would be utterly consumed, condemned because of our sin. But because of Jesus righteousness counted as our own – the Spirit is life! And the Spirit will do his work, through illness, through that pain and suffering, through that sin on an unbreakable trajectory to eternal life itself. Romans 8.11:
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.
Which means, believer, that the same person God used to resurrect Jesus is living inside you right now. The Holy Spirit of God indwelling in you is exactly the same Holy Spirit of God who raised Christ from the dead. And who will one day do exactly the same with you!
We’re all in the midst of a trial right now - to a greater or lesser extent, this Covid situation has resulted in pressure, disruption, isolation and much pain for many of us. On top of that maybe you’re still coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you’re looking down the barrel of a diagnosis for you or a friend that means life will never be the same again. Maybe you’ve been praying for change in your life or someone close to you – and you’ve been praying for years and years and it seems more unlikely than ever that God will answer your prayer in the way you long for. Or maybe you’ve just hit rock bottom following another failed attempt to live how you really want to.
Look at these verses. Hear the Lord God Almighty speak his assurance into your life. You are in an unbreakable connection with him now and you are on an unbreakable trajectory to life with him forever. So take heart the Spirit of God is in you bringing life now and one day, what God has begun in part in this life he will bring to complete perfection in the next. Let’s pray:
Father, we thank you for your word that speaks assurance into our lives. Please, by the power of your Holy Spirit, would you give us eyes to see and hearts to believe these wonderous truths - whatever situation or circumstance you have currently placed us in. Thank you that you have promised to complete to perfection the work that you have begun in us. How we long for that day.But in the meantime help us to faithfully rest in the knowledge that we are being kept in an unbreakable connection with you. We praise you faither, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.