CRY FREEDOM! - Romans 8.1-4
Good morning folks! I’m like the buses, aren’t I? You don’t see me for ages and then I pop up twice in 2 weeks.
Well that’s because I’m just back from a couple of weeks of holiday – and I don’t know about you – but a good, refreshing holiday always makes me feel optimistic about the future. I come back feeling everything is going to be completely different this time:
• I’m going to be super disciplined and get in shape.
• I’m going to start jumping out of bed with a spring in my step.
• I’m not going to get ratty with the family when I’m stressed anymore.
• I’m not going to give into sloth and gluttony and cynicism.
• I’m going to love the Lord and fight sin.
• AND not end up feeling like I’m failing at life… by the time my next holiday rolls around.
Ever felt like that?
• Maybe at the start of a New Year as you make your resolutions?
• OR at the start of a new academic year – like it is at the moment?
• OR maybe you’ve done that when you’ve hit rock bottom in your battle with sin?
Well if you can relate to any of that at all – then you’ll know that despite all your best efforts, the optimism pretty soon runs dry, doesn’t it? Because Big Ben striking Midnight or the Schools going back again – doesn’t get rid of human weakness. It takes a lot more than a holiday and fresh resolve to beat our sin and selfishness.
AND folks as we start this new series in Romans 8 this morning – that’s the picture the Apostle Paul paints for us in the previous chapter of this letter. As in Romans 7 he has been talking about the law God gave his people back in the Old Testament. And he’s been telling us what God’s law can and cannot do.
• So, he’s said on the one hand – it can tell you what’s right and wrong in God’s eyes.
• But on the other – it can’t enable you to do what’s right!
Because for sinful people, being told what we ought to do… doesn’t give us the power to do it.
So, we may not want to sin – but sinful desires are still knocking around inside us like unwelcome squatters that we can’t evict.
And as Paul cries out at the end of the chapter: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” He makes it clear that we’re not going to be rid of that internal battle with sin until Jesus returns!
AND so, we’re left asking: Well how do we handle it in the meantime?
AND Paul’s answers to that question is Romans 8. AND the first thing he wants to say to us is:
1. Know That God Will NEVER Condemn You
Romans 8 verse 1 is the most important thing you need to know in your struggle with sin: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
“No Condemnation!” For who? Well what does it say? “…for those who are IN Christ...”
That is one of Paul’s kind of parrot phrases in his letters. He says it all the time! It comes up over 160 times in his 13 letters.
Why? Because we have GOT TO get this.
• If you’re just looking into the Christian faith – It is absolutely central to your understanding of what a Christian actually is.
• AND if you are a Christian it is absolutely central to your understanding of who YOU are – of your identity as a Christian – to know that you are... “in Christ.”
Now I’m recording this on Thursday and I’m seriously hoping that by the time you watch this on Sunday morning we will have had an example of what this means. Because tomorrow night the Scottish football team are playing Israel in the Nations Cup and I as ever – in my foolish optimism – I am expecting Scotland to win.
And if they do – then you will be able to go into any pub in Glasgow this weekend – and ask one of the fellas there: “How did Scotland get on in the football on Friday night?”
• And he would say to you: “WE WON!”
• And you could look at the guy and say: “We...? Were you playing? You’re 62, you’re 30 stone, if you saw a pigskin you would eat it you wouldn’t kick it. I know we’re desperate for players, but really?! ‘We won’? What is that ‘WE’?”
BUT you know what he’s doing there, don’t you? You’d say it about your football team too I’m sure! He knows that he is “In Scotland” because he is Scottish.
So, when they win – he wins! When they taking a beating – he takes a beating! – Because whatever those 11 blokes on the field do, they do for him. So, whatever happens to them – happens to him.
AND it’s similar when we put our faith “in Christ”.
• Whatever he does – he does for you.
• Whatever he achieves – he achieves for you.
• Whatever happens to him has happened to you.
AND so, if you believe in him and trust in him – you will be united to him. AND so “…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.”
BUT… if you’ve been a Christian – if you’ve been trying to live “in Christ” for any length of time – you will know that you don’t always feel free of condemnation. Even as Christians many of us still wrestle with and walk under the guilt of sin.
• sins maybe we committed before we came to Christ,
• maybe sins we committed in this past week,
• maybe sins we commit EVERY week!
AND you’ll know that those sins are more and more inexcusable. So that when you try to confess them and ask the Lord to forgive you – you will probably condemn yourself AND tell yourself that you shouldn’t be forgiven. AND Satan will certainly condemn you and tell you that God won’t forgive!
But the one person who won’t condemn you – who will NEVER condemn you… is God. Because look at Romans 8 verse 1 again: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
In other words – right now, this very moment – God is not looking at you the way that you’re probably looking at yourself.
YES! He is grieved and disappointed by our sin. But if we’re “in Christ Jesus”, he’s not condemning us for our sin – and he NEVER will.
I remember one well known Christian leader saying this: “As a father, I’ve sometimes been so provoked by my children and angry at their behaviour, I could have shaken them. But I don’t think I’ve ever stopped loving them.”
And that’s kind of the point here: If a flawed, human father can say that – how much more can our heavenly Father say it.
And he can say it because of what he sent his Son to do on the cross. Look down to verse 1 again and we’ll read on: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
So “the law of sin and death” is that sin deserves death. AND so, at the end of life I – like us all – will face up to God as the just, fair judge of all people… AND I SHOULD be condemned… for all I’ve done wrong.
The Bible does not leave us in any kind of uncertainty about that – unlike the Harry Maguire trial on the Greek Island of Mykonos the other week – as we wonder: “Did he do it, or not? Is he guilty, or isn’t he?”
No! WE are found bang to rights. There is an open and shut case against us – We are without excuse – With no grounds for appeal!
“The law…” – the rules – “of sin and death…” mean that there should be… ONLY condemnation for sinful humanity.
BUT… through Jesus, incredibly I have now been set free from that fate – AS we read on in verse 3: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”
Just look at those last six words – That’s about what happened as Jesus died. That’s the cross in 6 words:
• “He” – that’s God the Father;
• “condemned sin” – that’s our sin;
• “in the flesh” – that’s Jesus’ flesh, his body on the cross.
How can we reassure ourselves that in fact verse 1 – “There is… now no condemnation…” – is for us? Because the condemnation for all my sins – past, present and future… has fallen, once and for all, on Jesus in my place... so that God Will Never Condemn me for it.
I think is the hardest thing in all the Christian life to believe. Because who else treats you like that? No one. All around us there are voices condemning everything and anything – in us and others.
But… Romans 8 verse 1 says if you are “in Christ” – there is how much condemnation hanging over your head? Not some… NONE!
• So, believe it;
• memorise it;
• And stick it on the fridge or somewhere you’ll see it every day.
Because nothing will do your spiritual sanity more good.
BUT folks – there’s more in the gospel than that. As the second thing Paul is saying to struggling Christians here is:
2. Know That the Spirit HAS Set You FREE
Let’s take another run through verses 1 and 2 again: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life HAS set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
Now clearly Paul is saying in these verses that there is now “no condemnation” because of the fact that Jesus on the cross has freed us from the Penalty of the Sin.
But verse 2 tells us that because of that – God’s Spirit HAS also set us free from the Power of Sin. Do you see? “The Spirit… has set you free… from the law of sin and death.”
Now you could say: “But hang on Ken. I get the whole ‘no condemnation’ bit – I know I’m forgiven – but I’ve still got that feeling of ‘Ah, get off!’ when it comes to sin. I still feel enslaved. Does this mean that I haven’t been set free?”
Well no. I think we have a misunderstanding of what freedom feels like.
Think with me for a minute how your life was before you became a Christian – for some of you that will be harder to remember than others! You were enslaved to sin – so you couldn’t help but do anything else!
• So, if you wanted to lust – you lusted.
• If you wanted to get drunk – you got drunk.
• If you wanted to lie – you lied
• If you wanted to be materialistic – you indulged yourself.
AND there was little to nothing that really made you think OR want… to act differently. There was no real battle with sin going in your life.
But what is true since you’ve turned to Christ – is that into your life has come God’s powerful Spirit. And so, what happens? There is immediately conflict!
• Because my old sinful nature wants to lie – but the Spirit wants to move me towards telling the truth.
• My sinful flesh wants to lust – but the Spirit wants to lead me towards purity.
• My old self wants to covet and pursue materialism – but the Spirit wants to me to store up treasures in heaven.
Do you see? A war is now being waged within me.
Now conflict is never pleasant – and feels unpleasant – especially internal conflict! But actually, that war... that internal battle… IS FREEDOM!
Freedom while we live in this body…
• Is a freedom to fight.
• The freedom to walk into war.
• The freedom to choose.
Do you see? Because there is now a new desire, and a new power that is pushing you to do what you would never have wanted to desire to do before – You are no longer a prisoner of sin bound in chains unable to do anything – You are now a foot soldier who can engage in the battle. That is true freedom.
And actually, if this morning you are feeling enslaved to your old self, enslaved to sin – if you are feeling that battle – I want to encourage you: It is a wonderful sign that the Spirit is at work in your life.
And he longs for you to look at the cross and say: “Here is the place where Jesus has won my freedom – and placed his Spirit in my heart… And so… I’m going to fight.”
Now as you think about doing that – there is a second feeling that overwhelms us here I reckon. It’s not so much “I feel enslaved”, but… “I Feel Weak”
I listened to an interesting discussion on Radio 5live awhile back where they were talking about whether women’s tennis should move to playing 5 sets OR whether they should remain playing only 3.
And they interviewed an old champion who had won lots of women’s titles back in the day – AND she said, “Do you know we tried this 20 odd years ago, and I played a five set match and I went 2 sets down – I still could of won the game! I could’ve won 3-2. But do you know at the end of the second set my body said: ‘You won’t last 5 sets’.”
And so, she said, “I gave up and I lost the third set 6-nil. Because I knew I didn’t have the power, the ability, the energy to fight.”
And folks, I have to say when I’ve been watching Wimbledon – I’ve seen plenty of men who have done just the same thing!
BUT doesn’t it feel like that when you’re in the heat of temptation?
• It feels like I can’t go five sets.
• That sin can go further than me.
• I know what I want to do – BUT I don’t have the ability, the energy – I don’t have the power to live it out.
Well Paul wants to say this to us – from Romans 8 verses 3 & 4 this morning: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh… in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Hang in there folks! The logic here goes something like this:
o The law + my sinful nature is powerless – So weak are we that we even render God’s law powerless to help us.
o But Jesus – in the likeness of sinful man – is able to break the power of sin – AND God did this by condemning sin.
He condemned sin! Do you get what that means?
• It means that the very thing that would condemn me – that would make me feel weak – he condemns.
• The very thing that brings me to my knees – he brings to its knees.
• The very thing that feels like it’s going to make an end of me – He… makes an end off it.
We often think – don’t we? – In the eye of temptation that sin is all powerful.
It is not. It’s been condemned.
We think sin can easily go five sets.
It can’t. It’s been defeated. It’s been triumphed over and mortally injured – by Jesus on the cross.
He has dealt with the penalty of sin – but also broken the power of sin too.
And so, whatever happens – DON’T GIVE UP the fight against sin!
o Even if you feel weak
o Even if you still feel enslaved
o Even if you feel you are always losing.
If you are “in Christ” – You HAVE won! He died – we died! He lives – we live! You can no longer be condemned.
AND you have the power of “the Spirit of life” in you – to fight a defeated, weakened enemy. OR as verse 4 says: “…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
How do we walk according to the Spirit? Well I’m glad you’ve asked that – because that’s what we’re going to be looking at next week.
For now though… let me pray for us – to rededicate us to the fight good fight again at the start of this new term: “Oh Father God as one of your servants from many years ago once said: ‘I’m not what I should be, I’m not what I want to be, I’m not what I one day will be in glory. But by your grace – I thank you that I’m not what I once was.’ AND Father – we want to say thank you for the liberating power of your Spirit who helps us walk in love and obedience to you. That’s how we want to walk, so help us this day, this week, this term, this year to keep in step with your Spirit and walk always in your ways. Amen.”