Walking...according to the spirit

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We are starting today a new series of doctrinal sermons in the run up to Easter, spending time going through Romans chapter 8:

Without doubt one of the best-known, best-loved chapters of the Bible [John Stott].

On this Foundation Sunday we, of course, celebrate our Founders who organized and raised money to plant this church in 1861 to be:

a central point for the maintenance and promulgation of Sound Scriptural and Evangelical Truth.

And I am sure they (and Richard Clayton, in whose memory the Church was founded) would have approved of these studies as seeking to teach “Sound Scriptural and Evangelical Truth”. So we start this morning with Romans 8.1-4, which I’ll now read and then pray:

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. 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, 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.

Let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for your word through the Apostle Paul. So we pray that the Holy Spirit will now open our hearts and our minds to hear what you are saying to us, at the beginning of this New Year, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

I have two headings this morning, first, The Context and secondly, The Content.

1. The context

And first I want to outline the context that comes from Romans 1-6 and, then secondly, Romans 7. So first, Romans 1-6. In Romans 1-3 Paul starts off by how sin is the human problem. He show how salvation from sin is needed for sexually depraved secularists; then for their judgmental hypocritical critics; and then for the sins of the self-confident orthodox. So all have sinned as measured by the fact that we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). But the good news is that we can get right with God, by faith in Jesus Christ who died bearing the penalty our sins deserve. So Paul writes of Christ (Romans 3.25) as the one…

…whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

And the benefits of that atonement or justification were to be received by faith alone and not because of any good works (the good we do), as proved in Romans 4 by Abraham’s case. So then Romans 5.1:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Next in Romans in the second half of Romans 5 and Romans 6, you have two humanities described. One is with Adam as its head and with whom sin began in the human race. The other is with Christ as its head and with whom Resurrection life began that first Easter. And as we have faith in Christ, as witnessed in baptism, we, in union with Christ share not only in his death but also in his Resurrection life. As we will be hearing later, that experience of Resurrection life is enabled by the Holy Spirit, whom Paul in Romans 1 has already associated with the Resurrection of Jesus. For in Romans 4.1 he says Jesus Christ our Lord…

was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.

And that Resurrection power should affect our lifestyles. But it is not automatic. For we still have the remains of our fallen nature from Adam. So the believer has always to obey two commands Romans 6.11-12 say this:

So [one] you…must consider yourselves [in your mind] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [And, two] Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to make you obey its passions [exercise your will].

Well, so much for the context of Romans 1-6. Now, secondly and the immediate context of Romans 8, namely Romans 7 that Suzi Adcock read to us. And Romans 7 is important because it speaks of the normal Christian life this side of heaven. It speaks openly of the spiritual warfare that is going on all the time and that Romans 6 implied. It is, of course, not the spiritual warfare Paul talks about in Ephesians 6.12 where he says:

we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

No! This is the spiritual warfare that is going on in the human heart and particularly the Christian’s heart (or their inner self). And the war is between what Paul calls the flesh, on the one hand, in the sense of the left-over of Adam’s old nature of sin and death. On the other hand, there is the Spirit which is the Holy Spirit together with their new Resurrection life. This he brings to the individual believer’s own life when they first trusted Christ. Also, Paul points out that the law – God’s law, can provoke disobedience and so conflict. Romans 7.5 says:

For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, [like children being told ‘don’t’ who immediately ‘do’] were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.

But the Holy Spirit’s new life helps to free us from that desire for lawlessness, because we see how good is God’s law for us. Romans 7.6 puts it like this:

But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Paul is not blaming the law for sin. No! It is our flesh – our fallen human nature, he argues, is the problem. Well, so much for something on Romans 7 and the context of Romans 8.

2. The content

As we’ll see, Paul in Romans 8 is focusing on the Holy Spirit. And in our verses which form the introduction to the chapter Paul sets out two things: first, the facts, and then secondly, their explanation.

So, first, the facts as expressed in Romans 8.1-2:

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.

The therefore is based on all that has been taught in the previous seven chapters - so the context that I have outlined. And the first fact is that there is (as translated) no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

No condemnation in the original is not quite the same as “being justified”. “Being justified” means a judgement of “not guilty”. In our courts it is what the jury decide. No condemnation, however, implies the sentence the judge decides – so in terms of God, in this context, we’re free from a sentence of death or eternal death. But note the fact that no condemnation is not a universal acquittal of everyone. Yes, that is contrary to what some today want to believe. However, Paul is not implying a God who is a universal Father Christmas. No! He is clear. Romans 8.1 says simply:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

But what does being in Christ Jesus mean? Well, in the New Testament you believe "into" or "upon" (the literal translation of the original prepositions) but not in Christ Jesus”. However, once you have trusted yourself to Christ, you are then in Christ. You are united with him. And, also note, the evidence that there is no condemnation is stated in Romans 8.2:

For the law [perhaps in the sense of ‘regular working’ – the law] of the Spirit of life [the Holy Spirit] has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

The Holy Spirit is now with you, the believer, to help you fight those temptations from the law (or regular working) of sin and death – simple temptations to sin. Oh, yes! The war still goes on, but the believer has a new power to resist that principle of sin and death - or the flesh principle. So, there’s no condemnation for the believer and at the same time following that verdict, they have a new power in their life.

Well, they are the facts. Do you believe them? If you don’t, Paul secondly explains why you can. So look now at Romans 8.3-4:

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, 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.

You’ll notice there is a threefold aspect to this explanation. For, God, the Holy Trinity, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all at work. First, Romans 8.3:

God [the Father] has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.

But what is God’s law that is weakened? Well, God’s requirement for the best for human beings, the law in that sense, is sufficiently clear in the Bible.To quote Jim Packer it is:

…embodied in the precepts and prohibitions of the Decalogue; expounded and applied by the prophets, the apostles, and Christ himself; and displayed in the biblical biographies of men and women who pleased God, with Christ himself, whose life from this standpoint could be described as the law incarnate standing at the head of the list. As Paul tells us, [as we heard in our lesson and Romans 7.12 and 14], the law in this sense is “holy and righteous and good.

But the law even in that sense, God’s divine law, is still powerless. Yes, it can tell us what God wants. But by itself it can’t make sinners into Saints. For you can’t have a code for every eventuality, and always motives, purposes and attitudes of the person acting can be hidden. So, secondly, God, the Son, provided the solution - Romans 8.3:

[God, the Father] by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin…condemned sin in the flesh.

And for sin in the Greek (and in the Greek Old Testament) is the regular phrase for a “sin offering”. So God condemned sin in the flesh. And that difficult phrase seems to mean, “Christ’s human nature (his flesh – his body) suffered the condemnation for all sin.” So Christ has fully borne the condemnation we deserve. And in that way God’s great plan was now possible to begin, as thirdly, Romans 8.4 tells us the Father’s plan of Christ, the Son, being a sin offering and bearing our sin’s condemnation in his flesh and so bringing us back into fellowship with himself was:

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.

So there was now, after Pentecost, new power to strengthen believers – after the sending of the Holy Spirit – to live more in line with the righteous requirement of the law. But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is what God had predicted through his prophets such as Ezekiel, for example in Ezekiel 36.26-27:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Note, Paul does not say “God condemned sin in Jesus in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled for us by Jesus (but in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit).” Paul is teaching at some length what Peter famously taught in one sentence in 1 Peter 2. 23:

He [Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, [why? - answer] that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

Of course, this side of heaven, we can’t justify ourselves by fulfilling God’s law. Of course, our lives need to be guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Of course, the fruits of the Holy Spirit as listed in Galatians 5.22-23 take time to grow:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

So how, at the beginning of this new year, should we respond to the challenge of these verses practically - in respect of our own “Godly Living” – one of our three goals at JPC? How do we walk more, in Paul’s phrase, not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit? Can I suggest something very simple in conclusion? Why not take Peter’s command which is our verse for the year and which is 1 Peter 5.6-7:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you

And then remember Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11.13 and pray accordingly to be able to obey Peter’s advice. For Jesus said:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.

So let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we pray that you will this year send afresh on us all, individually and as a church, your Holy Spirit, to be able to humble ourselves to obey you in whatever you are calling us to be or to do, and also to be able to caste all our anxieties in these difficult days on you. For Jesus, sake. Amen

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