Text: Romans 7-8
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Where we’ve been in Romans: Paul is teaching us his gospel, the Good News that we are justified – declared righteous – by God because of Christ’s work on our behalf and can thereby live in relationship with a holy God. We enter into this relationship by faith, trusting in God’s promise that since we could not do anything by our own merit to secure our salvation, Jesus has done everything that was necessary on our behalf.
Though we were dirty, he declared us to be clean, taking our sin upon himself and offering us his righteousness. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 teaches very clearly, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” If you are a Christian, if you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ to save you, God looks upon you and sees you as perfectly pure, righteous and spotless, because Jesus has taken away all of your sin. We have, as chapter 5 verse 1 states, “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace. Remember that feeling of complete cessation of striving to please God because you know he loves you and has held none of your inadequacies, ugliness and sin against you. You rested in him, secure in his love and acceptance of you.
But somehow you’ve lost that peaceful, easy feeling – that feeling of total forgiveness, acceptance, and love. When you come to God now, you’re no longer sure of his love, you don’t rest in his acceptance, you shrink back from his presence. This may happen in a number of ways:
1) The “3:00AM Bathroom Light” Syndrome: This happens to new Christians often. They have lived in the darkness for so long, that when they come to live in the light of Christ, they find it hard to adjust to the now glaring brightness that the Lord brings. Things that never used to bother them now start eating away at their conscience. If they are not warned, Satan will fire arrows of guilt and condemnation at them. Rather than experiencing the peace of God, he drives a wedge between them. Satan whispers, “See you’re not good enough for him” and they buy it. And they shrink back from the light because they believe a lie rather than the truth that it was never about their performance.
2) The “American Dream” Syndrome: I name it this because it’s what I grew up with and I think it might speak to some of you in here who have gone through the immigrant experience. The American Dream was a myth that I grew up with that basically says, “If you work hard enough, you can achieve your dreams.” It’s what fueled immigrants to come to North America, the “Land of Opportunity” to start at the bottom of the social ladder, just barely getting your foot in the door and working your way up from nothing. Some of you have been there. This is one of the things that hampered me from coming to Christ: My father’s voice, saying, “Dan, if you want something in life, you got to work for it.” It kept me from coming to Christ, and it has often kept me from freedom in Christ, because my walk with Christ becomes performance-based rather than about my relationship with Christ. We don’t even think about how this aspect of our culture blinds us to seeing the paece we can have in Christ, because the truth is its never about our performance.
3) The “Be Miserable Like Us” Syndrome: Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to our peace is other Christians. They’ve lost the joy of finding their peace in God, so they turn on any one who is not as cynical and jaded as they are. They lay burdens on others that they have been unable to keep themselves. They add regulations and rules and judge others who fail to perform to their standards. When this cancer creeps into a church, the church can become one of the most miserable and spiritually deadening places you will find. The problem is that it is not about performance, but they have made their faith into a job.
The question of the morning: How do we grow as Christians without killing that freedom we first had when we experienced God’s forgiveness? How are we, who have been declared righteous before God by grace, grow in righteousness so that our practical standard of living matches the spiritual reality of our calling. In other words, how does Christ’s righteousness effectually work itself out in our lives?
The answer is found in Romans 7-8. The key verse is 8:14: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. See, there is only a couple of ways you can live you Christian life. You can try and live a performance-based life before God, or you can experience a spirit-led life with God. Paul describes the performance-based in chapter 7:7-24. Commentators and theologians have held heated debates about whether Paul in this passage is describing the state of an unbeliever or that of a believer. My take is that those commentators have missed the point because they’re trying to put this passage into categories that the passage was not intending to address. It seems clear to me, that Paul is referring to anyone, believer or unbeliever, who attempts to serve God and live righteously drawing only from the power of the flesh to perform according to demands of a legalistic standard of morality. Listen to the struggle Paul describes, beginning in verse 14:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. [The problem is not with the law which only reveals God’s righteous standard, the problem lies within me] For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. [Paul is not trying to excuse himself here, only to show that there is something inside of him that prohibits him from keeping the whole law.]
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
This is the plight of the performance-based Christian. Does it ring a bell with anyone here? The more you focus on your sin, the more you focus on beating it, the more energy you put into perfecting yourself, the more you rack yourself with guilt when you fail. Chapter 8 verse 5 and 6 sum it up in this way: For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, . . . For to set the mind on the flesh is death. You want to kill your Christian life and peace? Strive to please God as a servant, labor at ridding yourself of sin. Because the more you focus on your sin, your self, and your discipline, the more frustrated and jaded you’ll become. How many of you have been there? You have struggled with a sin, maybe for years. Maybe you held it in check for a while, but it rears its ugly head back again. Are you sick of trying to earn God’s love by performing for him? Give it up.
Is there another way? That’s why the Holy Spirit gave us chapter 8. To show us another way. Listen to the rest of the Romans 8:5-6: 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. There is another way and it begins with giving up trying to win God’s approval through your performance and resting in him in relationship.
That’s why chapter 8 begins with the emphatic declaration that there is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. See, you don’t need to feel guilt, you can give up the struggle because God no longer holds anything against you. You are forgiven. You can give up striving to perform. He has accepted you in Christ. He loves you.
But how do we grow in righteousness? What’s the alternative to law? The Spirit. Read verse 2: Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 20 times in chapter 8 Paul references life in the Spirit, verse 0 in chapter 7. It is the great contrast of these two chapters: chapter seven, I’ll try to live my life by my own means, chapter 8, I live it in the Spirit. And listen once again to this amazing promise: the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. I don’t usually quote “The Message” in my sermons, but I heard this verse in that paraphrase lately and it really struck me, “A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” See Peterson hits this verse write on the head, “the law of sin and death” is the brutal tyranny and anguish of chapter seven, living performance-driven life. You don’t have to do that because that’s what the Spirit has set you free from. We are no longer indebted to the law, for the law couldn’t save us. The Spirit saves us, so we are to live in Him. Paul summarizes the spirit-led Christian life in Romans 8:12-17:
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
The Spirit is called in verse 14, “the Spirit of sonship”. We are not God’s slaves, but have been adopted into a loving relationship with him, such a relationship that we cry out to him, Daddy! And run into his arms. This is not a performance-based relationship, it is a precious mingling of our Spirit with the Lord’s Spirit. An intimate relationship in which we understand that we are accepted and unconditionally loved.
How does relational faith differ from the performance-driven Christianity we referred to earlier? I just got back from vacation, so one poor illustration is that it is like getting directions from a GPS or actually having a knowledgeable person in the car driving with you.
In what ways does the Spirit sanctify us?
1) He helps us overcome temptation: (8:13: If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live) He is gentle but persistent in pointing out areas of our life that need to be put to death. He doesn’t overwhelm us or hang guilt trips on us. One way to flee temptation – go immediately to the Holy Spirit in prayer and praise. If when the enemy attacks you, you are able to turn it into praise, pretty soon, he’ll give up attacking you.
2) He leads us: (8:14: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.) Listen to Him. Before doing anything, stop and ask him what to do. Try it this week. Just ask him in any situation you are in, what you should do and act on it this week. This is listening prayer. I believe that Holy Spirit helped me last week to get out of a bad deal.
3) He loves us: (8:16: The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God) Draw close to the Hoy Spirit and you will fall in love with God again and you’ll want more of Him.
4) He makes us eager for our home: (Romans 8:22-25 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.) The more closely united you become with the Spirit, the more you won’t be able to wait for heaven to come and replace earth.
5) He aides us in prayer: (Romans 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.)
Notice that all these things stress intimacy and relationship, not legalism, guilt or performance. This is what it means to be led by the spirit, to have the spirit’s life so flowing through you, to have the love of God so coursing through your veins, that you are transformed into the image of his likeness by the God who works all things together for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purposes.