(Re) Defining the Relationship (Romans 8:12-17)

This week, I asked several people around me if they knew what a DTR was. My suspicion was that if you were a college student or young adult, you knew exactly what a DTR was, but that if you were older, you didn’t. And as it turned out, I was right. When I asked a few people around my age what DTR stood for, and I heard “Don’t Trust Russia;” “Don’t Throw Rocks; Donald Trump Rocks; and even Dang Tide Roll—kind of a mashup between WDE and RTR.

But if you ask a twentysomething, they will tell you that the DTR is when you and your significant other sit down and DEFINE THE RELATIONSHIP. Where is this heading? What are we to each other? Are we just hanging out, or are we shopping for rings?

It’s a fair question. As a relationship progresses, it changes. A DTR is necessary so you know where you stand.

I want to suggest that Romans 8:12-17 is God’s DTR with His children. Because of what Jesus has done for us, our motivation for serving God has changed. So has our status— who we are. Finally, our expectations have changed— where is this leading. So that’s what we’re going to talk about this morning.

Join me in prayer, and then we are going to go verse by verse through this passage.

[Prayer]

Now, we are going to be talking about how our relationship has changed, but before we get to that, I want to talk about how our motivation for relationship changes:

Verse 12 starts with the phrase “so then:”

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 

“So then” is a conditional clause. It’s like “because of this.” There has been a change of motivation. We used to do something for one reason; now we do it for a different reason. And because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, We are no longer debtors to the flesh, but to the Spirit.

A debtor is someone who is in debt to someone else. Someone to whom we owe something. For example, Max credit union loaned as money for the renovation of our sanctuary several years ago, and this week we paid off the debt. We finished paying what we owed to Max credit union.

So what do we owe God? Aren’t all our debts paid? Isn’t salvation by grace? Why are we still debtors if Christ paid the debt?

The New International Version makes this a little more clear when it says “we have an obligation, but not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. Our new obligation is to the One who assumed the payments for our debt.

Paul goes on in verse 13 to say,

1For 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. 

 Our obligation is to put to death the deeds of the body. This is what the Puritans called the mortification of the flesh.

Tim Keller says,

This means a Christian doesn’t play games with sin. You don’t aim to wean yourself off it, or say, “I can keep it under control.” You get as far away from it as possible. You don’t just avoid the things you know are sin; you avoid the things that lead to it; and even the things that are doubtful. This is war!

(Romans 8-16 For You; p. 22)

Grace doesn’t change the need to put to death the deeds of the flesh, it just changes the motivation. Your motivation isn’t to earn your way to heaven or avoid the punishment of hell. Because of grace, your motivation is love and gratitude toward the One who gave everything up in order for you to become part of his family. So if you are filling in the blanks on your listening guide, you can say that the motivation changes from duty to delight.

When I was dating Trish, I did things to impress her, or so she would like me. Or (and this is the worst), I would do things for her so that she would feel obligated to do things for me. That’s the great advantage to having a birthday two days after hers. I might pull out all the stops and get her something really extravagant on her birthday, with the thought that she would feel obligated to do something even more extravagant for mine.

But now we’ve been married for 30 years. And even though I’m still in my flesh a little bit and I will do things for her to make her feel obligated to me, when I am at my best I am serving my wife because I love her and I want to honor her, not because I am afraid of her or I want to manipulate her.

In 1986, Dr. Robertson McQuilken, president of Columbia Bible College, resigned from the presidency in order to provide round-the-clock care for his wife, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I want you to listen to a portion of his farewell address to the student body:

Now let’s look at how the relationship itself changes: from being sons to being slaves.

Look at verses 14-15:

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 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!”

Paul teaches that we are children of God, by adoption.

Now according to pop culture, we are all God’s children. Tina Turner in “We Are the World: “We are all a part of God’s great big family…” And that’s true, in the sense that God created us all.

Paul himself, when he was speaking to pagan philosophers in Acts 17, quoted one of their own poets and said “We are all God’s offspring.” But while it is true creatively, that every human being is created by God in His image, it isn’t true redemptively.

You see, before you were saved, your relationship with God was only as your Creator. God loved you, but your sin separated you from Him. He was your creator, but He wasn’t your Father.

Once, some Pharisees came to Jesus and confronted Him about His teachings. They said to Him in John 8:41, we have one Father—even God.” Look how Jesus responded:

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me… 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.

I’m almost positive “We Are the World” would not have been nearly as popular if Michael Jackson had sung, “You’re of the world… your dad’s the devil…”

But according to Jesus not everybody is a child of God. In fact, there’s only one way to become a child of God. And that is by receiving God’s son as Savior into your life. That’s the only way.

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13)

So we are born—not of blood; that’s a biological birth; or of the will of man—that’s us choosing God; but by the will of God—God choosing us. The word Paul uses in verse 15 is adoption. The Greek huiothesis, which literally means “son-making.” We have received the spirit of “son-making” by whom we cry out, Abba, Father.

Adoption—being placed as a son– is different from being born as a son. When a child is adopted, his or her identity shifts from their biological parents to their adoptive parents. Our biological parents are Adam and Eve. We are, according to Ephesians 1, by nature children of wrath. But God placed us as sons and daughters into a new family. His family.

One time a teacher was trying to explain adoption to her class of kindergartners. One little girl shot her hand up, and said, I can tell you what adoption is. I’m adopted, and my mom explained it to me.  “Adoption is when a child grows in your heart instead of your tummy.”

What a beautiful description of adoption. And from a theological perspective, it’s an accurate description of biblical adoption. You see, God had you growing in his heart for years.

In Ephesians 1 Paul said, that God chose us in him before the foundation of the world having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will. That’s the doctrine of election. God picked you. God chose you. God wanted you to be part of his family.

I love this quote from Charles Spurgeon. He said,

I believe in the doctrine of election. I’m quite sure that if God had not chosen me I never would have chosen him. Furthermore, I am sure God chose me before I was born, because he never would have picked me afterwards.

When God adopts you, the relationship changes and you are now allowed to call him Abba, Father. That’s a Hebrew word that means daddy.

Did you know that more than 70 times in the gospels Jesus either called God His Father or instructed us to think of God as our Father. That’s how Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father in Heaven hallowed be your name.”

That came as a shock to the people of the first century because Jews did not refer to God as their father. In fact, you can do a search of the entire Old Testament and only find two verses where anyone addressed God as Father. They are both in Isaiah: 63:16-17, and 64:8-9 if you want to look them up.

But that’s pretty much it from the Old Testament. So when Jews prayed, they didn’t refer to God as Father. They would say, “Blessed are you Lord, God, King of the universe.” Beautiful, and true, but also distant, and unapproachable.

But Jesus said call Him Daddy, call him Father. That’s what adoption does. God has redefined the relationship. According to verse 15, we’ve gone from slaves to sons.

Now, just a few weeks ago, we read in Romans 6:19 that we are to present the members of our body as “slaves to righteousness.” So which is it? Are we sons or slaves?

Paul never says we aren’t slaves. He says we don’t have a spirit of slavery. It goes back to our first point. What is your motivation for serving? A slave serves from duty. A son serves from delight. We have not received the spirit of slavery that makes us fall back into fear.

Flash back to a time you really messed up when you were younger. Maybe you wrecked your car. Maybe you got a speeding ticket. Maybe it was something worse. Depending on the relationship you had with your earthly father, you probably had one of two responses.

You might have said, “Oh, man, I have really messed up. I hope my dad doesn’t find out.” If your biggest screw up leads you to be terrified that your father might find out, then your relationship with your father is characterized by the fear of punishment. This is the spirit of slavery. Your motivation to do good is based solely on not wanting to face the punishment if you mess up.

But here’s the second option. You wrecked the car. You got a speeding ticket. You got arrested. What if your response was, “Man, I’ve really messed up. I’ve got to call my dad.” That is the spirit of adoption. If you understand who you are as a son or daughter of a loving father, then he is the first person you cry out to when you are in trouble.

Now, one way or the other, your dad is going to find out. And you are either terrified by that, or you are grateful for that, based on your relationship with your father.

How do you know God really is your heavenly father? How do you know that you really are His son or daughter?

The answer is in verse 16:

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 

We know we are children of God because of the Holy Spirit Himself. Not itself, but Himself. The Holy Spirit isn’t an impersonal force. He is a person, and He bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

When I was preparing for this sermon, I texted Kristie Graves, because I knew that both Hazel and Elaina are adopted. I asked Kristie, “Hey, when you adopted the girls, were you required to have witnesses?” And she answered, “Oh, yes. We had to stand before a judge and take an oath. And we were surrounded by lawyers and family members and case workers and anyone else who would either share responsibility for raising the girls or anyone who had been responsible for vetting us as potential parents during the process. All of them were asked to stand with us as witnesses before the judge.”

Why is that important? Well, suppose the biological father decides to come forward and challenge the adoption. What if one day he comes and says, “this child still belongs to me. She isn’t yours. She’s mine!”

Beloved, don’t you see that this is what Satan tries to do all the time! Satan is our biological father. We inherited a sin nature from Adam and Eve. Like the Pharisees, we are of our father the devil, what Ephesians 2:3 calls  children of wrath.” Revelation 12:10 calls the devil the accuser of the brethren. That’s literally what satan means in Hebrew: Ha Satan: the accuser. This was actually the legal term for the one bringing charges. So the satan brings the charges against you before the Judge, the Heavenly Father. And he says, “This one doesn’t belong to you. Look at her! Look at her thought life. Look at all the times she’s screwed up. That’s my girl.”

And so Satan does everything he can to try to drag you back home.

That’s when the Holy Spirit comes forward and says, Nope. The Father adopted this child into His family. I was there before the foundation of the world, when the Father predestined her for adoption (Ephesians 1:5). I was there when God Himself allowed His only begotten Son to shed His blood to seal the adoption.

So You’ve got the witness of the Spirit. But notice that verse 16 says that the “Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” That’s why Revelation 12:11 says that the accuser was overcome by the blood of the lamb and by their testimony.

We can be confident in our salvation. We can have assurance. How does this happen?

Years ago, Trish’s sister and her husband adopted our nephew Drew from Guatemala. Now what assurances do we have that Drew is really Pam and Erdie’s son? Well, it’s pretty simple. He lives in their house. He doesn’t speak a word of Spanish.

There are some people who have even said they can see the resemblance between Drew and our brother in law. He may be biologically Guatemalan, but there is nothing about him that identifies with Guatemala anymore. I’m not even sure he could find it on a map! Drew has full assurance that he is their child.  

But what if Drew decided he didn’t want to live in Pam and Erdie’s house anymore? What if he refused to learn the language or customs of his adoptive country? What if he never left Guatemala, and only ate Guatemalan food, and only hung around with other Guatemalans? People around him would start to wonder if he was truly Pam and Erdie’s adoptive son. He might start to doubt it himself. He would cut himself off from all the privileges of sonship. And although Pam and Erdie would never stop loving him, if Drew spent the rest of his life running away from them, then he might miss out on the whatever inheritance would have been his.

For the spirit Himself to bear witness with our spirit, we need to ask ourselves if we are willingly submitting to sonship. Are you acting like a son or daughter? Are you living by the values of your adoptive father?

So the motivation changes—from duty to delight.

The relationship changes: from slave to son.

Finally, our desired outcome changes. It changes from happiness to holiness. Here’s what I mean: Verse 17 says:

we are children of God, 17 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.

That’s kind of a scary caveat, isn’t it? We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  

A lot of people love the first part of verse 17, and ignore the second part. So please hear this: whenever the New Testament mentions the blessings and benefits of being a child of God, it almost always mentions suffering adjacent to it.

  • Philippians 1:29: 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 
  • 1 Peter 4:12-14: 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 
  • 1 Peter 4:16: If anyone suffers as a Christian let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
  • Romans 5:3-5: Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

So God’s goal for His children isn’t to make them happy. It is to make them holy. And that is going to mean we face challenges. And those challenges will take the form of suffering and persecution.

If you are indeed an adopted son or daughter of the living God, you aligned yourself with Him and you follow Him and you love Him, you should see suffering for Him as an indicator that you’re on the right path.

Anybody can endure suffering, only the Christian can endure suffering knowing there’s purpose for it and that is leading somewhere. So all of these experiences are because God adopted you. Meaning he chose you.

Now, this morning, I want to invite you to receive Him. God has chosen you, but it isn’t a forced adoption. You get to sign the papers.

[Invitation]

Mindset Matters (Romans 8:5-11)

August 7, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama

Good morning. I’d like you to turn in your Bibles to Romans 8, as we continue our journey through what many people believe to be the greatest chapter in the entire Bible. We intRoduced chapter 8 by talking about how it was the greatest portrayal…

  • Of the depth of God’s love for his children.
  • Of the brokenness of creation
  • Of God’s design and purpose for life
  • Of the relationship we have with the Trinity
  • Of our assurance of salvation
  • Of the Holy Spirit empowering us to walk with Christ.

And it’s this last point that you are really going to see in our text for this morning. One of the features of Romans 8 is that the Holy Spirit really takes center stage in this chapter. Up to this point, Paul has only mentioned the Holy Spirit twice. But in chapter 8, Paul mentions Him twenty times.

We are going to be studying verses 5-11 this morning. Hopefully you’ve found it in your copy of God’s Word, and I’d like you to stand to honor the reading of God’s Word. I am reading from the English Standard Version:

5 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. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 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. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus[d] from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated.

[Pray]

There’s a phrase that Paul uses five times in the first three verses. He talks about setting our minds on one of two things, or the mind set on this thing or the other.

So I want to start off this morning by asking you, “What is a mindset? When people talk about their mindset, what does it mean? And is it the same thing Paul meant when he talked about what we set our minds on.

If you ask a psychologist, they will tell you that your mindset is a set of beliefs that shape how you make sense of the world and yourself. It influences how you think, feel, and behave in any given situation.

Henry Ford had maybe the most famous quote about mindset. The pioneer of mass production of the automobile said,

 “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right,”

In 2006, psychologist Carol S Dweck made a splash with her book Mindset. Dweck was interested in how people cope with failure. She ran a series of observations of children who were given increasingly difficult puzzles to solve. She watched as some kids threw their hands up in frustration and said “I just can’t do it.” But other kids would sit down in front of a hard puzzle, rub their hands together, and say, “I love a challenge.” Dr. Dweck said the difference was mindset.  Mindset, said Dr. Dweck, profoundly affects the way you live your life.

Some people have what she calls a “fixed” mindset. This is the idea that the intelligence, talents, and abilities you are born with set the limits for what you are able to achieve.

These are people who believe they have only a limited level of intelligence, a set personality, and a fixed moral character. And people with a fixed mindset will either spend their lives trying to prove that they are living up to whatever their potential is, or they will throw their hands up in the air and do nothing when they encounter a problem they see as beyond their capacity.

But then there is the growth mindset. Instead of looking at their current IQ or personality or moral character as the limit of their capacity, they see it as their starting point. People with a growth mindset believe that a person’s true potential is unknowable. That it is impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with passion, effort, and training.

So, all that is fascinating, and Carol Dweck’s book has helped a lot of people. But the question we need to ask this morning is, is this what Paul meant when he talked about the mind set?

And the answer is, no. See, the world defines “mindset” as a set of beliefs you have about yourself. But God’s Word is never all that interested in what someone believes about himself or herself. The first sentence in AW Tozer’s classic, The Knowledge of the Holy is

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

So when Paul talks about mindset, it is not the set of beliefs we have about ourselves. In fact, Paul doesn’t talk about a mindset as something you have. He talks about setting your mind, as something you do.  Look again at verse 5:

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.

The Greek word is phroneo, and it’s a verb. It shows up twenty times in the New Testament, seventeen of them in Paul’s writings. It means to be in agreement with, or to have the same understanding as.

Interestingly, when the Greeks thought about the mind, they didn’t think about the brain or the head. The word phrane, which is the root of phroneo, referred to the midriff or the diaphragm. What we would call the core. When a body builder talks about strengthening their core muscles, this is what they are talking about. Their phrane.

So if you put it all together, when your mind is set on something or someone, it means that at the very core of who you are, you are in agreement with them. You have the same understanding as them.

Do you see the difference between the world’s definition of a mindset and the command of Scripture to set your mind? Psychology says you either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Scripture says you set your mind either on the things of the flesh or the things of the spirit.

And then Paul gives the warning:

 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.

I need you to understand something. The Bible does not offer a middle ground option. A person either has their mind set on the flesh, which, remember, means that at your core you are in agreement with the flesh, you are striving toward the flesh, you have the same understanding as the flesh.

Or they have their mind set on the Spirit. At their core, they are in agreement with the Spirit. They strive toward the Spirit. They have the same understanding as the Spirit.

Sometimes we talk about a carnal Christian. Someone who is saved, but they are still chasing after the things of the world. Or we might say that someone has accepted Jesus as their savior but not as their Lord.

But according to Scripture, there is no such thing as a carnal Christian. The so-called “Christian” who accepts Jesus as their savior but not as their Lord doesn’t exist. That isn’t even a category for Paul. If your mind is set on the flesh, that’s death. You are hostile to God. You don’t submit to God. You can’t submit to God. Verse 8: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You are lost, and if you die that way, you will go to hell. Full stop.

But the difference maker, is the Holy Spirit.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 

Remember our Tupperware from last week? You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in you. The Holy Spirit is the X-Factor. We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit very much in Baptist churches. We’ve kind of left that up to the Pentecostals. Which is really unfortunate, because that means that when most people think about the Holy Spirit, they think about speaking in tongues, or faith healing, or a lot of the nonsense you see from televangelists.

The way the Bible describes the Holy Spirit is way different. According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit:

  • Points people to Christ: John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.
  • This one isn’t on your listening guide, and that’s my fault, but write this in the margin. The Holy Spirit convicts people of sin, John 16:8: when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
  • He regenerates us and renews us. Titus 3:5
  • He baptizes us into the body of Christ. In your notes the reference is Romans 6:3, but it should be 1 Corinthians 12:13. Again, my fault, not Stacey’s.
  • Through the Holy Spirit, we understand the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:12: Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 
  •  He prays for us. We’ll talk about this in a couple of weeks. Romans 8:26—The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
  • Yes, the Holy Spirit does distribute spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12 lists some of the gifts of the Spirit. So does Romans 12. We will get to that in a few months.
  • He guarantees our inheritance. Ephesians 1:13-14 says that when we believe in Jesus, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.
  • Finally, he sanctifies us to bear fruit.

And this is where I want us to end this morning. One of the biggest challenges to preaching and teaching that we are saved by grace alone through faith is that we can sometimes leave people with the impression that the only thing that matters is that you believe in Jesus, and how you live your life doesn’t matter at all. Beloved, that could not be further from the truth. Martin Luther said that we are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is is never alone. The evidence of saving faith is that we will bear fruit. Go back to verse 5:

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. 

It doesn’t say those who are in the spirit are given a spiritual mindset. It says that those who LIVE according to the Spirit SET THEIR MINDS on the things of the Spirit. LIVE. SET. These aren’t nouns. They are verbs. And they aren’t passive verbs, describing an action that is done to you or on your behalf. You are the one that sets your mind.

And notice too that it doesn’t say you set your mind on the Spirit. If it was just setting your mind on the Spirit, then being a Christian could just be about sitting around thinking about religious stuff. Listening to Christian music, putting Bible verses on your wall, going to church.

No, verse 5 says we set our minds on the things of the Spirit. The things of the Spirit are the fruit of the Spirit, contrasted with the works of the flesh in Galatians 5.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries,dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

That’s a pretty sobering list. It should help you evaluate not just your media—the music, movies, TV shows you consume, but also your news media. Your social media.

Look at the way it ends—those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. This isn’t a one strike and you’re out thing. We all stumble and sin. But I’m begging you to take this list seriously. Do any of these things characterize your life? Are you habitually angry? Do you thrive on causing strife, stirring the pot, being at the center of dissension? Are you habitually involved in sexual immorality or impurity. If that’s you, then you’ve set your mind on the flesh, and you’re not a Christian.

You’re saying, James, you can’t judge me. You don’t know my heart. And you’re right. I don’t know your heart. But God does know your heart, and it’s God’s word that is doing the judging here.

But now, look at verse 22:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

These are the things of the spirit that a true Christian sets his or her mind on. Again, we don’t set our mind on the Spirit. Christianity is not just about thinking about religious stuff all the time.

  • It’s loving every person, all the time.
  • It’s choosing joy when joy doesn’t make any sense.
  • It’s peace when the world is in chaos.
  • It’s patience in circumstances. Patience with foolish people. Patience with your spouse. Patience with your kids. Patience to wait on God’s timing.
  • It’s kindness. Choosing words that build up instead of tearing down.
  • It’s goodness. Acting justly. Loving mercy. Doing the right thing.
  • It’s faithfulness. Being a person of integrity. Telling the truth. Keeping your promises.
  • It’s gentleness. Not using your position or your authority to power up on other people.
  • It’s self control. Resisting the urge to spend all there is to spend, own all there is to own, eat all there is to eat, drink till you pass out.

These are all intentional actions. They don’t come easy. But they are things we set our minds on.

You say, but that’s hard! And you’re right. It’s hard. But being a Christian means choosing hard things.

And we don’t have to do it alone. Look at the promise of verse 11:

11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesusfrom the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Our countdown video this week was Jeremy Camp’s “The Same Power.” Remember the lyric?

The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea

Lives in us, lives in us
He lives in us, lives in us

We have hope
That His promises are true
In His strength
There is nothing we can’t do
Yes, we know
There are greater things in store
We will not be overtaken
We will not be overcome

That’s the promise of verse 11. What God calls us to do, God equips us to do through the indwelling of his Spirit.

[INVITATION]

Romans 8:1-4: No Condemnation in Christ

Intro: This is why we do it

Good morning! Please turn to Romans, Chapter 8. I am so excited to be turning to Romans, Chapter 8, and not Romans Chapter 7. We’ve been in the book of Romans since January. And maybe there are some of you that are getting maybe just a little tired of it. Certainly, when we were just hitting chapter after chapter about God’s wrath, there were some who were ready for us to skip ahead to the good stuff. And for sure, after how depressing Romans 7 was, there had to be some that were wondering if the rest of the book was going to be like that. But I want to tell you that chapter 8 is the reason for all of it. I don’t know for sure if we will actually finish the book of Romans, but I’ll tell you one thing: If we quit before Chapter 8, it would be like waiting in line for the best ride at Disney World and then stepping out of line before you got on the roller coaster.

Many preachers and scholars have argued that Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in the entire Bible. One wrote  that if all of Scripture were a golden ring, then the book of Romans would be the diamond on that ring. Romans 8 would be the most perfectly cut facet on the diamond.

It begins with the promise that there is no condemnation by God for those who are in Christ. It concludes with the promise there can be no separation from God for those who are in Christ.

And in between those two bookends, we see the greatest portrayal…

So let’s get to it. This morning as we get ready to celebrate communion, we are just going to focus on the first four verses. If you are physically able, please stand to honor the reading of God’s Word:  

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.[a] For the law of the Spirit of life has set you[b] 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,[c] 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. 

[prayer]

Before we get into what the passage actually says, I want to make you aware of the Epic Shift that takes place between Romans 7 and Romans 8. Romans 7 is one of the most miserable passages in the entire Bible. Romans 8 is one of the most hopeful. Romans 7:24 is a wail of defeat: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 8:1 is a cry of triumph: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

And a key to understanding the change from Chapter 7 to Chapter 8 is to look at the pronouns.

In chapter 7, there are forty-seven first person pronouns. Let me just call your attention to a few of them:

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 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. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

I, I, Me, Me, My, My. Just in those six verses, there are twenty first person pronouns. It is literally the most self-centered passage of scripture in the entire Bible.

Do you want to guess how many times Paul uses the words I, Me, or My in chapter 8? Zero.

And in their place, Paul makes over 20 references to the Holy Spirit in chapter 8. How many in Chapter 7? Zero. In fact, up to this point, Paul has only explicitly referred to the Holy Spirit once in the entire epistle.

Let’s start with verse one. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And if you are reading anything other than the KJV, that’s where it stops. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, period.

King James, and the New King James, adds a phrase:

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

That phrase isn’t included in the earliest manuscripts. It’s the same phrase that is in verse 4, where Paul writes that we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.” So how did this phrase wind up at the end of verse 1? Well, somewhere along the way, some scribe must have been worried that if someone read “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” then they would conclude that a Christian was free to do anything they wanted. So maybe they wrote the phrase from verse 4 up in the margin of verse 1, as a reminder that the Christian doesn’t walk according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. Then, the next scribe saw it in the margin and figured, “well, this must be part of verse 1. So they wrote it with a comma, and not a period.

But here’s the problem: if you read this as “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, as long as I am walking according to the spirit, and not according to the flesh,” then you are back to making this all about your behavior. And what happens on those days when you are back in your flesh? What happens when you overeat, or drink too much, or flip someone off in traffic? Does that mean you are condemned? And if that’s the case, you are right back to the miserable state we find ourselves in in Chapter 7: “Oh, wretched man that I am! The good that I want to do I don’t do, but I wind up doing the very thing that I hate!” So understand this, Christian:

It is not about you. The earliest manuscripts end verse one with “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

PERIOD!!!!

Why? Look at the next two verses:

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, 

 God condemned sin—not you.

God condemned sin in the flesh of His own son.

Notice how super careful Paul is with his words here. He says that God sent his own Son—not in the flesh, because he is making the point that flesh is sinful.  And not in the likeness of flesh, because Jesus didn’t just appear to be human, He was fully human. But in the likeness of sinful flesh—Jesus was fully human, but he was completely without sin. And because He Himself was without sin, He was able to take the condemnation for our sin, so that we do not have to.

There is no condemnation for us, because Jesus Himself already took the condemnation.

What “no condemnation” does and does not mean

Now, notice this doesn’t say, “There are no mistakes” for those who are in Christ Jesus. Or no “failures.” Friends, we who are in Christ Jesus still sin. We still fall short. We still fight temptation, and we still lose the fight.  

And it also does not say there are no consequences. Even a believer who sins can suffer the consequences of his or her sin. Drive drunk, go to jail. Cheat on your wife, lose your marriage. People face the consequences of their sin all the time. But in terms of penal condemnation—the punishment our sins deserve, damnation, eternal separation from God—that is settled. It was settled when Jesus died for your sins on Calvary.

Sometimes, you will hear Christians say that “God is punishing them” for something. Have you ever heard that? Have you ever felt that? I need you to remove that phrase from your vocabulary. If you have trusted Christ as your savior, you have eternal life, and “shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)

God doesn’t punish us for our sin, because He has already punished Jesus for our sin. If you are reading the Bible chronologically this year, then you read this passage from Isaiah yesterday:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5, NIV)

In the 1986 movie “The Mission,” Robert DeNiro plays a ruthless slave trader in 18th century Brazil named Rodrigo Mendoza. Mendoza makes his living kidnapping the natives who live above the Iguazu Falls and selling them to nearby plantations. After he kills his brother in a drunken duel, he is filled with remorse and converts to Christianity. As penance

[and by the way, do you know what penance is? It comes from the word penal. It means punishment. Penance is this idea that you need to do something to pay for your sins. And it is not in the Bible.]

But as penance, the local priest orders Mendoza to climb up the falls to ask forgiveness of the very natives he had been selling into slavery. And that’s not all: he must make the climb with all the tools of his slave trade lashed into a bundle tied around his neck. All his weapons. All his armor. All the nets and chains he used to capture the natives. When he reaches the top of the falls, he fully expects to be killed by the natives. Watch what happens:

[show clip]

Conclusion: The Theology of Tupperware

There is therefore now not one condemnation for those who are in Christ. I want to close by sharing with you a powerful illustration of what it means to be in Christ. Because let’s face it—there are times when we feel condemned. There are times when Satan tries to remind us of all we have done, and how we don’t deserve God’s grace, and how he can’t believe we’ve got the gall to even show up at church, and if all those people at Glynwood knew the things you had done, and on and on and on. So as we prepare to take communion, let me share this illustration with you. I stole it from David Platt, and I call it the theology of Tupperware.

This container represents you. Let’s just label it you. And when you trust Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and surrender your life to his Lordship, you are in Christ.

Paul’s favorite description for the Christian is “in Christ.” He uses that phrase 84 times in his letters. And if you add all the references to “in him,” it almost doubles.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, the new has come.

So, this is you, and now you are in Christ…

[label second Tupperware, put first inside it]

But it gets better. Not only are you in Christ, but Christ is in you. Skip down to verse 4: The righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us. How is that possible? The requirement is filled in Christ, so Christ must be in us.

Then verses 9 and 11 make it even more explicit: verse 9—the spirit of God dwells in you. The spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is in you. Look at Colossians 1:27—

27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

So let’s label this Tupperware Christ, and we will put Christ in you, and you in Christ.

But, it gets even better. Remember, I’m trying to give you an answer for what to say when the devil tries to condemn you for your sin—

Not only are you in Christ, and not only is Christ in you, but according to Colossians 3:3, we are with Christ in God.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your[a] life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

[Label biggest Tupperware God]

So here’s what all this means. For the devil to get to you, he first has to get past God. And he’s never been able to do that. But then, assuming he could, he would then have to get through Jesus to get to you. And even if he could do that, which he can’t, he would still have to deal with the holy spirit that is in you. Every time Satan tries to condemn you as a child of God, he has to deal with the full force of the Trinity. AW Tozer put it this way:

I’m not afraid of the devil. The devil can handle me – he’s got judo I never heard of. But he can’t handle the One to whom I’m joined; he can’t handle the One to whom I’m united; he can’t handle the One whose nature dwells in my nature.

AW Tozer

Friends, it isn’t just that God doesn’t condemn you. It’s that Satan can’t accuse you. Because if you are in Christ, then the Holy Spirit is in you. And you are hidden in Christ, and you are with Christ in God. And the devil does not have a chance.

[Invitation]

[Communion]

Gotta Serve Somebody (Romans 6:15-23)

Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 6. It’s been a minute since we have been in the book or Romans. But I wanted us to jump back in this Sunday, and I think God’s timing on this is actually pretty amazing.

You know, last week, on June 19th, we celebrated Father’s Day. But we didn’t say much about another national holiday—Juneteenth.

Many of us, if not most of us, didn’t know much about Juneteenth until recently, and some of us may still not know. Because while Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the united states, it didn’t become a federal holiday until last year.

Juneteenth commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger came riding into Galveston Texas and read General Order #3 to the people of Texas,

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…

Even though Lincoln issued the Emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863, and Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, slaves in Texas hadn’t gotten the word yet. For more than two and a half years, they had still been living as slaves, never knowing that they were actually free people

And I would imagine that there were a lot of slaves that didn’t hear anything beyond “all slaves are free.” What an amazing word that must have been. Free! You could understand if all those men and women, who had never known anything other than fulfilling the whims of their often cruel masters, stopped listening at that point.

But if all they heard was “you’re free,” they would have missed the rest of General Order Number Three, which read,

The connection heretofore existing between [masters and slaves] becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They will not be allowed to [gather] at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Now, I’m bringing up this history lesson because I think it will help us understand today’s Scripture. What if those slaves who were freed on Juneteenth said to themselves, “Well, now that I’m free, I don’t have to do anything! I’ll never have to work again! I don’t have a Master anymore!”

And I’m afraid that a lot of people look at Christianity in the same way. They take verses like John 8:36

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

And they think that because we are free in Christ, we are free to do whatever we want. We don’t have obligations to make any sort of change in our lives whatsoever. We can even go so far as to think that the only thing Christianity impacts is where we will spend eternity.

The people in the church in Rome had this misunderstanding as well. Last time we were in Romans, I introduced you to this big $5.00 word, antinomianism (it’s on the back of the listening guide). Antinomianism literally means “against the law,” and it’s the belief that because we are saved by grace, there aren’t any moral laws we are obligated to obey. We asked Jesus into our heart when we were five years old, so even though there is no evidence whatsoever that we belong to Jesus now, we know that we are going to heaven when we die.

So Paul deals with this In Romans 6. We talked about the first half of the chapter the last time we were in Romans. People had been saying, “well, if grace abounds because of our sin, then the more we sin, the more grace we get.” And Paul said, no, no—you’ve died to sin.

Now, in the second half of Romans 6, Paul shifts the metaphor. Instead of talking about being dead to sin and alive to Christ, he pivoted to talking about the difference between being a slave to sin and being a slave to righteousness. Let’s look at what he said together. I’m in Romans 6, verses 15-23. Please stand with me to honor the reading of God’s Word:

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[c] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Please pray with me. 

[pray]

Now, the question in verse 15 looks very similar to the question in verse 1. In verse 1, Paul’s dealing with people who are wondering if they should sin in order to get more grace—that grace should abound. And his answer is, “By no means.”

But in verse 15, Paul deals with the question of whether or not it’s ok to sin, since we aren’t under the law anymore but under grace.

And I really think that’s where a lot of people are today. “I don’t have to obey the law, because I am saved by grace.”

And that is partially true. It is not the law that saves you. You are saved because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. But freedom in Christ doesn’t mean that you have no master, but that you have a new master. Look carefully at verse 16:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Paul uses the word slave here. The Greek word is doulos, and there’s a definition for it on the back of your listening guide. A doulos was one who was in subjugation to another person’s will. One who was totally obligated to serving another, to the disregard of their own interests.  

And this was a term that would have been very easy for the people in the church in Rome to understand. Historians estimate that the population of first century Rome was about one-third slaves. There was also a significant population of free men who had at one time been enslaved. So there’s a very good chance that over half of the members of the church in Rome either were slaves or had been slaves.[1]  

So Paul used a metaphor this audience would understand. In fact, Paul refers to slavery eight times in these eight verses. And never once does he say that the people aren’t slaves anymore. Look at it with me:

Be honest—are you surprised that the message of the gospel isn’t actually freedom? This may be the hardest thing to wrap our heads around about the gospel, and it is probably what puts us at odds with modern culture the most.

The message of culture is that you should be free to do whatever you want to do, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and in some cases, even if it does. So I should be free to marry whomever I want. If I am a woman I should be free to decide whether or not I want to carry a baby to term or abort it. I should be free to end a marriage if my wife and I have just grown apart from each other.

And they look at Christianity and they say, no thanks. I don’t want any part of a religion that puts such limitations on my personal freedom. I want a religion that keeps me in the driver’s seat. It sounds like if I follow your religion I’m just exchanging one form of slavery for another.  

And the scandal of the gospel is that in Romans 6, Paul is basically saying, “Yup. That’s exactly what you are doing.

Write this down, because it’s going to bake your brain a little:

The call to follow Christ is the call to obedient slavery.

Look at verse 19:

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

The language isn’t politically correct, and the message isn’t popular, but this is what the gospel boils down to.

Every human being is born into bondage to slavery. Jesus said in John 8:34 that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. And we know from Romans 3:23 that everyone has sinned.

And so Paul goes all in on this metaphor. Before someone turns their life over to Jesus, they are slaves to impurity. They present the members of their body—their hands, their feet, their eyes, their ears, their mouths—all the members of their body are given in the service of sin.

And I get it. You tell someone they are a slave to impurity and lawlessness, and you get a lot of pushback. They’ll say, “C’mon, man. I’m not a bad person. I’ve never killed anybody. I’m not a pedophile or a human trafficker or a drug dealer. I’ve never cheated on my wife.  I know the difference between right and wrong, and I don’t need god or church or your bible to judge me and tell me I’m going to hell because I don’t give my life to Jesus. I just want to be free to live my life the way I think is best, ok?

And that’s the human condition. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They decided they wanted to determine right and wrong for themselves, rather than trusting God to determine what is right and wrong. In the book of Judges, the author described that time in Israel’s history as everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.  

But here is where Satan has pulled the wool over our eyes. He’s convinced people all through history that this is where you find true freedom—following your bliss, pursuing whatever makes you happy.

Look again at verse 16:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Here’s the most simple way to put it, the most basic definition of slavery: You are a slave to whatever you can’t say no to. In the modern world, we call that addiction. It could be a substance, like drugs or alcohol. It could be a habit, like gambling or porn. It could be a a compulsion, like shopping or hoarding or over eating or over working. But you are a slave to whatever you can’t say no to.

Anyone who has battled addiction, and we have several who are here this morning that have been there—they know addiction by its true name: slavery. And if you are a slave to sin, it leads to death.

So the gospel is simple: Go back to verse 19: once you presented your members as slaves to impurity. Now, present your members as slaves to righteousness. Once, every part of your body – arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, mind, and mouth, was given to sin. And you were therefore slaves to sin.

Now, take all of those members—arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, mind, and present them as slaves to righteousness.

Jesus desires to be the one thing you can’t say no to. In Matthew 11, Jesus offered this invitation to everyone who was tired and exhausted from trying to serve sin. He said,

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

A yoke was what a farmer put over the neck of an ox in order to direct and guide the ox. A yoke was a symbol of slavery. And Jesus doesn’t say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and take off your yoke of slavery. He says take my yoke. Learn from me.

My yoke is easy, because instead of saying yes to a thousand different masters and addictions and commitments and obligations, all you have to say yes to now is Me. I’ll direct your pursuits. I’ll set your schedule. I’ll help you break every other chain, and the only chain that remains is the one that connects you to me.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be confused about what it takes to follow him. Look what Paul says in verse 17:

17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,

We don’t have to be in the dark about what Jesus expects of us. He’s given us His word—the standard of teaching to which we are committed.

And God’s Word tells us all that we need to know to live a life of godliness. 2 Peter 1:3 was the memory verse for VBS a few years ago. Since we just did VBS, probably a lot of you can still sing it with me, can’t you:

His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.

Now, I want to bring this to a close by addressing what may be on a lot of your minds. And that is, why should I trade one slavery for another? You’re telling me this morning that freedom in Christ isn’t really freedom. It’s still slavery.

So let me leave you with this very offensive sounding, non politically correct statement:

There is a blessing to obedient slavery.

I know, I know. It sounds awful. But Bob Dylan was right. You’ve gotta serve somebody. It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody. So what is the blessing of being a slave to righteousness?

Well, first, there is better fruit. Verse 19 says that being a slave to impurity leads to more impurity. But being a slave to righteousness leads to sanctification. Sanctification is the process of a believer, over time, becoming more and more like Jesus.

Paul says in verse 20 that being a slave to sin means that you are “free” in regard to righteousness. You can continue on in your sinful patterns and have no obligation to follow God’s law. But then he asks,

But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

The fruit of being a slave to sin is death. But look at the better fruit of being a slave to righteousness. And not just better fruit, a better ending. A better destination: Look at verse 22: Paul has just said that when we were slaves to sin we were “free” in regard to righteousness. And then he flips it:

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There are really only two options:

Slave to sin, Free from righteousness, fruit is death

Slave to God, free from sin, fruit is eternal life.


[1] Hughes, R. Kent. Romans: Righteousness From Heaevn. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Press, 1991, p. 124.

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