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In The Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Romans 8:1-11 Read the whole chapter.

So we're coming back to Paul's letter to the Romans to pick up on a little bit more of what Paul is laying out as what he sees as necessary for this path of salvation and this way in which we are growing and understanding what it means to be God's people. So a couple of weeks ago we looked at some of those things and Paul likes using a lot of counterpoints. We'll see some in today's text. But a couple of weeks ago we talked about how we are dead to sin: that it doesn't have that power over our lives. We've looked at what it means to actually be a slave to God, subservient and submissive to God's will in our lives. We need to look at the end of chapter 7 before we get into chapter 8. Because in the reading I shared with you this morning when Paul said "There is therefore", he tells you that okay here's a pivoting point, here's the hinge upon which the story is now going to move forward.

So if we look at the end of chapter 7, Paul is talking about the fact that everything that he had laid out so far in the first seven chapters of Romans is a tension that we live in. That we believe that our faith began in a graveyard, that our faith began with Jesus being crucified and laid in a tomb. But our faith was born there. The Christian faith was born there. When Jesus rose again and so rising to new life, we have a world that has forever changed. Paul is pointing us to that empty tomb and saying this is where we need to begin looking and understanding what God is doing. The thing about the empty tomb is that while Jesus defeated death and sin. Death is defeated. But it's not obliterated. It's not completely gone because we still see it. It still nips at our heels. It still follows us around. We still see it raising its head at times in the world around us. So how do we live in this tension of a risen Savior who's conquered death and sin, when sin is still twitching and putting up a little bit of a fight?

Well, Paul recognizes that we feel the weight and the burden of that in our lives. In chapter 7 verse 15 he even admits it to us and says you know what, I understand where you're at. I'm there, he says, I do not understand my own actions for I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate. I know what I should do and I don't do it and I know what I shouldn't do and I still keep doing those things sometimes. A little further in chapter 7, he goes so far in verse 24 to say "Wretched man that I am who will rescue me from the body of death?" He says at the end of chapter 7, "So then with my mind, I'm a slave to the law of God but with my flesh I'm a slave to the law of sin." He says there's that tension, that struggle going on within him. Guess what? We all have that tension going on within us. That tension that we've made an acknowledgment of some kind that we want to be a Christian. We want to be those followers of Jesus. We've said yes, Jesus is Lord. Yet, those things within us still are there.

In the NRSV that I'm reading from, one of the things that we discovered this week in the Bible study is that while the NRSV talks a lot about flesh, it's not necessarily implying just our flesh, skin, bone, blood and all those things that make us up. But Paul is talking about our human nature. The things that make us people. Not just the physical body, but our thoughts, our inclinations, our appetites, and our desires. So this contrast he's talking about isn't just about the meaty body part of us but rather those things that are those human desires. He says that flesh that he's a slave to, is often that part of us that is oriented towards self: very self-serving, self-indulgent, what feels good, what looks good, what tastes good. Those are the things that I'm going to be focused on. It's almost kind of animalistic. I'm just going to go for those things. He says we're fighting that tension and it's a difficult one. Our world often pushes us and pulls us in that direction.

Many of you probably remember or know the song that Frank Sinatra first made famous, "My Way" later recorded by Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, and other artists. But in 1969 Sinatra recorded that song. It talks about challenges in life but keeps coming back to that refrain "I did it my way." Well in an interview after Sinatra had passed away his daughter said that her father actually had come to loathe that song because he saw it as self-indulgent. Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of people that hear that and think yes I did it my way. In fact a few years ago when I was serving another church I had a funeral home that would occasionally call on me if they had a family that was asking for a methodist pastor. They didn't necessarily have a church or a pastor of their own to officiate at a funeral. So I met with the widow and the grandson and they wanted to have Willie Nelson's version of "My Way" played at this gentleman's funeral. I kind of cringed when they told me that. I was very thankful when the funeral home could not come up with a recording of it that they could use.

Paul is pointing to the fact that look folks I know what I should do and I fail to do it. I know what I shouldn't do and I keep doing it. I can't do it by myself is part of Paul's message to us. We need to recognize that doing it our way has gotten us to where we are. We need to break the cycle. We need something different. That's exactly what God did when He sent Jesus. He broke that cycle. It's attributed to Einstein but the quote that madness is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. Sin leads us down that path. Those appetites of the flesh lead us down that path of doing the same thing again and again and expecting to somehow get a different result. Paul points us to the fact that change is necessary. But also that a change is possible because of Jesus. That's why he says "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." There is therefore now no condemnation, all of those consequences for the mistakes we've made for following those appetites for living by the flesh. Those things are not something that we're going to be condemned for because God has taken those things away. God has satisfied whatever penalty may have been due to us through sending Jesus. When Christ lives within us, well we live too.

So the condemnation is gone. We're invited into a life not continually burdened by the law of sin and death but under a new law. Under the law of the Spirit. So what does life in the Spirit look like? Now Paul would say that life in the Spirit is one in which because Christ has come alive within us. We too become fully alive. While sin may be running around nipping at our heels it cannot and will not be able to pull us down. We still have to shake it off every once in a while, say go away! But it cannot overcome us if Christ is living within us.

The satisfaction that has been made for all of those penalties, all of the consequences to wipe away this condemnation is much like a story that I had heard that I shared already with the Bible Study group. There's a young man who's a bit of a rabble-rouser. He's not a real bad kid but he gets in trouble sometimes. He ends up kind of getting crossways with the law enforcement. So he has to go before the court. While they're hearing the arguments from the prosecutor and his attorney and everything's going back and forth, it's very clear that the young man did the things that he did. So the judge pronounces this young man guilty as charged and slams his gavel down. Then he says the penalty for this young man's crimes will be $300. The judge then stands up and he takes off his robes. He lays them on the chair and walks down and goes over to the bailiff. He says, I'm this young man's father and I'd like to pay his fines. It's much that way when it comes to the penalty that we incur through sin, that the wages of sin is death. We've sinned. We've fallen short as Paul says. But thanks be to God that is through Jesus Christ that God then addresses and takes care of the penalty. We're set free.

So it is in the Spirit that we don't worry about those things that are behind us. They have been taken care of. Rather we look to the ways in which we can continue to live into the life that God has called us to. It's not a quick fix or a simple fix that God offered. Rather a cure. A cure for this disease of sin. A cure for all of the things that afflict us as mortal beings. Now we all continue to make choices. We have to make the choice to live this life. We have to continue to say, yes God I need your love. I need your mercy. I need your grace. But it's by the Spirit that we've been given life, a life that is meaningful and abundant here and now and a life that is meaningful and abundant in the next. God desires that we would know that life. So wretched people that we may be at times, thanks be to God that through Jesus and in God's Spirit we can live free and abundant.


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