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Romans (Series 1)

Walking the Christian Walk

Romans  8:1-17

Last week we left off with the thought that Paul -- a dedicated Christian -- saw the dilemma of spirit and flesh:

(Rom 7:21-23 NIV) So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. {22} For in my inner being I delight in God's law; {23} but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

Many -- if not all -- Christians have faced the same problem. In recent times (at least) Christianity has become “polite.” That means that we cannot admit we have a problem, a besetting sin -- unless it’s socially acceptable, of course. The key of last week’s lesson was that we all have this problem; the key to this week’s lesson is that we all have help.

No Condemnation

(Rom 8:1-4 NIV) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, {2} because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. {3} For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, {4} in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

(The word “Therefore” refers back to the last verse, “Thanks be to God”)

Preliminary

Before we can begin to understand this passage, we need to realize that Paul uses a Greek word, sarka, which is translated “sinful nature” in this passage. Paul also uses that same word in two other ways:

·         It literally means “flesh.” He sometimes uses it that way.

·         It also means something like, “from the human viewpoint.”

Older translations have used the word “flesh”, as does the New American Standard. It is difficult to translate the word without running into the issue of Total Depravity. The NIV takes the evangelical point of view; the NASV leaves the interpretation to the reader.

The Law

Paul says the Law (by which he means the Jewish Law) is powerless. Now we know that the Law is a high and holy thing; given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. How then can Paul say it is powerless? Because it did not accomplish its purpose. It did not turn us into the perfect children God wants. Indeed, the history of Israel is generally a history of rebellion against the righteous law -- and laments over the consequences.

If this example teaches us nothing else, it should teach us that there is no human agency that can deal with our problem. We must turn to God for the solution; a solution He has richly provided.

Sanctification

The student will recall from last week the difference between justification and sanctification :

·         Justification means that I am declared righteous before God; I am saved from the consequences of sin, and I am heaven bound.

·         Sanctification, on the other hand, is the process of becoming more and more “holy.” Recall that “The Holy One” is an Old Testament phrasing for the Messiah -- Jesus Christ. It is a process of becoming more and more like Jesus.

Justification happens when a sinner repents, accepts the Christ as Lord and Savior, and is baptized (much dispute, of course, over the latter). Sanctification begins at that point. The two are connected. They are connected for a very simple reason: their source is Jesus Himself, and He cannot be divided. You cannot take just part of Jesus; it’s all or nothing, for He is One.

This is genuinely good news for those of us who are sinners! Here’s why:

·         First, I know this Jesus -- He is an encourager, a gentle man, with those who love Him. It’s all the difference between the boss who comes around to encourage you, and the one who comes around to kick tail feathers and take names.

·         As we shall see later, the relationship between me and God is now that of child to father -- and indeed, good father. The model is not so strong in our day, where “father” is not highly regarded, but for those with a strong family, it is a powerful picture.

·         Finally, it is a process, not a result. I don’t have to compare myself to someone else; I don’t have to be perfect in the next two weeks -- I merely need to follow my Lord’s direction.

Law of the Spirit of Life

The Spirit, indwelling us, is the key to this. The gift of life is always associated with the Spirit.[1] Life in the Spirit means that we are encouraged and counseled -- but there is no condemnation.

Paul points out to us how this happens: it is due to Christ. One reason there is no condemnation is that we are not responsible for salvation; Jesus is. We are perfect in Him. It is worth the time to review it:

·         God did it; we did not.

·         He did it by sending Jesus, His Son, to die on the Cross.

·         And, as he says here, Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful man” -- so that our sins would be born in a body like ours.

·         He became sin for us, thus satisfying God’s judgment.

·         Our sins were condemned in the flesh, as the Law required

·         They were atoned for by a perfect sacrifice, as the Law required

·         And this was done for whom? For those who “do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

So then, how do we work out our salvation?[2]

“Set your minds on...”

(Rom 8:5-11 NIV) Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. {6} The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; {7} the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. {8} Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. {9} You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. {10} But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. {11} 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 through his Spirit, who lives in you.

The phrase “have their minds set” has been translated as “being absorbed in.” The principle is relatively simple. Human beings are spiritual creatures as well as animal creatures. Part of the spiritual nature is that we seek something supreme (indeed, I will argue that God designed us that way) -- as one writer put it, there is a God-shaped vacuum in our souls.

That vacuum will be filled, either by God or by the world. We are contingent beings, and therefore we will not rest until that vacuum is filled.

So, how do I know who’s filling me? By your life’s fruits. The Spirit is part of our inner, hidden life -- but the results of having the Holy Spirit can be seen tangibly. (Don’t forget the thermometer principle). The key here is that we choose what we want to fill that vacuum. It is a choice we get to make every day.[3] Paul here gives us two results of the Spirit filled life:

·         life (the reference is, I think, to the resurrection; others say to the life of the believer here).

·         peace.

He also gives us two results of being filled with the world:

·         hostility to God

·         an unwillingness to submit to God.

There is a curious paradox about this. The more you walk in the Spirit, the more aware you become of sin. Remember that the function of the Spirit for the non-believer is to convict of sin and judgment. Within us, this becomes the correction of sin -- in other words, sanctification. It follows, therefore, that as our Encourager leads us, we will see in due time the sins we commit come into clearer focus. Sometimes this can seem like we’re never “going to get there.” But did I not say that sanctification is a process, not a result?

Under Obligation

(Rom 8:12-17 NIV) Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. {13} For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, {14} because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. {15} For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." {16} The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. {17} Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Obligation. The word has a number of meanings, because we can be obligated in a number of ways:

·         There is the legal obligation -- a debt under a contract.

·         There is social obligation -- other people expect certain behavior from you.

·         There is moral obligation -- not just other people, but we ourselves, set up a moral requirement to do something.

·         Finally, there is the obligation of self consistency. This is the Popeye principle: “I am what I am, and that’s all what I am.” And I am a child of God!

We are the children of God! If you are led by the Spirit, you are the children of God. This means that

·         we are protected by our father, just as we protect our small children. As they grow, we loosen the “apron strings.” God will provide us with just the right protection.

·         we share his Spirit; it is a constant companion to us. Our correction, our encouragement are always with us. (The question is, will we listen?)

Paul says that we are adopted sons. Being a Jew of Roman citizenship, he could have referred to either model of adoption; I think he had both in mind.

·         The Roman model revolved around the legal system. If a person was adopted, he was literally considered a new person. His debts were canceled. There is actually an instance of a Roman emperor who adopted his successor (for political reasons). When the adopted one wanted to marry the daughter of his adopted father, the Senate was obliged to pass a law permitting it -- otherwise, it would legally have been incest.
The Roman model also involved that concept of patria potestas -- the idea that the father had absolute power over the son, even when the son was fully grown. There are instances of fathers executing their adult sons, and this was considered perfectly legal. Our father in heaven can be seen to have such authority over us.

·         The Jewish model is found in Esther, who was adopted by Mordecai. In a society where a woman who had no family ties to a man was likely to starve to death (or be forced into prostitution), Mordecai adopted her. That meant that he assumed all obligation for her daily needs -- including those for family affection. From a purely financial point of view, Esther was a 100% burden. Where the Roman model was in law, the Jewish model is in love.

It is interesting that Paul mentions that there are two witnesses to this transaction. The Old Testament required two or more witnesses[4] for conviction, and custom has it that all legal changes needed that. The principle is sound; even wedding certificates need such.

What, then, is the result of this adoption?

·         First, our relationship to God has changed. From the Old Testament times where only the priest, or only the prophet, could actually present anything before God, we have come to the point where we are children of God. Indeed, children to the point that we can call Him “Abba” -- roughly “Daddy.”

·         We are co-heirs with Christ. That means that in some sense we will receive what he received.

·         As he suffered in this world, so shall we.

·         As He was raised from the dead, so shall we be.

Therefore, “set your mind on things above.”


[1] (John 6:63 NIV) The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

[2] (Phil 2:12-13 NIV) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, {13} for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

[4] Deuteronomy 19:15

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