Power to Be
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
July 13, 2014
Romans 8: 1-17 (CEB)
So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3God has done what was impossible for the Law, since it was weak because of selfishness. God condemned sin in the body by sending his own Son to deal with sin in the same body as humans, who are controlled by sin.4He did this so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us. Now the way we live is based on the Spirit, not based on selfishness. 5People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. 6The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. 7So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t. 8People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God.
9But you aren’t self-centered. Instead you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him. 10If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness, but the body is dead because of sin. 11If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.
12So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. 13If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live. 14All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. 15You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. 17But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him.
We come this morning to the heart of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. Of all of Paul’s writings, the words of this one chapter are probably the best known. And the opening sentence of hope is almost beyond compare: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That “in Christ” phrase is the same one we encountered in chapter six, and it continues the general theme that began back in chapter five. Last week, we explored chapter six, and Paul’s words about the profound change that occurs among those who are “in Christ,” as they die to their old selves and are raised to a new life. Where we pick up in chapter eight this morning, Paul begins to gives us some specific characteristics of this changed life, this new life, that is possible through Christ Jesus.
In order to make clear why “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” it is necessary for Paul to contrast life “in the Spirit” with life “in the flesh.” And it is in this contrast that we begin to get a more detailed picture of the changed life of those who live “in Christ.” If we are to understand what Paul is saying here, to be “in Christ” is completely different from not to be “in Christ.” As we talked about last week, this is not just a difference of degree, but an indisputably different kind of life. At its core, to be “in Christ” is to be part of something far larger than ourselves. It is to encounter a power astronomically greater than all our own willpower, physical power, and influence added together. Even with all those together, our power is still infinitesimal compared to the power of God in Christ Jesus. But that is where the limitations of life “in the flesh” become obvious. Our power is so limited by our capacities and our perspectives that there is simply no way life “in the flesh” can even compare to life “in the Spirit.”
I mean, just think about life “in the flesh.” This is a life we are all familiar with in one way or another. And Paul talks about it pretty plainly here. It is a life of selfishness; in particular, a life focused on the self and not on God. Life “in the flesh” is enslaved to sin and to death. In fact, sin is so powerful that it makes it impossible to follow God, and even actively separates us from God. So life “in the flesh” can lead ultimately to rebellion against God, even to the point of worshipping things that are not God. Money, financial security, youth, health, work, good looks, busyness, and technology are just a few of the things we idolize over and above God. Life “in the flesh” weakens us to such a degree that we are not even able to do the right thing.
As I reflect on life “in the flesh,” it occurs to me that it is very daunting, isn’t it? With the power of sin tempting us at every turn, and our own weaknesses pulling us further and further away from God; it kind of makes you wonder of one could possibly overcome such a force as life “in the flesh.” But that’s exactly what Paul is telling us IS possible in this passage from Romans. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Certainly, because we are humans, descendants of Adam, we live with the power of sin; and because of our sin we were condemned. But then, when God’s own Son took the form of sinful flesh and did not succumb to sin, sin itself became condemned. In other words, there is a power greater than sin, the power of God himself, which God unleashed in the world through his very own Son. And sin and has been dealt with once and for all. And that is why Paul is able to say, emphatically, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” In fact, what God has accomplished in Christ is freedom to truly live. Because the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, we have the possibility of life and peace.
Have any of you ever dreamt of being a painter? I don’t mean just having time to create artistic paintings as a hobby. I’m wondering if you have ever imagined being a great, beautiful, masterful painter along the lines of Michelangelo. That would certainly take not only your hobby time, but all of your waking hours. You would have to do like all those art students who spend hours sitting in art museum, sketching replicates of the masters’ greats. You’d probably need to get some art lessons, too, a lot of them actually. Still, no matter how many lessons you take, or how much time you practice, or how hard you try, you simply can’t do it. Even if you are very gifted, you will create only a facsimile of Michelangelo’s great art. The only way to paint like Michelangelo is to BE Michelangelo. And, of course, you can’t be Michelangelo unless the spirit of Michelangelo were alive in you. Then, and only then, could you create such beauty.
So it is with Christ’s Spirit dwelling in us. We are, by God’s power alone, able to live life in the Spirit of God. It is not our own accomplishment, but Christ’s Spirit dwelling in us, giving us the power to live apart from the pull of temptation and sin, and the power to live in God’s righteousness. By our own power and volition, such a life is impossible, but by the power of God, our minds can be set on what the Spirit desires; we become as children, adopted by God, able to call out to him, “Abba, Father…”
If you all remember, one of the early declarations of Paul in Romans is that by Christ’s saving work on the cross, believers are even now declared “in the right”. But such a bold and unusual statement begs the question, “How can God do that?” How can God declare in the present that those who believe the gospel are “in the right,” anticipating correctly the verdict that won’t ultimately be declared until the last day? Paul’s answer emerges here. And the answer is God’s Spirit. The Spirit works in the hearts of believers to generate faith itself through the preaching of the gospel, then to generate the kind of life that walks and thinks “in the Spirit,” thus bringing life and peace. But the Spirit’s work in this life is only the beginning because on the other side of death, it is the Spirit that gives new life. That is why, ultimately, there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is why the future verdict, “in the right,” “sins forgiven,” can be brought forward into the present. “The spirit is life because of God’s righteousness,” God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s power to overcome all our powerlessness.
You all are familiar with 12-step programs, right? Things like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narc. Anon.? The premise of such programs provides a vivid example of the message Paul is sharing here at the beginning of chapter 8. For an addict, there are two choices: the way that leads to death and the way of life. The first step on the way to life is admitting that we are powerless over the alcohol or the drugs or whatever and that our lives have become unmanageable. The second step is to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. The third step is to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
Well, that’s the way it is for the Christian, too. Substitute the word “sin” for “alcohol” or “drugs”, and you have the crux of this passage. There is a force in our lives over which we are powerless, and the way of sin eventually leads to death. But if we can surrender ourselves to God, then in the Spirit we have the possibility of life. That doesn’t mean that sin is not still a daily possibility; God has not eliminated it from this world once and for all—not yet. However, just as a life of sin is possible, so is a life of righteousness also possible because of the Spirit’s power.
Here’s what I find most challenging about Paul’s words to us this morning. How often are we told that we DON’T have the ability to overcome some obstacle? Really, it’s not all that frequently, is it? That’s sort of behind the whole “American dream” idea, right? We are capable of accomplishing anything we want to accomplish, all we have to do is “put our mind to it” and we’re set. To say or even imply that we are somehow powerless in the face of any obstacle is viewed as a sign of weakness. So it’s incredibly difficult for us to surrender anything. We want to achieve and succeed the way we are taught. We don’t want to be viewed as weak and powerless.
But what we need to know and hear and understand this morning is Paul’s very clear message that we are at our weakest when we try and stand on our own, when we try to move forward under our own volition. It is there, in the face of sin and death, that we are indeed powerless. But if we can surrender the need to be in control, if we can set our minds on the Spirit and our will and our lives on God, then we can have the power to live fully. In fact, when we are “in the Spirit,” life is not only a possibility, but a promise! God who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to us—mind, body, and spirit—through the power of the Spirit dwelling in us. My friends in the face of all the very real challenges of this life, this is the hope in which we live. Do not lose sight of this hope; do not lose sight of this promise; do not lose sight of this great power! It is life itself!