Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11
Robert L. Getty, Ph.D.
July 16, 2017
Two weeks ago, our nation celebrated Independence Day. It is a day set aside to celebrate our freedom as Americans and to reflect upon what it means and what it cost for us to be free men and women. Those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ have a greater freedom to celebrate – freedom from bondage to sin, its tyranny, and a debt we could never pay. As Christians, we are called to walk in the freedom that is ours through the spirit of God and to remember the cost of that freedom. Webster’s dictionary defines freedom as, “The liberation from slavery, restraint, or the power of another.”
Let’s suppose you have been accused of a murder and were brought before the court. The prosecutors have presented their evidence and requested the court to grant justice by demanding the highest possible punishment which is a death sentence. How would you feel listening to that request of the prosecution? You are waiting for the jury’s decision; Guilty? Or not Guilty? The jury has arrived with a guilty verdict on all counts, and pressed for death sentence. Now you know you are doomed for certain, but somehow hoping for a different outcome. If anyone can change the outcome it would be the judge. Would he change or would he not? Suddenly, the judge steps in and sets aside the jury’s verdict; and to every one’s surprise pronounces you as “Not Guilty.” Can you imagine what a surge of emotions would flood through your whole being? You would feel like you were given a new lease of life. That’s what Paul precisely was describing in this passage. Paul begins this passage by stating the most beautiful words known to Christianity, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation (judgment) for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). This statement guarantees the forgiveness of sins for those who have trusted in Christ and made Him Lord of their lives. Here is a lifetime guarantee!
Dr. Barnhouse has a great statement in one of his sermons about the practical effect this truth ought to have in our lives:
A soul that comes to the full realization that he ought to be in hell but that in reality, the Lord Jesus took his hell, and that there is therefore, now, now, now, no condemnation for him because he is in Christ Jesus, is likely to be quite moved by the truth. If the members of the human race are permitted to yell because their team won a football game, because their candidate won an election, because they have won fifty dollars on a lottery, because their drilling has produced a gusher, let us shout for joy, because we are in Christ Jesus, there is, therefore, no condemnation for us now. (God’s Heirs, p. 4-5)
With no condemnation hanging over our heads, we are now are free to, “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” The message puts it this way:
The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished, [we can] instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.
How important is life in the Spirit? Dr. Mounce said, “How to live in and by the Spirit is the single most important lesson a believer can ever learn.” Think about this awesome fact—and about all the things you need to know as a Christian. It astonished me for a moment! It certainly puts the Holy Spirit in a new light. The Spirit has produced some genuinely beautiful and holy lives—none perfect, to be sure, but beautiful and holy nevertheless. The person who walks according to the flesh lives in rebellion against God—goes his own direction. The person who walks according to the Spirit is committed to following the Spirit’s leading. Christians are distinguishable from others, specifically in the realm of our minds. What thoughts compete for your attention? According to Paul, believers “have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” and are characterized by “life and peace” (vv. 5-6).
Common sense says that your actions will not change, unless your thoughts change first. So, the power of the Holy Spirit not only transforms our character, it also converts our thought life. Once Jesus comes into your life, He rearranges your priorities. The goal of a baseball player is to get on base. But he does it by watching the ball, not peering intently at the base when the pitcher winds up. This is Paul’s point. Our goal is to be righteous, and it is true that the law describes righteousness. But we get there by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and our hearts responsive to the Spirit, not by trying to keep the law. Augustine said, “Love God, and do what you please. What you please then will be good.”
God wants us to succeed and experience freedom. Without God’s help, we cannot and will not succeed. God therefore provides a way through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that through Him, we might have the opportunity to become God’s adopted sons and daughters. God’s love for us is unconditional. Our conscience usually lets us know when we have sinned. God knows that until we receive the freedom that He gives to us, we are prisoners and slaves to sin because of our guilt. Think about how the flesh seeks nothing but its own selfish desires. Flesh is the Bible’s word for unperfected human nature. The biblical distinction is made between that which is fleshly and that which is spiritual. It does not mean that our physical hungers are wrong. God gave us human desires and appetites to be used to his glory. It is when we distort these and make them ends in themselves that life spirals downward. Then we live lives in which our appetites are in control, instead of being used as a vehicle to bring glory to Jesus Christ and to serve others.
A classic evidence of this downward spiral is in William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies. A plane carrying a group of schoolboys, crashes, killing the pilot, and the boys are left without supervision on a remote island in the Pacific. At first, they try to maintain order and discipline, so they elect a leader named Ralph. But in the absence of moral restraints, many of the schoolboys eventually become savages and even murderers. At the conclusion of the book, Ralph is running for his life from the boys, who plan to kill him and put his head on a stake. At the last moment, he runs out of the jungle and is saved by a naval officer, who is astonished at the transformation in the schoolboys. Imagine that all civil and criminal laws were abolished in your community. How and why might this affect the people who live there?
Experience teaches us that every attempt to live the Christian life apart from the empowering presence of the Spirit of God ends in defeat. We lose the battle only when we engage the enemy without the resources supplied by the Spirit. There’s a Christian way of thinking, there’s a Christian way of speaking, there’s a Christian way of acting, there’s a Christian way of approaching the problems of life. If you know Jesus Christ, it ought to make a difference in every area of life. The way you speak, the way you talk, the way you write, the way you relate and yes, the way you make decisions in the public arena. If you know Jesus Christ, that will radically affect the way you approach the great moral decisions of life. Nothing will be simply private or personal. There’s no such thing as a purely private Christian faith. If it doesn’t affect all of life, how can your faith be called truly Christian?
A true Christian is one who has the Spirit of Christ within him. One mark of genuine Christianity is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who takes up residence inside those who know Jesus Christ. To be “in the Spirit” means that the Holy Spirit moves into your life, and actually and literally lives within you. Unless a person has the Spirit of Christ, that person does not belong to Christ. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a clearer indication that the Spirit enters a person’s life than at the moment of conversion. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no assurance of salvation. But this is no mere legal arrangement. It is a union in life, through the indwelling of Christ’s Spirit in us. We have one life with Jesus, as truly as the head and the members of the same body have one life.
Those who are in Christ are those whose existence is in the Spirit and who live by the Spirit. Some new ingredient must be added to the human recipe if humans are to become what they can become. Paul identifies that “ingredient,” as the Holy Spirit. The spirit of humans comes alive when they do deeds from the righteous side, empowered by God’s Spirit, not their own, and certainly not from merely appearing righteous. This is the righteousness of God, which means, “grace,” as opposed to merely human effort. Saturated with Christ, and his Spirit, God’s Spirit, the formerly meaningless activities done through the human body now have life, life-enhancing quality, enduring quality. One’s earthly deeds, done under the power of the Spirit, take on eternal value and meaning.
And those who do not have a relationship with the indwelling Holy Spirit, intuitively realize something is missing because life has no real meaning. Paul himself recognized that walking in the narrow way is not always easy, due to the temptations and difficulties we face along the way. He urges us to pray for the infilling of the Holy Spirit so that we will be filled with joy on the journey, and find direction from within to direct our walk in the new path of life. In Ephesians 5:19,20, the Message puts it this way, “Drink the Spirit of God, huge droughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.”
We so desperately need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit will keep us in check, when we are going in the wrong direction. Paul emphatically says in Romans 8:9-11, again from the Message:
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!
Can you imagine what power is required to bring a dead man to life? Let’s ask God to send his Spirit to fill our lives, to show us how to walk the walk, and to experience deep, life-giving joy in doing so. May I challenge you; this coming week to put away everything that distracts you, even to disconnect from your hand held digital devices. Ask God how you might live a life that would be pleasing to him. May we connect with the only real life-giving source in the entire universe that is the Holy Spirit of God. Amen.