September 2, 2011

Saturday after the Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 66, 1 Sam. 28:3-19, Lk. 21:5-19
Evening - Ps. 65, 67, Micah 7:14, Rom. 8:1-17

Commentary
Romans 8:1-17

The first seven chapters of Romans were written to prove and support two important truths. First, no human being is able to earn the favor of God. Second, no human being is able to keep himself in God's favour. These two truths summarise the greatest problem to ever face mankind. Humanity's greatest problem is not political corruption, war, pollution, corporate greed, or social injustice. Our greatest problem is that we are criminals against the just and righteous law of God, that we have no excuse for our crimes, and that we are, therefore justly condemned to suffer the penalty of our crimes forever. Social problems are but the fruit that naturally grow from the vine of our disobedience. Personal sins are but the specific crimes of those who have decided in their hearts to be criminals against God. The law of God, rather than showing God how good we are, simply reveals to us how very far we have gone into our life of crime. It proves to us that we are guilty of unlawful actions against God, and that the natural disposition, or, inclination, of our being, is to disobey God and to obey our own desires. So the general inclination of our lives is away from God. This does not mean we are as bad as we could be. Nor does it mean we never do good things or have good intentions or good will toward God or other people. It does mean we are prone to go against our good will and intentions and that we are prone to do so frequently, knowingly, and willfully. And, even when we carry our out good intentions we find they are not as pure as we imagine them to be, and that we often do them on our own terms rather than God's. The trouble with God is that He demands that we obey Him on His terms, and His terms are absolute perfection and holiness, for He Himself is absolute perfection and holiness. Thus, if we are ever going to be restored to God's favour, it is going to be through something He does on our behalf, not through our own achievements. That is where Christ enters the story. He restores us to God's favour through His life, death, and resurrection.

But even after we come to God through Christ we soon realise that we are as incapable of keeping ourselves in His favour as we were of earning His favour in the first place. The desire to obey our desires, rather than God's, remains within us. Yes, we have been changed within. Yes, we now have a desire to seek God, to live holy lives, and to forsake sin. But we also find that the old desires of sin and self still live in us, and they are still very strong. Many people are surprised by this. They thought becoming a Christian would end their old ways the very instant they believed. But one of the major points of Romans, found chiefly in chapter seven, is that we still have to fight against sin. The old conflict between doing what we know God wants and doing what we want is still in us.

I think it is helpful if we consider this conflict in this way. When you were not a Christian, you fought against God. You resisted His will. You thought His commandments were barriers to your self-fulfillment and happiness. You wanted your own way, not God's. If you have become a Christian you have found you are still fighting, but the enemy has changed. Now you are fighting against sin. Now you are fighting against your own desires. Now you are fighting to bring all of your life into His will. This is one of the things that enables us know we are Christians. The unbeliever, no matter how good or religious he appears to be, is fighting God for himself. The believer is fighting himself for God.

This takes us right back where we stated a few minutes ago, to the realisation that we are unable to win the inner battle against our own sinful desires. We try to resist sin. We try to be more spiritually minded. We try to live quiet, holy lives, to be the kind of person we ought to be at work and at home and at church. But, like the disciples, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We just don't seem to be able to win the battle. The reason we seem to be unable is simple; we are unable. This is the meaning of those complicated words in Romans 7:15-25, especially verse 19. Just as we were unable to bring ourselves into God's favour by our works, we are also unable to keep ourselves in, or grow in His favour by our own efforts. Just as God Himself had to make a way to bring us into His favour apart from our own abilities, He also has to make a way to keep us in His favour apart from our own abilities. This brings us into the heart of Romans 8.

Verses 1-4. The chapter begins with a restatement of the points we have just summarised. 1-3 restate justification by grace through faith. "No condemnation" means those in Christ are no longer condemned to suffer the penalty for their sin. This is because God did for us what we could not do by means of the law. He freed us from the penalty of our sins (condemnation) by suffering for them Himself on the cross. Through Him the righteousness of the law has been fulfilled.

The righteousness of the law has three parts. First is the complete goodness of the law (Ps. 19:7). Second is the requirement of perfect obedience. Third is the demand that criminals be punished. Christ fulfilled the law because He is first Good. He is in His nature and being as good and holy as the law. The law originates in Him and is itself a reflection of His Goodness. Second, He fulfilled the law through His perfect obedience to it. He never deviated from it, though He was severely tempted. He fulfilled its demand of perfect obedience. Third, He satisfied the law's requirement that criminals be punished by suffering the penalty of sin for us. So the law is perfectly fulfilled in Him.

In verse 4 the Bible introduces something that will be more fully developed in later verses, namely, the Holy Spirit and His effects in the life of the Christian. How are we enabled to begin to do the will of God instead of sin? The Holy Spirit enables us. Those who are in Christ through Biblical faith have begun to live (walk) by the Spirit rather than their sinful desires (flesh).

Verse 5. The flesh and the Spirit are the essence of the new battle we are fighting as Christians. We have noted that before we became Christians we were fighting God, but now we are fighting ourselves. Paul, referring to the part of us we are fighting uses the word "flesh." He refers first to our physical bodies and the desires and lusts which are a part of having a body. But he also includes our desire to please ourselves by indulging our bodily desires in ungodly ways. This brings up the fact that there is a godly way to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. There is a godly way to enjoy food, drink, comfort, sex, and possessions. Our problem is that we often make the enjoyment of these pleasures paramount in our lives, and go about their enjoyment in very ungodly ways, making the pleasures themselves more important to us than the will of God. The battle going on within the Christian is the attempt to control our desires, so that we may enjoy them in a Godly fashion, which can only be done by restoring God to His rightful place as God of me, and God of you. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to do this. So, the Christian life is called here, walking by the Spirit. This is very important, and I recommend you re-read this paragraph.

Verses 6- 8. Romans amplifies this in the following verses. In verses 6-7 it uses the word carnal, saying, "the carnal mind is enmity against God." To place the enjoyment of physical pleasures above the will of God is to be carnally, fleshly, minded. That, by definition, is to be at enmity against God. This is very serious. We often trivialise sin, but it is very serious and very deadly. God does not wink at it. God does not condone it in any way. God says that it is enmity against Him. God says it is death.

How can this be? "Because the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." The carnal mind leads us away from God to the indulgence of the flesh. The carnal mind makes self and self pleasure the most important thing in the universe. It may disguise itself in many forms, even making itself appear good and altruistic, but its real purpose is self pleasure. It is impossible to serve self pleasure above all things, and still be subject to the law of God. Self indulgence and obedience to God are opposing goals and purposes. The mind cannot be carnal and Spiritual at the same time, any more than the body can be in space and not in space at the same time. So, "they that are in the flesh [primarily directed toward fulfilling their own desires] cannot please God" (8: 8).

Verse 9. "But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit." Two things need to be stated about this verse. First all Christians are in the Spirit, for, "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) he is none of His." Second, if the Spirit of God is in you, you are not "in the flesh but in the Spirit." We could add a third lesson, to be inferred from the first two, that to be in the flesh means you are not in the Spirit.

All Christians are in the Spirit. When does a person receive the Holy Spirit? You receive the Holy Spirit when you believe in Christ as Lord and Saviour. Receiving the Spirit, or, as it is sometimes called, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, happens the moment you receive Christ. Receiving the Spirit and receiving Christ are so inseparable as to be virtually one and the same event. We separate them academically to examine each, as we do in other subjects. But in the actual thing itself, in the real world, they are not separated. There is no second act of grace by which a person is given the Holy Spirit at some point after conversion. Nor does the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit cause one to act in any manner other than reverent and holy obedience to God. So the proof that you have the Holy Spirit is found in your desire and attempts to live a "godly, righteous and sober life" as defined by God in the Scriptures.

To be in the Spirit is to be not in the flesh. This is the second point here. Paul is not talking about an out of body experience. The Scripture does not teach us to seek such things. Paul is talking about being under the control and direction of the Holy Spirit leading us to goodness, Godliness, and life. Under the direction of the Spirit we are led into the kind of life that bears the fruit of the Spirit; love joy, peace, the ability to deal with problems and issues of life (patience), the ability to be gentle and deal kindly with others (meekness) and the ability to keep our desires and passion under control (temperance), as taught in Galatians 5:22-23. To be under the direction of the Spirit is the opposite of being under the control of physical desires.

Paul does talk about the death of the body (8:10 & 11), but this has both a literal and figurative meaning. Of course the body will die. And, of course, Christ will raise it up, quicken it. But this is said as an illustration of the point that in Christ, through the Spirit, the power of the body's physical desires, which often lead us into sin, is broken. It is dead because we are not trapped in it now anymore than a soul is trapped in a dead physical body. In many places Paul uses the imagery of death saying we are dead to sin, or dead to the power of the flesh. Here he simply uses this same image in reverse, saying the flesh is dead to us, its power over us is broken and we now live in the Spirit.

So, in verse 12, we are not debtors to the flesh. It has died and we owe it nothing. Those who live for it, that is, those who remain under its control by refusing to allow themselves to be brought under the control of the Sprit through faith in Christ, will die with their flesh. This death is the death of the soul, a spiritual condition of being eternally separated from God and all goodness (8:13). Those who are Christ's by faith are those who are justified and now live by the Spirit. They are the sons of God who receive not condemnation, but life with God in Heaven forever (8:14-17).

I wonder if we really grasp the meaning of verses 14-17. We grow so accustomed to hearing them, I worry that we become inured to their full meaning. We were in a state of being that was in total opposition to God. We were guilty of rebellion against Him personally, and our natural inclination was away from all that is good and holy. Yet God was unwilling to leave us in that condition, and He rescued us the only way such a rescue could possibly be accomplished, by bearing in Himself all the anger, hurt, frustration and cost of our sin, rather than requiring us to bear it ourselves. He bore it all on the cross. Now He has begun to rebuild us into people who can know and appreciate goodness, and life that is lived for something much higher and better than mere indulgence of our flesh. We have been brought into His house and we are given His Heaven, our souls, and Himself as our inheritance forever. Remember that the reason God created the visible cosmos and the invisible things of Heaven, is to build a Kingdom for His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10). We were created to be a part of His Kingdom, and we exist for His glory (Eph. 1:12). But we are not mere slaves or ornaments in His Kingdom. By His grace, by the atoning work of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit, we are joint-heirs of the Kingdom with Christ. It is for us as it is for Him. Perhaps this is just too much for us to grasp right now. It overloads our circuits. But one day we will see it. One day we will understand it, because one day we will live it in the fullest sense.

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