A sermon on Romans 8:1-17 by Richard Keith on Sunday 4 December 2022
There are three sides to every story. There’s my story. There’s your story. And there’s the truth. No single story can do justice to the whole truth. No matter how honest we are, we can only tell a small fraction of the full story.
It’s the same for any sermon, for any Bible talk that we listen to each week. Each one can tell only a fraction of the full story of the good news about Jesus. And that was particularly true last week.
Last week we looked at chapter 7 of Paul’s letter to the Romans and we talked about the continuing struggle of the Christian life. Following Jesus is like running in an endurance race, a marathon. It is hard work. And we have to keep going against obstacles outside us and inside us. I mean, look at the screen and you don’t see too many happy faces there do you. There’s not a lot of the joy of competing or of the fun of running around in the open air. It looks more like work than fun. It’s a test of physical and mental strength.
Following Jesus can feel like that. Because the law is weak. The law of God speaks to us of the life that God made us for. To love him with all our heart. To love our neighbour as we love ourselves. But there’s another law at work in us, another principle. The principle of evil, of sin that breaks our will and confuses our thinking, making us not want to do what the law says or too afraid to do it. And we talked about having to wade against the current of sin in our lives. Not doing the good that we want to do. Doing the wrong that we don’t want to do.
Paul finished chapter 7 saying,
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
It’s an important part of the story of the good news about Jesus. It teaches us that even a person like Paul struggled like us. It teaches us not to be too disappointed when we fail. It teaches us to forgive ourselves when we fail and to keep trying. But it’s only one side of the story.
Romans chapter 8 tells us another important part of the good news. The other side of the story. The story of the Spirit of freedom. The story of the Spirit of life. The story of the Spirit of holiness. The story of the Spirit of the children of God. And it reminds us that in our struggle we have comfort and joy and victory.
Romans chapter 1 begins,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
It’s a wonderful blessing, a powerful promise. No condemnation. It’s the blessing of forgiveness. It’s the promise of a clean slate and of our moral debts cancelled. That there are no barriers between us and fellowship with the holy God. That our mistakes have been rubbed out. That although we are guilty of offending our creator no conviction is recorded against us in his heavenly court. And we have no fear of the future judgment of God.
For there is a day of coming wrath when God will rid his creation of everything that falls short of his will of everything that hurts and harms and ruins what he has made good and evil doers will receive their just reward. And we will all be tested under the all seeing eye of our creator.
But we who are in Christ, who trust in Jesus and follow him, we have no fear of any coming test.
In 1983, at the end of high school, I did a little test called the NSW Higher School Certificate. The HSC is something that a lot of young people fear because it is an entrance exam to university. The score you get determines your future degree. And that fear can make them do worse in their exams. The build-up of anxiety can confuse their thinking and make it hard to remember what they’ve learned.
But I did the HSC without any fear. It wasn’t because I was a good student. I mean, I was a good student, but the good students are often more afraid of only getting 80% than other students are afraid of failing. Good students can go into a test more afraid than anyone else. No, the reason I was not afraid of the HSC is because I had already been offered early entrance to the University of New England in Armidale to do my second choice course. I didn’t have to pass some scary test to get into uni. I already had. It meant that I could do those exams without fear and do well and get into my first choice course.
We who are in Christ Jesus, who trust in him and follow him, we can face the ultimate examination of the judgment of God because in Jesus we have already been offered early entrance to the kingdom of God. We don’t have to worry about being good enough. We don’t have to worry about scraping through and passing the test. Because for us there is and so there will be no condemnation. We can face the future, whatever comes, whatever happens, whatever we’ve done, whatever we haven’t done without any fear.
Don’t just take my word for it. Listen to Jesus. Jesus said,
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned. He has crossed over from death to life.
“Has eternal life” not will have. Already crossed over from death to life. For us there is and there will be no condemnation. How? Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. The Spirit of life that gives life to every living thing, is at work in us, setting set us free, breaking the chains that bind our hearts and mind, setting us free for the life that we were made for.
Paul goes on in verses 3 and 4.
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 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 law was powerless. We talked about it last week. The law is like a big bright torch shining out the way of love that we should go. It’s like a torch in the hands of a walker lost in the bush with a broken leg. It shows us the way, but it can’t heal us, our will broken by sin, our hearts distracted by worthless things, so that we can go the way it shows. The law can’t help us. We need healing. We need rescuing. But the law is powerless to save us because it was weakened by our sinful nature.
But while the law is weak, because we are weak, God is strong. And what the law couldn’t do to help us, God did by sending his own Son, Jesus Christ. Who was born for us, as one of us. Subject to our human weakness and frailty. In the likeness of sinful human beings. And yet he lived the one perfect life of love and wisdom and courage and justice. Standing up against the spiritual and moral bullies who looked down on those below them.
But Jesus embraced the poor and the weak and welcomed the sick and the sinful. And for this they arrested him and accused him and sentenced him to death and hung him on a cross. He died for no sin in him but for the sin in us as a sin offering for us. He took our penalty and died for us instead of us.
Like a fuse in your flat screen TV. A fuse is a small device in your electrical appliances. It has a small wire that melts when too much electrical current passes through it. So when there is a surge in the current, the fuse melts and stops the electrical current. It sacrifices itself for your thousand dollar TV.
The death of Jesus is the fuse that protects us from the judgment of God. He died so that we may live. And so his perfect life and his sacrificial death condemned sin in his flesh. Sin died in him so that we might be set free from sin. Free from its penalty and power.
Jesus did this for us not so that we could do whatever we want. That is the life of sin. But so that we might live our true life for God
so 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.
It’s amazing how Paul’s letter keeps coming back to the obedience of faith. We are not saved by the law. We don’t rely on the law. The law is powerless because we are weak. But God saves us through his Son Jesus, by his grace, his undeserved favour, that we receive through faith and we are made able to obey the law, to live the life of love that God made us for. Because we aren’t justified by the law. We are justified by faith. And the just live by faith. We don’t obey to be saved. We are saved to obey.
The life of faith that obeys the law is made possible by the third principle at work in our lives. We’ve already talked about two. The principle of law that reveals God’s way of love. And the principle of evil that weakens our ability to obey the law. And the third principle is the Spirit of God. And we are made able to obey the law, to live the life of love as we live, not according to our sinful nature, but according to the Spirit of God.
For the Spirit is God’s gift to us. When we were wounded by sin and lost, but we reached out for God’s help, the Spirit is the help we got. The same Spirit who was at work in Jesus’ life and service. The same Spirit who raised Jesus back to life. He comes to us and lives in us. He clears our thinking and teaches us the truth. He opens up our hearts to love and gives us the courage to do what is right. He heals our broken spirit and uses the torch of God’s law so that we not only see the way to go but that we have the strength and will to walk that way. The Spirit of God is our comforter when we are afraid. He is our friend when we are alone. He is our guide when we are lost. And he is our strength when we are weak. So that with the Spirit’s strength we can follow Jesus.
What this means is that we have a simple choice. Which Paul spells outs in verse 13.
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, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
The life of sin promises you the world. You can live your best life now doing whatever you want. But all it delivers is death. The way of life is to be led by the Spirit of God to put to death whatever is wrong in us in order to do what is right. Not in our strength but in God’s strength, so that it is grace from beginning to end. Because that’s what it means to be the children of God. We can call the creator of the universe Dad and we are invited to become like him. Created in his image, heirs to the blessing of his kingdom, and moulded by the Spirit of God more and more into that image.
It’s the other side of the story. Yes, the Christian life is like an endurance race. It’s hard and requires effort and perseverance to keep going. But it is not a hopeless, endless slog for no reward. Instead, it is fuelled and energised by the Spirit of life by which God made all things and by which he continually sustains all things. The power that keeps the galaxies spinning is at work in you. He heals our wounds and strengthens our weaknesses. And opens our eyes to see the finish line. Our inheritance as the children of God to all the blessings of his kingdom. So that even our continuing struggle following Jesus is filled with life and joy and victory.
Trust in Jesus who died for you. Live for Jesus who lives for you. Receive his Spirit and know his power. Follow where the Spirit leads and live without fear. For there is no condemnation, not now, not ever, for the children of God.