Romans 8:1-17 (click to display NIV text)
May 27, 2012 (Pentecost Sunday)
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you . . . but if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.”
I am always amazed at the amount of wildlife we see right in this area. Last Friday I looked out the window of my office and there was a fox crossing the parking lot, walking rather boldly and confidently toward me. I went out to the ramp to get a better look, and the fox lay on the lawn by the church building paying no attention to me. After a bit, he went over to the rockery, where he had stored a mouse. I do not know how long the fox had been living on our property, but he acted like a resident that day. I got the feeling I was trespassing on his property.
In the days following, I did not see the fox anymore. But I saw possible evidence of his presence. Somehow a skeleton of a fish, with head attached, showed up on our parking lot on Sunday. I scooped it up and threw it in the woods. Mayumi and Claudia found it in the garden on Monday, along with a hole in one of the raised beds that an animal had dug. I have not noticed anything since then. But a coyote was spotted here a few days ago. Maybe the fox moved along. Maybe he is still here, but more hidden.
I think the fox is much like the Holy Spirit when the Spirit takes up residence in the church. At Pentecost, there was evidence that the Spirit had arrived: tongues of fire, wind, and later gifts of healing and prophecy, then the fruit of the Spirit growing in the believers. There was also the experience of the believers of freedom from sin, no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
Along with the evidence of the Spirit at work, came resistance to the Spirit, like the lurking coyote in the church grounds. False teachers came into the church. Some began to listen to other spirits. Some demanded the keeping of the whole law and tradition. Some fell into sin and moral failure.
We know that we have the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit resides among us. When we receive Christ in faith, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives. Leon Morris writes, “The Spirit lives in believers, he is not a visitor. He takes up residence.”
Sometimes we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. We experience peace, joy, love. There are holy moments in worship. There are times when praise rises from our souls because we are in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The fox may have been living on our property for some time, but on that particular Friday morning, I saw the fox in the parking lot. We do not deny the presence of the Holy Spirit at all times, but there are occasions when we feel the presence of the Spirit. We become more keenly aware that he lives among us.
We also know the Spirit is working in us when we experience freedom from guilt, or when a heavy weight of care is lifted from us, or our settled anger is extinguished suddenly, or when strife with a brother of sister is ended in peace. Then the Spirit makes himself known and we feel the love of God, and we know we love one another, and we are able to read God’s Word with understanding.
We are also aware that when the Holy Spirit works in people’s lives, there is resistance, persecution or attack. This was the experience of the early church in Acts, and it is true in our world as well. The work of the Spirit is not to make life easy or smooth for us. Just as in the life of Jesus, there are opponents to the Spirit’s work.
There is also not a formula for the Spirit’s work among us. We simply believe the Spirit resides among us. We pray, we wait, we serve God, we watch for evidence of the Spirit’s work, and we welcome the Spirit. In His time, he will come; he will renew and fill us. “Holy Spirit, rain down, rain down.” Like the fox, the Holy Spirit comes to claim his property, his people.
In Romans chapter 8 we see the work of the Spirit very closely woven into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul uses the word “Spirit” over and over where we might expect him to say “Christ.” There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. The cross and resurrection of Jesus brings us forgiveness of sin. This we have in Christ. But it is the Spirit who continually gives life and freedom for all who are in Christ. Leon Morris says “Though we do not as yet experience all the fullness of what salvation in Christ means, we do enjoy all that ‘no condemnation’ means. Believers are not sinless, but they do have real liberation in Christ.” When we are in Christ through personal faith, the Spirit keeps bringing life and freedom to us. “Before we came to know Christ we were continually defeated by sin.” Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we continually experience victory over sin.
At our Men’s Bible study on Friday, Kerry Monson remembered a line from the “Our Gang” Comedies of many years ago. We could not remember if it was Spanky or Buckwheat who said it, but something like, “Get behind me Satan, and don’t push.” There is a force in life, a way of thinking, an inclination, that moves us always towards sin and death. We cannot remain neutral in life. If we do not know and love God, we will move, or be pushed towards rebellion against God. This force is what Paul calls “the flesh” or NIV “the sinful nature.” We gravitate towards a life of self-idolatry that establishes a lordship over us. The current of life moves in that direction. Romans 7:19: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”
When we are young the force that is pushing us, the way of thinking that is in rebellion against God, is often promising acceptance and belonging. It says, “If you live by the sinful nature, if you do these things and have these attitudes, you will be accepted, you will have friends, and you will belong.” This is the story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus tells. The natural flow of life is away from the Father’s House toward the far country. But the promises of the “flesh” or “sinful nature” turn out to be empty. The son ends up empty and alone. He must return, he must move against the current, against what his mind is telling him, to experience the Father’s love and the blessings of home.
In our older years the current of life, the push of the flesh, tells us we must be recognized, we must acquire what others will notice and approve of. So we do what we are told by the world, we obey the law of sin and death. But as Morris says, “a person cannot set the course of his life on the flesh and also be obedient to God.”
This is where the Holy Spirit helps us, and keeps us moving always into Christ. Paul Achtemeier writes, “In life under the Lordship of Christ we are free to enjoy a new relationship with the Creator, to be a child of God rather than a rebel from God.” It is as we experience the power of the Spirit drawing us always back to Christ, always giving life, always setting us free from the power of sin, that we finally come to understand that we owe nothing to the sinful nature, and it has no rights over us. So we must live in a new way. The Christian life is about feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit and making the changes in our lives that need to be made. We agree with the Word of God and then we live by it. The Spirit does not lead us away from the commands of Christ but always into obedience to them. He helps us to read God’s word with the purpose of following it. The Spirit identifies with Christ so closely that you cannot tell the difference. The Spirit leads us to identify with Christ also. There is no spiritual experience that will lead us beyond Christ or apart from Christ if we are listening to the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the Spirit helps you live in a new way because those who are led by the Spirit are children of God. We act like members of the family to which we belong. The Spirit brings about our adoption into God’s family so that we are able to call God “Abba, Father.” This means that God is not distant from us but intimately close to us.
We welcome the Holy Spirit. We befriend the Holy Spirit. The Spirit shows us the way to life and leads us to the Father.