2012-11-18 by abookflog
Preacher: Veronica Zundel
28th November 2012
Reading: Romans 8 (referenced/quoted later in sermon)
Last time I preached, on Romans 5, I did something I don’t normally do – I looked at alternative translations, and gained a lot of understanding from the process. This is our last sermon in the series, and again I’m going to do something I don’t normally do: I’m going to preach a traditional evangelical three-pint sermon – sorry, I mean a three-point sermon. And all the points start with the same letter.
My three headings: Renewal of our mindset, Restoration of creation, and Rescue of our lives. We’re going to look at the whole chapter, in three sections because it’s such a key one for the evangelical tradition many of us started in.
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
3For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh,
4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.
8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9 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. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives lifebecause of righteousness.
11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.
13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.
15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
So first, verses 1-17 which we’ve just heard, and to which I’m applying the first heading, renewal of our mindset. This is sometimes understood to mean renewal of our intellectual categories. Evangelical preachers have long insisted on ‘faith not feelings’ – and have asked us to transform the way we think about the world. I once read an interview with the late great John Stott in which he questioned the notorious ‘Toronto Blessing’, saying he would not be happy about losing control of his mind. When I read this, I wondered how he managed to go to sleep every night!
Paul draws a number of contrasts in Romans, between law and grace, sin and righteousness, and here between flesh and spirit. But I don’t believe he is saying we should ignore our bodily experiences as much as possible and concentrate on some abstract spiritual realm. As Phil hinted last week, this artificial separation of spirit and body would have been foreign to a Jewish scholar like Paul, for whom body and spirit were a unity.
Rather I think Paul is using ‘flesh’ as a shorthand for our unredeemed impulses: aggression, acquisitiveness, arrogance – or as 1 John puts it, ‘the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches’. These unruly desires can stem from the mind as much as from the body. That’s why I picked ‘renewal of our mindset’ – because it’s a matter of what our mind is set on. If our minds are set on our own advantage, our life is literally a deadly one: we will deal death rather than life to our fellow human beings, corporately as well as individually. If our minds are set on the Spirit, on what God desires, then we become dealers of life. ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God’, as Paul says, ‘are children of God’
Before we move on to the next section, I want to make a slight detour, and look at that opening statement: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. My first thought in response to this was, ‘Oh yes there is – condemnation from all other Christians who disagree with us on some point of doctrine’! But leaving that aside, let’s look at the ‘therefore’ in Paul’s statement. This refers back to chapter 7, where he’s been talking about how the law only serves to focus our sinfulness, whereas in Christ we are no longer bound to that law.
So who has actually been doing the condemning which we are now free from? Traditionally it’s been seen as God: we are all automatically condemned by God until we ‘accept’ Jesus. But in the context of chapter 7, condemnation comes from the law itself , which mainly shows us how far away we are from righteousness. Now we are free from condemnation, because we are under the grace of Jesus, not the law of Moses.
A quick rider: being free from the law doesn’t mean, as we’ve seen in chapters 5 and 6, that we aren’t required to do good. Rather, the new ‘law’ of Christ, written on our hearts, enables us spontaneously to do good – perhaps not at first, or not always, but increasingly as we are transformed into the image of Christ.
This leads me back from my detour to my second heading: restoration of creation. Let’s hear the next passage.
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;
20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;
23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?
25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
The section break is rather artificial, because this leads on from the last sentence of the previous section: ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.’
What an extraordinary statement: we are only children of God and heirs with Christ, if we suffer with Jesus. Not very good news then, until we read on: ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us’. And it goes on: ‘For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God’.
Does Paul actually mean the fate of the whole creation depends on those who follow Jesus? Yes and no. It is up to God, not us, to reveal who is a child of God – thank God. But when God reveals those who are transformed into the full stature of Christ, then they will bring along with them the whole non-human creation. Salvation is not about rescuing people from creation, but about rescuing creation through people. We are to obtain what Paul in the next sentence calls ‘the redemption of our bodies’, and because of that, the whole creation, of which our bodies are an inseparable part, will be redeemed in Christ.
Of course we don’t already see this happening. Paul reminds us that we wait in hope, and the creation waits in hope with us. If we already saw it, it wouldn’t be hope, would it? Paul compares the whole process to a long childbirth. I’ve only given birth once, but it was pretty painful, and I needed outside help. The creation, and the humans in it, giving birth to the new heaven and new earth, may need outside help too. God’s forceps? This brings me to the final heading: rescue of our lives.
I don’t want to say much about this last bit, because it speaks for itself. I just want to tell an old Jewish story. A man lost his only son, and pleaded with God to bring him back to life. God answered, ‘I will give you back your son if you can find a household where there has been no suffering’. So the bereaved father travelled far and wide. But he couldn’t find a single household where there had been no suffering.
God doesn’t guarantee us an easy life – in fact it’s pretty much guaranteed that we will suffer. I love that wry speech in Mark where Jesus tells us, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions’. Suffering is inevitable, even required. But God makes us a great promise, which we’ll hear now as the end of the sermon:
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.