First Mennonite Church
April 29, 2018
The Advocate: Praying With and For Us
Text: Romans 8:12-27
Paul was a remarkable expositor of the mysteries of God’s work in Christ. But Paul not only grasped the depth of such mysteries, more importantly, he was able to explain how they relate to and affect the life of those who receive the grace of God through Christ. And, yes, there are things Paul wrote that are difficult to understand. Not only modern-day preachers have difficulty understanding some of Paul’s writings, but even the apostle Peter admitted having trouble understanding everything Paul wrote (2Peter 3:16). But in this section of the Letter to the Romans, Paul carefully explains the reaching effects of God’s salvation in the lives of the believers. Paul explains that God’s salvation is a finished act in the death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit as the Advocate for the believer. In God’s assurance of his salvation to the believer, his or her right standing before God, and of his or her inclusion into God’s family, God marked the believer with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 14). So let me restate that to you this morning. God sealed you, stamped you with the Holy Spirit, and pledged to share with you the glorious inheritance, once reserved for his only Son. We will see a little more about this in a minute. But God’s sealing us with the Holy Spirit has more than only a future benefit, it is working today and especially in our most difficult moments.
Last Sunday we reflected on Paul’s declaration that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, for those who set their mind on the things of the Spirit. In the closing verse of last week’s passage, Paul says that God’s Spirit now dwells in us. Therefore, because God’s Holy Spirit now lives in us we are now indebted, not to the pursuit of our flesh, but to the pursuits of God’s Spirit. So, what does Paul mean by “living according to the flesh”? Humans are by nature “comfort seeking creatures.” That is: by nature people seek everything that makes them feel good. By nature, people seek or crave for anything that can give them pleasure, even if it is transient/passing. People live lives in pursuit of the things that benefit them and sometimes even at the expense of others or in disregard for God. Paul, mindful of the sin nature from which the believer has been redeemed, gives this warning: So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. In verses 12 and 13, Paul makes a clear contrast between two ways of living, which ultimately also have two different outcomes. To live according to the flesh leads to death, while living by the power of the Holy Spirit leads to life. The death, which Paul speaks about here, does not necessarily mean physical death, although it is true as well, but a spiritual death—total separation from God. Therefore, Paul warns that the only way we as believers can overcome the influences of the flesh and avoid suffering its consequences is by allowing the Spirit of God to take control over our lives. Paul is very clear about that. We do not have any obligation to the flesh regarding our righteous standing before God. We owe our good standing before God to the presence of his Spirit, which God has given us as the guarantee of our salvation. For that reason, we have a moral obligation; and by obligation, I do not mean a grudging compliance, but a willing correspondence to follow the Spirit’s direction in our lives. In other words, we joyfully and deliberately submit to do the will of the Lord in our everyday lives. Living in the Spirit leads us to live a higher ethical and moral life. Paul says elsewhere: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
The Holy Spirit also confirms to our spirit that we have been adopted into God’s family. God’s Spirit living in us gives us the assurance that we are now children of God. This is an amazing declaration. We should remember that as Jesus came out of the water at his baptism, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). But now, through God’s investiture of sonship given to the believer, we enter into the very family of God, through Christ. And so we now can call God, “Abba, Father!” The word “Abba” is an Aramaic term for father. “Abba” was the endearing way in which children addressed their fathers. Its equivalent today would be the word “Daddy.” But as Paul was writing to both Jewish and Gentile Christians, he used the two words for father: Abba—Aramaic and Pater—Greek—(Daddy, Father!). Along with the fact that we are now children of God, we also become heirs of God and joint heir with Christ. To this last benefit Paul adds, If, in fact we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. It is not quite clear if Paul meant that unless we suffer with the Lord, we cannot be joint heirs with him. Maybe suffering was understood as being part of our pursuit of a life in the Spirit, as attested in verse 18: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
There is more to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives:
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.
There is something implicit in this statement. Paul not only understood the mysteries of God, but he also deeply understood the challenges of pursuing a life of the Spirit. Paul knew so well that all Christians struggle with weaknesses of some kind. It would be an illusion to believe that we have gotten beyond struggling with weaknesses of our flesh. Have you ever felt you did not know how to pray to God? Remember, God is now our Father. And we as children call him “Daddy.” How would you feel if your child could not find words to express his or her feeling to you? You’d be desperate to know what’s going on inside your child. You’d wonder, what is wrong in this child that’s so difficult to express it to me? That is the severity of the struggle Paul says we go through in our weaknesses. We find ourselves lost for words to speak to God in prayer. But it is in moments like those when the Spirit of God comes to our aid. When we find ourselves having trouble telling God what is in our heart, we should remember that we have the Spirit of God who prays with us and on our behalf. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is in the mind of the Spirit. The Advocate we have intercedes for us according to the will of God, especially in times when we do not know how to speak to God.
God’s word for us today is:
We have no obligation to the flesh to be its slaves, but we owe our lives to the Spirit of God. God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit as the first installment of our salvation. You and I carry the stamp of God in us. That very Spirit gives us the assurance that we are now included in the family God. For that reason we can approach God’s holy throne and address him as “Daddy.” Because we are God’s children, we share the status of his Son. And along with him we are God’s heir of his glory, blessedness, and holiness. For now, the Spirit comes to assist us when praying is hard to do, especially when we do not know how to ask for God’s will. The Spirit of God not only dwells in us, he pleads with God on our behalf.
Let us surrender our lives to God’s Spirit. Let us seek to live according to his lead. And may God fill our lives with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Amen!