First Mennonite Church
May 31, 2020
Living in the Spirit: A Reality for Here and Now
Text: Romans 8:1-14
This is one of those familiar passages from Paul’s writings. Precisely for that reason, I want to invite you to allow yourself to believe in the possibility that there could be something new, something that can speak to us today.
The background of this passage is Paul’s larger picture about God’s tireless and insistent attempt to reach out to his people by giving them the Law. God intended to make of his people a light to the nations, a model of virtue, peace, and grace to the world by way of heeding God’s holy commandments. But Israel was doomed to fail in obeying God’s laws because every attempt at obeying the law, their human nature was aroused to go against it. In other words, prohibitions only provoke desire to break them. That is what Paul calls “the law of sin and death” or inclinations of “the flesh.”
According to Paul in Romans chapter 8, we live, not only in a material world, but also bound to the nature of sin within our very human being. This means that although being created in the likeness and image of God, by nature of our earthliness we are bound by the power of sin inherent in our humanity. Our very humanity makes us inclined to reject God. And the direct consequence of sin is, of course, death.
The coming of Jesus changed that sad human predicament. That is what Paul begins to celebrate in the end of chapter seven when he writes: Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (7:24b, 25).
The good news is that Jesus is the one who rescues us from the power of sin and death—which Paul calls “the flesh,” which he describes here in chapter eight of Romans.
Paul uses the word “flesh” not in the sense of physicality– that is our body of flesh and bones, but about the rebellious human nature that seeks to avoid, reject, deny, and even challenge God. Flesh, according to Paul, is the human inclination of living only for self and of seeking self-preservation according to human strength and wisdom. To live according to the flesh, is to live according to the principles of the fallen world. Therefore, “setting the mind on the things of the flesh,” which cannot submit to God nor please God, is a life that exists with the pursuit of the very same things the world does and in the very same ways the world does it. To live according to the flesh is to evaluate everything according to the criteria of the world. Therefore, we should ask ourselves, through which lenses do we see the issues and events of today? Covid-19 and its related issues? The death of a George Floyd, the man who was killed in Minneapolis by a police officer? The riots, looting and destruction of property? The power struggles in politics? What principles guide the use of our time and resources? A mind set on the things of the flesh is one whose ways of looking at the world is another than God’s ways.
Life in the flesh is also a vicious cycle, according to Paul. Those who live according to flesh seek satisfaction in pleasure and accumulation of material things, only to find there is more and more they need than they can afford. In verse six Paul gives his assessment: To set the mind on the flesh is death . . . . For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Paul begins this section, chapter eight, in a celebrative tone: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law God gave to his people only highlighted guilt and the anticipation of condemnation. The law only raised guilt of conscience. The coming of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection changed both the means by with God reaches out to his people and humanity as a whole, as well as the way humanity can achieve to live according to God’s will. Those who are in Christ have been spared of God’s wrath and are also given the power to live a life that is pleasing to God. That is what Paul defines as living in the Spirit.
The opposite of living in the flesh is to live in the spirit. And again Paul defines living in the spirit as the life that acknowledges God and finds its very being on Him. Paul is very clear on that when he says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The living relationship we have with God, through Christ, is only possible because the Spirit of Christ lives in us. Because God in his mercy has given us his Spirit since Jesus ascended to be with the Father, we have the possibility which Israel could not achieve through the law.
Living in the Spirit is not a dream or a high but unattainable ideal. It is possible to live in the spirit, here and now, because Christ lives in you and me by his Spirit. Therefore, just as Christ came to serve and not to be served, life in the spirit is not self-centered. It seeks to serve others as an expression of love towards God. Just as Jesus showed concern and compassion towards the needy, life in the spirit sees material blessings as useful things in life to bless others. Just as Jesus did not judge based on what he heard, living in the spirit makes us see the world according the eyes of God.
God’s desire for his chosen people to stand out among the nations and to be that holy nation and royal priesthood has now become possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, everyone who believes in Jesus has the power to achieve God’s original purpose for choosing Abraham and his descendants.
Let us allow the Spirit of God to take full control over our lives. The way we can do this is what Paul says in verses 13 and 14: “Put to death the deeds of the flesh and you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Let us allow the spirit of God to continue molding our lives in ways that reveal his character through us. Let us allow the Spirit of God to help us see and judge everything around us according to God’s heart and will for the world and human life. It is possible to live in the Spirit because Christ lives in you and in me.
Let us pray:
Our dear Lord God, we thank you for Jesus Christ who came to give us a new possibility through the power of the Holy Spirit. We yield our lives to you, oh Holy Spirit, and humbly ask you to guide and to empower us to live a life that is pleasing to the Triune God. In the name of Jesus, we pray, Amen!