Romans 8:1-11 – Life in the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For 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, in 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.

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. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

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. 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. 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. (New International Version)

I feel tremendously privileged to be a Christian and enjoy the very Spirit of God. The people of God are spiritual people, possessing God’s own Spirit. The Apostle Paul wanted Christians to know what they truly have as believers in Jesus.

No Condemnation

There is now no condemnation, no judgment, for those who are in Christ. God has pronounced a verdict, and that decision is final. We have been united to Christ by means of God’s Spirit. Since God condemns neither you nor I, there is no need whatsoever to condemn ourselves or other believers.

Since no condemnation is our reality as Christians, we are to believe this promise of God and swim in its wonderful privilege. 

Believe that the sin issue has been taken care of once for all through the life and death of Christ. If you do not feel forgiven, then put yourself in a position to believe. 

It would be silly to go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and then just stand in the middle of the bathroom without getting under the showerhead. It would be silly because you did not put yourself in a position to actually become clean. You may believe that a shower and using soap and shampoo will make you clean, but if you do not actually avail yourself of the privilege of actually taking the shower but just stand there and look at it, you will not really be clean. 

We must put ourselves in a position to experience the privilege of knowing our wonderful state of cleanliness and no condemnation by actually reading the Word of God on a regular basis; praying in the Spirit on all occasions; and practicing the silence and solitude necessary to receive the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

Two people are declared “married” in a formal wedding ceremony. The couple then works out their shared union together over a lifetime. The minister does not pronounce condemnation at the ceremony; he declares a blessing. Yet, from that point forward, the two people must work on their marriage. They must believe their relationship is important enough to warrant putting themselves in a position to grow together. They will intentionally create date nights and conversations on the couch. They’ll seek to learn, appreciate, and participate in the other’s interests and life. 

“Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”

Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

Just as we do not marry ourselves and pronounce ourselves a married couple, so we do not save ourselves. However, having a marriage license does not mean there is no effort to be done in the relationship. A marriage is both a legal reality, and a kind of mystical union between two married persons.

It is a beautiful thing to be in a relationship where there is no condemnation. Because of Jesus Christ we are free to be the people God created us to be – forgiven and no longer burdened by sin’s condemnation.

Freedom from Sin and Death

In Holy Scripture, sin is not only a personal struggle but a present ubiquitous reality in the world. The power and presence of sin is found everywhere. There is personal, institutional, and systemic sin. Because sin is everywhere, death is everywhere. Biblically, death doesn’t only refer to physical death but is also a relational term referring to spiritual death. Death means relational separation from God. Conversely, life is relational connection with God. 

God did all the action necessary to make the union possible. God sent the Son. God became incarnate. God’s Son became a sin-offering, an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God condemned sin in sinful humanity. God met the righteous requirements of the law. God effects holiness in us by means of the Spirit. 

Rather than saving us from sin then simply telling us to live a holy upright life, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell us so that we can live like Jesus. 

Therefore, we must put ourselves in a position to experience life through dwelling in the Scriptures and letting the Spirit and the Word work together to effect practical change in our lives. 

Having the Mind of Christ

A problem we all face is that we inhabit a fallen world. Our mindset can easily get screwy. If we want life and peace, we need the mind of Christ and the Spirit. Whatever our minds are occupied with, that’s what determines whether we will have life and peace, or not. 

If the objects of our thoughts, interests, and affections are continually away from Christ and the Spirit, we will experience death, not life. If we put ourselves in a position to indulge the sinful nature, we will miss real life. A loose mind only leads to relational separation.

The addict knows very well that there are two choices, life or death. The first of twelve steps in Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that I am powerless over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable. The second step is to believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. The third step is to turn my life and my will over to that Power. So, it is the same for us. 

We are powerless over sin, which will, if left unchecked, lead to death. But in the Spirit (and not in the alcoholic spirits) we have life. Sin, like alcohol, is a daily possibility, even after giving my life and my will to God. Yet, there is also the possibility of life. And that hope of life comes with possessing the mind of Christ and the Spirit. 

We have hope that through the Spirit’s power that we will overcome the power of choices that lead to death, and instead, embrace choices that lead to life. So, whatever we put into our minds is vitally important. 

The Spirit Indwelling Us

The Spirit is the sine qua non of the Christian life, that is, the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus. The Spirit opposes the sinful nature and expects us to do the same. There’s no need to try and live the Christian life on our own power when we possess spiritual power.

Pentecost by Edgardo De Guzman

There exists an internal struggle within us that desires to do right but has a compulsion to do otherwise. Yet, the indwelling Spirit gives us victory. Jesus lived the life for us that we could not live. His life, as much as his death, achieved salvation from sin for us. 

The very same Spirit that helped Jesus live his life, and raised him from death, is the same Spirit whom we possess.

When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother canning preserves. I would sit on a stool in the kitchen and watch her, looking forward to having some grape preserves on my next piece of toast. I once asked her, “Why are you always melting that wax over the fruit?” I didn’t understand how wax could make my toast taste any better. 

Grandma answered, “The wax seals the jar tightly so the fruit can’t be contaminated. If I didn’t seal it, the fruit would eventually rot.” As an amateur in the canning business, I could see the importance of picking grapes, boiling them, and canning them. But I now know how important sealing and preserving are.

You and I are God’s preserves. God not only chose us, redeemed us, and called us to life in the Son – God also had a plan for preserving us as heirs of eternal life. God gave us the indwelling Spirit so that we can live as we ought, free from sin and doing the will of God through spiritual power working within us. 

I hope today that you have a deep appreciation for the privileges of no condemnation, freedom from sin, possessing the mind of Christ and the power of the indwelling Spirit. And more than that, that you will avail yourselves of this tremendous gift of the Spirit and experience life and peace.

Gracious God, fill us with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. May we live lives worthy of the Lord Jesus and please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to your glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to you.  For you have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and have brought us into the kingdom of the Son you love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-7 – Better Days Ahead

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours. (New International Version)

The message of better days ahead was a breath of fresh air to a beaten down people.

Just today I was speaking with an intensive care nurse who said, “It’s one thing to have a hard day, or know a few weeks will be difficult. It’s altogether another thing when it seems there’s no end to the hard deaths we experience.” Whenever things have gone sideways for so long, we find our lives needing restoration and renewal.

That was the situation for the ancient Israelites. They needed deliverance from their awful predicament. They longed for healing, freedom, and comfort from their grief. After centuries of a downward spiral into disobedience and going their own way, the people found themselves bereft of resources.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, the one who called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will himself restore, empower, strengthen, and establish you.

1 Peter 5:10, CEB

The people needed the year of the Lord’s favor – the year of Jubilee. The Jubilee was supposed to occur every fiftieth year of Israel’s existence in the Promised Land. For forty-nine years there were individuals and families who either incurred debt, indentured themselves into servitude for survival, landed in prison, or ended up laboring in the fields they once owned.

According to the Law, after the forty-nine years, on the fiftieth year, the debts were erased, slaves were freed, fields allowed to rest, and the land restored back to its original owners. God’s deliverance is meant to be not only spiritual, but also very tangible and real.

Salvation is not just otherworldly – it’s also a transformation of the world we inhabit in the here and now.

The need for good news presupposes there’s been some bad news happening. The Lord deliberately gives attention to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who mourn, and the faint of heart. God is concerned for the lowly and the weak. 

It’s significant to note that Israel found themselves in such need not necessarily because they were always victims of adverse situations, but also because they failed to obey the stipulations of their covenant with God. 

We have no actual evidence the Israelites even practiced the Jubilee. After entering the Promised Land, by the time fifty years came down the pike, they had slid so far down the spiritual drain, it was completely off their radar to practice a Jubilee.

It seems no one had any intention of forgiving debts, freeing their indentured servants, giving back the land to original owners, or providing the land itself with a Sabbath rest. 

To not practice the Jubilee was to rob people of their land and practice injustice. But God loves justice and hates robbery. God pays attention to those who are not receiving very real and tangible needs for their lives. So, God speaks words of hope and deliverance for those in circumstances beyond their ability to cope.

The first few verses of today’s Old Testament lesson were the words Jesus read in the synagogue when he began his earthly ministry. Christianity observes that Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of this promise for deliverance and provision. He came to establish a Jubilee celebration that would never end.

It might be easy for some folks to overlook these verses as pertaining to them. After all, they are blessed, both materially and spiritually. They can always identify people who are in much more need than they are. But we must recognize that the maladies of our hearts are very real. There are specific conditions in our lives that leave us, not just them,in bondage and in need of restoration, renewal, and revitalization, just like the Israelites of old. 

We must name those maladies which are stuffed away in a closet of our heart, such as: the love of things and money; severed relationships; old grudges; hidden addictions; domestic violence; denial of depression; secret affairs; cutting; fear; anger; greed; and hatred. Outward smiles and small talk may hide the truth from others, but they do nothing to hide from a God for whom everything is laid bare.

It’s okay to be a glowstick, sometimes we need to break before we shine.

The good news is not just something for someone else who has “obvious” needs. The gospel must touch our lives and bring us freedom so that we can pass on that very real good news to the legion of social ills that make our world sick. 

There are people all around us who need spiritual, emotional, and material help. Yet, we will not have eyes to see them, or have hearts to help, if we are stuffing our burdens so deep within that we are blind to others.

On the other hand, we may too easily read today’s lesson in a manner it was not meant to be heard, as if we are more in need than we actually are, hearing it something like this: The Spirit of consumer choices is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the middle-class. He has sent me to bind up the half-hearted, to proclaim more options for the limited, and release from Black Friday for the buyers, to proclaim the year of the Cyber-Monday. 

Perhaps we may not be so crass as to say that out loud, but we might have the tendency to misinterpret Bible passages so as to avoid our own great poverty of heart.

Whichever lens we tend to look at Isaiah’s prophecy, when we become experts at ignoring our needs and emotions, we fail to see the year of Jubilee. The stark reality is that no matter who we are, we need a biblical Jubilee.

Many people are either one paycheck, one prodigal kid, one mental health diagnosis, one serious illness, one drink, one affair, or one bad decision away from being the people we typically identify as in need – the ones that bad things happen to – the ones we do not want as next door neighbors.

We may not yet be vulnerable enough to admit our situation. So, we keep practicing the denial of our spiritual poverty. But everyone knows what a broken heart is. Everybody has a bondage they don’t want to admit. All people need renewal and restoration.

If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.

How, then, shall we live?

Turn from the things which cause us poverty and bondage and turn toward delighting in the Lord your God. Rejoice, because God will make a sprout come up. God will cause us to grow. God will rebuild our ruined souls. God will restore the places of our lives that have been devastated. God will even renew the places that haven’t seen renewal for generations. It begins with you and me allowing the justice of God to work within us.

God can neither bring comfort to those who don’t mourn, nor turn grief into joy unless there is an acknowledgment of a dire situation. If we want to be an oak of righteousness, then there must be a confession of despair and an allowance of God’s justice through Jesus Christ to work its way in us.

Let us envision Jesus coming into our lives and replacing a tattered hat of grief with a crown of beauty. Picture the Lord placing on us a garment of praise to replace those stinky clothes of grumbling. Allow your life to display the grace of God in Christ, since we have been profoundly touched by the justice of God.

Lord Jesus, Carpenter and King, be merciful to the multitudes who today bear the indignities of injustice everywhere. Raise up leaders in every land dedicated to your righteous standards of order, equity, and justice. Grant to us the grace to fulfill our vocation of being loyal to kingdom ethics. Sharpen our intellects to pierce the pettiness of prejudice; to perceive the beauty of human fellowship. Guide our minds to a meaningful understanding of the problems of the poor, the oppressed, the unemployed, and the needy. Incline our hearts toward them, as is your heart, O Lord. May we hunger and thirst after justice always and do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Why Is Our Ministry Important?

Welcome, friends! Luke 4:14-30 is the account of Jesus reading the words of Isaiah the prophet to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for prisoners. How Christ used those words caused a huge commotion, and still does. Let’s find out together what happened. Click the videos below and let us consider Jesus….

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Luke 4:14-30

Gracious God, you bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and free prisoners from jails. Please come to us and send us out, as forgiven people, to the poor, the brokenhearted, and the imprisoned. Amen.

Psalm 14 – On the Significance of God

Statue of George Washington, outside the National Gallery, Washington D.C.

Godless fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt.
They do disgusting things.
There is no one who does good things.
The Lord looks down from heaven on Adam’s descendants
to see if there is anyone who acts wisely,
if there is anyone who seeks help from God.
Everyone has turned away.
Together they have become rotten to the core.
No one, not even one person, does good things.
Are all those troublemakers,
those who devour my people as if they were devouring food,
so ignorant that they do not call on the Lord?
There they are—panic-stricken
because God is with the person who is righteous.
They put the advice of oppressed people to shame
because the Lord is their refuge.

If only salvation for Israel would come from Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice.
Israel will be glad
. (God’s Word Translation)

George Washington, first President of the United States, in his farewell address to the nation in 1796, constructed his encouragements to the American people on the basis of virtue. 

Only a virtuous people, Washington believed, could cause the American experiment to succeed among the family of nations. Virtue, for Washington, could only occur through the twin pillars of religion and morality. He stated:

“Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?”

George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

Washington was no fool. He understood that the guiding hand of Providence [God] was necessary to the flourishing of a free and happy people. 

Indeed, the ancient psalmist would agree. When humanity is untethered from their own deep spirituality, they become worthless, heartless, cruel and can rarely do right by others. 

Whatever Washington’s true personal sensibilities were about theology, he most certainly was convinced that belief in God along with the Scripture’s moral guidance were needed for a fledgling nation. The people’s ability to recognize and engraft religion into their lives would be a must for America.

Unmooring ourselves from the moral compass within us and forsaking the Creator leads to vice – whereas enjoining God and paying attention to the divine leads to virtue. 

It is not wise to ignore the God of all creation. From the psalmist’s perspective, through daily attentiveness and devotion to the Lord, moral and ethical ways can take root and produce justice, reconciliation, and peace.

Sovereign God, you rule the nations through your wise and benevolent reign. Help me to participate with you in your grand kingdom enterprise so that I can make decisions consistent with true morality, for the sake of Jesus, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.