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.

2 Samuel 7:18-29 – A Model Prayer

King David by Marc Chagall, 1962

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!

“What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.

“How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God.

“And now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established in your sight.

“Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So, your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Sovereign Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.” (New International Version)

“The whole reason why we pray is to be united into the vision and contemplation of God to whom we pray.”

Julian of Norwich (1343-1416)

Perhaps you wish you had a better prayer life. To pray, as with most things in life, requires both motivation and how to do it. So, it’s appropriate to find answers about prayer by observing the biblical models of prayer contained in Holy Scripture.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is King David’s prayer in response to God’s revelation to him about fulfilling covenant promises. Looking at David’s prayer, there is a three-fold division which models for us a good way to approach God.

The Present: Gratitude for God’s Grace

David began his prayer with an attitude, posture, and words of humility, recognizing and affirming the relationship between himself and God. Although David is the king over all Israel and Judah, he repeatedly refers to himself as a servant (10 times).

God didn’t have to communicate anything to David about the future. Yet, the Lord graciously made known that it would be through David’s descendants that all of God’s good promises will be fulfilled. And David is overwhelmed with such gracious words. It comes tumbling out of him in a heartfelt prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving.

It is good for us to think about the spiritual blessings we have received from God. Not only can prayers of thanksgiving be uttered at any time to the Lord, but we can also write our gratitude in a journal as a prayer offering to God.

It’s also good to be specific about the circumstances and the praises. In the future, whenever there are discouraging situations, we can look back to what we wrote and remember the ways in which God showed up and encouraged us with very great and precious promises.

The Past: Praise for God’s Actions

David affirms there is no one and no god which can compare to Yahweh, the great I Am. It is the Lord God almighty who displayed divine power and presence in redeeming the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and into the Promised Land.

Any greatness which arises from humans is the direct result of God’s greatness. Apart from God, there is no distinctive way of living. God’s presence makes all the difference:

Then Moses said to him [Yahweh], “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16, NIV)

The Lord specializes in bending hopeless situations to divine purposes, transforming people to new life, and turning systemic evil on its head so that the humble, meek, and penitent will be first, not last.

The Future: Prayer for God to Fulfill Divine Promises

King David already knew God’s promises to the Israelites. Now, however, David understands how he personally fits into the Lord’s plan.

Courage arises whenever God’s people know God’s promises and then discern how to fit into God’s plan. Confident assurance and settled peace cannot simply be ginned-up through positive thinking; bold faith needs a foundation of truth – a rock solid base which cannot be moved and is always there.

King David found his ultimate motivation in life in God’s revelation. His basis of prayer was God’s Word. Biblical prayers, like David’s, are there for us to model our own prayers.

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us at tasks that demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments that satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he conquered death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35b – God Is Bigger Than Our Fears

Psalm 104:3 by J. Michael Orr

I praise you, Lord God,
    with all my heart.
You are glorious and majestic,
dressed in royal robes
    and surrounded by light.
You spread out the sky
    like a tent,
    and you built your home
    over the mighty ocean.
The clouds are your chariot
    with the wind as its wings.
The winds are your messengers,
    and flames of fire
    are your servants.

You built foundations
for the earth,
    and it
    will never be shaken.
You covered the earth
with the ocean
    that rose
    above the mountains.
Then your voice thundered!
And the water flowed
    down the mountains
    and through the valleys
    to the place you prepared.
Now you have set boundaries,
    so that the water will never
    flood the earth again….

Our Lord, by your wisdom
    you made so many things;
    the whole earth is covered
    with your living creatures….
With all my heart
I praise you, Lord!
    I praise you! (Contemporary English Version)

The world is a gift from God.

When God created the heavens and the earth, Adam and Eve, the first humans, were the apex of God’s creative activity. Their charge, as people created in the image of God, was to steward the earth. And that mandate is still in effect. We are to take good care of this creation we inhabit.

However, due to the fall of humanity, there has always been a bent toward exploiting the earth for our own purposes, rather than carefully maintaining it. Wherever we see abuse of both land and lives, behind it is the fear of not having enough and not being safe enough. Our anxiety gets the best of us.

It seems to me that creation care must begin with ourselves. The lack of self-care inevitably works itself out by neither caring for other creatures nor creation. We need to acknowledge our fears and address them. Then, place those fears in the shining light of our Creator’s glory.

My kids grew up in the ‘90s watching Veggie Tales. The tunes were catchy and full of some solid truth about God. One of their favorites was “God is Bigger.” Here is the chorus:

God is bigger than the boogie man.
He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV.
Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man,
And he’s watching out for you and me.

Today’s Psalm expresses the bigness of God – clothed with splendor and majesty, covered with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. Indeed, God is big – bigger than anything and everything. The Lord is sovereign and supreme over all creation, and always does what is right, just, and fair. God sees all and watches over the earth.

Sometimes we get lost in our situations, problems, and screw-ups. We get stuck in our anxiety and fears. We view them as larger than life and can become so overwhelmed and burdened with our inabilities, weaknesses, and lack of handling things well, that we lose sight of the reality that God is bigger than it all. 

Instead of fear and anxiety ruling the day, we can allow sound theology to purge the worry and trouble from our minds and hearts. Using today’s psalm to pray and praise God is a foundational way of beginning to put into perspective the issues and problems of our lives.

Confident living, and mitigating our fears, cannot simply be mentally or emotionally stirred up. Confidence needs a foundation, a basis in truth and reality. The believer’s assurance comes from the firm ground of God’s character and competence. Trust is born when we have a vision of a Divine Being, large and filling the universe with grace and justice.

Tending to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health begins with a sense of divine largeness. Initiative and assertiveness can be freely exercised when we are secure and non-anxious because of God’s immense presence.

Caring for creation, and enjoying our great big world, is the logical action of being peacefully connected to the Creator of it all. We are all bound together as creatures and creation. We’re all made up of the same stuff.

Everything in the universe, including creatures and creation, share 97% percent of the same kind of atoms.

The crucial elements for life on Earth – carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur – are all found in abundance across the stars of our galaxy.

Our differences make us unique. Our similarities connect us. And we are inextricably connected to every atom in this universe. Just as we carry the DNA of our ancestors within our biological bodies, so we are all holding the same elements of the physical creation.

The ultimate connection, from a Christian perspective, is that Jesus holds it all together – thus making him the supreme Connector.

The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.

He is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything. (Colossians 1:15-18, CEB)

Christ is our connection to all things, reconciling us to our fellow creatures, creation, and the Creator. All the bigness of God lives in Jesus. In the face of the Lord, all fears melt away.

Almighty God, you are mighty big! My problems are really small as I glimpse your sheer immensity. Lord God, you are very great! I bless your holy name. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah, Amen.

John 15:18-20, 26-27 – Moving in with Jesus

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also…

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (New International Version)

Two characters: Jesus and Emmet

Scene:  Emmet is moving in with Jesus as a roommate.

Emmet enters….

“Nice digs, Jesus. Not quite what I was expecting – looks good and clean – but just ordinary.”

“I’m glad you decided to take up my offer and come live with me in my house, Emmet. Well, it’s actually my Father’s house.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t working out so well with my girlfriend, Jezebel. She was into a lot of weird stuff, like some crazy real estate schemes, especially with vineyards – the woman is obsessed with buying up vineyards. Besides, she told me she hates me. That really hurt.”

“Emmet, I think you will find I’m into a different kind of vineyard and real estate. And there isn’t any hate there. It’s called ‘the kingdom of God.’”

“Kingdom, huh?  Sounds like a pretty big gig to me, Jesus.”

“Oh, yes, it is. The biggest. You know, Emmet, by living and abiding with me here you will get to know all about the kingdom.”

Sounds groovy, man… or should I say, ‘Son of Man!’ Hey, Jesus, you got any beer and chips in this joint?  I’m starving.”

“No, sorry, I’m afraid not right now. But I do have some wine and some bread.”

“Well, okay, Jesus. I’m super hungry. I could go for about anything.”

Here you go Emmet.” (Jesus gives Emmet a wafer and communion cup – Emmet just stands there and looks at it). “Make yourself at home in my love, Emmet.”

“Um, hey, Jesus, not to be ungrateful or anything, but is this all you have?”

“Just try it, Emmet. I think you will find it rather satisfying.”

(Emmet takes the bread and drinks the cup). “Holy Communion, Jesus! Whoa! I’m actually full! What in the world is in that stuff, anyway?”

“There’s no world in it, at all, Emmet. I am the vine. You are the branch. When you drank, you ingested me.  You’re joined with me, and I with you. Apart from me you are always going to be hungry and thirsty, no matter how much other food you eat and how much beer you drink. But if you stay here and settle in with me, make this your permanent home and not just a place to hang your hat, you can be sure that I will always listen to you and do whatever you ask of me.”

“That’s heavy, man. Very cool. I can dig it!”

“I have told you this for a purpose, Emmet – that we might enjoy being roommates together. By the way, I have just one rule in my house that I expect to be obeyed, always: Love other people in the same way that I love you.  Never forget, Emmet: If you ever get locked-out of the house, it is love which opens the door to my place.  Remember, Emmet, that love is the key.”

“You know, Jesus, you’re kind of odd, but I like you, dude. I’m glad I chose to come here.”

“Emmet, you did not choose me; I chose you and brought you here because of my love. And I am sending you into the world to love. Remain here with me, abide with me in this place, and you will see things happen beyond what you can even think or imagine. Go, now, and bear the fruit of love in my kingdom, and when you come back, I’ll have a place for you to sleep and you will rest like you have never rested before.”

“I really appreciate your hospitality, Jesus. But what if I mess up? Or forget about your rule?”

“When you came here, Emmet, you probably saw someone standing just outside the door.”

“Yeah… I did see some dude who looked way out there, man, like he was from another universe, like maybe New Jersey, or something.”

“That was the Advocate. He will come whenever you mess up or forget about my love. The Advocate will help you remember the truth.”

(Jesus walks Emmet to the door). “There’s nothing to worry about. Just go and love others like I love you. Good-bye, Emmet.”

“Bye, Jesus. I’ll be back after I go spread some love around, just like you taught me….”

*Above Photo by Amina Filkins on Pexels.com