Series > Worshiping the Spirit

The Spirit of Holiness

Ryan Tompkins // April 21, 2019

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Sermon Transcript

scripture Passage // Romans 8:1–11 (ESV)

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”


We can hardly peg a better passage with which to celebrate and think about the meaning of Easter. There is no condemnation now for those are in Christ Jesus is the thrust of what Paul communicates to the Roman Church. So we are going to wrestle with what that means, how it comes about. What Paul is going to say is a result of not being condemned any longer, in other words being freed, you are now free to walk in the spirit rather than according to the flesh. So what does it mean to walk in that freedom of holiness in the spirit? What does that look like? That's the question we hope to answer by the time we are done this morning. In the way we will go about it is through these three points. Number one no condemnation, number two flesh and Spirit and number three Resurrection.

So first no condemnation. Now this is a rather famous portion of scripture. In fact if you went ahead and memorized verses 1 - 4 of Chapter 8 in Romans, you would have one of the best summaries of the gospel that exists in all of scripture. But it's very dense, you are going to have to earn your Easter supper today to work through what Paul is communication in this very pregnant passage. We begin in verse one where he declares that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Now at least six times in the Greek, in the next several verses Paul is going to say for or because. In other words he's taking you through a logical progression of explaining to you what has been achieved in Christ and how it's been achieved. And we dropped some of those in the English, but realize that he's just going one step after another and that's the way that we need to read it. Verse 2, "for the Law of the spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." Okay? Paul says that there is a law that has set us free in Christ Jesus from a law that is of sin and death.

Now, you might be tempted to think that Paul's talking about two laws, but nowhere does Paul do that. When Paul talks about the law, when speaking in Romans, he's talking about the mosaic law and that's it. So what he's saying is that the law can be used two different ways. A law can be used in such a way that leads to sin and death or it can be used in appropriate in such a way that it leads to life. Okay, how does that work out, Paul? He goes on in verse 3, "for God has done what the law weakened by the flesh could not do." Notice there that it's not the laws fault that what the law was intended to accomplish didn't accomplish what fault is it? It's the fault of the weakness of flesh. Now, when Paul uses the word flesh, he's not simply talking about flesh and bones, it's not mere physicality what he's talking about is the brokenness of a fallen world in sin.

It's shorthand for him to talk about corruptibility mortality, rebelliousness against God. As a result of this sin that exists in humanity, the law couldn't actually do what it was intended to do because no one could obey the law. So since it failed weakened by the flesh, God did something middle of verse three, by sending his own son. And that means two things. Number one, it means that God himself has shown up in the sense that if you have the sun, you have the father, but it also means that Jesus is taking the place of Israel. Up until this point in time, up until the arrival of Jesus who is God's son in the Old Testament? It's Israel always referred to or periodically referred to as God's son.

Now, what Paul is saying is that Israel has been reduced to one representative Israelite, where it's Jesus takes on the role and responsibility of all Israel as God's son. So God has sent his son in the likeness of sinful flesh. In other words, he's come at the very point of the problem, the weakness of our flesh is what has failed and made the law and not work. And Jesus has come in that weakness, but it is not a weakness that he will succumb to, In order... Pardon me, by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. Now the simple words there, and for sin in Greek, that's a translation of the Hebrew word for the sin offering the once a year atonement that covers all the sins that people didn't know they committed or accidentally committed.

Jesus is coming to cover all sin. That's what it means for sin. When it says that in verse 3, “Then he condemned sin in the flesh.” So you have this notion that Paul has said a number of times as he's gone through his letter to the Romans, that the law has actually increased sin. Sometimes you don't think of the law in that fashion, but he said one of the unintended consequences of the law was that it had actually polarized and magnified sin and in one sense strengthened it. And all of that sin was heaped up at where the law was located, which is in Israel, and now Jesus takes the role of Israel and sin will be heaped upon him. But what happens when it's heaped upon him? It's condemned in his flesh. Sin thinks that it's going to be victorious and destroy the son of God and instead the son of God ends up destroying sin.

And the result is that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. Now that's shorthand for Paul saying, when you fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, what do you get? You get the blessing of God. The law was always intended to be blessing for obedience, no one could be obedient, but Jesus now is perfectly obedient and the law curses him and sentences him to death. Which short circuits the power of sin condemned sin in his flesh. So now it's just as you as if you have fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law because you've been unit by Christ. Therefore, you get the declarative blessing that comes along with fulfilling the law and this is how redemption, how salvation occurs. The result being that we are those who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.

Now we'll get to that in a moment, but I want to make sure that you've understand what has occurred. Now some of you will inevitably laugh and scoff at this end, but you're foolish to do so and I'll show you why. The best example of Romans eight and that in my entire life that I can think of if you ask a group of theologians to sit down and say, “Hey, I want you to write a metaphor for what's going on in Romans 8:1–4.” And you know what you'd get? You'd get the third installment of the Matrix and this is why. And you need to understand if you're not familiar with the Matrix, I'm sorry for you. It is an important cultural reference, but it's also saturated with the gospel. The Wachowskis, the brothers who wrote it, were actually students of philosophy and religion and they knew what they were talking about in some ways, not in others.

Anyway, the Matrix is a virtual world of computer code in which machines and humans battle humanity, this is in the future. Machines have taken over the world, artificial intelligence has won out. Humanity is reduced to a small band of survivors that lived near the center of the earth because that's where it's warm and the machines and the humans are at war with one another, but that war plays out in the virtual world of the Matrix. In the beginning, you have this messiah figure who comes forth and he fights against the representative of the machine world who his agent Smith. And you think that agent Smith is going to be defeated because Neo throws himself into agent Smith and devours him. But as the movie goes on, you realize that agents Smith's touch with Neo has only made agent Smith stronger. That's like the arrival of the law.

You think the law comes and you think, this is the place in the story where God has given what is necessary for humanity to be successful for God's people to be righteous. But it doesn't work out that way because what happens is that the law only makes sin stronger. And in the subsequent movies you realize agent Smith comes back stronger to the extent the agent Smith becomes like a virus, a bad code that's taking over the entire matrix and threatening the machine world. So by the end of the third movie, the machines make a deal to send Neo back in because they believe he's the only person who can defeat agent Smith. He shows up and agent Smith has dominated everything, it's a world contaminated by sin and sin focuses all of its mind and energy on Neo and he pummels him, just beats the snot out of him.

And then at the very end, he runs and throws himself into Neo just like in the first movie Neo throws himself and agent Smith to defeat him but what happens at that point? Agent Smith is condemned in the flesh. He enters the person of Neo and doesn't realize that he's been lured in and Neo is the one person that can corrupt and end his code. That is exactly what Romans eight one through four is talking about. The sin grows stronger and stronger and is magnified, it throws itself upon Christ at the Cross and it's corrupted. You look at the story, Jesus is getting beat up, it's not going well. You think he's going to be defeated but at the very moment when sin unleashes everything upon Christ at the cross, it's condemned in his flesh. Jesus levels the death blow against sin and as a result there's hope of resurrection.

So this is what we're talking about when we talk about there not being any condemnation. You are set free, but it is a freedom in a world that sin isn't gone. It's defeated, but it's revoked from being present. And so what is this freedom look like? Well, this is where Paul moves on to talk about flesh and spirit and in verses five through eight, he makes a number of distinctions between flesh and spirit and you can skim them with me. "Those who live in the flesh have their minds set on the flesh, and those who live in the Spirit have their minds set on the Spirit." So Paul is saying is that if you want to be, if you're going to be a person who walks by flesh, then you're always going to be thinking about things which are mortal and corruptible and defined by the kingdom of this earth, not by the Kingdom of Christ. But if you walk by the Spirit, then your mind is always going to be focused on the things of the Spirit.

What is redeemable and what is important to the king and what is important to the kingdom? And the way this plays out is that the mind that is set on the flesh is really set on death, but the mind set on the spirit is life and peace. The mind set on flesh is hostile to God, does not submit to God's law and cannot please God. To walk and to live according to the flesh, to have one's mind set on the flesh is not a good road to be on. Now you might read this section of Romans and think, well there are those who are in Christ and who are in the Spirit and there are those who are in the flesh and they're two different people, but that's not really faithful to what Paul is articulating in Romans as a whole.

We sung about it, there's two ways of living, two ways of existing and you and I know well enough that we have the tendency to go back and forth between the two, that there are days where we walk in the Spirit and our mind is focused on the Spirit and there are days that we walk in the flesh and whether we would admit it or not, we're pursuing death. And so the question for us becomes why do we have the propensity to move toward walking in the flesh? If walking in the Spirit is life and peace and walking in the flesh is death, then why do we always find ourselves moving back, being attracted to, falling in love with that which is fleshly? I think one answer to that question is a disappointment. When we're disappointed, we moved to a place where we draw back from God. We draw back from the Spirit.

We say, “I think I will decide to live in the flesh, because I want to try to make what I want to happen happen rather than waiting upon God who has disappointed me.” Jonathan Merritt is a Christian and an author and he recently wrote a very thoughtful piece about disappointment. He woke up one day and his hands were numb, he had no sensation in them. And it went from he experienced conditions that went from that to a tingling sensation that went up his arms and into his shoulders and into his back, which turned into a burning aching pain that was persistent and a devastating chronic pain. This made it very difficult for him to work and even to live. He's a writer, he needs his hands, but he couldn't even... found it difficult to get through the day because of the pain that had come upon him and comes to the point of being depressed and very frustrated with God.

And this is just prayer at one point he says, he writes, “Come on God, you know my story. You were there when my neighbor abused me as a child, you know how awkward and alienated I felt throughout adolescence. You know how I've struggled with anxiety and depression my entire adult life? I'm starting to see sunlight to get a little relief and then this happens really?" So Merritt begins to examine the nature of disappointment because he recognizes that this is something that is pulling him toward the flesh and away from the spirit. And he looks at it biologically and he does some studying and realizes that disappointment is a very... it's a biological event in human physiology that makes the suffering worse. And what I mean by that is this, if something happens to you that you don't expect and you didn't want it to happen, but you weren't expecting it, you didn't have any expectations, you have a certain level of frustration.

But let's say it's here, okay? So say for example, you're doing the dishes, you drop a plate that you liked, it breaks. You didn't have any expectation about what was going to happen, it completely surprises you you're frustrated and disappointed about here. But if you have expectations for something going a certain way, what your brain does is it starts to release dopamine because it has learned that when your expectations are fulfilled, you get an even larger hit of dopamine and that's the feel good chemical in the brain. So if you have expectations, your brain is prepping for the dopamine hit that will come with the fulfillment of expectations. But when those expectations aren't met and you're disappointed, then your body is not only feeling that level of frustration, but it essentially goes through withdrawal because it was expecting and prepared for a nice hit of dopamine when you're expectations were fulfilled and now your frustration is up here.

This is one reason why if you are betrayed, or if someone disappoints you, or if you're looking forward to something and it doesn't happen, you feel more frustration, you feel more disappointment as a result of this physiology. And so Merritt really recognizes that of course he is experiencing this and that what God is permitting to come upon him, and he's looked at disappointment from a biological perspective, but begins to look at it from a theological perspective and stumbles upon a piece that another author wrote about a decade ago. And this author wondered, what do people really, how do they wrestle with disappointment in God? Was the initial question he was asking. He said thought that people probably don't really voiced their real opinions to other human beings, less they be thought of as unfaithful or not thinking through things very theologically or they may just be afraid to ask the question.

So this author did a study on what people Google with the word “God” in it. Wrote an article which was entitled, “Googling for God.” Want to know what the most googled phrases are that have the word “God” in them? “Why does God allow suffering? Why does God need so much praise? Why does God hate me? Why did God make me ugly? And why did God make me gay?” And you don't have to be very smart to see a thread running through all of those queries, it's this disappointment. I'm frustrated with God and who he is, what he's doing and how he handles himself and how he has treated me, and it's in the midst of that disappointment that Merritt realizes we all have the tendency to pull away from God.

As he's thinking about disappointment. He came to the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Realize that's a picture of disappointment and we have something to learn from it because the expectation when Jesus enters Jerusalem, palm branches are thrown down hosannas or sung from the crowds. They believe that the Messiah has arrived, the Romans will be defeated, Israel will be put on top everything is going to be good now. So a week later that Jesus is hanging on the cross. Now that's some disappointment, that's some let down. Then of course, Israel will pull away from God as a result, but what Merritt says is what we see in the story of the triumphal entry is that a people reject a god who comes to meet their needs because he fails to meet their expectations. They pull away from God because God's actually shown up in the flesh to meet their biggest needs when he isn't meeting their expectations.

So how are you pulling away from God when he doesn't meet your expectations, although he may be meeting your biggest needs? Merritt works through this and realizes that as a result of his pain, he is learning all kinds of things about God in himself. He puts it this way, "I've learned to manage my pain disorder, but it has persisted despite my best efforts. Should I refuse to let disappoint sever my relationship with God? And over time I began to uncover and shed illusions. I'm dismantling mirages I've constructed around productivity, identity, and self worth. No longer can I work 12 to 14 hour days or pretend that who I am is enhanced by how much I produce or ground my sense of worth and accomplishments and accolades or pretend that God will keep me healthy and heal my every ache and pain." What a remarkable thing that happens for Jonathan Merritt.

Did you hear it? He learns to two things. He learns one, that he doesn't have to be all these things to be real and important and loved. The things that he's grounded his identity in are stripped away so that he actually has to find his identity in the love of God itself. And he has to love God for who God is the one who meets his needs rather than his expectations. And as a result, his relationship with God is renewed and much deeper and much more significant ways. He knows that he has loved for who he is, not for what he produces, and he loves God for who God is rather than what God delivers and this indeed is freedom. It's the freedom of walking in the spirit, it's the freedom of life and peace. But I think over my entire life and I choose the two or three people that I've known that standout to me is the most holy, people who act as if they just wake up in the spirit in the morning and walk the day in the spirit and haven't known the flesh in a long time.

I can tell you there's a couple things consistent to their stories. One thing is immense suffering in all three of their stories of the people that I would think of. And as a result of that suffering, they had to go through the same thing that Jonathan Merritt went through, but as a result of going through it and coming out on the other side, they're freed from... There are people who you've talked to and you just get the sense, I'm not living to impress anybody. I don't have to meet anybody's bar. My identity isn't bound up and when I achieve or success or how much money I have and it's not going to make me happier, I'm not that foolish. I'm simply content to exist in the love of God and to fall more deeply in love with him. And as a result, to walk more in the spirit, that's life in peace. To walk in the flesh means that you have to provide all of that for yourself and indeed it is a road of death, it's a road of exhaustion. So were offered this road of walking in the spirit, it's enabled by the work of Christ but how do we remain faithful in it?

And this leads us to Paul's third point because walking in the Spirit would really be impossible without the reality of resurrection otherwise, you would just be called to a difficult challenge of always dying to yourself when there would be no vindication at the end of that road. For those of you who haven't seen the news, we start our Easter worshiping in freedom, going to our big meals and our fun days. In Sri Lanka, suicide bombers targeted three churches and two hotels that house Westerners and the death toll is over 200. Our brothers and sisters weep and mourn and bury. Our brothers should gather to worship the resurrection of the Lord Today. Now, if there is no resurrection, their deaths are pointless.

But if there's resurrection, then we mourn their passing, we weep for the families who have lost loved ones, but we realize that they stand in the presence of Jesus now and it's vindicated their faith and their obedience, their effort to walk in the Spirit. And life without vindication is hopeless and I think we see this happening all around us. As our world moves away from God, particularly America I'm talking about, moves away from God. A conservative estimate is that 4,000 churches close every year, the estimate can go as high as nine or 10,000. Rapidly, America's secularizing and if you read anyone like the new atheists, and they argued that this is important and essential. And finally what happens in every western culture that is sophisticated and enlightened and becomes rich, what happens? They walk away from the need of faith. No longer do they need a myth of God to act like a crutch.

One of the things that's also happening at the same time is that we are becoming increasingly an uncharitable people. In other words, as the West, particularly America has moved away from God, we become hoarders, we're less charitable. Now, that's a paradox because of this, if you really believe that there is no God and there is no nothing coming afterwards, then you would realize you would think that all we have is each other. We better be pretty generous toward one another because at the end of the day, that's all we have to rely upon to take care of each other. So that's not what's happening at all, people are becoming hoarders, their time, their energy, their money we have to cling to it all now in part why? Because this is the only life you have and you better enjoy it. You can't be charitable if you have to use all these resources on yourself and that clock is ticking so you better enjoy it.

But as a Christian, to understand that resurrection is occurring, has occurred for Jesus and is promise to us. This is pause point in verse 11, "if the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through spirit who dwells in you." In other words, Paul says, the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, it's actually interestingly the Spirit's work, is the same Spirit who's going to raise you from the dead because you're in Christ and what is true of Christ is true of you. And as a result of that resurrection, now I realize that walking by the Spirit is life and peace and will be vindicated on a given day and now I can pursue Jesus and understand that it is the wisest investment I can possibly make as a result of resurrection.

Well, we might ask what does that actually look like? What does it mean to celebrate resurrection and to walk in the spirit? For all Paul has told us about the differences between the flesh and the spirit he actually hasn't given us a picture of what it looks like. So I'd asked you what does it look like to walk in the spirit? Paul will actually answer that question, but you need the rest of Romans to actually get to the answer. And if you look, Paul will hint at it a couple of times, but he really gets to it at the end of chapter 13 which is his famous chapter on the nature of Christian love.

And in verse 8, Paul writes this, "Owe no one anything except to love each other. For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law for the commandments you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder you, shall not steal, you shall not covet, and any other commandment are summed up in this word, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." You understand what Paul is putting before us today? There's no condemnation for you because you are in Christ Jesus. He has taken the role of Israel and allow sin to be poured out on himself so that it would be condemned in his flesh and made sin offering in that fashion. As a result, you're given the Spirit, the same Spirit that raised him from the dead, and invited to walk in the Spirit in a way that brings life and peace.

You can know that that's a worthwhile road because at the end, whether it comes sooner or later, is resurrection. The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is the Spirit who will raise you from the dead. And so what does it look like now to live in the law in a way that brings life and peace, verse 2 rather than a law that brings sin and death? It means that you would go forth in love. You have been deeply loved and celebrate the resurrection and go forth and love your neighbor.

Let's pray.

Lord Jesus, we marvel at your love for us and thank you that you would condemn sin in your own flesh, that you would take on the weakness of our flesh and yet triumph over sin and death. For this we praise you this morning and celebrate your resurrection and we look forward to our resurrection. We pray that you would meet us at this table, that you would encourage us and that as we look forward to our resurrection, you would make or make us lovers of one another and lovers of our neighbor to your glory and our good. We ask it in Christ's name. Amen. If you were helping to serve the Lord.