April 3, 2011

Free in Christ Jesus - Apr 3, 2011

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Yesterday, I was sitting in the office thinking about how to approach preaching today’s message, when I got a call from my wife. An old school friend of ours had died in a motorcycle accident. He wasn’t even thirty years old yet.

When someone you know dies, it has a sobering effect. It reminds us that sooner or later, we too will “exit stage left” to stand before the Creator.

Will I be ready? That’s the question that arises when we think of our own death. Will I be ready to stand before God?

In today’s sermon reading, the apostle Paul has an immensely comforting message for us mortals, doomed to die.

Romans 8:1-4 (ESV)

1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For 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, 4in 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.

In the beginning, the first two human beings didn’t say or do anything God didn’t want them to. Adam and Eve lived according to God’s will, according to His law.

God’s law is simply defined as everything that is right and good to do or not do.

After Adam and Eve sinned, they no longer had the ability to live according to God’s law. Even if they had lived the rest of their lives without sinning, the one disobedience of taking from the forbidden tree would have would have remained on their record - making it impossible for them to live with God.

The human race today is still incapable of living according to God’s law.

Because we sin against God, God’s law condemns us. It’s not that the law is evil, it’s that we are. The law merely points out the evil we have done, and the eternal punishment we deserve because of it.

It’s hopeless to think we might be able to earn our way back into Eden by doing good things. As soon as sin infected the human race, we were doomed. For even a single failure, a single sin, disqualifies us.

In a sense becoming sinful is like being dropped in the middle of the ocean. You can paddle around a bit, but there’s no way you’re going to make it out unless someone comes to rescue you.

And that’s exactly what happened.

The Son of God was born into the human race. He took the name “Jesus”. Because God was His Father, Jesus was born without sin. He was able to do what no other human being had done since Adam and Eve – He lived perfectly according to God’s law.

Jesus lived His life without ever sinning. At the end of His life He offered His perfect self as a sin offering for the human race. Jesus voluntarily suffered the punishment for everyone’s sins while He hung on the cross.

Because He did this, all who trust in Him are no longer under the condemnation of the law. Our punishment has been used up on Christ. It no longer hangs over our heads. Instead of being under the law, the Bible says we are now under GRACE (God’s undeserved love).

In Romans 6 Paul reminded his fellow Christians…
“…sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14 NIV).
And here in Romans 8, Paul repeats this thought.
“1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).
Are you ready to meet your Creator? In Christ you are. For in Christ, you stand above the law, with nothing to condemn you.

I want to point out very clearly what God does not say here. He does not say Christ died for some of our sins, and we have to pay for the rest. That would not lead to a life of freedom and peace. That would lead to continual uncertainty. Have I done enough? How much is enough? What if I die tomorrow?

When the Spirit of God leads a sinner to trust in Christ Jesus for forgiveness, they are no longer under the condemnation of the law. That’s why Jesus could say to the thief on the cross,
“…today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
That man had come to trust in Jesus. He could no longer be condemned to hell because of his sins. He was free to enter heaven at the end of his life, and Jesus said He would.

We also have been moved to trust in Jesus. We believe that He died for our sins too. We stand above the law. So long as we remain in Christ, we cannot be condemned to hell because of our sins.

Now, this doesn’t just have an impact on our FUTURE. Paul says that Christ changes our final destination, AND the whole way we look at life now.

Romans 8:5-8 (ESV)

5For 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. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Paul points out two ways of living, the flesh way, and the Spirit way. When Paul talks about the “flesh” here he means “the SINFUL flesh” or the “sinful nature” within us.

This is the sinful nature we received from our parents, and which was passed down to them all the way from Adam and Eve.

If God’s Spirit isn’t guiding our hearts and minds, then the sinful flesh is. And all that the sinful flesh does is laced with sin and leads to all sorts of pain and suffering.

The people Paul was writing to knew all about living with the sinful flesh as their leader. That’s what they had done all their lives before coming to faith in Christ. In Romans 6 Paul asked them…
“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (Romans 6:20-21 NIV).
The “flesh” tries to drag us back into self-destructive habits and damaging behaviors toward others. All you have to do is read the newspaper to see the wonderful things that the sinful flesh leads people to do.

Yesterday I read about three guys who broken into a man’s home and beat him with a hammer, stabbed him with a knife and shocked him with a tazer. They did this so they could steal his stuff, and they did it to him because they knew he was confined to a wheel-chair and would be an easy target.

The way of the sinful flesh leaves a trail of destruction through our country every year. A trail of broken homes, dead children, emotionally and mentally damaged people, emptiness, disappointment, guilt and sorrow.

Of course the flesh always promises wealth or happiness or something good, but it fails to deliver.

Even after the Holy Spirit brings a sinner to trust in Jesus for forgiveness, the flesh still holds on and tries to destroy. That’s what Paul is mainly writing to combat here in the book of Romans.

The sinful flesh tries to get Christians to see themselves as still under the law. The flesh knows that if we see ourselves as still under God’s law, then we’ll try to seek a way out – a way out from under our guilt and sorrow than the one way already given through Christ!

Our flesh tries to get us to see ourselves as under the law to suggest to us that Christ DIDN’T REALLY save us. We’re still condemned. We still need to find some way out of this mess. The flesh tries to unravel our faith in the one Savior.

That’s why Paul repeatedly reminded the Christ followers of Rome that their salvation was already complete. At the beginning of our text today Paul said…
“1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).
And he closes our text by repeating that thought.

Romans 8:9-10 (ESV)

9However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Paul says to the Romans, “IF indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you”. When he says this, he isn’t questioning whether the Romans were really Christians. He’s trying to invoke a response from them.

We can imagine the Christians in Rome responding like this, “IF the Spirit of God dwells in us? Of course He does! IF Christ is in us? Of course He is. He is the great God and Savior we trust in! So, Paul you mean to say that if God is in us through faith in Christ, THAN our spirits are alive because of His righteousness? Even though our lives are spattered with sin, dead with sin, we are made alive to God by Christ’s righteousness? Remarkable!”

Let that be your response to Paul also. IF God’s Spirit dwells in us? Of course He does, He’s why I believe in Christ! IF Christ is in us? Of course He is. He is my great God and Savior. That means that even though my live is filled with sin and failure, because Christ is in me I’m alive to God and covered with Christ’s righteousness? Remarkable!

This text from Romans is packed with meaning. And we may not understand everything that Paul is saying here. But we can understand his most important point. No matter what sins you’ve done, in Christ they are forgiven. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Our friend who died in the motorcycle accident trusted in Jesus. He knew that because of Christ, he was above the law, no longer under the threat of condemnation. Now he knows that fact by experience.

Let this same truth give you hope for the future. In Christ you are above the law. Let this freedom empower you as to live a confident and joyful life as God’s child. As Paul wrote in Romans 6
“…consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 ESV).

And the Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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