Text: Romans 8:5-17
Opening: Since the last week of June, we’ve been looking at the struggle that Christians have with our fallen human nature, which we’ve learned, will never lead us to follow God’s holy standard as it is revealed in His law. Even if we try as hard as we can, we’ll always end up breaking it so long as we’re operating according to the sinful flesh. In our last message, we discovered that the only way to avoid living a defeated Christian life that is overcome by sin is to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. By allowing Him to fill us (sit in the driver’s seat of our lives and guide and direct us), we can live in a way that pleases God, just as Jesus, His Son, did when He walked the earth. But whenever we choose to take control and direct our own lives, we will inevitably produce the same fruit as any other person (believer or unbeliever) who refuses to deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ. Galatians 5:19-21 gives us a sample list of the kind of fruit we can expect to see: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Now, some of us here may be thinking that we would never do these kinds of things, but I’m not so sure. Let me ask you this question: What do Ted Haggard (former president of the NAE), Jim Bakker (founder of PTL ministries), Jimmy Swaggart (TV evangelist), David Loveless (pastor of one of America’s 10 healthiest churches), Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson and former pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church), and Gordon MacDonald (pastor and counselor to at least one president) have in common? They have engaged in an extra-marital affair. Now before we point the finger at pastors as the only law breakers, according to the website Trustify, 1/3 of all marriages have been impacted by infidelity. And to think that this is only one of the category of sins that Paul says we’re prone to commit when we walk in the flesh!
Now, I want to continue in our study of Romans 7 and 8 and see what else we can discover about this holy war that we find ourselves in. Here’s the passage we’re looking at this morning. READ ROMANS 8:5-17.
In life, you’re going to read a lot of books, listen to many sermons and even attend a few seminars on how to become the person God wants you to be. And hopefully, each one of these will add some value to your life. But at the heart of the discussion, we must always focus on the believer’s dependence on the Holy Spirit, the third person of what Christians call the Trinity … one God existing eternally in three persons, Father, Son and Spirit. He alone can provide us with what we need in order to live a life worthy of our calling in Christ Jesus. Let’s look at three gifts that the Holy Spirit provides for every Christian to accomplish this as Paul lays them out for us in today’s passage. The first one is found in verses 5-8.
The Holy Spirit gives us a new mindset (Romans 8:5-8 — 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. 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). Gary Klein, a writer for Psychology Today, says that a mindset is a belief that orients (or shapes) the way we handle situations. It is a lens through which we see and respond to virtually everything… every person, every experience. Before you and I were Christians, our mindset was formed by our fallen nature, what John Stott calls “our sin-dominated self“. How do I know this? Think about it. What other choice is there for the unbeliever? Either we’re in the flesh or the Spirit. And since the non-Christian does not have the Holy Spirit, he’s left with only one option. And this is a very dangerous place to be because Paul says that the mind set on the flesh is death. He’s talking about physical death and spiritual death, both of which are the results of the fall. The person whose mind is formed by the world, the flesh and the devil will only be focused on gratifying the desires of all three. On the other hand is the person whose mind is set on the Spirit. He wants what God wants. This results in life with God and peace in all his relationships. Two mindsets that lead to two completely different results. One will never please God while the other always will, Application: Do you see how much our mindsets matter? The person who sets his mind on the Spirit can expect God’s approval and blessing. The person who sets his mind on the things of the flesh is headed on a collision course with disaster. Don’t ever underestimate how much our thoughts can influence our lives for good or evil! I recently came across an interesting and somewhat scary article about a famous actor who self-destructed and died in January of 2008 at the age of 28 at least in part because of his mindset. Here’s what it said. “I think the Joker killed Heath Ledger.” So writes attorney Jay Gaskill in his review of The Dark Knight, a film about the superhero Batman. On January 22, 2008, six months before the movie’s opening, Heath Ledger, who played the villainous Joker, was found unconscious in his Manhattan apartment. The medical examiner reported that the 28-year-old had died from an accidental overdose of a lethal brew of prescription drugs. Reviewers lauded Ledger for his “electrifying” performance. Ledger’s character is more than a sociopathic master criminal. Reviewers use the language of the supernatural, calling him “demonic” and “diabolical”—”a hound fresh out of hell,” “a vivid, compelling picture of … evil,” and “like Satan.” Michael Caine, who plays Batman’s butler Alfred, said that he found Ledger’s performance so terrifying and disturbing that he sometimes forgot his lines. Reportedly, the Joker role had taken a decided toll on the actor’s health. For weeks, he was unable to sleep, averaging only two hours a night. He told a New York Times reporter in November 2007 that even after taking two sleeping pills, “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” He also told a reporter that the only way that he could act was to climb inside the skin of the person he was playing. For The Dark Knight, he spent a month alone in a hotel room to work on his character and voice, perfecting an unhinged cackle that sends shivers up the audience’s spine. But by immersing himself in the role of the Joker, Ledger might well have gazed too deeply into the abyss. “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” This famous but unclear quote by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has at least one interpretation: if a person gazes too long at evil, it will become a part of him. (The question is…) Did Ledger fall prey to this? (Adapted from Maria Hsia Chang, “Evil to Him Who Thinks Evil,” New Oxford Review (October 2008). The Bible says, “As a man thinks within himself, so he is” — Proverbs 23:7. Now think about that in light of these verses from Romans 8:7-8 — the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God … those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Together they serve as a warning to us all. What we give our minds over to are the very things that control us. But don’t fear, Christians, because your mind can be guided by the Holy Spirit. In fact, that’s what God wants for you — a whole new mindset. Think of it as His gift to everyone who is born again.
The Holy Spirit gives us a new hope (Romans 8:9-11 — 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. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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). Now remember that Paul has referred to our physical body as the ‘body of death’ in Romans 7:24 because, as a result of the fall, God declared that it would return to the dust from which He originally made man (Genesis 3:14 — By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return). I like how Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones (the 20th century physician and pastor) put it: “The moment we enter into this world and begin to live, we also begin to die. Your first breath is one of the last you will ever take.” And while this continues to be the reality for all of us, there is some really good news for Christians, those in whom God the Holy Spirit dwells. Our body may be dying, but we are spiritually alive and well. And this is how it works: Our bodies became mortal because of Adam’s sin, but our spirits are alive because of Christ’s righteousness. By virtue of our faith in His sacrifice on the cross, we have been declared to be holy in God’s sight. And there is even more good news! The same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will also resurrect our mortal bodies so that they will be imperishable, raised in glory and power, sown a natural body but raised a spiritual body according to 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. Imagine that! The grave holds our bodies until the Lord returns and then they are resurrected and transformed so that they will never taste death again. Illustration: In Houston I had a friend named Andy Ginn. He and I would have lunch together every now and then. Andy suffered a severe stroke in high school as the result of a falling off the back of a pickup truck and hitting his head on the pavement while celebrating his football team’s victory over a tough opponent. From that point on, he could not use the left side of his body and his speech was slurred so that it became difficult to understand him. Andy knew the Lord and frequently shared with me how excited he was to receive a new body from the Lord at His second coming. He used to tell me that the first thing he would do in that body was run a 100 yard dash for the sheer fun and exhilaration of it. I completely understood. What a hope to cling to. New life and a new body!
The Holy Spirit gives us a new identity (Romans 8:12-17 — So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him). Paul says that because we have received a new mindset and a new hope from the Holy Spirit, we now have a debt (obligation) to put to death the deeds of the body. We accomplish this by living according to the Spirit. And everyone who walks with God by the power of the Holy Spirit is promised life as a child of God. In fact, this is how He identifies us as His children: all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God — Romans 8:14. Listen … God never brought us into His family so that we could once again be subject to slavery to the law that brings sin and death. We have been set free from the stranglehold of our old sin nature that used to choke the life out of us so that now we can walk together with Christ by the Holy Spirit. This verse should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks he or she is a Christian but has no clue what it’s like to be led by the Spirit of God. Any assurance that we are Christians must come from the Spirit who bears witness to each of us individually that we are part of God’s family. And if we are, this means that we have a new Father whom we can identify ourselves with. Everyone who rejects Jesus is a child of the devil according to our Lord. That’s what He said In Matthew 13:38 in the Parable of the Weeds/Tares. He taught that there were two kinds of seeds. The good ones representing the sons of God, and the bad ones representing the sons of the evil one. Because we have the Holy Spirit, we now have a new identity. We can say with confidence that we are children of God, adopted into His family by the Spirit so that we can call him … Abba! Father! This is the name for God that Jesus used in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:36 when He prayed that God would take the cup of suffering and death from Him. It marked an intimate and personal way of approaching God. And now we can use it just as our Savior did. And like Jesus, we too, have become heirs of God — provided that like Him, we are willing to suffer for Christ in this life that we might be glorified with Him in the next. Illustration: Not too far away from here in Elgin, IL you will find Judson College. It was named for the great Baptist missionary Adonirma Judson (1788–1850). He and his first wife, Ann, were among the first commissioned foreign missionaries in American history. Adoniram spent almost forty years in Burma, which is now the nation of Myanmar. During his ministry, he helped lead hundreds of Burmese and people from the Karen tribe to saving faith in Jesus Christ, translated the Bible and other Christian writings into two different languages, wrote numerous booklets and tracts on a variety of theological topics, and encouraged Baptists in America to unite for the sake of global missions.
Adoniram Judson said, “In spite of sorrow, loss and pain, our course be onward still; we sow on Burmah’s barren plain, we reap on Zion’s hill.” Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.
Application: If you know you’re missing something in the Christian life, if you feel like sometimes deep inside you’re just faking it, I have some good news for you. This is not what God wants for any of us. When Jesus ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit to live in every believer. He said we’d be better off for it. And we are. Now we have everything we need for life and godliness. We don’t need a second blessing or a special formula to follow. All we really need is to be filled with the Holy Spirit by surrendering control of our lives over to Him. If this is what you want this morning, say something like this to God right now: Father, I’ve put my trust in Jesus, but my life is still empty. My experience hasn’t lined up with what Your Word promises. I’m really no different than I’ve always been. Today I understand that the abundant life You promised only comes when I confess and repent of my sin and yield to guidance and direction of your Holy Spirit who is in me. So I confess my hard-heartedness and stubborn self-will and I turn from my sin and once again put my faith in you. Please occupy that central place in my life and lead me to a holy, loving and Christ-centered life.
Conclusion: It all comes down to this. If you want a new mindset, a new hope and a new identity, only the Holy Spirit can bring them to you. And how does He accomplish this? Well, the Holy Spirit works in Christians much the same way that a train runs on an elevated track in Chicago. If you’ve lived in this area for very long, you’ve probably taken a ride on one in Chicago. It operates according to the contact principle. The train has no ability to move itself, but draws all of its power from the track it runs on. Engineers designed it so that there are two rails on the outside and an electrified rail in the middle. It is by remaining in contact with this third rail that it finds the power to carry passengers throughout the city. If at any point that connection is broken, the train will come to a screeching halt. Now let’s apply this contact principle to the Christian life. Believers who remain in contact with the Holy Spirit, who rely on the power He provides, are consistently able to think the way God wants us to — because we’re drawn to His Word, which is the sword of the Spirit. We are filled with the hope of the resurrection — because He is the guarantee of our inheritance. And we rest in the assurance that we’re children of God — because He is the Spirit of adoption. But be warned: any believer who walks in the flesh will continually struggle with a worldly mindset, will fear death and doubt salvation. The choice is ours to make. What kind of life do you want to live?