Inconsistent? In Christ.

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on May 27, 2018

Romans 8:1-8

Download Audio

If you would turn with me to Romans chapter 8, it can be found on page 944 in your pew Bibles. We’re going to be going through a series this summer for the next few weeks on Romans chapter 8. Different, various of the assistant ministers will take a turn preaching through this chapter. You may remember nine years ago that Dr. Derek Thomas preached a series in the summer in the mornings on Romans chapter 8. And Dr. Thomas called that series, “The Greatest Chapter” or “The Best Chapter in the Bible.” And many people have felt that way about Romans chapter 8; that this is the heart of Paul’s gospel. I’ve heard it said before that if the Bible was a series of mountain ranges, that the book of Romans would be the Himalayas and Romans chapter 8 would be Mount Everest. It stands out in many ways.

And I’m sure many of us could speak of the ways in which Romans chapter 8 has been a blessing and a help to us in our own lives and in our walk in faith. I think we could say that these verses, these truths here, were significant in Paul’s life as well. I think we can say that because in Romans chapter 7, what came just before Romans chapter 8, is some of the most personal reflection and confession in all of Paul’s letters. And he’s expressing his pain and his frustration with the sin that still exists in his life. And these verses today express the answer for his frustration, the answer for that problem, the answer for our problem – our struggle to reconcile our faith in Christ but also the inconsistencies that still exist in all of our lives. Where is our hope and our confidence to be found? It’s to be found in Christ alone. That’s where Romans 8:1-8 takes us tonight. It points us to the freedom that we have in Christ. And so, with that in mind, let’s go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for His help as we read and study His Word.

Our Father, we sing and confess with the hymn-writer, "And can it be that I should gain an interest in that Savior's blood." We give You praise that we are found in Christ, secure and accepted before You. We ask that You would, by Your grace, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, that You would guide us and direct us and lead us as we study Your Word tonight, that we would see Christ and see His sufficiency, to see His transforming grace, and that we would walk in love for You and love for one another, for Your glory. We pray this in Christ's name, amen.

Romans 8. I’ll read the first eight verses:

“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.”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

Let’s look at these verses tonight under three points. And they are – contradiction, Christ, and confidence. Contradiction, Christ, and confidence.

Contradiction

The first is contradiction. There’s a tension in these verses. There’s a tension which underlines what Paul is writing here and it’s the tension between the Spirit and the flesh. In fact, if we were to just glance back through these verses, we could see pretty clearly that the words that stand out the most and that are repeated the most in these eight verses are the words “Spirit” and “flesh.” Paul says in verse 3 that the law is “weakened by the flesh.” And he says in verse 8 that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” And in between those verses there’s this contrast between those who walk according to the flesh with those who walk according to the Spirit. And 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. On the one hand, the way of the flesh is death and the way of the Spirit is life and peace. The Spirit and the flesh. They are two distinct ways. They are categories of thinking about what it means to be saved or unsaved. This is the thought that dominates all of chapter 8 as Paul is describing to us life in the Holy Spirit. Well, life in the Spirit is to be a new creation. It's to be a member of the age to come, of the restoration of all things. But to be in the flesh, the flesh is that which represents fallen sinful humanity. Man is a fallen and weak and broken creature without the Holy Spirit. 

Spirit and Flesh

The Spirit and the flesh. They’re some of the most important theological categories in all of Paul’s writings, in all of Paul’s theology, but it’s much more than that. He’s not just describing theological categories here; he’s describing a conflict that exists within his own life. Because just before this, as we mentioned a little while ago, Paul writes about his desire to do what is right and to obey God’s law, but he finds that he oftentimes fell short of the mark. Look with me back at chapter 7 verse 19 what Paul writes there. He says, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” And you can get a sense of the frustration that he’s experiencing. If you look at verse 24, he says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” You see, Paul recognizes, he recognizes that he has a new identity in Christ, that he has the Spirit, he’s no longer a slave to the flesh, but he’s still bound to the flesh in certain ways. He still exists in his human, earthly body. He still lives in a particular time and place, and because of that, he’s exposed to temptations and he’s exposed to sufferings and he’s exposed to weakness. Even though he’s a new creation, sin still exists in Paul’s life and he recognizes the contradictions in his life and he knows the frustrations and the discouragement that those things bring.

There’s an Avett Brothers’ song that, in the lyrics, they talk about the challenges of performing and living a life on the road while having a family back home. The song is called, “Good to You.” Here’s what they write in that song. “When you were born I promised myself I’d always be there for you, to help you feel safe and never alone no matter what life put you through. Time passed by, I lost my way, and didn’t find it for years. A strong young woman now stands in her place; the child has disappeared. Now that I’m home, do you still want me here?” And the chorus of that song is, “I want to be good for you. I want to be there for you. And when I come home, will you still want me to?” There’s something gut-wrenching about those lyrics, isn’t there? Because all of us recognize within ourselves the desire to be good and do good, and yet we’re just not very good at doing good and being good.

And in fact, what Paul writes in verse 8, he says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Those who are in the flesh cannot do good. But Paul’s not writing to those who are in the flesh. Paul’s writing to those who are in the Spirit. Isn’t that what he says in verse 4? He says, “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” They live in the Spirit, but they still experience the struggle with sin. They recognize the contradiction in their lives and we do too. There are certain parts of our lives – things that we do, things that we say, things that we think, things that we watch – which do not match up with our profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Some of those things might be right on the surface and they’re obvious to other people and they burden us down with the weight of guilt. Others of those things we may hide away and we cover them up and we would be deeply ashamed if anyone were to ever find out of those things in our lives. There are other parts of our lives which are just such a part of the way of the world around us, they’re the things that are celebrated and promoted around us, that we don’t even realize the ways in which they keep us from doing the things that we ought to be doing.

Law Condemns Sin

We know this conflict, and no one enjoys it; no one enjoys sin. There’s really no enjoyment in fighting with your spouse. There’s no enjoyment with disrespect to parents. No one wants to be captive to a relentless schedule. And for believers in Christ, we know the conflict and the tension of wanting and desiring to read God’s Word more, to pray more. We desire to be more generous with our possessions. We want to serve others with a cheerful spirit. And yet, we see sin. We see the struggle with our sin. And despite what some will say, sin is not fun. Sin brings condemnation. That’s what Paul is writing about here. God’s law condemns sin. The law reveals God’s glory. It reveals God’s righteousness. And Paul says earlier in the book of Romans that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that “the wages of sin is death,” separation from God, being exposed to His justice and wrath.

Conscience Condemns Sin

God’s law condemns sin, but our consciences condemn sin as well, don’t they? And Paul wrote about that in Romans chapter 2, that oftentimes the Gentiles would do what the law requires, even though they did not have God’s law. How could they do that? Because within each of us there is a sense of right and wrong, of good and evil, of justice and goodness. And that should convict us of our sin. We may try to ignore it, we may try to cover it up, but there’s no hiding from the condemnation of sin. There’s no hiding from the existence of sin in our lives.

I was reading a sermon on Romans 8:1 from Charles Spurgeon the other day. And Spurgeon was talking about how he had heard certain people say around him that they had moved from Romans chapter 7, they had moved out of Romans chapter 7 and into Romans chapter 8. What did they mean by that? It didn’t mean that they had finished reading Romans 7 and started reading Romans chapter 8. What they were saying to him was that they had moved past the struggle with sin and moved into life in the Spirit. And what Spurgeon says is, that’s not possible. He said that, “Ever since my conversion, I have lived in Romans 7 and Romans 8 at the same time. I have lived life in the Spirit but know what it is like to struggle against sin in my life.”

And that sin that we all struggle with, it can be a hindrance to our assurance of salvation. Can't it? It can lead us to doubt whether we are truly saved, to doubt God's goodness and His mercy. And when we doubt God's goodness and mercy in our salvation, we'll doubt God's goodness and mercy in our trials and in our sufferings. And if we leave grace behind, then we fail to extend grace to others and to love others with a certain mercy. Our worship becomes dead and lifeless, our service becomes a duty and done out of fear and dread and not joy. We know with the struggle, with the contradictions in our lives, and the effects of a lack of assurance in all our lives.

Christ

And so what do we need to see? What does Paul point us to in these verses tonight? He points us to see Christ. And that’s what we see secondly is, we see Christ. Paul is going there already in Romans chapter 7 at the very end. We read earlier Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” What does he say? What’s the answer? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” You see, “there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.” We have been set free, in Christ, from the law of sin and death because God has done what the law could not do. God has done what we could not do. And that is, that He sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and He condemns sin in the flesh on the cross. In other words, what’s he saying there? He’s saying that that sin, that sin that contradicts, that sin which afflicts and accuses us, that sin has been judged at the cross. We can’t be condemned by it because Jesus took the penalty for it, for us. Our sin was placed on Jesus and He took the judgment that we deserve even though there was no sin in Him. It says that He was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” He was truly flesh, and yet He was made like us in every way, “yet without sin.” And yet our sin was placed on Him and He took God’s wrath for us in our place.

Christ’s Righteousness

And what’s more than that, it says here that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” We’re not only free from sin’s guilt and penalty, but we receive the righteousness of Christ. We’re clothed in Christ’s righteousness when we trust in Him for our salvation. And so our standing, at any point in the Christian life, is secure in Christ. He has done everything necessary for our salvation. We cannot undo what He has done for us at the cross. We can’t add to what Jesus has done for us on the cross.

I was thinking about it this way. One of the ways in which we are counted as a citizen of the United States, maybe the most basic way is to be a natural born citizen. If you’re born in the United States, you’re a citizen; that can’t be taken away from you. There’s no way for us to be less-born in the United States. There’s no way for us to be more-born in the United States. Well the same when we are united to Christ. We are united to Him firmly and securely forever. That can’t be taken away from us. We can’t do anything to add to that. Paul says in Romans chapter 5, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Our sin is forgiven. Righteousness, His righteousness is credited to us. That’s justification. That’s the doctrine of justification that’s so beautiful to us. Our sin cannot affect our acceptance before God. It’s because our acceptance before God was never based on what we do or what we don’t do. Our acceptance is based on what Jesus has done for us. It’s based on who Jesus is. He is the eternal Son of God. The perfect God-Man. The perfect sacrifice. The perfect substitute. And what He did on the cross, by His death and resurrection, He has accomplished this for us. Isn’t that amazing that here in these few words that Paul has captured the beauty of the Gospel. That God did what the law could not do – “by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, 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.” That’s the Gospel. That’s the good news.

A Complete Salvation

It’s a complete salvation. You notice there that it is God who sent His Son in love and mercy to undeserving sinners. How much does God love you, a sinner? Enough to send His Son for you. And He did it in faithfulness to His Word and to the promises found in Scripture. And it’s Jesus Christ in all of His glory, in all of His righteousness, He took the condemnation that we deserve. Do you see the magnitude of the sacrifice that Jesus does on our behalf? And what He gives to us is His righteousness. He gives to us salvation. He provides for us what He alone can provide to make us right with God. Do you see the greatness of His gift? And on top of that He gives the Holy Spirit to produce in us the fruits of righteousness and to persevere us to glory. This is a complete salvation. This is nothing half-hearted. This is nothing halfway. This should cause us to marvel and wonder as we think of the multiple dimensions and the fullness of our salvation that we have in Jesus Christ – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working to save us and to make us His forever. All of our devotion, all of our singing, all of our praying, all of our teaching and reading and preaching can never do enough to make as much of Jesus as He deserves. We can never give Him the praise and glory and capture what He is, truly in what we do. Because His fullness more than supplies for our lack. His sufficiency exceeds all of our insufficiency. We have been set free in Christ from the law of sin and death.

I was reading a story from a pastor, it was an article by a pastor from some time back, and he’s talking about a woman in his congregation who was struggling with grief. She had lost a loved one and she was struggling to get through that grief. And she was looking to her hope in God and pleading to Him to give her comfort in her grief, and yet she could not find it. And what this pastor said to her is something that I could never say. He said, “If your hope is not giving you what you desire, why don’t you cast off your hope and why don’t you consider yourself a stranger from God?” That’s kind of a shocking pastoral counsel. What this woman says is that she would rather die than give up her Savior.

And you see what the pastor had done there, in telling her to cast off her hope and to consider herself a stranger from God, is it caused her to look away from her grief, and she was looking for the benefit, it caused her to look away from her grief and to look to Christ and to find in Christ the One who is all-sufficient. She had Christ and she had all that she needed. She had the One who is able to supply for all of our needs. His grace is sufficient for everything that we need. That is the way to comfort. That is the way to freedom. We have freedom in Christ.

Confidence

And that gives us a confidence. That's the third point that we see here – it's the confidence to live by the law of the Spirit of life. Now, this surely has to be one of the hardest things for us to accept. The Gospel teaches us that our performance has nothing to do with our standing before God. Our performance has nothing to do with our acceptance by the Father. That’s hard for us to get. Isn’t it? Because we live in a culture that teaches everything the opposite of that. That’s a countercultural thing to say. Our world, everything in our world goes against that. Everything that our world values and promotes goes against it. I was looking at the cover of The Atlantic magazine this month and there’s a picture of a baby in a Yale onesie. The article was about this culture of meritocracy that we live in – that everything is based on merit. And children are groomed for success, groomed for college, almost from the day that they’re born. And our progress is charted, our accomplishments are noted, our stats are measured and our performance is constantly being evaluated.

Security

But what Romans 8 comes in and is saying is that your performance in the Christian life, your obedience, and even your disobedience have nothing to do with your security in Christ. It has nothing to do with your grounds for salvation. That sounds dangerous but it's true. It's radical grace. Our confidence and our assurance lies in Christ, not in what we have done and not in what we will do. And we're going to sing the last stanza in just a moment of Charles Wesley's hymn, "And Can It Be." We sang the first few stanzas. "And can it be that I should gain, an interest in the Savior's blood." What does he say in the fifth stanza. "No condemnation now I dread. Jesus and all in Him is mine. Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine." Charles Wesley wrote that hymn shortly after his conversion. He had actually gone on a mission trip to the American colonies and yet he struggled with doubt and with sin. One writer says that “there was a spiritual void in Charles Wesley’s life” and he went through an illness. And it was during that illness that he was facing death, or he thought he was at the point of death, and one of his friends came to him and said, “Do you have hope that you will be saved? Do you have hope of salvation even in your illness, in the face of death?” And he asked him, “What is the reason for your hope?” Charles Wesley told him that he had done his best to serve God and the man let him know that that was an insufficient answer.

No Condemnation

And what Wesley wrote in his journal that day, he was annoyed with that man and with that man’s response. And he said, “What are not my endeavors a sufficient ground of hope? Would He rob me of my endeavors, I have nothing else to trust to.” And see, it wasn’t until Charles Wesley was reading Martin Luther’s commentary on the book of Galatians and he came to chapter 2 where Paul writes that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” And Charles Wesley turned from his own endeavors, he turned from his works to receive Christ, to receive true hope in a time of illness and death. He could say in the hymn, “No condemnation now I dread. Jesus and all in Him is mine.”

If you have received Christ for your salvation, if you’ve placed your trust in Jesus tonight, you can sing, we can sing confidently, “Jesus and all in Him is mine.” Every second of every day, in our blunders and in our besetting sins, in our inconsistencies, we have Christ by faith and all that is in Him is ours. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” And the implications of that really stretch throughout the Christian life, throughout our congregation, throughout our families.

And I think one of the things we can take from this is that we belong. If we have placed our faith in Christ, we belong to Him. We belong to one another. We belong to the church. And oftentimes our sin and our doubt can separate us from fellowship, can cause us to hide or to withdraw or to put one foot in and one foot out. What may feel like we don’t belong or that we just don’t measure up, we don’t have it all together like the person sitting down the pew from us, but see our belonging is not based on our record. It’s based on who we are in Christ. And that is exactly the same for every person who has come to faith in Christ. We belong to Him. We belong to one another. We want to be a part of the body of Christ.

Assurance by Faith

But it also keeps us, as we belong to one another and as we engage in the body of Christ, it keeps us from making the church another treadmill of performance. If we base our assurance on mission trips or volunteer opportunities or attendance or recognition or how we compare to others, we can get burned out with a ministry identity, with a church identity, just as much as we can get burned out with an identity that is based on work or school or sports. If our confidence is in Christ, then our ministry, our worship, is all about Him. It’s not about us. We look to bring Him praise and we do so with joy. It’s a life-giving praise and worship. And we look to be patient with other people. We can recognize that there will be inconsistencies in others around us, just as there are inconsistencies in us. And we are secure in Christ by faith. They are secure in Christ by faith. We can be patient with them as Christ is patient with us and extend grace, extend love, and hold back from reaching out in a condemning spirit.

The Value of Performance

And that brings us to the last thing I want us to notice from this passage. And it’s this – if our performance does not affect our security, does that mean that our performance does not matter? Actually, it’s quite the opposite. In fact, if someone who thinks that grace means that we can live however we want to live, that person hasn’t truly understood grace and hasn’t truly understood the gravity of sin for which that grace has been shown. In reality, we have been given grace so that we can be set free in Christ from the law of sin and death to live according to the law of the spirit of life. That means we walk according to the Spirit. We walk and set our minds on the things of the Spirit. We live for the glory of God and not for our own glory. We’re not living according to our own way, but we’re living according to God’s way, the way that He has revealed to us and spoken to us in His Word. And we’re living not by our own power, not by our own resources, but we’re living by the resource and the power of the Holy Spirit that God has provided to us in the Gospel.

It radically transforms the way we live the Christian life. And the rest of Romans 8 is all about that. The rest of Romans 8 is about life in the Spirit and what that means for us to live in the Holy Spirit, to live out of this freedom and out of this confidence in our security in Christ for the glory of God. And this is how Spurgeon puts it again. He said, “This is the most practical thing that ever was because the moment a man receives this assurance into his soul, his heart is won to his loving Lord and the neck of his sinfulness is broken with a blow.” He says, “There never was, yes, never can be a man who has realized by the witness of the Holy Spirit that he is free from condemnation who will ever go to love sin and live in it.” That’s the blessing of our assurance. That’s the blessing of our confidence. That it gives us the motivation to love and to serve Christ with joy. To be free to live life in the Holy Spirit.

Let me close with this. When I was in junior high school, we went to a chaplain service at a prison in Rankin County. And I remember one of the prison inmates there. I was speaking with him and he said, "If you died today, would you be with God in heaven?" Now I probably should have been more nervous that a prison inmate was asking me, in prison, if I died today! But for whatever reason, I wasn't nervous about that! And I was very casual and I said, "Yes, I think so." And that wasn't sufficient for him. He said, "You can't just think so. You have to know. You need to know for certain that if you died today that you would be with God in heaven.” I’m thankful for that man. I’ve been thankful for that man my whole life because it caused me to examine where my confidence was resting. And it was resting in Christ, and there is a certainty in that. We can know for certain that when we trust in Christ we are secure. It is complete. We will never receive condemnation. We will never receive separation or experience separation from Christ.

My plea would be if you have not received Christ to trust in Him, to look at what He’s done for you. He’s done for you what you could never do for yourself and He’s gained for you what nothing else can give – union with Him, life in Him, joy and peace, life in the Spirit. Look to Christ. Trust in Him and receive those things. If you’re trusting in Christ for your salvation then we have a certainty, it is a settled certainty based on who Jesus is and what He’s done for us, and we have a confidence that sin will never separate us from God. We can live in the freedom that Christ has given to us. We can live a life of the Spirit. That is life and peace and that is ours forever. We praise God for that.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, we give You thanks for no condemnation in Christ Jesus. We pray that You would press upon us the beauty of the Gospel and the magnitude of Your grace for us and that You would confront us in all of the places in which we strive by our own efforts and by our own resources and to seek our own praise and glory, that You would turn us from those things to see Christ and to see His love for us, to see His sacrifice for us, to see His goodness and His beauty and His grace and that we would rejoice in that. And every second of every day that we would know that we have Christ and all that is His, is ours. And so we pray that You would lead us from this place and through this week for Your glory and for our good. And we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.

© 2018 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.