The Lord's Day Morning
June 21, 2009
“The Best Chapter in the Bible (3):
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Dr. Ligon Duncan:
“Praise the Lord! People from every nation, laud Him, all of you! For His lovingkindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord!” Let us worship God.
Our Lord and our God, we come to worship You this day, not only because You are the only true God, not only because You are our maker, not only because you have created everything that is and without You there is nothing which has been created. But we come to worship You today because You are our Redeemer through Jesus Christ our Lord. While we were yet sinners, in Your love You sent Your Son and He died for the ungodly — for us — that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, that we might be pardoned and forgiven and accepted and adopted into Your family. And so, O God, we come because of Your gospel, because of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not come trusting ourselves. We don't come trusting our goodness. We come with no claim of right to be accepted in Your presence. We come acknowledging what we are: sinners that deserve condemnation, and yet have been the recipients of Your matchless mercy. And so we come with hearts filled with gratitude and we enter into Your courts with praise, and we seek Your face. You are the one thing we desire, O God, so meet with us; speak to us by Your word. Open our eyes and our hearts by Your Holy Spirit to see the grace of God in the gospel. Cause us to praise Christ and treasure Him as we ought, and get all the glory for yourself, because we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, You are God. You show that You are God in ruling the course of the lives of people and nations. You are the one who brings trial, for You are sovereign over everything, not just that which is good. And because You are the one who brings trial, You are the only one in whom we can trust and find safety and security and satisfaction in the time of trial. Those who panic at circumstances, those who tremble with fear because of trials and seek for refuge anywhere else than in You trust in idols. But, O Lord, this was not just a problem for ancient Israel or the cultures around them. This is our problem. We sometimes act like idolaters, and we seek safety and security and satisfaction in money, and so sometimes in Your grace You take it away just so we can see that that's not where our safety and satisfaction and security is found. Sometimes we seek for safety and security and satisfaction in things or in success, and in Your grace You take it away to remind us that that's not where our hope is. Sometimes we seek our security in our connections, our friends, or our pleasure — and, Lord, You show us the emptiness of these things. Sometimes we preoccupy ourselves with pastimes and sports and recreation, and You show us the emptiness of these things. Sometimes we seek to fill up the void in our life, the gnawing lack of security and satisfaction, with alcohol or drugs or illicit sex. And when we do, we are idolaters because You have made us for yourself, and we will find no rest until we rest in You; and we will never worship rightly until we worship only You; and we will never treasure rightly until we treasure only You, for You are God, and You are the only one who is there. Lord God, today we will have set before us these only two options that exist in this world: the flesh or the spirit. Will we trust the flesh? Will we find our hope in the flesh, or will we be in the Spirit? Will we seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and then rest in the blessed security that all these things will be added to us, or will our hope be in that which moth spoils and rust corrupts, and thief steals — the things that are shakable and will pass away? If that is our choice, we are idolaters, and there is no hope for us; but if, O God, our hope is in You, we will not be moved. So as the word is read to us from Romans 8 and powerfully expounded, O God, open our eyes to the glory of Christ in the gospel where our hope is, and save our souls and get gospel glory for yourself. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Dr. Derek Thomas:
Amen. Now turn with me to Romans 8. We come this morning to verses 9-11 of Romans 8.
Are you ready to die?
Well, that should get your attention, and that is the question that is before us this morning. Are you ready to die? Romans 8 began with that astonishing assertion that there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus — no condemnation now and no condemnation when we die. Last week Ligon took us through verses 5-8, in which the main point was that those who are not believers, those who are not Christians, walk according to the flesh. They mind the things of the flesh. They live according to a principle of worldliness. They live for the things of this world. They live for what Isaiah would call idols. They live for baubles and trinkets and things, and prestige and personal honor and gain. And there's a consequence, and the consequence is in verse 8: that those who live like that cannot please God.
Now in the section we have before us this morning we have a contrast. We’re not going to talk about so much those who live according to the flesh, but rather those who live according to the Spirit. And just as Ligon outlined last week's passage as a characteristic and a consequence, well, why reinvent the wheel? Because this verse fits that just nicely. There's a characteristic and a consequence. Now before we read the passage, let's look to God in prayer.
Lord, we do really want to know the answer to the question Am I ready to die? We are excited about the fact that this passage before us gives us an answer — an answer that enables us to be ready to die. So give us attentive ears; give us a mind that minds the things of the Spirit, and bless Your word to us, we pray for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is God's holy and inerrant word:
“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.”
Amen. May God add His blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Oh, somewhere in the dregs of my memory I remember going through what is euphemistically termed “summer Greek,” in which I learnt not just summer Greek but English grammar, and something called protasis and apodosis. (Now for the uninitiated, it's a clause that begins with the word if. If such and such is true, then there are consequences.) Well, we have an if clause. Actually, we have two if clauses in our text this morning, and let me say to you this morning that life and death hang in the balance of the grammar of what Paul is saying. Are you ready to die?
Paul is first of all giving us the characteristic of the man, the woman, boy or girl who is a believer. The unbeliever walks according to the flesh. The believer…well, look at how he puts it in verse 9: “You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” And he uses in the course of these verses a variety of synonyms: he talks about being in the Spirit; he talks about the Spirit dwelling in you; he talks about the Spirit of Christ; and, he talks about Christ dwelling in you. They’re synonyms. We are in the Spirit, the Spirit is in us, we are in a right relationship with Christ, and Christ by His Spirit dwells in us. Here's the characteristic. The man or woman who is a believer has the Holy Spirit living, dwelling, in them. Paul's using a word for dwelling that means home. The Holy Spirit has come and made a home in your heart, in your life, in your soul.
When I came home from General Assembly on Friday, outside of my house I have one of these huge urns. It was made in Mexico, I think, and it stands outside my front door. It's about four feet high — comes up to about here. It's a huge thing. And as I'm walking up to the front door, I spy a little bird, a blue swift I think it is, who summarily whizzed over my head and disappeared into this urn. I looked cautiously and saw a nest with six eggs. She (or maybe it was the he) has made a home in my home. If anyone has any advice on how to cope with the hatchlings, I need all the advice going.
The Holy Spirit has made a home in our hearts. Now Paul wants to draw this characteristic. This is the characteristic of the believer, that you are in the Spirit, or the Spirit is in you. What does it mean to be in the Spirit? Well, let me say first of all what it doesn't mean.
It doesn't mean that you’re in the mood for something. You know — it's Sunday morning and I'm in the mood for a sermon. (I hope that is your experience.) Or, I'm in the mood for chocolate. Somebody in this congregation said in FaceBook this week (and I do read it) that you are in the mood for The Grateful Dead. I've never been in the mood for The Grateful Dead in my life! [Laughter.]
Paul isn't saying that here. He's not saying here's how you can tell a Christian from a non-Christian, a believer from an unbeliever. Christians have moments in their life when they’re in the mood for religion, they’re in the mood for the Bible, they’re in the mood for prayer, they’re in the mood for worship in God's house. No, he's not saying that. He's saying a characteristic of a man or a woman who is a believer, a child of God, is they’re in the Spirit. The Spirit of God dwells in them. The third Person of the Trinity dwells, has made His home, in you.
It's staggering, isn't it? I've had some important people visit my home — Ligon. It takes your breath away that the third Person of the Trinity makes His home in my heart. That's what it means to be a Christian.
Now Paul will expand on this. What does it mean to have the Holy Spirit dwell in your heart? What does it mean to be in the Spirit? He's going to say a number of things. He's going to say, for example, in verse 13, it means that he's going to insist that you mortify the deeds of the flesh, that you engage in rigorous and deathly engagement with indwelling sin. He's going to say that in verse 13. He's going to say in verse 14 that if the Spirit of God dwells in you, you are lead by the Spirit. In other words, you look to the Bible for guidance. In the next verse he's going to say if the Spirit of God dwells in you, He's going to witness with your spirit and He's going to enable you to cry, “Abba, Father.” You’re going to speak to the only God there is, and you’re going to call Him “Father.” Now all that's to come, but here in these verses what does it mean to say that the Holy Spirit dwells in us or that we are in the Spirit?
You notice the way Paul interchanges in these verses. In verses 9 and 10 he refers to being in the Spirit, and then he speaks about the Spirit of Christ, and that's a little hint as to what the ministry and function of the Holy Spirit essentially is. Yes, He leads us to engage with our indwelling sin; yes, He guides us; yes, He witnesses with our spirits, enables us to cry, “Abba, Father!” But first and foremost He is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
He is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and that says two things to us. It says, first of all, there isn't a different gospel — you know, the gospel of Christ and the gospel of the Spirit. Paul isn't saying, you see, that you can be a believer and you can come into a right relationship with Jesus but not have the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit can come at a later period in your life. There are a whole variety of views in one form or another that relate to the work of the Spirit purely to a work of sanctification. You can be a Christian and live this sort of nominal Christian life, and then at a certain point in your life, because of a crisis, because of a baptism of the Spirit, the Spirit comes and makes His home in you. Paul isn't saying that. He's saying every single believer, every man, every man, every boy, every girl — every single believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. True, you may experience different levels and degrees of assurance. We’re going to have to talk about that in the remainder of Romans 8. We’ll address that on several occasions over the summer. Some of you I know do struggle with assurance. You have a sensitive conscience, you have a tender heart. Paul has a lot of things to say to you, to encourage you. But right here he wants to make this point very clear: No matter what your experience, no matter what level of assurance you may currently be experiencing, every single believer has the Holy Spirit, and He's the Spirit of Jesus. Because the main function of the Holy Spirit is to draw attention to Jesus.
Have you ever driven down State Street at night? Early on at night, perhaps on a Sunday evening when it's dark outside in the wintertime. And all the lights are on outside and you see this magnificent building — and it truly is magnificent. It has some wonderful architectural features, and I think those who see it for the first time it takes their breath away. It's a beautiful, beautiful building. Hidden in the bushes all around State Street and down this street here are lights with what I imagine to be very powerful bulbs of some description. Now, you have never said when you've seen First Presbyterian Church building — you've never said, “What wonderful bulbs!” You've said, “What a magnificent building.” The Holy Spirit draws attention not to himself; “He will testify of Me,” Jesus said. The Holy Spirit is Christ's personal representative agent. When He ascended upon high, six weeks later He sends the Holy Spirit. He's the Spirit of Jesus. He draws us to Jesus. He makes us think about Jesus. He reminds us of the gospel that we are saved entirely by the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
The Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen — and I'm not sure I'm pronouncing his name correctly — but he's the famous Norwegian explorer of the northern and southern poles who discovered the magnetic meridian. On one of his expeditions, he’d been gone a long time…his wife was back in Norway….he released from wherever he was…he released a pigeon, a homing pigeon. And when his wife saw this pigeon circling around her house, she thought of her husband and knew her husband was alive. And the Holy Spirit does that. Here's the characteristic of a believer: They’re in the Spirit. The Spirit indwells them.
Now Paul says there are consequences, and he tells us in verse 10, “If Christ is in you…” (and notice the if, the conditional clause). “If Christ is in you…if the Holy Spirit is in you….” That's the question you need to be asking yourself right now, every one of you: Is the Spirit in me? Is Jesus Christ in me this morning? Because if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness. What is the consequence of being in the Spirit? Life. Life.
Verse 10 is difficult. Commentators are all over the place on what does Paul mean by saying the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness? He could be referring back to Romans 6. He could be saying that the body is dead — dead to the reigning power of sin, a theme that he elaborates on in chapter six. But I rather think that that is not what he's saying here. He is referring to physical death. He's saying if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin but the spirit is life because of righteousness. What does it mean to be in Christ? What does it mean to be in the Spirit? It means that even though our physical bodies are dying, we are alive. We are alive. And we are alive because of righteousness, because of the righteousness of Christ, because of the finished work of Christ; because of the active and passive obedience of Christ, we are alive. The body is dying.
Last week one of our elders…at General Assembly I was on my way to attend the RTS breakfast which was meeting at some unearthly hour, and as I'm walking in this extraordinary heat early in the morning, I find one of my elders (who is in the early service this morning) jogging. And the thought went through my mind, “Why?” [Laughter.] And I wrote something on FaceBook in my weird sense of humor and was summarily chastised by a sister in Christ with no sense of humor [laughter] about the merits of jogging. I wanted to say, “He’ll die fit, and I’ll die happy!” [Laughter.]
The body is dying. The great question, my friend, is "Are you ready to die?"
Thomas Goodwin was one of the greatest of the Puritans of the seventeenth century. He was Chancellor at Oxford University, and he was interviewing prospective students. It's something that I do on a regular basis. I don't interview them, but I meet and greet them and sometimes take them to lunch. You have to imagine his room at the university in Oxford — dark and dingy, a small little window perhaps. And Goodwin asks a pastoral question. He's a Puritan, so he asks this prospective student (and the student probably at that time would have been fifteen or sixteen years of age)…he asked him, “Are you ready to die?” and the student was so terrified he left the building. It's the question that faces us this morning: Are you ready to die?
The body is dead because of sin. Because of our union with Adam, sin entered into the world and death by sin, Paul says. But in Jesus Christ, by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit makes His home in us, we are alive. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus says. And Paul goes on to make another consequence. Not only are we alive now, but we shall be alive hereafter.
Do you notice that twice Paul draws the conclusion from the fact that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and He's the Spirit of Christ who raised Him from the dead? Twice in verses 10 and 11 he repeats himself. He raised Jesus from the dead. This same Spirit who dwells in you is the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, and He will give life to your mortal bodies. This is the gospel, my friend, that we are saved not through any effort or merit of our own; we are saved entirely upon the finished work of Jesus Christ and by faith in Him. And when Jesus saves us, when He rescues us, He gives us life — life now and life in the world to come.
What are you living for this morning? What's been on your mind in the last 20-25 minutes? The things that consume you?
James Dobson visited Graceland in 1977. He went to visit the museum of Elvis Presley. He saw all the things that Elvis Presley had left behind…the stuff. “It led me to ask,” he says, “So what? So what if there are hundreds of tarnished gold and platinum records hanging side by side in the mansion? So what if RCA gave Elvis a 9-foot trophy and designated him the greatest entertainer of all time? So what? It's all wood, hay and stubble now. It's all part of that stuff where moth eats and rust corrupts and thieves break through and steal.” Here's the characteristic of the man or woman who lives according to the flesh: He who dies with the most toys wins. Here's the characteristic of the man or woman who is in the Spirit: I care not for any of those toys, but only for Jesus, because He promises me life — eternal life, life that can never ever be taken away.
In 1631, Robert Bruce, one of the great Covenanters (1554-1631), had been sentenced to death for preaching the gospel. On the morning of his execution, his daughter cooked him an egg for breakfast. It was his request. He wanted an egg for breakfast. (Who cares about cholesterol?) It was so nice, he says, that he almost asked his daughter if she would cook him another one. And then he paused and he said to her, “I breakfasted with you this morning; I’ll have supper with Jesus tonight.” He was in the Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus dwelt in him. Here was a man who knew how to live and knew how to die.
Here's the question, my friend: Are you ready to die? Are you ready to die? It could come this morning or this afternoon or this evening. “And here we have no continuing city, but we seek one which is to come, whose builder and maker is God.” Do you have that confidence? Do you have that assurance this morning? I am in the Spirit. I am in union and communion with Jesus. I have life. I have life now, and I will have life on the Day of Judgment that will last forever. And all because of Jesus, because of what He has done for me.
My dear friends, Jesus bids you come to Him. “Come unto Me, all you that are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I’ll give you life. I’ll give you eternal life.
Did you wander in here this morning bowed down with a load of care? You don't know which way to turn? In providence your life is breaking apart? I have good news for you, my friend. Look to Jesus. Look to Jesus only. Cast yourself entirely upon Him. Let Him send you His Holy Spirit and make His home in you, and you — yes, you, my friend — will have life, eternal life.
Lord our God, we thank You for the gospel, and we pray this morning for a soul that is yet in darkness, dead in trespasses and in sins, that that soul might be brought to Jesus and have life, and life eternal. And we ask it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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