The Spirit of Life
Sermon: Sunday, 6th June, 2021 Romans 8
Our kitten Toby miaows when he is hungry. He doesn’t stop miaowing until he is fed. This is his way of asking to be filled up with food. He knows what he needs and he knows how to ask for it. I want us all to be like him in this way. I want us in prayer, to keep on asking God every day for more of his Holy Spirit. Keep on asking, because each day, we need his ministry to be at work within us.
1. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Life
In verse 2 of our chapter, the Holy Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of life’. This is an excellent description of his ministry in our lives. He imparts life in two ways: now, he gives life to our souls as God saves us, and we call this regeneration; and he will give life to our bodies on the day of resurrection. Let’s think first of the Spirit imparting the life of God to our souls.
‘You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.’ (Romans 8:9)
This is a clear statement that you cannot possibly be a Christian unless you are indwelt by the Spirit of God. Paul says plainly, if you don’t have the Spirit then you don’t belong to Christ.
Spiritually speaking, all human beings have one of two kinds of hearts. Our natural hearts don’t work properly. These are hearts which live for ourselves and not God. These are hearts which are unable to keep God’s laws. And these are hearts which cannot please God, are hostile to him, and which if unchanged will lead to spiritual death. In other words, the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart, and only something radical, a spiritual heart transplant, will solve this. We look around the world and we see that so much has gone wrong. The cause of the world’s problems is not primarily something external, an outside force; rather, the problems come from within, from our hearts.
What we need is a new heart, which only the Holy Spirit can give supernaturally. When we receive this, we have new desires, new inclinations, a new attitude to sin, and to Christ, and to one another. We begin to want to please God rather than ourselves.
Ezekiel describes it this way: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
It is God the Holy Spirit who joins us in faith to Jesus Christ. This changes everything. We receive forgiveness for our sins, because Jesus’ death was a sin offering (verse 3). And the goodness, righteousness and perfect obedience of Jesus is reckoned as ours, again through faith. The law of God is good and holy, but it is powerless to save us because our hearts don’t work properly, so we cannot keep it! The law cannot save us, but the good news us that Jesus can. When the Holy Spirit brings about this spiritual change in us, we are told that there is no longer any condemnation (verse 1). We are now friends with God. We have been set free from the penalty of breaking God’s law, because Jesus has taken that penalty for us. The Holy Spirit gives spiritual life and freedom.
So, becoming a Christian is an enormous change, because there is a new control-centre in our lives.
Think of an uninhabitable, dilapidated and dirty house. When we become Christians, there’s a new owner of the house – God’s Spirit now resides there. A transformation begins to take place. Let’s be clear, it does not happen all at once. But right from the start, it is obvious that someone new has moved in and someone new is in control. The overgrown grass has been cut, the windows washed, curtains hung, and weeds pulled up. Over time, the boiler will be changed, the damp and mould dealt with, and the electrics renewed. One day, the house will be finished.
That’s how it is when someone becomes a Christian. The Holy Spirit ‘moves in’ and straight away, we have positive desires for things we never had before. We find ourselves praying, reading God’s Word, serving others and wanting to be in Christian company. We see things in a new light. However, there’s still a lot of the dry rot of pride, selfishness, loss of self-control and jealousy in the house; a work-in-progress. The house is becoming beautiful. It happens over time, and there are many set-backs. But Christians are people who are under new management. The Spirit is at work, first giving a new heart, and then enabling more and more change. He is the Spirit of Life.
There is more. As well as new spiritual life, the Holy Spirit brings new physical life. ‘And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.’ (Romans 8:11)
Our physical bodies are not unimportant. They have a central place in God’s eternal plan for us. The plan of God is that our spirits will be re-embodied with a perfect body, just as Jesus has already been given his perfect body. One day, we shall be perfect in both body and soul. He is the Spirit of life.
2. The Holy Spirit is concerned for our holiness
You might say that the clue is in his name. When we speak of Christians being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that is true, but it would be easy to make the wrong assumption that the Christian life is straightforward and easy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I often describe the Christian life as one of tug-of-war in our hearts, as while the Holy Spirit pulls us in the right direction, there is still remaining sin within us, the dregs of the old nature, which painfully pulls the opposite way. And so, we live in this tension. If you like Latin we are simul justus et peccator – at the same time justified and a sinner.
‘For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.’ (Romans 7:22-23)
The inner battle, then, in every Christian is to live under the jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit, and not that of our fallen selfish nature. The crucial and practical question is how can we do this? Do we just sit back and let the Holy Spirit do his work? No! ‘Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation — but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.’ (Romans 8:12-13)
Christians have an obligation and responsibility to seek to kill the wrong behaviours, thoughts and attitudes which we have. If we are unforgiving, or unloving, then we need to kill that. If we are lazy in our Christian devotions, or gripped by the love of money, we need to kill that. If something is more important to us than Jesus, an idol, then that idol needs to be smashed up.
John Owen once put it this way: “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.“
King David began with lustful looks towards Bathsheba and what did he do? Did he kill the sin? No, in fact, he indulged it. And when he indulged it, the sin grew and ended up leading to adultery, murder and great pain for many people. So, this is no academic sermon where we think: ‘That’s interesting’. No, this is crucial stuff. We all need to be killing sin on a daily basis as a normal part of our Christian walk.
The Christian word for this is mortification. We need to take sins like lust, and pride and laziness, and selfishness seriously, because they are like cancers which spread within causing havoc.
David Jackman describes mortification in this way: “It means calling sin by its real name and recognising it for what it is. It involves an up-to-date repentance, asking for God’s forgiveness for all known sins in our lives, and being prepared to cut them out.“
Sin is not a friend to indulge but an enemy to kill. We’re not called by God to prune sin, or tone it down a bit, or play with sin, but to cut it right out. This is our responsibility, our action, but must be done with the help and partnership of the Holy Spirit. ‘… if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13) Can you hear how God’s help and our responsibility marry here? It’s by the Spirit – his power. But we are the ones who must put sin to death.
Jesus had the same no-nonsense, blunt approach to sin. ‘If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.’ (Matthew 5:29) Do you think it is easy to gouge out your eye? No. We can grow fond of our sins, and even love them. So, keep this in mind, that killing sin (verse 13) leads to life. Sin leads to death.
Our culture might say it’s ok to have several partners, to get drunk, to live for yourself, that our happiness is the main thing in life, but we are called to strangle the parts of Scottish culture which clearly go against God’s truth in the Bible. If we’re to cut out sin, we must know the difference between right and wrong, and the only true source for that is the Bible. If we think, we can all just make our own minds up about what’s right and wrong, then we are rejecting God’s design. First, identify what it right and wrong in your own life biblically, and then cut out what’s wrong.
The Holy Spirit is passionate about your holiness. If Jesus has really died for our sins, and the Holy Spirit really lives in our hearts, then the only logical course of action against sin is a radical one. Run from it. Kill it. Snuff it out. 1 Corinthians 6 gives us a working example of this kind of logic:
‘Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.’ (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
Let’s be honest and blunt. There are times I’ve not dealt with sins in my heart and as a result I’ve hurt myself, and even worse others. We need to be more radical. Are you watching explicit things on a tv, tablet or phone? What are you going to do? Carry on? Are you resentful in your heart? What are you going to do with that resentment? Are you satisfied with Christ and what he’s done for you and promises you in the future, or are you dissatisfied and chasing meaning and happiness in the wrong places? Will you stop being with people or going to places if it leads you to sin? If you care more about home décor than caring for others in the church, will you do something about that? Each one of us need this daily up-to-date repentance.
3. The Holy Spirit teaches us who we really are
I was reading about a co-housing project between Fairmilehead and Oxgangs: Stefanie Kaiser has been been living in Edinburgh for nine years – but says she is longing to be part of a community. The 41-year-old communications manager grew up in a small town in Austria.
“I’m from somewhere that everyone knows each other, and they accept me for who I am. Having someone on the spot who is rooting for you, who will help you is a big deal. A place where you don’t have to make appointments to meet people because your friends are there in your community, gardening with you, chatting with you in shared indoor and outdoor space is what I want. I want to feel part of a community, that is what would give me happiness.”
When we become Christians, God accepts us and adopts us into his family and into the Christian community. Jesus, through the Spirit, has given us his own special name for God. We get to call the awesome Creator of the universe, Abba, Father.
This is another key part of the Holy’s Spirit’s work. He works to give us inward assurance of different things. In Romans 5:5 we’re told he assures us of the reality of the love of God, so we can know and believe and say ‘God loves me’! God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Here, in Romans 8, we are given the inward assurance that we’ve been taken right into the very family of God: ‘The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’ (Romans 8:16)
It is possible for Christians to lose this assurance, especially when we grieve him and are backslidden. But if that’s the case then let us repent, turning from our sin, and drawing near to our Father once more. Because the more we understand our identity as sons and daughters of the living God, the more Christian joy we shall experience. And the more we shall change organically, motivated by our new identity as the children of God.
It is the Holy Spirit who enlivens us giving spiritual life. It is he who empowers us to change and become more like Jesus. He gives us the strength and determination to deal with sin in our hearts. And it is he who assures us that we belong to God, and nothing can ever take that from us. If you want God to be more real in your day-to-day experience, keep on asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit.