This is the first weekend of Advent, that season of the Christian calendar when believers all over the world begin preparing their hearts to celebrate the comings of the Lord: both His first and second coming. For thousands of years believers waited for Messiah to come, and now thousands of years later we wait for Him to come again. We wait full of thankfulness for what Hes done and full of hope that the day will come when our prayers will be answered in full: His kingdom will come and His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The focus for this first week of Advent is hope. We want to let the amazing truth of the incarnation stir us to fresh faith. We want to marvel again that Gods eternal Son put on human flesh and became one of us forever.
In todays lesson from Romans Paul will show us not only the reality of the incarnation, but why Gods Son had to become a man in the likeness of sinful flesh, just like ours. And the answer he gives will put fresh hope in the saddest heart.
In our likeness (Ro 8:3, 4)
Paul doesnt say Jesus put on human flesh, he says God sent Him in the likeness (homoiomati) of sinful flesh. This means that Jesus became a man with flesh just like ours (Ro 7:14-25). He experienced the same temptations, emotions and weaknesses we face, but He never sinned (He 4:15). And when He died the power of that sin in the flesh ended. When the body is dead it has no more power... over Him or over us when we are joined to Him by faith. What He did set us free.
Three keys to new life
Paul has just described a season in his own life when as a new believer he longed to obey God, but because he didnt yet understand what Jesus had done for him he was still helplessly trapped by the old forces at work in his body and mind (Ro 7:14-25). Over and over again he failed in his attempts to do the right thing until he cried out in total frustration, Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? He was a prisoner in his own body still behaving like an unbeliever even though his spirit had genuinely changed and loved God and wanted to obey Him. Thankfully he discovered the keys to living a new life and it had everything to do with understanding what Jesus had done for him on the cross and what He continues to do as our resurrected Lord. Lets review the three verses we saw last week and then discover what happens when we add one more:
(v1) Forgiven: As a believer in Christ I am not under condemnation. I continue to have my sins forgiven while I learn to escape the cycle of failure Paul describes in 7:14-25.
(v2) Free: By being spiritually joined (married) to Christ my human spirit has been set free from the old rebellion, selfishness and independence (pride) I inherited from Adam. My spirit is now the rightful governing authority (law) in my life. At last I can choose to follow the Holy Spirit.
(v3) Filled: I am no longer powerless to resist temptation. Because Jesus became a man and died for the sin in my flesh, my flesh no longer has the right to control me. My body is cleansed of sin, it is a holy temple in which the Spirit of God dwells. This means the Spirit is always present to help me.
Then in verse four Paul says God did these things for us so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. In other words, Jesus saved us to transform us until we become like Him.
Jesus not only atoned for our sins and broke the control of Adams rebellion off our spirits, but because He was incarnated into a human body like ours, when He died He paid the penalty for the sin resident in our flesh as well, and in doing so broke its right to enslave us. This means He died for the sin in our body as well as the sin in our spirit so we would be free to change and live new lives.
What comes first?
Paul is explaining that sanctification (living a holy life) doesnt lead to justification (being forgiven by God), instead justification must precede sanctification because until justification takes place we stand condemned and have forfeited to sin the moral right to govern over us. When we receive the gift of righteousness by faith the moral claims that sin and death have upon us are removed (fulfilled) and we are indwelt (rejoined to God) by the Holy Spirit who equips us with the resources we need to live free from the old forces in our flesh and boldly obey the call of God.
Interpretation: God doesnt forgive me because Ive lived a holy life. I am able to live a holy life only after I have been forgiven. Until then I am the helpless slave of forces too great to resist.
A new sheriff
Jesus set us free, not merely to replace our old chains to sin with new ones to God. He didnt come to make us slaves of goodness rather than slaves of evil. He restored to us the freedom we lost when Adam sinned, the freedom to say no to sin
or to say yes. He has made it possible for our human spirit to again take control of our lives. Were now free to obey God (goodness) and free to love Him (Abba, Father!, Ro 8:15). But if we are truly free then were also free to disobey. Depending on what our spirit chooses we can return to being controlled by our flesh (Ro 6:15, 16), or we can follow the Holy Spirit who is always with us, and become more and more like Jesus.
A new beginning
Finally, a new life is possible. We can start all over again. We can bury the sad things of the past and let the new realities change us and everything around us. Because our human spirit has been set free, and the Holy Spirit is always with us we can:
stop: the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21)
and start: the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22, 23).
because: if you always do what you always did, youll always get what you always got.
We often ask God to change our circumstances only to find that we have to change first. In effect, weve become like a seed which God takes and places in a garden. And then as that seed grows the whole garden is changed.
Mustard seed (Mt 13:31, 32)
Leaven (Mt 13:33)
Wheat (Mt 13:38)
The seed or leaven is small and apparently powerless but it contains the spark of life. There is a capacity in it that its humble appearance disguises. Jesus is telling us that we are like a seed.
God takes each of us and plants us in particular gardens (family, workplace, school, church, neighborhood
). And now as the requirement of the Law (is) fulfilled in us who dont walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Ro 8:4) our circumstances are changed. The new variable introduced into the equation is us.
The change agent is me. Im the one He changes. When I respond differently, decide differently, treat people differently, model grace, pray with authority, become patient and kind, serve others selflessly
then slowly Gods kingdom expands, drawing in first this person and then that person. As people change the whole spiritual environment changes.
In Romans 12:17-21 Paul gives a great example of this. He says, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In John 13:35 Jesus says, By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
So Jesus saved us to change us. First of all, so well become the sons and daughters God longs for (Ro 8:14; Heb 2:10, 11), but also we can become holy and God can use us to transform the people and situations into which Hes placed us.
Heres a favorite advent passage that will sound even more beautiful after all Paul has taught us today:
1) Name a situation where God used you as a change agent, the change that happened in you had a profound effect on others.
2) Give an example of where God has asked you to walk in the Spirit rather than walk in the flesh.