One of the greatest crises of Christianity is that weve lost our understanding of how to actually do what Paul is teaching in this passage of Romans. Im not exaggerating! By and large over most of the past 2,000 years church leaders have tried to make Gods people holy by warning them not to do bad things and scolding them when they didwhich as we all know, doesnt work. Like the man Paul describes in Romans 7:15-25, after a good scolding we grow sorrowful and try to exert our willpower to change our behavior or attitudes only to find our flesh is too strong to resist. We end up feeling like prisoners trapped in our own bodies. After enough attempts and failures people generally resort to one of two options: either they live a double life, pretending to be a good Christian while secretly carrying on some kind of hypocrisy; or they grow exasperated with themselves and God and quit trying altogether, announcing they simply arent able to live the Christian life so they might as well enjoy a life of sin. The tragedy here is that there really is a way to experience genuine transformation. That cycle of frustration and condemnation so associated with Christianity is absolutely unnecessary. But in order to find freedom and live a victorious Christian life a person must learn to walk according to the Spirit. Isnt it time to stop scolding and start teaching people how? Somewhere over the centuries the Church forgot how to access the power of the Holy Spirit, but thats what Paul is teaching us again today.
In order to live a victorious Christian life, first of all we have to get our thinking straight. Freedom begins in the mind. As long as were deceived nothing can change. We have to see the truth and believe it before we can let go of old things.
In Romans 8:1-3 Paul gave us three foundational truths. He said these truths make it possible for us to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law which ultimately means to love God with all our heart, soul and mind (Mt 22:37-40) and our neighbor as ourselves (Ro 13:8-10).
1) (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 7:15-25.
2) (v2) Free: By being joined to Christ my human spirit has been set free from the old rebellion, selfishness, independence and 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.
3) (v3) Filled: I am no longer powerless to resist temptation. My body has been cleansed of sin and has become a holy temple in which the Spirit of God can dwell. This means the Spirit is always present to help me.
In other words, as a believer:
1) I am not under Gods judgment even while I struggle with sin.
2) I am not a slave to my flesh even though I may have failed in my attempts to change. I simply havent discovered how to walk according to the Spirit yet.
3) I am not alone in this struggle. I dont have to conquer my flesh with my willpower. The Holy Spirit is always with me and He provides more than enough power.
When Adam sinned he and all his descendants lost their freedom. Sin (rebellion, independence, selfishness, pride) enslaves every generation of humans and sooner or later each of us discovers the power of its chains. And with that discovery comes despair. A person without Christ cant change their attitudes and the more they try and fail the more despairing they become. But Jesus really set us free
from sins power over our spirit and from its authority to rule our bodies. And in doing so He made it possible for our human spirit to take control of our lives.
When were born-again Jesus doesnt just set us free from one form of slavery (to sin) only to impose upon us another (to God). He restores the freedom humans lost when Adam sinned, and then as our Savior and Lord calls us to follow Him. He leads us, He doesnt drive us, and understanding this truth is very important. He has made it possible for my human spirit to rule over my body and mind
to exercise the authority I was intended to have (Ps 8:1-9; Jn 15:14, 15; Ro 8:14-16). He puts me back in charge of me, and gives me the resources I need to rule. But if were truly free, then were also free to disobey. We can say no to sin, or we can say yes. Depending on what our spirit chooses we can return to being controlled by our flesh (Ro 6:15, 16) or we can learn to constantly draw on the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, and become more and more like Jesus.
The real me
Paul uses different terms to describe the human spirit. I believe that though the terms are different they all point to the same part of us:
I (Ro 7:17-21)
the inner man (Ro 7:22)
my mind (Ro 7:23, 25) (This word is used to translate the Hebrew word heart at times in the LXX)
spirit (1Co 2:11; Pr 20:27)
heart (Ro 1:21; 25:15)
Jesus uses the word eye to describe the human spirit in Matthew 6:22, 23. He says the eye is the lamp of the body. He says our minds will focus our eye on either the treasures of heaven or the treasures on earth (Mt 6:19-21) with the result that we will either be filled with spiritual deception (darkness) or revelation (light).
Setting the mind (Ro 8:5)
Paul says that people who walk according to the Spirit are able to live righteous, pure, God-pleasing lives. So how do we do this? He uses a Greek word that means to think or set my conscious attention on something. The picture he presents is that my human spirit is able to control what my mind focuses on. Im able to stop thinking one thing and start thinking another. I cant overpower the pressures from my flesh, but I can stop listening to it (looking at it) and deliberately redirect my thoughts to think about God, reflecting on His Word, becoming consciously aware His Spirit is with me. And when I do I will find His Spirit will come to my help and free me from the compulsive grip the flesh has on me.
1) What is the mind set on the flesh?
Old, sub-conscious driven thoughts (my old faithless, loveless way of thinking)
Body-driven thoughts (appetites, emotions, impulses)
2) What is the mind set on the Spirit?
My spirit, aided by the Holy Spirit, is able to change what my mind is consciously thinking about. I can:
Picture Jesus in my mind
Sing, worship, pray in tongues
Quote Bible promises
Obey (turn it off, leave the room, pour it out, flush it down)
Jesus has restored my spirit to its proper role of authority, so my spirit can command my mind to stop following the flesh and to follow the Holy Spirit. When I direct my mind to do this, sooner or later the flesh will lose its grip. I dont overpower it, I mentally flee to God and He quiets my flesh. Sometimes the process is easy and sometimes its like flying through a storm, gripping the wheel and keeping the plane going straight. I hang on until the storm ceases.
1) Recognize whats happening
My mind is being controlled by my flesh (Gal 5:19-21)
Face the truth, dont make excuses
2) Refuse to keep going
Dont continue looking, listening to pictures or words in the mind.
Theres an inertia that resists change.
3) Redirect my thoughts onto the truth
What is Gods will here, Gods promise concerning this situation?
4) Repeat these steps as often as necessary
The mind can drift back to the negative before I realize it.
5) Repent: Tell the Lord exactly what just happened. Dont make excuses or blame others. Ask God for help so I can joyfully obey Him.
Surrender again if there is an area of His will I am rebelling against.
6) Remember: He said that to follow Him we must come and die (take up our cross). This dying is more than just religious persecution. Its the lifetime of decisions to crucify the flesh (Gal 5:24).
Following Jesus involves much suffering as we resist temptation and refuse the flesh. There are many pleasures of the world we forego, yet as we walk according to the Spirit we soon discover a pleasure thats greater than all the world has to offer. Its the pleasure of His presence.
This is the third weekend of Advent and our focus is on the joy the Lord brings us. We dont go without joy when we follow Him, we trade the worlds joy for Gods. And being filled with His joy allows us to enjoy the world properly. We dont expect too much. We are able to relate to people and things properly. We arent needy. We are secure in the give and take of human exchanges. We handle the good things of this world without craving them. Nothing else can give us this kind of joy
1) Have you felt the joy of Gods presence? Tell us about it.
2) How do you find Gods help when you are tempted?