Day: July 12, 2008

Sermon: Setting Your Mind On the Spirit

Setting Your Mind on the Spirit
Romans 8:1-11 NRSV8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

8:3 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 to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

8:4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

8:5 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.

8:6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

8:7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law–indeed it cannot,

8:8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

8:9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

8:10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Dead Man Walking

Years ago, prisons in the South were notoriously corrupt and cruel institutions. Paul Newman’s movie’s Cool Hand Luke, showed the meanness of life in the county workcamp. Robert Redford starred in Brubaker, the story of a prison camp warden who tried to clean up the savagery, not of the prisoners, but of the guards themselves. Mississippi’s infamous prison camp, Parchman, was particularly known for its use of deadly force against prisoners. One prison’s death row delivered its charges to the electric chair by announcing the prison procession with these words — “Dead man walking, dead man walking here.”

That phrase, Dead Man Walking, became the title for Sister Helen Prejean’s book by the same name, recounting her experiences ministering on Louisiana’s death row. For the condemned who walked from death row to the electric chair, the announcement, Dead Man Walking, served only to confirm their ultimate fate.

Romans Contrasts Life and Death

We continue our journey through Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome this week. And, if you recall last week’s passage from Romans 7, Paul says that we’re struggling to live up to God’s law. As a matter of fact, we can’t do it. Paul said in Romans 7:24 –

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

In other words, we’re dead men walking. But the good news it that Paul then answers his own question by saying –

Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

But, then Chapter 7 concludes with a less than optimistic statement –

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

So,which is it? Am I a dead man walking — trapped in a body of death brought about by sin, to which I am a slave? Or Has Jesus the Messiah — the Christ — delivered me from the death sentence that I have been under? And that brings us to Chapter 8.

No Condemnation

Paul begins this chapter by saying –

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
So what changed in the space of one verse — from the end of chapter 7 to the beginning of chapter 8? Just this, and we find it in Romans 8:2. Paul gave us the punchline in verse one, and now here’s the explanation —
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

We are not condemned to “death” — we are no longer dead men walking — because a new law, another law, a higher law, the law of the spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and death. So there it is — there’s a new sheriff in town, a new law as it were, that overrides, cancels out, precludes the old law. This new law is called the Law of the Spirit of Life.

What’s Up With This New Law of the Spirit of Life?

Okay, stay with me here for we have to cover a lot of territory quickly. Here’s the overview of the situation that God is dealing with:

  1. God gave The Law to Israel to distinguish Israel from all other people, as uniquely the people of God, so that Israel might be a blessing to the nations.
  2. Israel, due to the weakness of humanity, was not able to live up to God’s calling.
  3. Israel’s failure meant that God had to fix the problem.
  4. So, God sent Jesus, God in human form, to solve the problem. God did not outsource this work to someone else. God appeared, in the form of a man, in the flesh, as the Messiah of God to the nation of Israel.
  5. The Messiah not only was the hope of the Jews, but the Messiah actually took on the character of the nation of Israel before God. That’s why Jesus spoke of his body as The Temple. He became the Temple — the dwelling place of God. Jesus spoke of his ministry to gather the lost house of Israel as a hen gathers her chicks. Jesus spoke of the sacrifice of death that he would offer — the sin sacrifice — for the sins of the nation.
  6. The sin of the nation then was collected in the Messiah.
  7. God condemned that sin in Jesus’ flesh (remember the serpent in the wilderness — that which kills you saves you) and nailed sin to the cross.
  8. But God, after condemning sin, confirmed Jesus as Messiah by raising him from the dead, thus breaking sin’s only hold on humanity — death.
  9. But not only that, but the Spirit of God then comes to live in each of God’s people. And that Spirit is the new law — the law of life, not the law of sin and death.

A Look at the Spirit

Which now brings us to the notion of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the indwelling presence of God whom Jesus said to the disciples…”is with you and shall be in you.” Meaning that Jesus as God was with them, but one day the Spirit of God would be in them. Previously, the Spirit of God had been thought to be only in The Temple, or on certain leaders or prophets. But now the mark of the new people of God is God’s indwelling Spirit.

When we think of the Holy Spirit, depending on what your tradition is, we come up with some pretty bizarre thoughts. We think of the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit — speaking in tongues, the gift of healing, the gift of prophecy, the gift of supernatural knowledge, and so forth. Paul talks about these in his letter to the Corinthians.

Or when we think about the Holy Spirit, we think of problems. The charismatic movement which divided churches into those who had the “baptism of the Spirit” and those who didn’t. Or the Pentecostal movement where worship services are more free-form that we as Baptists are used to.

But when Paul talks about the Law of the Spirit, or the Spirit dwelling in God’s people, here’s what he means. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma. It is the word from which we get our words pneumatic, pneumonia, and so on. Pneuma literally means breath or wind.

In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word for Spirit is ruach — which also means breath or wind. It is God who breathes into newly created mankind, the breath of life. Without that breath, that spirit, that wind of God, there is no life. And, part of the image of God in which man is created is the life-giving breath of God given by God himself.

When we get to the New Testament, we find Jesus breathing the Spirit onto the disciples in a new act of creation — the beginning of Christ making all things new.

It is this Spirit, this breath, this wind of which Paul speaks when he talks about the Law of the Spirit of Life.

God’s breath is now breathed into, not just the human race as a whole, but uniquely into every follower of Jesus, the Messiah. Why? Because we are the new people of God, the new Israel, we carry the gospel — the good news — that God keeps his promises.

The Spirit is Life, Sin is Death

In Romans, Paul has drawn several contrasts:

  • sin vs. righteousness
  • the old Adam vs. the new Adam
  • death vs. life
  • flesh vs Spirit
  • Law of Sin and Death vs Law of Spirit of life
  • those not in Christ vs those in Christ

All of these contrasts are saying the same thing — living according to God’s plan leads to life, living according to “flesh” (that which is corruptible, decaying) leads to death. So, the contrasts are clear — God has made a way by fulfilling the original law, to create life again, defeating the enemy called death.

How Do We Set Our Mind on the Spirit?

The Law of the Spirit is about life, first and foremost. It is about life as God originally intended it. It is about life that if abundant and at peace with God. It is about life that leads to the new heavens and the new earth in the eternal presence of God as God had always intended it.

So, how do we get there. Well, we only get there through the one who carried sin to the cross, Jesus. We only get there through the one whom God vindicated by raising him from the dead, Jesus. We only get there by recognizing that the sin offering of Christ on our behalf fulfilled the Law of God, condemned sin, and paid our penalty. Then, the resurrection of Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed, broke the power which sin held over humanity. And, broke it decisively, once and for all time, future life guaranteed by God.

So, we choose life. Life in all its forms, life in all its expressions, life which uplifts, gives hope, helps others, is generative, life which transcends the time we have on this earth, and whose values are eternal values, not values of that which is failing and dying all around us. Life is a choice Jesus has placed before us and it’s ours for the choosing.

We have a cat. Actually, we don’t have a cat, but Jack and Jean Willis have a cat who spends lots of time visiting in the neighborhood. Debbie calls him Pretty Kitty, and he is a rather striking cat. We have taken to feeding him, and in the winter a couple of years ago, Debbie started letting Pretty Kitty come inside to get out of the cold. And, mostly he is well behaved, at least until recently.

Somehow, Pretty Kitty started scratching the furniture. You know how cats do that — put out their paws and work their claws back and forth in this little catch-and-release routine that eventually shreds the legs of your chairs and sofas. Pretty Kitty earns a trip back outside everytime he does that . Lately, he’s been spending lots of time outside.

Last night I felt sorry for him, so I brought his dish in from the back porch, put fresh water in his bowl, and let him in. As a signal to him to be on his best behavior, we put two scratching posts in the den — one in front of his favorite sofa leg, and another in front of a chair leg that he also favors.

So, in he comes, eats and drinks some in the kitchen, just like old times. Walking into the den, he paused to check out the scratching posts blocking his normal targets. He actually walked over to the sofa, sniffed around, and then walked to the other end of the den and began his grooming routine.

He sat on the rug for awhile, then went behind my chair and continued that combination of licking, biting fur, and licking some more that cats do to keep themselves tidy. But suddenly, without warning or provocation, he silently positioned himself behind the right rear leg of my chair, and began — you guessed it — to scratch on the chair. As if to say, “I see those scratching posts over there, but I’m still the Cat and I’ll do what I want to.”

Immediately, I yelled for Debbie (in the midst of making a phone call) and out the door Pretty Kitty went. Banished again. All because he made the wrong choice. He chose scratching over behaving. He can’t help it, he’s a cat.

But Paul says, we can help it. Or more accurately, God in Christ can help it for us. We can choose to live by our own whims, by our flesh, which leads to death. Or we can choose the road to life, the law of the Spirit of life. We no longer are dead men walking. There is now no condemnation, Paul says, to those who are in Christ Jesus. Sentence commuted, pardon granted, prison doors opened, prisoners set free, debt paid, life restored — all because Jesus took sin to the cross where God condemned it and not us, nailed it to that tree, and then beat Sin at its own game by defeating Death.