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Walking in the Spirit

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Waling in the Spirit of God

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Romans 8:1-17

Church models:
Two kinds of Christianity that are being peddled in our culture today. On one hand there is what I would call “Christianity light”. That’s the kind of religion that really doesn’t require a lot. Just pay your dues by uttering a quick prayer and then just dabble in a little Christianity here and there when it’s convenient.
But the other kind of Christianity is much more costly. It requires a serious commitment to Jesus in which I make Him the Lord of my life and I commit to live my life according to His purposes, plans and ways. Jesus certainly taught that idea with these familiar words:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
(Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)
So it’s not really surprising that when it comes to the Holy Spirit, those who claim to be Christians have two very different approaches to His work in their lives. Sadly, there are a lot of people who I think really believe they are Christians and yet, who just want a little bit of the Holy Spirit in their lives. You know, just enough to alleviate their feelings of guilt over their sin, but really not enough to make a radical difference in the way that they live their lives. And, as Jesus pointed out, there are large numbers of those who choose that way that He described as “easy.”
But fortunately, there are some, but not a lot, who choose the narrower, more difficult way in which they constantly seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and keep in step with His leading in their lives. And as a result, their lives are radically different from most of the other people around them.
This morning, we’ll see how Paul describes those two different ways of life in Romans chapter 8, and, even more importantly, we’ll see how we can make sure that we’re part of that second group of people whose lives are radically transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So go ahead and turn to Romans chapter 8 in your Bibles and follow along as I start reading in verse 1. I’m going to read the first 17 verses of that chapter. Obviously we can’t look at that entire passage in any kind of detail at all, but I do want us to have the proper context as we develop some practical applications from this passage.
Romans 8:1-17
Let’s begin with an overall framework that we can use to learn from this passage. The theme of this passage can be summarized like this:
God has done what only He could do
to make it possible
for me to do what I must do
Obviously, the key here is what God has done for me. But because our goal this morning is to focus on what I must do, I’m going to summarize what God has done pretty quickly and then spend the majority of the time focusing on my responsibility.

I: What God has done:

You will notice that at the first part of this passage where Paul is describing what God has done that all of the verbs are past tense verbs. That is significant because it reveals that God has already completed everything He needs to do in order to accomplish what He wants for our lives.
• He has set me free from the law of sin and death
Earlier in this letter, Paul summarized the law of sin and death like this:
For the wages of sin is death…
(Romans 6:23 )
That principle – that the consequence of sin is death – is seen throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. In Genesis, we see that when Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God, the result was that both physical and spiritual death entered the world. And because of that, all of us will die physically some day. And without God’s intervention, all of us would also die spiritually as well.
As Paul points out, we are incapable in our flesh of being completely obedient to the law, so God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He took action to free us from the law of sin and death. And Paul reveals that…
o He did that in Jesus
Jesus took on a body just like ours – that is why Paul says that God sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh”. Although the body of flesh that Jesus put on was just like ours, unlike us Jesus lived a sinless life and by giving up his physical life on the cross, He fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf. God condemned sin through the flesh of His Son to make it possible for us to no longer be subject to the condemnation of God that we deserve as a result of our sin.
So God has already done what only He could do. Since we are incapable in our flesh of dealing with our sin, God sent His son Jesus, in the flesh, to make it possible for us to be righteous before a holy God.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone automatically is set free from the law of sin and death. Remember the overall theme of this passage:
God has done what only He could do
to make it possible
for me to do what I must do
By doing what only He could do, God made it possible for me to do what I must do. But I still have to do it. Earlier we looked at the first part of Romans 6:23, but let’s look at the entire verse now:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 6:23 )
Being set free from the law of sin and death results in eternal life. That is both a quantity of life – it is everlasting – and a quality of life – the kind of abundant life that Jesus promised to His followers. That eternal life is a gift that God makes available to us through His Son, Jesus. But like any gift, it does not become ours until we actually receive it. The process by which we receive that gift is what Paul is describing in the rest of this passage, beginning in the last part of verse 4. And not surprisingly, the verbs in that part of the passage are almost all present tense verbs. Thus, they indicate a lifestyle of continuing action, and not just a one time decision or commitment.

II: What I must do

In this passage, Paul describes three actions that we must take in relation to the Holy Spirit. Although all three are certainly related, each presents a slightly different aspect of our relationship to the Holy Spirit:
• Walk according to the Spirit (v. 4)
We saw Paul employ this same verb a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. There Paul gave this command:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
(Galatians 5:16 ESV)
Although the Greek word Paul uses in both places literally means to “tread around”, in Hebrew thought that word describes a lifestyle. It refers to the way a person lives, acts and behaves. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul uses the term to describe the habitual behavior of the one whose life is lived in a manner consistent with the leading of the Holy Spirit.
• Live according to the Spirit (v. 5)
The word “live” actually doesn’t appear at all in verse 5 in the underlying Greek. The last part of verse 5 would be more literally translated something like this:
“…those who are constantly being according to the Spirit…”
In other words, Paul is describing character here more than he is describing what a person does. The person he is writing about here is a person whose life is dominated or controlled by the Holy Spirit
• Be led by the Spirit (v. 14)
Again, we saw Paul employ this same idea in Galatians 5:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
(Galatians 5:18 ESV)
In both passages, the verb “be led” is a passive verb. That indicates that someone else – in this case the Holy Spirit – is doing the leading and that our responsibility is to follow His leading.
So far, we’ve seen that…
God has done what only He could do
to make it possible
for me to do what I must do
God set me free from the law of sin and death through His Son, Jesus. And by doing so, He has made it possible for me to walk according to, live according to and be led by the Holy Spirit. But I still have to choose to do that in order to receive the gift of eternal life.
In my opinion, Romans chapter 8 is certainly among the most important sections in the entire Bible because it points out so clearly what is required to travel that narrow way that leads to life. So before we wrap this up with a very practical application, let’s take a moment to consider…

III: Why this matters

Let’s return to verse 14 again, but this time, let’s look at the whole verse:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Do you want to be a son or daughter of God? I don’t think you would be here today if you didn’t. Fortunately for us Paul gives us a very simple test to apply to determine whether or not God is our Father.
Notice what Paul didn’t say here:
• He didn’t say that all who go to church are sons of God
• He didn’t say that all who read their Bibles are sons of God
• He didn’t say that all who give generously are sons of God
• He didn’t say that all who are baptized are sons of God
• He didn’t say that all who participate in the Lord’s Supper are sons of God
Now there is certainly nothing wrong with any of those things. In fact they are all commanded in Scripture and we ought to do them. But unless I am led by the Holy Spirit, unless I am walking according to Him and being a person whose character is consistent with His, none of those actions will ever result in me being a child of God. And since that is true, let’s conclude by seeing what Paul teaches us about…

IV. How to walk according to the Spirit

Before we go any further, let me just point out a couple of ways that people often attempt to do that which just don’t work.
Walking in the Spirit is not a matter of emotions or feelings. As we’ve seen in this series, there is a subjective element in understanding the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but that doesn’t mean that we are to live based on our feelings and emotions. Often walking by the Spirit is actually going to require us to do things that we don’t feel like doing or that go against our own intuition.
Nor is walking in the Spirit merely a matter of changing our behavior. Certainly walking in the Spirit will influence our behavior, but if our focus is only on what we are doing instead of becoming who God wants us to become, we’re right back to attempting to walk with God in the flesh.
So how do we walk in the Spirit? Fortunately Paul explains how to do that in verses 5-7. This is really important so let’s read those verses out loud together:
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. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.
(Romans 8:5-7 ESV)
What Paul is teaching here is really quite simple. If I want to walk according to the Spirit I must…
 Continually set my mind on the things of the Sprit
In Greek, the verb “set the mind” is just one word. It is the same word Jesus used when He addressed Peter after Peter attempted to rebuke Jesus when Jesus revealed that He was going to Jerusalem to die:
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
(Matthew 16:23 ESV)
And it is also the same word Paul uses in Philippians 2 when he is encouraging his readers to have the same mind as Jesus:
complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
(Philippians 2:2-5 ESV)
Paul also uses that word in this admonition to the Colossian church:
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
(Colossians 3:2 ESV)
The implication of all these verses is that “setting my mind” is something that I have to do. God will give me all that I need in order to do that, particularly by sending the Holy Spirit to live inside me and reveal the things of God to me. But I’m responsible for determining what I set my mind on. God won’t ever force me to set my mind on the things of the Spirit. That is something I have to choose to do moment by moment throughout my life.
“Setting my mind on the things of the Spirit” has…
Two important elements:

1) What I think about

What I think about is influenced greatly by my surroundings. If I constantly surround myself with the things of the world then that is what I am going to think about. That is why it is so important to guard my mind.
First of all, that means guarding against allowing things into my mind that might cause me to focus on the things of the flesh rather than the things of the Spirit. That’s why I need to do the best I can to make sure that the books I read, the music that I listen to, the TV shows and movies I watch, the websites I visit all help me to focus on the things of the Spirit and not the things of the flesh.
But it’s not enough to just keep the things of the flesh from entering my mind or even of getting rid of them once they’ve entered. I must also fill my mind with the things of the Spirit. Obviously the primary way I do that is through the Scriptures since the Holy Spirit is both the author and illuminator of the Bible. And things like the right kind of books, music, and media can help me keep my focus in the right place.

2) My perspective

The other important aspect to setting my mind on the things of the Spirit is the lens through which I view the events of life. I can either look at those events through the lens of my own flesh or I can look at them through the lens of God’s character and His grace.
Let’s think about what that looks like in several important areas of our lives:
 In my relationship with God
If I view my relationship with God according to the flesh, I’ll think that God’s acceptance of me is contingent on what I do. Usually that means that I’ll think of God as a strict taskmaster ready to pounce on every mistake I make. And as a result, I’ll tend to avoid God, especially when my performance isn’t up to par.
But if I view by relationship with God according to the Spirit, I recognize that my relationship with Him is based on His grace and that, as Paul declares at the end of this passage, God wants to relate to me as a child who can be confident of His love for me. So when I make a mistake, I can take that to God, knowing that He is eager to forgive and restore our relationship.
 My relationships with others
If I view my relationship with my family, co-workers and friends according to the flesh, then I’ll look to those people to provide me with security, meaning and identity. Unfortunately that is a recipe for disaster because no human being is able to provide those things for me on a consistent basis. That’s because only God is able to provide those things for me. And, as a result, our relationships become strained and eventually we just quit getting involved with others.
But if we view those same relationships according to the Spirit, we recognize that only God is capable of providing security, meaning and identity. So that frees us up to just be grateful for our relationships with others and to recognize them as an expression of God’s love for us. It also allows us to take the risk of investing our lives in the lives of others, knowing that we’re going to be hurt, but also understanding that forgiveness and reconciliation are possible through the work of the Spirit.
 My difficult circumstances
If I view the trials and difficulties in my life according to the flesh, I am going to see them as God’s punishment. So often I’ll spend all my time trying to either change my circumstances or trying to get out from under them.
But if I view those same circumstances according to the Spirit, I will recognize that first of all those circumstances, no matter how difficult are only temporary and that one day they are going to be replaced by glory. And secondly, I’ll understand that God can use those difficulties for my personal growth and for His glory. So my prayer changes from “God, get me out of this!” to “God, what do you want me to learn from this?”
As we’ve seen this morning:
God has done what only He could do
to make it possible
for me to do what I must do
So now the choice is yours. Do you want to settle for “Christianity light” in which you seek just enough of the Holy Spirit to keep you from feeling guilty but not enough to radically transform your life? If you’re willing to settle for that kind of life, then the truth is that you’ve actually chosen to live according to the flesh and that is going to result in death.
Or are you willing to do the often difficult and costly work of setting your mind on the things of the Spirit so that you can walk according to the Spirit and experience the life and peace that comes with that kind of life? God has made it possible for you to live that kind of life, but the choice is yours.
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