Living By The Spirit
Last Sunday I had water poured on me a whole bunch of times. Twice in the context of a game and several times randomly by some of you. Thank-you for making me feel so welcome. It was not really a strange thing to pour water on each other because it was a picnic. Anyone walking by who didn’t know about church would have understood what was going on. Last Sunday was for fun and fellowship and although I won’t soon forget it, it won’t really change my life or impact it in any significant way.
Today in church we are going to pour water again on 10 individuals who have asked us to do so. To an outsider who doesn’t understand church, this may seem to be rather a strange thing. The meaning of this act is powerful and has implications for life. Those who have asked for water to be poured on them, are saying some powerful things about who they are, about their relationship to the God of the universe and about how they intend to live the rest of their life.
I think it is appropriate that we have baptism on this particular day because today is Pentecost Sunday. On this day, we celebrate three things.
- Coming of the Spirit.
In the Old Testament, for example in Isaiah 32:15, God had promised a day when he would pour out his Spirit. He speaks of mourning and destruction, “till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.”
In Acts 2 that day came, and Peter explained that this promise of God was fulfilled as the Spirit was poured out on the believers.
Today is the day when we remember this great occasion and celebrate that since the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit has been present with God’s people and has indwelt all those who belong to Him.
- First Christian Baptism
When the Spirit was poured out, many people were immediately drawn to Christ and became believers. As a result, they were baptized with water. This was the first Christian baptism and symbolized the washing away of their sins, their death to sin and resurrection to newness of life. It also symbolized the fact that the Spirit of God had been poured into their life.
- Beginning of the Church
The third thing that happened, was that the church began. Acts 2:41 says “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Since that day, God’s people have met and worshiped together and learned together.
As we are meeting to worship today, we are celebrating these things. We are enacting Christian baptism as these ten young people are indicating that their sins are forgiven and they have begun life with Jesus. They are becoming a part of this congregation. To the 3000 who were added that day and the many who have been added since then, we are adding another ten. And they are indicating that because they are Christians, God’s Spirit has been poured into their life.
In the message this morning, I want to focus on the symbol of the Holy Spirit being poured into the life of a believer. When we become believers, God’s Spirit comes to live in us. From then on we live by the Spirit. It is a joy for me to do so because I believe that the Bible teaches us that the essence of the Christian life is a life lived in the Spirit. It is not coincidental that things did not really take off for the early church until the Spirit was poured out. Sometimes we have made becoming a Christian and living a Christian life too much a matter of what we do. We need to be reminded that it is something that God does by His Spirit. So let us think about the what it means to walk by the Spirit. What does it mean to those of you who are being baptized today that God’s Spirit lives in you?
The primary text we will look at today is Romans 8:1-17. From a study of this passage, I would like to suggest today that living by the Spirit means a complete change of direction, empowerment and belonging.
I. A Change Of Direction
The Mary-Jane reservoir is created where the Mary-Jane creek is dammed up to supply water to the nearby town of Manitou. At the dam side of the reservoir, the water is deep and quite a large body of water. You can fish and boat and water ski there. I have paddled my canoe on this reservoir and followed it up stream. As you paddle along, the waterway gets narrower and narrower. If you keep going, you get to the point where it is so narrow that you can’t turn around any more. The only way out is that you have to turn around in your seat, and paddle out with a 1800 change of direction.
Walking by the Spirit involves a 1800 change of direction.
A. From Sin To Righteousness
The first radical change of direction which the Spirit brings about in us is a change of direction from sin to righteousness. The essence of sin is hostility to God as it says in Romans 8:7, “the sinful mind is hostile to God.” The Bible tells us that we have all chosen to walk in that direction. We have all chosen to walk in disobedience to God.
But God has set us on a radical new direction by His Spirit. Romans 8:3, 4 says, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” When we believe that Jesus died on the cross for us, God sets us in a totally new direction. Instead of walking in sin, we now walk in righteousness. As a result, our lives are no more dedicated to sin, but we are now dedicated to living for what is right. This is a change that we could not bring about in ourselves. It has not come about because we have suddenly decided to live in the right way, it has come about by the power of the Spirit who lives in us.
There are two possibilities for every person on earth. They can either live a life centered on themselves or they can live a life centred in God and empowered by Him. The radical change that has occurred in us when we became Christians and were indwelt by the Spirit is that we have changed direction from sin to living a life centred in God.
B. From Bondage To Freedom
Have you ever watched an illusionist get handcuffed, put in a strait jacket, put in a trunk and then into water? If I was put in such a situation, I would be very scared because I would feel trapped. But such a physical trap is not nearly as devastating as the trap of our own sinfulness and the consequences of our sinful actions.
When I met her, she began coming to our church because a friend invited her. As I got to know her, I learned her story. She had not grown up in a Christian home. She and her husband had met and married. He worked for the railway and she was a nurse. Outwardly their life may have looked fairly stable, but in reality it was a shambles. They both drank heavily and had a lot of struggles. Conflict was a part of their daily life. But this was not the person I got to know. I got to know a person who did not drink any more. A person who was a woman of prayer. A person who was respected by all who knew her. A person whose faith shone through in everything she did. She was not shy about telling others that it was God’s Spirit who had released her from the bonds of alcohol, self centeredness, fear and conflict.
The glory of what God’s Spirit does in us when we become Christians is that He releases us from bondage and sets us free. Romans 8:2 says, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
C. From Death To Life
In the Roadrunner cartoons, we often see Wile E. Coyote fall off cliffs, fall thousands of feet go poof, shake himself off and chase the roadrunner again. That’s a cartoon, but many people think that that is the reality when it comes to the consequences of sin. We will just fall, go poof and still be fine. But just as surely as if you jump off a 1000 foot cliff, you will die, so certain is it that if you sin you will die. Sin always leads to destruction and death. A few years ago, we knew a girl who was in high school. On a particular evening, she wanted to go to a social. Her parents told her not to, but they were busy that evening and had gone away. When her boyfriend showed up, they decided to take her dad’s truck and go to the party. I don’t know how long they were there or how much drinking they did, but on the way home, she lost control of the truck and was injured to the point of entering into a coma. She remained in this state for some time and then died. If the consequences of sin were always so direct, we would be much more careful about sinning, but often the destructive nature of sin doesn’t show up until much later, often not until eternity.
Sin always leads to death, but by Christ’s death on the cross, God has set us free from death and has given us life. When the Spirit of God comes to live in us at salvation, he sets us on a different course. Instead of inheriting death and destruction we reverse all the certainties about sin. Romans 8:6 says, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;”
In a little while, you will be baptized. Baptism symbolizes the truth about what has happened in your life. When you accepted Jesus by faith, God’s Spirit came to live in you. He set you in a totally new direction. Instead of sin, he turned you towards righteousness. Instead of bondage, he gave you freedom. In place of death, he set you on the path of life. This is the work that God has done in you and as you are baptized, you acknowledge that you have been set in this new direction.
II. A Change Of Empowerment
But notice what it says in Romans 8:12, “we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it…” God has made this radical change in your life and now it is up to you to continue to live by the Spirit. How will you do that?
The glory of the life of faith is that it is not a life lived in our own power. The fact that God’s Spirit now lives in you as you indicate in baptism means that you have a new empowerment. To be perfectly honest, I believe that as Christians we have not fully recognized the power of the Spirit which is available for us to live the Christian life. Too often we want to go back to the Old Testament system of living by rules and regulations and imposing those rules and regulations on others. The radical difference between the Old Testament people of God and the New Testament people of God is the power of the indwelling Spirit of God to renew us from the inside out. Romans 8:9,11 says, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ….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 through his Spirit, who lives in you.”
“A vine does not produce grapes by Act of Parliament; they are the fruit of the vines own life…” Neither can we as Christians by an act of our will grow the fruit of the Spirit. Too often, we have studied the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:23,24 as a list of things that we should do. That is not at all the intent of that verse. That verse specifically says that if we are people of the Spirit, we will grow the fruit of the Spirit, not because we make a concerted effort to change ourselves, not because we chastise and discipline ourselves, but because God’s Spirit grows the fruit in us.
We are familiar with Mennonite churches that have all kinds of rules about what it means to separate from the world. Rules about wearing certain clothes, wearing your hair a certain way, not having a radio, not driving cars with tires and so on. Yet among people who live by these rules, we still find sexual abuse and physical abuse, alcoholism, and all kinds of other sins. This is what happens when people live by outward rules and have not experienced the change of heart which comes from the Spirit of God. Today we celebrate the coming of the Spirit and rejoice that in the Spirit of God we have a new empowerment to live the Christian life.
Jesus Himself said that it is out of the heart that wickedness comes. The Pharisees were concerned to observe all the outward traditions, but Jesus said they were white-washed sepulchers. Knowing the will of God, as the Pharisees did, does not enable one to do it. The radical new change that has taken place is that the Spirit empowers us to make the changes necessary to be a holy people.
As you who are being baptized experience baptism, you are acknowledging the fact that in salvation, God’s Spirit has been poured into your life. As we have already said, this has set you in an entirely new direction. It has also provided you with an entirely new power to keep on living in that direction.
Now as we think about this it may be tempting to suggest that therefore there is nothing we can do to live in this new life. That is not the case. As we have already noted, there is an obligation, but it is not an obligation to keep lists of rules, rather it is an obligation to walk by the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit. We do that by listening to God’s Word and by spending time in building a relationship with God. The Christian life is not a life of rules, it is rather a life of relationship. After Peter had denied Jesus, Jesus did not chastise him or excommunicate him. He asked him a question of relationship. He asked him, “do you love me?” That is the question we must ask ourselves and if we can answer in the affirmative, we will keep on walking by the Spirit in the power of the Spirit.
III. A Change Of Belonging
The reason that we need to look at our Christian faith from the perspective of a relationship is because by becoming a Christian your name is not simply being added to the list of those who will be going to heaven or the list of church members of the Rosenort EM Church. By being baptized, you are indicating that a radical change has taken place in you, a change of belonging.
We are hearing about slavery in Sudan these days and are shocked that in the 21st century this still is going on. We are also hearing about how people are raising money to buy people out of slavery and setting them free. That is what has happened to us, but it is even better. Not only were we bought out of slavery, we have made the radical change from being slaves to being children of God. Romans 8:14-16, “ because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
Before you were a Christian, you belonged to sin, to Satan and to death. By becoming a Christian, you have become a child of God.
This is a powerful way of living. It means that we do not live by laws and rules, but by relationship. It means that we know God as our Father and can relate to him in intimacy. “The conversion of John Wesley came when he…”exchanged the faith of a servant for the faith of a son.” Being a Christian is not a new slavery, but a blessed relationship.
The consequences of such a new relationship are that we can cry out to our Father as “Abba.” Crying “Abba” comes not by liturgy or tradition, but only by the work of the Spirit in the heart.
The other consequence is that we have an inheritance. Because we are God’s children, we will inherit life.
Often we talk about becoming Christians as accepting Christ. The emphasis is on our action of choosing and our action of walking in a different way. This is a part of the picture, but when we look at Romans 8, another part of the picture emerges. God draws us by His Spirit, God changes us into new creatures by His Spirit – He changes us from creatures who sin to creatures who desire righteousness. He changes us from creatures who are in bondage to creatures who are free from sin and death. He changes us from creatures who will die, to creatures who will live forever. The Spirit of God empowers us to walk in a new life. All this is done because He has changed us from being slaves to being His children.
As you are being baptized, I want to encourage you to recognize that God has made this change in you by His Spirit. I want to encourage you to walk in a new way by the power of the Spirit, to keep on walking not according to your old nature, but according to the Spirit of God. There may be temptations to live for yourself or to chuck the Christian faith. It will be a battle. Some of you talked about taking your faith to a new level by being baptized. That is a good thing and a right thing, but don’t be surprised if the new level is not easier, but harder. Now that you have publicly identified with Christ, Satan will try to steal your heart. This makes it all the more important to recognize that you are sons and daughters of God who are indwelt by the Spirit of God. Live by the Spirit! I say this not only to those who are being baptized today, but to all of us. Live by the Spirit!