1) If you are saved, you are free.
2) If you are free, you can choose whom to obey.
3) If you choose to obey God, your life will be characterized by constant dying and surrender.
At this point, you may be thinking, I understand the gospel. I understand that I have been freed from sin and I am trying my best to obey God. But something is missing. I made a clear decision to accept Christ many years ago, but if I peel back the layers of my religious lifestyle, I am still the same person at the core that I was years ago. I am still selfish, I still struggle with the same sinful habits and addictions, I still lack love. I thought Christians are supposed to be different. I thought that the gospel was supposed to transform me. Christianity doesn’t seem to work. Maybe you changed in your first year as a believer, but after that, you hit a plateau and you are about the same person today that you were last year, or 5 years ago or 10 years ago. Or maybe you are worse off. Have you ever felt that way?
This is what I have been struggling with for the past few weeks. It’s a sobering thought. And if I am speaking about you this morning, then listen up because I have some great news for you. God gave me some clarity from Romans 8 that I didn’t see before. Throughout my study of Romans over this past year, I feel like I’ve been dabbling with several weighty themes like living in the flesh vs. living in the Spirit or being under the law vs. being under grace or being religious instead of being in a relationship with Jesus. And finally, I think God is beginning to shed some light and He is inviting me to make a paradigm shift in my walk with God and this is what I want to cover for the remainder of the sermon.
Let’s re-read the verses from Romans 8, starting in v6.
6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.
The issue here is who controls your life. If you are controlled by sin, then the fruit of your life is death. But if you are controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace. Sin on one side, the Spirit on the other. It’s an issue of control. Who controls your life?
Many times, we want God to change us and we repent, Lord, I sinned again. And we say sorry to God. But as soon as that repentance leaves our lips, we take back our lives and place it under OUR control. And we wrongly think that our spiritual progress depends on our efforts, or the sincerity of our repentance, our penance or how spiritually disciplined we are. We live in the flesh because we think everything rides on our performance. It’s funny how that happens.
If you are saved, you are free. If you are free, you can choose whom to obey. And if you are ready to obey God, what does obedience to Him look like? Is it discipling others? Yes, partly. Is it evangelism? Yes, we have to evangelize. I already gave a hint earlier — it’s related to control. Who is in control? At the core, obedience to God means dying to self and surrendering. It’s no longer “I” at the center, but we’re under new management. We have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
Who is at the center of your life, who’s in control? Think about that.
If you are still in control, then v7 speaks to your spiritual condition —
7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, NOR CAN IT DO SO. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
Because we don’t want to give up control of our lives, we remain hostile to God and unwilling and unable to submit to His laws. And thus no matter how hard we try, we can’t please God.
9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, IF [and I think we have to hear the weightiness of this clause, IF] the Spirit of God lives in you. And IF anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But IF Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
Paul challenges us three times to examine who is in control of your life? If the Spirit of God lives in you, if anyone does not have the Spirit of God, If Christ lives in you.
What is evidence that you belong to Christ? You belong to Christ IF your life is controlled by the Spirit. In other words, a life surrendered to doing whatever the Spirit of God wants. In other words, a life controlled by the Spirit. And because the Spirit is active in your life and you are not fighting the Spirit for control, genuine fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, and so on — is born.
What is the destiny or the final destination of a life that is controlled by the Spirit? A Spirit-filled life is a transformed life.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis likens transformation of a believer to a demolishing of a house. We are the house and God comes to do his work. At first, he is just fixing up some leaks and unclogging the drain, and we think, this is not so bad. Then, God brings out the wrecking ball and he starts knocking down walls and it hurts. And we wonder, what on earth is he up to? Then, It dawns on us that while we are content with a decent little cottage of a life, God is interested in turning us into a palace, a place fit for Jesus to come and dwell in our hearts.
Lewis talks about our transformation another way. He says our transformation is not self-improvement. He likens it to trying to make a horse better and better, jump higher, run faster. That’s not what God is up to. Rather, God says, forget trying to improve the horse, I want to take that horse and turn it into a completely new thing, a winged creature that soars over fences instead of merely jumps over fences. Do you see the pattern?
Along those lines, Lewis says that while the church has many things that it is involved with — education, building, missions, holding services… However, he says that the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them LITTLE CHRISTS. And if that’s not what the church is all about, then we are just wasting our time. I wholeheartedly agree.
Not a little cottage but a palace. Not a better horse, but a winged creature. Not a better human, but a little Christ.
So I want to ask you a hard question, a question I have been asking myself all week? When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Maybe you are a new Christian or you have been a Christian for a while now — so in that mirror, what is being reflected back? Do you see the same person you were years ago or do you see a little Christ being formed?
It’s a sobering question. Why are many of us not changed into a little Christ? Lewis offers a perspective that I found to be helpful. So let me read an excerpt from Mere Christianity —
“Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some particular sin which they are ashamed of (like cowardice) or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper). Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment.
…“Make no mistake,” God says, “if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. …You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect.”
…if we choose, He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through, with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly. His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Perfection is the goal. Becoming a radiant bride of Christ is the goal. Becoming a little Jesus is our destiny. But there is ONLY one reason why you and I will fall short of that goal — it’s if we resist. We don’t change because we don’t want to. And we don’t want to because we still want to be in charge. Even in our religion, we remain at the center.
If you are saved, you are free. I think I get that. If you are free, you can choose whom to obey. Okay, yes, I want to obey God. The problem is, and I want to be honest here. For me, the desire to obey is there. And I’ve been trying to obey God for the past 18 years of my Christian walk. I’ve made a lot of commitments. I’ve broken those commitments and rededicated my life to the Lord many times with tears. I’ve made sacrifices. I’ve gone on missions. But is my heart characterized right now by life and peace? That’s a much harder question to answer than what have I done for God. It’s easier to offer up a spiritual resume than to offer up my heart for examination.
Is my life characterized by righteousness, peace and joy? If you remember from an earlier sermon, Jesus is the embodiment of righteousness, peace and joy. If I am spending time with Jesus and abiding in him, communing with him, Jesus’ qualities will rub off on me and He will change me. Is my life bearing the fruit of the Spirit? For me, here and there, small sprouts of life, I think. But overall, when I look at the mirror, do I still see more of Ray after 18 years of walking with Jesus or is Christ coming through more and more?
God’s Word convicted me this past week. I’ve been keeping busy, preparing sermons, reading books, meeting up with people. I want to plan for missions next year. I’m a young pastor. I am motivated. I want to see this church honor God and I want to see souls saved and lives transformed. It’s only been a few months since my ordination. And God has been extremely gracious and merciful to us and we’ve rejoiced over many answered prayers and even a handful of salvation decisions and baptisms. And I feel so unworthy to witness God’s activity in our midst.
But after all of this great work of God is over and each of us returns home and we look in the mirror, what do we see? I want to leave you with that question. We need to wrestle with this.
At certain junctures in your walk with the Lord, I pray that you reach a point where you get sick and tired of yourself. Because it’s when you reach the end of your rope, THAT’S when God reaches out to you. If you don’t give up hope in yourself, which is like dying, you’ll never make this transition back to the gospel.
God reminded me these past few weeks of this great and glorious gospel. That I’m a sinner and I need Jesus. God knows that my efforts don’t amount to much. That is why he says we need to die to ourselves and to surrender our lives to Him again and again. For the Christian, we are under new management. We are in God’s hands and the Spirit comes as our Helper.
In conclusion, we have been talking about different aspects of the gospel over this past year and esp. during these last 2 wrap-up sermons on Romans. And if you remember one thing from the book of Romans, I want you to remember this. It’s really important. The gospel is not a one-time decision. REPEAT. The gospel of Jesus needs to be repeated over and over again in our lives.
When we are saved, there is such clarity. I am a sinner, there is nothing good in me and we are flooded with such thanksgiving that Jesus would die on a cross for my sins so that I can be called a child of God. And I repented, I died with Christ and He gave me a new life, a life of the Spirit, not a life bound by the flesh. And so with joy, I surrendered my life to Him and said to him in 1993, Lord, my life is yours, lead me. When we are first saved, we know we did nothing. Zero percent. And God did everything. He did 100 % of the work. That was a moment of such clarity.
But a funny thing happens along the way. We mature a bit and suddenly that clarity is lost and we put all of the burden on our shoulders to mature and to grow and to lead others. OR, we forget that we are free, and we resign ourselves to an enslaved, defeated life.
How do we prevent these two things — everything depends on me for my spiritual growth OR I am enslaved and I will never change — how do we prevent these from happening? How do we keep reminding ourselves that we are under new management? Answer: Gospel repetition. The gospel is not a one-time event; for the believer, we need to live out the gospel every day, repenting, dying to self, crucifying the sinful nature and then placing our faith in Christ, surrendering to Him, trusting Him, following Him. Allowing the Spirit to control us. Jesus began the work of salvation and He is the one who is going to carry it to completion. To full, absolute perfection. He will do all the work, 100%, if we let him.