Sermon: Pentecost 6, 16 July 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidan’s

Romans 8:1-11

-Who doesn’t want a second chance?

-Even our legal system is set up for the second chance.

-If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being charged with a crime,

-Even if you’re the most recidivistic villain,

-You’re past misbehaviours can’t be raised in a current trial.

-It’s an extension of the presumption of innocence till proven guilty.

-And Paul in Romans 8 is making a similar claim for the follower of Jesus;

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8: 1-2

 

-Paul in this letter to the Roman Christians has made a big deal of the law.

-Which makes sense given that he was writing to a predominantly Jewish Christian audience.

-The Jews were very familiar with the Law.

-It was what Moses received directly from God.

-It was the rules and regulations of how they were to live,

-Which would demonstrate they were truly God’s people.

-But the Jews had taken the Law and so distorted it that,

-Rather than it showing they belonged to God’s people,

-They believed it was how they were made to be God’s people.

-A shift occurred from a gracious gift of God,

-To something that obligated God.

-‘Look how we’ve kept your laws, you must now bless us.’

-There was a shift from what God had done for them,

-To what they had done for God.

 

-But the opening chapters of this letter challenged that view,

-Because Paul argues that the standard the law set,

-Was impossibly high.

-And in fact the law was not given to show how high the people had to jump,

-But rather to demonstrate that the jump was impossible to make.

-The law puts a spotlight on how far we’ve fallen from God’s glory and righteousness,

-Which is what Paul means in Romans 7:12-13 when he writes;

“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.13 Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.” Romans 7:12-13

 

-This gap between God’s standard and our behaviour,

-Was dramatically shown by Jesus when he said;

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council;” Matthew 5:21-22

-The bar is actually set at ‘rage’ not illegally taking someone’s life.

-It’s easy to say,

-‘Well I’ve never murdered anyone,

-‘I am righteous.’

-A lot more difficult to say ‘I keep control of my anger’.

-And when I acknowledge that,

-I acknowledge that sin runs a lot deeper into my soul than I am comfortable to admit.

 

-But remember Paul has been rehearsing all of these ideas so that he can move to the point of saying to his readers;

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:1-2

-This is not a judgemental, wag of the finger in our face,

-But an encouragement to faithfulness,

-Because he then goes on to explain how we’ve been set free;

“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, 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.” Romans 8:3-4

-If we could keep the law we’d be fine with God,

-But our sinful humanity,

-Our flesh as Paul puts it,

-Always drags us down.

-So God himself does something about that,

-He sends his Son into our world,

-And although he had the same physical experiences in this world we have,

-Although he faced the same temptations and trials we face,

-He didn’t cave into his human desires,

-He remained faithful to God,

-All the way to the Cross.

-And on the Cross,

-Sin was condemned through Jesus’ physical death.

 

-Now I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a few more times,

-But ‘when ever you see a therefore in the Bible, you’ve got to see what it’s there for.’

-And the ‘therefore’ of ch8:1 refers back to the beginning of ch7 not the end,

-Where Paul states;

“. . . my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7: 4

-Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

-Just as the death of a spouse frees the survivor from the laws of marriage,

-So through faith in Jesus’ death,

-We also die to the obligations of the law.

-And here’s the trick,

-Paul follows up v4 with its implication in v6;

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Romans 7: 6

-We now have a second chance at life,

-Real life.

 

-In Romans 8: 5-11 Paul shows us what you could call the two ways to live in this world.

-Or maybe it’s contrasting ways people live in this world.

-Listen to the first way;

“ . . . those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh,” Romans 8: 5

-Paul is describing how the bulk of humanity live.

-It’s the life marked by being pushed along by human desire.

-It’s the life we see on our TV screens every day,

-Brutally and violently as shown in the nightly news,

-Or seductive and alluring as in the ads that break up the very same programme.

-It’s what Paul earlier has described as being a slave to sin.

-And he repeats here the consequences of that life that he proposed at the very beginning of the letter;

“To set the mind on the flesh is death . . . 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, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7-8

-Have a listen to this quote that incisively sums up this hostility;

“Determined to assert himself, to assert his independence, to be the centre of his own life, to be his own god, he cannot help but hate the real God whose very existence gives the lie to all his self-assertion.” CEB Cranfield ‘Romans’ vol1, p387

-That’s what keeps humanity enslaved to sin,

-It’s our view that we are the masters of our destiny,

-And we won’t let anyone or anything tell us differently.

 

-But there is another life,

-It’s the life that Paul wanted his letter to the Roman Christians to proclaim,

-And that he triumphantly stated in that verse I read a moment ago;

“. . . my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7: 4

-It’s the Christian life,

-The fruitful life.

-The life of the seed sown into good soil that Jesus described in the Parable of The Sower in Matthew 13: 23;

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13: 23

-It’s the life that belongs to God,

-Not sin,

-Not our own self-centredness,

-But our merciful Creator.

-And it’s a life of purpose,

-To be fruitful for God,

-To be the people he created us to be,

-To be the image of his Son in this world.

 

-After the frustrating news of ch7 we might be excused for believing this to be an impossible life.

-Even the great apostle Paul says he does what he knows he shouldn’t,

-And doesn’t do the things he knows he should.

-Like the rest of us the sinful nature has got its grip on Paul.

-But it’s not the end of ch7 that Paul wants us to remember but the beginning,

-Where he announces we’ve died to that old bondage.

-Unlike the mind that is on the flesh,

-Our hearts and minds are now turned to God;

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Romans 8:9

-And here is our power over the sinful nature.

-We have God’s Spirit within us because we belong to Christ.

-That’s why we can be fruitful,

-Why we can live lives that are tuned to God and not ourselves,

-Because the Holy Spirit dwells within us.

 

-Let me read to you the explanation of the Parable of the Sower;

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

-The fruitfulness of the Word sown into anybody’s life is determined by the Holy Spirit’s work,

-Notice how that fruitfulness varies, hundred, sixty, thirtyfold.

-I don’t think Jesus is saying there are super Christians and also rans,

-The point is that we will have varying degrees of fruitfulness in our lives,

-But the determinant of that fruitfulness is our openness to the guidance of God’s Spirit and obedience to God’s wordl

-It has nothing to do with our past performance or even lack there of,

-It’s about how we live right now,

-As we follow the Spirit’s leading as we live for Christ in this world.