Life Living in You

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.         Romans 8:11

The text does not fall within the Epistle that was read before, which is kind of sad, since it has quite a lot to say about the lessons for this morning.  When I finally realized that what we call chapter 8 was intended to answer the question that ended chapter 7, this beginning section of chapter 8 gained a whole new depth of meaning.

The end of chapter 7 is a cry of anguish from St Paul: “That which I DON’T want to do – that’s what I so often end up doing.  That which I DO want to do – that’s what I so often never get around to doing… So it seems to be a law of human nature, that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand – I may delight in God’s law in my inner self, but by the time it comes out to what I DO – well, let’s just say that there is something in me that pollutes, twists and ruins even my best of intentions – it’s like a war between the inner me and the outer me.

O, wretched man that I am!  Who can deliver me from this body of death??  THANKS BE TO GOD, through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So I will keep on serving the Lord in my mind, even though this outer nature of me will continue to thwart and sabotage what I want to do for the Lord.   Romans 7:24-25

Paul has said something very reassuring – and yet it isn’t!  It IS reassuring because he has acknowledged something that we all know is very real: despite how we may want to change, many times we just don’t.  We can try again and again, and yet we seem to be resisted time and again from something in us.

So it is comforting to know that we aren’t the only ones, that someone as godly and God-used as St Paul can describe himself as having this problem, and in so doing describe us so very accurately.  How good it is to know that our struggle is not an isolated experience, but one that even a great saint has shared.

Yet this still isn’t all that reassuring, because we just know that we are not pleasing God when we mess up so thoroughly.  We recognize that judged against GOD’s standard of perfection, we fail and fail miserably.  How could God ever accept us??

Paul sort of did answer that already in chapter 7, when he came to the conclusion that he could serve the Lord in his inner self, even though his outer self is still resisting and fighting.  In other words, that God is pleased and accepts us if – as the saying goes – if, in our dependence on Jesus, “our heart is in the right place.”

So he starts Romans 8 with the conclusion which all this MUST come to: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  That is a wonderful statement, something that allows us to relax and rest easy.  God will not be dealing with us in the condemned judgment we deserve, but indeed comes with an enormous and unparalleled forgiveness.   Whew!!

No wonder Paul can talk about being set free!  That gives us a most wonderful release from the worry and fear that when we make mistakes, when we do things that kinda-are-deliberate-and-kinda-aren’t-deliberate, that God will not come sailing out of heaven with a baseball bat and angrily tell us to go to hell.

But there is still something not very satisfying about all this, because if our innermost heart and mind are “in the right place,” then we still cannot be happy with a lifestyle that does not and will not please the God and Savior we have come to love.

It is true, Paul gives us the excuse to get away almost with murder.  We could go around saying we are serving God with our minds, and yet do some of the most raunchy things with our bodies, and then use the excuse, “It’s the heart that counts, it’s the thought that counts, not what we do.”

But if we really do love the Lord like we claim to, then this excuse will annoy us, it will enrage us against this human body of ours which sabotages our intentions and destroys our Lord’s happiness; this excuse will torment us as we see still around in our bodies the sins which pull down hard on the nails in the hands and feet of Jesus on the cross.

Actually, if indeed our hearts are really in the right place, then this excuse lends itself to hopelessness – after all, what comfort does this give those people who are the slaves to addictions, whether it be to gambling or to being misers, whether it be to overeating or to starving yourself, whether it be to alcohol, or to drugs, or to pride, or to anger, or to gossip, or to homosexuality, or to slavery to any of the vast variety of ways by which our lives can be torn apart by slavery to these things?
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After all, we want our religion to be more than something that will happen only after we die!  We need help now!  We want strength and victory and courage and especially hope for TODAY and TOMORROW, not just for the Last Day!  If our hearts really are “in the right place,” then a life that is not pleasing to the Lord will be a private agony for us – not because we are afraid of being condemned, but because we know that the Lord deserves better from us.

But Paul just got through saying that we can’t please God because our outer human nature seems to have a mind of its own.  So then, are we to resign ourselves to a life of pure frustration and despair of ever doing things that will please God?

This is where verse 11, the text, comes in: “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.”

I don’t think Paul is talking about the Last Day as much as he is saying that this body, right now, that is so filled with death and sin – the Holy Spirit, Who is living in us, is going to make this body come alive with GOD’s Life.  No, it won’t be as total and as revolutionary as the Last Day’s total change into new life, when every last trace of death and sin is forever removed.  No, it won’t be like that.

But on the other hand, through the Holy Spirit this body will be unmistakably infected with Life.  And, by golly, we find that we CAN and DO conquer some of the persistent and powerful sins which are so entwined in our human nature.  Perhaps even to our own surprise, we find that not only can we turn away from these things that enslave us, but that it actually gets easier and easier.

We discover that the overwhelming power that had so thwarted our best of intentions and garbled our attempts to be God-pleasing, now as the Spirit works on our hearts and minds, becomes something that even for a little while can be brushed aside surprisingly easily – for a longer and longer time.  Perhaps we really did control ourselves; like never before we gain control over our anger, over our fears, over what enslaved us.  And then we discover that there are more and more opportunities where we can conquer more and more what lies in our human nature.

What begins to stand out is that we have discovered that there is Life – not physical life, but spiritual alive-ness that we had never experienced before, places where the old antagonist body had so steadfast resisted before, suddenly – even if only for a while – has become an ally.  Those are the times when you can say to yourself, “I actually did something that was right, I actually beat this addiction for this length of time, I actually did not give in when I was so strongly tempted!”

At first the times may be brief, but what is so encouraging is the fact that the times had occurred at all, when this would never have happened before.  Yes, we can be disappointed when we lose the progress and slip back, but the weapon against discouragement is to realize that our insides have already begun the process of changing for these things to have surfaced at all.   There is life in these old bones after all!

Now the rest of Romans 8 takes on a new and special depth.  For instance, verse 15: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by Whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'” Or verse 26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

Or how about verses 31-32, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”  Or especially verse 37, “no, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.”  I think we have all understood this chapter not merely speaks of some far off future Last Day, but that it is a source of comfort and hope for right now.

Of course, for added reality, we come to the Table of the Lord, where our bodies have a physical experience, as well as our spirits, where Jesus enters into us is a very concrete way.  Here is constant proof that St Paul was not merely talking idealism, but that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father Himself is very much at the center and involved in the Life which enters into us.  Here is an unmistakable seal and guarantee that every word of this precious chapter is meant and real.  Indeed, nothing “can separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So then let this part of Romans 8 be exactly that as well!  As the Lenten Season draws to the climax of both Good Friday and Easter and we talk about the New Life that we receive, let these verses stand reminding us that this New Life is indeed something more than just for the Last Day.  Oh, what we miss, when we fail to realize what this gives life to our mortal bodies right now.  And now what a hope we have, because we see the changes which come as the Holy Spirit makes us alive, not just in the spirit, not just in the soul – but also in the body.

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