Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Living in the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 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. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 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.
Romans 8:5-9

If you are a Christian, then you live under a new law which Paul calls the law of the Spirit of Life. We used to live under the old law (all the rules in the Old Testament), but not anymore. Christ's death set us free from both our sin and that law. But how are we to understand this new law and how do we live under it?

If you read the Old Testament you'll find the following overarching storyline. God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt and makes them His people. He makes a covenant with them. If they will obey his commands He will lead them into a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey and will bless them immeasurably. However, if they fail to keep his commands, He will send the nations around them to attack them and take them into exile. The majority of the Old Testament presents a cycle of events that gets repeated over and over again. The people of Israel fail to obey God. He punishes them and sends them into exile. They repent. He forgives them and brings them back to the Promised Land. Then they refuse to obey him again and the cycle repeats. 

This cycle creates a sense of despair in the reader. One begins to realize that God's people are simply incapable of obeying His law. We will never get it right. But, this despair is the darkness against which God chooses to cast His hope. Repeatedly in the Old Testament, God promises that one day this cycle will end. One day He will make a new covenant with His people, a covenant that can't be broken because it isn't dependent on our obedience but on His righteousness. This covenant won't be written on tablets of stone like the Ten Commandments were. It will be written on the hearts of men. (Check out Jeremiah 31:31-34 for a classic O.T. example of this promise.) Through this covenant He will forgive our sins and draw us into a new, deeper relationship with Him.

Paul's primary point above is that the new covenant is here. Our relationship with God is no longer based on what we do. It is based on what Christ has done. Those of us who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior live under this new covenant. We are forgiven by God and his law is written on our hearts because God’s Holy Spirit dwells inside us. Yes, we do still have a sinful nature and we can still mess up and allow that nature to control us. BUT we also have the Spirit of God living in us, teaching us and guiding us. Now we are able to “set our minds on what the Spirit desires,” and by so doing we are able to please God! (This is only implied above but is stated more explicitly in II Corinthians 5:9 and I Thessalonians 4:1). Paul is saying that the cycle is broken!  If we have the Spirit inside of us, we are different!

So how do we live under this new law? We live by faith and we live in accordance with the Spirit that God has placed inside of us. Now this is something that those of us from more conservative religious backgrounds aren't as comfortable with. It is hard to quantify and explain the Holy Spirit, but remember that Jesus said the greatest commandment is "to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). If nothing else we must remember that our lives as Christians are more about our relationship with God than they are about what we do. If we get the relationship part right, then the Spirit will change our hearts and right actions will follow. Whereas, in comparison, getting all the actions just right doesn't change our hearts at all. 

For further reading this week… see what other Scriptures have to say about how we ought to live now that we are Christians.
   - Hebrews 12
   - I Corinthians 10:23-33
   - II Corinthians 3:7-18 & 4:7-18
   - James 2:14-26
   - I Peter 1:13-2:3
   - II Peter 1:3-11

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Two Laws

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 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.
Romans 8:1-4

Have you ever been to church and left feeling like you just didn't measure up? Unfortunately this isn't an uncommon experience. It’s a shame to think that so many people come to God’s house looking for grace and leave feeling more discouraged than before. Why is it that some churches, and indeed some Christians, always make us feel like we don’t measure up? In order to answer that question, we first need to understand what Paul has to say in the above passage.

Paul talks about two laws. The first he labels the law of the Spirit of life. This new law has replaced the old law which he calls the law of sin and death. Now these laws might sound like something out of a Lord of the Rings novel but they are important. Paul is telling us that the law of the Spirit has replaced the law of sin and death. He is saying that we live under a new law now. If he were a character in an old west movie Paul might say “There’s a new sheriff in town!”

These laws have two distinct messages and purposes. The law that Paul refers to as the law of sin and death is the law that God gave to Moses in the Old Testament. The purpose of this law is to reveal our sinfulness (Romans 3:20). God gave us this law, knowing that we could never keep it so that we would realize our need for His forgiveness. In other words, He gave us the old law so we would realize how much we need the new law.

The old law is called the law of sin and death because death is what this old law brings. The old law says, “Don’t do this and don’t do that and if you do then you will receive death!” The new law, the law of the Spirit of life is different. It says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus for you have been set free.” The new law doesn’t give us a bunch of rules to follow and threaten death if we fail. It shows us a better way of living and promises life if we walk in it. It’s as if God is saying to us, “I want you to have life and peace because I love you, so I am going to put my Spirit inside of you to show you how to live in order to gain these things.” Now that doesn’t mean that there are no rules anymore. Galatians 6 tells us that if we choose to disobey God’s Spirit inside of us, then we will reap the result of our sinful actions. But under this new law the emphasis is on the good things that God wants for us and not on the punishment for our sins.

So, to answer the question posed above, the problem is that some churches (and some people) get caught up sending out the judgment of the old law and forget to balance it out with the hope found in the new law. The old law is harsh but necessary. It helps us come to the realization that we are sinners, and without that we will never see our need for Jesus. So the problem isn't that people are proclaiming the old law. The problem is that they are giving the bad news without including the good news it was intended to point to.

We must be careful as Christians to give both messages to the world. Without the message of the new law, it sounds like all we are doing is telling people how worthless they are. But without the message of the old law, Jesus’ sacrifice is meaningless and sin seems much less important. So both messages (both laws) are a necessary part of the Christian story, a story we have a responsibility to tell.

For further reading this week…
   - Psalm 1 (see what King David has to say about the Old Law)
   - Matthew 5:17-20 (see what Jesus had to say about it as well)
   - Mark 2 (check out how Jesus lived in the new law/“fulfilled law”
   - Hebrews 7:19 (read the whole chapter for better perspective)
   - Romans 7:6

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
Romans 8:1-4

It seems like everywhere we turn we hear the message, “You aren’t good enough!” It comes through loud and clear every time we turn on the TV or watch a movie or open a magazine. We’re not pretty enough or smart enough. We're not skinny enough or successful enough. We’re just not enough. We don’t measure up. And it isn’t just TV and movies that make us feel this way, many of us have heard this from our own parents. Some of us have even heard it from the church. 

But the Scripture above tells us differently. It says that there is no longer any condemnation for those who believe in Jesus. Another passage of Scripture says it this way. "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Corinthians 5:21). And that’s exactly what this passage means when it says that “there is no condemnation for us.” Once we are in Christ, to God it is as though we had never broken any of His laws at all. Christ took our sin upon Himself and His perfection was attributed to us, so that when God looks at you and me He sees pure righteousness. 

Precious believer, when God looks at you He sees His perfect Son. If you are covered in the blood of the Lamb, then you are good enough for Him and for the entire world. No one has the power to hold anything over your head anymore. There is no condemnation for you anymore. Take this as a personal vote of confidence from above. It is as though God is saying to the whole world about you, "I cannot think of a single bad thing to say about him." 

Stand firm then. Your enemy wants to oppress you with a heavy burden called shame. This is obvious to us even in the name that the Bible gives our enemy. Satan is the Hebrew word for "accuser," and that is exactly what he does. He accuses us of all manner of evil to anyone who will listen. Don't allow him to burden you with the shame and guilt of your past mistakes. They are forgiven. And in the same way, don't hold on to the wrongs that your brothers and sisters in Christ have committed either for their sins are also covered in the blood of the Lamb.

For further reading this week…
   - Galatians 3:13: Jesus took our curse upon Himself.
   - I Peter 2:22-25: By His wounds we have been healed.
   - John 3:16-21: Those who are not condemned and those who are already.
   - Colossians 1:15-22: Holy and blameless.
   - Colossians 2:13-15: He canceled our record of debt.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Greater Freedom Still

And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:16-20 & 24-25

In this passage Paul groans in eager expectation of the redemption of his body (a foreshadowing of Romans 8:23.) You see, Paul knows that there is greater freedom still to be had! Even though he has been set free from slavery to sin, he is tired of the constant struggle with his sinful nature, and he looks forward to the day when his body will be fully “redeemed” or fully rescued from bondage to sin…the day when that sinful nature will be removed altogether. That is, the day when Jesus returns and puts this world to rights…when he returns and removes the marring effects of sin on this world and on His servants. So too, you and I look forward to that day as we struggle within our own selves. But what help does the Bible offer us while we are still here living in this world locked in an epic struggle against our own sinful nature? There are three things I want to tell you.

First, you should know that sin does not hold power over you anymore. You have been set free. You are not perfect yet, because you are still capable of sin, but you are also more than capable of saying no to sin (I Corinthians 10:13). Now that doesn’t mean that you will make it through the rest of your life without sinning, but it does mean that at any given moment when you are tempted to give in to sin, you are able to resist in the name of Jesus because He has given you power over that sin. As Christians, we have no excuse for living in sin.

Second, you should know that you are not yet perfect, and that your current freedom pales in comparison to the freedom that awaits you at Christ’s return. You need to know that you will struggle with temptation and sin and that the fact that you struggle doesn’t mean you are not a Christian. But one day this struggle will end. One day you will be made perfect; you will be set free from you sinful nature once and for all.

Lastly, (and looking ahead a little) one of the most precious aspects of our freedom is found in Romans 8:5. It says that “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” This means that God not only sets us free from slavery to sin, but he also begins working on our desires. He helps us to begin desiring the things that bring life and peace instead of the things that bring pain and death. You see God’s freedom isn’t simply about being able to do whatever you want. If that were the case then you could want all the wrong things and your freedom would go to waste…it would actually hurt you. Rather, God not only gives you freedom, but he also helps you to want the right things with that freedom… the things that bring life and peace and joy. 

Now go and exercise your freedom from sin in the name of Jesus this week.

For further reading this week...
   - Romans 8: One of the most beautiful chapters in all the Bible.
   - I Corinthians 8 & I Corinthians 10:23-33: Use your freedom wisely.
   - I Peter 2:16: Live as servants of God.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

We Aren't There Yet?

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Romans 7:14-15 & 21-25

We know that one day we will be perfect. We will have resurrection bodies like our Lord. We will see God face to face. We will walk along streets of gold and receive the inheritance that has been prepared for us. Every tear will be wiped away and death will be no more. But we aren't there yet. And this seems to be Paul's point in the passage above. Specifically, he is being honest about his own struggle with sin. Yes! Even the Apostle Paul lost the occasional battle to temptation; even he wasn't perfect.  

Over the last few chapters, Paul has been talking quite a bit about the Christian's freedom from slavery to sin, and it seems as though he is reminding us that while we are no longer slaves to sin, we are not yet completely rid of it either. We still have that sinful nature that wars against God's Spirit within us. Elsewhere, Paul puts it this way, "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want" (Galatians 5:17). Even though we have been set free from the power of sin, we still have a sinful nature inside of us that is at war with our spiritual nature, and this war prevents us from doing the good things that we want to do. 

This means that we won't be perfect in this world. We are going to mess up. We will fall into sin. We all still need God's grace. Grace, by the way, isn't just for salvation. God's grace helps us up every time we fall. We need God's grace every day of our lives. In fact, you may have noticed that Christians sometimes fall into sin in ways that go beyond little slip ups. Sometimes we really lose ourselves in major sin. In Galatians 5:1 Paul says: "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." I bring this up because Paul seems to be saying that it is possible for those of us who have been freed from sin to live as though we weren't. We can “submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Stand firm lest that happen.

And when you do fall, don't believe the lie that this time you are beyond God's grace. God's grace is always bigger than your sin. It is always your best and only hope. Whether it is a little slip up or a major meltdown, run to the healing power of His grace. And please be careful not to give the impression that Christians are perfect. Too many people believe that Christians think we are perfect and that we look down our noses at all the sinners in the world. In reality this is the exact opposite of what we are. Christians are a people who have realized that we are deeply imperfect. We are a people in the process of being made perfect by God's grace, and we aren't there yet.

For further reading this week…
   - Romans 8: Groaning for what is to come.
   - I Corinthians 10:12-13: You can say no to temptation.
   - The book of Galatians: Paul literally wrote the book on grace.