Sunday 23rd of July 2017
This morning I am going to preach on the epistle reading from Romans chapter 8. But before I get to this reading I want to start by looking at a passage from Deuteronomy 30: 15ff which says, “16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.”
The Israelites were about to enter into the promised land that God had given them, they were about to walk into their inheritance, the gift of God which he was going to pass on to his people. Before they walk into this land God gives them this warning: “15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” In other words, these people were going to be faced with a choice. History tells us that his people made the wrong choice and instead of choosing life they chose the way of sin, and they paid the penalty for this continually as they kept sinning against God.
When God sent his only son Jesus into this world he did so, so that whoever believes in him may be saved from death. Jesus came and took the sin and its punishment upon himself, and by rising again destroyed the power of death for our sake; so that we who are baptized into the name of our God are his now, his children, a part of his family, a people with an inheritance that awaits us when Jesus returns. It is because of Jesus and what he has done that we have this sure hope.
We now stand at peace with God because of what Jesus has done for us; we have died to sin and risen to new life because of our baptism. And as verse one of this chapter says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
All of this is the heart of the Christian faith and is true. However, there is a major problem that we all face; that is our sinful natures still confront us. We struggle against our natures, in which we often give in and live in sin. In this age in which we still live before Jesus’ second coming there is still death; we still have to put to death the practices of our sinful natures. There is still a very real struggle between our sinful natures and the Holy Spirit who lives within us.
In the midst of these everyday battles we have a choice to make. We are told in verse 14: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” We have a choice to make: are we going to let our sinful nature dictate what we do, or are we going to be led by the Holy Spirit? Notice what it does not say here. It does not say that God’s children follow the Holy Spirit; rather it says they are led by him. If I choose to follow, then I am still the one in charge; I still have control. But if I am led by the Holy Spirit, He is the one in charge; He is the one who decides. Where it says that we are led by the Spirit it is very similar to Jesus in his temptation in the wilderness where Luke tells us: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” (4:1) Jesus was led into the desert; he gave himself over to the control of the Holy Spirit. We can’t make the choice to stop sinning, it is in our very natures, but we can make the choice to let the Holy Spirit lead us. This is a very hard thing to do because at its very heart we are faced with the question of do we trust God, or are we going to go our own way? But this is the choice that we are all faced with.
Unlike the Israelites before they entered the promised land, we as Christians do not make this choice alone. The Israelites lived a lot of their lives in slavery to different nations who ruled them, because of their own rebellion against God. But as Christians we can make different choices because we already belong to God’s family through Jesus, because we are already included through him. “15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
Because of what Jesus has done for you and me, it means that we have new identities. As Christians we belong to our God; he has adopted us as his children through the work of Jesus. Because of this we know that when Jesus comes back he will take us to be with him. The question that needs to be asked is: what does it mean to live the Christian life, while we are waiting for his return?
Our sinful natures, along with the culture that we live in, can so easily drag us down to its sinful level. Being a Christian living in this world means being prepared to go with where the Spirit leads. Now this may sound simple, but it is a lot tougher than it seems. Take a look around us in our society and see just how much our society and our culture are shaping those within churches. Many people are claiming to be Christians, and yet the very way they live their lives are in line with the world around them. Being led by the Spirit often means letting Him lead you on a path that is directly opposed to our society’s standards in many cases. It often means being prepared to walk against the flow, to stand on our convictions that we receive from God’s word to us.
The temptation is to take our eyes off Jesus and what he has done for us and put them on the troubles that we see. When we do this is when we begin to become discouraged and maybe even at times tempted to do things our own way rather than letting the Holy Spirit lead us. But the thing is that because we have these promises of God, because we are included in him and we have the hope of eternal life with him, we do not need to be afraid. As it says: “15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;…” No, it is precisely because God has us and because we belong to him that we can trust the Holy Spirit to lead us. It is because of this that we can prepare our hearts to hear his leading in our lives. And it is because of what our God has already done that we can make the choice in our daily living to be led by Him.
Understanding why we are Christians who belong to God and are forgiven and redeemed, and yet who still struggle with our sinful natures is quite a complex thing to understand. But my encouragement to you all is to open your eyes and your hearts so that you can hear the Holy Spirit and make the choice to let him lead you through his Word, but also through other Christians that he has placed around you. I encourage you all with the fact that you are in God’s family and that he has you in his care and is helping you to overcome the obstacles in your life. Keep persisting in your walk with him, and have an open heart to be led by Him, and God will do the rest.