February 23, 2014

Hope and Help

When I was in high school and had math homework, I would on occasion go to a certain drawer in the house and get a calculator to help with the problem solving.  The particular calculator I used most was a solar calculator.  If you think about it, solar calculators are really cool.  You don’t need to plug them in.  They never need new batteries.  All you do is put them in some light and they always work.  It’s almost like they run by themselves.  Almost.  You see, nothing actually runs entirely by itself.  Everything requires someone or something else to provide the fuel it needs to work.  Gas fireplaces run off propane gas.  Cars run on gasoline.  The lamps in your house run on coal or perhaps natural gas.  When I’m in my office during the week, I run on jelly beans and M&Ms.  Even solar calculators run on something.  They run on nuclear fusion (because that’s how the sun works…).  Everything runs on something.  And, when you remove the proper source of fuel, everything eventually runs down and quits.  Sometimes this happens quickly such as when you unplug a lamp from the wall.  As soon as it isn’t connected it’s not going to work.  Sometimes things take a bit longer.  The boys have a Power Wheels dune buggy over in the garage.  Every so often I have to take the battery out, plug it in, and let it charge for a day.  When I put it back the car will rock and roll at 5 mph (4 in the grass) for several hours.  Eventually, though, it starts to slow down.  I don’t have to walk quite so quickly to keep up.  Gradually it slows to a crawl and soon won’t go anymore.  (Then it’s powered by jelly beans and M&Ms because I’m the one who has to pull it back to the garage from over by the basketball goal.)

This same truth applies biologically as well as physically.  Your body and mine need fuel to operate.  If we don’t eat, if we don’t sleep, eventually our bodies run down and won’t work right any longer.  There is still yet another fuel we need to operate properly.  Biologically we need a certain fuel to work properly, spiritually we do too.  I opened a toy for the boys the other day and found that, miraculously, batteries were included.  But, they were cheapo little batteries designed to allow you to play it out of the box, but not much more.  Eventually, you were going to have to replace the starting batteries with something more powerful.  This same idea applies to people.  When we are born into this world, we start life with some of the spiritual fuel we need.  Have you noticed that small children seem to believe in God with the greatest of ease?  Eventually, though, these starter batteries begin to run down and we need to connect with something more powerful.  Yet this running down process is not necessarily instantaneous.  Some of the toys the boys have received come with batteries from the store…and they seem to never die…ever…even when I want them to…for years (and then I attack them with a screwdriver in the name of peace, but that’s not part of the illustration).  But, you can tell when the batteries are running down.  (The boys can too and will say, “Dad, the batteries are getting low,” to which I’ll respond, “Sure sounds like they are…”)  If the toy is a rescue vehicle of some kind the sirens will gradually start to sound less and less perky.  The pitch gets lower and lower.  The lights don’t flash as brightly as before.  The songs don’t last quite as long.  Everything runs on something and if you take it away eventually it’s going to die.

This morning finds us in the sixth and final part of our series, Do Over.  The whole idea of this series is that all of us have reached a point in our lives at which we need a do over, a fresh start.  It may have been one time in the past, but more likely, you have needed a whole life reset.  Everything is broken, your batteries have run all the way down, and you need a do over.  For the last six weeks we have been unpacking this idea one step after another.  We started everything out by establishing the fact that we really do need this do over.  We have a problem we can’t solve: we’re not rightly related to God and no amount of work on our part is going to fix that.  And hey, even if you’re not really sure about the whole Christianity, this still applies.  Just substitute for God whatever you recognize as a higher power.  You’re not rightly related to that and you can’t get there on your own.  This is not for a lack of trying either.  It’s simply because you’re broken somewhere inside where you aren’t capable of fixing it.  Fortunately, as we saw in the second week of our series, we’re not alone.  Christians believe that Jesus Christ came to earth 2,000 years ago, lived a perfect life which enabled Him to be rightly related to God of His own effort (in other words, He successfully did what we keep trying unsuccessfully to do), sacrificed His life to pay the price necessary for us to be fixed, and is now available to help with the fixing.  Put a bit more simply, Jesus gives us His gift of a right relationship with God.  And what more, as we saw in week three, He did this even though we were not in a place at which we deserved it.

The next couple of weeks saw us work through two sides of the implications of all of that.  On the one hand, if we are going to take up the do over lifestyle of Christ, we need to live in a manner consistent with that.  It doesn’t make any sense to take up a lifestyle that is aiming for sinlessness and then tolerate sin as we strive for it.  That being said, the other side of the coin here is that living the do over lifestyle is hard.  We looked at this last week.  It’s a struggle to live righteously because in spite of having new natures in Christ, we also have our old, sin-addicted nature getting in the way every chance it gets.  It’s enough to leave us feeling depressed and hopeless.  Fortunately, we are not alone in facing our ongoing struggle with sin, our ongoing struggle to live the do over lifestyle in its fullest expression.  As for the nature of this help, well, that’s where I left us last week.

From how Paul finished out chapter 7 last week we know we have hope and help in our efforts to live the do over lifestyle.  This is a good thing because, as we’ve just been reminded again this morning, our efforts aren’t enough.  We can’t start living the do over lifestyle on our own.  We can’t keep living the do over lifestyle once we have it on our own.  This morning, as we wrap up this series, I want to tell you the remarkable truth about the nature of our hope and help.  To do this we are going to pick up in the text where we left off last week.  If you have a Bible with you in some form, find your way with me to Romans 8.  Here, as Paul wraps up the great exposition of Christian theology he started back at the beginning of the letter, he places the crowning jewel on the conversation.  Take a look at this with me starting right at the beginning of the chapter.

He begins with a declaration of the hope we have followed by a reminder of the life we left to obtain that hope.  Look at this with me: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Let me pause right there to make a quick editorial note.  There are a lot of folks in our culture who think of Christianity as being mostly about judgment.  God’s just waiting for you to blow it so He can get you.  It’s really all about condemning you for the evil you’ve done.  With this grand statement Paul blows that mindset out of the water entirely.  When we are in Christ there isn’t any more condemnation.  None.  In Christ we get what He gets and that’s eternal life.

Next Paul explains why this is: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ from the law of sin and death.  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 for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  That’s a summary of where we have been for the last few weeks.  When we are in Christ, sin is not our master.  The reason for this is that Christ fulfilled the demands of the law—absolute righteousness—and then offered that righteousness as a gift to us.  By this gift of grace we are able to walk in the Spirit and no longer our flesh.

Now, “the flesh” is the phrase Paul uses to describe our pre-Christ state.  The idea is that we are basically driven by our bodily desires.  We desire food and so we overeat.  We desire power and so we oppress others in order to take their power.  We desire sex and so we pornify our culture.  You get the idea.  This is all part of the problem we can’t solve.  In fact, in the next couple of verses Paul lays out the depressing details of this problem with frightening clarity.  Listen to how he continues at v. 5: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh [this is exactly what I was just saying], but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”  A huge part of living the do over lifestyle involves our minds.  This is because, as we talked about, taking up the do over lifestyle requires a worldview shift.  If we don’t make the mental transition—if we are not transformed by the renewing of our minds—we’re not going to make it.  If you want to successfully live the do over lifestyle, you have to change the way you think.  If you think of yourselves as a recovering sinner, guess what?  You’ll sin.  But, if you think of yourself as a burgeoning saint, you’ll still sin, but it’ll gradually become the exception rather than the rule.

The reason all of this is important is because, as Paul continues, “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”  Clear enough?  The athlete who focuses simply on not losing is going to lose.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It gets worse though.  Remember the part about being enemies of God?  Paul nails it: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”  Have you ever heard someone claim something like, “Well, I’m not really against God, I just don’t much see the need for Him”?  What Paul is saying here is that there is no such thing as being neutral toward God.  We’re either all for Him or dead set against Him.  Either you are a fully committed Christ follower or else you are working determinedly for your ends at the expense of His.  The result?  Verse 8: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  That’s pretty strong language, particularly in our culture, but if you think about it, it’s true.  Apart from Christ we are dedicated to our own ends which are not God’s.  Well, if we are dedicated to what we want instead of what He wants how on earth can we expect to please Him?

What more, the problems don’t actually stop there.  Remember the struggle?  Yet while we may have our problems, we need not get the idea in our heads that we are unique in our challenges.  The truth is that we join with all creation in this struggle.  It has been suffering from our sinfulness as long as we have.  Jumping down to v. 18 Paul makes this clear: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons [and daughters] of God. . . .And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons [and daughters], the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.”  So our struggle is mighty, but our hope is grand.

Yet how do we sustain this hope?  How do we come by it?  Paul spells it out clearly.  Just as creation itself is longing for its own redemption which will come in part through our help, we are helped by the Holy Spirit.  Look at v. 26: “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”  This is the answer.  We are able to live the do over lifestyle successfully in spite of the myriad of challenges we face because we have the hope and help of the Spirit of God.  God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle.  This is part of why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  God is so motivated to see us, not judged and condemned, but successfully meet with His standard so that we can be in a right relationship with Him that He not only planned this redemption from the beginning, sent His Son to open the door for us by giving up His life on our behalf, and now counts the perfect life of His Son in our favor if we accept it, He comes alongside us and personally empowers us to do it.  He gives us both the desire and the ability to please Him.  God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle.

Come back just a bit in the text with me to see how Paul spells this out.  He starts with a reminder in v. 9: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”  Do you see it?  When we live apart from Christ death is all we can obtain.  That’s all there is.  In Christ, however, there is life.  There is life because the Spirit who is life takes up residence within us and enables us to live in such a way that we can remain in the presence of the God who is life.  God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle.

This isn’t the end of the hope here, though.  The empowerment we receive from the Spirit of God is not merely presence.  There is also direction to it.  Look at what Paul says next in v. 12: “So then, brothers [and sisters], we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [Here’s why:] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons [and daughters] of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons [and daughters], by whom we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’”  God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle by not merely coming along with us on the journey, but by going out front and showing us where to go.   Just as you show your own children how to live and where to go, our heavenly Father does that for us, but even better.  Rather than having someone who loves us as much as he can offering us his best guesses on how to live based on years of evaluated experience, we have the one who is love and who is the source of all wisdom leading us down the path of His plans which are always to His glory and our joy.

Still, though, it gets even better.  We talked a few weeks ago about the folks who won’t pull themselves out of harmful life patterns because they don’t believe they are worth the help.  Folks like this are sometimes prone to doubting their standing before God.  Can we really know with assurance that we are set before God?  As a matter of fact, yes.  When God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle, “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  By the presence of the Spirit we can be absolutely confident in our standing before God.  We can approach His throne with boldness.  And to understand why this is so important, think back with me to the necessity of mindset.  The closing ceremony for the Sochi Olympics is tonight.  For the athletes who have competed there over the past couple of weeks, theirs has been an absolutely single minded focus: winning.  They eat with this in mind.  They sleep with this in mind.  They train with this in mind.  Everything is focused on winning.  And this is not some idle focus.  They are confident in their victory.  Anything less than this won’t do.  Anything less than this and they wouldn’t have been there.  If we are going to be Olympic gold medal winners with regard to the do over lifestyle of Christ, we must go in with confidence.  We must focus not on the setbacks that are likely to happen, but rather on what it will be like to stand with boldness before the throne of God and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  Because God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle, we can.  We who are so confident are not mere irrational dreamers either.  We are the sanest of people.  We are the only ones in our right minds.  The struggles may come, but they will not define us.  This is because God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle.

In the end, then, what’s left?  How shall we respond to all of this?  Paul arrives at this same place.  Jump down to v. 31 with me: “What then shall we say to these things?”  I mean, this is great news that God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle, but what do we do with that?  We already know that we are supposed to live it with gusto so saying that we are somehow further encouraged to live it doesn’t really connect.  If we have been encouraged and exhorted and lifted up, what’s left?  In a word?  Praise.  The only fitting response now is praise, awe, wonder, and worship.

Walk through this with me at v. 31 and then we’ll hit it all at once: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  Well, who?  Can you think of anyone?  I sure can’t.  If the Creator of the Universe is on our side, is for us, there’s not really anybody who trumps Him.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”  Think about it: if I only had one son instead of three and I sacrificed him for you, I’ve pretty much shot the moon.  There’s nothing bigger I could sacrifice.  You can trust explicitly that I have your best interests at heart.  Well, God did give His Son up so that we might live the do over lifestyle.  The empowerment of His Spirit should be a given.  Indeed, it is: God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle.  “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.”  If God has pronounced you guiltless from your sins, there really isn’t any higher authority.  If He’s declared the charges are dropped, you can officially count yourself Teflon.  “Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  The same Christ who died to pay the price for our condemnation now sits at the Father’s right ear whispering that He should let us off.  There really isn’t anyone left with sufficient authority to condemn us.  I mean, who’s closer to the Father than the Son?  Let us pause and worship God for His greatness!  It is this great God who empowers us with His Spirit to live the life He has called us to live.  God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle.

From here Paul really gets rolling, but let’s put the whole thing together so you can really experience it.  “What then shall we say to these things?  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 with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

It is this great God who empowers us to live the life we were designed to live.  God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle.  Because of this we can live it with confidence.  We can live it with the confidence of one who has no fears of loss.  If the do over lifestyle is something you have been trying for a while now without much success, let these words draw you forward to the life you pictured when you signed up for the journey.  Success is within your grasp and is in fact already yours.  Live like it.  Pursue righteousness with the confidence of one who is already righteous.  When you stumble, don’t dwell on it.  Get back up and start walking again.  Remember, one occurrence does not a pattern make.  You are no longer a sinner, you are a saint.  Live like it.  God’s Spirit empowers you to live the do over lifestyle.  Failure is not a possibility.  For some of you, though, this do over lifestyle still sounds like a far-off pipe dream.  Or perhaps it may even sound like a nightmare.  Think about it, though: are you really pleasing the god in your life where you are now?  Are getting all the boxes checked?  Do you feel at all like you are trapped in a cycle of frustration and depression from which you cannot escape?  You make some forward progress only to feel blown back on your heels by something that was out of your control…or maybe it was something that was totally within your grasp and you let it go anyway.   Why not try living a life that comes with the guarantee of success instead of failure?  Why not try living a life that comes with the guarantee of hope instead of futility?  Why not try living a life that comes with the guarantee of life instead of death?  Take up the do over lifestyle.  We both know you need it.  Jesus is ready and willing to give it.  He does it no matter where you’re at in life, no matter how low you are.  It is a life that will take you out of the garbage to which you are accustomed and into the sweetness and joy of real living—even when things get hard.  And there will be struggles along the way, but you have more than all the help you need.  God’s Spirit empowers us to live the do over lifestyle.  I hope you’ll consider it.  And then be here in a couple of weeks as we start a brand new series leading up to Easter called Leave Your Chains Behind in which we’ll look at some ways we can enjoy the freedoms of this do over lifestyle to their fullest.  You won’t want to miss it.