Well good morning! I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but in popular culture, superheroes are really big right now. So every time we turn around, it seems like there’s a new a superhero movie or superhero TV show, and I for one think this is a good thing, although some of them aren’t so great, but sometimes there’s some really good ones that come around.
There’s a really old superhero TV show, however, that many of you, maybe, have not heard of. This is a show back in the 80’s called “The Greatest American Hero.” Anybody ever seen this show? “The Greatest American Hero.” Some of you older ones remember this. It’s about a school teacher who’s given a red super hero suit that gives him all kinds of super powers and abilities. So he has super strength, he can fly, he has X-ray vision, and so on. And he gets this red suit from aliens who give him this suit. They give him instructions on how to use it, but the problem is he loses the instructions, like in the pilot episode. And so he has this suit with all of these powers, but he doesn’t know how to use it. So, for example, he can take off and fly, but he doesn’t know how to land. So he’s always crash landing into buildings and things like this, and it’s kind of a comical show. Now, I have to admit, I haven’t seen this show in a really long time. I just watched the opening credits for it when I was working on this, just out of curiosity—I thought of the show. So I don’t know if it’s worth seeing or not.
However, what I do think is this: Is that it’s a picture of how some Christians feel about their relationship to the Holy Spirit. We know that as Christians, we have been given access to some kind of spiritual power. We know that we’ve been given God’s Spirit. We know that we’ve entered into something supernatural. And sometimes we are surprised at the things God does in our lives, but don’t you sometimes feel like you’re missing the instruction booklet? Do you ever sometimes wonder, “What does it mean to walk in the Spirit, or to be filled with the Spirit?” You hear Christians talk about the Spirit-filled life or the fruit of the Spirit, and you wonder, “Am I missing something? Is there something deeper that I haven’t really found my way into yet?” You may feel like you’re missing the instructions. You may feel like you’re crash-landing a lot in your spiritual life, that you’re missing out on the quality of life in the Spirit.
Well, this morning we’re going to talk about this. We’re going to talk about life in the Spirit in our continuing study of Romans chapter 8, and I’m going to be really practical this morning, and just drill down into some of the practices that actually help us, that instruct us in living life in the Spirit.
This chapter of Romans 8 has a lot to say about the Holy Spirit. In fact, in the book of Romans, in Romans 1-7, the Holy Spirit only pops up about four times, it’s mentioned four times. But when you get to Romans 8, the Holy Spirit is mentioned no less than twenty times in this chapter. So it’s very clear that Paul has the Spirit on his mind and has a lot to teach us about the Spirit.
So let’s read the text, and we’re going to be in Romans 8:5-14. All right? so it’s a little bit longer section of scripture than we studied last week. Romans 8:5-14. Paul’s picking up with the thought that was right at the end of verse 4, where he talked about those who walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh, and then in verse 5 he says:
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 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. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 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. So then, brothers, [and we could imply, sisters. 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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
This is God’s word.
I want you to notice three things in this passage about the Holy Spirit. I’m going to call these: I. The Mindset of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-8); II. The Indwelling of the Spirit (Romans 8:9-11); and III. The Leading of the Spirit (Romans 8:12-14).
So let’s take each one in turn.
I. The Mindset of the Spirit
You see this in verses 5-8, let me just read verse 5: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Now the mind, here, includes not only the intellect, not just your thoughts, but it includes the affections and the desires of your heart. It includes the inclinations of your heart, the direction of your heart.
In his excellent exposition of Romans, John Stott says it like this: “To set the mind on the desires of the sarx [that’s the Greek word for “flesh”] or pneuma [Spirit] is to make them the ‘absorbing objects of thought, interest, affection and purpose.’ It is a question of what preoccupies us, of the ambitions that drive us, and of the concerns which engross us, of how we spend our time and our energies, of what we concentrate on and give ourselves up to. All this,” he says, “is determined by who we are, whether we are still in the flesh or are now by new birth in the Spirit.”
And this shows us a reality and suggests to us a responsibility. All right? here’s the reality. It states a reality. This passage shows that your mindset is an evidence of your spiritual condition. To quote Stott again, our mindset expresses our basic nature as Christians or non-Christians. It has eternal consequences and concerns our fundamental attitude towards God. And you can see this in the passage by observing Paul’s contrast between two different kinds of people. He’s contrasting two kinds of people: those who live according to the flesh on one hand, and those who live according to the Spirit on the other. And it’s important for us to realize here that when Paul says flesh, he doesn’t mean that which is physical. All right? He doesn’t mean your body, he doesn’t mean your bodily instincts and desires and appetites and so on. He means, rather, our entire human nature in its rebellion against God outside of Christ. All right? So spirit doesn't mean that which is invisible and immaterial. Spirit means that which belongs to the life of the Spirit, the realm of the Spirit, and that includes very much physical aspects of our being. It includes our whole being.
So the contrast here is between two different kinds of life: life lived in rebellion against God (that’s living according to the flesh) and life lived in relationship to God and in submission to God, obedience to God. That’s life lived according to the Spirit. These are two ways to live. One way is the way of the old man, and the other way is the way of the new man in Christ. It’s a contrast between the life of the non-Christian and the life of the Christian—the person in the flesh, the person in the Spirit.
We know this because the following verses spell this out, this contrast out, in two mindsets, in terms of two attitudes toward God and their end result. All right? So you see the attitude of the flesh in verse 7 and 8. He says, “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. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Now listen, that’s what we’re all like apart from Jesus! Apart from Jesus, you’re hostile to God. Outside of Jesus, you hate God. You hate God’s law, you don’t want to be told by God what to do and how to live. And Paul says this is what the flesh is like and the end of this is death. To set the mind on the flesh is death. It leads to death. But in contrast to that, to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace—eternal life and peace with God.
So this is the reality, all right? The reality is whatever is the absorbing interest of your heart, the consuming passion of your heart, of your life, whatever dominates your mind and your thoughts indicates what kind of person you are, whether you’re in the flesh outside of life in Christ without the Holy Spirit or whether you’re in the Spirit so you have a mindset that’s fixed on the Spirit. That’s the reality.
Now here’s the responsibility. The responsibility is, then, to set your minds on the things of the Spirit. And interestingly enough, the passage doesn’t present this as a command. At this point, Paul’s not giving a command. He’s just making a simple statement of fact. The verb in verse 5 is in the indicative mood, not the imperative mood. It’s just saying the way things are. It’s not telling you what to do. However, in Colossians 3, Paul does give this command. So in Colossians 3:1-2 we read these words: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” So when you put Colossians 3 and Romans 8 together, it seems clear that developing this mindset is something you’ve got to do, that we have a responsibility to set our minds on spiritual things, to set our minds on the things of the Spirit.
So how do you do it? How do you do it? I just want to give you three practical ways real quickly.
(1) Fill your mind with the Spirit’s words. If you want to set your mind on the things of the Spirit, you’ve got to fill your mind with the things of the Spirit. You’ve got to fill your mind with the Spirit’s words. All right? So Paul tells us 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All scripture is breathed out by God,” and the Spirit of course is the pneuma of God, the breath of God. The Spirit has given us scripture. In John 6:63, Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” And in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says, “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit.” The words taught by the Spirit. Do you know what this means? It means that the Spirit communicates to us through the scripture. It means that the Spirit of God works in tandem with the Word of God. And it means that we should never pit the Spirit of God against the Word of God, and it means that if you want to be filled by the Spirit, very simply be filled with the Word. Fill your mind and your heart with the things of the Spirit, the words of the Spirit. Fill your mind and heart with the Word, and you’ll be filled with the Spirit. To have a mind filled with and shaped by the Word of God is to have a mind that is set on the things of the Spirit. Therefore, read your Bibles. A lot. Meditate on scripture. A lot. Memorize scripture. Study the Bible. We all need a shove in that direction, because there’s still something in us—we still have sinful flesh—there’s still something in us that resists that. There’s something in you, there’s something in me that would rather do just about anything than read the Bible. What’s this new show on Netflix going to be like, you know? We’re inclined, there’s something in us inclined towards other things and we need to push back against that impulse and get our noses in the book. And listen; if there’s nothing in you that desires the Word, it may be time for a heart check. A lack of appetite is usually a symptom of sickness. My kids eat all the time, except when they’re sick. And when they’re not hungry, you know something’s wrong. You know that they’re not healthy. You know something’s wrong. And it’s the same way for a Christian. A Christian who is healthy desires the Word, and if you have no desire for the Word, it either means that you’re an unhealthy Christian, and you’ve got some heart work to do, or if you never desire the Word, if you’ve never had an appetite for the Word, it may mean that you’re spiritually dead. It may mean that you’re in the flesh and not in the Spirit. So ask God to show you, ask him to open your eyes, ask him to change your heart, ask him to give you an appetite for the words taught by the Spirit. And then, get about the business of getting in your Bible and setting your mind on the things of the Spirit. That’s the first step.
(2) Second step: ask for help. Ask for his help. I mean, you can ask for other people’s help, too, but especially ask for his help. Ask for the Spirit’s help. Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you. Listen, you can’t set your minds on the things of the Spirit all by yourself. You can’t do it. You’ve got to have the Holy Spirit himself working in you, so ask him. Pray for the Spirit of God to work. Pray John Piper’s little acronym, IOU’S. I pray this, not—I don’t know if I pray it everyday, but I pray it a lot. I pray it a lot. This is just kind of etched in my mind, and when I’m lacking desires for God and lacking desires for the Word and lacking joy in God which happens far too often, this is what I’ll do: I’ll pray:
I: Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to getting gain.
O: Open my eyes that I might behold wonderful things from your law.
U: Unite my heart that I might fear your name. Take these fragmented pieces of my heart, my mind, my soul and unite them together. Reintegrate my inner being so that I can love you and fear you and worship you.
S: Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love that I might rejoice and be glad in you all my days.
Those are good prayers to pray. God wants to answer those prayers. You ever feel like God’s not answering your prayers? Well, quit praying for a new car and pray this! Pray this! God will answer these prayers. He wants to answer these prayers. Pray for the help of the Spirit in setting your mind on the things of the Spirit. Pray for right thoughts and inclinations and delights and desires.
(3) Here’s number three. We need not only to fill our minds with the words of the Spirit and pray for the Spirit’s help, we need to practice the presence of the Spirit everyday. Practice the presence of God.
Do you remember Brother Lawrence? In that little book, Brother Lawrence, he was a humble, ordinary man. And he learned to bask in God’s presence moment by moment and day by day, even when he’s doing these menial tasks like cooking and washing the dishes. And he wrote about it in his famous book, The Practice of the Presence of God. And that’s what we’ve got to do. It’s not just have a quiet time every day, it’s live your day all day long in the presence of God. Practice the presence of God. Just attend to him! He’s there! He’s with you! Do you know that, Christian? Do you know that if you are a Christian, the Spirit of God is with you. More than that, the Spirit of God is in you. He’s inside your heart. And that leads us right into the second thing that Paul teaches us in this text: the indwelling of the Spirit.
II. The Indwelling of the Spirit
The mindset of the Spirit is possible because of the indwelling of the Spirit. Okay, we see this in verses 9-11, and really these verses are the hinge on which all the application in this passage turns. All right? So the reason Paul says that we set our minds on the things of the Spirit is because the Spirit indwells us. And then in verses 12-14, he’s going to go on to spell out another practical implication of the Spirit’s indwelling. But it all hinges on this. It all hinges on this reality that the Spirit indwells you. So let’s unpack it quickly. And again, I just want to point three simple obvious things from the passage.
(1) The spirit indwells every believer. Every believer. We see this in verse 9, and actually Paul not only says that the Spirit dwells in the believer, he says that the believer is in the Spirit. So there’s a mutual indwelling here. You dwell in the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in you. And this is true for every believer. Paul is so certain of this that he says you don’t even belong to Jesus if you don’t have the Spirit. All right? Look at verse 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.” All right? So the Spirit of God dwells in every believer. If you’re a Christian, the Spirit of God is in you. If you don’t have the Spirit of God dwelling in you, you’re not a Christian. You don’t belong to Jesus. All right? That verse and the next leads to the second observation.
(2) The Spirit indwells us as the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of God indwells us, but he indwells us as the Spirit of Christ. Let’s read them again, look at verses 9 and 10: “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.” Now that’s very interesting. Paul says the Spirit of God dwells in you, then he calls the Spirit of God the Spirit of Christ at the end of verse 9. And then in verse 10, he just says, “if Christ is in you.” Now there’s a lot of Trinitarian theology going on right there! The Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ, and if the Spirit of Christ dwells in you, then Christ himself, in some sense, dwells in you. Now why is this important? Probably for lots of reasons, but here’s one: it’s important because the Spirit who dwells in you is intimately connected to Jesus. The Spirit who dwells in you is the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit of Christ. He’s Christ’s Spirit.
I’ve mentioned before that John Owen, Puritan John Owen, in his magnum opus on the Holy Spirit, says a lot about the work of the Spirit in the life Jesus, the human life of Jesus. And he shows us no less than ten ways that the Spirit of God worked in and on and through the life of Jesus. One of Owen’s greatest modern heirs is Sinclair Ferguson, and he summarizes this really well in his book on the Spirit. Here are his words: “From womb to tomb to throne, the Spirit was the constant companion of the Son. As a result, when he comes to Christians to indwell them, he comes as the Spirit of Christ in such a way that to possess him is to possess Christ himself.”
This is real important. This is really important. We saw last week that the way we are set free from the condemnation of the law, from the law of sin and death, is by being united to Christ by the Holy Spirit who binds us to him. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death, and that’s amazing freedom! And we saw how that was so beautifully expressed by Wesley in his hymn, “And Can It Be.”
No condemnation now I dread,
Jesus and all in him is mine,
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine.
And that’s what gave Wesley such boldness and confidence before the throne of God. He was free from condemnation. All that belongs to Jesus belongs to him. “Jesus and all in him is mine.”
But listen, Paul’s teaching in this passage is that the same Spirit who unites us to Christ in his sin-condemning, death-defeating death, has also united us to Christ in his life-giving resurrection. Jesus and ALL in him is mine. So the Spirit unites us to Christ not only in his cross, but in his resurrection. Not only in the sufficiency of his atonement, but also in his incarnate holiness. That’s the Spirit who lives in you, the Spirit by whom Jesus lived such a beautiful life, a life of love and joy and peace, bearing all these fruits of the Spirit. That Spirit is the Spirit who lives in you. He dwells in your heart as the Spirit of Christ, and his role is to reproduce the life of Jesus in you. And that leads to the third observation.
(3) The indwelling Spirit gives us life – gives us life. You see that verses 10-11: “But if the Spirit 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.” The Spirit gives us life. He is life inside of us, and he will give life to our mortal bodies. That means that he gives life to our spirits, to our souls now, and someday he’s going to raise our bodies from death so that mortality is swallowed up by immortality, death is swallowed up by life, we are clothed with the glory of the life of God in the Spirit. But God begins this now, and he does it through the Spirit.
And there’s a connection here to the resurrection. Did you notice that? It’s the “Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” who dwells in you and who gives you life. So resurrection power is already working inside you if the Spirit dwells in you. He gives you life. He gives you resurrection life, and that’s why Wesley in that hymn I’ve just quoted described his salvation in terms of resurrection. So in another verse, he says,
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night,
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light,
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
That’s resurrection language! “Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,” that’s a life-giving ray. He’s picturing the soul dead in sin, chained in this dungeon of darkness and sin, and the Spirit of God looks in, God looks in, and he gives life. He gives life, and he resurrects this person into life and frees him from his bondage. That’s resurrection language.
So beloved, if you’re a Christian, if you believe in Jesus, are you trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation? If you do, then the Holy Spirit lives in you giving you life right now. He dwells within you in all of his life-giving, Christ-exalting resurrection power to lead you along the path of holiness to eternal life.
And that leads us to the last point:
III. The Leading of the Spirit
The mindset of the Spirit, the indwelling of the Spirit – that’s the hinge on which everything turns – and now as another application, implication, inference of the indwelling of the Spirit, the leading of the Spirit. And you see this in verses 12-14, and once more I’m just going to break it down into three practical, well, three statements, three propositions, and I’m going to end with three practical steps of application. So here’s the first statement, the first proposition:
(1) the Spirit leads the children of God. Look at verse 14: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Now there’s a technical reason why Paul says “sons of God,” and not just “children of God,” or “sons and daughters of God.” I’m not going to get into that right now. What I – suffice to say women are included, okay? Everybody’s included here. Men, women, boys, and girls, if you belong to God, the Spirit of God is leading you. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
But I do want to comment on this phrase, “Led by the Spirit.” Led by the Spirit. Because usually, when we hear a phrase like that, we think in terms of guidance. And so we’re thinking about God giving us guidance in the personal details of our lives. What college should I choose? Which person should I marry? Should I take this new job or not? Which car should I buy? Which house should I purchase? We’re thinking in terms like that, and we of course want God’s guidance for things like that. There’s a place for talking about that, but that’s not what Paul’s talking about here. When he talks about the leading of the Spirit, when he says that, “Those who are sons of God are led by the Spirit of God,” he’s not talking about those kinds of things in this context. He’s talking about how the Spirit of God leads every Christian along a certain path to a certain destiny, and that path is the path of holiness, and that destiny is eternal life.
Okay, so here’s the second statement, the second proposition:
(2) The Spirit of God leads us to life. He not only leads the children of God, he leads us to life. That’s the destination he has in mind in verse 13: life, eternal life. And maybe you’ve noticed the running contrast between death and life in this passage. This is an important concept to grasp for connecting this to everything Paul says in the book of Romans overall. All right, so in verse 2, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” See the contrast? Verse 6: “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Verse 10: “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” And then verses 11-13, which I’ve just read a few moments ago. The Spirit leads us to life, and this is following upon the ongoing contrast between death and life in the book of Romans.
Let me give you several of the passages. Romans 5:17. Paul says, “If because of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” All right, so here’s the contrast between Adam and Christ. Adam’s sin that brought death and Christ’s righteousness that leads to life. There’s two men, two acts, and two reigns: the reign of death and the reign of life. You have the same thing in Chapter 5:20-21, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased grace abounded all the more, so that as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And then you have the same thing in Chapter 6, where Paul talks about this in terms of two slaveries. The old slave master was sin, and the fruit of his reign was death, but now we’re slaves to a new master. We’re slaves to God, and that leads to life. I won’t read the whole passage here, but just look at verses 22-23, “But now you’ve been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.” The fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end: eternal life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Now the reason I want you to see these patterns and make these connections in Romans is because I want you to see that death and life belong to two entirely different spheres or reigns. So maybe a couple of diagrams will help.
So here’s the first diagram. In this diagram, death is the consequence of being in Adam. Sin reigns through death in Adam, and this is the realm of sin and death and the law, which is weakened by the flesh so that it leads to sin and death. These are the powers of the old age. They’re the powers of the old age, for those who belong to the first Adam. Death reigns in this age. But now in the second diagram, life is the gift of God for all who are in Christ. And in this realm, grace reigns through righteousness, leading to eternal life, and this is the realm not of the law but of the gospel. It’s not the realm of the flesh, but it’s the realm of the Spirit. And the Spirit has placed us in this new realm under this new reign. He’s united us to Christ, and he’s leading us to eternal life. So then the next question is how does he do this? How does he do this? How does he lead us? And we see this in verse 13.
Here’s the third proposition:
(3) The Spirit leads us to put sin to death. The way he leads us to eternal life is along the path holiness and, very specifically here, that aspect of holiness that we call mortification. It’s putting sin to death. You see it verse 13, “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.” Put to death the deeds of the body. That means sin, and if you put it to death, you will live. If you don’t, you will die. Remember John Owen’s famous line? “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” So how do you do that? Alright, and this – we’re almost through here. I’m going to end now with three application points. How do you put sin to death in the power of the Spirit? This is the instruction booklet for how to access the Spirit’s power to live a holy life. I’m going to give you three things.
The first thing you’ve got to do, is you’ve got to exercise holy violence against your sin. That’s the language of the Puritans. They talked about using holy violence against sin, because killing is bloody work, bloody business. It’s painful. It’s not easy, it’s hard. Do you remember the words of Jesus? “If your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off.” What he means by that is that you’ve got to be ruthless with sin in your life. You’ve got to be utterly ruthless. So what does that mean? Well, it means that if you’re struggling with pornography, you need to get an internet filter, an accountability partner, and limit the access the internet on your phone, maybe get rid of it altogether. It means that if you struggle with gluttony, you need to start exercising, you need to limit your food portions and not make an idol out of food. It means that if you are comparing, constantly comparing your life with other people’s lives – there you are, you’re on Facebook, and you’re looking at these status updates, and this person seems so much happier than I seem – and all of a sudden this ugly monster of envy is creeping up in your heart. Don’t sit there looking like you haven’t done this, right? We all do this, don’t we? We’re comparing with other people. “Well, I didn’t get to go on a vacation like that!” That’s envy! That’s ugly. That’s a sin. If you’re struggling with that, maybe you need to take a break from Facebook, all right? As if those status updates really reflect the reality of anybody’s life. Nobody posts – or very rarely are people posting the trials and the problems and struggles, you know, we’re just posting the happy faces.
So you’ve got to exercise holy violence. So, whatever your sin is, whatever your sin struggle is – you know what it is. You look at your sin struggle, all right? And you ask God, what do I need to do to mortify this? What do I need to do to put this to death? I want to make an end of this, God! I want to end this! I don’t to live in slavery to this! So how do I do that? Ask, ask God for wisdom. Maybe ask a counselor or a mentor for help and for wisdom, and exercise holy violence against your sin.
That’s the first thing. Here’s the second. You have to replace sin with grace. The bad habits have to give way to good habits. It’s not enough not to hate people. We’re commanded to love people, even our enemies. It’s not enough to just not envy! We want to cultivate genuine good will toward others, so that we rejoice with those who rejoice, and we weep with those who weep. You don’t want to just get rid of covetousness and greed, you want to have a heart that full of contentment and generosity to others.
So, the pattern in scripture over and again, it’s “put off and put on.” Put off and put on. Put off some things, put on other things. So we don’t have time to talk about this in detail this morning, but just – just read Romans 13, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, and you’ll see the pattern. You put some things off, you put some things on.
You might think of it like gardening. If you want to have a wonderful garden, you’ve got to pull up all the weeds, get rid of all the weeds, and then you’ve got to plant new seeds, and you’ve got to water, and you’ve got fertilize, and so on. And that’s how you’re going to have a garden. And you and I have a garden in our hearts, and it’s either full of weeds or it’s full of fruit. And if you want to get rid of the weeds, you’ve got to exercise violence against those weeds, cut them out, and if you want fruit, then you’ve got to cultivate the grace, the graces, the virtues of Christ in your heart and in your life. All right, so that’s second.
Here’s the third thing. Those other things aren’t enough. Okay, that’s not enough. You’ve got to have something more than that, because you can’t change by mere force of will. The discipline is necessary, but the roots of sin go so deep in our hearts that the discipline’s not enough. You’ve got to have something more. So what do you need? You need the power and the grace, the help, the constant supply of grace from Christ. And so the third thing is trust in Christ. Look to Christ. Get your eyes focused and fixed on him.
Listen, Christian, Jesus died to free you from sin. His resurrection power is what makes you new. The joy of his friendship is far superior to any of those fleeting pleasures of sin. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” Without me you can do nothing. And that includes killing your sin. You can’t kill one sin without Jesus. You can’t do it! You can’t cut deep enough, you can’t get to the roots apart from him. But with him, with Jesus, the friend of sinners, with Jesus the mighty victor over sin and death and the law, with Jesus the Lord of glory and the giver of the Spirit, with him beside you and inside you through his Spirit, with him you can do all things! You can conquer that sin. So look to Jesus. Trust in him. Depend on him. Fix your eyes on him. As John Owen said so powerfully: “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin, his blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls.” Look to Christ. Now let me end this way.
My favorite book by C.S. Lewis is The Great Divorce. The Great Divorce. And I’ve mentioned this many times if you’ve been around a while. It’s on my mind because one of my kids had to read The Great Divorce over the summer and write a reflection essay on it, which made me very, very happy! I was really glad that their school is making them read this book. And so I’ve been thinking about this this week, read parts of it again this week, and this story – some of you have heard this before, but it’s too good not to share in this context.
You know the story of The Great Divorce. It’s this theological fantasy. It’s about this busload of ghosts from hell who are given an excursion into heaven, a holiday into the borderlands of heaven with the opportunity, if they choose, to stay. And this is a fantasy, all right? It’s just a fantasy, but it’s illustrating some really important things. And one by one, every one of the ghosts gets back on the bus and goes back because they would rather keep their sin than kill their sin so that they’ll desire God more than their sin. And so one by one, they choose their greed, they choose their self-pity, or they choose their pride – they get back on the bus, and they go back. All of them except for one.
There’s one ghost that stays, and this is a ghost that Lewis describes as this dark, oily ghost who has a little red lizard sitting on his shoulder, twitching his tail, whispering seductive lies. It’s the embodiment of lust. That’s this guy’s sin problem, the problem of lust. And this flaming spirit, this bright, shining angel, comes to this ghost with the lizard and says, “Would you like me to make it quiet?” “Oh, yes! I’d like you to make it quiet!” “All right, let me kill it.” “Ohh, wait a minute…wait a minute. I don’t want to do anything as drastic as that. I don’t want to kill it! Just make it quiet.” And the angel effectively says, “The only way to quiet it is to kill it. You’ve got to kill it. Do you want me to kill it? May I kill it?” And then for like, two pages, the lizard is whispering into the ghost’s ears: “You don’t want to be without me! You don’t want to say no to me for forever! You know, we can keep this under control. We’ve gone too far in the past. We won’t go further. Don’t kill me! It’s going to hurt too much! It’s going to kill you, too!” And over and again, the flaming bright spirit, this angel is saying, “May I kill it? May I kill it?” And so there’s this argument going on. And then, finally, the ghost is so desperate, even though he fears the touch, the flaming touch of this angel – he fears it! – he finally just breaks down and says, “Yes, kill it! God help me! God help me!” And so the angel seizes the reptile, breaks its back, flings it to the ground, and then this amazing thing happens. The ghost begins to transform into a man. It becomes solid and bright. He’s utterly transformed, and he becomes this immense, glorious, giant of a man. But he’s not only transformed; the lizard that’s lying there dead on the ground, the lizard changes too! It’s reborn, it’s transformed into this great, silvery-white stallion, and the man climbs on the back of the stallion, and they ride away into the everlasting morning of God’s country.
And that story just captures my imagination. It stirs me, it helps me feel the weight of glory. It steels my heart with hope. It opens my eyes to this startling truth: that anyone – anyone – who denies self and takes up their cross and follows Jesus, will discover, in turn, life and joy beyond their wildest dreams. Anybody who puts sin to death loses nothing. You don’t lose anything by killing your sin, because joy will arise like a phoenix from the ashes, as God’s Spirit leads you onward into the fullness of life in Christ. That’s how the Spirit works. He works to help us kill our sin along the path of holiness as we journey towards eternal life.
Is the Spirit working in you? If you’re a Christian, the Spirit of God is in you right now. He’s working. The question is just, “Are we cooperating with his work?” And if you’re not a Christian this morning, by simple faith in Christ, by the prayer, “Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner! Save me! Save me by your mercy!” Call on the name of the Lord, you will be saved! The Spirit will take up residence in your heart. And he’ll start you along this journey.
Father in heaven, how we thank you for your mercy given to us in Christ! How we thank you that you’ve not left us in the realm of sin and death. You’ve not left us in our old father Adam, but by your grace, your Spirit has united us to Christ Jesus so that grace now reigns in righteousness leading to eternal life. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit. Thank you that your Spirit dwells inside of us, leading us to holiness and to life. May we cooperate with the Spirit this week. May we set our minds on the things of the Spirit. May we put to death anything that is not of the Spirit. Give us the will to do that. Give us the heart to do that. Help us abide in Christ and stay connected to him, the life-giving vine, so we are receiving the sap and the energy, the life of the Spirit, moment by moment, day by day. Help us to practice presence of God this week. Help us to not live in perpetual neglect of all the blessing you’ve given us – “Jesus and all in him is mine.” May we seize our birthright this week to work in it. As we come now to the table, work in us through the elements of the bread and the juice. We know that the elements themselves do nothing, but that as we take them by faith, we are also laying hold of Christ himself, in his gloriously resurrected, ascended, and enthroned humanity with all the life and grace and blessing he has to offer us. So help us lay hold of Christ. Fill us. Unite us more closely to you. We pray in Jesus’ name.