Monday, July 14, 2014
Setting MInd on Things of the Spirit: Sermon on Romans 8:1-11
Romans 8: 1-11
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For 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 to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For 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. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
I have said for many years that St. Paul oftentimes becomes pretty convoluted in his writing. I mean, there are some portions of his letters which are straight forward and easy to understand. It’s not hard to understand him when he says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We get this. We get this easily. But then there are those portions of his letters in which we get bogged down. There are those portions of his letters where he seems to ramble on and on and on, and the more you read, the muddier things seem. I’d argue our second lesson is like that. Paul talks at length about what it means to have one’s mind set on the Spirit and one’s mind set on the flesh. One of these is good, and one of these is bad. We get that part, I think, but I’m not sure we fully understand it–at least as it relates to the Gospel.
For I think many of us come away with the idea that Paul is telling us here, “Think about all the things God wants you to do, and then make sure you do them. That leads to life. But don’t let your mind get caught up in the flesh–the sinful stuff; the stuff that is against God’s law, because if you get caught up in this, then that leads to death. It does not please God.” This is where we tend to end up, but I’d like to remind you of something right now. I’d like to remind you about where Paul started out before he became a Christian, and it also has ties to Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees. Remember, Paul tell us in his letters that he was blameless according to the Law. Paul had fulfilled all the requirements of the Jewish Law–many of the Pharisees had as well; yet, Jesus nearly always had harsh words for them. Here was St. Paul, following the Law to a tee, and here were the Pharisees doing the same thing, yet Jesus spoke against them. Why?
Why did Paul in the middle of these verses from Romans 8 say, “7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”? Let’s take a moment to consider what it really means to have one’s mind set on the flesh and then to have one’s mind set on the Spirit.
Before converting to Christianity, St. Paul had his mind set on the flesh. Likewise, the Pharisees had their minds set on the flesh as well. “How is this possible?” you might ask. “Weren’t they following God’s Law? Weren’t they following the Ten Commandments? Weren’t they worshiping correctly and offering all the sacrifices to God in the appropriate manner?” Well, yes they were. So how is it that their minds were set on the flesh?
Here’s the answer: they were trying to work out their own salvation. You might ask, “How is that such a bad thing? They are doing the right things. Isn’t this what religion is supposed to get you to do?”
If religion were only about what you do, then sure. But you see, God isn’t interested in simply what you do. He’s interested in who you are. He’s interested in you to the very depths of your heart. He looks into your heart and sees what’s going down deep in its recesses, and when God looked deep into the heart of the Pharisees–when God looked deep in the heart of St. Paul before Paul was converted, do you know what God saw? He saw self-righteousness. God did not see a heart bent on loving and pleasing God. Instead, God saw hearts which were totally selfish.
How could that be? Think about this for a moment. Why does a person follow the commands of Jesus? Why does a person follow the Ten Commandments? If a person follows them to work out his or her own salvation, then the person is following them for a very selfish reason. What? You might say. Yes. If you follow the Ten Commandments or the teachings of Jesus because you want to go to heaven, you are following them for a selfish reason because you are following them to avoid punishment. You have a deep self-interest in avoiding punishment and getting rewards. You are trying to save your tail-end. You are only trying to please God for your sake, not for God’s sake. Can you see this, or do I need to explain further? And when you are trying to save yourself, your mind is set on the things of the flesh. Your mind is set on yourself. You are no different than those folks who engage in sinful behavior to make themselves feel good. You are both sinful. One disobeys the law of God to feel good about one’s self through indulgence. One strictly obeys the law of God to feel good about one’s self through obedience. Neither has God at the center of their heart. Both are centered on themselves.
This is why Paul says that a mind which is set on the flesh is hostile to God. It cannot follow the Law of God and please God. It is only concerned with itself. Nothing else. It may be doing the right things, but for completely wrong reasons. And this is why Paul says, “Set your mind on the things of the Spirit!”
Now, what does that mean? How does a person set his or her mind on the things of the Spirit? What are the things of the Spirit?
Simply put, setting the mind on the Spirit means concentrating on the Gospel. You know the Gospel. I’ve been saying it over and over and over again in my sermons for the past 10 months. I’ve repeated it again and again and again. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him. This is at the core of what Christianity proclaims. God took on flesh in the form of Jesus the Son, and He died for us while we were still sinners. He died for us when we were not following the commands of God. He died for us when we were centered totally and completely on ourselves. He died for those who were disobeying God’s Law, and He died for those who were following God’s law to save themselves.
Jesus came to live the life we could not live, and He died the death we deserved in order to reconcile the world to God–to reconcile you unto God. You didn’t do a blasted thing to help this process. It was all on God. It was all on Jesus. Your salvation; your reconciliation unto God was accomplished for you when you were heading in the opposite direction. When you begin to contemplate this, you are setting your mind on the things of the Spirit, and this changes you.
How? How does thinking about what Jesus did by dying for us change us?
First off, remember, if you are trying to work out your salvation and avoid punishment, you are acting with a ton of self-interest and selfishness. The same goes for thinking that you have to do something to keep your salvation. I mean, there are plenty of Christians who believe Jesus died for them and saved them, but they also believe they have to work their tail ends off or they will lose their salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your salvation is complete. It is done. Period. End of discussion. Jesus paid the price for that. Jesus lived the life you should have lived. He died the death you deserved. It is finished. It was done by Jesus, and you can’t claim any credit for it.
This is important to realize because it means you can’t be self-righteous anymore. You can’t look down your nose at another person and claim that you are somehow morally and spiritually superior to another person. You are not. None of us are. When you know that you were saved by sheer grace, and it hits your heart, all of a sudden, there are sins revealed to you that you didn’t even know you were doing. As I’ve said before, one of the ones that was revealed to me was when I listened to Timothy Keller give a lecture on evangelism and he talked about being reclaimed by the gospel. Keller talked about those of us who are clergy and how we really don’t get the gospel. How? Keller said, “I don’t know what extent it is for you, but to some degree your self-worth is tied to your ministry. How do I know this? When the worship attendance is up, your spirits are up, and when worship attendance is down, you get depressed. Your self-worth is tied to your ministry to some extent.” I hung my head because I knew it was true. I wasn’t living out grace. I was still caught up in trying to get my self-worth from other things. This kind of sinfulness is revealed to you when the Gospel takes root in your mind. You know you are broken. You know you are still in need of healing, and it humbles you. It humbles you so that you don’t see yourself as any better than anyone else–you see that you need Jesus just as much as that other person out there needs Jesus. And a well spring of thanksgiving swells up in your heart because you know Jesus died for you when you were broken.
And that leads you to say, “How can I show my thankfulness? How can I show my appreciation to Jesus for what He has done?” This is important because there are many who think that grace gives them sheer license to do whatever they want to do. I can do whatever makes me feel good because I’m forgiven anyway. There’s a term for this: cheap grace. Cheap grace means you don’t understand the price that was paid for you. Dr. David Lloyd Jones used a sermon illustration to get at this. Let’s say you come home from vacation one day, and your neighbor comes over to give you your mail. He says he saw a bill in your mail, and he paid it for you. Dr. Jones said, “At this point, I need to know how large the bill was in order to know how to respond.” If it was simply a matter of postage due, I can offer a word of thanks and go about my merry business. But if it was a letter from the IRS telling me I had to pay thousands of dollars in fees that I didn’t have, well then there is a very different response. That’s when I fall on my knees to thank you profusely.
If we realize the size of the debt that Jesus paid for us, then we fall at His feet in thanksgiving and we seek to please Him–not because we are trying to get anything from Him but because we have already received it. Not because we feel good about ourselves but because we know what Jesus did for us when we weren’t too good at all. We follow the Ten Commandments and what Jesus taught us because of what He first did for us in dying for us and removing our debt.
This is what the Gospel is all about. Jesus dying for us when we were still sinners leads us to a place of humility. It leads us to a place of serving God for His sake and not for our own. It is far removed from setting our mind on the things of the flesh. Thinking about the Gospel is setting our mind on the things of the Spirit, and that leads us to abundant life. Amen.