This past week I did a wedding on Wednesday, and it was a very unique wedding, at least for me. This couple had been trying to get married for a couple years. However each time they tried to get married something would happen. Twice, the groom was arrested. I kid you not. And the last time he was arrested, they had already gotten the marriage license. They still wanted to get married, so the bride’s brother was going to stand in for the groom. I did some checking on that and found that such a practice was illegal unless one of the parties was in the military. We had to reschedule once again. The bride in this ceremony had her own set of issues. We had helped this woman several times through our community care fund by giving her food and paying for her electric bill a couple of times. But the last time she asked us for assistance, we called the light company and found out that she hadn’t paid her own light bill in over a year. Someone else had always paid it for her. We didn’t help her that time, and we haven’t since. But, she does have a relationship with me, and she wanted me to do her wedding.
And so, Wednesday afternoon, out in Raccoon Bend, I stood at the porch of a dilapidated shack with two people. One with a long criminal record. One who had been playing the system for years, and with flea bitten dogs and puppies running around my feet, I presided at their wedding. It was indeed a unique wedding, but I noticed something at that moment which is generally universal at all weddings. I looked at the bride and groom as they stood gazing into each other’s eyes. I looked at them as they made their vows and as they kissed afterward. And they radiated love for one another. No matter their past. No matter the uncertainty of the future, the love that these two people had for one another was undeniable. You could see it.
Perhaps you have seen such glimpses of this at times. Perhaps you have seen someone who radiates love and life. Perhaps you have glimpsed someone who is filled with an otherworldly spirit of hope, and it radiates into all that they say and do. I have known several people like this, and I marvel at them. It’s one thing to get a glimpse of such a thing at a wedding or some other sort of function, but it is another thing to see someone who lives their life in such a fashion. I want to spend time with people like that because when I do, I too feel full of hope. I too feel full of joy. I too feel full of peace. And here is the question I want to pose to you this morning: shouldn’t our churches be full of such people? Shouldn’t we radiate this kind of love, joy, and peace to others? When folks walk into our buildings and meet us, shouldn’t they come away thinking, “Man, those folks are full of something otherworldly. They are just different--in a good sort of way.”?
Folks who are like this; churches that are like this are because the Gospel has sunk in. The Gospel has weaseled its way deep into their hearts and changed them from deep within. The joy, love, and peace these individuals and churches have are not fleeting moments; they are lasting manifestations because folks have come to know the great love that God has poured out to them when they least deserved it.
Today, we begin Romans Chapter 8. As I have begun my study of this chapter, one continuing commentary has been front and center. Over and over I have heard, “Romans 8 is one of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible.” If verses one through four are any indication, then indeed, the next few weeks will be a thrill ride.
The chapter begins with these words, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Stop a moment and think about those words. Know that in the Greek, St. Paul uses some of the strongest possible language in this sentence. Paul says, if you have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; if you have Him as your representative; if you are joined to Him, then you do not stand condemned. Nothing you have ever done; nothing you are currently doing; nothing you will ever do will bring condemnation down upon you. Nothing. As long as Jesus is your representative; as long as you are in Him, you are right with God. Those times when you took that extra drink? No condemnation. Those times when you lusted after someone who is not your spouse? No condemnation. Those people who took their own lives by suicide? No condemnation. Those times when you gossiped and lied about others? No condemnation. Those times when you thought you were doing everything right only to find that all that you had done was wrong? No condemnation. Those times when you held another person in contempt because they didn’t believe the way you believed? No condemnation. You are in Jesus Christ. You are right with God.
Because, as Paul now says, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Paul means here that because of all those things you once did, and will do, mind you, you deserve condemnation. You deserve God’s wrath and anger. If you break a law, you deserve punishment. If you sin, you deserve to die. That’s just the cold, hard facts. But, when you are in Christ Jesus, there is another law that prevails. There is another court of justice. There is the law of the Spirit of life. That doesn’t seem to make much sense until we go onto the next verse.
“Because 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…” Now, let’s try and wrap our heads around this for a moment. What Paul is saying here is that the law could not turn us into good people. The law could not make us behave. The law could not change our hearts and make us say, “I’m going to do the right thing because the law told me to do so.” No. We saw earlier that whenever the law is given to us, there is something that rebels within us--the power of sin. That power causes us to do the exact opposite of what we know to be right. This is how the law was weakened by sinful flesh. There is nothing wrong with the law, there is something wrong deep within us. And here is the part that gets fascinating. At least it’s fascinating to me. God did what the law could not do by sending Jesus in the likeness of sinful flesh--mind you, Paul does not say that Jesus’ flesh was sinful or that Jesus was sinful. Jesus came to earth in the flesh. This is noteworthy because Paul says that Jesus condemned sin in the flesh. What does that mean?
It means that Jesus went to war with the power of sin, and he was not corrupted by it. Whereas we become corrupted by the power of sin, Jesus was not. Whereas we lose the battle and do what we know we shouldn’t do, Jesus won the battle and did what He was supposed to do. In so doing, Jesus cornered the power of sin in His flesh; He took sin into His very being, and He condemned it. He gave it a death blow. He overcame it. And he became a sin offering in the process. I know you didn’t read that in the text that is in your bulletin, but the phrase “and to deal with sin” should probably be translated “became a sin offering.” This means Jesus offered up himself to atone for our sins--to ensure that justice is served, and, here is where things get really, really cool…
Verse 4, “so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Now, if you just read this superficially, you might get the idea that all of a sudden, we will be able to fulfill God’s law perfectly. We will be able to be perfect people who do everything correctly. This is a wrong reading. That’s not what Paul is getting at at all. No. In the Greek, the verb be fulfilled is a passive verb. It is not an active verb. This means, the fulfillment is not done by us. The fulfilling of the law is not done by us. We are powerless to fulfill the law. There is only one who has fulfilled it. There is only one who has accomplished it, and that is Jesus. So, how can Paul then say that it might be fulfilled in us? How in the world can it be fulfilled in us? Here’s the cool part. When we walk by the Spirit; when we have Jesus as our representative; when we are joined to Jesus: there is an interchange that takes place. One of my commentaries put it this way, “Christ becomes what we are so that we might become what Christ is.”
Listen to that statement again because it sums up what happens when we are in Christ Jesus. “Christ becomes what we are so that we might become what Christ is.” Jesus takes on the likeness of sinful flesh, has the power of sin enter into him and try to corrupt Him--in this fashion, He becomes just like us. But, He defeats sin. He stays uncorrupted, and then offers Himself up for us as a sin offering. In so doing, He covers all of our sins. He makes us right before God, and then He places Himself on and in us through the power of the Spirit. Jesus puts Himself on you and in you through the power of the Spirit.
You may say at this point, “Well, that’s all well and good, but how come I don’t feel like Jesus? How come I don’t have peace and joy and radiate love? How come I can’t make those things happen in my life when I want them so badly? I want to be peaceful. I want to be joyful. I want to radiate love. How come I don’t?”
I think the answer is: you are trying to accomplish it yourself. You are focusing on your actions and what you think you have to do to become joyful; peaceful; and radiate love. What Paul is trying to convey to us here, I think is this: the answer to living a holy life full of love, peace, and joy is not to try harder. It’s not to focus on my actions and what I do. It’s to trust Jesus more; to turn my heart and my head toward Him and what He has done by His death and resurrection; to realize that He fulfilled the law for me; to realize He defeated sin for me; to realize that He won eternal life for me when I least deserved it. And the more you turn to Him; the more you think about what He did on the cross for you; the more you reflect upon being joined to Him in His death and resurrection; the more and more you will become like Him. And oftentimes you won’t even realize it because He is the one transforming you from the inside out!
I have also come to believe what can be said about individuals can also be said about churches. For years, I was told that a more business model of churches was what was needed to help our congregations grow. Get a good, solid mission statement. Implement long range planning. Make a plan of how to welcome guests and visitors. Implement a plan for programming so that it will grow along with your congregation. I’ve seen a lot of congregations implement these things. I’ve seen a lot of congregations who have the perfect plan for welcoming visitors and guests. I’ve seen congregations with wonderful long range plans and fantastic mission statements. And I’ve seen a few of these congregations grow. Many more remain stagnant and even decline. Why? Where is the focus? What are these congregations emphasizing? They are emphasizing and focusing on what they are supposed to do. They are trusting in themselves to grow their churches--and for a time it might work. It did at my previous congregation right up until the time disagreements broke out. Right up until the time folks began arguing about what programs were right and what programs were wrong. That is what inevitably happens whenever you focus on what you are supposed to do. Folks can and do disagree about such things, and oftentimes with just cause.
However, there really is no argument about what God has done for us. There really is no argument about what Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross. There really is no argument about how He poured Himself out for us while we were still sinners. When a church focuses on Jesus and what Jesus has done; when He becomes the full sum and substance of why a church worships, fellowships, teaches, programs, and the like; when Jesus dominates everything and the Gospel permeates the thoughts and minds of a church’s members, the doing comes naturally--because Jesus is transforming us into His image and likeness. How do we become people who radiate love, peace and joy for more than just a few moments? How do we become a church that radiates love, peace and joy for more than just a few Sundays? The answer isn’t do more--it’s remembering that in Christ there is no condemnation because He has become like us and defeated sin and death so that we can become like Him. Amen.