Taken from the reading - Romans Chapter 8, verses 1-11
'There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit, which brings us life in union with Christ Jesus, has set me free from the law of sin and death.
What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending his own Son, who came with a nature like our sinful nature, to do away with sin.
God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit, and not according to human nature.
Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants. Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants.
To be controlled by human nature results in death; to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace.
And so people become enemies of God when they are controlled by their human nature; for they do not obey God's law, and in fact they cannot obey it. Those who obey their human nature cannot please God.
But you do not live as your human nature tells you to; instead,you live as the Spirit tells you to - if, in fact, God's Spirit lives in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ lives in you, the Spirit is life for you because you have been put right with God, even though your bodies are going to die because of sin. If the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from death, lives in you, then he who raised Christ from death will also give life to your mortal bodies by the presence of his Spirit in you.
One thing lockdown has highlighted is the two sides of human nature.
We have seen the good and the bad side, selflessness/selfishness. Care for others and self preservation. We have witnessed: Keyworkers on the frontline risking their lives in serving others, going the extra mile – indeed more. Some wonderful acts of kindness as communities have pulled together. Shopping for neighbours, telephone calls. Others have put themselves out raising money to help those affected by the pandemic.
Examples are – Captain Tom doing a 100 laps of his garden and raising 33 million pounds. Six year old Tony completing 10 kilometres walking on his prosthetic legs, achieving over 1 million pounds. Christine Vorley on the Island doing 19 marathons in 19 days and raising around £100,000. Yes, we have seen some of the very best of human nature.
We have also witnessed the worst of human nature: People selfishly stockpiling items from the supermarket. Crowded beaches in Bournemouth. Liverpool football supporters at the pier head. Illegal parties in parks. Acts of violence, stabbings in Reading and Glasgow.
The two sides of human nature have been very evident. Many of the acts of kindness have been carried out by people without a religious faith and some of the selfish actions have been committed by people who would regard themselves as Christians.
I am sure that we don’t need reminding that we have all been made in the image of God and as such were made perfect in a perfect world.
But not perfect for long. We all know what happens soon after the creation of human beings. We are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, representative of perfect human kind, in a perfect garden, the garden of Eden.
Not perfect for long though for they disobeyed God by eating fruit from the forbidden tree. So sin entered the world – the desire to disobey God and do our own thing, controlled by human desire rather than the will of God.
So since the beginning of creation, this tension has existed, between our bodily lives (the Bible calls it life in the flesh) and our spiritual lives. The apostle Paul experienced this tension in his own life and he refers to this experience in his letter to the Romans: He wrote,
‘ I don’t do the good I want to do, instead I do the evil I do not want to do. If I do what I don’t want to do, this means that I am no longer the one that does it, instead, it is the sin that lives within me.' (Romans chapter 7 verses 19 and 20)
The sin that lives in Paul is the sin introduced into the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience and passed on through every generation. Paul again reminds us of this when he wrote in Romans 3 verse 23:
‘Everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’
Paul realised this when he had a vision of Jesus on the Damascus Road on his way to arrest, persecute and kill Christians. He had come a long way since then, but still realised the power of sin over peoples’ lives, including his own.
Paul, having begun life as a devout Jew, regarded as important the keeping of the law – the 10 commandments and all the additional rules and regulations added by the religious leaders. But now he was discovering that keeping the 10 Commandments and leading what was considered a good life, did not deal with the problem of sin. He wrote:
‘What the law could not do because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending His own Son, who came with a nature like man’s sinful nature, to do away with sin’ (Romans 8 verse 8)
This doesn’t mean Jesus was a sinner. He was fully human, but without sin. But He bore the burden of oursins on the cross and freed us from the power of sin and its consequences.
So Paul was able to joyfully proclaim and with relief:
There is now no condemnation for those who live in union with Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8 verse 1)
Paul goes on to describe the choice we have.
We can choose to live a life controlled by the desire of our human nature (i.e. life in the flesh) – a life in which God plays no part or we can live a life controlled by the Spirit of God.
To live according to the desires of our human nature, we succumb to the destructive elements of sin, which leads to spiritual death (i.e. we are inwardly condemned and cut off from God)
But, If we live the life of the Spirit, we are controlled by God and enabled to live Christ-like lives, empowered and changed by His Spirit in our hearts.
Instead of spiritual death, we enjoy eternal life, here and now and completely in the life to come.
No wonder Paul urges us:
‘..not to live as our human nature tells us, instead live as the Spirit tells us to’
Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, that these two ways of life are opposed to each other. They are enemies.
In Galatians chapter 5 verses 19-21, he lists some of the destructive behaviour of life controlled by the flesh and the consequences of such a life, which is condemnation and exclusion from God’s Kingdom.
In contrast to this, life in the Spirit of God produces
‘Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control' (called the fruit of the Spirit)
The Spirit brings us freedom and life.
We only need to turn to the day of Pentecost to see the impact of God’s Spirit in the lives of those who heard Peter’s sermon on that day.
The crowd were horrified to hear Peter telling them that they had killed Jesus who was their long expected Messiah – the saviour they had been longing for. The people were deeply troubled and said to Peter:
‘What shall we do brothers?’ (Acts chapter 2 verse 36)
Peter replied: ‘Each one of you must turn away from his sins and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven so that you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit’ (Acts chapter 2 verse 38)
3,000 people responded to Peter’s call that day and began a new life in the Spirit. They had turned away from their sins, affirmed their faith in Jesus through baptism and welcomed the Spirit of God into their lives. With the help of God they broke free from the power of sin in their lives.
This didn’t mean they suddenly became perfect. They would still be tempted by desires of the flesh as we all are, but with God’s help they could resist.
In writing to the Christians in Rome, what Paul wants us to know is that the Law (the 10 commandments) may be a guide for living according to God’s will, but cannot free us from the power of sin over our lives or save us from being condemned. Only God has done this through Jesus and his love for each one of us.
Paul summed up the good news of Jesus, in the first verse of our reading where he wrote:
‘There is now no condemnation for those who live in union with Christ Jesus’ (Romans chapter 1 verse 8) Our second hymn today echoed these words – the hymn ‘ And Can It Be’ by Charles Wesley, who wrote in verse 4:
‘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.’
And what a difference it made to Charles Wesley's life!
May we experience the release and freedom that comes through following Jesus and may we know the peace and the love and the joy of having Him dwell in our hearts