“The Spirit Is Life” (Romans 8:1-11)

Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 10, 2011

“The Spirit Is Life” (Romans 8:1-11)

When you became a Christian, what happened? That is to say, when you were joined to Jesus in Holy Baptism and given the gift of saving faith, what changed for you? Well, we can say that God the Father took you as his own dear child. We can say that all your sins were washed away on account of Christ. But something else happened as well. You were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, to dwell in you. And that’s something special. That’s something to rejoice in. Because, as our text today tells us, “The Spirit Is Life.”

The Spirit is life. New life now. Eternal life ahead. That’s what our text today from Romans 8 tells us. You see, so far in our series of Lenten sermons from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, most of the readings have come from the first five or six chapters. And we’ve not heard much about the Spirit. In fact, through the first seven chapters of Romans, there are only one or two passing references to the Holy Spirit. He’s hardly even mentioned. But now when we come to Romans 8–there are more specific references to the Holy Spirit in Romans 8 than in any other chapter of the Bible.

Many of those references are here in our text, which consists of just the first eleven verses of the chapter. And everywhere, the Spirit is associated with life, new life now and eternal life ahead. Listen to what Paul says: “The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” We “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” “Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” “To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” God will “give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Yes, life in the Spirit all over the place. This is why, in the Nicene Creed, we can call the Holy Spirit “the Lord and giver of life.”

But life was not where we were. Before the new and eternal life that we have now in the Spirit, we knew only sin and death. If we tried to keep God’s law, we couldn’t do it. That’s sin. And because we did not and could not keep God’s law, we were faced with death as the consequence. Dead men walking, that’s what we were according to the flesh, with the grave and eternal damnation looming in front of us. Dead hearts, dead spirits, no responsive chord in us that could resonate to God’s good and holy law. There was a deadness, a deep and thoroughgoing deadness, running through our being.

Maybe you still feel some of that deadness in your heart. You know in your mind what you’re supposed to do in order to please God. The Ten Commandments tell you. But you don’t always do it. Instead, you do the very things you know you should not do. That is the pull of your sinful flesh, that deadness you feel in your soul. But guess what? You’re not alone. St. Paul himself experienced this grievous disconnect that Christians feel in their hearts. He wrote about it at length in chapter 7 of Romans, where he concludes: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

But then Paul quickly answers his own question: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Yes, God has delivered you from this body of death. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Your sins do not condemn you! You are free! Your weak and sinful flesh could not fulfill the righteous requirement of the law. But God did, by sending his own Son in the flesh. Jesus, as a man, kept the Ten Commandments perfectly. He did the will of his Father at every turn. And then Jesus bore the condemnation for sin in his body, dying for your sin and mine on the tree of the cross. Because of this, God has declared you righteous, not guilty, justified for Christ’s sake. No condemnation!

What’s more, you are free from the enslaving power of sin. You have been liberated to a new life. God has given you the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life, to dwell in you. Now you have a new set of impulses. Now there is that responsive chord in you that does resonate with the law of God. The new man delights in God’s will. Now you have a new mind, to think the things of the Spirit. You have a new power source in your life, one that will enable you to keep God’s commandments. Now it’s not the law driving you. Now it’s the Spirit leading you, enlivening you, empowering you, so that you will do God’s will, however imperfectly, you will walk according to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will order your footsteps in the way you should go, showing you the path of life. And he will keep bringing you back on it when you fall or go astray.

Will there be a battle, will there be a struggle? Oh yes. Your whole life long. Your sinful flesh–not to mention Old Scratch on your shoulder and the baleful influences of this perverse world–the devil, the world, and the flesh will keep tugging at you. But the Spirit of life, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you, will redirect your thinking back to the right way. The power of this life is such that we will walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Your eternal destiny is already a settled matter. God took care of that when he justified you by his grace on account of Christ, the free gift of righteousness you received by faith. But God wants to keep you in the faith, so that you do not fall away from it. And he wants you to walk in love and righteous living, as you make your way through this world. And for that he gave you the Spirit. The Spirit of life dwells in you, to transform your thinking, to guide your walking, and to empower your living

To walk according to the Spirit. This is to live in tune with God’s law. The Spirit’s guiding will coincide with the righteous life the law calls for. To love the Lord your God, to love your neighbor as yourself—these are things the Spirit agrees with. So when you walk according to the Spirit, you will just naturally, according to the new nature, do the law without needing a whip to force you. Walking according to the Spirit looks a lot like the Ten Commandments, only coming from the inside out.

This is the new life now. But I also said the Spirit of life in you means eternal life ahead. This is the bodily resurrection I’m talking about. This is what Paul is talking about when he says: “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.”

I hate to break this to you, but your body is going to die. Unless Jesus comes back first, this old broken-down body you’re living in is going to continue to get creaky and achy, until it stops working entirely and returns to the dust. That’s death, physical death. But God is all about life. God breathed the spirit of life into man, and man became a living being. Jesus called out Lazarus from the tomb, doing a little mini-Easter ahead of time, showing what’s to come. And of course, as our text says, God raised Christ Jesus himself from the dead. And if the Spirit of God now dwells in you–well, guess what? God is going to raise your mortal body too! Resurrection from the dead–this follows from your having the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.

Think about what we say in the Apostles’ Creed. In the Third Article of the Creed, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Then we go on to confess “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” So, likewise, Luther links the Holy Spirit and eternal life in his explanation of the Third Article: “On the Last Day he,” that is, the Holy Spirit, “will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” When we talk about the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of life, that includes the eternal life to come. “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

In Romans 8, Paul tells us: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” Dear Christians, the Spirit of God dwells in you. You have the Spirit of Christ, you belong to him. There is no condemnation for you. You have been set free from sin and death. God sent his Son to fulfill the law for you and to die for your sins. God gave you his Spirit to live in you. The Spirit of life means new life for you now and eternal life for you ahead. Now we think the things of the Spirit, and we walk according to the Spirit. And one day this same Holy Spirit will raise our bodies from the dead, raise them to life everlasting with Christ our Savior. That’s the Spirit! That’s life!

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 11:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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