I have good news, and I have bad news. Which do you want first? The bad news? Good! Because that is how it is in my notes.
You might be thinking that those words are a bit strong this early in the morning. Well, "Compared to the person sitting next to me, I kind of have my life together. I'm a pretty decent individual." A pig might say the same thing about his trough mates, "I'm just as clean as they are!" But compared to humans, pigs stink! Compared to God, we stink! All of our righteousness is as filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6
Is that news bad enough for you? If I ended the sermon now, the only thing you could possibly be happy about is the chance to go home early. Otherwise, life would have no purpose at all. Life would stink! Fortunately, there is good news! It is called the Gospel. It's called the Gospel for a reason because it gives life a purpose and it deodorizes the stench that surrounds us.
For the good news, you could turn to many places in Scripture. In fact many more places than the bad news. Today we begin a sermon series on the eighth chapter of Romans. Turn with me to Romans chapter eight. This is a very popular chapter in the Bible very much debated. But we are not looking for debate, we are looking for Jesus.
Romans 8:1. The good news is, Therefore, there is now no...what? There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. How great is that! Some translations add words like, "who do not walk according to flesh, but according to Spirit." But the most ancient of known manuscripts do not include this phrase. Rather, these words are found later in verse four. So, what we find here is "no condemnation" period. This is free, unconditional forgiveness. Now that is something we don't know much about as humans. You know it is hard to forgive somebody who keeps doing the same thing over and over. Usually when somebody says "Oh I'm so sorry, I did that again." We say "I'll forgive you, but it would be a lot easier if you would quit doing it!" At least that is me, I don't know about you. This is free unconditional forgiveness. This is grace. This is what the woman caught in adultery and cast at the feet of Jesus found. Jesus said "neither do I condemn you." He said that before he told her to go and sin no more. This was unconditional. Her forgiveness was not even based upon her asking for it, was it? We don't have record of her saying "Will you forgive me?" No! He just said "Where are your accusers? Well, I don't accuse you either." Jesus did not condemn her, but rather, He condemned sin. Jesus released her from the penalty of sin by forgiving her and from the power of sin by loving her. Then he could say "Go and sin no more. Out of the power I give you. Out of the love that I give you. Out of the love you have for me."
Now, I am not pretending to extract all of the meaning from these verses today. I'm not sure that this could be accomplished even in a series of sermons. But I do wish to bring out a few things of interest to me.
Did you notice for whom there was no condemnation? The last part of Romans 8:1 For those who are in Christ Jesus. Paul uses that phrase a lot. In fact we can overlook that phrase because it is used so much. We can read "in Christ Jesus" and keep going. What does it mean? It's really important to find out what this means. Interestingly enough, a story from the Old Testament may help illustrate this. The story of Noah.
In Genesis 6:14 we read, So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. The Hebrew word, kapar, is used here for "pitch." This identical word, in this very form, is used all over the Old Testament for "atonement". Think about that for a little bit. Just as the ark was covered with pitch inside and out, we are covered by the blood of the Lamb inside and out through His atonement.
In Genesis 7:16 we find that after Noah and his family entered the ark, Then the LORD shut him in. Who shut him in? The Lord. Noah did not even have the strength to close the door. "Here was complete security. God did not say to Noah, once the ark was finished, 'Now, Noah, I want you to take eight spikes and drive them into the outside timbers of the ark. So long as you and your family hang on, you will be saved, but once you let go you will be lost.' I'm glad he didn't say that. We wouldn't be here today. No! God shut him in. What it meant for Noah to be 'in the ark,' it means for us to be 'in Christ Jesus.'" (Phillips Translation) No matter what the world throws at us, we can have peace. We are safe.
I often use this illustration when giving Bible studies. Many Christians believe that salvation comes through trying real hard to get closer to God. Much like climbing Jacob's ladder. Like the old song says, "Every round goes higher, higher." It's a good song, but our theology is sometimes based on this. When this type of Christian slips and falls, he hits bottom, just like you would if you fell off a ladder. He is hurt by humiliation and guilt. He wonders if he will ever be good enough to be saved. And unfortunately the answer to his question is "No. It's not going to happen."
I prefer to think of salvation as more like an elevator. It is your choice to get on. (It could even be said that God gives us the power to make this choice.) But once it begins to rise, your "work" is done! The elevator does the work of lifting you higher...and higher. On the journey, you may be walking around the elevator and trip over your shoe laces and fall down, but it keeps rising. The elevator doesn't seem to notice. Jesus can even use our mistakes to continue to draw us closer to Him if we trust Him and are willing to learn from Him. And out of love and gratitude for his holding and lifting us no matter what, then we turn our lives around and say "What can I do to serve you? What good thing can you do for me?" Yes, we still have the choice of anytime pushing a button and getting off. He never forces us closer. But as long as we are "in Christ Jesus," there is no condemnation! There is a growing relationship that gives us the desire to follow God's law. Out of love for what He has done, is doing and what we know he will do for us.
Look at the next verse. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.... Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2. To gain the full impact of verse two, it is helpful to think of chapter seven. This verse is the focal point of a major shift in the book of Romans. Chapter seven mentions the law and its synonyms 31 times, but the Holy Spirit only once. Chapter eight speaks of the Holy Spirit at least 20 times. Something is happening here. Romans 8:2 claims that the Spirit through the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (that is, the gospel) sets us free from the law of sin and death (that is, the condemnation of the law). The wages of sin is death because sin separates us from the Spirit of life. Death is not necessarily seen here as a punishment. It is seen as a natural result of what happens when we are taken away from the Spirit of life. That is much like uprooting a plant. When the roots no longer find water and nourishment it withers and dies. The human being that is not connected to the Creator begins to wither and will die as a natural result. You notice that when Adam and Eve sinned the punishment was death but they didn't die immediately did they? Their death happened because they were separated by sin from the Life Giver.
In verse one we learn that we are no longer under the law's condemnation, while in verse two we discover a certain liberation that Christians have in the gospel. That release is not, however from the law itself which is good, holy, just, and spiritual, but from both bondage to sin and from the law's condemnation. Thus Paul proclaims Christian liberty that frees Christians from the negative and opens them up to the positive through the Spirit's guidance and power. (Knight) We don't have to live a negative life of "Oh what do I have to do?" It's the positive life of "Oh, how much I want to do!"
Picture a coin falling toward the ground under the influence of the law of gravity. In itself, that coin is powerless to overcome the downward pull of this earth. It is in its very nature to fall. But before it has gone far, someone reaches out an arm and grasps it, holds the coin firmly in his hand, and then lifts it higher and higher in defiance of the law of gravity. This does not mean that the original law has ceased to operate, but it does mean that a higher power has come into force. We sin by nature because we are victims of the fall and because it is the nature of fallen man to sin. (Phillips) But just as we all share in Adam's sin, we can also all share in the righteousness of Jesus, the second Adam, who knew no sin.
Release from the control of sin could never come through our own efforts. Romans 8:3 continues, For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man. This is a verse that has stirred much controversy. "Ok, what is sinful flesh? What does all this mean?" Back and forth. This caused many trees to die because of so many books being written about it. It may be simpler if we just went back to John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. What does it mean to be in Christ Jesus? How do you get there? By believing in Him. It boils down to Love. Jesus' perfect life took the power away from sin. His death demonstrated the results of being separated from the Spirit of Life. Suffice it to say, Jesus won! I don't care how you split hairs on this verse. It all comes down to "Jesus won, and I'm on His side." We know the results of this. Which side are you choosing? The losers? I don't think so. If they have already lost, they can't win.
We cannot fathom what it was like for Jesus to become one of us. When you think of the vastness of the universe which He created and that he had access to, it makes becoming human unimaginable. I heard some people compare the difference between God and us to the difference between us and an ant. That's not even close! Humans and ants are kissing cousins compared the difference between us and God. (Johnson)
I read that "The more we reflect upon the incarnation the more amazing does it appear. How can we span the distance between the mighty God and a helpless child?" We can't comprehend it because we can't comprehend God.
In this state, Jesus dealt with sin, on every level. Romans 8:4 "in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit."
The wording here is very important. That the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met IN us...This does not say "BY us." We can't do it. But it can be done IN us. When we are in Christ Jesus, He is in us! Remember the pitch. Inside and out on that ark. Anything good is through Him, not us. That is how we tell where we stand. The law does not save us. The law is like a mirror which points out our deficiencies. But it cannot clean them up. If I look in the mirror and see a skin cancer forming on my face, I can do nothing about it by myself. Furthermore, neither can the mirror. We are powerless to do anything against the skin cancer. But I am warned by the reflection in the mirror that I need to go to the doctor. The Great Physician can remove the cancer of sin. When we are in Christ Jesus, we love the law for its ability to point us to a deeper relationship with Him. Why do you think the Psalmist says over and over "I love your law. Judge me oh Lord." When I first read that I say What?! Who wants judgement? Laws are horrible! But David understood this. I love your law because it shows me how to have a deeper closer relationship with you. And thus I want to meditate on it day and night because I want to be your friend Lord, I want to know you more. When we are outside of Jesus, we hate looking at the law for what it reveals. We are condemned by it. We can no more clean up ourselves than can a baby change its own diaper. And we are just as filthy. We can do nothing by ourselves. We are powerless. You have heard the phrase "Oh, pick yourself up by your own bootstraps". Is that possible? But that's how we as Americans are raised. "Stand up for yourself. Do what's right. And get yourself out of that trouble. You can do it you are an American." It may be true. We have great privileges here. But it is not true spiritually. That's why we as Americans have such a hard time with this concept, because we have been raised to raise ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We cannot do that spiritually. We have to have help.
When we see the path of the Christian walk, and it is a walk, it is a journey an ever changing, growing journey. And when we see this path, it does us good to realize that others may not be as far along this path as we are, but it is the same path. And others are ahead of us on this path. We don't need to be jealous of them or spiteful of the others. It is the same path going the same direction. The point is to be on the right path. Some have not progressed as far in their relationship with Jesus as others have, yet they are just as forgiven. Jesus died for them just as quickly as He died for me. And for you.
Jonathan Edwards, was the third president of Princeton University, he had a daughter with a temper that was out of control. Yet most people never witnessed this problem. It was kind of "hush-hush" back then. You weren't proud of your faults. So she didn't get out of the house much. Because this president of Princeton University was a little embarrassed to have a daughter like this. A nice young man fell in love with her and asked her father for permission to marry her. "You can't have her," "But I love her," "You can't have her," "But she loves me,""You can't have her." "But Why?" "Because she is not worthy of you." "But, She is a Christian, is she not?" "Yes, she is a Christian young man," the Edwards said, "but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live." Do you know anybody like that? Do you know me? Then you know somebody like that. I know you too. Sometimes we are pretty hard to get along with aren't we? Because we are not at the end of the path. We have not totally reflected the love of Jesus yet. We are on the path toward that, we're growing. Sometimes we slip on the path, but as long as we don't fall off the path we are ok. We still have no condemnation. We are still forgiven. We are still learning.
We can all be pretty hard to live with. And I have yet to meet anyone who can claim to have the perfect walk with Jesus. I said "that can claim". I have met people that did claim but they could not. It was obvious to everyone but them. They were not looking in the mirror for themselves. But it was not my job to hold the mirror up for them.
Do not let that imperfection that you see in others and the imperfection that you see in yourself prevent you from taking advantage of God's grace.
Years ago, a ship, a sailing vessel, was in distress on the high seas. There in the middle of the sea her supply of fresh water had run out. The crew was facing a horrible death by thirst. Their tongues were swelling up, their lips cracking, staring in a glaze about them. Ironically there was water all around them. When hope was almost lost, they sighted a ship in the far distance. The men became a little more alert. At once they hoisted signals of distress asking, "Help! Out of water." The ship in the distance ran up signals that said, "Dip it up." They thought this was a cruel joke. Surrounded by salt water? Maybe they misunderstood. They signaled again, but the same answer came back, "Dip it up." One sailor was actually desperate enough to try. What a shock! The water was fresh! This was no miracle. They just did not realize that they were not far from the mouth of the mighty Amazon River which was forcing fresh water into the sea a hundred miles with its mighty current.
So many are willing to give up when living water surrounds them. Do not ignore God's grace. Spend life enjoying the assurance of being in Christ Jesus rather than being fearful all the time.
In the summer of 1982, I went with a group from Southern Missionary University on a six and a half week European Study Tour. Before we left, we each purchased a Eurail Pass. I still have it. We al got the second class Eurail ticket. This ticket would allow you to ride trains all over Europe without needing to buy a ticket every time you boarded a train. You could just show this thicket to the conductor when he walked through the train and he would look at the dates to make sure that you were not out of date on it and you were fine. It saved a lot of time not waiting in line at ticket booths. This worked really well. Since it was so valuable, I kept it with my passport in a bag my mother had made to hang around my neck to discourage pickpockets. You put it under your shirt right next to your heart.
One day we planned something special: a cruise down the Rhine River in Germany. We were all looking forward to this voyage because we had heard of the beautiful natural scenery, the vineyards that were there, and the many ancient castles on the hilltops that line this river. Oh, we were looking forward to this day; just sitting back and enjoying the scenery. And the day was perfect, just like today; beautiful sunshine, not too hot. We arrived at the dock by train a little early. Being a vegetarian in Europe was not an easy thing in the early eighties. So I was constantly looking for something to eat. Up to that point I was subsisting mainly on cheese, crackers and chocolate. After a while that gets old. I saw our boat by the dock. A few people were already on board but there was time to check out the food stand at the top of the hill. So I went with a few friends to try and read the German menu. While trying to find out what was eatable and I couldn't figure it out. I was hungry and was so involved with the menu that I lost all track of time. I heard the boat whistle down on the river, and I suddenly realized that I was the only member of our group still looking for food. They had all headed down the hill and they were already getting on the boat. I had only a few minutes to get on board. My appetite disappeared because I realized that I was about to be left behind in the middle of a foreign country with no idea of where I group was even headed.
I ran down the hill and got in line to board the boat. All my group was on the boat, I got in line to get on. Then I realized that our leader had not given me a ticket to get on the boat! I must not have been around when they handed the tickets out. My anxiety level rose a notch. All my group was already on board. The line passed single file by the very gruff looking German captain. I noticed with despair that he was examining every ticket meticulously. Some people he would allow on board. Others, he turned away. From the best I could figure, he was informing them that they were in line for the wrong boat or were there at the wrong time. I was praying that I would somehow be allowed to board the boat without a ticket. The captain did not look like a sympathetic kind of fellow. Can I explain to him that the group is on board and they've got the tickets? I could just see him saying, "Get lost!"
The person in front of me was there and he took her ticket and looked at it carefully and let her on the boat. Then I stepped up and stood in front of him and I noticed that he was looking at me with a blank stare. Then he reached out his hand and demanded the ticket from the person behind me! Did he not see me? I'm standing right in front of him. Have you ever been invisible? I couldn't believe it! I walked a few paces up the gang plank fully expecting to hear "Auchtung! Get back here and show me your ticket!" But it didn't happen. And I walked past him and I went to my friends and said, "I got on the boat without a ticket." And they said, "No, you didn't. You had your ticket with you." " I did?" "Your Eurail pass also lets you on the boat." "Really? Nobody ever told me that." But the captain didn't see it because it was in a bag next to my passport under my shirt next to my heart.
My ticket to get on the boat had been with me all along. Unfortunately many Christians live in fear of not being able to get on board when Jesus comes, when all along they had the ticket of Jesus Christ in their hearts. Why do we live in fear? These verses, and many others, share the assurance of the salvation that we all have if we are in Christ Jesus and He is in us, because Jesus paid it all.
Sources: Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary 3000 Illustrations by Walter B. Knight The Gift by Kim Allan Johnson He Chose the Nails by Max Lucado Walking with Paul through the Book of Romans by George Knight Exploring Romans by John Phillips The Letter to the Romans by William Barclay
Hymn of Praise: #24, Every Star Shall Sing a Carol Scripture: Romans 8:1-4 Hymn of Response: #184, Jesus Paid It All
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last updated 4/26/04 by Bob Beckett.