Living In the Spirit

                                      Sermon on 18 September 2016 John 14:15-21,25-7/                                                Romans 8:1-16          PASTOR DON PIEPER


                                          “LIVING IN THE SPIRIT


            Last week..., we read of how Paul admits to a battle waging within him: “There is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is within me – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong!”  (Romans 7:21-23)

            It's quite the dilemma..., but it doesn't end there.  Many of us convince ourselves we're good enough as is.  The last thing we want is anyone suggesting that something's amiss or wrong with us... 

Hobbes:          Aren't you supposed to be doing homework now?

Calvin:                        I quit doing homework. Homework is bad for my self-esteem. 

Hobbes:          It is?

Calvin:                      Sure! It sends the message that I don't know enough! All that emphasis on right answers makes me feel bad when I get them wrong. So instead of trying to learn, I'm just concentrating on liking myself the way I am. 

Hobbes:     Your self-esteem is enhanced by remaining an ignoramus? 

Calvin:                  Please! Let's call it “informationally impaired”.   

            Calvin's comments reveal the danger of living in denial of our need to know when/where we are in the wrong.  Paul explains that this is the purpose of God's law.  The law, like a mirror, reveals our flaws, where we are out of sync with the character and will of God.  The story of Adam & Eve teaches us that getting out of sync...separates us from God and that separation brings death – physical/spiritual.

            As Paul declares at the end of chapter 7: “Oh, what a mess I am!  Who will free me from this life dominated by sin and death?  Thank God!  The answer is Jesus Christ our Lord who brings showing us a new way of living by walking in the Spirit!”  (Romans 7:24-25)

           This, then, brings us to the heart of Paul's letter – Romans 8 – the center of his letter.  Here Paul speaks of the freedom we gain through this life-giving Spirit – the Holy Spirit, who sets us free from the fear of being condemned for messing up God's perfect plan for us and others, and then adds this:           “The Law was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature so God did what the law could not do.  God declared an end to sin's control over us giving his son as a sacrifice for our sins.  He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”  (Romans 8:3-4)

            It's like the extraordinary experience of Ernest Gordon, a British officer captured by the Japanese during WW II. Gordon was sent to work on the Burma-Siam railway where 80,000 men ultimately died, 393 fatalities for every mile of track.  It was a brutal place, dominated by hate and survival at all cost.  Stealing and backstabbing were prevalent. At one point a shovel went missing so a guard lined up the men demanding to know who took it but no one spoke. 'All die;all die!' he screamed raising his rifle to fire at the first man in line. At that instant an enlisted man stepped forward stood at attention and said 'I did it'. The guard fell him on with a fury, ultimately crushing his skull with the butt of his rife.  Later when an inventory was made, a mistake was discovered: there was no shovel missing! The words of Jesus were quoted that night: “There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends.”     (John 15:13)

            Gordon credits that event for why he stopped following his sinful nature....and instead began following the Spirit.  He even pursued the ministry after the war.                                                                                  

            So how does this work?  How do we follow the Spirit whom we can neither see nor touch?

Paul offers several key insights...:

1)     The Holy Spirit resides within all who open the door of their hearts to Jesus.

2)     His life-giving Spirit sets us free by guiding us and giving us a whole new mindset.

3)     The Holy Spirit living within you has resurrection power.

4)     Learning to follow the Spirit helps us grow into the very likeness of Jesus himself.

            One, here in Romans 8 Paul repeats a teaching from his letters to the churches in Corinth, where he wrote: “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.”  (1 Corinthians 12:3)

            Paul echoes that teaching here in Romans 8: “The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.”  Or again, “For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm we are God's children.”                              (Romans 8:11, 16)

            Paul makes it clear that as we open our hearts to Jesus, His Spirit comes to live within us.  This echoes the promise Jesus himself made when he said, “Behold!  I stand at the door and knock.  If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in...”              (Revelation 3:20) 

            As the perfect gentleman he is, he doesn't force his way in, he waits at the door of your heart and your life, knocking, waiting for you to open the door.  He knocks sometimes by sending people into our lives who give witness to his love and grace.  Othertimes by setting up so called coincidences that grab our attention or by stirring His Spirit within ours, as he suggests in verse 16... 

            If you've never done so, why not do so today?   Open the door, and invite Jesus in... 

            Second, Paul tells us His life-giving Spirit sets us free by guiding us and giving us a whole new mindset.  Paul writes, “No longer follow your sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.  Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.   Letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death, but letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”  (Romans 8:4-6)

            So how does that work?  How do we follow the Spirit?  Well, put one foot in front of the other!

            Step 1: Learn to recognize Jesus' voice.  Jesus said: “(I am he) who calls his sheep by name and leads them out.  I walk ahead of them and they follow me because they recognize my voice.”                                                                                                                                    (John 10:3-4)

            How do we come to recognize his voice?  By listening to and studying his words in the gospels.  As you come to know his heart and the things that're important to him you'll recognize his words to you.                                                                                                                      

            How do we follow the Spirit?  Step 1: Learn to recognize Jesus' voice.

            Step 2: Learn what pleases the Spirit.  Paul wrote: “Those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.”  (Romans 8:5)  How do you learn to do that?  Listen for what he's up to in the places in Scripture that focus on him.  Jesus talks about him, as we heard in this morning's first reading.  As we see in Romans, Paul talks a lot about him.  There's even a book in the New Testament that is solely dedicated to telling of the Spirit's influence on the early church: Acts! 

            As you read through Acts you'll see that the types of things that are pleasing to the Spirit are when followers of Christ are actively helping, healing, witnessing, glorifying and otherwise loving on others in Jesus' name.  As Paul put it: “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22)                                                                                 

            How do we follow the Spirit?  Step 1: Learn to recognize Jesus' voice.

            Step 2: Learn what pleases the Spirit.    Step 3: Learn from others.  

            There are a number of Christ followers in our community who actively seek to be led by the Spirit who could mentor you.  There are also a host of books out there by other followers who are or have done the same:  Francis Chan, Nicky Gumbel, Catherine Marshall, John Wimber, to name a few. 

            Get mentored!   How do we follow the Spirit?  Step 1: Learn to recognize Jesus' voice.

            Step 2: Learn what pleases the Spirit.    Step 3: Learn from others.  Step 4: Pray and practice!

            It's a process of learning to trust that God wants to directly and personally lead you in order to make your life more meaningful, more significant, as you increasingly look at life and faith as an adventure in discovering what that next thing God has in store for you, from moment to moment... 

            Usually I sense his leading thru inner nudges.  I had one this week about our roofers...  I prayed as I got out of the car but didn't see them anywhere.  When I walked in Walt was telling them about Alpha.  I sat with them, got acquainted, and after Justin asked a question about our church I told him about our worship & Alpha.  Whether he and his family come is in God's hands but I knew God was in the midst of that conversation...  'God is on the move' – our job is to try and keep up and in step...!

            A third insight Paul shares in Romans 8: The Holy Spirit living within you has resurrection power. That's what makes prayer ministry so powerful.  When we pray over one another the Holy Spirit within us is activated.  This week at Alpha, Shawn, Natalia and Josh got up in front and shared how, in their own ways, they experienced this.  Shawn's depression gave way to outgoing vitality, Natalia's pain was turned to joy and Josh's infected gall bladder gave way to healing and God being glorified! 

            “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you!”  (8:11) Trust that...! 

            Fourth, Learning to follow the Spirit helps us grow into the very likeness of Jesus himself. Paul writes: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  You have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves.  Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as His own child-ren.  Now we call him, 'Abba, Father.'  For His Spirit joins with our spirit.  We are God's children!”                                                                                                                     (Romans 8:14-16)

            Notice that here that relationship is expressed not so much as individuals but as a family, as community.  We are God's children – collectively!   Only together do we become the Body of Christ!

            Remember Ernest Gordon?   For most of the war the prison camp had been a laboratory of survival of the fittest, every man for himself.  Prisoners fought over food scraps, officers hoarded their special rations, theft was prevalent.  Men lived liked animals. Then came the sacrifice of that private.  Afterwards attitudes began to shift.  Prisoners started treating the dying with respect.  Prisoners began looking out for each other rather than themselves.  Thefts all but disappeared.   I'll let Gordon tell it...

            “A new Spirit spread through the camp.  Death was still with us, but we were slowly being freed from its destructive grip.  We were seeing for ourselves the sharp contrast between the forces that made for life and those that made for death.  Selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, greed, self-indulgence, laziness and pride were all anti-life.  Love, heroism, self-sacrifice, sympathy, mercy, integrity and creative faith, on the other hand, were the essence of life, turning mere existence into living in its truest sense.  These were the gifts of God to men and evidence that even there...we could walk in His Spirit.                                                                                

            God was calling us to live the divine life in fellowship!”   Gordon tells of the transformation of the men in the camp, a transformation so complete that when liberation finally came the prisoners treated their sadistic guards with kindness and not revenge.  They had come to resemble Jesus himself.                                                                                                           (from the book, To End All Wars)

            The miracle on the River Kwai was no less than the creation of an alternative community, a tiny settlement of the kingdom of God taking root in the least likely soil, a spiritual fellowship that some how proved more substantial and more real than the world of death and despair all around. 

            And now he is calling you and me.  He wants to lead you by the Spirit but he doesn't do so as isolated believers but as the children of God, called, claimed, adopted as His own, that through us, led by His Spirit, we may bring to life, in this place and time, the kingdom of God, as we give up our own agenda to embrace his and as he leads us from the darkness of self into the new life of the Spirit!

            “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you!”  (Romans 8:11) Trust that!