the letter iconSo last week we tackled all of Chapter 7…the entire chapter and while it was a daunting task I told you that I truly believe there is no better place for all of us human beings to draw strength from, because we see the amazing Apostle Paul saying hey, I tried things my way and it didn’t work.  Remember how he says, “I want to do right but I continue to do what is wrong,” I need help because on my own I just can’t get this done.  This is what I referred to last week as “The Struggle.”  It’s the struggle between our sinful nature and God living inside us and that pull of sin is something that each and every one of us deal with.  And if you remember we ended the chapter with Paul laying out for us maybe the most important lesson we can all learn…that we need God in our lives.  We just can’t get this done on our own!  We must depend fully on Him!  This is so important…and something we all have to embrace.  As I studied Romans 7 I just kept thinking why doesn’t God just take the struggle away?  Why do we have to deal with the struggle and to me the answer is pretty clear.  It’s in that struggle that we can start to understand just how much we need God in our lives.  So that is where we are, Paul really showed us that we all need to learn just how much we need God in our lives.  Now today we move into Chapter 8, and again the book keeps on building off of itself and this Chapter Paul starts to introduce the Holy Spirit to us, which is Christ living inside us.  We also learn more about our sinful nature, or in some versions this is called our flesh, or the ways of the world.  So as we get into this talk today when you hear about the desires of the flesh, we are talking about the sin nature that we all deal with.

So I would like to start by asking you a question or two.  Have you ever felt pulled in multiple directions?  Who doesn’t right?  I know the world we live in is cluttered and busy.  I got to tell you with 4 children, who all seem to have different goals for each and every night of my life…I absolutely can relate to feeling pulled multiple directions when it comes to my everyday life.  I mean just this week I stood in a park with Trey playing lacrosse on one field, while Jaden was playing soccer on another field, and Sydney was playing soccer on another, and I had no idea what to do or who to look at when, and tried to get as many “good jobs” and “thumbs ups” to each of them as possible!  You know, we all have busy schedules and can feel pulled in multiple directions by life but that isn’t my focus today.  I would like to focus on the real tug of war going on inside us today.  Many Christians are dealing with this…frankly in some ways, and at some time I think we have all dealt with this.

So here’s my next question for you today.  Do you feel like God is calling you to do something in your life?  Have you ever felt like God has called you to do something but you just seem to hesitate, like you just can’t seem to act on that calling at all?  Why is it that you know the God of the Universe has something in store for you…yet you just can’t pull the trigger?  It’s like God has placed this mission on you, and you can feel it but it’s so opposite of what the world around you wants for you isn’t it?  Then as the calling on your life sits on the shelf we can almost feel guilty because deep down we know we aren’t going all in for Jesus.  You know what, if you feel this way you are not alone in this.  The reality is there are two desires at work inside us.  There are the desires of God and there are the desires of our flesh, or our sinful desires.  What happens to a lot of us is this, we love Jesus and ask Him into our lives.  We want to do the right thing.  As we grow into a relationship with Jesus we find that God does have a plan that for our lives but we are still kind of sitting with one foot in the God stuff, and one foot in the ways of the world.  We know that God has a calling on our lives but the world continues to pull on us in the opposite direction.  This is a frustrating place to be.  It is like your heart is divided and you know what, Paul is trying to tell us that it doesn’t have to be that way and frankly it is not how we have been called to live…

Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,   2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 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,   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. NIV

Paul is saying here that the power of God can bring us to a point that we can actually please God himself!  What an interesting thought right?  That we can actually have the law fulfilled in us through Jesus and His work on the cross.  Now we can start putting this all together because Paul lets us know that there are two ways that we try to please God…it’s almost like there is something wired into us that makes us want to please God…even if we don’t realize it, we are drawn towards it.

Here’s the two ways:

  1. We try to please God by working out of our own resources.  This would be us attempting to live in our own strength and would be us living “according to our sinful nature” which we see in verse 4.
  2. We let God put His Spirit in us and fill us to live out of the resources of the Spirit.  This is also found in verse 4 when he says that we live “according to the Spirit.”

So this is it, there is just two options.  Those of you who are looking for option 3…Paul doesn’t seem to give you one.  Paul is saying that there is no other way to live.  You will live in one of these or the other.  You may keep your feet on both sides of this fence but eventually you will either live according to the sinful nature or according to the Spirit.  One way is a life without God and the other way is a life with God.  Paul draws a very clear line in the sand here.  If you live in the flesh, there are consequences and they aren’t very pretty.  If you live in the Spirit it leads to life.  This is black and white, and the reality is that Paul is saying here that you will pick a side at some point…there is no gray area here, and while he isn’t painting the prettiest picture, it is essential that we see this clearly.  So let’s look at these two sides.

The first side Paul breaks out for us is us living “In the Flesh.”

4 Consequences to a life in the flesh. (The sin nature)

1st Consequence-You will die.  Yikes…right!?!?!  Well this actually comes up twice in this part of the letter we are studying today…

Romans 8:6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;

Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die…NIV

Good grief Paul, this is a little over the top right?  Why would we die?  It’s because life is found in God.  It is not found in us.   If we live on our own power and our own wisdom and our own strength we will die…and you thought Romans 7 was the depressing chapter right?

2nd Consequence-You will be unable to submit to God’s commands.  The reality is that when we try to live without God eventually you will be unable to submit to God’s law.  You will not remain neutral in this, you will pick a side…you will either be with God or against Him.  Look at verse 7 here…

Romans 8:7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. NIV

3rd Consequence-You cannot please God.

Romans 8:8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. NIV

This is an interesting one, because if you remember we are all trying to please God one of two ways and here we clearly see that the one way we try to please God just won’t work at all.  If my human desires dominate my life, I will find a hostility rising in me against God.  I will not please him.  I will be separated from Him…which we are learning a life separated from God leads to death.

4th Consequence-You will live in bondage. 

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  ESV

Here we see Paul showing us the difference between our sin nature and the Spirit of God.  He is saying your fleshly nature leads you to bondage.  For many of us bondage can show up in a habit, or lust, or some secret sin that we just can’t push past.  We seem to be powerless to remove it, and frankly without God we are.

This life in the flesh just doesn’t paint a pretty picture here does it?  Paul is trying to help us see that we just can’t live this way.  If we love the ways of the world and bow to our sinful nature it leads to some pretty rough stuff and to add to it in verse 15 he says that we fall back into fear, that fear comes from knowing that something isn’t right.  We end up living in this ominous sense of fear.  We are uneasy.  We know something isn’t right yet we can’t seem to do anything on our own to fix it.  You know why that is don’t you?  It’s because you can’t fix it and it’s not your job.  Can I give you a guess whose job it is?  Yeah it’s His.

I think the toughest thing is we read Romans 8 and we hear these really intense consequences of living a life for ourselves, consequences like death, and slavery, and fear…but do we feel death when we live for ourselves?  Do we feel the shackles of slavery in our sin?  I don’t think we do…often times if we are honest we feel pretty good in the temporary moments and I think that becomes the issue.  We don’t see our need of God…and remember that is the ultimate lesson right?  That we need Him in our lives but it’s like somehow we convince ourselves that we don’t, that we have this under control.  We don’t feel the pain of living in the flesh because we are satisfying our own fleshly desires, and it masks or at least justifies our course of action.  So this life lived in our sinful nature leads to death, bondage, separated from God, enslaves us to the bonds of sin, and places and ominous cloud of fear on our lives…sounds like a ton of fun right?  Well I think that is the issue we are feeling the fun in the moment and dealing with the pain internally and frankly we will eternally as well.

You know when I read this chunk of Romans it sounds so similar to something written in 1 John…and I really wanted to look at this because in many ways it echoes what Paul is saying and it is just so clear here…we see John writing about the love of the world.  Really it’s that pesky sin nature that Paul is helping us see…this is so good we just had to look read it today!

1 John 2:15 Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. 16 Practically everything that goes on in the world — wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important — has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. (MSG)

Did you hear it there?  Love of the world squeezes out love for God…again we must pick a side.  It’s all through our scriptures there isn’t 3 options there is two, remember those famous words from Jesus…

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.  NIV

Paul, John, and even Jesus himself are saying “Hey, you have to pick a side.”  The reality is that we all do pick a side.  You will not be in the middle ground, because frankly if you choose to keep one foot in the ways of the world and one foot in the ways of God, you have chosen to live your way and not God’s way.

I really like the way 1 John 2:15 lays this out for us, it compares well to what Paul is saying here because Paul builds out the consequences of living in the flesh and I think 1 John really shows us how it comes out of us, and really helps build a picture of the feelings that begin to consume us.  If you live in the world’s ways you will live in fear.  You will push to look and appear important.  You will isolate yourself from God.  If you think about how that translates to our lives.  How many people do you know doing whatever they can for position and title?  How many people do you know burying themselves in debt trying to appear wealthier than they are?  How many people do you know pushing God away and then wondering why life is such a struggle?

The reality is that they are trying to live in the ways of the world and Paul really helps you see the consequences of that lifestyle…because again it is black and white.  There are only two sides and we all pick one.

Well I think we have hit the depressing side enough for today, Paul doesn’t just talk about the way of life lived in the flesh he also talks about the opposite of living in the ways of the world.  That is a life with God…with The Spirit living and active in our lives and the consequences of picking this side.

Life In The Spirit-a life dependent on God.

1st Consequence-Sin does not dominate our lives. 

Romans 8:2 For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. NLT

It’s amazing how we struggle with sin, yet Paul would say that sin does not have to dominate your life.  Death does not have to determine your destiny.  Again I think the biggest challenge here is just seeing the issue, and choosing not to live in those sins that may gratify some appetites in your own flesh.

2nd Consequence-We can actually please God!

Romans 8:4 He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. NLT

Interesting that Paul would say there are two ways that we can try to please God, but only one way gets it done…this is a pretty awesome!  Remember through Jesus we are made clean God isn’t looking down from heaven and seeing your sin, he is seeing Jesus in you!  We can actually please God, by allowing God in to our lives.

3rd Consequence-We have life and peace.

Romans 8:6 If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace. NLT

What an amazing privilege to be led by the Holy Spirit.  The reality is that when we live in the Spirit we don’t have to live in that ominous fear of God anymore.  We don’t have to live in that insecurity of needing to look important anymore.  We don’t need to step on people for positions and bury ourselves in debt to appear like something we are not…because we are God’s children raised in a spirit of adoption as His sons and daughters!  We are no longer separated from God.  We are not alone anymore.  We belong to God!

So the reality is that Paul is showing us things in a very blunt, black and white way here today.  He is saying there really are just two ways to live your life.  You can live it in your own flesh, or you can live it in the Holy Spirit.  One of these ways leads to life without God which includes bondage, fear, and death…the other is a life in God that leads to life, freedom, and peace.  If you see the way Paul breaks this all down I don’t think any of us would say, Paul I hear you hear, but I think I will choose slavery, ominous, looming fear and death.  I don’t think any of us would make such that decision consciously.

The problem is that many of us end up struggling to live our lives on one side or the other.  We end up wanting some of the world and we end up wanting some of the God stuff.  It’s like we want one foot in and one foot out.  Paul is letting you know that you must, and you will pick a side and in reality when you choose to live with one foot on each team you have already picked the side of your fleshly desires.  You are still living for you.

Do you see it?  There really are no divided loyalties…as Jesus would say…“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” 

Here’s why it is so black and white.  It’s because the flesh is never good for anything eternal.  There is no power in anything you and I do.  Remember Paul was pretty clear there is only death in our way of doing things.  We are people we have no power on our own.  There is power when we live in the Spirit.  Because God is eternal!

So I started this message with a couple of questions and I would like to go back to the one right now.  Do you believe God has a calling on your life?  Have you noticed that your mission that God has for you is probably pretty opposite from the ways of this world?  So when you find yourself hesitating or not willing to step into that calling that God has placed on your heart Paul would say that we need to pick a side.  We can’t live with one foot in the ways of this world and one foot in the ways of God.  The reality is that you can’t please both worlds.  You can’t live stuck in the middle of this thing being pulled in two directions.  Paul would say you must pick a side in this thing.  One of those ways leads to life, peace, joy, and fulfillment.  A life with God in it.  The other eventually leads to death, slavery, and fear.  A life far from God wondering where in the world God is.

So where are you at today?  Do you feel a calling on your life?  Paul would say get off the fence!  Engage your calling!  Step into this full life with Christ living inside you!  God has so much in store for you.  He does have a calling on your life but the reality is that you have to make the choice.  Pick a side, and remember living with one foot in both worlds is not an option.  When you try to live that way you have made your choice.  You are living for you.

So if you are out there today, and you can’t figure out why you can’t seem to get the bat off your shoulder and engage when it comes to the calling God has on your life my encouragement to you is this…engage a life in Christ today!  Maybe today is your day to pick a side, no more double mindedness.  No more tug of war.  Jump in fully to a life fully centered on God, a life led by the Spirit.  It’s when you pick a side that you just don’t get to find the plan that God has for your life, but it’s where you also get to also fulfill it!  And that my friends is when things get really fun!