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“They treated us just like family.” I wonder if you’ve ever been able to make such a statement. I hope you have. Come around here sometime if you haven’t. We were having a discussion recently in church and talking about things we had experienced in our lives – sharing life is a big part of doing life together. I believe that. I was talking about a time in my life when I experienced in a new and profound way what it means to be united with other followers of Christ in the Holy Spirit. We were in Bolivia for the first time in 2008. The welcome, the unity, the hospitality, the love we felt from our hermanos y hermanas in that country brought home to me in a completely new and deeply meaningful way the bond that we have in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of Christ as Paul calls the Holy Spirit (who is all those things). It transcended culture. It transcended age. It transcended language.
We’re gathering around the family table today. We hear Paul’s message that in Christ and through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, we are family. It’s not just a matter of God treating us like family. We are family (I’ve got all my sisters and brothers and me). Come on everybody sing! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (8:1) This is surely worth singing about. Remember when we paused and praised God with Paul for peace – “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:`1) Truly though we are called to praise, because this is not just theology we’re talking about in terms of an objective discussion about what we believe about God and who we are as God’s children. The whole chapter is a tribute of adoration of God and love of God and praise to God. We’re in Romans 8 – a section of Paul’s letter that can be seen as a sort of high mid-point. Someone has said that it begins with “no condemnation” and ends with “no separation.” In between, it’s “no defeat.”
Let us remember who we are and let us remember whose we are. Someone said in one of our Bible reflection times recently that the reason that Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Rome (and the reason that we read them today and sit with them and reflect on them and pray over them) is because we need to be reminded of the truths they contain as followers of Christ.
Absolutely! So let us be reminded.
You have the Holy Spirit of God in you. The Holy Spirit of Christ. You are a people called to live life in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit is life. Life now. Life to come.
A promise is made by God in the book of the prophet Ezekiel. 19 I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, (Ez 11:19) 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ez 36:26-27) Listen to what happens in chapter 37:1-10.
In the Holy Spirit of God, a new people is made. Listen to this vision which follows in Ezekiel 37.
37 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ 4 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. (Ez 37:1-10)
Let us stand, a vast multitude; standing with one another; standing with those who’ve gone before us (we are marking All Saints Day); standing/situated in the grace of Christ with the Holy Spirit living in us. Stand with us for this is life. Everyone wants life. Everyone wants the good life. What is the good life exactly? What is life that transcends any circumstance or situation we find ourselves in? The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is the Spirit who gives life.
We have heard about our God who calls into existence things which did not exist. We have heard of our God who brings life from death. God has done what we could not do for ourselves. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do (the law could tell us how to live in harmony with God and humanity and creation, but it couldn’t enable us to do it); by sending his own Son (Himself) in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”
We remember the cross, particularly on days we gather around the family table. In one of the great paradoxes of the faith, Christ, who knew no sin, was made sin so that we might be forgiven and so that we might walk in newness of life. In his birth and death and resurrection, Christ fulfilled the law – gathered it up into himself and brought it to a higher plane (a whole other level) – so that the just requirements of the law (again summarized with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbour as yourself”) might be fulfilled in us through the power of the Holy Spirit living in us.
This is who you are, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Get on board the deliverance train. It’s a movement from life in the flesh. By “life in the flesh,” Paul doesn’t mean the physical world here, like the physical world is bad and we should focus on things of the mind. Living in the flesh is, as we said last week, living without regard to God as gracious and loving creator; putting something or someone (often ourself) in the place of God. Life influenced by rebellion and often turned in on itself. It means to live in such a mindset or focus or orientation. Life in the Spirit is not just some spiritual otherworldly existence, but life lived in grateful and loving recognition of God as loving creator and Jesus as gracious deliverer from the sin from which we cannot extricate ourselves. It is a mindset or orientation toward Christ. Life lived in the Spirit. Life which is truly life. The Holy Spirit in us. Someone has said, “The Holy Spirit is not some impersonal force, but the life-giving presence and power of the risen Lord among his followers.” John Stott put it like this, “The Christian life is essentially life in the Spirit, that is to say, a life that is animated, sustained, directed and enriched by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, true Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, indeed impossible.”
The Holy Spirit is named 15 times in the first 17 verses of this chapter. The Holy Spirit setting us free to defeat disordered relationship or the human tendency to mess things up. The Holy Spirit creating a new people. The presence of God in us (God with us – God in us) in the Spirit who is life because of righteousness. The promise of a transformed heart through the one who condemned sin in the flesh so that the just requirement might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. What is the righteous requirement of the law but to love? The Holy Spirit living inside you in this most intimate of relationships, pouring God’s love into your heart, enabling love of God and others – because as Paul will say a little later, whoever loves has fulfilled the law. (13:8) We get this, don’t we? The Holy Spirit enabling love in us that we know did not come from us. The Holy Spirit enabling forgiveness in us that we know could not have come from us. The Holy Spirit enabling hospitality in us that we know did not come from us. The nudging of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to seek forgiveness or to seek restored relationship. This is what it means to live.
Life now and life to come. Paul looks ahead in the same we look ahead when we gather around the family table. “If the Spirit of him, who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwells in you.” The Spirit that God has given as a gift is the pledge and a sign of the resurrection life for us that is to come. Paul closely ties together the resurrection of Jesus, the gift of the Spirit, transformative life in the Spirit, and life in the age to come.
To be in Christ is to move from death to life; from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ. We are debtors, but we need to be clear who we are in debt to and how we pay it. We have been set free for life as adopted sons and daughters of God. We are debtors, but not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh (and again this idea of life in the flesh as one without orientation toward God). By the Spirit, put to death those deeds – pride, jealousy, envy, strife, self-absorption, slander, the pursuit of acquisition, grasping. By the Spirit, put to death those deeds, for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” (8:15) This is our family. What are we so afraid of?
We did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear and frustration and futility. I have no need to construct my own life and worth. Why? We have received, rather, a spirit of adoption. Adoption! What a wonderful event! New life! New family! But you have received a spirit of adoption. I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. The Holy Spirit is the mark of our adoption in the same way the court stamps or seals adoption papers to signal that they are authentic and validate the adopted one’s status as beloved family member. I have the Holy Spirit living in me. I am assured of my status before God. You know why? “When we cry “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod/ For I’m part of the family, the family of God). Abba – the familiar, familial, loving term which we might best describe as “Daddy” (though for me it would be “Dad” because I don’t ever remember saying “Daddy” and my familiar/loving term was “Dad). Abba. The same term Jesus used. In Jesus and in the Spirit of God we are so thoroughly a part of the life of the divine that we may, without fear, use the same term. May we seek times of silence in which we stop, and pray “Abba…Father.” May the Spirit enable us to hear “You are my beloved child.”
We are debtors in this family. What is it that we owe? By this I mean, for the one who walks in newness of life in the Holy Spirit of God, what is the good and fitting and proper response on our part to God’s delivering grace and love? It’s the same as it is for any family. It’s the opposite of the things that destroy families – insults, criticisms, lies, looking out for self first, gossip. May God help us to give what we owe. What do we owe one another in our families? Let’s look again at 13:8 – “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” May our prayer be “Abba! Father! Teach us to love.” The one who makes us new in this family is the one we remember and celebrate today. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift. Amen.