MESSAGE FOR JULY 4, 1999 FROM ROMANS 8:10-11
This week, we continue to study Romans chapter eight as Paul writes about life in the Spirit. A key verse in chapter eight is verse four where Paul states the reason why the believer has been, through Christ, set free from the penalty of sin and the power of sin is, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature (or “flesh”) but according to the Spirit.” Paul says that Christ’s work in liberating us from sin’s power and penalty were accomplished so that His church could LIVE a certain way, fulfilling the law. This is the promise of the New Covenant in Ezekiel where God promises that He will give to his people “a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
This is just what Paul says in verses 5-9 where he says that those who are “in the Spirit” that is, those in whom God’s Holy Spirit dwells, have been given a new mind and that new mind influences them to live in fulfillment of the law through the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who are “according to” or “in the flesh” cannot live this way because their minds are “hostile to God” because they are not Christians—they do not have the Holy Spirit in them. We said last week that Paul’s main point in verses 5-9 is to show that the reason believers can live above the power of sin is because they have undergone an essential change in their spiritual nature. They are “in-the-Spirit” people, not “in-the-flesh” people and have, by the Holy Spirit, the power to fulfill the law. This challenges us to continue to strive after godliness because that is what our new nature in Christ enables us and compels us to do. We are called to LIVE OUT the life God has purchased for us with the blood of His Son.
Up to this point in chapter eight, Paul has sounded very triumphant in his declaration of what has been done for us as, through Christ, grace has triumphed over sin. The power of sin and the penalty of sin have been defeated. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity has been sent to live within believers so that they can access the supernatural power of God as they fight against the sin in their lives. That is very positive. As he moves into verse 10-11, we see that this glorious victory of Christ over sin, with all its marvelous benefits, has not been completely applied to the lives of believers in this world. Heaven has not completely come to earth, as it were. There are limitations to the application of this victory with which we are confronted every day. The power of temptation is still very strong, Satan still roams about roaring like a lion, there is still suffering and there is still death.
Jesus Christ has accomplished, through his death and resurrection, all the work necessary and has won the victory over sin’s power, but that victory over the darkness has not been applied to all areas of life. What is meant by that? How does that work? Let’s illustrate from the war in the Balkans. Now, I know we probably have a variety of strong opinions on the politics of that war, but don’t let that obscure the illustration. The military battle over Kosovo, so far as we know, is ended. With the exception of some renegade snipers and barring the resumption of aggression, the overt fighting has stopped. The battle is completed. The bad guys have stopped making war. Military victory has been achieved. But even though the war is over, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done before the goals of the conflict are realized. As we know, there is epic clean up and resettlement work remaining, not to mention land mine disposal and the rebuilding of the area’s infrastructure. The fighting has stopped and NATO’s military victory has been achieved, but the victory has not been applied in many areas as of yet. All the benefits that are supposed to be achieved from that victory have yet to be realized. That scenario is similar to what has been done for us in Christ.
Paul’s point in verses 10-11 is to clarify that, although the battle is over and the darkness has been defeated, that victory will not be completely applied until the resurrection of our bodies. Paul says in verse 10, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Paul’s point in verses 10-11 could be stated this way, “Believers are called to live with the tension of the incomplete application of Christ’s victory over the power of sin until Christ’s return.” You can hear this tension in verse 10, “your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” In spite of some of the grammatical and lexical concerns surrounding this text, I think Paul is contrasting the state of our physical bodies with our immaterial spirits.
What Paul means there is that, because of the effects of sin, our physical bodies are subject to death and will need to be changed or resurrected. It may seem ironic to us that after giving so much space to the defeat of sin by Christ in chapter six and in the first nine verses in chapter eight, that in verse ten Paul can say, seemingly so matter of factly, “your body is dead because of sin.” WHAT?! The body is dead because of sin?! Where is the victory over sin you’ve been speaking of Paul? If the power and penalty of sin have been defeated, and it is sin that causes death, why is it that these bodies, BECAUSE OF SIN still die? It would seem to some that there is a contradiction there as it relates to the victory of Christ over sin. We don’t think that way much because death is a part of life for us. “Of course we all die.” But this is an important theological question because there is tension here between what Christ’s death has brought into our lives and what remains to be brought into our experience.
From verse ten, our first point is this: We see this tension in the fact that our mortal, physical bodies exist alongside our living spirits. On the one hand, we have these bodies which are “of Adam” and are decaying. On the other, we have this immaterial part of us Paul calls our “spirit” which is alive—it has been animated, made new by the Holy Spirit due to the righteousness of God that has been imputed to us in Christ. Our spirits are not “of Adam” but “of Christ.” When you see the believer’s body and his spirit put side by side, it seems like sin’s power has only been partially broken in us because our bodies are still subject to its ravages. How does all that work in light of the victory of Christ over the power of sin? Here in this text we see two spiritual orders set side by side. There is the old order—that which is of this fallen world—the victory of Christ has not been fully applied to this order. The world is still an evil place and it is getting worse. It is still in many ways, horribly dark. The light of the world now is the church, which is part of this other order, the new order of things—the order of the Spirit.
Our physical bodies belong, for the most part, to this old order—the order of Adam. They belong to this world. They have the “seeds of eternity” planted in them because they are going to be physically resurrected and glorified some day, but now they are still ravaged by the effects of sin. Our bodies are a contact point with the dark, world system run by Satan. He can still appeal to our body’s desires for comfort and pleasure to lead us into sin if we do not fight against it. Because they are part of this old, sin-dominated order, they bear the marks of sin—they are aging. Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones who was a physician as well as a preacher said, “The moment we enter into this world and begin to live, we also begin to die. Your first breath is one of the last you will ever take!…the principle of decay, leading to death, is in every one of us.” These bodies are mortal—they will die no matter how much work the genetic engineers do to try to stop that. Paul says in First Corinthians 15 that these bodies are perishable, dishonorable, weak, and natural (as opposed to spiritual.)
As far as we know, these bodies were originally intended to live forever before the Fall. Death is part of the curse of sin, which came at the Fall. When Adam sinned, these bodies lost whatever it was they needed to live forever. We know that because in Genesis 3:22 after the Fall, God posted a sword-carrying angel to keep Adam out of the garden so that he would not “be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” Apparently, the tree of life would in some way substitute or perhaps even replenish this life-giving element lost in the fall and so God kept it from Adam and Eve. In Revelation 2:7 Jesus promises to those who overcome, “I will give the right to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.” God has moved paradise from this fallen world and he has placed the tree of life there. We see it again mentioned in Revelation 22 as being part of the New Jerusalem. That means, at the very least that believers will live forever in paradise. This everlasting quality of bodily life has been purchased by Christ on the cross, but it won’t be applied to believers until they overcome this world through Christ and are bodily resurrected.
Paul puts it this way in First Corinthians 15:24ff speaking of the end of this world as we know it at Christ’s coming. “Then the end will come, when he [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The NIV uses the word “destroyed.” That’s too strong—the word means simply “to render inoperative.” When Christ Himself rose from the dead, He showed that the power of death had been defeated. But at the resurrection of the church, he will banish it completely and forever. Let me say that again. The power of death has already been defeated by Christ at the cross and His resurrection. At the bodily resurrection of the church, the power of death will be rendered inoperative in believers. Think of the power of death as the power flowing through an electrical cord plugged in to a power supply. Before the cross, sin and Satan held the cord. At the cross, Jesus was given control over the cord and at the resurrection, he will pull it out of the power source. The victory was won when Christ took possession of the cord and proved that he had taken away the power of death from the darkness by rising from the dead. The culmination of the victory will be seen when He, once and for all, “pulls the plug” on bodily death for all who have been his disciples.
The question remains, “Why didn’t the Lord do it all at once? Why didn’t he completely apply his victory over sin’s power at His resurrection? Why did he choose to make this a two-stage process?” There are doubtless thousands of answers to that question bound up in God’s sovereign purposes. But the one answer we know of is this: He did it that way for his glory. If He would have completely executed his victory all at once, there would be no way for him to get the glory from a church, which, caught in the middle of this tension, will, in the power of the Spirit, fight against sin and overcome it. He gets glory from having his victory over sin’s power manifested in his saints in this hostile, sinful environment where they must wage war against it. We must remember, the reason we are here with these “dead” bodies, which can drag us down into sin, and living spirits made alive to God, is to show forth to the heavenlies that what is alive in us through Christ is STRONGER than what is dead in us through Adam. Do we view our lives through that God-centered lens? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We have the magnificent opportunity to glorify God in the midst of this tension—in the midst of this fight—to fulfill the law in the power of the Holy Spirit--to walk by faith in the promises of his word and show that, through Christ, we ARE overcomers. Another reason for this two-stage process is there would be no way for his prophecies of the New Covenant from Ezekiel and Jeremiah about this Spirit-indwelt, law-keeping people to be fulfilled. Sin will be part of our lives until we die, but it does not have to be and should not be the dominant part of our lives. We are no longer enslaved to sin, but alive to God.
We could look at this tension in these terms. The power of sin brings two deaths. The first death is physical and bodily. The second death is a spiritual death in hell. For the believer, the first death remains until the resurrection from the dead, which must occur because Christ has been resurrected, but the second spiritual death has already been removed! When a person in Christ dies, they are “…absent from the body… [but] present with the Lord.” There is no second death for the believer. The power of sin to bring this about HAS been neutralized. Only its power over these bodies remains. That brings us to the second point, which we have already alluded to. It is: The presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer guarantees the complete application of Christ’s victory over sin’s power over our mortal, physical bodies. This is the message of verse 11 where Paul says, “And if he Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the death will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” After noting this tension between the living spirit in us and these mortal bodies, Paul is quick to note that this tension is temporary. What is dead now--these mortal bodies, will one day be made alive. God is not going to leave us half done.
Several things need to be said here. First, notice the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer guarantees their future bodily resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit will be what enables that dead body to live again. If we have the Spirit NOW in residence in us, we WILL have the life giving ministry of the Spirit in our glorified bodies at the resurrection from the dead. In Ephesians 1:14, Paul makes a similar point about the current presence of the Spirit being a guarantee of what is to come. He says the Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” That’s wonderful assurance to those who are saved!
The Spirit plays a vital role in the bodily resurrection of the believer and this text is crucial in our understanding the role of the Spirit in the bodily resurrection of the believer. We have seen the emphasis Paul places on the life-giving qualities of the Spirit in other places. In verse two we see the ministry of the Holy Spirit described as the “law of the Spirit of life.” In 2 Corinthians 3:6 Paul says “…the Spirit gives life.” Jesus said in John 6:63; “It is the Spirit who gives life…” The Spirit who has NOW given us spiritual life will, at the resurrection give us everlasting, bodily life. Notice the clearly implied doctrine of the Trinity here as they work together with respect to the resurrection. The Father resurrects, the Son is resurrected and the Spirit works to resurrect the church.
So here we are living in the midst of this tension. Our bodies are mortal, subject to death because of sin and because of their connection with the world, our flesh, they can be, if we allow it, pulled by the darkness to drag us down spiritually. We have the Holy Spirit living in us, but He will not force us to live above the power of sin--we have to cooperate with Him. We are victors in Christ, but we are called to fight against sin every moment. We are, spiritually speaking, seated in the heavenlies with Christ, but we live every moment in this dark, fallen world. We are justified by faith, but we will not be glorified, completely out of sin’s reach until we are with Jesus. We have the promise of new bodies which will not have to contend with sin’s power, but right now, our bodies can feel like anchors weighing us down to this foul world. In the midst of this tension, how do we make it—how do we keep fighting?
1.) Claim the promises of who we are in Romans eight and live in the obedience that comes from faith. We must believe that we CAN, by the grace of God live lives in fulfillment of the law because that is the promise of the New Covenant. That’s what Christ did for us on the cross. And, as we believe those promises, we will be motivated to continue to strive to live according to our new natures and fulfill the law in Christ. We will never completely arrive in this life, but we can by faith live like the people of faith in Hebrews chapter 11 who welcomed what was promised from a distance and who, by their faith in God and his promises “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” We are called to be like them, “longing for a better country—a heavenly one” as we strive against the power of sin here in the power of the Holy Spirit. These were people of whom the “world was not worthy, people whom God was “not ashamed to be called their God.” Much of the church is not even striving after a life which fulfills the law and they are gutting the gospel of one of its most God-honoring blessings.
2.) Realize that this tension we face here with our living spirits and dead bodies is NOT a result of poor planning, but is intentionally in place so that God can be glorified in it as the saints, in Holy Spirit power, fight and live above the power of sin. The fact that this is a hard fought fight doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it hard. But we must know that as we are learning to walk in the obedience that comes from faith, God is honored in that fight. The very real suffering that comes with that is not a cosmic mistake, but is intended to bring glory to God. We will have all eternity to rest from our labors with a sinless, glorified body, but now there is a fight to be fought for the glory of God. May God give us grace to live in the obedience that comes from faith.
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