Romans 8.1-11 – Freedom in Spirit
Hymns like – Spirit of the Living God, Trust and Obey, Be Thou My Vision, and I Surrender All – are powerful songs of transformation. Each one fits nicely with our passage today. Just like these hymns move us from selfishness to surrender, so Paul directs our attention to the inward transformation of changing our self-centered perspective to Christ-centered living.
A good example of this outward struggle comes from a well-known evangelist I once heard speak. This evangelist demonstrated human selfishness as being like a robot stuck on one phrase – “what about me? what about me? what about me?”
Last week we reviewed this “what about me?” mentality we all struggle with. In chapter 7 Paul identifies with the struggles of people just like you and me – common every day folk. Paul knows – you and I – we all can feel trapped (7.14). He knows we can feel confused (7.15). He knows we are eager to do what is right (7.18), but unable to follow through (7.18). He knows we all feel an inward war (7.21-23). He knows we can feel frustration (7.24). But in chapter 8 Paul declares with great boldness that victory is coming (8.1-11). He predicts that the “what about me?” mentality is on its way out. Jesus has given every spirit-filled Christian the power to overcome selfishness.
Paul has instructed us that the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ sets us free from the law of sin and death. Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. After declaring that the law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and death, Paul teaches us about the Spirit-filled life. That life is centered on forgiveness. God no longer condemns us because of our sins. And, we can no longer live our lives condemning and judging others.
The life Paul describes in chapter 8 is the heart of the letter to the church at Rome. The life Paul advocates for the believers – both Jew and Gentile – is a life of liberty in the Spirit (8.1-8) and a life of eternal hope (8.9-15) and a life filled with Spiritual power (8.26-39).
And, it is from Paul’s life journey – and through his experience of God in his travels across the Mediterranean Basin – that he is able to speak so effectively about what it means to live a life without condemnation.
Last week I talked about Saul’s Damascus Road experience. The man we know as Paul went out to the desert to sort out his conversion experience. He had a lot to think about. He had persecuted many people – put them in prison and supported the first Christian martyrs’ death. I daresay when Paul went into the desert, and he most likely wrestled with his own understanding of freedom from condemnation.
Eventually he returns to Damascus and begins proclaiming Jesus in the very synagogues he was going to cleanse from Christian influence. From Damascus Paul travels by sea to his boyhood hometown of Tarsus. Tarsus is a seaport and an important Roman province as well as a major center for learning.
Paul’s Tarsus was considered the capital of one of the many Roman provinces at the time. Because Tarsus was a Roman province, Paul was able to gain Roman citizenship. Paul’s birthplace of Tarsus proved vital for Paul’s success in ministry. In fact Paul used his Roman citizenship to help his cause to spread the Good News. Because Paul was a Roman citizen, Paul was given special privileges in many places were he was arrested and persecuted. In other words his citizenship got him out of jail and kept him from being tried, convicted, and executed. It seems that Paul’s Roman citizenship proved to be part of God’s plan in spreading the Good News.
From Tarsus Paul seems to relocate to Syrian Antioch as his new home base instead of Jerusalem or Tarsus. Syrian Antioch was a well-known seaport with many intersecting trade routes, and the third largest city in the Roman Empire. This city at the time of Paul’s arrival would have numbered over ½ million people. Syrian Antioch was a good seedbed for the Good News to grow.
As we look upon Paul’s life story we discover that he did a lot of traveling by land and by sea. It seems that Paul was very fond of planting the Good News in the places where the Gospel could travel across the lands quickly through commerce trade routes. The seaports would have been a key location for people from all over the known world to hear the Good News and take it along with them to other places. The seaports were places of strong commerce as well as religious and cultural diversity providing opportunities to address many issues worldview.
During his travels, Paul befriends other Christian leaders who join him on his mission. He welcomes young disciples who want to learn and grow in their Christian walk, and at least one of those young leaders finds himself struggling to endure the persecution. Paul really gives him a hard time, but eventually welcomes him back in ministry.
Wherever Paul went, conflict seemed to arise. The places that Paul traveled both welcomed the Gospel message, and refute it. There were people who embraced the Good News and there were those who sought to take Paul’s life.
By the time he writes the letter to the church at Rome, Paul has traveled extensively around what you and I call the Northern Mediterranean Seaports where Rome has gathered conquests. The many places where Paul traveled were under the corrupt and heavy hand of Roman leadership
Paul had traveled many places and one of those places was the city of Corinth. It is during Paul’s third missionary journey that he writes the letter to the church at Rome. During this third journey, Paul sets his heart toward Jerusalem and beyond Jerusalem to Rome – two very important cities for Paul. Jerusalem was the religious center, and Rome was the cultural center for the known world. Both held grave importance to Paul – one being his religious center and the other being his cultural center. Let us now turn our attention to Paul’s letter to the church at Rome.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans
Most of the writings in the New Testament are actually “letters.” In the early days of the church it was impractical for the church leaders to visit each developing community in a timely fashion. The only practical way of getting the message of the Gospel to hurting communities quickly was to write letters and give those letters to “runners” who would take the letter and deliver it to the church. The letter would then be read to the community, and passed along to other communities. And, so that the central tenets of the faith were spread across the Mediterranean Basin in the form of letters that were written to house churches that were in need of reform and encouragement.
These letters contained teaching and instructions for each specific church. We call Paul’s letters to the church “The Pauline Epistles.” And, it is important to note that Paul wrote a large portion of the New Testament mostly in the form of letters.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is very similar to the other letters he wrote. If we were to compare his letters we would find strong similarities in style and content. If we could hold up each of Paul’s letters, we would see a pattern emerge. The letters begin with an opening address and greeting followed by a thanksgiving or prayer. Next Paul makes the point of his letter – addressing his concerns – and then closes the letter with greetings and blessings to colleagues and friends.
Our text today is one of the most well known passages in Pauline literature. Worship services, rituals, and private prayers draw upon this important message… now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This concept is not new to you and me. Our task today is discovering the content with new eyes.
Today I want us to look at this text through the eyes of a well-traveled disciple named Paul. Paul is not simply stepping out of the way and allowing the Spirit to speak through him to the church. Paul is a changed man. The Spirit is speaking through Paul’s life stories to arrive at this understanding. God isn’t by-passing Paul’s brain and speaking to us apart of Paul. Instead God has accomplished this good word inside of Paul, and now Paul is teaching it to us thousands of years later.
Paul experienced significant inward change to be able to accomplish the good work – Kingdom work – subsequent to his conversion. Paul eventually is martyred for the good work of spreading the Gospel. His good work in the kingdom earns him the right to speak into our lives and teach us about this inward change.
I daresay that Paul’s discovery about the transformation is the work of the indwelling Spirit alone. This indwelling Spirit who has taken up residence inside each of us and has displaced sin’s indwelling power within our fleshly selves.
This indwelling Spirit gives us resurrected living. Paul connects the Spirit with the promise of resurrected life. The Spirit is not as a side bar in God’s plan… but the main event. Pentecost came so that we might live a new life in Christ Jesus. Through the indwelling Spirit of Jesus, God has given us life that the Law could not. And, that life happens both now and later. Now there is no condemnation, and later there is no condemnation.
Paul demonstrates to you and me that transformation is possible. Paul teaches that God’s promise is to finish the good work inside each one of us – that we might be transformed into the image of God in every part of our existence, and especially in the most difficult moments of trial, tribulation, and persecution. When others think less of us, God thinks more highly of us and expects us to think more highly of ourselves. God desires change, no condemnation.
We know that in Jesus’ death the condemnation that sin put upon us has been fully and finally met in the work of the cross. You and me, we sinners no longer have the weight of CONDEMNATION hanging over our heads. But we often live that way when troubles come our way. When troubles come our way, sometimes its easier to hang our head in defeat.
Today you and I have an opportunity to show courage. You and I can show unconditional grace and mercy to others. You and I can show unsolicited forgiveness. You and I can speak good of others and not condemnation for their mistakes. And, we can be like Paul who traveled across land and sea to bring this Good News to many people. We have the opportunity to share this Good News through our testimony of God’s transforming grace.