Living the Spirit-controlled Life

Romans 8:2-11

July 22, 2007 | Brian Bill

Last week we learned that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  I decided to preach on just one point because I wanted us to get it into our heads and hearts so we will never forget.  Let’s see if we can quote Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

In the message we looked at the why, when, what and who.  Today our emphasis will be on how to live all this out from Romans 8:2-11.  Before we tackle this text, let’s identify six faulty ways to live the Christian life.  Three of these are not original with me.  

Faulty Ways to Live Our Faith

1. Cliché Christianity. 

Believe it or not, this past week was Sports Cliché Week. I came across the eleven most overused sports phrases of all time and thought it might be fun to see how well you know some of them.  I’ll say the first part of these clichés and you shout out how they end.  

  • Take it one game at a time.
  • Records are made to be brokenWe hear a lot of this surrounding Barry Bonds.
  • This team has overcome a lot of adversity.
  • They control their own destiny.

It strikes me that we default to many Christian clichés as well.  Some have sarcastically referred to this practice as “Jesus jargon.”  These overused phrases convey little meaning because we hear them way too often.  Unfortunately, many of us just repeat the expected vocabulary without really thinking about what the words mean.  As a result, they lose their impact.  Here are some that come to mind:

  • Just have faith.
  • God touched me.
  • Let go and let God.
  • God told me.

Here’s the danger.  You and I can say the right sayings and yet our hearts can be far from God.  And, since most Christians use these common clichés, it’s easy to fall into a superficial spirituality.  On top of that, we can fool others and even ourselves simply by saying the right words.  But none of this fools God as the first part of Isaiah 29:13 reminds us: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…”

2. Right Rules. 

Some of you are trying to live the Christian life by a set of rules: “Do this, don’t do that!”  The problem of living by rules is that it can lead to legalism.  On top of that, according to Colossians 2:22-23, it doesn’t work anyway: “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” God is not impressed either as the second part of Isaiah 29:13 says: “…Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”  

3. Formulaic Faith. 

Some of us are trying to live our faith by following formulas.  These formulas are everywhere: Three Avenues to Answered Prayer, Four Steps to Spiritual Success and Five Ways to Walk in the Spirit.  There are at least two problems with formulaic faith.  First, it can lead to mechanical Christianity.  Second, it doesn’t work very often.

4. Performance Posture. 

Way too many of us are trying to please God by our performance and some of us think that He will only accept us if we make ourselves acceptable.  As the early chapters of the Book of Romans make clear, we will always fall short.  

5. Extra Experiences. 

Some people try to live the Christian life by seeking deeply moving, life-changing, earth-shattering, emotional experiences with God.  The problem is that experiences don’t last because we must eventually come off the mountain top and resume life in the valley.  And, if you seek experiences, you’ll yo-yo in your faith, going up and down depending on the experiences you have.  While God uses conferences, camps, mission trips, moving movies, and dynamic speakers, they alone can’t sustain our faith.

6. Coasting Christianity. 

Some of you have settled into a mediocre, lukewarm Christian life.  You might be a coasting Christian because you think Christianity is too difficult.

The life of faith is impossible without the empowering and filling of the Holy Spirit

Do any of these alternatives describe you?  Let me say that there is some truth in each one.  Most of the clichés we use represent real truth.  Rules can be good.  Formulas can be helpful.  God is pleased when we obey Him.  Ecstatic experiences with the Almighty can be life-changing.  And finally, Christianity is too difficult – if you try to live it without the Holy Spirit’s power.  The life of faith is impossible without the empowering and filling of the Holy Spirit.  If you’re looking for a secret to spirituality, look no further than the Holy Spirit.

How Then Should We Live?

If many of us default to one or more of these faulty ways to live out our faith, how then should we be living?  Our passage today gives us three ways.  Note: this is not a formula but rather a framework for living the Spirit-controlled life.

1. Focus on what God has done. 

Romans 8:2-4 spell out what God has already done for us. We have been given… 

  • Freedom.  Look at verse 2: “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”  The word “because” tells us the reason why believers have no condemnation – we are set free from the domination of sin and delivered from death through Christ Jesus.  The Spirit gives freedom so that we no longer have to sin.  2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  That means if you sin, you choose to do so, not because you have to live that way any longer.  As Jesus victoriously declared in John 8:32, true followers of Christ are free: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Just in case we didn’t catch it the first time, he repeats this idea four verses later in John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Warren Wiersbe adds, “Freedom does not mean I am able to do whatever I want to do.  That’s the worst kind of bondage.  Freedom means I have been set free to become all that God wants me to be, to achieve all that God wants me to achieve, to enjoy all that God wants me to enjoy.”  I am not condemned for my sin and I’m not constrained to sin.  I’m also not charged with my sin.

  • Forgiveness.  Verse 3 teaches that God knew the Law was unable to save us and so out of love, He sent His own Son as a sin offering, condemning sin in us: “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.”  That means you and I can never be condemned for our sins because the price has already been paid for that which condemned us.  Notice that God condemned the sin, not the sinner because He sent the Savior to be our sin offering.  What the Law could not do, the Lamb could.
  • Fulfillment.  Amazingly, because Jesus is our sin offering, all of God’s righteous requirements have been fully fulfilled in us.  We see this in verse 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.”  We no longer have to be dominated by sin; we’re different because the Holy Spirit is in our lives.  I love Zechariah 4:6: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

Essentially, we must live out who we are in Christ by focusing on what God has done.  In his book called, “Victory Over the Darkness,” Neil Anderson states the following: “Understanding your identity in Christ is absolutely essential to your success at living the victorious Christian life.”  I was talking with someone this week and we both realized that the key to victory is to focus on who we are in Christ.  Allow these truths to pour over you right now.

I am accepted because…

  • I am God’s child ~ John 1:12
  • I have been justified ~ Romans 5:1
  • I have been bought with a price, and I belong to God ~ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
  • I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child ~ Ephesians 1:3-8
  • I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins ~ Colossians 1:13-14
  • I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ ~ Hebrews 4:14-16

I am secure because…

  • I am free from condemnation ~ Romans 8:1-2
  • I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances ~ Romans 8:28
  • I cannot be separated from the love of God ~ Romans 8:31-39
  • I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me ~ Philippians 1:6
  • I am a citizen of Heaven ~ Philippians 3:20
  • I am born of God, and the evil one cannot touch me ~ 1 John 5:18

I am significant because…

  • I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit ~ John 15:16
  • I am God’s temple ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16
  • I am a minister of reconciliation for God ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
  • I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm ~ Ephesians 2:6
  • I am God’s workmanship ~ Ephesians 2:10
  • I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me ~ Philippians 4:13

The first thing we must do if we’re serious about living the Spirit-controlled life is to focus on what God has already done.  Secondly, we have to get hold of our thoughts before they get hold of us.

2. Think about what you think about. 

Look at verses 5-8, noticing all the times the word “mind” is used: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” The word “mind” refers to disposition or attitude and is in the present tense. That means that non-Christians are habitually disposed to destructive thoughts; while those who live according to the Spirit have their minds controlled by the Spirit.

First used in the field of computer science, the phrase “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” really expresses a biblical principle.  When we allow garbage into our minds, garbage will come out.  If we allow godly thoughts in, godly behavior follows.  Proverbs 4:23 in the KJV says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”  That means that we are what we think.  In his book called, “As a Man Thinketh,” James Allen writes: “A man cannot directly choose his circumstances, but he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances.”

We see this in the contrast between the way the army of Israel approached the giant named Goliath and the way David did in 1 Samuel 17.  The soldiers allowed false thoughts and fear to fill their minds and as a result in verse 24, they “all ran away in great fear” while David, who focused his mind on God’s power, “ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him” in verse 48.  At the risk of using a cliché, your outlook often does determine your outcome.  Or more precisely, your input determines your output because every thought carries with it a spiritual charge.  Our thoughts either feed the flesh which leads to death or they feed the Spirit which leads to life and peace.

  • Recognize that you’re in a war.  What you allow yourself to think about will be a life-long struggle.  As one person has said, “Each of us, in effect, is a walking civil war.”  Check out Galatians 5:17: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”  As Ray Pritchard writes in his new book Stealth Attack, Satan does not fight fair so we better be prepared. 
  • Capture each thought and analyze it.  Satan has declared war on you and the battlefield is in the mind.  That’s why Paul tells us to be vigilant in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Don’t let any thought in without capturing it first.  If it’s a good one, let it enter; if not, demolish it with the truth of God’s Word. 
  • Fill your mind with good things.  Do you know that you will start thinking about what you are exposed to the most?  That’s why studies are now linking violence on TV, movies and video games with violent behavior.  It’s true that we need to watch what we watch.  Philippians 4:8 tells us what we’re to think about: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.”  I was talking to someone this week who told me that he has to have his radio set on a Christian station because if he doesn’t his mind will fill up with destructive thoughts.  That leads to a question.  What are you listening to?  Hebrews 3:1: “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus.”  This is a good prayer to pray: “Lord, saturate my thoughts with truth, and let your Word in me abide; then thinking on the pure and good, may my whole life be edified.”
  • Talk tough to yourself.  This may sound strange but it’s actually quite helpful to audibly attack error in your thinking.  I know someone who says words like this out loud, “This thinking is wrong.  It’s from the pit of hell.  I refuse to entertain those thoughts.”  This goes back to the word “set” in verse 5 as it refers to a “fixed mindset.”  We see this in Colossians 3:2: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  A mind set on the flesh is death but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.  That’s exactly what Isaiah 26:3 in the New Living Translation proclaims: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!”  In other words, we must let the mind of the Master be the Master of our minds as Philippians 2:5 says: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”

It’s difficult to discipline our minds but we must do so.  Lanny Bassham, is an Olympic gold medalist in shooting the small-bore rifle.  Listen to how he trained himself to hit the bulls-eye as told to Sports Illustrated: “Our sport is controlled non-movement.  We are shooting from 50 meters–over half a football field–at a bull’s eye three-quarters the size of a dime.  If the angle of error at the point of the barrel is more than .005 of a millimeter (that is five one-thousandths), you drop into the next circle and lose a point.  So we have to learn how to make everything stop.  I stop my breathing.  I stop my digestion by not eating for 12 hours before the competition.  I train by running to keep my pulse around 60, so I have a full second between beats…You do all of this and you have the technical control.  But you have to have some years of experience in reading conditions: the wind, the mirage.  Then you have the other 80% of the problem—focusing the mind.” 

Friend, how are you doing at focusing your mind?  First, let’s focus on what God has done.  Second, let’s think about what we think about.  Third, and we’re just going to introduce this point and pick it up next week, we must submit to the Spirit’s control.

3. Submit to the Spirit’s control. 

Romans 8:9-11: “You, however, [he’s making an emphatic distinction here between unbelievers in verse 8 and believers by addressing them personally] are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. [This literally means, “To be at home within you.”] And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  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.”

  • The Holy Spirit is alive within each Christian.  If you don’t have the Spirit, then you don’t have spiritual life.  That means every believer is home to the Holy Spirit.  This denotes a “settled permanent penetrative influence.”  You don’t need to ask Him to come in because He enters at conversion, you don’t need a “second blessing” or worry that He’s ever going to leave.  I love how Ezekiel 37:14: “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live” is fulfilled by the words of Jesus in John 14:16-17: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  Galatians 4:6 describes the intimate relationship between the Holy Spirit within us and God the Father: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” 
The issue is not getting more of the Holy Spirit but allowing Him to have more of us
  • The Holy Spirit desires to have control in each Christian’s life.  Since the Holy Spirit lives within believers, you and I must give Him control of our lives.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.”  The issue is not getting more of the Holy Spirit but allowing Him to have more of us.  When we received Christ, we received all of God we will ever get.  As born again believers, we don’t need to receive the Holy Spirit; we need to respond to the Holy Spirit whom we have already received.
  • The Holy Spirit promises future resurrection for the believer.  Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, believers will be raised from the grave and will receive new bodies.  The Holy Spirit within is like a down payment on God’s future deliverance.  1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Let’s summarize.  First, focus on what God has done.  Second, think about what you think about.  And third, submit to the Spirit’s control.  Galatians 5:16: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  Another translation puts it this way: “Keep in step with the Spirit…”  The key is to keep in step with the Spirit, not lagging behind and not racing ahead.

With You All the Way

In the book called “With You All the Way” by Max Lucado, three knights are given a test to see which one is worthy of marrying the king’s daughter.  Their challenge is to make it through a dangerous and deadly forest filled with creatures called “Hopenots,” small, sly creatures with yellow eyes.  Hopenots were not strong but they were very clever.  The first knight to make it thought the forest would marry the princess.  

The king’s son explains the challenge to the three knights, telling them that each of them could take along one companion.  When they wondered how they would ever find the castle he told them they must listen to the song that the king would play three times a day on his flute: “Follow his song and you will find the castle.”  The son then pulled an ivory flute from his sack and explained that only he and his father had these kinds of flutes.  He put the instrument to his lips and played a soft, sweet song.

The son then gave a closing caution: “Consider the danger of Hemlock and wisely choose the one who will be with you on your journey.”  And so they did.  The next morning the three knights mounted their horses and entered Hemlock.  One was known for his strength.  One was known for his speed.  The third knight was known for his wisdom.  Beside each rode their chosen companion.

The days of waiting for those in the castle passed slowly as they all wondered which knight would win the princess.  Three times a day the king sent his song soaring into the trees of Hemlock.  After many days and countless songs, a watchman spotted two figures stumbling out of the forest.  The king gave orders for the man to be dressed as a prince and not to tell anyone who he was because he wanted to reveal the winner at that night’s banquet.

That evening a joyful spirit filled the banquet hall.  At every table the people tried to guess which knight had survived Hemlock Forest and the Hopenots.  Finally, the moment came to present the winner.  The people became quiet as the king began to play the flute and they turned to see who would enter.  Many thought it would be Carlisle, the strongest.  Others felt it would be Alon, the swiftest.  But it was neither.  The knight who survived the journey was Cassidon, the wisest.

When the king asked about his journey, Cassidon replied: “The Hopenots were crafty.  They attacked, but we fought back…but what nearly destroyed us, though, was something far worse…they imitated…each time the song of your flute would enter the forest, a hundred flutes would begin to play.  All around us we heard music—songs from every direction.”  The king asked the question that was on everyone’s lips: “Then how did you hear my song?”  “I chose the right companion,” he answered as he motioned for his fellow traveler to enter.  The people gasped.  It was the king’s son.  In his hand he carried the flute.

“I knew there was only one who could play your song exactly like you,” Cassidon explained.  There was no one else I would have trusted to be with me all the way.  So I asked him to travel with me.  As we journeyed, he played your song.  I learned it so well that though a thousand false flutes tried to hide your music, I could hear your song above them all.  It was with me all the way.”  And with that, the celebration began.

Last week we learned that God has given us a “thumbs up” because there is no condemnation.  Now we learn that we’ve been given the companionship of the Holy Spirit…and He’s with us all the way.  Don’t settle for cheap imitations.  Listen to His song and let the celebration begin.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?