One of the things that I sometimes find fascinating is the content that certain creators put on YouTube. I used to buy repair manuals for my vehicles so that I could find out how to fix them when things didn’t work. But I don’t do that anymore. All I do is pull out my phone, look on YouTube and invariably I find that someone has made a video about how to make that repair.
For almost anything that I want to learn how to do, I can find a video about how to do that thing on YouTube. If I want to figure out how to build a standing desk for my office, there is a video on how to do that on YouTube. If I want to learn how to set up my notebook so that I can work more efficiently and effectively, there are many videos on how to do that on YouTube. Recently, my dog tore the cover off of my Bible and chewed up a chunk of it. When I wanted to learn how to put a new cover on a book, I went to YouTube and, sure enough, there is a video there on how to do that.
There are even lifestyle content creators, that is, people who show us how to live. And if you want to become a lifestyle content creator, guess what, there are videos on YouTube to teach you how to do that.
But who will show us how to live the rich, full, abundant life for which we thirst in the very depths of our soul? Who will show us how to live that life? We could turn to YouTube, because there are videos on there about living our soul life. But we are going to turn to the best source of information, that which has been given to us by our original manufacturer. That source is the Bible and the specific passage in the Bible that we are going to look at today is Romans 8:1-17. If you have a Bible or a Bible app, I invite you to turn there now.
Humanity’s Greatest Problem & God’s Incredible Solution
Romans chapter 8 is a very special section of the Bible because it contains a complete summary of the Good News of Jesus Christ. If the only part of the Bible that you had was Romans chapter 8, you would have enough of God’s Word to give you to and keep you in saving faith. However, because this passage is so rich in the Gospel, we can easily miss some of the important nuances, the tiny tidbits that sometimes make all the difference in the world for us. You see, our goal as followers of Jesus is that the words of the Bible would not be just information to us, but that it would be the bread of life that feeds and nourishes our soul. So we are going to dig into some of those nuances today, and I pray that they will be helpful to you.
This wonderful chapter of Scripture starts off with these words: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2) Here, in one sentence, we have humanity’s greatest problem and God’s incredible solution to that problem. Our problem is condemnation, that is, to be judged and found wanting. Nobody likes to be judged and there are people who have shed any semblance of faith in God because they don’t want to be judged by God. Others have developed their own standards for being a good human being, standards which they meet by the way, and with their new standards in one hand and a lenient view of themselves in the other, they considered the matter resolved.
But neither of these two strategies work, and deep down inside of us, if we are really honest with ourselves, we know it. And the reason that we know it is because we are created in the image of God. Therefore, we know right from wrong. And even though our conscience does not work perfectly, it works well enough to know two things: There is an absolute standard of right and wrong, and we fail to meet it. Timothy Keller has said that if you put an audio recorder on yourself and recorded every word you said when you pronounced something to be right or wrong, and then you added them all up, you would have a standard that you yourself do not meet. That’s why the words we find in Romans 2:1 are true: You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1) Some people don’t like Christianity because they think it is judgmental, but humans beings can’t even withstand the judgment we place on ourselves. This is why the second half of the opening sentence of Romans 8 is so very, very important for all people, whether you believe in God or not.
Let’s look at that sentence again. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2) The first part of this sentence tells us that the possibility of condemnation has been lifted completely from everyone who is in Christ. Last week, we looked at what it means to be “in Christ” and we found that it means to accept ourselves, with all our sin and brokenness, because we trust that Jesus really has forgiven us. Living “in Christ” means that we live our lives in this world trusting that the righteousness and purity of Jesus covers us because he has adopted us into the family of God in the waters of Holy Baptism.
The second part of this sentence tells us how the curse of condemnation has been taken away from us. It is because, through Jesus Christ, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. We already know what the law of sin and death is. It’s that impossible standard of perfection that we set for ourselves and others that we all fail to meet. And perfection is also that standard that humanity would need to meet in order to have an intimate, personal relationship with a holy, pure God. As we read in Romans 3:23, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
What is the Law of the Spirit?
But what is the law of the Spirit that gives life and sets us free from the law of sin and death? The law of the Spirit is a new order of things, a new reality, a new way of living, in which our life is enlivened and energized, not by the things of this world, but by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave us a new life when we were baptized. Now there is a new person living within us, and this new person loves God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind and loves their neighbor as themselves. This new person only wants the things that God wants and only wants to do the things that God wants done. Because of Jesus, this new person is now who you really are.
This new person will go through death without experiencing any harm. Our tired, old body will be laid in the ground and the dross of our sinful human nature will be taken away, but the new you will go to be with Jesus and wait for the Day of Resurrection. On that Day, Jesus will combine your new person with your old body made new again. He will raise you from the dead, body and soul together, and you will live with Jesus forever in the new heaven and earth which he will bring into reality at the same time.
That new person is living the new life that every human being has been thirsting for. A life in which there is no absolutely no fear of judgment because we know that Jesus took our judgment for us on the cross. A life in which there is no reason to worry when things go sideways in this world because we know that we have a heavenly Father who loves us, provides for us, protects us, preserves us and will make all things work out for our good. A life in which we already have clear title to all the good things of God because Jesus gave us citizenship in God’s Kingdom as our new person birthright. A life in which we have the forgiveness, peace and new identity for which we thirst. A life in which we get to reflect the unconditional love of our Father, our Savior and our Encourager into the lives of the people around us so that they, too, can receive the new life in Jesus that the Holy Spirit gives.
The Holy Spirit has given us new life in a new reality where we are set free from the law of sin and death. But here is the tricky part. Until the day we die, the old person that we used to be will keep hanging around. And the only way that this old person knows how to live is to draw life from the world around us. But that familiar way of living will only feed, nourish and strengthen our old life, a life which is dying and has no future to look forward to. To feed nourish and strengthen our new person, we need to learn how to draw life from the Holy Spirit.
How do we do that? We turn away from trying to feed our new life with the things of this world and we turn toward the Holy Spirit for the nutrition and energy that we need. We feed our soul with the words from God that we read in the Bible. We remember our Baptism each day and we cling to the forgiveness, righteousness and purity that we have in Jesus. We regularly gather with our sisters and brothers in Christ to feed on the nourishment Jesus gives us in Holy Communion. We trust in our heavenly Father to provide for all our daily needs of body and soul. And we listen for the wisdom, direction and power that the Holy Spirit gives us.
When we feed our new person with the life we receive from the Holy Spirit, we are able to live our lives in a new way. We live in, but we are not of, the world. As new people living our new lives, we fully engage with the world around us, but we do so as Jesus’ ambassadors. Our citizenship is not from this world, we are strangers in a strange land. Our citizenship is from heaven and we long to go home one day soon. But in the meantime, we have been given authority to represent Jesus in this world and, guided by the Holy Spirit, we fully engage with Jesus’ mission of redeeming and restoring all things.
The Golden Triangle of Spiritual Growth
Now, everything that I have said up to this point is just words. They are true words and they are words based on God’s Word, but they are just words unless we take them and do something with them. But how do we take God’s Word and apply it to our lives so that the end result is the life for which our soul craves? The late Dallas Willard, who thought a lot about things like this, saw our life with Jesus as being like a triangle. Please keep in mind as I share these ideas with you, that the focus is not on doing things in order to get things. The focus is on doing things in order to become a special type of person. To put it another way, Jesus is not calling us to do what he did, he is calling us to be like him.
And the central thread of DNA in Jesus’ life is love, specifically agape love. Agape love is not an emotion. It is an unconditional, self-sacrificing, choosing love. It is the love that chooses to love and forgive your enemy even when that person is choosing to harm you. It is the love that gets up and helps clean up after a meal even when the third period of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final is being played. It is the love that chooses to automatically think the best about someone else, even when they think the worst about you. It is the love that gives generously, offers hospitality, and serves humbly.
So how do we become like Jesus? We be with him. This is what we reflected on during the Red Letter Challenge series before Easter. As Jesus tells us in John 15:4-5, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5) Our being with Jesus starts with the Gospel, those words that I have previously spoken to you about all that God has done for you through Jesus. In his essay, “Fulfilling the Promise of the New Life”, which you can find online, Dallas writes, “The knowledge of the gospel brings us assurance that God accepts us where we are, that he did not make a mistake in creating us and placing us here, and that his intent is to bless us throughout all aspects of our lives. That means the place where I meet Christ and live with him is in today’s events—each day.”[i]
And this is true even when our life is filled with trials and temptations. In fact, it is in our trials and temptations where Jesus Christ transforms us into his likeness by bringing us to the end of ourselves. That’s when we cry out, “Abba, Father” and he sends us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit transforms us, not by changing our circumstances, but by changing us. And the Spirit does this by flooding our heart and mind, with the thoughts and feelings that Jesus has. This is what it means to have “…the same mindset as Christ Jesus” as we read in Philippians 2:5. When we open ourselves to thinking and feeling as Jesus does, he pours himself into us, so that now we are meeting the challenges of life, but it is not us doing it in our own power and strength. It is Jesus living within us who is doing it. This is why Galatians 2:20 is such a comfort to us. That verse tells us,I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) This verse describes to us what is actually happening when we be with Jesus in our everyday life.
Then, with the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us and with his help and guidance, we take active steps to grow in mature agape love. As we read in Colossians 3:12-14, Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14).
What you will find when you live the Golden Triangle of Spiritual Transformation is that you will be living the life that your soul has always thirsted for, a life of complete abundance, where our soul cries out with joy, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” (Psalm 23:1); I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13); “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6) …perfect love drives out fear… (1 John 4:18) Dallas concludes his essay “Fulfilling the Promise of the New Life” with these words: Such language, which, I am convinced, floats somewhere between dream and reality for most people, comes to transcribe the constant experience of the one who lives within the Golden Triangle of Spiritual Transformation as a disciple of Jesus Christ.”[ii]
Dear friends, in simple terms, the life Dallas is talking about is life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the challenge that I am leaving with you today is to live within the Golden Triangle of Spiritual Transformation. Meet with Jesus in the trials and tribulations of your everyday life. Open yourself up to receiving the Holy Spirit and let him work within you. Center yourself in the Mind of Jesus Christ by thinking the same thoughts and feelings that he would have in that situation. Let Jesus fill you with himself and let him live his life within you. Then, with his guidance and direction, make a habit of putting on the new self. And above all else, put on love which binds everything together in perfect unity. And what kind of love am I talking about? The love described for us in 1 John 4:10: This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10) That’s the love we live in. God’s agape love for us, most clearly shown to us in the sacrificial death of God the Son, Jesus Christ. That is the love that will save us, and save the world. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on June 26, 2022. For more info, please go to wglc.org.)
[i] Dallas Willard, “Fulfilling the Promise of the New Life,” Dallas Willard (Internet; available at: https://dwillard.org/articles/fulfilling-the-promise-of-the-new-life; accessed on June 20, 2022).