From Groans to Glory: Our Bodies

Do you like your body? Do you look at your body and groan a little? Do you have aches and pains you didn’t used to have? Are you better looking this week than you were last week?

Do you view your body as part of God’s saving plan for your future? Do you view eternity as living with a glorified version of your present body? Do you view your future in a perfect body, in the perfect place, with our perfect Savior?

Would you like me to explain why I’m asking all these questions? Our text in Romans will make that clear, but I’m concerned today for the unintentional heretics among us. What heresy? It is a heresy to believe that the material world is inherently evil. Why? Then Jesus didn’t have a real human body. It is a heresy to not believe in a physical resurrection of the body. Why? Then Jesus wasn’t resurrected. It is a heresy to believe that God saves our souls but not our bodies. Why? Then huge sections of Scripture are just plain wrong. Might you be the unintentional heretic I’m referring to?

I hope today to expunge these unintentional heresies and in doing so free all of us to live as full-blooded earthlings now anticipating an eternity of earth dwelling in our extremely made-over bodies on the fully-renewed paradise known in Scripture as the new earth.

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From Groans to Glory: Creation

Some years ago, we had a funeral and said goodbye to a pillar of the community. Bob Brown had taught at Crown Point schools for years and he was a football coach. Even after retirement, he rarely missed a Crown Point Bulldogs football game.

A lot of people showed up for the viewing and funeral. That was not unexpected, but what was a bit unusual, was that in the casket, per Bob’s request, between his folded hands, was a fork. Bob was known for his object lessons. He requested the fork because if at the end of a meal the hostess says to you, keep your fork, it means dessert is on the way. The best is yet to come. Keep your fork. Bob’s fork in his hands was a silent witness to his personal belief that, for him, the best was yet to come. Not dessert, but glory.

Where would such a thought come from? All over the Bible, the prophecies, the words of Jesus, the New Testament. All of them urge Christians to keep their forks. Few passages say it like the one before us.

On Saying Goodbye

Who likes saying goodbye? Nobody. The hardest goodbyes are the permanent earthly ones. Holidays are hard, especially for those who have recently grieved the loss of a loved one. As a pastor, I often hear about “the first year” of grief. The first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas provide an unwelcome reminder of who isn’t here anymore. Death is a long goodbye and we humans don’t like saying goodbye.

God Be With Ye

What is a goodbye? We typically use it when we are parting with someone. Goodbye! With a wave or a handshake or hug, we say goodbye. The word goodbye itself has something to say to us. It comes from the 16th century when people would say at a parting, God be with ye. Say that fast and the semantic mashup becomes obvious. God be with ye. Godbewithye. Now it’s just one word for us, goodbye.

While we don’t think too theologically when we say the word, perhaps we should. God be with you is acknowledging that from now on, I’m not with you. Goodbyes are the end of relational presence and being physically together. When we are physically present we are able to watch over each other and care for each other. Verbal and non-verbal communication is instantaneous.

To separate is the end of those realities. Who is watching over the other person now? Goodbye. God be with ye. You are now in God’s hands, not mine. May God be with you and watch over you and care for you. Of course, God is far better at caring and providing for loved ones than we can ever be.

Sorrow and the Intensity of Love

As trustworthy as God is, we still hate goodbyes. Have you ever considered the goodbye sorrow as itself an indication of love? Might grief serve as a powerful compliment to how important this person and the relationship is to you?

I think of that line from The Hobbit where the Elf Tauriel weeps over the dead body of her lover Kili. She says to her king, “If this is love, I do not want it. Take it away, please! Why does it hurt so much?” The Elf King replies, “Because it was real.” When we grieve we pay an emotional honor to the importance of that relationship. It means your love and relationship was real.

I remember thinking a bit deeper about goodbyes some years ago when I went to South America to see my brother who was serving as a missionary. I had not seen him for some time. The hello was great and the goodbye was hard. I sat in an airport in Bolivia and wrote a note to my church family,

 So I said goodbye today. It was strange as the familiar but undesirable emotions filled my heart, then went to my throat in the form of a lump, and found release in my tear ducts. You sometimes wonder if being together warrants the pain of not being together again.  Yet we all know it does. But it got me thinking. Why do goodbyes feel this way? Why are they so painful?

 Surely God didn’t intend it to be this way. Was there a twinge of hurt when the duties of the Garden took Adam and Eve apart? If the Fall had never happened, would goodbyes be as joyful as hellos? We don’t know. We do know that we hate goodbyes now.

 Have you ever considered why you don’t mind saying goodbye in some situations? It would seem that the amount of sorrow we feel in the goodbye is some measure of the love of being together we have in our hearts. In this way, goodbyes are decent love indicators.  Since loving each other in family and church relationships is a duty and a calling, we are destined to a lifetime of painful partings.

 Would we really want it any other way? To have no sorrow would be to have no love. A life situation more painful than any goodbye could ever be. So as I sit here in the lonely airport, it would seem to me that what we all should strive for is sadness in saying goodbye. For relationships whose separation reveals the preciousness of our time together. In short, for true love with brothers and sisters whether they are biological or spiritual. And in the pain that parting brings to realize the intensity of God’s love and His desire to enjoy true and eternal fellowship with us, a fellowship with Him and with all who love Him that will never again include a goodbye.

God be with ye.

Sons and Daughters of Abba

The Holy Spirit – Adoption Agency

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15 ESV)

I’m going to assume all of us are familiar with human adoption. I’m also going to assume there are some of us who are unfamiliar with God’s adoption. So, let’s go from what we know to what we may not know.

Human adoption is truly one of the most wonderful expressions of human love. We have many, many adoptive families in our church. We probably have many who were adopted into a family. My family is blessed with two adopted children, my niece and nephew.

Human adoption is an act of love and law whereby a child is received into a family with all the rights and privileges thereof. They are cared for. Provided for. They have a roof over their head. A parent or two. More importantly they are provided with love and belonging. Orphans have lost a place to belong. They have no family within which to identify. Adoption provides for all of this. It is a huge blessing to the child AND a huge blessing to the parents. We should pray for families going through the adoption process as it is a grueling and sometimes agonizing wait. But oh, the joy when that child comes into their home! Strike up the band! Break forth in song! Happy day!

Killing Sin by the Spirit

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13 ESV)

The key phrase here is, “put to death the deeds of the body.” The Greek word for put to death is used 11 times in the New Testament, 9 for actually killing people.[1] One example is Stephen, the first martyr, who was put to death. Same word. This is not a nice word. This is a bloody word. A word of execution. It simply means, kill it. Legalism says, stop it. Romans says, kill it. This requires a posture toward sin that is much more like an assassin. Ruthless. Cold, hard hatred of sin.

Jesus said the same when he said, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” (Matthew 5:30) It is not physical dismemberment, but a spiritual dismemberment that sees sin as leading to death. It is an abuse of grace that makes us OK with sin thinking, I’m going to heaven anyway. That is an incredibly dangerous posture toward sin and calls into question if we truly understand Jesus shedding his blood for that sin.

We should think of sin like cancer patients think of their cancer. The fighter-types hate cancer. What if you talked with someone after a bout of cancer and they said,

I miss my cancer. Oh, I remember when I had lots of cancer. Such freedom I felt. Those were the days. Wow, the cancer parties were incredible! Many of my entertainment choices celebrate cancer. I remember driving for my chemo treatments—those were great days. If only I could have another chemo day. Cancer made me so happy.

When you talk with cancer patients, they’ll tell you the only way to beat cancer is to declare war on your cancer. When you see a bald woman wearing a wig, or a scarf on her head, respect her; she went to war. You must kill those cancer cells. How many of them? All of them. You hate it. You are willing to deal ruthlessly with it. Change your diet. Change your lifestyle. Stop your smoking. Whatever. You will shoot chemicals and radiation in your body to kill cancer. The courage in those cancer wards comes from people who don’t want to die, they want to live!

Romans 8:13 says, hate your sin. Hate it. See it as creating death in you. Don’t coddle it. Don’t ignore it. Go to war with your sin. You can’t defeat cancer by loving cancer and you can’t overcome sin and temptation by loving your sin. There is an old word that describes going to war and killing sin. Mortify it. When you see that word, it means, kill zone. DEFCON 1. Going nuclear. Annihilation. Is this the posture of your heart toward your sin?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2019 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] Jerry Bridges, Disciplines of Grace, p. 192.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Indwelling Spirit: All of Him IN All of Me

The Spirit of Eternal Life

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.(Romans 8:9-11 ESV)

Verse 9 is the certainty of the Spirit indwelling all Christians. Verse 10 describes the present reality of having the Spirit’s empowering presence. Verse 11 looks to the future. Death is an end. Death is a separation. Jesus’ wept at Lazarus’ grave and we all weep at death’s terrible effect.

However, here is where “IN” makes all the difference. The unbeliever is in the flesh. The flesh is death. The Christian is not in the flesh. The Christian is in Christ which means the Holy Spirit is in us. Since he is the eternal God, the life he gives us is not dependent on our mortal bodies.

Further, we have in us the Spirit of the Father who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul elsewhere says the Spirit is a guarantee that God will resurrect our bodies someday. “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 5:5) Guarantee of what? “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

Freedom and Life in the Holy Spirit

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6 ESV)

Here are two motivations with two very different results. The flesh leads to death. Yes, physical death, but even in life the flesh-led life is a kind of dying. Death is separation and distortion of who we were made to be. Sin takes us further and further from God’s good purposes and blessings. Sin is a long path away from God.

I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures of aging rock stars. They don’t look good. Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll hollow out your life. The local paper posts pictures of recent arrests. Theft, domestic violence, drugs, etc. The people in those photos look terrible. Why? Sin is a journey further and further from ourselves made in the image of God.

But the Spirit-led life is the opposite. It draws us closer to God. It renews our humanity. It resurrects us to who we were made to be and directs our lives in the direction of spiritual priorities.

Paul isn’t exhorting Christians to live by the Spirit (although he does elsewhere). What he is saying in Romans 8 is that true Christians do. Why? We’ve been set free by God. We have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit. God is actively doing a work in our lives. He set us free in justification and he is in the process of setting us free from all the sinful ways of thinking and living. As Stott points out, “Thus God justifies us through his Son and sanctifies us through his Spirit.”[1]

This new life is by the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, we can neither understand the gospel nor live it out. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

The story is told of famous British politicians William Wilberforce and William Pitt. In the decades following the American Revolution, they were close friends. It was quite a power friendship as today both have statues in their honor in Westminster Abbey. Pitt was Prime Minister of Britain at age 24. Wilberforce was a devoted Christian. Pitt was a cultural Christian. Wilberforce had a preacher he desperately wanted Pitt to hear. Pitt finally went with him. The whole sermon Wilberforce basked in the truth. When it was done, Pitt said to Wilberforce, “You know Wilberforce, I had not the slightest idea what that man has been talking about.”

Perhaps you are William Pitt today. None of this makes any sense. It certainly doesn’t thrill you nor does it interest you. Why? Has God the Holy Spirit taken a hold of the core of your life? Is your life separation from God or movement toward God? Death or life and peace?

Without the Holy Spirit, the gospel doesn’t do anything.

A few weeks ago, on one of these really cold nights, Jennifer called me. She was by the mall on Highway 30. She said, “The van’s battery is dead. It won’t turn over at all.” OK. I said, “We have jumper cables in the van, could anyone give you a jump?” A couple was walking past, and she asked them to help. They said yes. She called me back, “It still isn’t working.” OK. I gathered the daughters and we headed up there confident. No problem. I’m the husband. I got this. I pulled our car up, hooked up the cables. Nothing. We let it charge. It’s getting dark. Still nothing. Did I mention it was cold out? I said, “I think we need to go to AutoZone and get a new battery.” So, we did.

The manager said, “Before you buy a new battery, how about I look at it?” Now that’s customer service. I’m now a big fan of AutoZone on Highway 30. He drove over and hooked up the cables. Gave it a try. Nothing. Dead. He took our battery out and we went back to the store. Their computers were down, and they said, “You have to pay cash.” Who has $130 cash on them? Not us. What do you do? I called an elder in our church who brought the money up. Bought the new battery. The manager went with us back to our van. Hooked it up. Guess what happened? It immediately turned over and started.

I was so moved by the manager’s help I offered him some of the elder’s money as a thank you. He declined. So, let’s all do business with AutoZone on 30 by the mall. Great people.

What’s the point? The unbeliever is the van with a dead battery. All our attempts to make it work couldn’t make it work. You can have Billy Graham on the TV 24/7, put verses up all around the house, and keep the car radio on Moody. The battery is totally dead. Humans can’t jump start the dead human heart.

But God can. How did God set us free? He didn’t try to resuscitate our old nature. He didn’t try to energize our flesh and make it go. That’s why William Pitt had no idea what the preacher was talking about and explains why you may have no idea what I am talking about.

What’s needed? You need a new battery. You need a new heart. You need what only God can give you. You need the Holy Spirit who gives life and brings peace. Repent of your sin and trust in Jesus. When you do, you get a new battery. The core of our lives is directionally changed from flesh and self and sin toward God and truly a whole new life. Where are you today?

You may say, I’m really not sure. Galatians is another letter by Paul which helpfully shows the difference between a life directionally led by the flesh and a life directionally led by the Spirit.

Get this, Paul is not urging unbelievers to try and show these fruits in their lives. It won’t happen! It would be like me urging my van to start with a dead battery.

This passage is both an explanation and an exhortation for sinners to turn in faith to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. The net effect is a Spirit-led life whose ongoing reality is life and peace.

“Deliverance from the tyranny of sin, effected through the atoning work of Christ, as an experienced ongoing reality, is the work of the indwelling, life-giving Spirit.”[2] (Gordon Fee)

Freedom. Freedom not to sin. Freedom not to live motivated by sin but by Spirit. One kills. The other gives life. One empties my humanity. The other restores and renews. Indwelling sin or indwelling Spirit? Which is the controlling principle of your life?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2019 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] John Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 219.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, p. 528.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here