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

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No Condemnation If…

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)

No Condemnation Means _____________.

This word “condemnation” includes more in the Greek than its common use in the English. In English to be condemned can simply mean spoken to harshly or someone sharply disagreeing with us. Someone might say, you are a bad, bad person. You are scourge on society. You are a colossal disappointment. In English, that’s condemnation.

Condemnation here is the declaration of guilt. By whom? The only person that matters. God. God condemns sin and sinners. We are legally guilty. Personally guilty. Shamefully guilty. Eternally guilty.

But this is way more than a guilt trip. The Greek word is both the declaration of guilt AND the sentence for it. Pronouncement and punishment. This is guilt and hell. This is guilt AND separation from God. This is guilt AND eternal and unending separation from God and all love, truth, and beauty. This condemnation is an eternal condemnation. Eternal death.

Loving God’s Image Everywhere

All Human Life is Sacred Because it Bears God’s Image

I would hope all Christians would say yes to this, but do we know why? Do we know why we recoil in horror at a mass murder like Sandy Hook or Las Vegas? Why should we recoil in horror at the thought of a mother and doctor discussing whether to keep or destroy the newborn infant? Here’s why:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)

In the very first chapter of his book, God lays out who he is and who we are and how our purpose and value are derived from God. God created man “in his own image.” What does that mean? It means human life is unique. God created everything else in the universe, and nothing else is given this sacred distinction.

Parenting for the Next Trillion Years

Key Priorities in Parenting Your Children Toward Christ[1]

Attitude toward church

For better or worse, the church represents God. A parent’s attitude toward the local church will be interpreted by the child as to where their heart is toward God.

I grew up in a home in which we always went to church. It wasn’t even an issue or a question. If the doors were open, we were there. What did that say? Church is important, and God is important. You know, I hear about parents sometimes asking their 12-year-old, do you want to go to church or do you not want to go to church? Really? Do you do that with school? Would you rather watch Disney movies all day or go to school? We laugh at that because we say we would never do that because education is so important. Don’t make it an option. In general, you want to look for opportunities to show them that spiritual things are more important than other things.

I remember when basketball became an issue. My dad loves basketball. He himself played and we played. We played for hours and hours in our driveway. I attended every league and camp available. My sophomore year I was attending a large public high school where basketball practice was on Wednesday nights, sometimes late enough to interfere with the youth ministry that night. This was a dilemma for my dad; a little Mt. Moriah moment because he desperately wanted me to succeed in sports. But he went to the coach and said, “My son will not be available after 6:30 on Wednesday nights.” Coach said, “Fine,” but didn’t like it. Wednesday nights I went to youth group. It hurt my playing time that year. But I learned a lesson about my dad’s heart. Today, which is more valuable? My sophomore year basketball statistics or the impression my dad’s stand made on my heart?

Your attitude toward church and leaders and the place of it in your schedule will speak volumes. If you’re negative toward the church on the Sunday drive home, don’t be surprised when your child turns 18 with a negative perspective on Christianity. You formed it in them, bit by bit for 6,000 days.

Atmosphere in the home

Deuteronomy 11:18–19 tells us God told Israel to create an atmosphere of spiritual instruction in the home. Talk about the Lord in the day-to-day of life. I strongly encourage you to have regular family devotions, either in the morning or at night. There are books available of Bible stories when children are younger that keep them interested. Pray together. Memorize verses together. Put up spiritual quotes and truths around the house. Those have a way of sticking with you.

Some people will say, you don’t want to take that too far! Yet you go to their house and they have shrines to IU basketball or the Bears. Memorabilia everywhere. Why all this? These are important to us. Will these be important in a trillion years? How important is where your child is a trillion years from now?

Adherence to God’s command

This is the daily ethic of our lives. Hear me. NOT spiritually perfect, just spiritually real. Lots of confession and forgiveness. Lots of Romans 7 stuff. This is directional. Is the general direction of my life toward the things of God? It’s the single most influencing human factor in the spiritual lives of our children. Who are we before them on the Mt. Moriahs of our lives?

Today, we are giving you the opportunity to pray together. Parents, together, families, however you want to pray. Confess to God and maybe to your children, Mommy & Daddy want to do this better. They don’t need perfection, they need reality. Maybe today can be a fresh start.

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] Pastor Bob Russell gave three key priorities in a message I heard 25 years ago that is the seed of this blog post.

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

Family Math: Division

The Stages of Peacemaking

Bear with it 

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13 ESV)

What do we bear with for the sake of peace? The little daily annoyances, personality traits, and preference matters. They don’t rise to the level of calling for a peace summit. When we make a big stink out of an insignificant thing we come across as petty, which only makes actual peace harder. What should we do with the non-sin idiosyncrasies everybody has? Do to others as you would have them do to you. Do you want peace summit level inquisition about your quirks? Every single person has qualities that require the people around them to simply bear with them. Bearing in love is good, especially when people bear with us.

Sometimes in conflict or disagreement, this requires us to just agree to disagree. Bear with their opinion or preference. It’s a broken world. We don’t all agree. Let’s go on for Jesus.

The Justified Marriage

Justification means I’m forgiven for far worse than anything my spouse can do

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:21–25 ESV)

Justification is God’s eternal judgment over a sinner declaring them completely and wholly righteous with the promise to treat us forever fully righteous. Within this are basic constructs in Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no, not one.” All human beings are sinners. We are declared righteous by faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross and are forgiven all our sins apart from obeying the law of God. This is an act of God’s love for us and toward us.

Justification is ours without any personally contributing righteousness on our part. All we contribute is our sin. Everything is God’s saving initiative which the Bible calls grace. Grace is God giving us not only what we don’t deserve but the complete opposite of what we do deserve.

So, justification is undeserved righteousness, undeserved love, undeserved grace, and the undeserved and unearned promise of grace toward our sins forever. We might say it this way: God promises to love us for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and death won’t part us from his love because we live forever in his love.

There is the reality. Not the reflection. The reality. A marriage will succeed to the extent that both spouses intentionally seek to reflect that reality.

Happiness is Holiness

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21–25 ESV)

The More Spiritually Profitable Something is, the More Inner Resistance to it I Will Feel

“So, I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” (Romans 7:21) One paraphrase translation gets the sense of it. “It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.” (The Message)

This is an incredibly helpful verse on how sin works in our lives. John Owen wrote an entire book on indwelling sin from this one verse. While powerful, indwelling sin is quite predictable; so much so that Paul calls its predictability a law.

“When I want to do right.” This is Paul’s spiritual self with a desire to do something pleasing to God, something spiritually helpful, gospel-advancing, others-uplifting, personally enriching, whatever. Anything that God would call good.

When I have the desire to do something good, evil lies close at hand. The NIV states it, “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” Close at hand. In my face. Part of this admission is that we never do anything with motives that are completely free from any taint of sin. Even our very best motives and desires have some small old fleshly me in it. There’s always something that smells a little.