Sunday, 20 July 2014

What does it mean to be led by the Spirit.

Romans 8:12-25

We continue to look at Romans 8. And today I particularly wish to focus on verses 14-17.

We are told that a person who has received the Spirit of God will be led by the Spirit of God. And if we are led by the Spirit of God, three things will follow.

We will be children of God
We will suffer with Christ
We will share in the glory of Christ

1. If we are led by the Spirit then we will be children of God

'For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God' (v14)
We can call God 'Father'
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to say, ‘Our Father’.

When he appeared to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection he said to her, 'I am going to my Father and to your Father'

And Paul writes here, 'For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" (Romans 8:15-16)

This is the most amazing privilege. We can call the eternal God, who is beyond time and power and all understanding, who created the universe and the galaxies and the solar systems, our Father in heaven. We can even use a term of intimacy with God: 'Abba'. It means 'Dear Father'.

And because of that there need be no fear in our relationship with God.

We do not have to earn our Father's approval.
We're not slaves. Slaves do what they do out of fear.

But we are children of our Heavenly Father. We are beloved sons and daughters of God.

The sad thing is that many of us live as slaves of God and not as children of God.

So much of what we do in our Christian life is done because we think we 'ought' to do it. We ought to pray, we ought to give, we ought to witness to our faith, we ought to serve, we ought to come to church. They are all good things. The problem is that we do them for the wrong reason. We think that if we don't do them, God will not be pleased with us.

And that leads to fear.

Charles Amoah, the chaplain at the Hospice, was speaking at the last mens' breakfast. He told us that often atheists or humanists face death with peace. They don't believe in an afterlife, so for them death is .. death. He said that it was often Christians, particularly nominal Christians, who face death with anxiety and fear: they are afraid that they have not sufficiently pleased God.

If we are trying to please God by doing what we think we ought to do, then we have completely missed the point. We are not being led by the Spirit. We are being led by our old human nature – we are trying to earn God’s approval.

If we are led by the Spirit then we will realise that we cannot please God, but that we do not need to please God, to make him love us. He already loves us. Romans 5:8 tells us 'God shows his love for us in this; It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us'. All he asks of us is to receive that love, to receive his forgiveness, to receive his Spirit and to be led by the Spirit.

And when we realise that we are his children by gift - then we will want to please him. Not because we ought to, but because it is our delight and our joy to do so. 

And these verses speak of how we can know God as our Father in our experience. 

v16f, 'The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ'

It is the Spirit who gives us a longing for God as Father;

It is the Spirit who gives us an assurance that we belong to him.

For some that assurance can come at conversion; for others it can come later in our Christian life - it is that inner conviction that we belong to him, that we are his children, not because of anything that we have done but because of what he has done for us.

This is the conviction that transforms lives.

Wesley – his heart was strangely warmed
Bonhoeffer – returned from a year in the United States, and begins to speak to his students of loving Jesus.

And I would urge you that if you do not know the inner assurance that you are a child of God, pray that God will give you that gift. Don’t give up. Seek God until he does.

It is not just an inner assurance about our identity as children of God; it is also the inner conviction that we have a future inheritance. That we are ‘fellow heirs’ with Christ.

It is the hope that all things have been given us here and now in Jesus;

It is the hope of heaven - not a 'I hope that I will go to heaven when I die', but a deep conviction of heaven, a conviction which can shape everything we do here and now.

If we are led by the Spirit of God then we will be children of God


2. If we are led by the Spirit of God then we will share in the sufferings of Christ.
'... and if children then heirs, provided we suffer with him' (v17)

This is the corrective to those who think that because they have the Spirit of Christ, it is all about peace and glory.

The problem is that while that is our future, it is not the present.

Vv18-24 tell us about the present. They tell us of a creation that has been 'subjected to futility', that is 'in bondage to corruption'.

We live in a universe that is currently ruled by the death principal. Anything that lives will decay and die, and things will gradually become nothing. We live in a death-ruled creation.

And that means that if we are led by the Spirit, we are going to be led in a way that is directly opposite to the way of the world.

I watched the film Knight and Day a few days ago. At one point, Cameron Diaz is being chased on a highway. So she swings her car round and starts driving the wrong way up the highway. She survives. It would have been awkward for the plot if she had died.

But the traffic in this death directed world is all going one way; and if you turn your car round and go in the other direction, there will be smashes.

If you choose to be led by the Spirit, to live for the things of the Spirit, to live like Jesus, then you will suffer.

Your very existence will be a challenge to those who rest their identity and hope on themselves or the things of this world. Most of the time we will be able to keep our heads down and avoid the flack, but there will be times when we need to raise our heads above the parapet.

There will be times when you are called to sacrifice yourself for others.
There will be times when you need to challenge what everybody else takes for granted.
There will be times when the fact that it becomes obvious that you are not living for what everybody else is living for.
There will be times when everybody else is saying no and you need to say yes, or everybody else is saying yes and you need to say no.

I'm reading about Bonhoeffer. In 1934 when the National Socialists, the Nazis, first came to power, they introduced the Aryan clause. At the time it seemed moderate. Only those who were truly German could hold positions in state organisations, which also included the church. People within the church were divided. Why shouldn't they have a German church which lived alongside another church, for those who were not German nationals? It didn’t seem too bad, especially as the National Socialists were saying that would re-establish Christian morality There was immense pressure for people to accept it. But Bonhoeffer felt that he had to take a stand. On a visit to Rome he had glimpsed a vision of church that transcended national boundaries, at a service with priests and people from every continent, and he had begun to realise that our identity as Christian believers is far far more significant than our identity as citizens of any particular nation. So he gave a lecture which set him on collision course with the Nazi party and which ultimately led to his execution in 1945.

Or I take the example of Helen Roseveare. I quote, “She was a medical doctor who worked for many years as a missionary in Zaire. During the revolution of the 1960s, she often faced brutal beatings and other forms of physical torture. On one occasion, when she was about to be executed, she feared God had abandoned her.
In that moment, she sensed the Holy Spirit saying to her: ‘Twenty years ago you asked me for the privilege of being identified with me. This is it. Don’t you want it? This is what it means. These are not your sufferings; they are my sufferings. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.’
The privilege of serving Christ through her sufferings overwhelmed Dr. Roseveare. After she was delivered, she wrote about her experience with God: ‘He didn’t stop the sufferings. He didn’t stop the wickedness, the cruelties, the humiliation or anything. It was all there. The pain was just as bad. The fear was just as bad. But it was altogether different. It was in Jesus, for him, with him.’”

If we are led by the Spirit of God then there will be times when we suffer as Jesus suffered. And if we do not know some suffering, some conflict with this world, some groaning, some longing for God, then I think we need to ask seriously whether we are truly being led by the Spirit of God.


3. If we are led by the Spirit of God then we will share in the glory of Jesus

'Provided that we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him' (v17)

Jesus lived by putting his hope in God and in the promises of God.

Hebrews 12:2 calls us to '[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God'

Yes, there will be suffering. But it is worth it.
It is worth it because we know that we are children of our heavenly Father.
It is worth it because our hope is the hope of glory and the hope of joy.

It is the hope that one day our physical mortal bodies will be given resurrection life.
It is the hope that we will live in a new heaven and earth which has been set free from decay and death.
It is the hope that we will share in the glory of the risen Jesus.

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