THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT
In today’s reading from the book of Romans, Paul contrasts two different ways of being in the world. We can live by the flesh or we can live by the Spirit. Paul then relates this to the two different relationships that we can have with God. We can either be slaves or children. Today, we are going to explore how these things all come together.
Let’s start with the ways of being in the world. We find that in Romans 8:12-13 (NIV) which says:
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
So there are two basic ways that we can live in the world. We can live by the flesh or we can live by the Spirit. To live by the flesh is to indulge in the apparent pleasures of the world. It is to chose to fall to the temptations that Satan places before us. It is to indulge ourselves in activities that, though providing some form of pleasure in the short term, ultimately lead to death. It’s like the little lamb looking for something to eat. Momma sheep has made it very clear that the little lamb is to stay with the flock but the lamb spies an apple not far from the flock and, since little lambs love apples, she goes over to munch on it. It’s no problem because it’s very near to the flock. But then little lamb sees another apple just a little farther away. And so she goes over and munches on it. “This is good stuff,” says the little lamb to herself. But then there is another apple just a little farther away and so the little lamb wanders a bit farther away.
I think you know by now where this story is going. Those apples are not there by accident. They have been placed there by a thief whose purpose is to lure the little lamb far enough away from the flock so that he can steal the lamb and carry her off and maybe have lamb chops for supper. That is what happens when we live by the flesh and indulge our wants and desires.
To live by the Spirit is very different. It is to stop focusing on the things of the flesh which are here today and gone tomorrow and to focus on the things that will last forever, the things of God and the things of the Spirit. Is to be the little lamb who does not wander away but rather lives in harmony with the flock for the good of the flock. It is to be like the little lamb who resists the temptation to do things that will ultimately result in harm and to take part in those activities that bring life. That is why Paul writes, “but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
Following the flesh leads to death but following the Spirit leads to life. The choice is yours. Choose wisely.
CHILDREN OF GOD
Paul then follows up with a story to illustrate what he means. We find it in Romans 8:14-17 (NIV)
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
In verses 12 and 13, Paul compared what it means to live by the flesh and to live by the Spirit. In these verses, Paul uses the image of a child and a slave to talk about what that means. He says that those who live by the Spirit of God are children of God; they are not slaves.
The image of followers as being children of God is not new. It’s actually a good image because it is something to which all of us, in one way or another, can relate. All of us have had fathers in one form or another. If we did not have biological fathers, then we perhaps we had adopted fathers or step-fathers. Those who do not have a father in their lives may have a grandfather or an uncle who took on that role. Of perhaps there was a man in the neighbourhood or at church who became that father figure for you. And even if some of us did not have a very good father figure in our lives, all of us I think have some pretty clear ideas about what a good father should be like.
God is like that good father. Even more than that, God is like the perfect father who is the epitome of what a father should be. Everything you would ever want in a father is seen in God and how he cares for us his children.
But then we read in that God is a specific kind of father. It says in verse 15 that he is our adopted father. That’s interesting because it says two things that we need to hear. First of all, it says that we are not naturally children of God. That’s because, while God created us on purpose for a purpose, our relationship with God has been broken. It has been broken by sin which separates us from God. We are not children of God simply because we are created by God. If that were true than it might be possible for every created being to be a child of God. That means that angels, horses, racoons and butterflies could be children of God. But they aren’t. They were created by God just as we were but they can never become children of God. That’s because we, as human beings, have a special place in God’s created order. It says in Genesis 1 that humans were the last thing that God created and that we have the potential of having a totally different relationship with God than any other created being because, as it says in Genesis 1:26-27 that we and we alone were created in God’s image. That sets us apart from all other creatures. Because we are made in God’s image, we can become children of God but we were not born as children. Something has to happen to make that possible. We need to be adopted.
That brings us to the second point that I want to highlight about God adopting us as children. It is this, that God chooses us. We do not become children of God because we choose God. No, the door to adoption is open to us because God chooses us. It all begins with God, not us. We cannot start the adoption process. When a child is to be adopted, it is not the child who sits back and decides which parents they will choose. Rather, it is the parents who decide which child they will adopt. We cannot force God to adopt us. We cannot compel or urge him to select us. That is God’s work and God’s work alone.
Fortunately, God’s list of potential children to adopt is a very, very long list. In fact, it says in 1 Timothy 2:4 that it is God desire that all people be saved and come to knowledge of the truth. What that means is that, if God has his way, he would adopt all of us. But while God may urge everyone to come to him, he will not force anyone to come. Nonetheless, the whole adoption process starts with God whose heart’s desire is that all people be saved and become his children.
SLAVES & CHILDREN
Paul writes that followers of Jesus are children of God through adoption. He also says what we are not. We are not slaves. That word “slaves”, however, is a loaded word that requires some explanation because 2,000 years ago, slaves were understood in a very different way than they are today. Today, when we think of slaves, we think of people who are horribly treated, forced to live in sub-human conditions, denied all rights and privileges and are basically there at the whims of their owners.
2,000 years ago there were different kinds of slaves. Yes, there were those who became slaves because they lived in a place that was defeated in war and the conquerors enslaved the conquered people. There were also those who were born as slaves because their parents were slaves. But that was actually the minority of slaves. Most slaves in the Middle East, 2,000 years ago, were slaves by choice. That seems odd to us so let me explain.
It was not unusual in those days for people to sell themselves into slavery. That sounds odd to us. Why would anyone want to do that? Life was very different back then than it is now and life was also far more difficult. People would often sell themselves into slavery in order to pay off debts. Some people sold themselves into slavery, believe it or not, in order to gain a higher standard of living. A slave of a wealthy person was guaranteed food, shelter and clothing which was not always the case for people struggling on their own. Some slaves were better educated than their masters and served as teachers of their master’s children. Slaves of rich masters had all kinds of opportunities that they would never have had on their own.
There was also a path to freedom for many slaves. After slaves became 30 years old, many would become “freedmen,” with duties to the former master and his family. Some slaves earned enough money to buy their own freedom, which would mean that their children could be free also. In the Bible, Israelites were allowed to own slaves but every 50 years, during the Year of Jubilee, all slaves had to be set free.
Being a slave 2,000 years ago actually had real advantages for a lot of people but the one thing that slaves did not have was freedom. Their owners could do with them whatever they wanted, including selling them to someone else.
When Paul writes that we are not slaves but are children, he is affirming that we have the freedom to choose our destiny. God may choose to adopt us but we are also free to refuse that adoption. Jesus will never force us to follow him. He will never insist that we do things his way. Rather, he wants us to come freely and by our own choice, not as slaves but as children, adopted children of God.
But then in verse 17, Paul provides an important reason why we might want to consider accepting God’s offer of adoption. It is because when we become children – even adopted ones – we become heirs.
God only has one natural child and that is Jesus Christ. The rest of us adopted but that does not mean that we are treated any differently than Jesus, the natural son of God.
I have one sister. Her name is Judy. Judy is 11 ½ months older than me. The reason we are so close in age is because Judy was adopted. My parents tried for fourteen years to have children with no success. Finally, they decided to adopt a child. On the day they went to pick up Judy and the Children’s Aid Society, our mother got up in the morning and felt very ill. It turns out that it was first clue that I was on the way.
So while I am the natural born son of my parents, my sister is adopted. But do you know somethings? That never mattered to our parents. They were always very clear that we were both equally their children and they made no distinction between us. We were equally loved and equally cherished. We were both given the same opportunities. While we were sometimes treated differently because Judy was a girl and I was a boy, the fact that Judy was adopted was never a consideration.
And even when Mom and Dad died, in their will, Judy and I were both heirs to their estate. That is the way that it should be and that is the way that God treats us. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Through Jesus, we have access to all of the good things of God both in this life and the next.
Jesus affirms this in Revelation 3:21 (NIV). He talks about that it means to be victorious and, by victorious, Jesus means that we are adopted children of God. He says this: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” To sit on the throne of Jesus is to be one with him. To be one with him is to participate in everything that God wants for all of his children both natural and adopted.
In this life, it means to participate in the abundant life that God wants us to fully and freely live. A life filled with compassion, grace and love. A life lived without fear. A life where we are blessed with the goodness of God and the knowledge that we are loved never alone. A life lived know that nothing in all creation can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. This is a life that God wants us to choose, that we are free to choose and that is available to all of us through faith in Jesus Christ.
Because we are adopted children of God we also have the hope and the promise of eternal life through Jesus. He promises that because we are children of God, we can sit with him on his throne. That interesting because so often we put Jesus on a pedestal – and rightly so for he is unique. He was the sinless sacrifice who paid the price of our sins and enabled us to be reconciled to God. But Jesus does not lord that over us. Just as God the Father treats all of his children equally, so Jesus treats all of his brothers and sisters as equal to him.
In coming to Christ, we share in his suffering and through faith in him we also share in his glory. This is the message of hope that we are called to share with the world. This is the message that will change lives and bring about the abundant life that God desires for all of his children.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you on this day, O God, with great thanks in our hearts. We thank you for a new vision of life that Jesus came to share with us. He called us to be born again as new creations. By your Spirit, we are transformed through faith and adopted as your children. Speaking of children, we offer our special thanks today for the Sunday School, for the teachers, students and parents who make it work. Thank you for the commitment that we have seen and enable us to build next year on the progress that we have seen this year.
We offer our thanks this day for people like Isaiah who had the wisdom to admit who he was and the courage to receive the pure heart that you gave to him. Not all of us are called to be prophets. Not all of us are called to be evangelists or teachers or preachers. But all of us are called to be something in your creation. Reveal, O God, your plan and purpose not only for us as individuals but also for us as the Body of Christ.
We remember the state of the world. We pray for the people in war torn parts of the world who have seen so many years of suffering and death. May your peace reign and your justice flow.
We remember that we continue to deal with a global pandemic but are grateful for the advances made with vaccinations and safe re-openings. Keep us all patient and wise, understanding that our efforts can make a difference and save lives. But we also pray for those areas of the world that continue to be ravaged by Covid-19. We pray the all people will be afforded the necessary resources to get past this pandemic.
We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. May your Healing Spirit rest upon each of them and upon each of us as well for we all need you.
Holy God, even in the most difficult circumstances, you are able to protect and deliver those who trust in you. Help us also to remember that in stressful times, there may be others who need you. Enable us to be examples of your love and grace regardless of the curves that life may throw our way. Help us to be ready to share the message of your love and mercy with those who need to hear. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 30, 2021 / Trinity
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; John 3:1-17; Romans 8:12-17
CALL TO WORSHIP
God’s voice is over the waters, thundering across the seas.
God’s voice echoes through the forest, reminding us of a holy presence.
God’s voice spreads like tongues of fire, energizing creation.
God’s voice is here, around us, in our hearts.
We worship and listen to hear, anew, the voice of God.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God, you are so awesome and wonderful.
We come before you now, with ears ready to hear you Word
and hearts open to receive your love. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come before you knowing that there have been times
when we have let you down by not loving other people,
when we have not been faithful to what you ask us to do.
For these times we are truly sorry and ask you to forgive us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
We know that our gracious and loving God hears our prayers and answers our pleas for reconciliation. To know Jesus Christ is to know the amazing power of the cross and resurrection. As people of faith, let us proclaim this Good News and be assured of our salvation through our God and Saviour.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Into your hands, O God, we commit our lives and our resources. You are the Source of All Goodness. You are the Keeper of the Riches of the Earth. We offer back to you what first you gave with generousity and grace. Amen.
COMMISSIONING (Jude 24-25)
Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling
and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy;
to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority,
through Jesus Christ our Lord
before all ages, now and forevermore!