5th Sunday after Trinity:
Romans 8 1-11
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Here in this passage Paul is drawing a contrast between two kinds of life there is life which is dominated by sinful human nature whose focus and centre is self; whose only law is its own desires —which takes what it likes, where it likes. This often shows itself in different people, and that life will be differently described . It may be passion controlled , or lust controlled, or pride controlled, or ambition controlled. Its characteristic is its absorbed in the things that human nature without Jesus sets his heart upon.
Paul when he speaks and writes about flesh he’s not on about about flesh and blood in the sense of our bodies rather he means that part of human beings which offers sin a way in, he means a sinful human nature apart from Christ. He means human nature with all of its weakness and its vulnerability to sin. So to live according to the flesh is to live a life dominated by the dictates and desires of sinful human nature instead of being dominated by the dictates and the love of God .
Now this may show itself in many ways sexual sins, also idolatry, hatred, wrath, strife, heresies envy murder. So the flesh to Paul was not a physical thing, the flesh to him was spiritual, it was human nature in all its sin and weaknesses it was about human beings without God and an experience of Jesus.
Now Paul goes on to say there is a life which is dominated by the spirit of God. One commentator says:
Just as men and women live in the air, they who live in Jesus are never separated from Him. As they breath in the air and the air fills them so Christ fills them. They have no mind of their own Christ is their mind, They have no desires of their own; the will of christ is their only law. They are spirit-controlled Christ controlled and God focused.
Now by and large this is our life as Christians we are going in a different direction from those who haven’t experienced the grace of God. This journey of faith which is heading towards heaven.
I have between learning lots of things about myself over these last 3 months. I have been learning how important to me is fellowship, I have been learning that at times I am not dominated by the spirit, and I have had to be sorry to God. I have learnt only if our lives are dominated by the spirit we are on the journey towards heaven then there is hope for us.
During my time of social isolation I have been depressed just by living alone, and then Covid 19 which Irene suffered with, and pneumonia was awful. However the one thing that kept me going was she was with Jesus, throughout our life together 55 years in August, she has lived by the Holy Spirit. Mind you she is far from perfect, but she knows the forgiveness of Jesus.
I have also learnt and been in very focussed prayer for Irene’s recovery and still am. So I am not too pleased with my performance over the pandemic, I have not had a good time, I have struggled to cope with isolation not having Irene with me and her illness.
To close let me quote verse 11 of this passage there is hope:
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Amen.
4th Sunday after Trinity:
Romans 7 15-25a
15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
This is a rather confusing passage. Perhaps you got a little lost when you read the words, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Paul goes round and round with what he does and what he doesn’t want to do. It’s enough to make your head spin. Paul says, “I do not understand what I do,” and you maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t understand Paul.” So in case you’re like me and find that you don’t understand what Paul is saying, I looked at different translations and found these words that may make verses 15-19 a bit easier to understand.
“I don’t understand myself at all, for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, but I agree that God’s standards are good. So I am no longer the one who is doing the things I hate, but sin that lives in me is doing them. I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. I don’t do the good I want to do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” Does that sound familiar? Paul is describing the inner conflict that Christians experience; we all struggle between the Christ-like nature we are called to and the sinful nature of humanity, that’s the struggle we all face.
I read about an American artist named Jenny Holzer whom used to write what she called truisms. In 1986, she was able to place one of those truisms on the electronic sign at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Holzer’s phrase was, “Protect me from what I want,” and this flashed at night on the Las Vegas strip. As people went to casinos to gamble and other addictions, there was Holzer’s phrase trying to get people to stop and think—Are these things I want really the best for me? Will my desire to get rich or get high or whatever, will those things end up being bad for me?
Holzer’s truism isn’t necessarily Christian, but I think that statement, “Protect me from what I want,” comes close to putting this passage from Romans 7 into one sentence. It’s the prayer of a Christian struggling with sin. Lord, protect me from what I want. Protect me from the sin I want to do. Protect me from the things that my sinful nature wants to do. I can imagine Paul on the Las Vegas strip, looking up at the Caesar’s Palace signboard, seeing Holzer’s truism, and thinking, “Yes, that’s it exactly.”
I don’t know what sins Paul struggled with, but he’s extremely honest here in saying that there’s a constant battle going on in him between good and evil, between God’s will and sin, he’s also saying that his actions sometimes contradict his beliefs or his words. Paul says that he believes in Jesus, but he doesn’t always live like it. Paul preaches about following Christ, but he doesn’t always follow Christ with his actions, his words, or his thoughts. Paul contradicts himself; he acts contrary to what he believes and says. Even as Paul talks about these sins that fight for his attention, his action, his life, he also knows that Christ forgives and conquers all sin.
As Paul describes his inner conflict between God and sin; he is calling us to look in the mirror, to see whether, “I am doing the very things I hate. I don’t do the good I want to do.” We might be afraid to admit it, but there’s not a Christian around who doesn’t have to say, “Lord, protect me from what I want.
Paul brought this up so that we could know that we are able to bring these things before God, to bring our sins and struggles before Him, and ask for His strength, guidance, and support as we learn to choose good over evil. There is no shame in admitting that you have struggles with sin, that you have things that still need to deal with. There’s no shame in this, because in admitting it, you are admitting that you need the salvation, the forgiveness, and the eternal protection of God through Jesus Christ.
As Christians we live a life of contradictions; where we want to serve God with all our heart and mind, but are being pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. God through Jesus longs “to make us whole”. If we pray, Lord, protect me from what I want, we can place our trust in the grace of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I’ll leave you with these lyrics from a song called Oceans by Hillside United – the song speaks of Jesus calling us out onto the waters of faith, where we call upon his name and seek to keep our heads above the tumult of the waters, it goes on to say:
“Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”
Lord, protect me from what I want as I seek to keep my head above the waters of life. Amen