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Weekly Word

Entries in Flesh (8)

Monday
Jun102019

Will You Walk with Me?

Romans 8:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Pentecost Sunday, June 09, 2019.

Pentecost Sunday emphasizes the giving of the Holy Spirit to God’s people, which is described in Acts chapter two.  In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is very active.  However, He comes upon certain individuals, at certain times, for a particular work such as: prophesying, miracles, and even physical exploits in the case of Samson.  During this time, God promised that a day would come when His Spirit would be poured out upon all God’s people.  Thus, in the New Testament at the day of Pentecost, we see God’s Holy Spirit come: to dwell within believers versus come upon them for a moment, to do so with all believers versus a select few, and to do so continually versus at special occasions. 

As a feast in the Old Testament, Pentecost celebrated the middle of the Harvest and points to the great harvest of God among mankind.  In one sense people are harvested when they are taken from the field of the world, bundled together with other believers and eventually brought into the barn of God.  This analogy does miss the other sense in which believers are called to become fruitful in their life.  In that sense we are not harvested until we leave this earth.  Harvest points to God’s desire to have humans in His family.  It is His work of drawing mankind back to Himself.  Thus, it is all about relationship.

The title of this sermon comes from the fact that Romans 8:1 refers to walking with the Holy Spirit as opposed to walking with the flesh.  This ties back to the Garden of Eden where God would come down to walk and talk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day.  This relationship between God and humans is adversely affected in Genesis 3.  What used to be a wonderful thing filled with joy (God’s presence in the Garden) had become a fearful thing filled with dread because of their sin.  Yet, God in His mercy speaks of help that will one day come to help them against their adversary the devil.

Our passage today is on this side of the cross of Jesus and a long history.  Today, I would like us to recognize that Jesus and his apostles continued this theme of calling people to quit running from God and walking with the devil by following the desires of your flesh.

Will you walk with me?  This is the question God asks every person today through the work of His Holy Spirit and those who believe in Jesus.  No, it won’t be easy.  Your greatest enemy will actually be your own fleshly nature, but it will give you life and peace with God rather than death and condemnation.  I pray that we will be a people who choose to walk with God.

Christ invites us out of condemnation and into life

Verse 1 makes a statement about those who are “in Christ.”  The statement is simply that those who are in Christ Jesus are not under condemnation.  Before we delve into the statement itself, it is important to recognize just how a person comes to be “in Christ.”

It is Jesus who first invites us to come to him.  In Matthew 11:28 he states, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  His invitation is for people who are in a place, or legal status, of condemnation before God.  Thus, in Romans 8, Paul is not talking about a feeling of condemnation, but an actual legal guilt before God.  Jesus calls people out of that place to himself.  Those who come to him leave their condemned state behind and enter into a place of forgiveness, life, and peace (again, this is about a relational peace between us and God, not a feeling of euphoria).

When Jesus went into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit to continue this calling of people to Jesus.  Yes, the believers of Jesus also have a role in this, but they are to do so with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Only He can convict people of their sin and the judgment that hangs over them.  Only He can convince them that their righteousness is not good enough, but that the righteousness of Jesus was intended to give them freedom and life.  It really is a work of the Holy Spirit when a person comes to believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Without His gracious work, they would not choose to believe.

So, the Holy Spirit brings us to Christ and asks us to choose.  Will you walk with Jesus?  Those who choose to follow the Holy Spirit into Christ by putting their faith in Jesus enter into a new standing before God.  The Holy Spirit takes up residence within them and causes them to become spiritually alive, which means they can sense God and interact with Him).  They are saved from the judgment that looms over them because the righteousness of Christ covers any sins that they have.  Even more, they are adopted into the family of God and made co-heirs with Jesus. We become the children of God.

Having chosen to follow the Holy Spirit into the new place before God called being “in Christ,” our walking after the Spirit shouldn’t stop there.  In Romans 8, Paul is speaking about this new standing we have before God and emphasizing that we are those who keep following the Holy Spirit now that we are in Christ.  This brings up the issue of our flesh, which Paul also talks about in this passage.

The flesh can refer to muscles, bones and tendons.  However, in this context Paul uses the term flesh to refer to that part of us that is drawn away from God towards sin.  It is so connected to our bodily appetites that the simplified word is used.  Context helps us determine if the word merely means flesh, or if it is referring to the tendency towards sin within us.

In verse 6, Paul points out that this choice leads us into one of two directions.  If I follow the flesh then I will find death, but if I follow the Spirit of God then I will find life and peace.  The devil is good at using our past life in sin against us as a means of condemning us in our hearts and minds.  Through this, He is able to rob people of their inner sense of peace.  However, the devil cannot touch our standing before God.  He can only attempt to convince you to walk away from Christ on your own.  Yes, I was a sinner and unworthy of the grace of Jesus, but the Holy Spirit drew me to Jesus and says that I can be clean if I will only believe.  Remember this always.  If God has removed you from your deserved condemnation, why would you continue to participate in condemning yourself?  And, if God has declared us to be at peace with Him, why would I worry that He will change His mind and go to war against me at any moment?  Why would I interpret every bad thing that happens as proof God doesn’t love me anymore?

Be careful of looking back at your past life and dwelling there.  If we look back, may it be in order to learn from our errors and to draw strength in order to press forward in Jesus.  However, let us not look back and become stuck in the quicksand of fear and depression.  God has not led us to this point to abandon us!

My flesh tries to pull me back into condemnation

In verse 7 Paul speaks about the challenge that lies before the Christian each day.  The Spirit is faithful to lead us to accomplish those things in your life that He has for you.  Yet, our sinful nature (or flesh) keeps trying to pull away from Jesus and back towards that place of condemnation.  In fact, we are told that the flesh is hostile to God and the things of the Holy Spirit.  The word translated as “enmity” or “hostile” has at its roots in the idea that it hates the things of God.  My flesh wants me to follow its desires and whims, but when I follow the Holy Spirit, I am led away from pleasing my flesh and its whims.  This doesn’t mean that we never have any joys and pleasures.  It just means that those joys and pleasures are not my focus.  Rather, the Spirit of God is my focus.

I know that there is a part of us that wishes or thinks that God might zap us and make our flesh go away.  However, this is not His way.  He puts His Spirit within us to help us to say “no” to the flesh and to say “yes” to Him.  God’s way teaches us to become spiritual warriors against our own evil desires, rather than to focus completely on the evil of others.

Satan’s mindset is the way of death because it focuses on others and uses them as an excuse for its sin.  It is interesting that our flesh will focus on others when it comes to sin and yet, focuses on self when it comes to love.  The Spirit of God calls us to flip this and focus on ourselves when it comes to sin and to focus on others when it comes to love.  Our flesh hates this. 

In verses 9 and 10, Paul challenges us.  If the Spirit dwells in us, which He does if we have put our faith in Jesus, then we are no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit.  This is just a different way of describing this new state in which we find ourselves before God.  Being “in Christ” is to also be “in the Spirit.”  Yes, we still have flesh to fight against and we will not feel like we are in the Spirit during those battles.  However, we are in His Spirit because that Spirit is within us working to help us overcome sin and our flesh.

This leads us to verse 11, which makes a powerful statement.  The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is dwelling in you and leading you.  It will give life to your mortal bodies!  Pause and meditate on that for a moment.

There are two ways in which this can be applied.  First, the Spirit gives us life spiritually in victory over our flesh in this life.  As we walk this Christian life, we are given eternal life by the Spirit of God and victory over the flesh (not without wounds and failures).  As we choose to follow the Spirit of God, or as some of the translations say “walking after the Spirit,” or “walking according to the Spirit,” we obtain a wellspring of life within our soul.  This life is experienced each day as He gives it to us in victories over sin, and spiritual accomplishments.  We grow spiritually and bear fruit in Jesus (a process that does not happen overnight).

However, just as Jesus was physically resurrected, so too, we are promised the same.  This is the second way in which verse 11 can be applied.  At the day of Resurrection, we will physically receive the eternal life of God in a new body.  Though it will be physical, it will not have the propensity to go towards sin, neither the physical decay and weaknesses of these mortal bodies we now have.  This becomes the capstone to our salvation as God completes every promise to us and then some.

Final Thoughts

The Holy Spirit is not someone that we can define and use against each other.  There is a lot of water under the bridge when it comes to the Holy Spirit and especially the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Too often, it has been used as a kind of badge of accomplishment against other Christians, particularly certain gifts including speaking in tongues.  However, in so doing we forget that the Holy Spirit is not an inanimate object or a force that we operate.  He is a person who is capable of being grieved and resisted.  Some of the fleshliest things that have happened in the Church were done “in the name of the Holy Spirit.”  We cannot follow our flesh and then call it the Holy Spirit.  This is the same kind of thing the Pharisees did.

So how should a believer navigate this area?  First, quit worrying about speaking in tongues and spiritual gifts.  Instead, focus upon the One who is busy working in your life and wants you to cooperate with Him.  Focus upon the Holy Spirit.  Were you actually led to believe in Jesus, or were you simply looking to use church for your own ends?  If you were actually led to believe in Jesus then the Holy Spirit led you to that place.  If you surrendered and embraced Jesus in faith then it was the Holy Spirit who made you spiritually alive and even now dwells in you.  No one can take that away from you regardless of what spiritual gifts may or may not have been expressed in your life.  Quit worrying about what others think and start listening to what the Holy Spirit thinks.  Choose to follow Him.

Lastly, recognize that the Holy Spirit wants to lead you and empower you to do the work that Jesus has given you.  Pray each morning for the Lord to fill you with His Holy Spirit and to help you to listen to Him.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will empower you so that you can be more effective in your own life and the life of others.  Be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but don’t focus on what that must look like.  Rather, keep surrendering to the Holy Spirit and being open to what He is doing in your life.  I know that people can take what I have just said and twist it to their own ends, but those people will one day have to give an account to God.  Today, however, the Holy Spirit calls out to you.  Will you walk with Me?

Will You Walk audio

Tuesday
Jan152019

The Carnal Christian

1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Hebrews 5:12-14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 13, 2019.

Today we are going to talk about what it means to be a carnal Christian.  Suffice it to say that this is not something that the believer should aspire to be.  However, it cannot only be an appearance that we avoid.  Much like “trying to look humble,” trying to look spiritual is itself the fruit of carnality.

The word “carnal” can also be translated as fleshly, and it refers to something that is characterized by the flesh and its desires.  The believer in Jesus who is walking with Him will find that Jesus always leads us away from the desires of our flesh and towards the desires of our Father in heaven.

As we look at our passage today, let’s not drum up images of people that we think this describes, but rather let us ask the Lord to search our hearts and help us to grow in becoming like the Lord Jesus this year.

What is a carnal Christian?

There are some who teach that the phrase “carnal Christian” is an oxymoron, and that such a person is not really saved.  Yet, I do not believe that this idea completely squares with Scripture, especially the passage before us today.  In our passage Paul refers to the Corinthians as carnal and yet back in chapter one he made it clear that he saw them as true Christians.  1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “To the Church of God, which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”  So it seems that it is possible to be saved and yet characterized by the desires of one’s flesh.  We will explore more later.

First we should note that in this passage carnality is used in opposition to being spiritual (vs. 1).  Spiritual here does not mean having a spirit, as all humans have one.  Neither does it mean having the Holy Spirit because Paul never denies that these Christians have the Holy Spirit, but rather uses the fact that they do have the Holy Spirit in his arguments throughout the book.  Thus it is a characterization of their predominant life-choices.  They are not listening to the Wisdom of the Spirit of God in some very obvious areas, but rather listening to their flesh.  It might be good to note that it is not enough to be open to spiritual things.  There are many who avoid any sense of religion and pride themselves in being spiritual.  However the Word of God warns us that there are many deceptive spirits in this world.  We should be careful of opening ourselves up to deceiving spirits.  Believers are to be open to the Holy Spirit, but closed off to any other spirits that would work in opposition to the Father.  So we want to be spiritual, but in a biblical way.

Verse 1 also brings up another aspect of carnality.  Paul uses it to refer to those who are babes in Christ, i.e. immaturity.  This is a clear picture of a person who is newly saved.  We are not told how long a person should take to be mature.  However, it is clear from verse 2 that the Word of God is intended to help a person grow.

The milk of the word is that part of Scripture that is more easily digested.  It represents the love of God and his offer of grace towards us.  However, the solid food, or meat of the word, is such things as the call to pick up your cross and follow Jesus; it is the message of becoming like Jesus in holiness; and it is the truth about what is coming upon the world.

Thus a baby in Christ has the Holy Spirit resident in their life.  They have the Lord Jesus Christ, in a sense, sitting on the throne of their heart, yet, their work has just begun.  They have many giants that they must battle, against whom the Lord will systematically lead them and help them.  Immaturity in this sense is normal and expected.  It is not a bad thing when babies are immature.  However, a 24 year old baby, or a 60 year old baby, is a bad thing and is not healthy.  Even the baby Christian, though immature, should not be comfortable with carnality in their life.  However, they should be patient and trust the work and leading of the Holy Spirit.  If the Holy Spirit dwells in you, then Christ will help you to overcome sin and grow spiritually.

So we end up with 3 proper categories within this designation of a carnal Christian.  A carnal Christian is a believer who has just begun to follow the Spirit of Christ, or who has not developed properly in their ability to fight their fleshly lusts since salvation, or who has had proper development yet has regressed.  The first of these is normal, but the second and third are considered abnormalities in the sense that they are not God’s work.  They are also spiritually dangerous.

We should also note the things that Paul points out as proof of their carnality.  He lists envy, strife, and divisions.  They are anti-virtues, or rather vices, that are the fruit of listening to our flesh and not the Holy Spirit.  Galatians 5 gives a good list of the virtues of the Holy Spirit and the vices of the flesh.

Now let’s go to a similar passage in Hebrews 5 starting at verse 12.

What characterizes a carnal Christian?

Though our definition gives the character of carnality, this passage explores it further.  We are told that carnal Christians cannot handle the solid food of God’s Word.  In both cases, the Corinthians and the Hebrews, it is expected that they should be more mature than they are because they have the Word of God and the example of the apostles.  However, they are not.  They are in need of someone to come alongside them and assist them in “digesting” the milk of the word.  If they were properly digesting the milk, they would grow to the point that they could eat the solid food.  So how are they not able to handle the word of God?  First it can mean that they cannot “stomach” the more difficult parts of God’s Word.  They are unable to break it down and draw life from it.  It is too complex for their current level of maturity.  There is a resistance to it in their mind and heart.

However, it can also mean that they do not properly use the Word of God.  They are unskilled in its proper use.  They may have skill with the milk, but they are unskilled in the heavier things.  They may ignore clear meanings of some passages and over emphasize other passages in order to obtain what their flesh wants.  This is understandable in a new Christian.  Thus God puts us in a family of believers where there are those who are more mature and can help us to mature ourselves.

Both of these situations are not good, especially in the life of a person who has been a Christian for years.  So what is the solution, or is there one?  The solution to not being able to stomach the heavier parts of God’s Word is to go back to the milk and learn to properly draw life from it.  Then move on to more solid food.  The solution to the inability to properly use the Word of God in our life is to repent, turn away from our fleshly desires, and obey God’s Word.  We must learn to listen to the experience of those who have gone on before us from each generation.

Another danger in being a carnal Christian is that we are unable to properly discern what is good or bad (Heb. 5:14).  One’s fleshly mind and heart can manipulate reason and emotion in order to declare things of the flesh as good, thus the problem of self-justification.  We can focus on whether or not we are permitted to do something rather than if it is something that is actually good for me spiritually, or bad.  Such a state leaves us in a position to be easily manipulated by the devil.

Final Thoughts

All Christians have parts of their flesh that they must battle.  In other words, to become mature does not mean you no longer have things to fight against and places to grow.  God is always working on all of us.  However, as we mature the battle should become more of an internal battle and less and less of one that is on the outside.  This is not stated as an excuse for sin.  Rather it is recognition that every day all of us need to turn to the Holy Spirit and say, “Search me, O God!”  “What are we working on today, Lord?”

Let me close by reminding us of the passage in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

May God help us to choose spiritual transformation by the Holy Spirit over the top of fleshly conformation to the things of this world that are at odds with the Lord of Heaven.

Carnal Christian audio

Tuesday
Jul102018

Seeking the Things that are Above

Colossians 3:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 8, 2018.

Last week we talked about not turning to legalism as a legitimate expression of Christianity.  Yes, there are certain things that Christians should not do and others that they should do.  But lists of things we shouldn’t eat or drink, and special days we should observe in order to be holy has nothing to do with Christ. 

In our passage today we will see that we need to turn to Jesus rather than a list of regulations.  He needs to become our life, to become everything.  When it comes to the Christian life, we must never forget that Christ is everything to us.  He is the foundation on which we stand, the image towards which we are being transformed, the power by which it is all done, and the hope that lies before us.

So as we look at this passage, let us hear the words of life that teach us how to truly live.

We have died with Christ and been made alive with Christ

Back in chapter 2 Paul had reminded us that the fact that we have died to the world with Christ should refute the regulations of legalism.  Here in verses 1-4 of chapter 3 he continues to the other side of this truth.  We have been made alive with Christ.  Thus our life and how it is lived must be connected to Christ and not this world.  This means our focus or concern should be towards heaven where Christ is.  Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father.  His perspective and commands will be quite different from a person who is here on earth.  Ultimately it is the things of heaven, the things of Christ, that should concern Christians.

Now this could give rise to the phrase that a person is “So heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”  However, this is not what Paul is getting at.  He is not talking about ignoring the earth, but rather about looking to Christ for our directions on how to operate in this world.  God is deeply concerned with this earth and the people on it.  That is why Jesus came and died on the cross.  When we look at life with His concerns and walk in His purposes and direction, then it does much good for this earth.  Thus to be heavenly minded as Paul means it, is to live in this life directed by the leadership of Christ.

In verse 3 he mentions that the things that make for our life are hidden from the world.  Christ cannot be seen by the world and His instructions to us cannot be seen either.  His connection to us through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit is not something that can be touched or seen.  Sure they should see how we live and the effects of these things in our lives, but they cannot actually see the influence.  Thus the world will not understand the reasons and motivations, which come from heaven.

In verse 4 we are told that when Christ is revealed from heaven in glory, it will suddenly become clear what we were living for.  In fact the glory of Christ will be our glory too!  It takes faith and trust in God’s Word.  We must believe that He will do what He has said He will do.  Christians are those who walk in the faith that though our life may not make sense to the world around us, it is directed by God Himself and will be rewarded in due time.

We put off the old man

Starting in verse 5 Paul uses several metaphors for the Christian life.  One of these is that of the old man.  It is a metaphor for our old life of listening to our flesh (body, mind, and heart) and following its desires.  We are told to put it off like we would do with the clothes that we sleep in at night, in order to then put on the right clothes to go about our day.

In fact, in verse 5 he opens with an even harsher metaphor- “put to death.”  The terminology can be a bit foreign to us.  The term “members” refers to the parts of us that are centered upon the things of the world.  These are expressed in certain sinful activities and conditions of our heart.  They need to be sacrificed on the altar to God by dying to their pull on us.  Paul lists several things.  Fornication is any sex outside of a committed marriage between one man and one woman.  Uncleanness is any impure desire or motive.  Passion is those afflictions of our mind and heart that push us towards sin.  Yes, passion can be a positive thing, but it is clearly about sinful things in this list.  Evil desire speaks for itself.  Covetousness is called idolatry because we allow ourselves to become a slave to the thing we covet rather than a slave of God.  It becomes god in our lives.  All of these things need to be put to death in our life.  This is something that has to be done daily, as they surface in our hearts and minds.  Like weeds we will not be able to completely remove all traces of them in this life.  But we can keep them from growing and bearing evil fruit in our life.  If we follow these things they will not bring us true life, no matter how alive one may feel when they first give in to them.  In the end these things will leave you empty and hopeless regardless of what Ashley Madison has to say.

In fact in verse 6 Paul reminds us that these are the things that are bringing the wrath of God.  Just in case we thought these were nice suggestions on how to have a better life, we are reminded that those who practice such things are in jeopardy.  This world may be progressing in technology, which gives it the allusion that we are somehow becoming better.  But, morally we are not progressing.  We are wallowing in the same muck and mire that mankind has always wallowed in.  The message of the Gospel is this, “Save yourself from this wicked and perverse generation by fleeing to Jesus before it is too late!”  We will all face the wrath of God one way or another.  We will either be alive when it is poured out at the end of the age or we will face it when we die and come before God.  Believers can face both situations with confidence because Jesus has taken the wrath of God that should fall on us, upon Himself.  We can stand in His presence with confidence because of Jesus and Him alone.

In verse 7 he reminds us that these things should be a part of our past.  It is how we used to live, before Christ.  This is the old life, but now Christ is our Master and Savior.  His Spirit has taken up residence within us.  Let us not fool ourselves.  We cannot continue to follow the ways of the world and the ways of our flesh and find life.  They can only lead us to destruction.  Like Joshua of old we must choose today whom we are going to serve, and may it be Jesus that we chose to serve.

In verses 8 to 9 Paul continues with a list of deeds that many would think of as “little sins.”  We are tempted to coddle them and allow them to remain in our life.  We can justify them in our heart more easily.  But Paul warns against such deeds of the old man.  Anger- I used to get angry about things, but Christ is calling me to leave anger behind.  I am to be directed by heaven, not my anger.  Wrath- My flesh is focused on justice and getting people back, but heaven reminds us that this is not our job and that we must let it go lest we fall under the wrath of God ourselves.  Malice- This is typically a deeper-seated, festering ill-will towards others.  Christians are to root this out and reject its seductive logic.  Blasphemy- It is not just untrue things we say of God.  It basically means to slander or say untrue things about any other.  Filthy language- Our old life learned all manner of crude and vulgar ways to express ourselves.  Such talk should be left in the dust.  We must let the Lord purify our speech.  Lying- How easy it is to lie to one another in order to get what we want or to protect ourselves.  Whether it is active lying where we state untruths or passive lying where we mislead people so that they make the wrong conclusions, lying is a form of manipulation that brings destruction into our life and the lives of those around us.

Jesus was none of these things.  If we have truly rejected the world with Him and are living only for Him, then these things should change.  There is no way around this truth.  Yes, it doesn’t just happen in an instant.  But it does happen nonetheless.

We put on the new man

We will talk more about this next week.  But let’s end on the positive.  If we are to take off the old man then clearly we must put on the new man.  Paul points out in verses 10-11 that the new man is renewed in knowledge.  Knowledge is key to our transformation.  We know that these things hold nothing but God’s wrath for us.  So why would we then hold on to them?  We also know that Jesus is not like these things.  So why would we continue in them?  We also know that Christ died to set us free from these things.  So let’s be renewed in body, mind, and heart.

He also mentions that we are renewed according to the image of Christ.  The renewal is not just a “new me.”  It really is a taking on the image of Jesus.  We are taking Him on and being transformed.  In that sense, Jesus is the new man.  We are all taking on the One New Man, Jesus.  WE are the students becoming like the master, as His Holy Spirit works within us to enable the transformation.

He ends this section by pointing out that the old distinctions are irrelevant when Christ is our everything.  It doesn’t matter what race or station of life a person is or comes from.  A believer in Jesus sees one thing.  Is Christ living within that person as well as me?  Christ is everything and all those distinctions are nothing.  How we interact with people, both believers and the lost, should have nothing to do with race, economic station, gender or what else.  It has only to do with Christ.  What does He think and what does He want.  The power of Christ has come to break all of these distinctions down so that Christ indwells every kind of person on the earth, and we can receive another believer as a brother or a sister in Christ, not because of earthly things, but because of the heavenly reality that Jesus dwells within us both.  Does Jesus dwell within you today?  Pray and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and become your Lord and Savior.  Let us put off the old man and put on the New Man!

Seek the Things Above audio

Thursday
May242018

O, How We Need the Holy Spirit

Romans 8:12-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Pentecost Sunday May 20, 2018.

Today we are celebrating the truth that God has given the Holy Spirit to those who have put their faith in Jesus as His Anointed Savior for the world.  But, even more than this, we celebrate the truth that the Holy Spirit wants to fill the believer’s life in order to empower us to follow Jesus.

Over the years the Holy Spirit has been compared to nearly every power source you can think of: a battery, gasoline, dynamite, and the list goes on.  These things are good as far as they can go.  Yet, the Holy Spirit is more than just a power source.  He is a genuine personal being who can be grieved, and yet who is sent to teach us, lead us, comfort us, help us, and spiritually gift us in order to serve God.  Just as the first disciples found out that they could not follow Jesus without the help of the Holy Spirit, so we too cannot follow Jesus without the help of the Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament we see the apostles and other believers listening to and following the Holy Spirit.  They were a people who were daily being filled with the Holy Spirit, and so it must be with us today.  I pray that you will be encouraged to be a person who is listening to and following the Holy Spirit, a person who is daily being filled with the Holy Spirit, as those early Christians were and as countless Christians worldwide are giving testimony today.  We need the Holy Spirit!

We are in debt to the Holy Spirit and not our flesh

In Romans 8:12-17, we are reminded that we don’t owe anything to our flesh, but rather to the Spirit of God.  Do you tend to pay bills that you know you don’t owe?  We might be tricked into paying such a bill, but in the end we tend to only pay bills that we properly owe.  Of course this is a metaphor.  Following the metaphor, our flesh is like a scammer who keeps telling us that we owe it something, when in fact we do not.

Paul next says that if we follow the flesh (i.e. give in to the things our flesh says we owe it) we will find death, but if we follow the Holy Spirit (i.e. give in to the things that we properly owe the Holy Spirit) then we will find life.  So what is exactly meant by “the flesh?”  In this passage it is clear that Paul is not just talking about bodily needs such as: food, clothing, and companionship.  Yes, we do need to eat and sleep.  But Paul connects “following the flesh” to the “deeds of the flesh.”  The deeds of the flesh are truly physical deeds, but they refer to the tendency of our fleshly desires to lead us into sin and thus ultimately death.  Galatians 5 further explains this concept of the “deeds of the flesh,” and says that they are obvious.  “The works [deeds] of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you  beforehand, just as I told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

The believer is a person who has come to see that the flesh hasn’t done anything for them.  In fact, it has been a pipeline of sorrow, pain, and death.  Moments of pleasure and ecstasy are followed by years of pain and sorrow.  However, when the Holy Spirit opened our eyes to Jesus, we not only found the way to life, but we found life itself and have a relationship with it.  It was the Spirit that led us to Jesus, and we owe a great debt to Him for opening our eyes.  Jesus is life, and those who follow Him will find life in many different ways every day, until we open our eyes in His presence and we fully experience life everlasting.  This is all the Holy Spirit’s doing.

It is important to recognize in verse 13 that the deeds of the flesh can only be put to death through the help of the Holy Spirit.  The believer has to learn how to live within a body whose desires continually try to wrestle control of our life from that part of us that has become spiritually alive to the Spirit.  This “old man” and “new creation” battle within us as we follow Christ.  Thus, Christ truly does expect those who follow Him to put to death the lusts of their flesh, every day.  If we obey the flesh, it will only bring more pain and sorrow (i.e. the seeds of death).  But, if we obey the Holy Spirit, we will find life even in the midst of the pain and sorrow of this world.  We do this not because we are slaves under a system that rewards those elite who are capable of doing it.  Rather, we do this because we have been saved and placed within the family of God.  We do this because we want to be like the our Father in heaven.

We are children of God because of the Holy Spirit

In verses 14-17 we see that the Holy Spirit is an important part of being a child of God.  In first century AD Israel, they believed that they were children of God because they had been born into a particular genealogy.  Of course the Old Testament prophets had made it clear that this was not the case, but the first century Israelites were generally not listening to the prophets.  When the Holy Spirit lead people to follow Jesus and put their faith in Him as God’s Anointed savior of Israel and the world, many of them refused to believe.  Jesus challenged Israel with the truth that those who rejected Him were not children of God.  God’s children are not those who are naturally born, but rather those who are spiritually born again by putting their faith in Jesus.  John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Here Paul reminds us that it is those who are following the Holy Spirit who are the children of God.  The Holy Spirit is faithful within every generation to be working every day to lead people to believe in Jesus and to follow Him.  It is easy to think that the Holy Spirit has become less and less active, as we see more and more people rejecting Christ and living for their flesh.  However, this is a misunderstanding that has to do with where you are.  We need to have our eyes opened to the reality that the Holy Spirit is always working to convict the world of sin, judgment, and the need of salvation.  Many people are believing in Jesus Christ every day all around the world.

Paul also points out that the Holy Spirit leads God’s children to adoption rather than into slavery.  Those who come to Christ are not being led into a legalistic system.  The first century Church had to wrestle with the reality that they were not being saved by their great ability to keep the Law of Moses.  The Holy Spirit was leading them to keep the spirit of the Law, not in order to be saved, but because they had been saved through Jesus.  Thus the Holy Spirit teaches us the truth of our adoption by God to be His sons.  He leads us to become like the Father and to join Him in His work of saving people.  This is as opposed to being slaves who try to curry God’s favor through our good works.  Instead of the cry of a slave who is fearful of the master’s wrath, we are filled with the cry of a child saying, “Daddy!”  That is an amazing truth, yet, it is the work of the Spirit in our life, not an accomplishment of our flesh.

A follower of Christ should never be deceived on this matter.  The Father is not a sinner and He does not want His children to be sinners.  Similarly, Jesus is not walking in sin or walking towards it.  If we are following Him then we will be leaving sin behind.  Praise God that He has given us His Holy Spirit to lead us in becoming like the Father, not out of slavery, but out of the fact that we are His children.  Many who claim to be Christians today have believed the lie that God is no longer concerned about sin in their life.  Thus they live each day obeying the lusts of the flesh and denying the very Lord who saved them with His blood.  It is not enough to slap a thin veneer of good works over the top of a life that is lived for self and the lusts of the flesh.  Today, hear the Holy Spirit calling you to life and freedom from sin’s destructive hold and influences.

Lastly, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God.  In fact, He is not the only witness of this fact that we have.  We have the person or people who have led us to Christ.  They are witnesses to us that we belong to God.  Also, we have the Word of God that is written in black and white, which tells us so.  When you add the inner witness of the Holy Spirit it can seem strange that we ever doubt we belong to Jesus.  The spirit of this age has a vested interest in trying to undermine your confidence in Christ.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit daily, as He tells us that we are children of God.  And, as a true child of God, we need to desire to be like our heavenly Father.

Let me close by reminding us that we cannot follow Jesus in this life without the help of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore let us wake up every morning and pray that God will fill us with His Holy spirit so that we can be enabled to become like Christ, and to seek and save those who are lost in this world, those who are in bondage to the lusts of their flesh.  We can only do this as we let the Holy Spirit set us free.

We need the Holy Spirit audio