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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible - Romans
Christ's Spirit and Put to Death Our Human Nature

Romans 8:1-11

(Galatians 5:16-25, Romans 6:6-11 Also, this can be used with the Galatians series in Pentecost 4C. The situation will then need to be adapted from Romans to Galatians.

How do we change? How do we make those significant changes that would be beneficial to our daily lives? How do we change those pieces of our personalities that are not so healthy? How do we change our deficiencies of character? Basically, how do we change? We all ask those questions. The Apostle Paul asks these questions in another way. He asks the question: how do we put to death, drown, crucify our sinful nature?

Today we continue this summer series of sermons on the book of Romans. We have had seven sermons so far on Romans and we have another seven sermons to go. But each sermon is an independent unit and stands by itself. So this may be your first Sunday here today and you still can benefit from the sermon. So far, we have had one sermon on each chapter; that is, one sermon on chapter two, three, four, five, six, and seven. But when we get to chapter eight, there are five sermons on chapter eight alone. This is because chapter eight is perhaps the finest chapter in the whole New Testament. On chapter eight, we slow down and study the nuances of this chapter more thoroughly.  

We have found that the Apostle Paul did not write about the history of Jesus; that is, in his letters there are no anecdotes about Jesus, no parables about Jesus, no miracles by Jesus. Paul is not interested in the biography of Jesus. From the Apostle Paul, we do not hear about the events of Palm Sunday, the stories from Holy Thursday or the drama of Good Friday. We hear none of these historical details. The Apostle Paul boils down the history and distills the history of Jesus into basic ideas about Christ. Paul is a theologian, not a storyteller. Paul does not weave stories about Christ but weaves ideas about Christ.

Two weeks ago, we were in chapter seven of Romans. Paul said, “That which I want to do I do not do; I want to do what is right, but I do just the opposite. I don’t want to do the wrong and that is precisely what I do.” So here was the Apostle Paul, a mature man of fifty-five to sixty years old; a seasoned veteran of the Christian faith for some twenty-five years; Christianity’s greatest missionary; Christianity’s most prolific author; Christianity’s most erudite theologian; a man at the top of his game. Here was the Apostle Paul, author of more than half of the New Testament books, saying, “That which I want to do, I do not do. That which I don’t want to do, I actually do. What a wretched person I am.” You may expect such honest self-revelations to be found in an immature Christian or new Christian, but not in Paul. Not in a seasoned veteran of the cross.

The Apostle says that this daily struggle with inner evil is a mark of a true Christian. We never do life perfectly. We never do life right. We have a sense of failure. There is always that inner struggle within ourselves, where I say to myself, “What a fool I am.”   In fact, we wish that we could outgrow this sinful self and this inner conflict, but we never do. The Apostle Paul did not, nor do we.

And then we get to chapter eight of Romans, and it is just the opposite. Chapter eight is some what confusing because chapter eight seems to say just the opposite of chapter seven.  In chapter seven, he says I cannot do it. In chapter eight, he says I can do it. Chapter seven is a kind of realism about our lives; that is, we are captured by sin until our dying day and chapter eight is a kind of optimism, that the Spirit of Christ in me crucifies my sinful nature and all of its desires. Now, which of there two chapters is true? Are you going to believe chapter seven? Or, are you going to believe chapter eight? Which one?

Obviously, both chapters are true. They are like two sides of a penny, or the two sides of a dollar bill. Both sides are true. Both sides are genuine. You need both sides of the penny or dollar in order for it to be authentic or genuine, and so you need both sides of sin and grace in a human in order for that human to be authentic and genuine.  These two sides of our lives and both will be part of us until our dying day.

But, the two sides are not equal.  One side is much stronger than the other. In Romans, we have already heard that the power of Christ is much stronger than the power of Adam. The power of grace is much stronger than the power of sin. And then when we reach chapter eight of Romans, the Apostle Paul turns on the powers of grace. So the two sides are not equal; grace is much stronger than sin; Christ’s nature is much stronger than human nature; the good in us is much stronger than the bad.

And that is why we can change and make positive changes in those unhealthy pieces of our personalities. Knowing that goodness is stronger than badness in each of us, and knowing the floodgates of the Holy Spirit are open and flowing with power, we realize we can make significant changes in our deficits of character.

I am going to do an experiment right now. I am going to take this dark blue dye and put a few drops into a picture of water. As I do this, you can see a cloud of blue beginning to flow in the water. And soon, in a little while, the whole pitcher of water will be blue. The blue dye is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ is poured into our lives and begins to spread, to all aspects of our lives. This Spirit of Christ permeates even our unhealthy pieces of our personality that we want changed. The Spirit of Christ touches all of our lives.

I would like to begin with some illustrations of finding someone’s weakness and exploiting that weakness. I am thinking of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his plans to invade Normandy. I am thinking about the biography by Steven Ambrose about Eisenhower and how Eisenhower wanted to surprise the Nazis and attack them where they least expected it. He wanted to exploit their weaknesses.

Another illustration. I am thinking about a scout for professional athletic team such as in baseball, football or soccer. This scout visits and closely watches the opposition in order to discover and exploit their weakness. You want your team to attack the opposition at the point of their greatest weakness.

Or, if you are a military genius that is part of a terrorist organization, you try to detect the weakness in the nation that is your enemy. You watch and watch the opposition until you detect what you think is a weakness. You send airplanes that become bombs to run into the Twin Towers in New York, and you bring those towers down and you hope that you will damage a nation. You try to find their weaknesses and exploit their weaknesses.

So it is with the power of evil. The power of evil is not dumb. The power of evil always attacks human beings where we are the most vulnerable, where we are the weakest. And where are human beings the most vulnerable? Where are we human beings the weakest? The Apostle Paul uses one word repeatedly and that Greek word is “sarx.” The Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates “sarx” as flesh; and in today’s New International Version, the NIV, “sarx” is usually translated “sinful nature.”  What is the basic problem for all human beings? Our sarx. Our sinful human nature.

When we think of the word, flesh, nowadays, in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, people immediately think of sexuality. They think of pinups and Playboy Magazines, of sexual stimulation. The word, flesh, has sexual overtones for us in our society. Therefore, I think that the New International Version of the Bible, the NIV, is more helpful by translating the Greek word, sarx, to be our sinful nature. If you carefully read Galatians 5, a text for today, and the list of sinful behaviors, Paul isolates four thin spots, four weak areas, four places of vulnerability. They are 1) sex (words such as sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery); 2)  anger (discord, fits of rage, wrangling); 3) drunkenness and orgies; 4) pride (selfish ambition, envy, covetousness, pride). These four facets of human nature seem very vulnerable to attack, and the power of evil is most effective where we are the weakest.

Paul says, “Through the Spirit of Christ, we are to put to death, to crucify, to drown, the flesh, human nature with all of its passions and desires. We are to put to death our sinful human nature and its passions and desires. What does that mean? What does it mean to change our unhealthy pieces of our personality? Our deficits of character that we all have? That is what we all want: to have these deficits of our character changed.

In Romans, chapter eight, the purpose of the Spirit is to crucify and kill our sinful nature, our flesh. In chapter eight, the Spirit of Christ gushes out with great power. Prior to chapter eight, Paul did not mention the Spirit of Christ, but in chapter eight alone, there are twenty-one specific references to the Spirit. It is like Paul opens the water faucet in your sink; no, Paul opens the water hydrant and lets it flow; no, he turns on the power of a geyser in Yellowstone Park; no, he opens up the floodgates beneath the world’s highest day and the water and Spirit rush through the generators and create enormous power. And the purpose of this power to destroy, kill, crucify our flesh, our sinful nature with all its powers, to destroy the defects of our personalities. In the Gospel of John, when the Spirit comes there is power of forgiveness. In the book of Luke and Acts, when the Spirit comes, Christians experience the power to speak boldly about Christ. But in Romans eight, when the floodgates of the dam are opened, the power of the Spirit is concentrated on changing our deficits of character, our unhealthy pieces of our personalities. The focus of chapter eight is not on forgiveness; the focus is not on speaking boldly. Rather the focus of the spiritual power is on the transformation of a person’s life, whereby our sinful nature is destroyed.

So what does that mean? That the Spirit of Christ destroys my sinful nature? What does that mean?

Well, the people knew in my childhood in Jackson, Minnesota, what it meant to crucify the flesh and its passions.  “Don’t dance, don’t drink, don’t swear, don’t go to movies, don’t play cards, and don’t neck…too much.”  These were the sins of the flesh when I was growing up

So I telephone Dr. Anderson to ask him what this means for the 2000s.  I telephoned Dr. Douglas Anderson again, the professional counselor in our parish, with a genuine Ph.D. in pastoral care, and a wise person for me to talk with. I asked him, “What does it mean to put to death our sinful human nature, with all its passions and desires, here in the year 2002?” He said, “People really want to make real changes in their lives and life styles, but too many people are looking for a magic pill to change them. They want the counselor to be the magic pill or they want advice to be a magic pill or they want the Spirit of Christ to be a magic pill, and these magic pills will solve all their problems.” Dr. Anderson said “that we are an impatient culture, wanting to find instant solutions to our problems. Rather than instant solutions and magic pills or making Christ a magic pill, true change within a person is a long, long, slow, slow process. It is a daily practice that eventually results in change and growth. Change is a daily change, a small, almost invisible daily change. That is where the 12-step people are so important, he said. They emphasize small, almost invisible changes, one day at a time.”

Dr. Anderson mentioned my daily walks. I know about that. I need to walk five days a week, a hour a day, do stretching exercises for my back. These are to be done every day, and gradually, I become stronger. My legs. My lungs. My back becomes stronger. If I do my exercises daily and not once a week or once a month. It is a daily discipline. Yes, I understand when Dr. Anderson was talking about the value of daily practice to slowly make changes.

So what does it mean to put to death our sinful nature and our unhealthy sexuality, our unhealthy anger, our unhealthy use of alcohol, and our unhealthy ambition? What does this mean? How does this happen in our lives?

First, sexuality. We humans are forever getting in trouble with our sexuality. Sexuality is good, beautiful, and God’s pleasing, but sex can easily be spoiled and soiled. We see what our society does with sex: sexuality is used to sell everything. You cannot watch TV without seeing sexually suggestive and stimulating images. Increased pregnancies outside of marriage. Increased abortions. Increased divorce. Increased people living together. Increased affairs. A temporary relationship is better than no relationship. The world of our sexual culture has changed during the last forty years, four hundred years and four thousand years. We humans have always gotten into trouble with our sexuality. Out sexuality has been a point of weakness for thousands of years.

The Apostle Paul says that we are to put to death those parts of human nature that have to do with sexual immorality, sexual impurity and debauchery. Christ, that dark blue dye, is poured into the water of our lives and it slowly changes everything. The change does not happen instantly but slowly. And so Christ permeates all aspects of our sexuality. Our fantasies. Our behaviors. Our actions. Our thoughts. The power of Christ permeates everything in order to change us.

The Apostle Paul believes that a person’s mind is the controlling center of that person. See my arm move, see my fingers move, see my head move. These are all controlled by my mind. Similarly my mind also controls my emotions. They way I think about things directly influences the way I feel about them. If you control or influence the mind, you control and influence a person’s actions and attitudes …  about sex. The Apostle Paul believes that the Spirit of Christ permeates our minds, and therefore what we think, act and feel about sex.

I repeat one particular quotation every day of my life: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (my open heart surgery); the courage to change the things I can.” And I can change my deficits of character, the unhealthy pieces of my personality. Including sex.  I know that. You know that. For Paul, that is the first purpose of the Holy Spirit in Romans eight, to put to death the unhealthy pieces of one’s personality, including our sex. God, grant me the courage to change the things I can.

I can give a personal testimony about this. The change has been gradual, more gradual that I would have liked it to have been, but the Spirit of Christ has changed the way that I now look at attractive women. There is less lust in me than their used to be. I am a work in progress, but there is growth, progress, and healthier sexual thoughts and attitudes in me today … because of Christ permeating my mind and attitudes.

In your personal life, what does it mean for you to control your unhealthy sexual passions and desires? What does it mean for you to have the Spirit of Christ permeate your sexual passions and desires?

A second weakness is under the category of anger. Paul uses words such as anger, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, dissensions, revenge. Our various forms of our tempers hurt ourselves and other people. I have noticed that fighting and anger can be a lifestyle for many people. I have also noticed when life becomes an intense rat race, tempers are normally right underneath the surface, ready to explode.

Again, anger in itself is not a sin, just as our sexuality is not a sin. Anger, like sex, is a God given and God pleasing gift. But the power of evil can get a hold of our anger and the power of evil can get a hold of our sexuality and soil and spoil them both. Healthy anger become soiled and spoiled. When the power of sin gets hold of our anger, our anger can degenerate into blasting away at our parents, blasting away at our kids, blasting a way at our spouses, blasting away at our neighbors or people we don’t like or disagree with us. The power of sin in us can easily get a hold of our healthy anger and corrupt it so it becomes rage.

The daily prayer is this: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can. Paul says that our angers can be changed.

What does it mean for you to control your unhealthy temper? What does for you to have the Spirit of Christ permeate your temper?

A third vulnerability listed by the Apostle Paul. He uses the words, drunkenness and orgies. Today, he may also use the words such as alcoholism, drug addictions, cigarette addictions and other addictions chemical addictions.  Again, I know that alcohol in and of itself is not evil, just as sex and anger are not evil. Alcohol is not evil. Nor is sex. Nor is anger. Jesus was not a tee-totaler and neither am I. I like Merlot wine, Pryamid beer, and scotch on the rocks. But I do know that alcohol and drugs are places of great vulnerability, that these drugs can mess up people’s lives so quickly. I am keenly aware how American law is so tolerant of drinking drivers, but laws in Scandinavia are not tolerant of drinking drivers. The percentage of people killed by drinking drivers is so much higher in the United States than in the Scandinavian countries. We could talk about booze parties for kids, about frat parties, about pot parties, about drug parties, and all the people who are hurting themselves and others.

The prayer is this: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can. Paul says that our drinking and drugging patterns can be changed.

But the question is: what does it mean for you to control your unhealthy alcohol and drug patterns? What does it mean for you to have the Spirit of Christ permeate your drinking patterns?

The fourth area of vulnerability is pride and ambition. Paul uses words such as pride, selfish ambition, covetousness and envy. Once again, pride in itself and ambition in itself are not evil just as sex, anger, and alcohol are not evil, but when the power of evil gets a hold of our pride and ambition, our pride and ambition become sour and soiled. We start to use our once healthy pride and ambition to elevate ourselves above others and to use our gifts and abilities to serve our egos rather than other people. It happens all the time. We become jealous of other people; covetous of their incomes and life styles.

But question is: what does it mean for you to control your unhealthy pride and ambition? What does it mean to have the Spirit of Christ your pride, ego, and ambition?

The dye in the water. You can still see the dye in the water, slowly spreading to permeate all of the water. The Spirit of Christ wants to permeate every aspect of your sinful nature.

I love the following quotation which I say every day of life: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. My attitudes and actions regarding sex, anger, addictions, and pride; these can all be changed and I know it and you know it as well.

The power is in the dye. The power is in the Spirit of Christ who permeates every aspect of our human nature with his power and grace. Meanwhile, chapter seven is also true. Amen.

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