Books of the Bible
Christ's Spirit and Put to
Death Our Human Nature
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
what does that mean? That the Spirit of Christ destroys my sinful
nature? What does that mean?
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
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
does it mean for you to control your unhealthy temper? What does for
you to have the Spirit of Christ permeate your temper?
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.
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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.
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.