In the second part we looked at the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the truth that whoever looks upon the crucified Christ in faith will not die, but have eternal life.
Now, for a moment, I want to reiterate the importance of what we talked about last time. Remember what Jesus says in John 3: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man [that’s Jesus] be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish [die], but have eternal life.…He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
You must believe this. We’re going to start talking about overcoming sin and temptation in our lives, but if you don’t have the foundation of forgiveness and belonging to Jesus, nothing you can do will possibly save you. Remember, your sin must be crucified with Him. Your sin must be crucified with Christ, nailed to the cross. You must see the penalty of your own sins paid for in the bloody bruises and gashes on Jesus’ body. Remember, God tells us that those who belong to Jesus Christ "have crucified the flesh, along with its passions and desires." You must look to Jesus, the only righteous One, who died for sinners—for you—to forgive your sin. Unless your sin is forgiven and has already been paid for on the cross, you will not be able to accomplish anything in your fight against lust, selfishness, jealousy, laziness, anger, anxiety, bitterness, envy, greed…you name it.
Your being crucified with Christ by faith in His blood is the foundation of your entire life as a Christian. When you place your faith in Jesus Christ, you build your house upon the rock. If you place your faith in your own righteousness, you’re building a house sand; it may stand for a few days, or months, or years, but in the end, all of your efforts will be in vain—it will be just as foolish as thinking that eating the right food or following the right exercise regimen will give you immortality.
But now, if you have looked on the cure and been healed by the Savior, Jesus Christ, God’s work in your life is not done. God has forgiven you for a reason…
But we must not forget about the Resurrection. Jesus died so that He might be raised from the dead and gain victory over death, our enemy. And this Resurrection truth is vital to our lives as Christians:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3–7)
But Jesus's work didn’t end on the cross.
He promised His disciples that God 's work in them would continue in their lives in an even more direct and powerful way than when He was with them. In fact, He said He must die and leave them for this to happen…
To further understand why Christ Jesus died for us, let's look at Romans 8:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1–4)
But we're at a turning point in Paul's argument. Having laid the foundation of faith in Christ apart from works of the law, Paul is going to tell us why Christ died, and what the implications of His death are in our lives. And we should be clued in to this turning point by one very important phrase: "so that."
Why did Jesus save us by His blood? So that the requirement of God's Law might be fulfilled in us.
The blood of Jesus is so powerful, that it not only wipes away your sin, but it applies the righteousness of Christ to you, and then by His Spirit transforms you into His image. Jesus wants you to be holy and blameless, just as He is. Not just to be forgiven and declared righteous, but to be truly holy and blameless in your person. Jesus's will is that the requirement of God's Law might be fulfilled in you!
And Christ’s work on the cross is the necessary foundation of you becoming holy. You cannot become holy without it. Unless Jesus Christ has already borne your sins in His body on the cross, there is no hope, and you must first look to Him to be granted a promise of eternal life. But that reality, the reality of you standing forgiven and justified by faith before God, is just the basis of your salvation.
Now, I’m using salvation in the big sense of the word. Most people today when they talk about salvation, they say they "got saved," referring to a point in time when they believed. But Scripture often uses the word salvation to refer to the entire process of God’s saving us, from His choosing of us before the foundation of the earth, all the way through to our glorification, when we are made perfect in body and soul to dwell in eternal bliss with Jesus Christ, when death is finally destroyed. The Apostle Paul talks about salvation this way when He tells the Roman Christians in Romans 13 that "salvation is nearer to us than when we believed." He simply meant to tell them that God’s work in them was closer to its completion than when the first believed in Jesus.
That’s how I'm using the word salvation right now. And in God’s BIG work of saving us, our forgiveness and justification is the foundation of every other part of our salvation. Faith in Christ’s perfect righteousness and His atoning death is the reason God does any other part of the work of saving us.
Think of a house: you’ve got the foundation of the house and everything else built on top of it. Forgiveness, or right standing before God, is the foundation of our salvation, but there’s a house to be built on top of that foundation. Your justification before God does not stand alone. Jesus Christ died for His people and saved them so that they too might be holy, just as He is holy. He died to purify for Himself a people, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2). And He has prepared good works for us to do in His name (Ephesians 2).
So how in the world does this work happen? How do we become righteous? How is it even possible?
Well, let’s pick up where we left off in Romans 8, and we'll see how it happens:
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Well, one of the biggest reasons is because we have what is called indwelling sin. Even after we’ve trusted in Christ and been set free, Scripture makes it clear that we still are subject to the power of sin which still lives in us. And this sin which is still living inside of us is cunning and powerful; it has an amazing pull on our hearts and our wills.
Notice how Paul talks about the presence of sin in the life of a believer: He calls it the law of sin and of death. When he uses the word "law," he's not talking about a law in the sense of directive rules which tell us what to do, but in the sense of "an operative effective principle, which seems to have the force of law" (Owen). Think about Paul's term "law of sin and of death" as analogous to what we call the "law of gravity."
How often do you think about gravity?
Physically speaking, gravitational pull is the defining reality of our lives. Every physical action we take is contingent on gravity’s provision. Everything that gets designed or built is dependent on gravity’s constant presence. It is pervasive and never-changing. So much so, in fact, that you never even think about it. It’s so ever-present that it never crosses your mind. It’s constantly acting on you, which means you never notice it. In fact, the only time you might actually notice the effects of gravitational pull in everyday life is if it took a break. If you suddenly noticed you weren’t being held in your seat by gravity, you would then be keenly aware that something was missing.
There isn't a written rule somewhere that says we must obey gravity, but its force is inescapable and inarguable.
It’s the same way with sin, and that’s why Paul calls it the law of sin and of death. Sin is constantly exercising its pull on us, and it’s so constant and unrelenting that we don’t even notice it. Sin is always enticing you and seeking to draw you in to entangle you. It promises pleasure and comfort and satisfaction, and it promises that your life will be miserable without it. You at all times feel your desires pulled towards sensuality and worldliness and envy and jealousy and pride…
And the power of sin is so potent because it’s part of who we are. It’s not just some external force at work on us, like gravity. It’s an internal force at work in us. And left to our own efforts to destroy it, we’re hopeless, because it even corrupts those efforts themselves.
I remember one time as a senior in high school driving to school on a very cold winter morning in my '91 Toyota 4Runner. Despite being an awesome car, lacked a good heater. That morning I turned on the car and scraped off the layer of ice which had formed on the windshield over night. But this was a particular icy morning. In fact, when I was about two-thirds of the way to school, when stopped at a red light, I had to get out of the car and scrape the windshield again, because I couldn't see anymore.
Just the other day, I decided to bypass scraping my somewhat icy windshield and trust my washer fluid to do the trick. It worked as I expected: the fluid soaked the windshield and I easily wiped it away with the wipers, but I'll bet you know what happened next—the residue from the fluid froze over immediately making it even more difficult for me to see!
This is what it's like when we fight our sin by our own efforts. Indwelling sin is as persistent and penetrating as the iciest cold on a winter day. We need a strong heater to warm our hearts and fight the power of sin. And since it exercises such an effective pull on us, just like gravity, we need the blazing sun of God's Spirit to be the center of our lives pulling us toward righteousness and life, away from our orbit around sin and death. We need an influence at work inside us which is more powerful and effective than sin. We need the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit Lusts against the Flesh
If you read this verse in the King James Version, it says, "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh."
The Greek word Paul uses, epithumeō, can actually mean to lust. This is the word Jesus uses when He says, "I say to you, whoever looks at a woman with lust [epithumeō] for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). So when Paul says the flesh "sets its desire" against the Spirit, it could also be translated, "the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit [lusts] against the flesh."
Clearly, the translators of the NASB thought it inappropriate to ascribe to the Holy Spirit the action of lusting. But I think Paul used this word intentionally, because it paints a picture for us of the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to use this strong word. But why?
It's very simple. It's because you know the power of your lust. It may be lust for pornography, or immorality; it may be a lust for attention; or it may be a lust for money or other things you want. It's a force inside of you which leads you to do awful things. Your sinful desires cause you to sin against other people, to sin against God, and to do wicked things with your mind and body. These desires well up inside you, and they feel irresistible. You were born with them and you know you can’t change them. Sometimes you wish you could change them, but no matter how hard you try, they keep coming back with greater force and you fall deeper and deeper into your sin. This is perfectly in line with what Paul said in Romans 8:7–8: the mind set on the flesh is "hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God."
What you need is the Holy Spirit. You need the Spirit to dwell inside you and set its desire—to lust--against the flesh. You need the Holy Spirit, who is stronger than your indwelling sinful desires, to wage war with your old self. You must know that the Holy Spirit is as powerful, even more powerful, than your fleshly desires, which you know to be so strong.
So, you might be asking yourself…
What—or who—is the Holy Spirit, anyway?
God the Son, likewise, is personal. He came and dwelt among us. What could be more personal than that? He took on our flesh: He was born to an earthly mother and father, He had a real job, He had bodily weaknesses just as we do. He came and spoke to us and showed His compassion by dying for us on the cross.
But what about the Holy Spirit? Is He just some life force that flows around us in some mysterious way? Is the Spirit just a feeling that comes upon us and makes us have certain exciting emotions. Is it just like a spirit of sadness, or a spirit of good will, or team spirit—there’s just this other "spirit" called the "Holy Spirit" which produces warm feelings about God inside of us?
Listen to this:
I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
…When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. (John 16:7–10, 13–15)
And this is just a taste of the work the Holy Spirit does in the life of a Christian.
But for our purposes right now, I want us to get one work of the Holy Spirit stuck in our hearts and minds. We see it in our passage tonight (Romans 8), that one of the primary works of the Spirit in our lives is to kill sin.
If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
How does the Holy Spirit Kill sin?
1. THE SPIRIT GIVES US NEW DESIRES.
The minute the Holy Spirit comes to dwell inside of you, a battle is engaged. He forms in us a new heart that has new desires. There's suddenly a desire to actually obey the Law of God, and it's not an obedience driven by guilt and self-righteousness and looking good in the eyes of others—it's an obedience driven by an actual desire to glorify the God who saved you from hell! A desire that's stronger even than your lustful desires to indulge in sin.
2. THE SPIRIT DESTROYS SINFUL DESIRES.
The Spirit also works by putting sinful desires to death. John Owen calls the Holy Spirit the "fire which burns up the very root of lust."
3. THE HOLY SPIRIT BRINGS THE CROSS OF CHRIST TO BEAR IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS.
The Spirit actually causes us to grow in our love for Jesus Christ, so that we might obey Him more perfectly.
Now, notice what Paul says in Romans 8:13: "If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."
Who does the work of putting sin to death? You do, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must work together with the Spirit to kill our sinful desires and deeds. It's a joint effort as we join our wills to the will of the Spirit and labor to love righteousness, hate sin, and live for Christ's glory.
The work of justification—gaining right standing before God—is entirely a work of God, accomplished fully for us by Jesus Christ in His perfect life and His atoning death.
But once we've been forgiven and the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us, we have a responsibility. And that responsibility is to fight along with the Spirit against the flesh. That’s why Paul says, if you, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Remember what Paul said in Romans 6? "Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." He goes on to say: "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace."
We’ll be talking about all of these things more throughout the series this semester. But tonight, I want you to love God the Holy Spirit just as you know you're supposed to love God the Father and God the Son. Realize that He's a person of the Trinity that we are to have a real relationship with.
How do we get the Holy Spirit?
So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give ___________ to those who ask Him?
The Lord Jesus has promised to give us His Holy Spirit. He promised this to His disciples over and over again, and He promises the Spirit to all who believe in Him.
Remember what Romans 8 said: "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. [What’s the implication? Those who belong to Christ have His Spirit.] If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."
Do you think Jesus keeps His promises? If He went all the way to the cross, to that shameful accursed death to purchase your salvation—if He thought His sacrifice was worth it—do you think He won't see to it that the intended effect of His blood and righteousness will actually be carried out in your life?
He rose from the dead so that you might live too! He ascended into heaven and He sits on the right hand of the Father interceding—praying—for us right now! Listen to Jesus's prayer to His Father in John 17. Right after He promises His disciples in John 16 that the Spirit of truth will come, He prays this to God the Father, on behalf of His disciples, past, present, and future:
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours…Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are…
But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.…Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
In addition to remembering to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, you must remember that the Holy Spirit is Himself a person. This means we must have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. We must learn about Him, learn how to please Him, and learn how to fight effectively with Him.
Where in your life right now do you need the Spirit's help? Pray to the Father and ask Him. He will not turn you away. And don't stop there. Ask your brothers and sisters to pray for you: "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst" (Matthew 18:20).
Give yourself to sitting under the preaching of God's Word. Love worship and fellowship with God's people on Sundays and throughout the week.