Heather Tomlinson writes based on a talk by Alasdair Paine, vicar of St Andrew the Great in Cambridge, at the Keswick Convention 2013
This passage in Romans is packed with references to the Spirit. It's there for a practical purpose. Paul has written this letter because he wants the readers to be sure about the Christian message. He's written this particular part of the letter, so that they can be sure that their sins have been forgiven and that they are right with God. How do you know? You can see that at the start in verse 1, we are told there is 'no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' and at the end, verses 38 and 39 say, 'For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The beginning and the end states this, so you can assume that everything else in between is on the same general theme, which is: how can we be sure that our sins are really forgiven, and that we really are on the right side of God?
In Christian experience we become aware of the sin in our life. We start to ask, are we really his? How can I know it's me he's let off, that I'm right with God? There are all these super Christians walking around – I don't feel like that. How do I know my sins are forgiven? Or, sometimes we say, is there some experience we need to have to know that I really have been rescued?
Here, Paul gives a number of assurances as to how we can be sure, and we'll mention three of those here.
The first assurance is the work of Christ for us, in his death on the Cross, which is discussed in verses 1-4. Paul wants us to know that God has done something wonderful – setting us free from sin. God has done something to set us free from the law, so we don't inevitably perish and face Hell. But how is this possible, how can we just be 'let off'? He explains in verses 3 and 4: by sending His own Son to be a sin offering. The law of God could never save us. The law is perfect. But we're not. We're weakened by this thing he calls the flesh. But, God sent his Son.
Paul words it carefully – Jesus came 'in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering' – Jesus was not sinful himself. But when he died on the Cross, God treated him as a sinner. He took the punishment we deserved on himself. He was a sacrifice for our sins. So then, what should we do if we sin? Paul goes directly to the Cross, and so should we. There are other options. We can excuse ourselves, blame our hormones. We can say, that's not really sin any more. Or, we can say that talking about guilt is wrong. Or, we can get religious, and say if I read my Bible enough, that way I can make up for it. I can seek refuge in moral superiority, buy the newspaper and find stories of people who've done much worse things than me. Sin can't be dealt with by any of these ways, but it can be dealt with at Calvary.
The second assurance is the work of the Spirit in you. In verse 7 it tells us that a mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God. Paul is saying, that left to ourselves, we do not and cannot submit to God. We can't please him. Like in the novel the 'Lord of the Flies' – when the kids were left to their own devices, their behaviour was horrific. Paul says that's the natural condition of humanity. But in verse 9, we see that we are in the realm of the Spirit, and so we are changed. And one day the change will be even more radical.
I first heard the Christian message when I was a student. I'll never forget the time I asked Jesus to be my Lord. My conscience started to wake up. That was because God's own Spirit had come to live inside me. Not only bring me to new life, but help me day by day in the ongoing struggle. Look at v13 – “if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." Paul is showing that the clearest sign of the Spirit is that we're engaged in that battle with the flesh. Left to yourself, you and I were in the flesh. But with God's Spirit, we've got a new mindset.
The third assurance is the witness of the spirit within us. Verse 14 says that those led by the Spirit are 'Children of God'. Jim Packer says the highest privilege of being a Christian is being adopted into God's own family. We don't need to live in fear. In verse 15 it says by the Spirit we cry 'Abba father' – Not a Swedish pop group, but a term of friendship and familiarity. When I came to faith in Christ, I found for the first time that I could talk to God as Father. Most people do pray – in an emergency for example. But they don't know who they are praying to. The glorious privilege is that our prayer is in the context of a relationship. We come to know God, and when we pray we know who we are talking to. Paul is saying, that's the work of the spirit within you. Perhaps you have sensed this at certain times of prayer or fellowship.
God who has done all of this for us, wants each of you and me to know for certain that we belong to him, to enjoy that and to live in the light of it.
If you don't know any of those three things: you first need to come to Christ. You need to know there is no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.
We pray that we could be people who are assured of these great truths, and that we live happy and godly lives as a result.