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4th Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 8:1-11       New International Version (NIV)

 1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

 5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

 9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

 

Romans 8:1-11, “More Than Conquerors” July 10, 2011

As the eighth chapter of Romans begins, Paul announces that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (v. 1). The death sentence hanging over all humanity has been removed for those who are in Jesus Christ.

He isn't saying that Christians have suddenly become perfect people, free of all flaws and errors; instead, he insists that we are no longer condemned. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (v. 2).

Jesus alone can break the power of sin. We've been set free. Released. Liberated by the victory achieved by Jesus' death and resurrection. We have been made more than conquerors. Jesus conquered—we are the “more than.” But how easily we can forget.

 

Jana Novotna, of the Czech Republic, a professional tennis player who at one time was ranked second in the world was just five points away from making history. In the final set of the 1993 Wimbledon women’s championship she was leading 4-1.

Novotna seemed confident — playing smart and aggressive in front of the center court crowd. She had just hit a powerful backhand that skimmed the top of the net and fell short on her opponent, Steffi Graf’s, side, catching her off guard.

Now leading in the third and decisive set, 4-1, and one point away from taking the game, one game away from taking the set, one point from taking the match -- the unimaginable happened.

Her serve for game point went straight into the net. Her next toss, and strangely halfhearted serve, had the same result. Double fault.

On the next point, she reacted slowly to a high shot from Graf and shanked the return. The next shot again went straight into the net. Suddenly, the set was at 4-3. Then 4-4. Then 4-5 as Novotna began to crumble.

Minutes before, she was a world-contender, and now she was playing more and more like a beginner in training.

At match point for Graf, Novotna hit a low, cautious, shallow lob that Graf smashed for the win. Game, set, match.

What happened? Officially, Novotna’s collapse had to do with what tennis gurus (statisticians)  officially refer to as “unforced errors” — points that are given away that have nothing to do with the opponent. It’s the mental part of the game that, when it goes bad, takes the body with it down the road to failure. (Unforced errors in sports are more commonly called “the choke” or, in golf the “yips.”) 

In the sports world, examples abound where good players suddenly go bad. But while the stakes might be high on the court or on the field, unforced errors can have even more serious consequences in business and in other areas of life.
 

You don’t want to be on the receiving end of a pharmacist’s unforced error! Consider an industry where perfection is not only desired but is absolutely critical. Pharmacies, for example, can get 99.9997 percent of their prescriptions right and still make 3.4 mistakes per million.

Other business leaders are now learning that the “yips” in their companies can cost big bucks. The Bank of Scotland, for example, found that more than a third of small companies in the U.K. pay the same bill twice. Seems rather senseless!

Insurance companies in the United States lost $15 billion last year because of errors in rating drivers. A simple cut-and-paste error in a spreadsheet recently caused a Canadian power company to lose $24 million.

Companies lose customers every day because of little mistakes — an order not filled, a billing mistake, spelling a person’s name wrong, not returning a phone call. They all add up.

Retired Honeywell CEO Larry Bossidy argues that success isn’t found in new ideas, but in what it takes to make sure that the simple, basic, mundane steps get executed. The key is not to continually hand points to your competitors. In other words, remain focused and remain steady.

“There are great visionaries who accomplish little because they don’t attend to the weaknesses that cause unforced errors (mistakes),” says Bossidy.

Human beings are notoriously mistake-prone. But God has not left us to our own devices if we are mindful of our choices. Minimizing mistakes through mental discipline is a helpful formula for winning in sports and life. It is also an essential skill for the spiritual life.

In Romans 8, Paul is giving us a means for minimizing the unforced errors of sin — the original meaning of the word being borrowed from archery and meaning “to miss the mark.”  We miss the mark, or sin, when we do the things we don’t want to do, and don’t do the things we want to.

>>sin—Paul does not mean individual moral failings, but something larger and more pervasive. In the preceeding chapters (esp. 5-7), Paul’s argument is that sin is a power that resides in the world and in us. This power or force makes it impossible to follow God or the law. It brings estrangement from God, from others, and from God’s creation.

>>law—here rfefers to Torah or the Jewish law, but could be seen today as our attempts to earn or way to God. there is no way to earn or salvation. Rather, salvation and true life—both now and in the life to come—are a gift.

Paul believes we are all obedient to something. If we are not obedient, servent, slave, to God, then we are obedient to whatever is not of God. Paul, like Deut. 30:19, exhorts us to “choose life.” (quote)


Through Jesus the Messiah, God decisively breaks through everything that separates us from God and makes it possible to live the life God intends for us.

Paul gives us two options: walk by the flesh, or walk by the spirit.

Flesh (sarx) (verses 5-7): Here, Paul uses the term “flesh” or “sinful nature” to describe the mindset of rebellious humanity — a mental and spiritual habit of choking that pulls people and communities deeper and deeper down the spiral of failure that makes them “hostile to God” (v. 7).

>>flesh—sarx, (not soma, translated body). Paul contrasts flesh and Spirit, not body and spirit. It is not our bodies that are the problem, but whom or what our bodies serve.

“Flesh” could be described as the fallen human condition, our focus on the self rather than on God. It is rebellion against God, idolatry or worship of things that are not God. Money, financial security, youth, health, work, good looks, busyness, and technology are just a few of the things we worship instead of God.

The “flesh” is not a reference solely to immoral behavior or excesses of “fleshly passions,” like lust, gluttony, drunkenness and so forth.

“Fleshly” sins can also be sins of greed, envy, bitterness, grudge-holding, spitefulness. These are sins that emerge, not from the Spirit of God, but from “walking” in the flesh, that is, feeding and nurturing our base human desires.

Think of it as spiritual cybernetics. If you think you’re going to miss the putt or slice the drive, or shank the serve, or whiff the pitch, you probably will. If you think about gratifying your own desires and serving yourself, you probably will. That, says Paul, is the kind of thinking that leads to spiritual “death” (v. 6).

When Jana Novotna began to unravel at Wimbledon, she began to over analyze her shots, playing with the slow cautiousness of a beginner. She reverted back to the beginning of her training, thinking through the physical mechanics of swinging the racquet instead of instinctively hitting the shots without over-analyzing them.

She was beating herself instead of her opponent. Working the court had taken a back seat to hanging on for dear life. She stopped playing to win and began playing not to lose. Big difference.

The same thing happens to us when we focus on the mechanics of “the law of sin and death” (v. 2) — that which holds us back from instinctively following through by following Christ. We over analyze our thoughts, actions.

It’s the onslaught of the “shoulds” “oughts” “what ifs” and the “how comes” in our thinking. We become immobilized and begin to make mistakes until we find ourselves way off the mark, out of bounds, and in deep trouble —spiritual or otherwise. We talk ourselves out of doing the obvious, common sense thing, and being at peace. God had provided all things for us and for our spiritual journey.

Spirit-walking (verses 9-11): What’s the solution? In Romans 12, Paul says that a winning attitude involves a “renewing of your mind[s]” (12:2). That means shaking off the self-defeating spiral of living in the sinful mindset and living instead “in accordance with the Spirit [having your] mind set on the things of the Spirit” (8:5).

>>spirit—most important word in these verses; appears 11 times. “Spirit’ is not an impersonal force or a characteristic of human beings, but God’s Holy Spirit. It is the spirit Jesus disciples received, and the same spirit as we receive when we are baptized into Christ.

Rather than focusing on the mistakes, the goal according to Paul is to reorient the mind toward the target — the person of Christ. We get out of ourselves and are controlled by the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God who lives in us. When we’re self-absorbed the errors multiply.

The invitation is for us to play the game of life by emptying ourselves and being filled with Christ who “will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (v. 11).

Truth is that if we’re “living in Christ” unforced errors becomes less and less of an issue. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1), says Paul.

The Spirit of Christ doesn’t beat us up for our mistakes. Instead, God’s Spirit encourages us to more intentionally and purposefully live a life that has greater significance beyond ourselves. Our confidence is not in our own ability, but in Christ whose Spirit dwells in us.

Henri Nouwen, in Bread for the Journey, writes,

“Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports.

Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance.”

Have you ever watch speed-walkers? Speed-walking — sometimes called power-walking, fitness-walking or striding — is walking very fast without breaking onto a jog or run. Power-walkers have no time to fall victim to unforced errors (get the yips, or choke). They’re goal-oriented. They’re not trying to do too much. They’re not running, they are walking, and they have a very definite idea as to how to do it. They are focused and purposeful.
 

We can become Power/Spirit-walkers as we train with others, feed on the Word and are obedient to the greatest power walker of all time, Jesus himself. Jesus is the conqueror. We are more than conquerors.

Let’s intentionally train for power-Spirit-walking and close with the words of the Psalmist’s prayer of affirmation and determination to live in the Spirit.

Psalm 119:105-112

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
          and a light to my path.
106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
          to observe your righteous ordinances.
107 I am severely afflicted;
          give me life, O LORD, according to your word.
108 Accept my offerings of praise, O LORD,
          and teach me your ordinances.
109 I hold my life in my hand continually,
          but I do not forget your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
          but I do not stray from your precepts.
111 Your decrees are my heritage forever;
          they are the joy of my heart.
112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes
          forever, to the end. 

Amen.

  

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