Knee Jerk Devotional: March 17, 2021

Romans 8:1-11

Passage:

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Romans 8 is, in my opinion, the height of the Scriptures. This chapter more than any other captures my heart and imagination.

While, on the whole, I love Peterson’s translation on Romans 8, I feel like the more literal translation of Romans 8:1-2 is important to hear too, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

I love that.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Or as Peterson puts it, “The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.”

Come on!

How good is that?

What struck me this morning as I read this passage again was this line, “Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life.” This is how Peterson draws out Paul’s heart in verse 5 (if you read it in the NIV it talks about dwelling on the flesh).

How true this is!

So man people who are moralists and proclaim loudly their moralism are often guilty of the very thing they are crowing about. This is sadly true too often within the Christian world. When a pastor or Christian leader makes a moral issue the central focus of their ministry you can almost bet that the moral issue is something they struggle with. The obsession of moral purity is almost always rooted in shame.

When we begin to comprehend the radical nature of grace we move on from moralizing and worrying too much about who is doing what. What becomes central is the reality that we ourselves are in need of grace and as we experience the freedom of grace, we want others to taste it too.

Two books come to mind that lay out this overwhelming grace in a practical way, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Both transformed me in profound ways. These texts were instrumental in opening my mind and heart to what Romans 8 is all about.

Over and over again I am reminded that the most important thing I can do as a pastor is to point people to grace. More than anything else, I’m learning, is that my fundamental responsibility is to remind people that there is no condemnation in Jesus. We too easily forget this. Many of the loudest voices in the Christian West focus on shame and moralism. Too much of those who live inside and outside the Church think that the fundamental reality is that of moral judgment.

Too many of my colleagues preach a gospel that can be boiled down to this line: “I don’t dance, drink, or chew and don’t go with girls that do.”

Moralism is not Christianity.

The gospel we need is, “Therefore, there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.”

Christianity is grace.

Which gospel do you live?

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