Flesh or Spirit? (2/5/17)

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Some friends once asked Stephanie and I if we would like to spend a day boating with them on a lake. Stephanie couldn’t go because of a prior commitment but I happily accepted the invitation, even though my swimming skills are only slightly better than those of a gorilla.

When I arrived at the lake, our friends were waiting for me. We boarded the boat and headed out on the water. Eventually we found ourselves anchored in a cove where we had lunch. Afterwards, I was given a life vest to wear so I could join everyone else when they jumped off the back of the boat to go swimming.

I had worn a life vest once before. Years ago, when I was a youth leader, our youth group went kayaking. At one point, I overturned in a deep pool in the river. My life vest held me up for a few seconds until I floated to a spot where I could stand up. However, trusting a life vest to constantly hold me up in a lake is different than trusting it for a few seconds in a river.

I put on the life vest, walked to the back of the boat and watched everyone else jump into the water. At this point, I was faced with a decision. Would I trust the life vest enough to jump in?

This dilemma at the lake is in many ways very similar to our relationship with Jesus Christ. He tells us to follow him into the world and be faithful. Do we trust him enough to be obedient and take a leap of faith into areas where we have no control?

Our main scripture this week is Romans 8:1-17. It talks about the difference between living by the flesh and living by the Spirit. Before we read the passage, let’s make sure we understand how these terms are being used in this passage.

Flesh isn’t just referring to the muscle and fat we have under our skin. It means much more than that. N.T. Wright says, “Flesh refers to people or things who share the corruptibility and mortality of the world and … the rebellion of the world.” It’s talking about saying and doing things which are in direct opposition to the things God wants us to be doing. Spirit is a little easier to understand. In this passage, it’s referring to the Holy Spirit.

Please pay close attention to how Paul says Christians should live. Romans 8:1-17 says, 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. 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, 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.

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. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

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.

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Two types of people are being described is this passage. Those who live according to the flesh, which brings death, and those who live according to the Spirt, which brings life. We have to choose which type of Christian we’re going to be. Are we going to live by the flesh or will we trust Jesus can do what he says he will do and jump into following him with everything we have?

We are at a time in our nation when many Christians are trying to do both. They talk about salvation on one hand but on the other hand, they are promoting hate, greed and selfishness. Some of this happens simply because we are fallen beings with a sinful nature. Right now, some of it’s occurring because of another reason. It’s because of fear.

According to an October 11, 2016 article on Chapman University’s Website, “The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 3 (2016) provides an unprecedented look into the fears of average Americans. In April of 2016, a random sample of 1,511 adults from across the United States were asked their level of fear about 79 different fears across a huge variety of topics ranging from crime, the government, disasters, personal anxieties, technology and many others.”

Here are the top seven fears that our society faces:

Fear                                        % Afraid or Very Afraid

Corrupt government officials                          60.6

Terrorist attack                                                   41.0

Not having enough money for future             39.9

Terrorism                                                             38.5

Govt. restrictions on guns/ammo                   38.5

People I love dying                                             38.1

Economic/financial collapse                            37.5

I understand why this is happening. We are a nation that is divided in many ways. Conservative vs. Liberal. Nationalist vs. Global. Closed boarders vs. Welcoming. Fox News vs. CNN. The answers to our problems aren’t easy to solve. This leads to division. Division leads to uncertainty. Uncertainty about the future leads to fear.

Christians aren’t immune to this. Based on what’s happening in the news, what’s being posted on Facebook, what some prominent pastors are saying and what people are doing, it appears far too many Christians are living in the flesh instead of by the Spirit.

For example, 1 Timothy 2:1-4 says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Conservative Christians living in the flesh say, “This didn’t apply to Obama. He’s a Muslim who ruined this country. I’m afraid about the things he did while he was in office. I’m not praying for him.” Liberal Christians living in the flesh say, “This doesn’t apply to Trump. He’s a sexist blowhard who’s going to ruin America. I’m afraid about the things he’s doing. I’m not praying for him.” Spirit led Christians say, “While I might not be happy with our leaders, I’m going to be obedient to God’s word and pray for all of them – even those I don’t care for.”

When it comes to praying for our leaders, are you led by the flesh or by the Spirit?

Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Do you believe that you have salvation for your soul in Jesus Christ and that you will spend eternity in heaven when you die? If you really believe this, why do you fear death?

Flesh led Christians say, “We don’t need to let any refugees into our country. A terrorist might get through with them.” Spirit led Christians say, “While we will do everything we can to protect ourselves, we won’t let the fear of death keep us from helping those who need it. After all, we’re 53 times more likely to be killed by lightening than we are by a terrorist attack.”

When it comes to fearing death, are you led by the flesh or by the Spirit?

In Matthew 25, Jesus is describing the differences regarding how the righteous and unrighteous treat him and others. Matthew 25:37-40 says, 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Christians living in the flesh say, “This verse only applies to Americans. We have homeless veterans, hungry children and our own poor to help. We need to take care of our own people.” Spirit led Christians say, “While we have people in this country we need to help, we’ll do our best to also help people from other countries if we can. After all, Jesus didn’t identify ‘the least of these’ as only being American.”

When it comes to having compassion on refugees, are you led by the flesh or by the Spirit?

Matthew 6:19-21 tells us, 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Flesh led Christians say, “I’ve earned this. It’s mine. I’ll give to God and to others if I have anything left over after I pay my bills. Plus, I need to save this just in case the economy collapses.” Spirit led Christians say, “Yes, we’ll save and invest for the future because that’s what the Bible tells us to do. However, we know that God gives us what we have. We’re going to trust him by giving to the church and to others.”

When it comes to trusting God with your finances, are you led by the flesh or by the Spirit?

God doesn’t want us to live in fear and contribute to the ungodly behavior that we’re seeing in our nation right now. He wants us to rise above the selfishness, name calling and pettiness. We’re supposed to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. Speaker and author Phillip Yancey said, “May Christians of all persuasions remember that our ultimate allegiance and our ultimate hope belong to neither party. As resident aliens in a divided nation, may we too form pioneer settlements to show the world the Jesus way.”

Back at the lake, I realized something. There’s a big difference between standing on the boat, looking into the water and saying the life preserver will keep me from drowning than there is to actually trust it and jump into the water. I decided to trust the life preserver and jump into the water. And you know what happened? It kept me from going under.

If you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior, he’s become your life preserver. Are you standing at the safety of the church door, looking out into the world and saying that Jesus will save you? Or, have you trusted him enough to jump into following him with both feet and be faithful, even if you don’t know how everything will turn out?

So, how do we be a Spirit led Christian? The answer is actually quite simple. We listen to the Holy Spirit and do what he says. We live according to the grace of Jesus instead of according to fear. We spend more time reading the Bible than we do listening to Fox News or CNN.

The simple truth is that neither Jesus nor this country needs any more flesh led Christians.