We find ourselves amid the COVID-19 pandemic. First, the President announced a travel ban on flights from Europe, & since then, every single day, if not moment by moment, has revealed new restrictions on our movement. These new restrictions have dictated the physical distance we have to keep from one another. At the same time, it is most fitting that these restrictions have come during the season of Lent. It is to both contexts that the richness of Paul’s words in this passage to the Romans provide hope.
Paul presents 2 distinct possibilities for human existence in our reading: 1) an attitude of selfishness or 2) an attitude that comes from the Spirit. An attitude of selfishness is a dangerous place to be anytime. It is a self-centered place to be. It is a lifestyle of living for ourselves & looking for provision out of our own resources. This way leads to death, & separation from God. It brings death, it is hostile to God, & when we live with an attitude of selfishness, we simply can’t please God. Our whole posture is bent toward sinful desires when we live selfishly. We attempt to satisfy ourselves & our own needs. An attitude of selfishness during a pandemic is also a dangerous place to be. It leads to survival of the fittest & looking out for our own interests. It leads to empty shelves in grocery stores.
An attitude that comes from the Spirit on the other hand, brings life & peace. Yes, it brings life & peace to us as we are continually renewed by the power by the indwelling Spirit of God, but it also brings about life & peace for our neighbors. This posture that comes from the Spirit cannot help but be shared, because there is simply not enough space within us for the love of God to be kept. When we live this way, we have reconciliation with God & with others. It brings a real, tangible quality of life now, as well as hope for resurrection in the future. When we are filled with the Spirit of God, we pursue the path of peace with everyone, both inside & outside of our church community. The attitude that comes from the Spirit during a pandemic says a lot more about who we are, than what we don’t do. It means we are people of hope. People of shared resources. People who check in on our neighbors & seek to love as well as we can, even when darkness is all around us.
Today, Paul, an eyewitness to the risen Jesus while on the road to Damascus, tells us yet again: The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you. So, who is Jesus? Jesus of Nazareth is a risen founder of a new people, marked by faith, faithfulness & resurrection. Let’s look further into each of these components.
Jesus is the founder of a new people. Christianity is a unique faith, different from the other faiths in the world today. It is the only faith that claims a risen founder. And as Scripture tells us, followers of Jesus receive a new life, living water, & they become a new creation. Or, as Paul puts it in today’s reading: The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life & peace. So, the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t. People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God.
Believing in Jesus of Nazareth, also known as following Christ, must cause us to become new people, because our old ways aren’t able to please God. Our old sinful nature leads to death. It is always hostile to God. It never obeys God’s laws, & it never will. That is why faith in Jesus of Nazareth is so critical; that is why sharing the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is vital.
God’s desire for all of humanity is life & peace. But life & peace are only possible, at least in any lasting way, by giving control of our lives over to God’s Holy Spirit. Life & peace are not attainable by us; but they are free gifts from God through faith in Jesus. Look at what Paul says next.
But you aren’t self-centered. Instead you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. Let me be clear about a couple of things. The you Paul uses is plural, so he is speaking to all his readers - & to us today. He tells us you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. Here we have a problem with translation. The Greek, eiper, really means something between ‘if’ & ‘since.’ Here is my translation: you are in the Spirit as God’s Spirit lives in you. It is a subtle difference, I know, but it makes a big difference in our lives!
What Paul is saying here, & the point I’m trying to make, is that faith in Jesus – giving control of our lives over to God, over to the Holy Spirit – makes all the difference between death and life & peace. The seminary word for this difference is justification – being made just or right with God. This faith I speak of is more than knowledge of Jesus or acknowledgement that Jesus existed. It is a matter of mind, heart, & soul. It is establishing a personal relationship with the risen Savior. This faith is one of the marks of Jesus’ new people.
Another mark is faithfulness, or discipleship, or sanctification. Listen to what Paul wrote: If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him. If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness. Because of our faith, because of our baptism & being filled with the Holy Spirit, we have been made right with God. We have received forgiveness of our sins & have been welcomed into a personal relationship with God.
But more than that, this same Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, lives within us. That is why the sinful nature & its disobedient ways become a thing of the past. That is why we who believe are no longer under bondage to sin & death. That is why life & peace are possible for us who believe. It is because Christ’s Spirit lives within us. Life & peace become reality as we live according to God’s Spirit – as the Spirit leads & directs us.
That is what a life of discipleship is all about. It is living our lives while allowing God’s Spirit to lead us. It is being in constant relationship with God & living in ways that are pleasing to God & in obedience to God’s laws & God’s Word. Faithfulness is loving God, while loving ourselves & loving others. Faithfulness is working for peace & justice & healing & wholeness. Faithfulness, living a life that follows Jesus, is another mark of the new people.
The final mark is resurrection, or glorification. The one who raised Christ from the dead, Paul writes, will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you. Life & peace are not just God’s promises to those who believe while we are living. Live & peace are God’s promises for all eternity. This promise gives me great comfort. I will only be a son of man for a short period of time – maybe 70, or 80, or even 90 years. Then what? Through faith in Jesus Christ, I have a promise of life & peace lived in the very presence of God Almighty! Through faith in Jesus Christ, I have a promise of life & peace for all eternity! Can you imagine that?
And it is God’s gift. Completely free. There for the taking. Simply by believing that Jesus of Nazareth is a risen founder of a new people marked by faith, faithfulness & resurrection! I know, it sounds too easy – but that is how God works!
This is the gift of God in the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, by the power & presence of the Holy Spirit. And it is available to anyone at any time. All we need to do is ask for the gift & believe.
So, which existence will we live into, selfishness or Spirit? As we live into the Spirit life now, we experience freedom from sin, we are empowered to live a sanctified life, & we are promised resurrection hope in the future. It is possible, even for us who claim to be followers of Jesus to still choose the ways of the flesh. However, it is also possible to fall deeper in love with Jesus through the power of the Spirit in each & every moment. This leads to life for us & for others.
Lent is a season to acknowledge our sinfulness & our mortality. What Paul does here though is remind us that sinfulness no longer has the final say. For those who are in Christ Jesus, we are set free from indwelling sin! As we are set free, we now become a place where God can dwell by the power of God’s Spirit. Each & every moment, God’s dwelling within us can become more & more permanent.
Even with God on the throne of our hearts, our mortal bodies still exist. However, selfishness & the way of sin no longer rules, & we are promised a transformed resurrection future. Through the Spirit, that future starts now! Through the Spirit, that future happens even in a global pandemic. So church, may we live into this hopefully very temporary new normal, with an attitude that comes from the Spirit. When we are tempted to give into fear & complete social distancing, may we have an attitude that comes from the Spirit that is life & peace! This is the 5th Sunday of Lent, & this year, it is especially hard. However, remember that the journey of the cross brought us love in the clearest possible picture, & love had the final word through the power of the resurrection.
To accept C into your heart, simply pray this prayer with me: Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life & receive you as my Savior & Lord. Thank you for forgiving me of my sins & giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be. Amen.
If you prayed that prayer, we want to help you GROW in your faith.
G Go to God daily in prayer. Prayer is simply having a conversation with God.
R Read God’s Word (the Bible) daily. Perhaps begin with Luke or John.
O Obey God moment by moment. Pay attention to those urgings to do good.
W Witness for Christ by your words & actions. That means loving everyone.