Nothing to Fear

Nothing to Fear

Romans 8:12-17

James C. Denison

On June 6 of last year, a 21-year-old man named Ben Carpenter had a day he’ll never forget. Ben has muscular dystrophy. On this day he was driving his electric-powered wheelchair down the sidewalk in Paw Paw, Michigan. He then crossed the street at the corner of Red Arrow Highway at Hazen Street, in front of a semi truck waiting at the stop light.

The light turned green. The driver somehow did not see Ben in his wheelchair. The engine roared to life and the truck started ahead. It struck Ben’s wheelchair, turning it forward with the handles stuck in the truck’s grill. The wheelchair kept rolling, Ben held in his chair by his seatbelt. The driver continued down the road, oblivious to Ben pinned to his truck.

The truck reached 50 mph. People who saw what was happening called 911 and waved their arms to get the driver’s attention. Two off-duty policemen began to pursue the truck. Still the driver was oblivious. Finally, after two miles, he pulled into a truck company parking lot, clueless that Ben Carpenter was pinned to the front of his truck. Fortunately, Ben was unharmed after the ride of his life.

I’ll bet you know something of the feeling–being pushed by forces more powerful than yourself in a direction you cannot control. You know the name of that truck this morning. The good news is that God has a word for us, whatever fears we’re facing.

No matter the powers against us, the power for us is greater: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship” (Romans 8:15). That is the solution to every fear you’re facing today. Today it is my privilege to show you why.

Are you a slave to fear?

Let’s begin by understanding the bad news, so we can appreciate the good news. Psychologists say that our society deals with fear on a level unprecedented in history.

We live in a nuclear age. The United States and Russia together have the power to destroy the human race 47 times. North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon. Pakistan may be the most unstable country in the Middle East, and is a nuclear power. Most observers believe that the president of Iran wants such a weapon.

For the first time in American history we are dealing with an enemy who has attacked us on our soil. Except for the Civil War, all our battles have been fought in other lands. Now our enemies have come to our streets and cities, and threaten to continue to do so. In a letter to America composed in 2002, Osama bin Laden warns us, “Leave us alone, or else expect us in New York and Washington.”

News about the economy has not been good this week, as retail and housing continue to decline. The bird flu scare in Southeast Asia continues to make the news. The death of actor Heath Ledger has been ruled an accident, the result of combining six kinds of painkillers and sedatives, illustrating the depression which continues to rage at unprecedented levels today.

But our issues with fear go even deeper than the news and the circumstances of our world. Our Western culture has produced a mindset, a worldview which has made insecurity an epidemic.

Our society judges us for what we do, how we look, how many people we impress, what we own. And none of these things are permanent. After I preach this message today I have to start tomorrow on next week’s sermon. I’m only as good as my last message. Our possessions can be taken from us in an economic downturn; popularity and appearance are fleeting; health is uncertain.

No one loves us unconditionally. As much as my family loves me, there are things I could do this morning to fracture our relationship. As kind as you have been to me and my family over these 10 years, there are things I could say right now which would end my ministry here and forever.

We continue to search for stability, predictability, assurance. But there’s only one place to find the security our souls crave. Only one.

Are you the child of God?

Here’s the question which makes Romans 8 relevant to you or not: are you the child of God? Have you asked Jesus Christ to forgive your mistakes and failures and made him the Lord of your life? If you have, verse one says that there is no condemnation for you. Verse 3 says that sin is condemned in you. Verse 6 says that you can live in the Spirit and experience “life and peace.” Verse 10 says that “your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Verse 11 promises that you will live forever when his Spirit gives life to your mortal body.

As a result, you have no “obligation” or debt to the sinful nature. Now there is no sin you must commit (v. 12). Rather, “by the Spirit” you can “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (v. 13). When you bring your temptations to God’s Spirit and ask for his help, you have it. God’s Spirit wants to lead you as a shepherd leads his sheep, because you are God’s child and God loves you (v. 14).

Now comes the point, the key, one of the most significant statements in all the word of God: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ (v. 15).

You are no longer a slave to fear. There is literally nothing in this world of which you need to be afraid. You don’t need to fear death, for it is the gateway to paradise. You don’t need to fear Satan and his demons, for they are defeated foes. You don’t need to fear people, for their worst cannot compare with God’s best.


Our Journey to God

Our Journey to God

Romans 8:18-21

James C. Denison

I got an email this week with these assertions:

You use 200 muscles to take one step.

The average woman is five inches shorter than the average man.

Your big toes have two bones each while the rest have three.

A pair of human feet contains 250,000 sweat glands.

The human brain cell can hold five times as much information as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The average dream lasts two to three seconds.

At the moment of conception, you spend about half an hour as a single cell.

Your thumb is the length of your nose. You really want to test that, don’t you?

It’s all interesting, but not very relevant to our lives. For many of us, heaven and “the glory that will be revealed in us” seems the same way. We’re glad that we’ll go to heaven rather than the alternative, but how many of us want to go now? How many of you want Jesus to come back today? We have unfinished business–dreams to fulfill, goals to meet, children to raise, work to do. We want to go to heaven when we die, but not before then. And not any time soon.

So it’s hard to see heaven in the future as the reason to suffer for Jesus today.

Our culture rewards a certain level of faith, but no more. It’s fine if you want to attend church and Bible studies and prayer meetings, but don’t invite your colleagues or friends at school to go with you or you’ve crossed the line.

Keep religion and the real world separate. Give what you can spare of your money and time. Meet your religious obligations along with your other charitable work and volunteer commitments. But don’t pay a sacrificial price for your faith. Don’t sacrifice your time or money or popularity or success to follow Jesus. Live in two worlds, and be happy in both.

But that’s not biblical Christianity. Jesus wants not some but all. He calls us to take up our cross and follow him, to be willing to die for him. He wants us to give our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). He wants to be Lord of every moment and every dollar we have. He wants to be Lord of our families and work and schools. He wants it all. “Jesus is Lord” is the central claim of the Christian faith.

What is your next step in following Jesus? What person must you forgive? What sin must you stop? What witness must you share? What step of faith must you take? Why pay such a price? Paul has an answer for us.

Why sacrifice for Jesus?

Our text begins: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v. 18).

“I consider” translates a Greek word which refers to mathematical calculation. His phrase could be translated, “I have come to the reasoned conclusion” or “I have done the math and am sure of the result.”

“Our present sufferings” means “the sufferings of this present age” in contrast with the glory of the age to come when the Messiah returns. Paul is not thinking of suffering in general, but more specifically the hardships involved in following Jesus. Roman Christians got the worst jobs if they could find jobs at all. They lived in the worst tenements. Neighbors sometimes turned them in for following Jesus, in return for a percentage of their household possessions when they were confiscated. And increasing numbers were being imprisoned and executed for following Jesus.

Paul would one day join them. He would be thrown into the Mamartime dungeon just off the Forum in Rome, where sanitation was a hole in the ground and air, food and water came through a hole in the roof. He was chained to a post still visible in the cave, until he was taken to the Ostesian Way and beheaded.

Paul would ask you what it will cost you to take the next step with Jesus. Those “present sufferings,” in Paul’s reasoned opinion, “are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed.”

Paul is saying that when we measure present suffering and future glory against each other, the glory outweighs the suffering every time. Future reward outweighs the cost of present obedience. Eternal glory outweighs the cost of present suffering. When you do a cost/benefits analysis, heaven wins over earth.

Paul made the same claim to the Corinthian Christians, no strangers to persecution and suffering for their faith: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

One day we will be rewarded with “the glory that will be revealed.”

“Revealed” translates the Greek word apocalypse, to be “unveiled.” This is the word for which the book of Revelation is named. It means to draw back the curtain, revealing what is already there so we can see it.

In this case, what will be revealed is “glory.” The word in the New Testament refers to brightness, brilliance, splendor. In the Bible, this word applies to God and those who are with him. It shone on the face of Moses when he was in the presence of God (2 Corinthians 3:7). It was revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration when the glory of Jesus was unveiled for his disciples to see. “Glory” refers to the presence and splendor of God.

This “glory” is already present in us as the Spirit of God lives in us, but it is veiled by our fallen world and nature. Our sins and failings have drawn the curtain over this glory of the Spirit dwelling in us. However, this glory is already a revealed fact for those who are with Jesus, and will be revealed for the entire world to see when Jesus comes back to be with us.


Power When You’re Powerless

Power When You’re Powerless

Romans 8:9-11

James C. Denison

When I enrolled in college as a freshman, music was my second major. I was told that I needed to take a voice class. You may have heard about the farmer who got his pig singing lessons–all they did was cost the farmer money and made the pig mad. Well, I was that pig.

They put me in a tenor class. I have no tenor range whatsoever. They made me learn Italian arias. I worked as hard as I’ve ever worked at anything. I learned the Italian songs so well that I remember their words still today: “La cha te me morire . . .; Danza, danza, fanchula . . .” I never missed a class or lesson. I prepared for my vocal jury for weeks. I made an F in the class. All A’s my first semester, and an F. The scars are still with me today.

Have you ever felt powerless? Do you know what it is to fight a battle you can’t win, to face a problem you cannot solve?

Some of you are struggling with a problem at work which your supervisors won’t admit or solve. Or you’re watching the housing market fall and wondering what it’s doing to your house’s value. Or you’ve seen the stock market gyrations and wonder about your retirement. McDonald’s reported that December was its worst financial month in five years; you’re worried about a possible recession but don’t know what you can do about it. Or you’re struggling with problems in your health or family, with no end in sight.

The most debilitating kind of stress is the stress which comes from feeling powerless, from fighting a battle you don’t think you can win. We’ve all been there; we’ll all be there; and some of us are there today.

So far in Romans 8 we’ve learned that we are not condemned by God but “free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2). We can live according to the Spirit (vs. 3-4) when we give our mind to God (vs. 5-8). Now we learn that when we live according to the Spirit, we are empowered by the God of the universe. Where do you feel powerless and need the power of God? Let’s learn how to find his help wherever you need it most.

Do you have the Spirit?

One of my favorite illustrations about the power of God’s Spirit has to do with a father and his two small girls. He came home from work one day, and they ran from the house to greet him. The five-year-old got there first, just as he was standing on the sidewalk between two hedges, threw her arms around his legs and hugged him.

Her three-year-old little sister arrived, but couldn’t get to her father. Her sister was in front, hedges on either side. Tears welled up in her eyes as her sister taunted her, “I’ve got all of Daddy there is.” Her wise father, seeing the situation, reached down and picked up his little girl and held her in his arms. She looked down at her sister and said, “Daddy’s got all of me there is.”

Do you have all of God there is? Does he have all of you there is?

Take the questions in order. First: do you have the Spirit? You must be possessed by the Spirit of God to be a Christian. Believing in God is not enough. Going to church is not enough. You must ask Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and failures, and turn your life over to his Lordship. You must ask him to come and dwell in your life by faith. When you do, his Holy Spirit takes up residence in your life and makes you the child of God.

God’s word is clear on this reality. Our text begins: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (v. 9).

Paul asked the Corinthian Christians, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

We sometimes say that we “ask Jesus to come into our heart,” but it’s actually the Holy Spirit who moves into us and transforms us. If we don’t have the Spirit, we don’t have God. When we have the Spirit, we have God.

There is no proof that this happens–it is an experience we receive and trust by faith.

Speaking in tongues is not necessary. Miracles and signs are not necessary or necessarily proof. Nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to become a Christian, to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It takes just as much faith to believe that the Spirit lives in your life as it did to invite him to come in. Faith in a relationship; like all relationships, it cannot be proven, only experienced.

Do you remember the time you asked Jesus to forgive your mistakes and become your Lord? That was when you received the Spirit. If you haven’t made that decision, your next step is to do so today. If you have, you have the Spirit. If you haven’t, you don’t.

Does the Spirit have you?

Now we come to our second question: does the Spirit have you? The Bible says that you can be controlled by the Holy Spirit. You can decide to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), to yield control of every part of your life to him. You can begin the day by submitting it to his leadership. You can give every temptation and worry to him. You can ask him to direct your steps and guide your life. You can be controlled by the Spirit. Why should you? For three reasons.

First, when you are controlled by the Spirit, you have his power over sin.


Trading Up

Trading Up

Romans 8:22-25

James C. Denison

Late last week I was privileged to speak at a theological conference in Corpus Christi. A friend allowed me the use of his condo on the beach, where I watched the sun come up over the ocean. I have always been a beach person, from the first time my family took me to Galveston as a kid. There’s something about the ocean which speaks to my soul. If there were two of me, one would be a pastor in Dallas and one would be a beach bum somewhere. I don’t know a more amazing sight than a seaside sunrise, or a more powerful sound that the ocean washing ashore.

But in the midst of that beautiful morning scene, there was a nagging, gnawing sense inside me that there must be more than this. As spectacular as that sunrise was, it’s not enough. There’s something else, something greater, something more. I’m not the first to have such a sensation.

You know the feeling, don’t you? A mountain covered with snow, or a crystal clear trout stream, or a rolling meadow. A concert by your favorite band, or your favorite movie of the year, or the chance to stand before the painting you had always wanted to see. You’re finally there, but it’s not enough. There’s something more.

Or you have achieved the job you had always wanted, or gotten into the school you had long hoped would admit you, or joined the club or organization you so admired, or bought the home you had dreamed of owning, or took the trip you had planned all your life. What’s the best thing that has happened to you in recent months? How long did the thrill last? How deep was the fulfillment? How different are you now?

Our text today is all about hope. False hope and real hope. Hope which fails you and hope which sustains you.

You cannot live without hope. A mouse dropped in water will give up and drown in minutes. But if it is rescued, it will tread water for more than 20 hours the next time. Survivors of POW camps report that a compelling hope for the future was the primary force that kept many of them alive.

If you don’t think life will get better, it’s hard to go on. Why do you need hope this morning? Where should you go to find it? There’s a bad answer and a good answer. Paul will help us choose wisely.

Bad news and good news

Our text begins with the bad news: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (v. 22).

“We know”–this is common knowledge, conventional wisdom, a fact everyone admits. “The whole creation”–every person in this room and every living thing on this planet. “Has been groaning”–the Greek means “groaning together,” all sharing the same suffering. “As in the pains of childbirth”–the most horrendous pain a person can know.

The Jews used this metaphor for the times before the coming of Messiah; the Greeks used it to describe the dead of winter just before the rebirth of spring. The metaphor carries the idea of hope–our suffering has purpose, as a mother’s pain brings a child into the world. There is hope and future in the midst of the trauma of life on this fallen planet.

This is happening “right up to the present time.” Paul, the greatest missionary and apostle in Christian history, is not exempt. Neither are you. Neither am I.

I remember when I first realized that suffering is a part of life, and that not all of it is my fault. I shouldn’t be surprised when things break and people fail. This is a fallen world acting like a fallen world. Disasters and disease and suffering are part of life, for the perfect Son of God and everyone else.

Now comes the good news: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23).

“We ourselves” is extremely emphatic in the Greek. Paul includes himself in the strongest possible terms, something like “we especially.” “Have the firstfruits of the Spirit.” “Have” points to a present-tense reality: we “have” the Spirit right now. The firstfruits were the first results of the harvest, always given to God in worship and thanksgiving. They were given during the holiday of Pentecost, the very time when the Spirit was given to God’s people as a firstfruit of the eternal harvest to come. We already have the Spirit of God living in us as the children of God.

Yet we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons.” We have already been adopted (v. 15); the papers have been signed, the verdict rendered. But we’re not yet out of the orphanage. We must still eat the poor food the orphanage can afford, and sleep under extra blankets because the orphanage’s heating system is old and decrepit, and face life every day as orphans. But our Father is coming soon to get us and bring us into his mansion in glory. We “wait eagerly” for that day to come.

When it does, we’ll receive “the redemption of our bodies.” To “redeem” in the Bible is to trade old for new, to replace, to trade up. You won’t get a better body–you’ll get a new body. You won’t get a better world–you’ll get a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). This is true for every child of God.

In the meanwhile, “in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?” (v. 24). In the midst of, as we experience this hope, “we were saved.” The Greek makes it clear that our salvation is done, secured, completed.

But while we were saved, we are not yet saved. We will one day be adopted and redeemed. So we wait in hope for that day we cannot prove, for “hope that is seen is no hope at all.”