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.

The incredible news is that “you received the Spirit of sonship.” “Sonship” translates the Greek word hiothesias, meaning “to be adopted.” You are now the adopted child of God. There is no greater honor, no greater security in all the universe than this.

Why? Here’s the background.

In Roman society, the father had absolute authority over his children from their birth to their death. This was called patria potestas, the “power of the father.” The father could command the mother to abandon the newborn child to death, and she must comply.

We have a letter written from a Roman soldier to his pregnant wife with these instructions: “If it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out.” The father could order his biological children to be killed, or sold as slaves, or disinherited. If you were working for a despotic boss who might fire you or even take back your wages at any moment, for any reason, you’d have a sense of life under Roman fathers.

Unless you were adopted. In that situation, everything changed. An adopted child could never be disinherited or harmed. An adopted child must be given all the rights and privileges due to an heir, no matter what he did. Once you were adopted, you must be the child of the father forever.

At that moment, your old life was gone. You might have been a slave before–now you are free. You might have owed enormous debts, but you owe them no longer. You might have committed all sorts of crimes, but your record is clean now. You have started over as the child of your new father. It’s as if you have been born again.

The Jewish people had no practice such as this. They sometimes accepted slaves or servants into the family, but they never treated them as equal with their biological children. Adoption with the full rights of heirs was a Greek and Roman custom. And it served to illustrate precisely what God has done for us.

God had to adopt us because we broke our “biological” or spiritual relationship with our Father when he sinned against us.

Thus Israel became the first to be adopted by God: “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises” (Romans 9:4).

Then when we made their Messiah our Lord, we joined their family: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).

Now “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (v. 16). The adoption ceremony was carried out in the presence of seven witnesses, so that any questions in the future could be resolved by their testimony. The fact that the Spirit lives in you is proof that you are the child of God.

Now we have the incredible privilege of calling God, “Abba, Father.”

“Abba” was the Aramaic word for “Daddy.” It was never used by a Jew to refer to God before it was used in this way by Jesus. Now we can come to the Lord of the universe in the same way: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’  So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).

Because he is our Abba, we are his heirs: “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (v. 17a). We inherit all that Jesus inherited: “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” “If” should be translated “since.” Jesus warned us: “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). We inherit opposition to our faith: 200,000 Christians died for Christ last year, 45 million in the 20th century. If people slandered Jesus, they’ll slander us. If they rejected his faith, they’ll reject ours.

But we also “share in his glory.” We live forever in God’s perfect paradise, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). We will receive eternal crowds of reward for our faith and faithfulness. We are the children of God now, and will be for all time.


Here’s what it all means for you and me today: God loves us absolutely, unconditionally, and always will. Because we are his adopted children, we will be his children always. No matter what happens to you this week, you need never wonder if God loves you. You need never wonder if God has abandoned you. You need never wonder if God sees your problem and cares about your pain; if God is listening to your prayers and giving you whatever is best. You need never wonder if you are alone or if you are loved. You are loved by the God of the universe right now, and you always will be.

Return to the adoption metaphor for proof. Not all biological children are wanted, expected, or planned. But no one adopts a child by accident. No one becomes an adoptive parent by random chance. All adopted children were wanted by the parents who adopted them.

Here’s an example. The Kibbys are one of my favorite families in our church. They teach Sunday school here; Rob is chairman of our finance committee; they have raised three wonderful daughters. Then several years ago, the Lord laid on their heart the desire to adopt a Russian infant.

This week I asked Leslie for some facts about their experience in adopting Joshua. Here is what I learned. The process took 14 months, with an additional 12 months of legal proceedings in America. They stood before a judge in Russia, speaking Russian, and a judge in America. They completed enough documents to fill two three-inch binders completely; one of them was 18 pages long and took six days to complete. They took two trips to Russia, the first lasting nine days and the second lasting five days. I didn’t even ask about the financial costs of their process.

There will never be a day when Joshua will need to wonder if he was wanted by Rob and Leslie Kibby. There will never be a moment when he will need to wonder if they love him and want him to be their child for the rest of his life. Because they chose him and adopted him, he is theirs and they are his for all time.

That’s how your Father in heaven feels about you today. This is the word, and the promise, of God.

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.

So Paul claims that when we compare our present sufferings for following Jesus with the glory that will be unveiled in us when we are with God and God is with us, we learn that there is no comparison at all.

Meanwhile, creation is waiting “in eager expectation” to join us in this glory to be revealed. Right now it is “subjected to frustration” by the fall of man, our sins corrupted all of creation. But one day it “will be liberated from its bondage to decay.”

There will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1), and there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (v. 4). One day the entire universe will be “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

Why live for heaven?

So Paul claims that our future glory with God is worth our present sufferings for Jesus. Whatever it will cost you to take the next step with God will repay its cost and more. That’s not all the Bible says on the subject.

Rewards in heaven are clearly taught in the word of God.

We receive the “crown of life” when we suffer for faithfulness: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1.12). Jesus said, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2.10).

We receive the “soul-winners crown” for bringing people to Jesus: “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2.19-20).

We receive the “crown of righteousness” when we remain faithful to our Lord: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4.7-8).

We receive the “crown of glory” when we lead with integrity: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5.2-4).

Rewards can also be lost in heaven.

Secret, unconfessed sins will be judged: “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12.14). Jesus confirms this: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Luke 12.2).

Our words will be judged: “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12.3); “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12.36-37).

Our sinful actions will be judged: “Let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry…they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4.3, 5).

So if we live for heaven, we are rewarded forever. But the paradoxical fact is that living for heaven someday is also the best way to live on earth today.

If I forgive someone I would pardon if Jesus were coming back today, then our Lord waits another 50 years to return, I have still healed a relationship which was broken. If I resist a sin I know I’d refuse if Jesus were returning today, I’ve avoided spiritual cancer. If I spend time in prayer and Bible study which I know I’d invest to get ready for Jesus’ return on Tuesday, I’ve spent my time wisely.

Living for heaven is the best way to live on earth.


So, what will it cost you to take your next step with your Lord? What must you do or stop doing to go on with God? Your journey to God ends at heaven, but it begins today. Yesterday is gone; tomorrow doesn’t exist; today is all there is. What is God asking of you right now?

Know that you will be rewarded forever if you suffer for your Father. And know that living for heaven is the best way to live on earth. Now the choice is yours.

Living for heaven is the great difference between Christianity in the first century and Christianity today.

Early believers had no buildings or budgets. They had no staff or programs. Their faith was illegal all over the world. They would lose their homes, families, and lives for following our Lord. Yet they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) and started the mightiest spiritual movement in human history.

Today that movement is growing wherever its followers are living for heaven rather than earth. When Christians in China decide that they would rather please God than men, many pay with their lives but the church gains 10,000 converts a day.

When Christians in sub-Saharan Africa decide they would rather live for heaven than earth, many pay with their lives but the church gains 20,000 converts a day.

When South Koreans decided after the Korean War devastated their nation that they would rather live for heaven than earth, they reached the entire country so that nearly half the population is born-again Christian today.

The Fifth Great Awakening is happening right now all over the world. The Kingdom is on the march wherever Christians decide to live for heaven rather than earth. Let’s join that movement. What will it cost you today?

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.

You “are not controlled by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (v. 9). You can choose to sin, but you don’t have to sin. You are not controlled by the sinful nature. There is no sin you must commit. And when the Spirit is controlling you, there is no sin you will commit.

The Bible says that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was tempted in every way you and I are tempted today. In fact, his temptations were worse than ours. The longer you hold out against Satan, the harder he tries to defeat you. The more subtle his temptations become. If I can get you to sell your car for $5,000, I won’t offer you $10,000.

Jesus faced every kind of temptation Satan could devise, without ever yielding once. The difference was the Spirit. The Bible says that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). We cannot defeat spiritual enemies with human tools.

The good news is that we don’t have to. When we are controlled by the Spirit, we have the power of God over sin. Is this the place where you need his power today? Are you struggling with a repetitive temptation and sin in your life? Do you feel powerless over an area of weakness? Give it to God’s Spirit, and do what he says. If he directs you to a Christian counselor, go. If he directs you to tell and trust a friend, do so. Give it to him and submit to his leadership. By his strength you will be set free. By his power you will have victory.

This will be a process. Satan will not leave you alone. The Bible says that when Jesus defeated him in the wilderness he left the Lord “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). This will be a battle, but you are more than a conqueror through him who loves you. You have the power of God, when the Spirit has you.

Second, when you are controlled by the Spirit, you have his power to be godly. Paul says, “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (v. 10).

The Greek means that “your spirit is alive because God has made you righteous” or “as a consequence of the righteousness God has imputed to you.” God has made you righteous, holy, justified in his sight. By the power of his Spirit, you can be a man or woman of God because of the power of the Spirit of God in your life today.

Now the “fruit of the Spirit” can be manifest in your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Is this where you need the power of God in your life this morning? Are you struggling to love someone who is unlovely right now? To have joy in your circumstances? To have peace in challenging times? To have patience when you’re tested, or kindness toward those who have hurt you? Do you need goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in the face of temptation?

Don’t try harder to have these things. Submit to the Spirit and he will produce them in your life. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When you are controlled by the Spirit, you have the power to be godly, no matter how hard and harsh your circumstances might be.

Third, when you are controlled by the Spirit, you have his power to face the future: “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 through the Spirit, who lives in you” (v. 11).

Your body is dying this very moment. You are one hour closer to death than you were when this worship service began. But the fact of Jesus’ resurrection proves your own. The Holy Spirit raised him from the grave, and will do the same for you. Jesus promised that “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). When you close your eyes here, you open them there. When you take your last breath here, you take your first breath there. You step from death to life, from this fallen world into his glorious paradise. You are immortal.

What about the future worries you in the present? Is this the place where you need the power of God today? Do you feel powerless over your fears and worries about tomorrow? Give them to the Spirit of God. If he redeems death, he can redeem anything he permits. The Bible says that your present sufferings cannot compare to the glory to be revealed (Romans 8:18). Your God is working through all things for your good (v. 28).

You are more than a conqueror through him who loves you. When you are controlled by the Spirit, you have his power to face the future, whatever it may bring.


So, do you have the Spirit? Have you asked Jesus to forgive your sin and be your Lord and give you his Spirit? Does the Spirit have you? When was the last time you submitted and surrendered yourself to him? Do you give him your temptations and ask for his power over sin? Do you give him your challenges and ask for his power to be godly? Do you give him your fears and ask for his power and victory?

I read the strangest story this week: red tape is keeping a man in Poland from returning from the dead. Piotr Kucy is a 38-year-old living in southwest Poland. He was wrongfully identified by authorities last August as a drowned man, only to show up a few days after his own funeral. He has pointed out the fact that he is alive to government officials, but still remains dead in official records. He cannot work, but he also cannot pay taxes. I’m not sure either is a bad deal.

Did you know that his story is your story?

When the Spirit of God entered your life, the person you were before Christ died and the person you are now was raised from the dead. You don’t have to live in the old ways. You can start over. You have a new life. You don’t have to be powerless any more. You are more than a conqueror through him who loves you.

Or you can go back to the person you were. You can fight your problems in your ability. You can agree with the cultural lie that any problem can be solved if you try hard enough. You can opt for the self-reliance which is spiritual suicide. You can refuse the power of the Spirit who made the universe, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave, the Spirit who now lives in you. It’s your choice.

Do you have the Spirit? Does the Spirit have you?

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.”

We cannot see heaven; we cannot prove the existence or love of God; we cannot prove that we will spend eternity in heaven with our Father. If we could, we would have not hope but fact. As Paul says, “Who hopes for what he already has?” Who today is hoping for the car you bought last week, or the promotion you received in January?

This is the case with all future experience–nothing in the future can be proven in the present. I cannot prove that I will be alive tomorrow, or that you will. I cannot prove that I will finish this sermon, or that you will finish hearing it. I cannot prove that the world will be here tomorrow, for Jesus could come back this afternoon.

So “we hope for what we do not yet have” and “wait for it patiently” (v. 25). Life is hard now. We live in a fallen world which is “groaning” under the consequences of sin. But one day our adoption will be completed, our bodies exchanged for eternal ones.

In the meantime we’ll look for meaning and purpose in the Creator, not his creation; in God, not ourselves; in heaven, not earth. When we put our hope, our need for meaning and fulfillment, in this world, we are inevitably disappointed. Only when we put our hope in God is our hope fulfilled. That’s Paul’s thesis. Let’s explore it for a moment.

Where to find hope today

Over the weekend I rented the only car Hertz had left in Corpus Christi–a Hyundai Elantra. Not bad for a cheap rental, but not the car Jeff Gordon wants to drive at the Texas Motor Speedway. That’s not its purpose.

You can play tennis with a football or golf with a bowling ball, but it’s not much fun. Things work best when they’re used for their intended purpose. My wireless microphone wouldn’t make a very good hammer, but talking into a hammer isn’t going to help my sermon much.

It is a biblical fact that this world was never intended to give our lives meaning and purpose. It’s the wrong tool for the job. It was never supposed to replace the Creator. We weren’t supposed to find ultimate purpose and joy in places or people or things or events.

There is a God-shaped emptiness in each of us, so that our hearts are restless until they rest in him. We are supposed to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” knowing that everything else will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). We are supposed to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4), not in the world. We are called to leave our boats and nets to follow Jesus and fish for men. We are supposed to go wherever he leads, do whatever he asks, give whatever he wants. That’s biblical Christianity.

If we truly follow Jesus, we use the world to work for God. We use our possessions and opportunities to glorify him. We use our relationships to help people follow Jesus. We use our gifts and abilities and money to extend his Kingdom.

We stop trying to find purpose and joy in our fallen world, and seek them in knowing Jesus and making him known. We die to the world so we can live with Christ. We live on the vertical, for the eternal. And one day when our adoption is complete and our bodies are redeemed, our hope will become fact and time will be eternity in Paradise.

So Paul is inviting us to a monumental shift in our way of approaching life. Stop trying to find joy and fulfillment in what you do and have and how many people like you. Die to all of that. Start using what you do and have to serve your Savior. Start using your relationships to help people follow Jesus. Start living the surrendered life, the exchanged life, the Spirit-filled life. And the paradox is that the less you live for the world, the greater your joy in the world.

As usual, C. S. Lewis explains this decision better than I can:

“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.

“That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended–civilizations are built up–excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice” (Mere Christianity).


Here’s the bottom line: Our culture makes us consumers, but consumers don’t make good disciples. Jesus calls us to surrender, to submit, to live every moment for his glory and purpose, knowing that our hope is not in today but in eternity. Then your life will find the fulfillment no sunrise over the ocean can ever supply.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who gave his life to fight Nazism and stand for the gospel, was right: “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” That’s because only a person who dies can be resurrected. Only what we give to God can be blessed by God. Only what we submit to his perfect will can experience his perfect will. Only those who walk with Jesus can know the joy of Jesus.

So trade up. As Lewis reminds us, aim for heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in; aim for earth and you’ll get neither. Trade in your Elantra for a race car, your sunrise over the ocean for a sunrise one day in Paradise. You’ll be glad you did, now and forever.

This is the invitation of God.