1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
This is Richard Wurmbrand. Wurmbrand was a Romanian Christian minister of Jewish decent who, from the late 1940s to the 1960s, was imprisoned multiple times for criticizing the communist regime in Romania. He was first imprisoned and tortured for 8 years before being released. He was warned never to preach Christ again, but immediately returned to his work in the underground church only be arrested again and spend several more years in prison, three of them in solitary confinement. During his time in jail he was regularly tortured and yet his faith thrived. He preached the gospel to many other inmates despite the punishment that came from that. Eventually his amnesty was secured and he left Romania and immigrated to America where he became a prolific author and started an organization to bring awareness to Christian persecution called The Voice of the Martyrs.
I bring him up to you today because I read a quote from him this past week that I wanted to share with you. After being released from prison the final time he wrote this in a book called In God’s Underground: “There are two kinds of Christians: those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe they believe. You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.”
This quote along with Paul’s teaching today reminds us that while it can seem as if we could choose a great multitude of possible paths in life, there are really only two roads that are accessible to us. Paul says, one road leads to life, and the other road leads to death. And while our unique journeys will maybe appear different on the surface, ultimately each of us is either walking a path of life or a path of death. Paul describes these roads in a specific way: He calls the path of life, “the way of the Spirit” and he calls the path of death, “the way of the flesh.” And, this falls in line with everything that we have read over the last two chapters. Paul said, because of Christ we are no longer shackled to the way of the flesh by being enslaved to sin. Rather, Christ has come to free us from that by atoning for our sins and giving us the ability to instead be enslaved to the way of the Spirit. This is beautiful news, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Before this reality, our primary disposition was the way of death, but now the way of life can take hold.
And, yet, what Christ has done has also created a new and difficult tension for us because the way of death is a much easier way to live. In the way of death, I see what I want, and I do what I want. End of story. Now, to be sure, and many of us have experienced this, that way of living creates great problems and hardships and sufferings, but those problems are often more external than internal. This is because on the path of death the mind is not in conflict with the flesh.
When we begin to walk down the path of life, however, suddenly the mind is in conflict with the flesh. And this is the state that Paul is pushing us towards. Because in order to be on the path of life in the first place, the mind has be set on the Spirit of God and not on the way of the flesh.
Paul described this tension last week in Chapter 7, the fact that we often don’t do what we want, but rather what we don’t want because our fleshly bodies still drift towards sin even if the mind is set on the Spirit. So, the way of life creates a dualism for us in that suddenly what we desire and long for is in conflict not just with the world we live in but with our very bodies. If this weren’t true, Jesus would have never called his disciples to pray, “lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil.” Because Jesus knew that the great challenge for those on the path of life would be the pull back to the path of death. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that what Paul describes to us today would be precisely the case for believers. We should expect it. He said in Matthew 7:
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
In other words, following Christ into the way of life involves intentionally doing what most other people are not doing. Christianity is inherently counter-cultural. So, let me give you two ways in which the way of the Spirit differs from the way of the flesh…two ways that show that it is not the easy path:
- We cannot simply look to other people for our cues on how to live life. And, yet, that is what many of us do as our default. This isn’t simply a social media phenomenon either. This is something that is as old as humanity. Our greatest fear is that we would be ostracized or thought of as being strange or weird or pitied or looked down upon, and so we examine the practices and attitudes of the culture around us so that we can figure out how not to stick out, how to adapt and blend in. This is a defense mechanism of sorts for us because we fear being in conflict with our environment, but on an even larger level, it is an identity issue.
Many people don’t know what their identity is so they look to their parents or to the culture or to their socio-economic group or to their career-field to give them identity. And, there are certainly some low-level ways in which that all can be benign, but if your identity is so wrapped up in whatever the culture at large deems to be right and good that you will go along no matter what, then there is a significant problem because you have tied your horse to something that is like shifting sand. And, in today’s world culture is changing faster than ever before. I’ll give you an example: in 1996 Gallup did its first ever poll to see what America thought of gay marriage. 68% of Americans were against it. 19 years later in 2015, the entire landscape had shifted to the point where 60% of Americans supported gay marriage. Massive shift like an avalanche. 1 minute your looking at the beautiful side of a snow covered mountain, the next minute all the snow has rushed to the bottom. So, our world is changing rapidly, and if you are primarily taking your cues on how to live and be from the culture or other people, then by definition you are not following Christ no matter what you claim. Jesus says: (Matthew 7)
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
- The way of the Spirit makes us look foolish to the world around us, but the way of the flesh makes us look wise. Hear Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
If we are unwilling to follow the way of Jesus because of how we think it will make us look to other people, then we are in big trouble. Yet, how many of us have at some point not said or done something we maybe thought the Spirit was leading us to do because we were worried about how we would be perceived by others. I am the chief offender here. And, I’m really good at rationalizing it. I don’t want to turn people off to Christ by being a weird Christian. That’s a great rationalization, but the reality is that you are turning no one on to Christ by looking and sounding like everyone else. If we truly want to see our lost friends saved, we must remember that, while God is the one who saves, Paul says he is making his appeal through us. That means, God’s plan is not simply to hit people with gospel lightening bolts, but instead to use the church to declare and demonstrate the gospel. We are the lightening bolts. And, my theory is that if we will be willing to super different and weird not just for the sake of being different but because we are genuinely following the way of Christ, we will see a great harvest.
One other thing here: Parents, do not fall into the trap of caring about how your children perceive you. Your job as a parent is not to win your children over to thinking that you are cool because you give them what they want or because you strive to be like other cool parents. Your job is to teach your children the truths of the gospel and way of Christ so that they can grow up and also not be cool parents because they love Jesus more. If you are making decisions in the hope that your children will approve of you, you are in for a world of hurt later on. You know there is that verse in the Old Testament that says, “spare not the rod.” That isn’t about beating your children or corporal punishment; it is about raising your children in the instruction of the Lord, not in the instruction of the world. It is not the easier path, but it is worth it.
- Finally, remember that the big differentiating factor here is what your mind is set on. So, how do we set our minds on the Spirit.
- Reduce or eliminate flesh-centered inputs. Most of us need to drastically reduce or eliminate the time we spend watching media. Internet surfing, social media, Netflix. Friends, these are simply not things that steer us towards the way of the Spirit, and, often, quite to the contrary. If I want to lose weight but I don’t change my eating or physical activity habits, not only will I not lose weight, but the longer I go the harder it will become. Stop spending hours of your day giving yourself over to something that will not point you toward Christ.
- Practice self-denial. This may be new information to you, but if you are not practicing self-denial on some level, you are not following the way of Jesus. We serve a Savior who modeled for us a life of intentional fasting, silence, solitude, and not because those things are virtuous in and of themselves, but because he filled those spaces with prayer, meditation and connection with his Father. Until we are willing to occasionally give up some measure of our comfort so that we can set our mind on the Spirit, we simply won’t take steps forward.
- Get serious about prayer. The way of the Spirit is not a life with prayer, but a life of prayer. It is a life that is centered around prayer. One step that you can take is to simply begin and end your day with a time of intentional, personal prayer. But, from there, inject a daily family prayer time. Make time during your lunch for prayer. These things don’t have to be long to be meaningful, but recognize that you will not have an epiphany or experience a warm fuzzy feeling every time you pray. Do it anyway, because you are developing a habit of setting your mind on the Spirit.
So, let’s wrap up. Richard Wurmbrand was describing a common situation we find in our culture. There is the way of the flesh, which is primarily the way of self-gratification. It is the way of unbelief, and yet, we may find it wrapped in a veneer or facade of faith or religiosity, but the way that you discern its truth is by looking at the fruit. Do not be fooled and do not be lured into living that kind of life. The Scriptures are clear that there are those who are fully on the path of death but who would claim to be on the path of life. Examine your heart today, and if your faith is in Christ don’t suppress the Spirit. Be weird. Be different. Deny your flesh. Turn your mind toward Christ. When your mind is on Him, you will continually be reminded that he is worth all and worthy of all.