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Assurance of Life


May 12, 2024|A Call for Spiritual Mothers|Titus 2:1-5

JD Cutler


Click here for the sermon audio


 In Romans 8:12 Paul switches to application with the words ‘So then’. 

In light of the glorious truth that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ, that those who are in Him have been made alive in their spirit, by the power of His Spirit, and that those who are alive in their spirit now, will one day be made alive in their bodies, Paul says, so then. Since all of that is true, here is the application. 

What is the application? To summarize Paul’s argument. Your life ought to be different now. 

 

If you are familiar at all with the book of Romans, you know that this is not a new argument presented in chapter 8, in fact Paul has been addressing this idea over and over again from various directions in his letter. 

Starting from the very beginning. 

Romans 1:16-17 (ESV) 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”


Romans 5:1-2 (ESV) 1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.


Romans 5:20-21 (ESV) 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Paul has established that those who have come to saving faith in Christ have come because of grace. Where sin and death abounded in their life, now grace and life abound. But then, how are we who have been justified, to relate to sin? If it is all grace, then should we just continue living in sin? Of course not, he says. Anyone who thinks that, doesn’t understand grace. 


Romans 6:1-4 (ESV) 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

We have been called to walk in newness of life. How?


Romans 6:11-14 (ESV) 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.


So since we are not under the law any longer, are we free to sin? Of course not. 


Romans 6:15-19 (ESV) 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.


To do so would mean that we were still slaves to sin. This is the argument Paul has been making all along. Those who have been made alive should not continue in the sinful lifestyle they had before their salvation, but should experience the sanctifying work of the Spirit in their life. 


But how do we reconcile this newness of life and freedom from sin and our common experience of continued sin being present in our lives?


Romans 7:14-25 (ESV) 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 


Paul articulates the struggle that all born again believers have experienced and builds to an exclamatory confession and cry. 

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 


Which he then immediately answers himself for our benefit. 


25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Which brings us to the immediate context of our scripture this morning. Romans chapter 8. Referred to by some as the greatest chapter in the Bible. One commentator said that if the Bible was a ring and the book or Romans its precious stone, chapter 8 would be ‘the sparkling point of the jewel’- JMB


It begins with ‘there is now no condemnation’ and ends with ‘there can be no separation’.

In between these glorious truths, Paul addresses the question before us this morning, how do we live in between our justification in Christ, and our glorification with him when this age is complete? I want to share three realities of those who have been made alive. 

Let’s read Romans 8:12-17 together this morning. 


Romans 8:12-17 (ESV) 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.


Three realities.

Those who have been made alive…


…live according to the Spirit. 

Paul’s direct application in verses 12 and on, comes from what he has just stated in the previous verses, Romans 8:9-11 (ESV) 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. 

Understanding where the ‘so then’ comes from, that if we are in Christ, we are not in the flesh, that although the body is dead, the Spirit has brought us life and will ultimately bring life to our bodies, Paul says we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.

Paul negatively states what we are not supposed to be doing, living according to the flesh and by implication tells us how we should be living, according to the Spirit. 


What does it look like to live according to the flesh and what does it look like to live according to the Spirit?

First, life according to the flesh is easy to understand, because we have all not only seen it but participated in it. This is Paul’s argument in a very similar chapter of his letter to the Colossian believers. 


Colossians 3:5-11 (ESV) 

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Sexual immorality- which is any and all sexual relation outside the context of one man and one woman in a lifelong covenant relationship. 

Impurity- lustful living that is unclean and ungodly

Passion- depraved passion that leads to depraved acts

Evil desire- evil longing for things that are forbidden

Coveteousness- a greedy desire for more

Which he says amounts to idolatry, because having put your desire above all else, you have effectively made your god yourself. 

In short, life according to the flesh is a life that seeks satisfaction above all else. It’s goal is service of self, through sexual relations, through wicked acts, through the accumulation of stuff, it’s god is self, and its end is the elevation of self above all else. Which brings out all the things he lists next. 

Anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, lying to one another. 

We are angry when we do not get what we want when we want it, we are passionate about getting what we deserve, which makes us malicious towards others who have what we do not, which leads to slander, obscene talk, and lies. 


In these, Paul says to the Christians, you too once walked, when you were living in them. 

This is the condition of man apart from God. You can clean him up, you can dress him in the finest suits, you can place him in the finest palaces, and surround him with the finest things, and he will still exhibit these qualities. He will never be satisfied, because the flesh can never be satisfied. You know this Paul says, because you lived this. 

You can clean him up, you can dress him in the finest suits, you can place him in the finest palaces, and surround him with the finest things, and he will still exhibit these qualities. ...because the flesh can never be satisfied.

This is living according to the flesh. This is what we expect from those who are still dead in their trespasses. A friend often says, the world’s going to world. But what about those who are not in the flesh but in the Spirit?

 

What does Paul say about this in our text this morning?

Romans 8:12-17 (ESV) 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.

We are not indebted to the flesh. John Piper says it this way. (John Piper's Sermons (over 1200 sermons)) you don't owe the flesh anything but enmity and war. It's been trying to kill you since the day you were born…You are not a debtor to the flesh.


To dig a little deeper into what Paul is saying, we can ask the question, as Christians, those who bear the name brother or sister, according to Paul, what has our flesh gained us so that we would be indebted to it?

In short, nothing. 

Your flesh contributed nothing to your salvation outside the sin that caused it to be necessary. 

Romans 8:3-4 (ESV) 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.The flesh cannot please God, it is hostile to God, it brings nothing but death. We needed the work of the Spirit to save us because, as Jesus says.John 3:6 (ESV) 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Your flesh cannot produce anything other than flesh, so as far as salvation goes, you owe it nothing. So why would you live in service of it? It was and is a terrible master, bringing nothing but death. 


But if by the Spirit we have been made alive, how then do we live according to the Spirit?

Let’s let Paul answer that question more fully from a previous section in Romans 8. 

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.


We live by the Spirit by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. How do we do that Paul? Let’s go back to his letter to the Colossian church. After listing what it looks like to live according to the flesh, he tells them how they ought to live. 


Colossians 3:12-17 (ESV) 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


The things of the Spirit move our focus from self to others in our thoughts, emotions, and actions, and from self to Christ in our pursuits, and all under the banner of this calling to be a part of the body of Christ. 

The flesh is independent, self-focused, and individualistic, the spirit is interdependent, others-focused, and community minded. The flesh serves idols, the Spirit serves the Lord Jesus. 


This is why when the Regenesis team was trying to distill down our mission strategy, the way we would summarize and articulate the way we are going to fulfill our mission to glorify God and make disciples, we chose language that reflected this corporate reality of the Spirit. We see ourselves at EBC as a covenant family, pursuing Christ, in community. My hope is that as we get deeper into sharing what your Regenesis team discovered in our time together, that we can flesh that out more, but for now it is enough to see that the language we settled on focuses our mind away from ourselves and towards one another. Paul tells us we are not indebted to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, but we are indebted to the Spirit to live according to the Spirit. 

As we strive to live according to the Spirit, Paul has already articulated the problem, we find our flesh, although ultimately conquered, still combative within us, which leads us to our next reality. Those who have been made alive must…


…war against the flesh.

It is easy to say that we are going to live according to the Spirit. It is easy to talk about how that means recognizing that we are family, that we are bound together by the Spirit, that Christ is our purpose, and that we don’t live this life serving ourselves but others. But why is it that when the rubber meets the road, when it comes down to our day to day lives, do we find this is ,in fact, not easy, but hard? For the same reason Paul says, there is a battle waging within us between our dead flesh and our living Spirit. But we are not to just sit back and see how it plays out, Paul calls us to have a wartime mentality and go on the offensive against the flesh. Listen to what he says again.

13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Paul calls us to have a wartime mentality and go on the offensive against the flesh.

He says we must put to death the deeds of the body. Do not misunderstand as we travel this road. Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit, just as Justification is a work of the Holy Spirit, and glorification will be a work of the Holy Spirit. But according to Paul we are called to cooperate with the Spirit in the process. 

He calls this ‘putting to death the deeds of the body’. 

Other Places he calls it ‘putting to death therefore what is earthly in you:’

In Romans 6:13, as we heard in the opening of the sermon, he says (ESV) 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness,


More often than not the language Paul chooses is violent in nature. Put to death, crucify. But how do we do that?

Here is the crux of the matter. We know that we should be being sanctified if we have been justified, so how do we approach this war against the flesh? 

I am indebted to James Montgomery Boice for pointing out these popular, but ultimately inadequate approaches recommended in our day. 

The first of which is by using a method. He readily admits that methodology is not bad and sometimes helpful, but that merely having ‘a method does not in itself guarantee sanctification or give us strength to do the right thing in some crisis.’ Simply having a method of organizing prayer, or pursuing Bible Study, and disciplining one’s daily life, although none of those are wrong, but they do not guarantee sanctification.

Second he points out that many in approaching the idea of goldy living, give a formula. ‘Let go and let God’ or ‘Give Jesus control of your life’. But as he points out, ‘in itself no mere formula is adequate for the harsh realities of human life.’

Thirdly and more popular in other circles is an experience. The idea being that Christians need a second experience to really be effective in holiness, joy, and victory. Sometimes it is called a ‘second blessing’ or a ‘second baptism of the Spirit’.

The problem with this is that Paul clearly argues that if you have the Spirit you, you are in the Spirit, and if you do not, you are not a Christian. The whole argument Paul is making is that those who belong to Christ do have the Holy Spirit, and as a result, they live like it. 


In fact, Piper says it this way. (John Piper's Sermons (over 1200 sermons)) And so Paul commands us to do it — be killing sin — because if we don't — if we don't make war on the flesh and put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit — if growth in grace and holiness mean nothing to us — then we show that we are probably false in our profession of faith, and that our church membership is a sham and our baptism is a fraud, and we are probably not Christians after all and never were.


No friends, we do not need a mere method, formula, or experience for sanctification. As a matter of fact, if we think very carefully at all, we must conclude that anything that we can do in the flesh cannot accomplish sanctification in us. 

This is the kind of things Paul talks about in Colossians when he says submitting to regulations of human precepts and teachings, have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. 

So how do we war against flesh by putting to death the deeds of the body?

Since we understand that Paul is not making this argument for the first time, we let what he has already said guide our understanding. 

Romans 6:11-14 (ESV) 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

As a matter of fact, if we think very carefully at all, we must conclude that anything that we can do in the flesh cannot accomplish sanctification in us. 

You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

You must get it firmly in your mind that when you died with Christ you died to sin, you are free from its dominion and its penalty. To consider here, or reckon as some translations use, means to proceed on the basis of what is actually the case. You live as a new creature because you are a new creature. 

When you get your mind fixed that you are not a slave to sin in your mortal body, you do not have to present your members to sin. You cut it off at the root. Paul’s fundamental encouragement for the Christian to live in the Spirit is not a list of things to do, but rather a reminder of who they are in Christ. 


Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says it this way. “The Apostle teaches quite clearly that the way of sanctification is the way of realizing the truth about ourselves as Christians, and then putting it into practice”.

The war against the flesh is primarily a war that happens in the mind and heart. If it has reached your hands, you have already lost the battle. We must put to death the deeds of the body by striking at the root. I want to share with you two scriptures to help us focus our attention this morning on what it looks like to put to death the deeds of the body.

Colossians 3:9b-10 (ESV) 

seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.


Romans 12:2 (ESV) 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In both places Paul’s emphasis is that our minds are renewed, bringing about transformation. 

Sanctification is not something you do by white-knuckling life and wrestling the flesh to the ground through sheer force of your will. Sanctification is done on your knees in prayer with the bible open asking God to show you who you are in him and then give you the strength to live out your identity more fully each day. What is that identity? This is our third reality, Those who have been made alive must…


…suffer alongside their Savior.   

Let’s pick up in verse 15 as Paul tells us about our identity and also the implications of that identity. 


15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

As someone who has the Spirit of God, you are a son of God. Naturally,, we understand that both men and women are in view here, but the son language is important to the issue of adoption. In Roman culture someone could adopt a son and it was as though he was his literal son in respects to inheritance, succession, etc… In some instances an adopted son may be more loved and more readily display the traits of the father than a biological one. 

I think it is important for us to realize that being adopted sons in no way minimizes our sonship. 


Many of you may not know this, but the man who raised me was my adoptive father. Him and my mother went on to have a child together. There were three of us. Me, my biological sister, and my half sister. One summer we were at his mother’s house after spending all day at a theme park in Houston. I was maybe 7 or 8 at the time. She was on the phone and said to a friend of hers that her grandchildren were there, and then clarified, well two are my adopted grandchildren and one is really my grandchild. To this day, I do not know if she meant any malice by it, but I do know that according to my mother, we did not talk that way in our family and that very night we loaded up and drove back to East Texas. 

I share that to illustrate that sometimes people overemphasize blood relation, but this was not the culture in which Paul uses this language of adoption. They understood that to be adopted is to be a child. Full stop.

He goes on to say that we can have confidence to cry out to God, Abba! Father! Using an Aramaic and a Greek word to say the same thing, and in doing so using the same language that Jesus used when he prayed to his Father. 

By the way, a pet peeve of mine is using this Abba Father to support any addressing of God in overly intimate ways. This is not a license to pray ‘Daddy God’. (You laugh, but there are instances all over the church today of people doing just that)


The emphasis is not on intimacy but on relation. We do not come to God in fear but as sons and daughters. 

Which Paul says, testifies that of our being fellow heir with Christ.

Provided?

Let’s stop there. What do you mean provided? I have been saved by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, to the Glory of God alone. Right? What provision could there be?

Listen to what he says. Provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

What does he mean by this?

Do not misunderstand. Paul is not saying that we become sons by suffering. That we somehow earn our sonship through suffering. No, he is saying suffering is proof of our sonship. 

That we will suffer for the same reason our Lord suffered. 

John 15:18-20 (ESV) 18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

1 John 3:13 (ESV) 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.


Paul is not saying that we become sons by suffering. That we somehow earn our sonship through suffering. No, he is saying suffering is proof of our sonship. 

Why does Paul bring up suffering and why now? Why in this great chapter that reminds us that there is no condemnation and nothing can separate us from God. Why after telling us about the struggle against the flesh does he bring up suffering?

Because nothing will cause you to stumble more than suffering for righteousness. To be hated for holiness. To be persecuted for proclaiming peace. But we are not people who shrink back, we are people who press on, encouraging one another, helping one another. 

All of that to say, that living according to the Spirit, waging war against the flesh, does not happen in a vacuum. As you strive to live out your identity in Christ, you will suffer at the hands of the world. But be encouraged, this is evidence that you belong to God and are being conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in that hope we look forward to the day we will be glorified with him. This is why we live according to the Spirit, this is why we put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit, and this is why we suffer with our Lord, because God has made us alive, he has set us on a path that begins with justification and that ends in glorification. But as Paul warns us here, if our lives are not showing evidence of sanctification, we should not presume that we have been justified, and we certainly do not have the assurance of glorification. 


Conclusion:

But for those who have been made alive by the Spirit, you will live according to the Spirit, you will by the power of the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body by renewing your mind, and you will suffer with and for Christ.

These are the realities that are true for everyone who is in Christ and therefore let this be a call to you this morning. 


Either live according to the Spirit or admit that you cannot because you are not in the Spirit and then having realized that you are apart from Christ and hopelessly lost in your sin enslaved to your flesh, cry out to God to do what only he can do and bring life where there is death. 

There is no inbetween, as Paul says, you are either in Christ or you are not. You either belong to him or you do not. 


May God, by his Holy Spirit, through his Holy Word, lead us to either assurance or admission.





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