The Testimony of the Holy Spirit
The Eighth Sunday after Trinity| Rolf D. Preus| July 17, 2016| Romans 8:12-17
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors; not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. Romans 8:12-17
I know of no other part of the Bible that provides as much comfort to the troubled soul as Romans chapter 8. When I visit someone who is facing a critical life-threatening event I often turn to this beautiful chapter and let the inspired writing of the Apostle say what I can’t put into words. It is in this chapter that we read the familiar words,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
And the words,
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
And the words,
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
And the words,
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What makes this portion of God’s word so comforting is that it teaches us what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter. He is the Advocate who lives within us, intercedes for us, and testifies to our spirit that we are God’s children.
How does he do that? Some folks think that they have a direct hotline to heaven through which the Holy Spirit speaks. They get some religious notion that seems to them very pious, and they attribute it to the Holy Spirit. But how do they know it is the Holy Spirit? Well, they say, “Look here. It says that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit.” And so they imagine that their thoughts are the Spirit’s thoughts.
Not so fast. The Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirit through his holy Word. He doesn’t speak directly to us apart from any means. He speaks to us through the Word of God and through the sacraments of Christ. He has appointed these means to be used in the Church and he has bound himself to them. Beware of false prophets who have dreams they claim are revelations from God and then spout off their own notions as if God said it. They lie and deceive by God’s name.
And beware of your own ideas when you cannot ground them in the clear Word of God. You may think that because you have the Spirit this means that when you get a spiritual notion the Spirit gave it to you. That doesn’t follow. That’s how the false prophets think. Just because religious people think it doesn’t mean that God inspired it. Yes, the Spirit lives within us Christians and he testifies to our spirit. But the sinful flesh lies within as well.
St. Paul writes:
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors; not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die.
The flesh is the sinful nature we inherited from Adam. The Holy Spirit lives within all of God’s children. He moves them to call God Father. He takes away our fear of death and replaces it with the joyful confidence of children who know that their heavenly Father loves them, forgives them, protects them, guides them, and keeps them in the true faith. While he is doing this the sinful flesh within us tries to claim our affections and entice us to abandon God’s promises and embrace our own feelings instead.
Put the flesh to death. Kill him. Drown him in your baptism where you died with Christ, were raised with Christ, and became a child of heaven. Don’t obey the desires of the flesh. Paul says that if you live according to the flesh you will die. He doesn’t say how long it will take. It’s somewhat like ingesting poison that kills you over a period of time. Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning administered by disloyal officers. But it took a while to kill him. Obeying the flesh and persisting in it without repentance is spiritual suicide. The Bible lists the sins of the flesh. St. Paul writes in Galatians 5,
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
What is a Christian who has committed these sins to do? St. Paul writes in our text: “But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” He tells us to put to death the deeds of the body. It’s not just a matter of willpower as if we can choose not to be tempted. You cannot master the flesh, subdue him, and rule over him. But God can. Paul writes, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The critical words here are “By the Spirit.” It is the Spirit who kills the flesh and raises you to new life. It is the Spirit who adopted you into God’s family so that you can call yourself a child of God and call God “Abba,” daddy, papa, as a little boy or girl speaks to a loving father.
How does the Holy Spirit work this change in you? By the gospel! The law exposes the flesh, condemns the flesh, and angers the flesh, but cannot kill the flesh. Only the gospel can drown and subdue the sinful nature. When I know I am a child of God, forgiven of all my sins, and righteous before God, I can live as a child of God. St. Paul writes:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
The Holy Spirit leads us by adopting us into God’s family where we are identified, not with the sinful flesh, but with Christ. He is our life. All that he has is ours. His righteousness is ours. His victory over death is ours. His defeat of all evil powers and the devil himself is ours. We are coheirs with Christ. All that he inherits belongs to us.
When we were raising our children, buying the food, paying for the car, insurance, and every other daily, monthly, and annual expense, I got a kick out of how my children would talk about everything as if it was theirs. What Mom and Dad do and have and say belongs to the children as well. That’s how a family works. When I was a boy, I recall a lady asking my mom about breastfeeding, and my little sister piped up, “Oh yes! We breastfeed all our babies!” The family isn’t a “we/they” kind of thing. It is we. We belong. We are adopted into God’s family. Everything the family owns is owned by every member of the family. That’s what it means to be coheirs with Christ.
We will share Christ’s glory. He joined us, never to leave us. But this sharing is a sharing not only of his glory in heaven, but also his suffering here on earth. St. Paul writes,
Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together.
What does it mean to suffer with Christ? There is the suffering we suffer on account of our own sins. We pay the piper, so to speak, because that’s the way things are in this world. You speak harshly against someone and you win his enmity that hurts you down the road. You get drunk and you wreck your car and ruin your health. You cheat on your husband or wife, and you destroy your marriage. You embezzle money you lose your job and your reputation. You pay for the bad you do by suffering the consequences here and now. But Jesus committed no sin. He didn’t suffer for any wrong he had ever done. Suffering with Christ is not suffering for the wrong we do.
Suffering with Christ is suffering for the good he did. The good he did led him to the cross where he confronted all the evil of all humanity and bore it in his own body. He drank the cup of God’s holy anger down to the bitter dregs. He suffered in his body on the cross God’s judgment against all sinners. That holy suffering was unique. He alone suffered it. He suffered it vicariously, that is, as our substitute. He suffered it so that we would not have to suffer it. Only Jesus suffered the divine penalty against sin.
To suffer with Jesus is not to join him in paying for the sin of the world. It is suffering for his sake. We are adopted as children in God’s family for Christ’s sake. Jesus earned this for us. He earned it by his suffering. It is precisely his suffering for sins to take them away that the devil, the world, and our flesh oppose with all their might. Their attacks bring us suffering.
The devil attacks the truth of this gospel. He invents false teaching and injects it into the lifeblood of the church, leading churchmen astray who lead others astray with them. The devil’s false teachings are too numerous to mention in a dozen sermons, but his most common lie is to deny that Jesus really did take away all our sin and from that denial to require us to do something to ensure our eternal salvation instead of simply trusting in Jesus to ensure it for us.
The world provides us with its fading glory, power, prestige, popularity, and other false gods that promise pleasure but leave us poor and empty.
The flesh pretends that its desires, its ego, its self-esteem, its willful defiance of God is actually true spirituality, as he seeks to reclaim what he lost when God set us free from his control.
The attacks this unholy trinity levels against our faith bring suffering. The devil sees to it that we are ostracized and discriminated against because of our Christian convictions. God smashes the idols the world has put into our hearts. We struggle daily against the temptations of the flesh. This is suffering. This suffering is our glory. It confirms us in God’s truth that we really belong to his family. We rejoice in Christ’s suffering for us and count it pure privilege to suffer as Christians. When we do, we know – because the Holy Spirit tells us so – that we are God’s children and heirs of eternal life.