3/6/01 10.45 a.m. Pentecost : Romans 8:1-4 ( Luke 24:44-49 )


Today is the birthday of the church ! It is a day when we celebrate and remember the promise that Jesus made, and kept to his disciples in Luke 24: 49 "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

In Romans 8 Paul writes about the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life.

From the first four verses we are going to look at three of the things that the Holy Spirit does.

The Spirit gives life; The Spirit sets free; The Spirit gives power to live.

The Spirit gives life;

When people have come to know God as Father and Jesus as Lord, how have they gained that knowledge? It is not by searching out and weighing evidence or arguments; nor by a long process of experiment or thought. Many learned scholars have carefully examined the Bible, but have seen in it nothing relevant to today and have not discovered the revelation of God.

Jesus once thanked his Father that the truth about him was concealed from the clever, but revealed to simple people. When Peter confessed him as Messiah and Son of God, Jesus declared that Peter had not discovered this by himself, but had been shown it by God. Jesus also said, `Unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot see or enter the kingdom of God.'

In 1 Corinthians 12:3. Paul writes that a Christian will say 'Jesus is Lord' because of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that it is God himself who opens the eyes and hearts of his people to the truth about himself and his Son through the work of His Spirit. In his gospel John recorded Jesus words that it is the work of the Spirit to take what is Christ's and show it to us, and so guide us into all the truth ( John 14:16-27 ).

In other words, knowledge of God as Father and Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour does not come by human discovery but by divine revelation. That is why in verse 2 the Holy Spirit is described as 'the Spirit of life'. We are all sinners ( 3:23 ) and this separates us from God ( 6:23 ). Our sinful nature is a barrier to God's truth, something we looked at three weeks ago when we looked at Adam and Christ. However, the Holy Spirit can opens eyes and hearts to the truth that we could not understand for ourselves.

Bishop John V. Taylor, "My own attempt to understand the Holy Spirit has convinced me that he is active in precisely those experiences that are very common - experiences of recognition, sudden insight, an influx of awareness when you wake up and become alive to something... Every time a human being cries ' Ah ! I see it now !', that's what I mean by the Holy Spirit."

Because revelation is the work of the Holy Spirit it cannot be predicted or planned. The apostles had remained in Jerusalem in obedience to Jesus' command, but none of them expected beforehand that 3,000 people would respond in faith to Peter's first sermon. On that first Pentecost Sunday the Holy Spirit worked in people's hearts to convict them of sin and turn to Jesus.

Before the 18th Century revival commenced, John Wesley described in his journal what happened... `About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, `the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground. As soon as were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, "We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord".'

This outpouring of the Spirit on 1st January 1739 confirmed that revival had come and launched the campaign of extensive evangelization which sprang from it.

This, and other revivals such as the one locally, were often preceded by intensive prayer. But this is no guarantee of revival. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is unpredictable like the wind, you don't know where it comes from or where it is going ( John 3:8 ).

( The Spirit gives life; ) The Spirit sets free;

I recently had an e-mail from Paul Thompson, one of my former school friends. I last saw him, and a number of others over twelve years ago at a reunion held because another class-mate was emigrating to Australia. The e-mail asked me if I was the Jim Pye that had gone to Thorpe School and referred me to a website that had been set up in memory of our time at school. This included several photos of me in my late teens when it was fashionable to wear flared trousers and big, rounded button shirt collars ! Unlike many of us, Paul had not stayed on to the sixth-form, but had gone to the Norwich College of Further Education. The reason for this is that he was irritated by the petty rules and regulations of the school. So he felt particularly free when he left at the end of the fifth form.

When we are freed from one thing this does not make us entirely free to do whatever we want. Students who leave school are still bound by the laws of the land. They are also, usually, bound by the laws of economics and will need to get a job ! This will place them under the jurisdiction of an employer, who will have some control over what they do and say whilst they are being paid.

Verse 2, through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

When Paul writes of the law of the Spirit and law of sin and death he is referring to a controlling force or power, rather than written down rules or regulations. The New Living Translation brings this out : 'For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death'.

Freedom can be liberating, but it can also be scary. The children referred to this in last weeks service when they shared how, after the Israelites had been freed from the slavery of Egypt, they were faced with a loss of security and having to trust God for food and drink in the wilderness.

As well as being challenging, the freedom to trust in God can bring us power to live for him when we rely on the Holy Spirit. The apostle Peter is an example of this. In his own strength he boasted that he would die for Jesus, but soon denied Jesus three times. After the death of Jesus Peter and the other disciples were in hiding from the Jewish authorities. However, in the power of the Holy Spirit, on the first Pentecost Sunday, Peter freely spoke to three thousand people, some of whom had been ridiculing the disciples accusing them of being drunk ( Acts 2:13f. ) On that day the Holy Spirit freed Peter from any fear of speaking up for Jesus. However, whilst the Holy Spirit gave the words to Peter, he still had to consciously open his mouth and speak.

Over the last two weeks we have looked at Chapter six of Romans and seen how Christians have died to sin and been raised to new life with Jesus, and how we were slaves to sin but are now slaves to righteousness.

So the Spirit sets people free from the rule of sin and death to give a life lived in a right relationship with God. But God does not set people free in this way and leave them to live life in their own strength. No...

The Spirit gives power to live.

Twenty-one year old John had quickly become a prominent person in the seafaring industry. He was captain of a ship that transported slaves from Africa. The manner in which he and the members of his crew treated these slaves was terrible.

Over 25% of the slaves from each voyage died enroute because of poor conditions. The slaves were kept down below in the galley. There was little light and it was very damp, causing much illness. John and his crew would often beat the slaves, sometimes even to death! John and his crew would also go down below and rape the women and even children!

One night a terrible storm struck and John's ship was tossed and turned. He and his crew thought the end was near. Death was imminent and John realized his situation. That night he prayed, "God, if you will get me through this storm I will change my ways and give my life to you." God extended His grace and mercy that evening and the ship was spared.

When John returned to his homeland he resigned his position and never again was involved in the slave industry. That night had changed his life.

Later, John went on to write these words, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!" The well-known hymn "Amazing Grace" was written by this former slave trader, John Newton. Copyright 1999 Gibson Productions

This is an illustration of the Spirit giving life, that we considered in the first section. But John Newton's hymn also tells of God's grace in helping Christians to live for Him, "Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. T'was grace that brought me safe this far and grace t'will lead me home."

God's grace not only brings us to faith in Jesus, but also helps us to live for God. This is what verse 4 is about...

4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

'the righteous requirements of the law' means that the law still plays a role in the life of a believer. As we saw earlier in this sermon series, the law, of itself, does not have the power to make anyone conform to it. Indeed, by its very existence, it may even encourage some to sin. But, to believers, the law is a moral and ethical guide, obeyed out of love for God and in the power that the Spirit provides. This is the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:33-34, a prophecy of the new covenant given over 600 years before Jesus. Jeremiah 31: 31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

People do not obey laws that they think are unfair or irrelevant. The Poll Tax was one example of a law considered by so many to be unfair that it was repealed.

I regularly witness people, who clearly consider the speed limit to be irrelevant, as they drive their cars through Talke. Perhaps they are unaware of what could happen, or they may be blinded by their need to speed and show off, or to get somewhere quickly.

Those of us with children and who know how difficult it is to get out of the drives in Crown Bank are not likely to speed because we can see the sense behind the law. Once Christians have their eyes opened to understand God's ways by His Spirit then they will have the desire and the power to follow them.

When Marion heard that she was reading from Romans 8, she was delighted because this is one of her favourite Chapters in the Bible. I am sure that this is so for many Christian because Romans 8 shows how we can become more like Jesus through the work of His Spirit within us. This does not mean that we have to be inactive in a trance-like robotic state ! Indeed, when Paul writes about '...us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.' he is referring to a conscious choice, though one enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

When we share the grace we speak of `the fellowship of the Holy Spirit'. The Greek word translated `fellowship', koinonia , means a having in common, a sharing of life. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus called the `Comforter', one who draws alongside and helps another ( John14:15 ). He shares Jesus' life, love and power with us, as well as enabling us to share our lives as Christians with one another in the fellowship of his people.

Let us now have a time of silence and reflection as we: thank God for the gift of His Spirit; consider the life, freedom and power that He offers us; and open ourselves to Him to make us more like Jesus, to the glory of God.