Text: Romans 8:12-17
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Series A
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes it seems as though the Holy Spirit gets the short end of the stick. God the Father does the work of creating and God the Son does the work of saving. The Holy Spirit makes a few prominent appearances, like at the Baptism of Jesus, but otherwise, it may seem like the Holy Spirit doesn’t get mentioned a lot. This downplaying of the Spirit can spill over and become a habit in Churches as well. Someone once complained that they could not remember a single Sunday when the Holy Spirit was mentioned more than simply the occasional reference during a reading, creed, benediction, or prayer. Beloved, the Spirit does far more than simply make the occasional cameo appearance. The work of the Spirit is vital to your life as a Christian. What is that work? What does the Holy Spirit do for us? St. Paul the Apostle in our epistle reading says, first, the Spirit leads us, and second, the Spirit bears witness to us.
The Spirit Leads Us
Many Christians try to get away with all sorts of shenanigans by using the label “Spirit-led.” When Christians say they are “led by the Spirit,” they sometimes are referring to supernatural guidance: “I was led by the Spirit to witness to her.” But to be ‘led by the Spirit of God’ does not mean ‘supernatural guidance’. It’s not waiting for the Spirit to tell you what to do. What job should I do? Whom should I marry? Where should I live? No, it means living “by the Spirit” rather than “according to the flesh.” Doing something “by the Spirit” is the same thing as being “led” to do it by the Spirit. He’s not a power for us to use to get what we want. He’s not mystical feeling we may get. He’s a Person! We are an instrument in his hands. We’re not leading him. He’s leading us. We are being moved and being led by him.
So, what are we being moved and led by the Spirit to do? Being led by the Spirit means putting “to death the deeds of the body.” It is to be moved by the Spirit to kill the sin that remains in us. When you kill sin, you are being led by the Spirit. If you are not putting sin to death, then sin will be putting you to death. This is not something where we can be passive. Sin does not die by waiting for someone else to do it to us or for us. You are responsible to put the deeds of the body to death, So if you are going to continue to live, then you must be killing those sinful deeds and desires that want to destroy you. But, we’re not alone. God’s Spirit give us the desire, determination and discipline to do so.
What does it mean to “put to death the deeds of the body?” The flesh manifests itself in desires: it envies, it wants more, it lusts, it is greedy, lazy, proud, and angry. The flesh does not want the things of God. The flesh has an appetite, and it is hungry for sin. So, we have to train and discipline ourselves to subdue and restrain our flesh (AC XXVI.33). This involves fighting against lust, or gluttony or pornography. It’s a war against love of money, and racism, and indifference to injustice or poverty. This involves disciplining ourselves to pray regularly and come to Bible Study. This is letting go of your grudges against others in the congregation. Put it all to death! When we kill the sin that remains in us, God’s Spirit is leading us. He enables us to fight against all that is sinful in us. How?
The Spirit Bears Witness to Us
The Spirit leads us to kill sin that remains in us, not out of fear, but because we are God’s children! Slaves in the households of Rome were generally obedient. But their obedience was motivated by fear getting punished. You can get a lot of external compliance with enslavement and fear. Fear of God’s wrath can, at times, still be the motivation behind our obedience to God. But, then it becomes a burden that weighs us down. However, children act out of love and trust. They obey their loving parents because they are children who have love and trust. The Holy Spirit works in our lives to change our slavish fear of God’s punishment, into love and trust in God as our father. The Spirit does not get you to kill sin by making you a slave who acts out of fear. But by making you a child who acts out of faith and love.
How does he do that? The Holy Spirit made you God’s child by bringing you to faith in Christ, as Paul said in Galatians (3:26), “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Paul says that we are God’s children. We are God’s children, not by nature, but by adoption. In Rome, people were adopted in order to function as legal heirs. The most famous example is Caesar Augustus. When Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, his will spelled out his adoption of his great nephew Octavian. It wasn’t his lineage that gave Octavian the right to rule Rome, but the legal act of adoption. Although we were once slaves of sin, we have been adopted by God the Father through faith in Christ. And in Christ, we enjoy the liberties and privileges of being the children of King!
In our case, the Holy Spirit acts as the placement agent, giving you a place in God’s family as adopted children. Paul calls this the Spirit’s testimony. The Spirit testifies to the fact that you are the child of God by faith in Christ. When we say that Spirit bears witness, we are not talking about some mystical, supernatural experience. How does the Spirit testify? Through the Word. The Holy Spirit humbles us to hate sin and shows us our need for God’s mercy — that is his witness through the Word. He witnesses by awakening a sorrow for sin. He is witnessing by creating in us a confidence that God is our merciful and loving Father.
What’s our testimony? It’s the faith that is worked and strengthened by the Spirit through the Word. The Spirit assures you that Christ died to pay for the sins that tore you away from your Heavenly Father. He assures you that in Christ God “is our true Father and that we are his true children” (SC III:2). The Spirit tenderly reminds you that God loves you, cares for you, and is there whenever you need him. The Spirit points us away from judging our own faith on the basis of feelings or failures, and brings us the objective promises of God. The Spirit plants the Word into our heart and in this way testifies in us, and we testify in response, “Amen. Amen. This is certainly true.” Faith is when our hearts cry out “Abba! Father!” We throw ourselves and our problems at God’s feet because the Spirit has testified that he is our dear Father. The Spirit continues to assure believers that what God has done is true, certain, and for our benefit. If you have doubts about your faith, then turn to God’s Word. That is where the Holy Spirit testifies that you are God’s child. The testimony of the Spirit is completely objective. It reaches us from the outside and comes from his very person.
What does the Holy Spirit do for us? The Holy Spirit testifies through the Word that our sin has shattered our relationship with God. That same Spirit also testifies that through faith in the Crucified and Risen Christ we can be adopted as God’s own children and made heirs of eternal life. The Spirit plants the Word in our hearts and we respond in faith. The Spirit leads us to wage war against the sin that remains in us, and to put it to death. As we struggle and suffer in this world, the Spirit enables us to call upon God “with all boldness and confidence … as dear children call upon their dear father” (SC III:2). The Spirit within us testifies that one day we will inherit the world with Christ in a resurrection body in which sin will be no more.
May that peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.