The Spirit of Christ
Did you ever hear the tale about how the Pope was given the opportunity to speak to the United Nations one day. He flew all the way from the Vatican and was supposed to arrive in New York to address this international delegation. However, the weather turned bad and the plane had to be redirected to Newark, NJ. So, there he was with the time growing short and being ushered into a limousine with miles to go. As they started out he realized that the driver seemed to be taking his time and so he asked him if he couldn’t speed up a bit, otherwise he was going to miss the time for his address.
The driver said, “I really would like to, but I have already been stopped twice and if I get pulled over one more time I am going to lose my license and not be able to drive anybody. I just can’t afford to lose this job.”
So, the pope asked him if he could drive? Well what was the driver to do? He switched places with the Pope and the Pope put the pedal to the metal. He got into New York City and was rushing down the streets, swerving around cars, going through the yellow lights, and squealing the tires going around turns. Well just about when they got to the UN the pope saw the flashing lights of a police car in his rear-view mirror, and of course he pulled over. The policeman got out of his car, flipped open his ticket book, and motioned for him to roll down his window. The Pope did so and the police officer just looked at the pope for a minute, and turned around and went back to his cruiser.
His partner still in the car said aren’t you going to write that guy a ticket. The officer just shook his head no. His partner said well who is it the Mayor. No, it’s someone more important than the mayor. Well is it the governor. No, it is someone bigger than the governor. Well don’t tell me it is the president of the United States? The officer just shook his head no. Well who can be more important than the president?
The officer just said, “You know, I don’t know who is in that car, but he has the Pope driving him.”
Today we want to ask who is in the driver seat of your life? Who is it that calling the directions and destination of your journey? I once heard it said that, “If Jesus is driving, then the devil can’t pull you over and give you a ticket.”
In Romans Paul triumphantly concludes his thoughts with regard to the grace found within Jesus by stating, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul tells us that, “You have been personally liberated from the law of sin and death.” In Paul’s understanding the outcome of having a law only elucidated a person’s inability to fully obey the law. The law served to identify sin, and the wages of sin is death. Therefore, the law is a law of sin and death. This is the count that Paul says Christ liberated us (set us free) from. In Jesus life and death, Paul says, “God condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Now all of this can get theologically complex, but the bottom line is that instead of a law to live by God has now given us His Spirit to live by. In this we are now able to achieve a life of righteousness.
In Romans Paul wrote about the old Adam vs the new Adam; the old life of sin vs the new life of the resurrection; sin vs. obedience and righteousness; the law vs grace.
Here in Chapter 8 Paul writes about the flesh vs 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. Once again Paul is trying to help us understand the difference grace has made the choice that is ours.
To set the mind on anything means to dwell upon and give it constant consideration. Now what we dwell on and give importance to, is what gains control over our lives. My wife recently found a quote that said, “Your mind is a garden, Your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.” That is true for life.
There is the flesh and there is the Spirit.
In the Greek the word used for flesh is Sarx. Here the word is speaking about human nature with is passions, desires, and frailties. He is not primarily speaking about our physical bodies, or just the sensual nature of human existence, but Paul is talking about the wants, needs, and impulses we may have coming from our created and fallen state of being. Our bodies are a God created gift. They are good, but we are also prone to be guided by our fears, appetites, and desires. To live in the flesh is to be driven according to these and this may tend to produce more weeds than flowers.
If you think about life, we seem to worry about our survival to the point that almost nothing cost as much as doctors and hospitals. I heard in the news that the federal government is paying a pharmaceutical company 1.6 billion dollars to develop a vaccine for the covid virus by the end of the year. This company has not previously brought a product to market, and this is part of the 4 billion that has been spent. I think a vaccine is good. I applaud the effort, but I cannot understand why it cost so much. I think part of the problem is the world’s supposition that life ends when we die. Therefore what greater good and extreme value can there be but to live another day? Now earthly life is good, but you know Jesus talked more about losing one’s life and taking up our cross than he did about living another day.
The world seems have an intense interest in offering to satiate the immediate desires of life. Our whole advertising market does nothing but dwell on what we need; even when we don’t know we need it. Advertising is involved in creating a need as much as fulfilling a need. Life easily can rotate around nothing more than the whole question, “What do I need to be happy today?” What can I buy? Where can I go? What can I eat or own to make myself content and happy?
Paul says, if we continue to live only according to what satiates our own momentary self-interest, pleasures, and desires, we will not be able to please God and we will die. We will die an eternal death. The one who dies with the most toys doesn’t win. There is more to life than the physical nature.
The apostle goes on to point out, “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” We are no longer to live for the flesh alone, but for the Spirit which is true life.
How do we come to walk in newness of life, and not be ruled by the appetites, fears, and passions of life all around us? The apostle Paul spells it out for us. God’s has done this by gifting us who are in Christ with his very own Spirit –his Spirit that shakes the Earth and opens the tomb of the dead. If you indeed belong to Christ then that is what you have. God is literally with you and within you. Have you the power to overcome sin and temptation in this life? Have you the power to forgive and laugh and love your way through life. Have you the power to live at peace with one another? Certainly, you have, because God is with you. Therefore, set your minds on the things of the Spirit. Live the real life, a life grounded in the righteousness of God.
In Galatians 5:22, we are told that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” This is the life that the Spirit of God manifest in people’s lives and in the life of the faith community.
Look careful you will not find fornication, impurity, idolatry, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, or the like as part of the Spirit’s work. This list of ill is all from the book of Galatians. These are in the other list. They belong to the old life –the dead and the dying life of the flesh.
God has called us away from these things to set our minds on the Spirit and to allow the spiritual influence of Christ to be alive in you. We sometimes just must make a conscience decision to put God in charge if we are going to experience the life and peace God has already given us. Let the Spirit of Christ live within you and lead you!
If Jesus is in the driver’s seat, if you have your mind set on the things of the Spirit, then you are someone special. You are a most significant person. Peace and life belong to you. This is the way toward eternal life.
Author and poet Maya Angelou wrote a number of observations about life. One of the things she wrote is this, “I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.” “I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.” “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Living the life has a lot to do with how we treat one another. As Christians, the scriptures remind us that our life relationships are eternal. Our hope is certain.
In the Spirit of Christ, we are given eternal life and this life is full and all encompassing. One of my favorite verses is found in, Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. Even in this body that shall someday die, God has filled us with a life-giving presence that never ceases.
So live the life, and live it well. Allow God to manifest his spirit, peace, and love within your life, and I believe when we do, true life will be ours. Amen.