After teaching from Romans 8 yesterday about life according to God’s indwelling Spirit (as opposed to life according to indwelling sin in Romans 7), the following questions surfaced. Here’s a bit more insight to help, as I suspect these kinds of questions may have been in the minds of several others as well. If you’d like more background, listen to the message here as well (click on the message from 9/26).
1. When you stated that we tolerate sin, or manage sin, do you mean from others, ourselves, or both?
I was referring to our own selves. Frankly, we too often use lines like “I’m only human” or “I was hurt really badly so I can’t help it” or “I just need some time to deal with this” or “What I did/said/thought wasn’t that bad” or “I only did it once” to actually cover up what is simply disobedience. We essentially give ourselves room to let sin hang around. That’s how we tolerate sin and manage it instead of killing it. When we operate that way, it ends up actually killing us, albeit slowly.
2. You said that one of the weapons we can use against sin is running away from it. But if I keep running from sin, won’t it keep coming back as a temptation? If I face it and deal with it, then it more than likely go away, right?
Don’t think of running as a bad thing in this case. If I physically run from a woman who is tempting me sexually, or from anything that has a physical aspect to it, I actually benefit myself in the battle against sin.
You are, however, right that if I run from things that are inside, that’s not good. That’s when I should resist temptation, dealing with it head on. But running is very helpful and biblical when it comes to physical, outward temptations from which we can actually escape. So you’re right in one sense, but not in the complete sense.
On the ‘heels’ of that comment (no pun intended to the ‘running’ thread in this answer), let me add that I would always encourage anyone to face their sin head on as you say. But sometimes facing it head on is to get away from it by running. Freedom is sometimes spelled ‘fleedom!’ (And Joseph, Paul and Timothy would agree!)
3. When you said that we should stop trying so hard to be spiritual, are you saying we don’t need to pray, do devotions, and stuff like that?
First, I am fully aware that this is the hardest element of yesterday’s message to wrap your arms around; I imagine many small groups had/will have some really good discussions concerning this teaching point. One reason we grapple with it is because we are, especially in this western culture, programmed from birth to “do” as much as we can. Physically and spiritually, “earning our keep” and “paying our dues” is almost woven into the fabric of our existence. But the real truth is that we don’t actually do anything to become spiritual (key word become). That’s what God does in us because of Jesus and through the Holy Spirit when, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, he saves us. That’s when, through the response of repentance, we inherit from God a new nature and a new status: we are his spiritual sons and/or daughters.
Notice the word I used – inherit. We didn’t do anything to deserve or earn this new life or position. We simply enjoy the privileges. Someone else paid the price and we reap the benefits. That’s pretty awesome, eh? And when that mindset takes hold of us, we will stop doing stuff for the wrong reasons. We will quit trying to “list” our way into God’s favor and we will, instead, enjoy living with it and by it.
Succinctly put, we do things because we are spiritual (key word because). It is precisely because we are now sons and daughters of God that we find ourselves with new desires and appetites, the kind that result in behavior that prays, studies the Word, gives, serves, worships, etc. There’s a lot that the sons and daughters of God do, but not to gain sonship. Rather, simply because we are granted it through Jesus the moment we believe.
I readily admit this is a fine line; but it is an important one. Otherwise, we start taking credit for our growth and spiritual “success.” Truthfully, you would not want to spend time with your Father in praying, reading his Word, serving his body, sacrificing for his kingdom, etc. if the Spirit wasn’t in you; that’s who gives you the desire to do those things.
So fundamentally, it’s all about source. Do we ‘do’ things so we can make ourselves spiritual (i.e., we are the source), or do we ‘do’ things in response to God’s indwelling Spirit (i.e., God is the source)? When I falsely think I am the source, spirituality becomes a list of tasks that is self-centered on me trying harder at certain times (ritual). When I realize God is truly the source, spirituality becomes a life of fruit that is centered on abiding in Jesus 24/7 (relationship).