Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 2, 2017
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Romans 8:1-11
Sermon Theme: “But Does the Spirit of God Dwell within You?”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; What Luther Says; Online Emphasis Commentary; Online Emphasis Illustrations; original ideas; “What Are the Names and Titles of the Holy Spirit?,” gotquestions.org; Life Application Study Bible; Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia; Lutheran Cyclopedia)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lutheran Lectionary System we follow, which determines, among other things, which Bible texts we use every Sunday, seems strange sometimes. The Epistle text for today, for instance, is Romans 8:1-11, which is about the Holy Spirit, and which more logically is a Pentecost text. But here we are deep into Lent, and we have a text focusing on the Holy Spirit. What has the Holy Spirit got to do with Lent?
The Church Calendar ties in with the Holy Spirit, but it has Festivals that seem odd for Lent. March 20 is the Festival of St. Joseph (foster father of Jesus), and March 25 is the Festival of the Annunciation, celebrating the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she is with child by the Holy Spirit. It makes you think you’re back in Advent. So it goes with man-made Systems and Calendars! And Church tradition tells us not to celebrate Festivals of any kind during Lent, whether they appear out-of-place chronologically or in-place.
I said all that just in case you were wondering why the sermon was about the Holy Spirit on the 5th Sunday in Lent.
To be sure, the Holy Spirit is ALWAYS a valid topic, as Martin Luther says in his Large Catechism, “The Holy Spirit carries on His work without ceasing until the Last Day, and for this He has appointed a congregation on earth through which He speaks and does everything.”
The work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely extraordinary. How can you tell if a person is a Christian? By the fact that he or she has the Spirit of Christ dwelling within them, and you can tell THAT by the difference it makes in the person’s life, — how he or she thinks, speaks, and acts. If it doesn’t make a difference, is the person a truly regenerated, reborn follower of Christ? There are Christians, and then there are “Christians.” The Holy Spirit makes the difference.
Mohandas Gandhi spent some years studying in England, at that time considered a very Christian nation. After returning home from England to India, he was asked if he had been exposed to Christianity while he was away. “Yes,” he replied. He was then asked, “Why didn’t you become a Christian?” To this, Gandhi replied, “Because I knew too many Christians.” We gotta remember, we Christians are the only Bible some people read.
A missionary was shipwrecked on a desert island and spent many miserable days waiting for rescue. Fresh fruit, fish, and edible animals were plentiful, so he wasn’t hungry, but he became desperately lonely. So he decided to explore deeper into the interior of the island, to see if there were any other human beings on it.
After fighting his way through underbrush, he saw the smoke of a camp fire. At first he was excited, just at the thought of other humans being there on the island, but then he began to worry that they might be headhunters or cannibals. So he carefully and quietly got close enough to the campsite to hear what the voices were saying.
“Deal the cards and pass the bottle,” he heard a voice say. “Oh, thank God!” he gasped, “I’m among Christians!”
Even though that’s a joke, there is a great deal of truth in it! What is the key to being a true Christian? The indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul says in our sermon text, “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. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
During his lifetime, Martin Luther preached many sermons on the work and importance of the Holy Spirit, but today, many preachers tiptoe around the Holy Spirit, almost as if He doesn’t exist.
One of the oldest Christian churches in America, is located in Maine, and it dates back to the 1700’s. In it, there is a stained-glass window in honor of the preacher who founded the church. Under the window, there is a description of the founding preacher which describes him as “full of the Holy Ghost.” Can you imagine anyone today at a public event introducing their pastor with the words, “He’s full of the Holy Spirit”? Yet, that’s what he should be, — if he IS a Christian.
The Bible uses 19 different terms in referring to the Holy Spirit, — 20, if you count “Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost.” Perhaps you’re familiar with most of these, but let’s review a few of them. The Spirit is called “Author of Scripture” in 2 Peter 1:21 and 2 Timothy 3:16. He is called “Convicter of Sin” in John 16:7-11. Also “Spirit of Truth” and “Spirit of Life.”
Especially important to today’s text and theme, the Holy Spirit is called “Indweller of Believers” in Romans 8:9-11, Ephesians 2:21-22, and 1 Corinthians 6:19. And He is called “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of the Lord,” and “Spirit of Christ” in Matthew 3:16, 2 Corinthians 3:17, and 1 Peter 1:11. That’s why we can say when we are saved by grace through faith, “The Holy Spirit dwells within us,” or “The Spirit of Christ dwells within us.” And if He does, it should make a difference.
Paul says in our sermon text, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if, in fact, the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” You can’t get any clearer than that, can you? “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,” – “You” there means the true, reborn Christian.
So the difference we should see in a Christian is the difference between “living in the flesh” and the Holy Spirit living within us.
What does “living in the flesh” mean? To capsulate its meaning, I think you could say it means living life without a muffler, that is, without a restraining mechanism, on our natural tendency to indulge in the 7 Deadly Sins. That natural tendency to sin in human beings explains why there is so much violence, rebellion, hostility, political, social and sexual anarchy, and nihilism in the world. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit as our Guide and our Teacher.
That’s why the early Church Fathers came up with a list, which they called “The Seven Deadly Sins.” While the Bible does not specifically say ‘there are Seven Deadly Sins, here they are,’ and lists them, all seven are discussed in various parts of the Bible. Revised in 590 A.D., the Seven are Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, and Lust. That pretty much covers the spectrum for “living in the flesh.”
Paul doesn’t restrict the meaning of “living in the flesh” to merely the last Deadly Sin, “lust,” but it includes the other six, too. Lust, however, is one of the most blatant ones in the world today, with over 97 billion dollars spent on worldwide internet pornography alone. Twelve billion of that is spent on porn in the United States, and the largest age group watching it is twelve to seventeen year olds. Add to Lust, Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Greed, and Gluttony, and we could talk about the rampant epidemic of “living in the flesh” the rest of today and tomorrow.
“Not guilty! Let him go free!” If you were on death row, and you heard those words, how would you feel? Joyful! Ecstatically joyful! Right? Well, let me tell you, the WHOLE HUMAN RACE is on death row, justly condemned for repeatedly breaking God’s holy law by indulging in the Seven Deadlies! Without Jesus, we would have no hope at all, but thanks be to God, He has declared us NOT GUILTY and has offered us freedom from sin and power to do His will.
The Holy Spirit was present at the creation of the world, says Genesis 1:2, and He is the power behind the rebirth of every Christian. He gives us the power we need to live the Christian life. In addition to those other things we have already mentioned, according to Romans 8:26, He is the Intercessor. According to the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel of John, He is our Comforter, Counselor, and Advocate, — and the very Spirit of Life, says our sermon text for today.
As our sermon text says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of Life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Look at you! You are different! Amen.