The difference between religion and relationship, when we’re talking about God, is what we’re following. If we’re following the rules, that’s religion, but if we’re following Jesus, that’s relationship. Following Jesus is about learning to rest in the grace of God’s love and respond to the life flowing from his Spirit. Join us for a faith-changing series about what it really means to follow Jesus from what many have called the most important chapter in the entire Bible – Romans 8.

RAISE THE SAILS

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

JANUARY

2/3

Romans 8:1-4

We kick off the new year with a series on Romans 8. It has been called the most important chapter of the entire Bible by some because it is almost a summary of the heart of the Christian faith and instructs on how to take hold of everything that following Jesus has to offer. It begins with words that are a fresh wind to a weary soul.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Craig: Hey, welcome to Mission Hills, and Happy New Year.

Church: Happy New Year.

Craig: It is the first weekend of the new year. I’m really curious, several years ago somebody put me on to this idea that really, it’s a good practice at the beginning of the year, not so much to set resolutions, those are fine, but it’s a really good practice to find a word for the year. I’m curious how many of you have kind of identified a word for your life for this year? If that’s new to any of you, the idea here is that you pick a word that helps you be intentional about how you’re gonna live your life in this new year. And that can be some really powerful ways that God uses that.

I’ve had several different words over the last year, but I’m gonna share with you my word for 2021. My word for 2021 in case anybody is looking for a word still is momentum. Momentum is my word. And if you’re not sure what momentum is, momentum is mass in motion. It’s not just motion, it’s something that’s got some weight to it that’s in motion. Here’s the great thing about mass that’s in motion, it’s kind of hard to stop, right? It tends to just kind of roll over things.

And I think it’s probably why John Maxwell, who’s a great leadership teacher, says that 80% of our problems in life are actually solved by momentum. And what he means is that when you got momentum in your life, whether that’s in your financial life, or in your work life, in your relationship life, in your spiritual life, when you have momentum in your life, you tend to kind of encounter the same difficulties as everybody else does, but you tend to blow past them. They don’t really even slow you down. On the other hand, if you don’t have momentum in your life, you encounter those difficulties and they don’t just slow you down, they tend to stop you in your tracks.

And the reality is we’ve probably all had times in our lives where we had momentum, it just kind of felt like everything was clicking, and we would encounter difficulties, but honestly, we just kind of keep moving and they didn’t really do much. And we’ve also had those times in our lives where we felt like we couldn’t get momentum up and it felt like everything that happened just kind of got us stuck where we were. Anybody ever felt that one? In 2020, maybe?

Let’s be honest, 2020 was a momentum murderer, right? It killed momentum in so many different ways in our lives and I saw that over and over again. And so that’s why my word for this year is momentum. Because here’s the good news, if momentum sounds like an interesting thing, if you’re kind of attracted to that idea, I’ve got good news for you, and I’ve got better news. How about that at the beginning of 2021? I don’t have good news and bad news. I got good news and better news, right?

Here’s the good news. The good news is that God has created…God has provided all the momentum that we need to be on mission with him in every area of our lives this year. He’s created all the momentum that we need to be on mission with him in every area of our lives this year. That’s the good news.

The better news is that if God has created the momentum, if God has provided the momentum, the better news is, we don’t have to work hard to create it, we just have to worry about how to catch it. We don’t have to work hard to create momentum, we just have to learn to catch it.

And so what we’re gonna do in this series we’re starting today called Fresh Wind is we’re gonna take a look at what some people have called the most important chapter of the Bible. Because I believe that in this chapter, we’re given some instruction from God on what it looks like to catch this momentum that God has provided, and he longs for us to have in every area of our lives. Because I believe that God is stirring a fresh wind in your life right now. And what we’re gonna do in this series is get some instruction from God on how to kind of put up the sails and catch this fresh wind.

So if you wanna grab a Bible. This chapter I’m talking about that people have called the most important chapter of the Bible is actually Romans chapter 8. And in some ways, Romans chapter 8, as you’re making your way there, Romans chapter 8 is the most important chapter of the Bible not because it says everything we need to know. I mean, the whole Bible is important, but the whole Bible in some ways is kind of like all that ice underneath an iceberg that pushes up that one piece that we can see. Romans 8 is kind of like the tip of the iceberg.

All the rest of the Bible is important, but what Romans 8 has to say is so important because really it’s probably the clearest picture we have in the Bible of the difference between having a relationship with God and having a religion. Religion, and religion is kind of a drag, right? But a relationship with God, that’s supposed to be life-giving, it’s supposed to be a fresh wind that allows us to leap forward into everything that God has for us.

And Romans 8, more than any other part of the Bible really lays out the difference between having a relationship with God and having a religion. And Romans 8 begins with this incredible momentum-creating statement if we fully understand it.

Here’s what Paul says, Romans chapter 8, verse 1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And I had a seminary professor tell me once, I think it was like the first day of seminary, he said, “Hey, a little interpretive hint, when you’re reading the Bible, when you come across the word, therefore, you should always ask what is the therefore there for?” And actually, that’s a really good advice. I’m not sure that I’m… This is what I say, I’m gonna pay a lot of money for common sense ideas like that?

But the reality is that’s a really important idea for understanding everything that God has to say to us.

Whenever you come across the word, therefore, you’re gonna ask what is it there for? And what you need to understand here is that what Paul is saying is what I’m about to tell you depends on what I’ve already told you, okay? What I’ve said up to this point sets the stage for this incredibly important statement that I’m making about the fact that there’s no condemnation in Christ. Okay, so what has Paul said that allows him to say that? Basically, up to this point in the Book of Romans, he’s unpacked three major ideas, three incredibly important, big ideas.

Number one is that we have all sinned, okay, probably not a shock to anybody. Anybody like, whoa, whoa, whoa, you don’t mean me, do you? I mean, how many of us have sinned? I won’t even ask like, if you’ve done it today yet okay? We’ll leave that aside. But the reality is we’ve all sinned. We’ve all done wrong things. We’ve all done things that we knew weren’t right.

Here’s how Paul says it in Romans chapter 3:23, he says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And the reason he talks about falling short of the glory of God is because God himself is the standard, God’s nature, and his character. What God is like is actually what we’re supposed to be shooting for. That’s the bar we’re trying to get over because we’re supposed to be like him.

And so God is…He’s faithful. He always keeps his promises. And every time that we break a promise, even a little bit, we fall short. We sin. God is kind. And so every time that we use cruel words, whether we’re posting on Facebook or saying on somebody’s face, we fall short of God’s kindness. We sin. God is…he’s loving. He’s other-centered. He gives of himself to others. And so every time we act with selfish intent trying to get for ourselves even when it’s costly to others, we fall short of who God is, and that’s sin. And so he says we’ve all done it, okay? That’s the big idea number one.

The big idea number two he says is that sin has a consequence. Sin leads to death. There’s a result that happens because of our sin because we fall short. And the reality is that the consequence of sin is something pretty steep. Here’s how Paul says it and it’s Romans chapter 6, verse 23. He says, “For the wages of sin is…” What’s that word, church?

Church: Death.

Craig: It’s death, “For the wages of sin is death.” And notice he says wages, that’s really important. He doesn’t say the penalty. He doesn’t say the punishment. He doesn’t say God’s retribution. He says, no, “The wages of sin.”

And wages is just what we earn naturally. If I do a job and I earn a wage, I’m getting what is due me for what I have done. And he says sin is kind of that way. When we sin, there’s a very natural consequence that comes, not because God is punishing us, but because it’s just what comes naturally. It’s what we’re due for what we’ve done. Because here’s the problem, see, the reason we fall short isn’t because we’ve tried and been unable to make it over the bar. The reason that we fall short is because we’re not actually even interested in getting over that bar.

The reason we fall short is because we’re not aiming for that target. We’re going in a different direction. We’re doing our own thing. The reason that we break promises is not because we tried really hard and we just couldn’t keep it. The reason we break our promises is more often because we decided that keeping that promise will be inconvenient for us because there’s something else we’d really rather do. There’s something else that we want more than we want to be faithful.

The reason that we speak with cruel words is not because we tried to speak kind words and cruel words came out. I don’t know what happened. No, it’s because we wanted to be cruel. We wanted to inflict damage. We had a sinful purpose in those words. The reason that we’re not loving, the reason that we’re self-centered isn’t because we tried to be other-centered and giving but we just couldn’t quite pull it off. The reason is because we don’t want to be other-centered because if we’re afraid if we are focused on others, then we won’t get for ourselves everything that we wanna grab, right?

So what’s really happening when we sin is, is not just that we’re falling short, it’s because we’re falling short because we’re turning away from God. We’re literally rebelling against God. We’re walking away from God. And the problem is when we walk away from God, we disconnect from God and God is the only source of life. So when we sin, we disconnect from God, death is the inevitable result.

It’s like when you unplug your phone in the morning, what happens? It begins to die, right? We don’t always think about it like that but that’s really what’s happening. The moment you unplug your phone from a power source, it is beginning to slow fade into death. Same thing happens for us. When we sin, we begin to slow fade into death. And that means physical death, but it also means spiritual death, separated from God for all of eternity, with no hope, and no peace, and no joy, no meaning, no significance. The Bible calls that existence hell, and it is awful. But it’s the inevitable wage of our sin, of disconnecting from God.

Now, that’s all bad news. The good news, the third big idea that Paul has unpacked in the Book of Romans at this point is this, is that Jesus paid our wages with his death. The wage of sin is death but Jesus kind of found a loophole. Jesus said, yeah, the wage of sin is death, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be your death, it just has to be death. And so Jesus paid our wages with his death.

Romans chapter 5, verse 18, here’s how Paul says it, he says, “Just as one trespass, one sin, one act of rebellion resulted in condemnation for all people,” the condemnation is the wage of sin which is death, “so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” And he’s talking there about the decision that Jesus made to come and to live a perfect life, but then to become an offering to pay with his life the wages of our sin. When Jesus went to the cross, he did it willingly, to pay off the debt of our sin, to pay the wage of our sin for us.

And it says…I love the word he says, “And so he resulted in justification.” I like that word because even though we don’t use the word justification very often, think about it this way, this is how God justified forgiving us. Because God couldn’t just go, I know you’ve all rebelled, I know you’ve all done wrong things, I know you’ve sinned, I know you’ve been unkind to each other, I know you’ve hurt each other, there’s a lot of suffering because of all that, but you know what, I’m just gonna act like it never happened. I mean, that wouldn’t be justice, would it?

I mean imagine that somebody has harmed you or your family in some incredibly deep way and it gets before the judge, he’s caught for his crime and he’s brought before the judge and the judge goes, you know what, let’s just pretend it never happened. How would you react to that? That’s wrong. You can’t do that. That’s not right. It’s not just. Well, God is a just judge. And so God can’t just go, I’ll just pretend it never happened. He has to be able to justify forgiving us and the only way to do that is that the price of sin is paid. But he did that with his own Son. That’s the essence of this thing we call the Gospel, the good news, that Jesus paid our wages with his death.

And that when we put our trust in him, God can justify forgiving us for everything we’ve ever done. And that’s ultimately why it is that Paul is able to say this incredible thing in Romans 8:1 when he says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And I wonder, I wonder how often we hear something like that and we just kind of move past it pretty quickly without really stopping to consider what God is actually saying to us right there.

Let me say it again slower, hear this, because of what God has done, therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He doesn’t say there’s less condemnation or not quite as much. He says, “There is no condemnation.” God has no condemnation for any wrong that you’ve ever done if you’re in Christ.

So I’m gonna ask you to do something that seems a little strange here at the beginning of the new year, maybe kind of uncomfortable to do in church, but I want you to think of the worst thing you’ve ever done. Maybe it’s something you said to somebody. Maybe it’s something that you didn’t say when you desperately needed to. Maybe it’s something you did. Maybe it’s something you didn’t do. Chances are, it’s not so much that you can’t think of anything wrong you’ve ever done, but you can’t pick out the one that’s the worst, right? Maybe that’s probably the hardest thing.

And you might wonder why am I making you think about this? And the reality is that those things aren’t hard for us to think about because we continue to condemn ourselves for them. I know I do at least. There are so many things that I can look back at my life and go I can’t believe that I said that. I can’t believe that I did that, or I didn’t step in and do this. And the thing is like I continue to condemn myself and I think most of us tend to do that. We have these things in our past that we condemn ourselves for and yet God says, hear it again, “Therefore there is now no condemnation.”

From God’s point of view, it’s forgiven. From God’s point of view, it’s gone. From God’s point of view, it’s paid off. From God’s point of view, it no longer exists. You are forgiven. You are completely free from that. Do you understand how good that news is? Therefore, there is now no condemnation. God has no condemnation. All God has for you is love. God is not condemning you. God is for you. God longs for you to begin to experience a life that is free from that condemnation because as far as he’s concerned it doesn’t exist.

But it’s interesting, even though God says it doesn’t exist, we continue to heap it on ourselves, don’t we? How many of us condemn ourselves for the things that God says that there is no condemnation for? So let me ask you an interesting question. Ask yourself this, where in my life am I calling God a liar? Where in your life are you calling God a liar? Where in your life are you continuing to carry condemnation? Maybe it’s a condemnation that you’ve heaped on you, maybe it’s a condemnation that other people have heaped on you, but you’re carrying it around. Where in your life are you carrying condemnation?

And understand that God says, no, no, no, you’re wrong, there’s no condemnation there. And you’re like, no, you’re wrong because I feel it, I’ve got it, I’m carrying it, it’s here. You understand when we carry condemnation as followers of Jesus, we are calling God a liar. So where in your life are you calling God a liar? Where in your life are you carrying condemnation when he says it’s gone?

And I say this because one of the first keys to really beginning to experience momentum in our lives and our spiritual lives, especially, but also in every area of our life because it bleeds over and it colors every part of our lives, one of the first keys to experiencing momentum is to cut the anchor of the things that are weighing us down. And condemnation is one of the heaviest anchors you’ll ever carry. But you don’t have to carry it because God says, “Therefore there is now…” What’s the word church? “There is now no condemnation.” You are free. You are forgiven if you are in Christ.

And if you’re here today and you’re not in Christ, if you’re like, I don’t even know what that means. What that means is that you’ve made a decision to say yes to trusting in Jesus and nothing else. You’re choosing to follow Jesus and in that relationship with Jesus, all of the wrong that you’ve ever done is gone. And if you’re here today and you don’t have that relationship, ask yourself, why not? If it’s possible that there would be no condemnation for me, why would I not say yes to that? I’ll come back to that in a moment.

He says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit gives life…who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” He says there’s no condemnation because the law of the Spirit who gives life is at work, and you’re free from the law of sin and death. And you’re like, okay, what’s this law business? What is he talking about? Well, what he’s talking about are the Commandments of God that we find in what we call the Old Testament.

The law he’s talking about are these sort of rules and regulations for life that God gave to the Israelites, his people, a couple of thousand years before this was written. There’s hundreds of those rules for how they’re supposed to live their lives and to be God’s people. If you’re not familiar with all of them, you’re probably familiar at least with the top ten. We call them the Ten Commandments. But they really are kind of the top ten. They’re sort of the big ten out of all of the other ones. You know, the Ten Commandments include things like don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, don’t covet, don’t long for what other people have. We’re aware of those. Well, that’s the law he’s talking about.

You might go, oh, no, no, no, hang on a second, he’s talking about two different laws. He’s talking about the law of the Spirit and the law of sin and death. What does that have to do with God’s commandments? Well, he’s actually not talking about two different laws, he’s talking about the same law, but it’s the same law in two different hands. And what he’s really saying is that this law of God, the commands of God, accomplish two radically different things depending on whose hands they’re in.

Think about it like this. It’s like a surgeon versus a psycho. You give a surgeon a sharp blade, what does he use it for? He uses it to bring healing, to bring health, right? You give a psycho a sharp blade, what does he use? He uses it to bring harm. He uses it to bring death. It’s the same tool, but it’s in two very different hands and it’s two very different results.

And what he’s really saying here is God’s law, God’s commandments in the hands of sin, do one thing, but in the hands of the Spirit, they do another. And so what he really says is this, in the hands of the Spirit, God’s law brings life. In the hands of the Spirit, God’s law brings life to us. But in the hands of sin, God’s law brings death. How does that work? Well, let’s talk about sin first.

How is it that God’s law in the hands of sin brings death? Well, the first and maybe most important way is this, is that when we’re controlled by sin, the rules actually inspire rebellion. God’s rules actually just give us an outlet for our rebellious attitude. Paul, in chapter 7 of Romans, 7 unpack that idea. If you wanna just flip back a page.

Romans 7, verse 7 says this, “What shall we say then, is the law sinful? Certainly not. But nevertheless,” he says, “I would not have known what sin was if it hadn’t been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.”

And really what he’s saying there is, there’s this rebelliousness in me, this sin, it’s not just something I’ve done, it’s a power that I’m under the control of. Sin is causing me to look for opportunities to rebel against God. And sin actually uses God’s commandments as an opportunity to find the outlet for that rebellious nature.

It’s with the commandments of God that sin is like that’s how we’re gonna do it. There’s this built-in impulse to rebel, to run from God, and sin goes, and here’s how we’re gonna pull it off, we’re gonna do that, and we’re gonna do that, we’re gonna do… I wouldn’t have even thought to do that if he hadn’t said don’t do that. But now that he said, don’t do that, that’s what I’m gonna do, right.

I was skiing in Breckenridge a couple of weeks ago and there was a sign on a bunch of the slopes that I’d never seen before, a big yellow sign that said, “Do not jump.” And the crazy thing was I had not even thought about jumping until I saw the sign. I saw the sign I had two thoughts. I was like number one, I really wanna jump and number two, that seems like a good place to do it, right? Obviously, they put the sign up because that’s a place you could do it, right?

That’s kind of what he’s talking about, that when we’re under the control of sin, sin takes God’s rules and goes, that’s how we’re going to fulfill this dark need to rebel against our Creator. And then once we do it the other way that sin brings death is that sin heaps condemnation on us. Sin goes, oh, you did it. You know God doesn’t want you anymore, right? You know God hates you now. You know God despises you. You know God is disgusted by you. You know you’re not worthy of love now, right? You know that, right? And so it heaps condemnation on us and that brings death and despair.

But he says, “In the hands of the Spirit, the law gives life.” How does that work? Well, I think it happens in a couple of ways. When the Spirit is in us because we’ve trusted in Jesus, the Holy Spirit takes God’s law and does two things. Number one, God’s law protects us from pain. God’s law tells us where not to go because there’s pain there. The reality is, most of those signs were there because yes, you could jump there but it would be a really bad place to do it because the landing zone wasn’t good. And if I had jumped there, I would have hurt myself really badly, not just because I can’t jump, but because that’s a bad place to do it.

And then God’s law actually protects us from pain. It tells us where not to go. It’s actually keeping horrible things out of our lives. Right before Christmas Eve, my daughter sent me a text that she had gotten from a guy at a church. And he said, “Hey, just kind of an interesting news. This is like the last 2020 gift for us. We rented two sheep for our Christmas Eve nativity service and we put them both in a pen. Well, one of them got out last night, and something ate it so now we have one sheep.”

See, that’s the thing, like, sometimes we see the rules, like I wanna get out of that because they’re pinning me up, right? But the problem is that we get out and we find ourselves at the mercy of incredibly dangerous things. God’s rules are intended actually, to protect us from pain, and in the hands of the Holy Spirit, that’s what they become, they become a protection from pain.

And then second, and this is even more powerful, in the hands of the Spirit, God’s law defines the pasture. God’s law actually shows us where the good things are, it shows us where the green grass is, and where the running water is, and it shows us where the rancher is gonna come and bring even better things and lead us into even greater good. It’s interesting, you know, you can look at the rules, you can look at the regulations, you can look at the laws and you can go, well, that’s a pen keeping me in, or you can go, oh, that’s a pasture telling me where the good stuff is.

Sin causes us to think of the rules as the pen. But the Spirit causes us to look at the rules as defining the pasture. And so here’s an interesting question to ask yourself here at the beginning of 2021. When I think about God’s commands, when I think about God’s commands, do I see them as a pen or a pasture? Do you see God’s commands as a pen or as defining the pasture? In the hands of the Spirit, it’s clear, they define the good place, the place where life happens, and where life is peaceful and is joyful, and it leads only to better things. That’s what the law was intended to do.

But then Romans 8:3 says this, “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh…” It says, what the law was powerless to do, well what was it powerless to do? It was powerless to make us good. It was powerless to keep us where there was good things. It was powerless to actually make us like God, and to give us the life that we were always intended to have. “What the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh…” And what he means by flesh there is not just being physical. He’s not saying that being physical is bad, but flesh in the ancient world was often a stand-in for that sinful nature we’ve been talking about for the power of sin that gets control of us.

And the reason that flesh was a stand-in for that is because when we sinned, we disconnected from God and so all that remains is really the physical. We don’t have access to the spiritual realm and the power that flows from God because of our sin and so the flesh is always there. And so that kind of became a stand-in for the sinful nature, but he’s really talking about sin. He says, “What the law was powerless to do to make us good, to give us good lives because it was weakened by sin, which turned it into something that actually made it even worse, God did, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.”

What the law was powerless to do God did by sending his own Son and it says, “In the likeness of sinful flesh.” And you’re like, well, what does that mean? Why likeness? I mean wasn’t he actually flesh and blood? Yeah, but he wasn’t our kind of flesh and blood. In other words, he wasn’t flesh and blood under the power of sin. Jesus actually lived a perfect life. He didn’t commit any sin. And so yes, he was in the flesh and he looked kind of like us but there was that one fundamental difference, that he wasn’t sinful.

And so in the likeness of sinful flesh, but actually sinless, he became a sin offering. He willingly went to the cross to pay with his life, the wages of our sin. What the law was powerless to do, God did by sending his own Son for us, that’s the essence of the Gospel, right? “And so he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us.” The law tells us what it looks like to be righteous, to live righteous lives. That’s the righteous requirement of the law. But he says, “And so the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us,” check off all the boxes of righteousness.

But notice, he doesn’t say by us, does he? In order that the righteous requirements of the law might be met by us. What does he say? That they might be met in us. And that might be the most important two-letter word in the entire Bible. Like you might wanna underline that word “in.” It’s so important. He doesn’t say that the righteous requirements of the law, the boxes you gotta check for righteousness, might be met by us, he says that they might be met in us. In other words, it’s not what we do, it is what is done for us. That when we put our faith in Jesus, the righteous requirements of the law are met in us. It’s as though we were righteous because of what God has done rather than what we have done.

And that’s so important because it’s a tectonic shift in the way we think about relating to God. It’s a tectonic shift in the way that we think about spirituality. It’s a tectonic shift in the way that we think about religion. Because every other religion on the planet, literally every other religion that has ever existed, or exists now or probably will ever exist, they’re all about righteousness by us. They’re all about working hard to be righteous. They’re all about checking off the boxes and fighting to be righteous no matter how hard it is. You gotta work at it and get there and maybe if you get there, then maybe, maybe God will love you.

I love this quote from Mahatma Gandhi, raised as a Hindu, but really describing I think every other religion. Can we pop that up here? He said, “Fight if you must on the path of righteousness and God will be with you.” He says, “Fight.” See the word? He says fight. You gotta fight for it, you gotta work hard at it, you gotta put your back into it, you gotta row hard against the current of the world, but if you fight hard enough and long enough, if you put enough effort in, then God will be with you. But he’s wrong. He’s wrong and that’s what every other religion says.

But Christianity says something fundamentally different. It says, “So he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us.” Paul is saying, you don’t have to fight for righteousness, you don’t have to fight for God’s presence with you because God has already done it. He’s already done everything. What Paul is saying is this, and please, please hear this, it’s so important, he’s saying the fight for righteousness has already been won. The fight for righteousness has already been won. We just have to take hold of the victory. We don’t have to fight for it because the war is already over. We just have to somehow take hold of this victory.

Do you understand how fundamentally different that is? Every other religion says fight. Christianity says why? The war is over. The righteous requirements of the law have already been met in you by faith just by trusting in Jesus. It’s all done for you. And now instead of fighting to become righteous, you can somehow spend your energy just figuring out how do I take hold of that victory? How do I capture the momentum God has already provided?

He says this, here’s how you do it, “The righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” That’s the key. We take hold of the victory that God has done for us by living according to the Spirit. He’s talking about the Holy Spirit here. He’s saying that when we trust in Jesus two important things happen. Number one, our sins are forgiven. That’s incredible. We’re completely forgiven. There is now…what’s that word? No condemnation, it’s all gone. The righteous requirements of the law have been met.

But the second thing that happens is that the Holy Spirit comes into us. And the Holy Spirit begins to create in us a new way of living, a new way of being in a relationship with God, a new way of pursuing everything that God intended for us. Not by rowing harder, not by working for it, not by fighting for it, but by doing something very different. The first of the people, the first of the followers of Jesus to receive this Holy Spirit that Paul is talking about had a very interesting experience. If you wanna look with me, it’s John chapter 20. After Jesus rose from the dead proved that he had defeated death, he went to his followers and he did kind of a strange thing.

John chapter 20, verse 22, says this, “And with that, he breathed on them and he said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,'” which is a weird thing to do, right? And it’s way not COVID-friendly, right? Like, he went to his followers. He’s like, Peter, [vocalization]. Peter was like, okay, well, that’s weird, what are you doing? And with each, [vocalization], “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And the thing is that really what he’s doing there is there’s kind of a little playfulness going on because the Greek word for spirit is actually the Greek word for breath or wind. It’s the same word. Some of you may know that.

And what Jesus was doing he wasn’t literally blowing the Holy Spirit on them. He was very playfully illustrating an incredibly powerful principle. He was playfully illustrating how it is that the Holy Spirit would lead them. He said the Holy Spirit’s gonna lead you like a fresh wind. In other words, it’s not about how hard you work, it’s not about how hard you row, it’s about catching this wind from the Holy Spirit. That’s how you’re gonna live.

Imagine with me for a moment that we were all born as slaves, we’re owned by a cruel master and we spent our entire lives in the galley of a barge, basically of a big, clumsy, nasty ship. And the moment that we’re old enough, we’re sat on a bench and an oar is put in our hands and we’re told to row hard. And that’s our lives, we’re just rowing and getting wherever our master tells us to go. And there’s really no hope of a better life. It’s backbreaking, cruel, but it’s life.

And then one day there’s some kind of a stir on the deck and the door opens, and down the stairs comes our master’s archenemy, his worst enemy, his most hated foe. And our master looks at him and goes, “What are you doing here?” And he looks at us, he looks at you and he says, “I’m here for them. I wanna set them free.” The master laughs, “Why would I do that? They’re mine. I own them. Their lives are mine. What could you possibly give me that would lead me to let them go?” And the man says, “I’ll give you me. I’ll give you my life for theirs.” And so our master slides a sword through him and he falls to the ground dead. And he looks back at us and he goes, “A deal is a deal, his life for yours. You’re free. And he leaves.

And then after a time, the would-be rescuer stirs and he gets to his hands and his feet and then he rises, and he says, “Okay, it’s done. You’re free. And I’ve got a much better place I wanna take you.” He says, “I’ve got an island waiting and it’s the best. It’s full of joy, and peace, and meaning, and significance. It’s the best. Will you go with me?” And we go, “Of course, we’ll go with you.” And we grab a hold of the oars and he goes, “What are you doing?” And we go, “That’s how we get there, right?” And he goes, “No.” And calls us up on deck and he lashes a rope, and he pulls out a sail we didn’t even know was there.

And as he begins to pull it out on the length of the boom, it begins to ripple in the wind. And the further out it gets, the more it begins to billow out. And finally, it gets locked in place and suddenly the sails just…they billow out, and the ship leaps forward and it begins to cut through the rough oceans. And it’s taking us somewhere we long to go but we never thought we could possibly be strong enough to get ourselves to. He goes, “This is how we get where we’re going.” That’s what Paul’s talking about here.

It’s really what Romans 8 is about. See, it’s about following Jesus. And the reality is that following Jesus isn’t about rowing harder, it’s about raising sails to catch the fresh wind of God’s Spirit. Do you hear me, church? This is what makes Christianity so fundamentally different than every other religion. It’s not about rowing harder, it’s about raising sails to catch the fresh wind of God’s Spirit. And that’s what Romans 8 is about. And over the next few weeks, we’re gonna talk practically from God’s Word about what that means, what it looks like to raise those sails.

But before we do that, I just wanna ask you a very important question. Am I rowing hard or raising sails? What are you doing? How are you living? And you might say, “Well, I’m trying to please God. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. That’s why I came to church because I wanna do things that God wants me to do. And I’m trying to live a better life, and I’m failing over and over again but I’m at least trying, right? I’m rowing hard. I didn’t know there was another option.” And you need to hear the truth. There’s a completely different way.

God wants to meet all the righteous requirements of the law in you. By trusting in Jesus, there is no condemnation. You’re forgiven. Righteousness has been accomplished and you can start working on raising the sails rather than rowing hard. All you have to do is trust in Jesus and I’ll give you the opportunity to do that in just a moment. Some of you here are going, “Like I know. I mean, I’ve said yes to following Jesus, but the reality is I keep defaulting to rowing hard. I keep defaulting to feeling like it’s somehow up to me, and feeling like I’m a failure, and feeling like I’m constantly experiencing condemnation.”

In fact, if you’re not sure, if you’re not sure if you’re rowing hard or raising sails, here are just three other things you could ask yourself that might clarify. One of the questions you might ask yourself is this, how much condemnation am I carrying? How much condemnation am I carrying? Because if the reality is that you’re carrying a weight of condemnation for what you’ve done, you’re not raising sails, you’re rowing hard.

You might ask yourself this, how much condemnation am I heaping? How much do I look at other people who aren’t doing as good at following the rules as I am and how much condemnation do I have for them? Whether I tell them about it or not, even if it’s just what I feel, how much condemnation am I heaping? That is a red flag for an attitude of rowing hard rather than raising sails.

And sometimes we struggle with that because we’re like, well, but if I don’t condemn sin, am I not condoning it? No. The opposite of condemnation is not condoning. The opposite of condemnation, the opposite of condemnation is a willingness to come alongside somebody and to help them get free, to help them understand that it’s possible to be free, which we can’t do when we’re constantly condemning. It’s not when we refuse to condemn that we’re condoning. It just means that we look at people with love and hope. Someone might ask, am I carrying condemnation for myself? Am I heaping it on others?

And then the third question you might ask to answer this question is just how much fun am I having? Do you know that following Jesus is supposed to be fun? Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it to the max, have it in abundance.” He came and he said that the followers of Jesus would be defined by joy. How much fun are you having? And if the answer is I’m not having much fun at all, that might be a pretty good indicator you’re rowing hard instead of raising the sails to catch the wind of God’s Spirit.

We’ll deal practically in the next few weeks about what it looks like to raise those sails, it’s gonna be powerful. But it starts with understanding this core idea, following Jesus isn’t about rowing harder, it’s about raising sails to catch the fresh wind of God’s Spirit.

Would you pray with me? God, for those of us who are followers of Jesus, and as we think through those questions, we realize that we’re carrying condemnation for ourselves, but we also have it for others. And if we’re really honest, we’re looking at our life and we’re realizing, you know, I’m not having all that much fun following Jesus, there’s not much momentum I’m experiencing that’s kind of cutting through the obstacles. And Lord, many of us recognize in this moment that we’re rowing hard as though it depends on us. And we thank you for this word from your servant Paul that it doesn’t.

You’ve already met all the righteous requirements. There is no condemnation. And there’s a new kind of life waiting for us, a life of catching the fresh wind of your Holy Spirit. Lord, we long for that and we commit this series to you and ask that you teach us how to do that.

Lord, on behalf of all of those who are here today, they’re listening to this message that are hearing for the first time that it’s not about how hard they work. They’re hearing for the first time that it’s possible to have forgiveness not by their efforts, but by your efforts, by what you’ve done. And that all they have to do is put their faith in you, Lord. I pray that you’d stir in their hearts right now a longing for that new way of life.

And if that’s you, if you’re listening to this, and you’ve never experienced the freedom that comes from forgiveness and knowing that there’s no condemnation for any wrong you’ve ever done, if you’ve never experienced that, because you’ve never said yes to putting your trust in what Jesus did for you, I wanna give you the opportunity right here, right now. You can be forgiven, you can be free, you can grab a hold of this truth that there’s no condemnation for you because you are in a relationship with Christ Jesus. Here’s how you do it, you’re just gonna have a conversation with him. Just say this to God right now in your heart.

Say, God, I’ve done wrong. I admit it. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying to pay the wages of my sin. I believe you rose from the dead and therefore you have life to offer me. Lord, I want that life. I want your forgiveness. I want freedom. I wanna know that there’s no condemnation. And I want eternal life with God. So, Jesus, I’m choosing to put my trust in you. I’m just gonna follow you. Put your Holy Spirit in me and teach me to catch the fresh wind of your Spirit. Amen.

I’ve already had several people make that decision this week. And can we just celebrate their decision to put their trust in Jesus today? It’s so awesome. And hey, if you made that decision for the first time today, we wanna celebrate with you and we wanna give you some resources to help you begin to live out this new life with Jesus, and so please let us know you made the decision. If you’re watching online, you can click the button below me that says I committed my life to Jesus. If you don’t see that, you can text the word Jesus to 888111. Just text Jesus to 888111 we’re gonna send you a link. It’s gonna give you access to some resources to help you begin to experience this new life, this fresh wind from God.

Religion is not the same thing as a relationship. Our job isn’t to row hard. Our job is to raise sails. Is that good news, friends? It is for me. I hope it is for you. Please join us for the rest of this series as we unpack what that means. God bless. We’ll see you soon.

WHERE OUR LONGINGS LEAD

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

JANUARY

9/10

Romans 8:5-11

As humans, we are led by our longings. Often those longings can lead us to sin, instead of to a life lead by the Spirit. Thankfully, every follower of Jesus has access to the Holy Spirit by faith. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead has brought you to life, even out of things or places you may think are dead. The more we tune into the Holy Spirit, the more we can experience the life that’s ours by God’s grace.

NO LONGER SLAVES

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

JANUARY

16/17

Romans 8:12-16

As followers of Christ you are no longer a slave to sin. Of course sin remains an option, but it isn’t an obligation. Through the power of the Holy Spirit with your faith in God, you can escape acting out of fear and instead operate within the freedom of God’s affection for you. You are a child of God who not only loves you, but who likes you.