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Imitators and Examples: Discipleship and Martyrdom

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Imitating Jesus means imitating his examples.  

So, imitate those thriving unto perseverance. What evidence of grace exhibits thriving perseverance, and are grounds of assurance that lead to true perseverance?

  1. Conversion: A cataclysmic change of belief and allegiance.
  1. Worship: Seeing the worth of God in proportion to pain, and everything else. 
  1. Discipleship: The humility to identify and imitate the godliness of good examples.
  1. Mission and witness: Authentic word and faith goes forth and goes everywhere. 

We’ll look at the last 2 today.  

Discipleship: We imitate those who have proved examples in godliness 

Conversion (faith) and worship (joy) lead to imitating God as he is displayed in Christ Jesus. This imitation, this pursuit of godliness, is called discipleship.  

But no one can make Jesus their direct object of complete imitation. He is ascended. He said this is because God with us is now the Spirit—God’s work no longer limited in space, but everywhere present—and yet imminent. 

So how do we imitate God, or even Jesus, now? We imitate his best examples as compared to his word. The word we have of him is incomplete, yet representative. You can follow him based on his word, and his disciples. 

1 Thessalonians 1:5-7  You know how we lived among you for your sake.  6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  

What makes up this dynamic here:  

  • “How we lived among you” (imitating Jesus with integrity)
  • “For your sake” (doing it partly for the observers) 
  • You became imitators of us (choosing to respond) 
  • In spite of severe suffering (you came out in the midst of opposition) 
  • So you became a model  

Godliness means being like God in the ways we are meant to be. It is evidence of imitation. We are told we bear God’s image—that is, God created us to imitate and replicate his own image in creation.  

Discipleship: the school of godliness in which we imitate Christ by imitating his examples.  

We must become a disciple (imitator) of Jesus, but none of us can be discipled by Jesus. His ascension led to his sending of the Holy Spirit, to form godliness in all Jesus’ imitators. 

“Disciple” means learner—a relationship of teaching and imitation. Heavy on imitation.  

Jesus’ commission to “make disciples” given to the whole church assumes that we must be disciples, and that we must make disciples. Or in Paul’s language here, to be imitators and to become examples.  

But we can use doctrine to discern the most wholesome examples around us that are imitating Christ. We can imitate them, or at least the things in them most like Christ. 

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (vs 6 ). the two are bound together. By becoming imitators of Christ’s disciples, we become imitators of Christ himself.  

Godliness must always accompany the gospel. It is its attracting fragrance, and its concrete and concentrated form in us. The message of the gospel must produce: 

  • Real piety in the heart 
  • A working faith (conversion and obedience) 
  • A laboring love (mission and martyrdom) 
  • A steadfast hope (worship) 

This is the heart of the activity of a healthy church.  

It may also be the future of the church’s organization. We may organize our faith in the most expensive way ever devised right now. Buildings, staff, marketing, technologies, seminaries, think tanks, merch. 

Discipleship rooted in imitation costs nothing—time, infrastructure, money.

  • Requires no formal institutions 
  • Can be done while doing other things—like tent making or tree removal 
  • Is not a heavy tax on time—since you can include it in much of your life as it already is

This is the result of worldliness: 

  • Performative Christian leadership—the pursuit of celebrity and salary.
  • Seeing the church as a growing market to which to sell lots of things.
  • Consumeristic expectations about what churches should provide that leads to an arms race among churches to provide ever more goods and services for church attenders—who see the church more and more like a business they patronize, rather than a body they are a part of. 

 Martyrdom/faithful witness: We imitate those who speak and show the gospel bravely 

1 Thessalonians 1:7-8   7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. 

The direct and severe persecution and affliction they experienced didn’t seem to silence them.  

1 Thessalonians 1:9  9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 

The message of the gospel “rang out” and the witness of their faith “has become known” everywhere. Others were now telling about it everywhere. News was traveling. 

Martyrdom: Faithful witness no matter what will happen to you. We call it: mission, evangelism, witnessing, profession… 

  • I think the word “mission” can sound too corporate to our ears now. And “evangelism” like a church program. That is not really the feel of it in the Bible.  
  • Martyrdom” is from Greek word that means “witness” or “professor.” It came to mean, those that profess Christ no matter what will happen to them. 

A martyr isn’t a preacher or an apostle, just a faithful witness in word and in deed. Not everyone in Christ is an apostle, but everyone can be a martyr in this sense.  

Imitation: Willingness to speak in spite of opposition and affliction. Not stopped by intimidation.  

In chapter 2, Paul tells them that he had faced a lot of opposition in his last two stops. 

1 Thessalonians 2:2  2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition

It had occurred to him that being a faithful witness and confessor of the gospel was going to lead to more trouble, and to trouble for those who believed it. Yet he preached it anyway.  

In Thessalonica, people acted with jealousy, drama, political outrage, reputation assassination, and violence; among other things. We are told that this is a characteristic of the prophets and Jesus.

A family line—the line of martyrs:

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16  14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,  15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men  16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. 

  • The Prophets 
  • Jesus  
  • The Apostles 
  • The first Churches—in Judea 
  • Now Thessalonica 
  • Then: Faithful believers through the whole history of the church 

Implications: 

  • You are a child of the God the human race mistreats
  • Many of God’s faithful witnesses in every generation are mistreated 
  • They are often mistreated by religious people—even people who claim to be of their own faith. Like the Jews who killed their own prophets, and who killed their own Messiah. For us it will often be people that identify as Christians or generally religious/spiritual. 
  • This displeases God.
  • They are hostile to all humanity, because they are trying to deny them access to the message of salvation. They think they are protecting people, but they are harming them, dramatically and damnably (damnably: “heaping up sins to the limit” and “the wrath comes at last”).   

This is part of the Christian identity—the family line of the faithful. We determine and prepare to be faithful witnesses, and he determines how much opposition we will face. 

God also promises to give grace in the work of being a confessor. It is the position of greatest reward—if you are called to suffer greatly.

  • Martyrs in heaven (Revelation 6:9).
  • Hebrews 11:35—did not avoid suffering in order to “gain a better resurrection.”  

Imitating Jesus means imitating his examples in discipleship and martyrdom.  

Think about the spiritual family line from the prophets to us.  

In Hebrews 11, that line starts with Abel, the first martyr and true confessor, up to the present moment. Jesus is the first and the older brother of all of us who will be disciples and confessors. And we are called to believe and follow in that line—imitating his examples, and becoming examples ourselves.  

Now this is the question: How do you feel about that?  

Does it seem completely unreasonable? Or does it sound like an incredible privilege?   

This is an evidence of grace, and a means of assurance. If you have come to see it as a privilege, then you have embraced the cross—and much of its real meaning.  

Being like Jesus and those who are truly his is more valuable to you than mammon, and leisure, and promotions, and vacations, and a good name. 

It is evidence that God is working in you by his Spirit. That you can be assured that he is operating in your life, and that he is drawing you on to thriving perseverance.  

For some, you can feel yourself on the brink of this thing. It feels a little like jumping out of an airplane. It seems like an exhilarating freedom, but at the cost of all safety and security—in your person and in your inner self. 

But you feel that you could chose to believe. You do see the value in Jesus, and you see something of the dead end of this world. That is called “conviction”—to know a scary thing is true and that you should believe it. 

Some of you are even experiencing “deep conviction”—to where it almost feels like pain.  

All I can say is that it’s a good day to jump.  

Today is the day. If at any moment you have the grace to believe—do it. To deny the Spirit’s conviction is not just to lose the Spirit—it leads to losing yourself. 

But to say yes: To be converted. To become his disciple. To come into the line of faithful witnesses in the earth. The gain is incalculable.  

At the moment of conviction you know the costs—you feel them. But you don’t know the gain—you don’t have the experience yet, nor the imagination to see it. You only have the good promise of the truthful God of all power and perfect providence.  

Make your choice. Open your heart to the truth of God until it is irresistible. And then embrace it with all you heart, soul, mind and strength.  

Imitators and Examples

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Our brain is wired for an imitating mind. The part of our brain that controls our arms is part of what activates when we see another person using their arm, especially if their movement is unfamiliar to us. Imitation is the means by which technicians are trying to make machines able to learn.

Imitation isn’t popular to do, though it is prestigious to have done of you.

Since imitation is substantially the opposite of innovation—where being different, individual and unique is valued—imitation is seen as a form of weakness. To imitate is to not have a sense of self, to lack creativity, or to go along with a mindless crowd.

But this misunderstands imitation and borders on delusional arrogance. It is simply a fact that we are all imitators. We do it so naturally that we don’t even know we are doing it. So naturally that we can actually think we are mostly innovators, when we are 99.9% imitators. Even in our innovations, we have built them mostly within the framework of other things we have imitated.

Not only that, but most people that excel at specific skills have intentionally imitated people or can tell you who formed them extensively—people they imitated. By imitating people in lower order actions, we can focus our innovating energy in the specific areas we really feel need change.

Last, what do we expect others to do if we invent a truly positive innovation? We expect them to imitate it. Don’t we? That is why we’re having a fight with China over intellectual property rights. We have laws making it illegal to do the most natural thing in the human mind—imitation. You don’t have to incentivize people to imitate others. But you do have to create incentives for people to innovate.

The right human response to something good—a true improvement—is imitation.

Knowing this, God has been leading us to imitate him in all his leading of us.

To bear his image is to imitate his character and type of action. The law is a display of God’s character so the Israelites could imitate it. We are, as Romans 8 says, “conformed to the image of his Son.” We are formed into his image—we are his imitators.

In John 15, Jesus says that to see him is to see the Father. In what way? In his glory? No. In his will, purpose and character—everything a human being can imitate.

Jesus had hundreds of disciples that listened to him, and imitated him in life and teaching. But that didn’t end with Jesus, it passes on through the spiritual generations of the Church. The truth and ways of Christ are passed on personally by a coordinated combination of word and example. Like a rabbi to his disciples, or a master to an apprentice, teaching and example flow in and out of each other in a woven whole. Teaching helps us understand the meaning of the example, and the example authenticates and embodies the teaching.

This is why Jesus made it the explicit mission of his people to make disciples: intentional learners by hearing and imitating a master disciple. Every Christian disciple is an apprentice of Jesus through others of his apprentices.

The whole passage is structured around imitation and examples: This makes sense.

  • Paul was only there a short time.
  • There was no Bible to read.
  • All they had was the Old Testament, Paul’s preaching so far, and everything they had observed while watching Paul and Silas as examples.

You can see this in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10:

  • The word came with power.
  • Paul, Silas and Timothy: “how we lived among you for your sake.”
  • Verse 6: “You became imitators of us, and of the Lord…”
  • And they welcomed the message.
  • “And so” you became a model, or an example, for all the believers.

Because of God’s unrelenting love displayed in the gospel:

Jesus builds his people by making examples of his imitators.

We are not that special, though we are individuals. We are the same kind of sinners as others, in the same experience of humanity, offered the same gospel, convicted by the power of the same Spirit, and offered examples of those that have come to faith before us. We are all called to leave our life of dead idolatry, and to serve the living God, to wait in hope for Christ’s return and to put our faith in his rescue from final judgment.

This might seem offensive in that we are the same as everyone else in these large ways. The ways we are not like everyone else, are not really ways we are like no one else—these are just smaller group traits. Sometimes we need examples in these lesser traits.

Imitating what?

Four things in this passage that we’ll cover in the next few sermons:

  1. Conversion: a cataclysmic change of belief and allegiance.
  2. Worship: seeing the worth of God in proportion to pain, and everything else.
  3. Discipleship: the humility to identify and imitate the godliness of good examples.
  4. Mission and witness: authentic word and faith goes forth and goes everywhere.

Becoming imitators and examples

People are struggling with what perseverance and growth are right now. while we feel pretty stuck. It takes humility to be an open imitator. It takes embracing responsibility to be an example.

We all have to ask ourselves whether our faith does work, whether there is a labor to our love, and whether our hope makes us steadfast.

The point of this book it to encourage us to perseverance. Not by driving us on like slaves, but by celebrating not only God’s worth (adoration), but also affirming that what God is doing in us is worth celebrating (affirmation).

More than Conquerors over Everything

Romans 8:31-39 

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[a]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Can we believe in a promise of unrelenting love?  

When I was a child I saw my dad make deals with some men simply on their word and a handshake. He’d say to me as we walked away, “Son, there are some men that can do business that way. What they say they will do, they will do.”

My mother had a hormone imbalance when I was growing up, and often I didn’t know if she would be sane, but I never thought she would abandon us. I didn’t realize how hard it is to keep a promise in times like that.  

20 years ago I promised my wife I’d never leave her nor forsake her—and she said the same—no matter her wretchedness nor the world’s chaos, if she would only stay in the covenant of this promise. 

I still believe in and am inspired by those things: by a promise being rooted in character, and that character being capable of unrelenting love. 

Even though I know they are not the norm in the world as it is.  

In fact, that is the only surefire way for me to cry in a movie—when someone does something that people don’t do. When they don’t chose themselves, but chose the good, and make whatever sacrifice to live by it.  

For years I thought the main reason people don’t hold to the promise of Christ in his death and resurrection was for empirical reasons. We don’t lose faith because we don’t believe there is the power in the universe to bring life to the unalive. It is that in the perception of our hearts, there is too much doubt and sorrow to believe that the universe is guided by unrelenting love—especially towards us.  

But the resurrection of Christ demonstrates:  

God’s children conquer because God’s love is unrelenting.  

Not because we are good, or strong.

We are conquerors because God’s love is unrelenting. 

In spite of our moral wretchedness and suffering under the curse, God will sanctify and glorify his children through the resurrection spirit of holiness.  

  • God has done everything for his children and heirs. 
  • God will succeed in glorifying those who are his. 
  • God has given us everything we need for godliness. 
  • God works for the godliness and glory of all who believe.  
  • God will transform his loved ones to godliness and glory. 
  • The resurrection is God’s guarantee of godliness and glory to his own/children.
  • God’s Spirit will unleash resurrection power on all God’s children. 
  • God’s Spirit unleashes resurrection power on all God’s children. 
  • God’s resurrection power is our conquering power.
  • The resurrection is the promise of glory.

But how can we believe this?  The “world isn’t like this.” (Intuitional empiricism rather than scientific empiricism.) 

The conflict is that when it comes to God’s love and the meaning of our lives, we are being called to believe that Jesus—in his life, death and resurrection—is a more compelling demonstration of what is true than our intuitions about our sufferings. 

Rom 8:12 “I do not consider our present sufferings to be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.” 

There are 2 reasons this can’t be believed. We’ll cover one this week and one next week.

1. Moral self-doubt: I’m too weak and wretched.

Romans 8: 31-34 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.2 

Moral self-doubt is the belief that says, “I don’t really have the character of Jesus. I’m not going to make it, and he will ultimately reject me.”

Rom 7:21-24 “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?3” 

Just as I Am by Andrew Peterson: “All of my life I’ve held on to this fear, These thistles and vines ensnare and entwine, What flowers appeared, It’s the fear that I’ll fall one too many times, It’s the fear that His love is no better than mine 

We think that, even after all the promises of God’s interest in loving and saving us, that he still must have a frown towards us. He must always be thinking about how he would correct us, how we should improve.  

We think that he wants a divorce and will abandon us.

Heart of Man: “I spent 60 years trying to scrub my father’s expression off of the face of God.” 

This completely misunderstands how God offered redemption in the first place:  

God sanctifies us: God’s purpose is the process. This mindset forgets that our godliness is God’s business and purpose. He will give us everything we need (2 Peter 1:3) – because he is already given us his Son.  

Why would he decide now to reject us as too wicked? Instead, if he has already delivered of his own Son, what other resource for our transformation will he not withhold?  

God is the one who justified us: there is no other court in which to accuse us. God had no illusions about us when he chose to work our salvation—there is no new evidence to marshal against us. No new crimes, no unforeseen disappointments.  

Rom. 5:6-10 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  

Jesus received our condemnation: The one who was condemned for us is our advocate to the Father.  And Jesus rose from the dead to advocate for us to the Father (who already loves us).

Isa. 53:4-5 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  

God’s love—displayed in Christ and the promise of everything that comes with Him—is strong enough, reliable enough, and serious enough to put all your trust in. Don’t allow your intuition to tell you his love is like yours when he has done everything to demonstrate that it isn’t. 

You have to chose between your experience bias and God’s demonstration of his love, and the promise he’s given in it. 

Romans 5:1-7 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.6 

Sermon: More than Conquerors over the Curse

“It doesn’t matter.” 

I hate that sentence. Not when choosing a restaurant or a movie, but when I hear it from someone dealing with a hurt or disappointment.  

Whether as a parent or a pastor, it always makes my blood run a little cold—because I know that saying “it doesn’t matter” feels like resolution or even acceptance, when it is really escapism and gloom.  

That kind of “it doesn’t matter” is a way people lose themselves. It displays a loss of heart in the great struggle against the world that “shouldn’t be this way!” 

We are subjected to futility, and enslaved to decay (Romans 8: 20,21). This is the haunting pain of life—that life can feel futile or vain, and decay inevitable.  

In youth it creates an “angst,” in maturity, a “crisis,” and in old age, a “sourness”—and to all a kind of darkness.  

Our reaction to this pain and disappointment under futility and decay is what this passage calls “groaning.” And the apostle Paul tells us that all of creation is subjected to this:vanity, vaporousness, futility, frustration, purposelessness, decay, perishability, corruption of wholesomeness, decomposition. 

Everything seems to be against our natural hopes, either in circumstance or in the slow decay of time. Even if you get what you want, time will bury it in sand, or decompose and grow over it.  

Christians call this punishing, discouraging futility  “the Curse” because we believe that it is both unnatural (things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be), but also, that the Curse will be broken and can be overcome. 

However, without the help and hope of God, the curse overcomes us and closes out the light of hope, closes our hearts to feel life, weakens our courage to face challenges, and dims our eyes to see beauty and glory. 

When the tunnel of disappointment loses its light at the end, we fall into gloom

Gloom is the loss of the ability to hope, being overcome by despair.  

It is what happens when we think the Curse is the final explanation of suffering—pain without purpose, suffering without hope.  

Gloom preaches that this is all there is: futility unto decay” and “meaninglessness, then death.” 

How do we find the “Mind of the Spirit” (Romans 8:6, 27; Ephesians 6:18) in all of this?  

Last week I said from Romans 8: Christians conquer the flesh, curse and suffering in the Spirit.  

In this sermon: Christians conquer the Curse by the Spirit.

But how? How do we conquer something so universal and so constant as the curse? Something we know will eventually, in some way, win?  

The danger: When in pain, we often reject answers because we think they dishonor our pain. Every answer sounds either trite or severe. 

Romans 8:18 may seem like both, but it is the main answer, nonetheless: 

Romans 8:15-18 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christif indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  For, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  

This is both the promise and the way to overcome in the Spirit.

ways the Spirit can make us conquerors in the curse:   

The Spirit magnifies our hope in glory in the face of the Curse’s gloom 

Gloom makes it so we can’t lift our eyes to TRUST in God. The Curse claims the final word of futility and decay over every trial. All of our pain is going nowhere because of failure and the grave. 

Christians don’t combat this by saying there isn’t pain, or that if we trust God, he will shield us from our experience of the curse.  

“Well, I’m sure God will protect you!” is a phrase that can reveal a person who thinks that if we obey God, he will keep bad things from happening to us—that our obedience will break the curse. 

Such people need grace, since some CHRISTIANS think this is true: that if they obey, God will protect them from all harm. God never promises that. He promises the opposite.

The antidote to the gloom of futility is the hope of glory. 

Romans 8:18 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  

“Hope of glory”- 2 ideas:

  1. Glorious: God’s glory revealed and experienced 
  2. A hope: Hopes are future until they are revealed

The future glory will be all from God and for all of creation.  

  • Rom 8:18 – “The glory that will be revealed in us.” 
  • All the glory that there is will be revealed “in us.” 

It’s BIG- all creation’s hope:  All creation is in “eager expectation” and “anxious watching.” The literal translation of verse 19 is, “For the anxiously watching creation is eagerly expecting the revelation of the sons of God.” 

Romans 8:19-21 “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  

All creation, including us, was subjected to futility, frustration, and dysfunction—by God, in the curse. Things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. Everyone feels this. It’s a universal moral intuition, even when we are taught otherwise.  

Creation is watching someone: All creation is in “eager expectation” and “anxious watching.” The literal translation of verse 19 again: “For the anxiously watching creation is eagerly expecting the revelation of the sons of God.” 

Romans 8:18 – “The glory that will be revealed in us.” All the glory that there is will be revealed “in us.” Presently things are “groaning as in the pain of childbirth,” and we feel the same as the rest of creation.

A hope: Hope is by definition not experienced yet. So not happening right now isn’t a valid objection against it. 

Romans 8:23-25 “…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” 

Application: Learning to “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly” (just like creation’s “eager expectation” in vs 19).

This is the work of the Spirit—as we pursue the “mind of the Spirit.” 

Our Goal: What are we waiting expectantly for? “The adoption to sons, the redemption of our bodies,” “For, in this hope we are saved.” 

The Spirit’s work: Building this hope to be our anchor in the groaning of the curse. The Spirit wants to apply the truth of God until you feel as Paul does: “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” 

How does he do it? 

  • Know the “hope” in which God subjected creation (vs 20).
  • Hope in God’s glory—not just our glorification. 
  • Rejoice in our suffering—knowing it focuses our hope.  
  • Receive the love God “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”  

Application: You need these parts of salvation to overcome the gloom of the curse, and the futility of so much of life.  

  • Our hope in the future glory of God—and being adopted into it, through the everlasting redemption of our bodies into the freedom and glory of God and in a redeemed creation.  
  • The work of the Spirit applying this whole hope to our hearts, even in suffering 
  • So we can be waiting eagerly even as we are groaning inwardly.  

How do we really practice “groaning inwardly yet waiting eagerly” as a Spiritual practice of the heart?  

The Spirit is our help against the Curse’s confusion and weakness. 

Groans make it hard to lift our face and talk to God. 

Main example: Not being able to pray “as we ought” or “in God’s will” weakens our ability to express our groanings well, and confuses our ability to know God’s will and pray from a heart that is united with his will.  

Rom. 8:26-27 “in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” 

“In the same way”: as God helps us wait eagerly for the hope of glory, he also helps us cope in the present with our weakness of heart.

The Spirit: “intercedes for us” 

  • Intercedes through wordless groans 
  • Combines our “hearts” with the “mind of the Spirit”
  • Helps us feel and pray in “accordance with God’s will” 

What are the “wordless groans” of the Spirit? A connection to creation and our groans under the curse—the Spirit makes his own groaning in us that are our right groan toward the Father.  

In Romans 8:22, creation groans, and in Romans 8:23, we groan wanting our bodily redemption. In verse 26, the Holy Spirit groans as a way of interceding for us to God.

God doesn’t just hear our audible prayers—he also searches our hearts. The content of our heart is what is or isn’t in line with his will, and is a communication of faith to him. It is the place out of which we pray. By coming into the place of our heart’s groanings, the Spirit both aligns our hearts with God’s will and helps us pray as we ought—though his presence is inarticulate in a formal sense.  

The main effect is that this aligns us with God’s will, and allows us to express our groaning to Abba in love—but also appropriately. 

This is our help in our weakness of expression and need of present comfort; the help we need to embrace God’s will, so we can participate in his working things for our good and ultimately our glorification (our great hope).

What is “God’s will”? (Romans 8:28) 

Romans 8:28 “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God forknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called, those he called, he also Justified, and those he justified he also glorified.” 

That is: God will glorify those he has chosen. We can hold unswervingly to our hope in Christ. because God is intent on his glorification of those who are heirs in Christ. We were his elect long ago, and those whom he has brought to justification, he will take to glorification. There is no slackness or shakiness in his promises.  

“Slap me so I don’t do something petty.” – My daughter 

I think the reason she comes to me in those moments is because she knows that she can groan with her dad, and that she is safe in her groaning when she is in my arms. I will let her feel, but I won’t let her fall into what she fears: pettiness, resentment, hopelessness, and all the reactions that indwelling sin stirs us when the curse bites us in some way. 

I know my goal is to give her hope and to help her groan. I want that because I love her; I want her to know that there is no condemnation with me, and that I want to help her be more than a conqueror as an adult. 

Conclusion: How do we do it?  

So how do we have this kind of relationship with the Spirit to receive God’s hope and help?  

The Spirit’s power is in our participation with him, and with the content of the gospel (the “hope in which we were saved”).

  • Believe in Jesus work as the Christ and High Priest in breaking the debt and power of sin in his life, death, and resurrection.  
  • Believe in the gift of the Holy Spirit as an heir—a fully legitimate child.  
  • Seek the Mind of the Spirit, and put to death the Mind of the Flesh 
  • Seek the Mind of the Spirit especially in our boast in the hope of future glory. 
  • Embrace the dynamic of: “Groaning inwardly while waiting eagerly.” 

Rom. 5:1-5 NIBO Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  

 

Sermon: More than Conquerors in the Inner World

If you faint in the day of adversity, how narrow is your strength.

Proverbs 24:10

How we handle adversity is one of the most defining things about us, because it reveals the real us. It is who we are when we can’t control our environment.

At moments like this, we don’t tend to feel very much like conquerors. We are cooped up in our households, close to the refrigerator, with annoying housemates and family, and feel drawn like zombies to the pleasures of computer screens.

  1. Many of us have had a profound struggle and failure to do what’s good. That is, we experience the eruption of our worst selves. When our routine is interrupted, most people find that they had structured their behavior, but they aren’t masters of their soul.
  2. We also struggle with the world as it is; hearing reports about disease and economic turmoil, we can easily feel that the world shouldn’t be this way. We can feel that God shouldn’t allow creation to be disordered in this way. It is a struggle to be so weak and to live in a world that is broken in these ways.
  3. There is the real, daily and practical suffering of real pain, or fear that we are facing. We fear life is bad or is going to be bad, and we have fears for the present in the future.

In Christian terms, these are our three inner battles: the Flesh, the Curse, and suffering. We face an inner battle against our worst self, the groaning of a world not as we long for it to be, and we face pain that seems to find us everywhere. All of these discourage us personally and in our relationship with God. We feel wretched and discouraged, and God feels far away. It feels like he is doing nothing.

These three enemies of the inner person will either overpower us or drive us to become the conquerers we were created and redeemed to be.

3 enemies in a phrase:

  1. The Flesh: “What a wretched man I am” (Romans 7:24)
  2. The Curse: “All of creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20)
  3. The Suffering: “All day long we are like sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:36)

Misnomer about Romans

It’s all about “Justification: forgiveness and imputation of righteousness through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus the Christ.

Romans is about Salvation: all the way form God’s choice to save, all the way to us seeing the glory of God.

Romans 8 deals with a very specific part of salvation: being saved from defeat. Especially the defeat of our inner self, the “inner man”—what Paul calls the mind, the will, “myself”—and how it is constantly overcome by what he calls “the flesh.”

The Flesh is our worst self, living the path that leads to death, and rejecting God as creator and king and the true good in favor of our disordered desires.

Romans 7 shows us that just knowing that God is real, and that his law is good, isn’t enough to overcome the domination of the Flesh. And even if we believe in Jesus as our savior, believe in God and believe his commands are good, we can still find ourselves consistently failing, and losing our conflict with the enslaving power of the Flesh.

Romans 7 ends this way

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 7:19-25 19

In this state, even the “would be Christian” feels both wretched and defeated—both conquered and condemned.

Peterson’s Objection: what you do is what you believe. So how can anyone say they believe in God when they are constantly doing things that don’t show that belief. You don’t really believe. This is a problem for “salvation by faith” as cheap grace.

If you stop at forgiveness, imputed righteousness, or even reconciliation, you will not escape this wretched discouragement—and fear that you will be lost to your worst desires, and deserve re-condemning in your wretchedness.

You must go on to the whole of Christian salvation, because it is shaped around the whole of human need.

Christians conquer the flesh, curse and suffering in the Spirit.

Or for this morning: Christians conquer the flesh in the Spirit.

3 key steps to conquering the flesh through the Spirit:

God condemned our powerlessness, weakness, and wretchedness instead of us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that 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.

Romans 8:1-4

Jesus didn’t just pay for our sins, he condemned sin by dying in the flesh:

  • He paid for sin as a sin offering.
  • But in dying in the flesh- he feed us from the domination of the Flesh.
  • Therefore: neither our crimes, nor our condition need condemn us.
  • Therefore, “in Christ Jesus” there is no condemnation, because there is a cure even for the wretchedness of our weakness in the flesh.

But how does he save us from our wretchedness? Romans 8:2: because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Key summary: Through Jesus Christ, the law of the Spirit of life has set you free form the law of sin and death (The Flesh: the “war in my members”).

  • Through Christ Jesus
  • The Law of the Spirit
  • The Spirit of life
  • Has set you free from the law of sin and death (The war and captivity of the Flesh—Romans 7:24-25)

This is accomplished in the death of Jesus the Christ—in the FLESH.

  • Jesus didn’t just triumph over sin by not sinning, he triumphed over the Flesh also—having been born to true humanity—in human flesh. And dying in the flesh, to the law, and for sin, he conquered all three.
  • He atoned for sin, as an offering
  • He condemned the power of the Flesh, suffering in human flesh.
  • He set us free from the Law by dying to that contract.

Therefore, his goal:

  • No condemnation for those in Christ—our fear should not be condemnation, or the belief that God holds us with contempt in our failures to overcome sin in the Flesh.
  • Set free in “the Law of the Spirit of Life”—the new drive and aid that comes in participation with God’s Spirit leading us to God and his righteousness.

You must believe in the mind of the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:5-11

Part of faith is repenting of the “mind of the flesh”—the logic and mental culture and desires of sin, worldliness and rebellion.

You can’t repent of sins, and not the logic that justifies them. Coming to repentance means repenting of the acts and their justification.

Faith requires embracing the mind of the spirit:

  • Rejecting the way of death
  • Releasing our hostility towards God and his moral requirements

3 Phases of Bad Spirituality:

  • Irreligion: Recognizing that before spiritual conviction, we don’t want those commands (Romans chapter 1).
  • Religion: In a “religious phase,” we apply those commands to others legalistically, and to ourselves self-justifyingly (Romans chapter 2).
  • Illuminated but unspiritual: after we received spiritual conviction, we may be hostile toward God and his requirements because we find we can’t do them (Romans chapter 7).
  • All are a “law of death” and all lead to avoidance and hostility toward God.

What is the “mind of the spirit”? How do we unite with the Spirit?

Step one: It is a “mind,” or being “in” the Spirit. It’s an act of inner faith, of trust in the truth of God’s gift of the Spirit in Christ.

What is the Spirit “of”?

Spirit of life: Psalm 1 and Proverbs say that God’s ways lead to life, and the ways that stray from his wisdom and truth are the ways that seem right but lead to death.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Proverbs 14:12 NIBO

The law of the Spirit who gives life has set you1 free from the law of sin and death.

(Romans 8:2 NIV)

The Spirit of Christ: The one who is God made flesh.

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.

ESV Romans 8:9

The Spirit of sonship: The one that points our heart to the one that accepts us tenderly, and wants to help us.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. {Or adoption} And by him we cry, “Abba, {Aramaic for Father} Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16

How do we appropriate this life in the Spirit?

You can conquer in participation with the Spirit.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:11-17

How do we accept and receive the spirit of life and Christ? 4 ways in this passage:

Embrace your obligation to the “law of the Spirit of life.”

The Spirit is the new “law” for the Christian, both in directing us, and as the new obligating power. So we can fulfill the law without being under it. We fulfill its moral “ordinances,” without being under its specific written code (Substance chapter 6, Freedom For).

Embrace the death and resurrection identity.

Death: In Christ’s death the flesh is condemned. This is imputed to you if you are dead in him. Have you embraced and accepted that you are in Christ in his death, and have you participated in it in baptism?

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:1-4

Resurrection:

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Romans 8:11

By the Spirit, execute the Flesh—with extreme prejudice (Spiritual brutality/ferocity).

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Romans 8:13-14

The Spirit gives us peace with God, not peace. We are newly hostile to the Flesh, and seek to kill it like a disease.

Accept the “spirit of sonship”…

…and that the whole of the gospel is a “demonstration” of God’s love meant to support our boast, and joy in the hope of his future glory to which we are heirs. The joy we take in this hope, that is rooted in the demonstration of the love of God in Christ, and in the giving of his Spirit of life that sets us free, is the foundation of our conquering in the inner man, in the face of the curse, and in the direct sufferings of daily life.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16

Power versus participation

Any attempt to serve God in true godliness without embracing a cooperation and participation in the Holy Spirit will leave us wretched and defeated.

We will feel 10x worse off than before we knew about God—we’ll be nearly as sinful, but feel 10x more condemned and defeated. The Flesh cannot be defeated by any part of salvation other than receiving the inheritance of a new life and mind in the Spirit.

Being “in the Holy Spirit” doesn’t mean that we forfeit any of our responsibility to make our own decision or fulfill our calling to serve God as his image bearers. It means that the Spirit empowers and informs us in that process. He teaches us the way of life and righteousness. He teaches us the mind of Christ. He teaches us to how to embrace the identity of being God’s beloved and intimate children. And in these we can walk out of condemnation and defeat into freedom and triumph.

In this life, God has not given us final victory over the Flesh. That is probably so we can find humility, and learn to truly participate in and with the Holy Spirit in our mind and life. You will never have the power in yourself only to overcome the flesh. But in the Spirit, you will always have the power to do so. And even when you fail, in the mind of Christ, you will return to the attitude of sonship, and therefore fail in the right direction.

Romans 5 — 8 Devotional Plan

In this unique season, many of our usual rhythms, structures, and comforts have been suddenly stripped away. Because of this, it is an opportune time to turn (or return) our hearts and minds to the discipline of devotion to the Lord. If you’ve never had consistent devotional times before, or haven’t had them recently, you might feel intimidated. You’re not alone! We’re all reading together, and we’ve put together some resources for you.

What to read: Romans 5-8

In the weeks leading up to Easter, we’ll be studying Romans 8 on Sundays. During the week, we will read passages that lead up to and tie into Romans 8.

  • Week of March 29: Read through Romans 5
  • Week of April 5: Read through Romans 7
  • Week of April 12 [Easter]: Read through Romans 8

You’re not reading alone.

Devotional Drills videos

In these videos, Pastor Nic will break down the passage and train us how to engage with the Scriptures that we are reading. Subscribe to the High Point Church YouTube channel to get notifications of when these videos are posted throughout the week.

Devotional podcasts

We will be discussing the passages we are reading together on the Engage & Equip podcast.

Further resources

How to have a devotional time

Reading the Bible

If you have any questions, contact Jill at jreasa@highpointchurch.org.