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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

A Changed Life

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives 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.

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.

Romans 8:1-10

“Do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (vs. 4b)

When I was 8 years old, several years after the wheel had been invented, I bought my first bicycle. As a matter of fact, it was my only bicycle. I had saved up $10 and my parents matched it with another $10, and we went to Montgomery Wards and bought a brand new, black and yellow, single speed, balloon-tired bike. It was a beauty! And I loved it! And after a couple of days, I could even ride it! Except I was pretty small, and still a little shaky on it, and the only way I could get on it and go, was to stand on a fire plug, or a porch step, or something like that.

But I could ride it! And about the second or third time I’d ridden all the way around the block, my big brother asked me if I wanted to ride with him up to Negaunee. I asked, “What’s Negaunee?” He said it was a little town. I asked how far away it was. He said it was just up the road a little ways. I learned later that it was 12 miles to Negaunee.

I also learned that when you live on Lake Superior and travel away from it, you travel uphill! I mean, if the land went downhill from the lake, the lake would just get bigger. Right? But 8-year-olds don’t figure that out, so off we went. And it didn’t take very long to come to our first hill. Which, when you’re 8 years old, on a one-speed, balloon-tired bike means you get off half way up the hill and start pushing.

But at least you know enough about gravity to realize that when you’ve climbed to the top of a hill, you’ll be able to coast down the other side. It isn’t until you get to the top of the hill that you see that the task has only begun – that the road winds on, with even steeper hills than the one you’ve just climbed. Have you had that kind of an experience?

Sounds something like life, doesn’t it? And doesn’t it sound especially like what we call the “Christian Life?” when people accept Christ – or confirm their baptismal faith in Christ – they tend to think that it will be all free-wheeling from then on. But then they discover that the Christian life has just begun.

Now why should it be like that? It’s important to know why, because it will affect the way we approach the rest of our Christian life. Why does there seem to be steeper and steeper hills ahead of us? Why is it harder to live a Christian life than a worldly life? And is it worth it?

Well, for one thing, it’s harder because when your life isn’t lived according to the Holy Spirit, but according to the flesh – as Paul put it – you’re influenced largely by what you want to do, or by the people you hang around with, or by what happens to be in style at the moment.

The world says that right and wrong are just matters of personal choice or convention. Right and wrong aren’t the same for everyone, everywhere. So why not take the easy way? After all, we’re told the world isn’t going anywhere. There’s nothing that ultimately matters. We came from nothing and we’re going to nothing. So, make the best of it. Modern science has ditched God, saying we came from plankton and we’re going to extinction. Life is a short and meaningless interlude, in an impersonal universe.

Modern man has knocked the absolute out of his world, and he’s left only with the relative. There’s no absolute standard for human behavior left – so people can set up their own standards of what’s acceptable.

Now do you see why it seems harder to live a Christian life than a worldly one? To walk according to the Spirit rather than according to the flesh? Unbelievers swim with the current – Christians swim upstream, against the current.

But it’s worth it, isn’t it?

  • Others may think that life has no meaning; you know it has, and it’s meant to be shared with the Source of all being.

  • Others may think that the world is the result of a fluke – a “Big Bang”; you know it’s the product of a wise and loving Creator.

  • Others may think that human personality is a quirk of luck in a mechanical world; you know it’s the highest gift of a personal God. That’s why people matter so much – they’re made in His likeness.

  • Others may see that love is the only hope for mankind, but they have no answer for why we should love, and how we can manage to do it; but you know that love is the personal trademark of the Creator, who Himself is love – and that once you allow the love of God to reach you, it’s bound to find a way through you to others!

Everything is different, once God is restored to His rightful place, isn’t it? And the greatest area of difference is going to be our behavior. With a new life in God comes a new lifestyle. A changed life is God’s will for us. Even non-believers know that. Tell the people at work that you’re a Christian and they’ll expect you to be on time and work hard – harder than they do!

Tell the kids at school that you’re a Christian and they’ll expect you to clean up your language and stay away from the dirty jokes. The ordinary non-religious people expect a Christian to be different and have higher standards than they have themselves! This can be challenging. But it’s good – because God expects us to be different too!

God, who is the source of everything that is good and true and upright, wants these same qualities in those who worship Him. Not as a basis for His acceptance, of course. We Lutherans know that - if we don’t know anything else! But our Heavenly Father does expect the family likeness to become visible in members of His family! He’s gone to considerable trouble to make Himself perfectly clear on that point throughout the Bible. But we aren’t very good at listening to other people, even if they’re prophets or apostles, lecturing us about right and wrong. We’re more apt to be moved by a good example.

So that’s what God provided. Not only is a changed life God’s will for us, a changed life is taught by Jesus’ example. Jesus Christ came to rescue us from the mess we were in, but He also came to be an example of how we should live. He lived the perfect life – never a word out of place – never a loving act neglected – never a need unmet.

We don’t need to wonder what the good life might be like. We can’t plead ignorance! The life of walking according to the Spirit is right there in the Bible, plain to see. Unlike any other teacher, before or since, Jesus practiced what He preached! He told people to love their enemies, and He did it - all the way to the cross. He said not to lay up treasures on Earth and He was so poor He had no home. He taught that we shouldn’t worry about food and clothes, and He lived a life of peace without what we would consider the necessities of life.

And the implication is obvious. “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example,” Peter wrote, “that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:21-23)

But does that really help us? It’s one thing to recognize that we worship a holy God who expects us to get more and more like Him. And we realize that He’s given us a personal demonstration of how to live. But how can we even begin to live up to a standard like that?

Well, once again God has provided for us. A changed life is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells the Thessalonians, “God wants you to be holy and pure,” and then tells them what their Christian resource is when He says, “God gives us His Holy Spirit.” (1 Thes. 4:3,8)

A lot of people today say that the laws and teachings of the Bible are obsolete, but God doesn’t lower His standards – He gives us His Holy Spirit to enable us to keep them! When we respond to Jesus, we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our lives. Ironically, some Christians don’t even realize they have the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19)

But a changed life is no snap, is it? Paul knew that his life had become a battlefield since he became a follower of Jesus. “I have the desire to do what is good, but I can’t carry it out,” he wrote. “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And then Paul answers his own question: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 7:18-8:1)

When we’re tempted to live according to our sinful nature, we need to call on the Lord for help. And He will help! I can tell you that the Spirit will fight the battle for you because He’s done it for me – many times. For instance, a number of years ago, when we had a couple of young teenagers, we took in a family that needed help – and they had a couple of young teenagers too. And before long, breakfast became the pits! Every morning I came downstairs to squabbling and arguing and nasty remarks. And every morning I’d lose it and blow my stack at one or more of them. So my wife, who was driving a school bus, who is much wiser than I am, suggested that I ask God for His help before I came downstairs and entered the arena. So each morning I’d pray something like, “Lord, I’m going down into the midst of those kids now, and I need your help. Please give me your Spirit, your love, your patience, and your wisdom to deal with their needs in a Christian way. Amen.”

And He did. He freed me from my slavery to my deadly lower nature. I was pleasant in the morning! And you can ask my wife and she’ll tell you – that was a miracle! 😊

Well, a changed life doesn’t happen automatically. Jesus doesn’t force change on us any more than He forces salvation on us. But He’ll change us if we’re willing to let Him. He’s standing at the door, knocking. And change won’t happen overnight either. And when we do change in an area, God will show us another area that needs some changing. It’s a lifelong process, and some of us have a lot of work for the Holy Spirit to do.

But nobody will believe you have a new life unless you begin to have a new lifestyle. But when they begin to see a new lifestyle, they’ll be ready to hear about a new life in Jesus Christ. God loves to take people, change them, and show the world what He can do. May He continue to change us, so that we might walk more closely with the Holy Spirit, living lives that glorify God, bring praise to His name, and lead people to salvation through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


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