Panic-Free Living

Delivered September 17, 2000 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Sermon Text:
Romans 8:9-17
9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the
Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not
have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet
your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
11 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.
12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the
sinful nature, to live according to it.
13 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,
14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again
to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we
cry, “Abba, Father.”
16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
17 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.

Let us pray before we read Romans 8:9-17, shall we. Our Lord, we give you thanks for this day. We thank you that your spirit is indeed among us. We know that unless your spirit opens our minds and hearts, we will not hear or see; and so we ask that as we read the scriptures and hear it proclaimed that your Spirit would indeed speak a word to each one so that we may become more conformed in the image of your son. We ask it in his holy name, Amen.

Romans 8:9-17 is the scripture text for today. If you care to follow along please do so. There are pew Bibles there, and I will be reading from the New International Version. Paul, in Romans 8, has been talking about the contrast of life in the spirit or life in the flesh and that’s really the flow of what we are going to talk about today. We pick up the argument in verse 9 of Roman 8:

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive 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 through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 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. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of 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”. Amen.

Nine or ten years ago, I went on my first rock climbing expedition. As a matter of fact, now that I think of it, it was also my last rock climbing expedition. My friend Dean who just loved this kind of stuff, took me and some of the youth from the church I was serving and we went to a place in Pennsylvania and found a 40 foot, pretty straight up face of rock and he gave us the good shoes to put on, and the powder for the hands, and the gloves, and all that stuff and he put the harness on. You know, you have to put a harness on in case you fall. Especially, all the novices. And that included me. There was someone down at the bottom holding one end of the rope and I was in the harness. This was my first attempt. So I started and you know there is not much to hold on to if you have ever tried it and it wasn’t maybe 8 or 10 feet before I lost my footing. Then I just fell, but the harness caught me and, instinctively, I grabbed for the rope that was right in front of me. And so, here I am 10 feet above the ground like a human wrecking ball swinging back and forth and before long, I swung right into the side of the rock and hit my back, which didn’t feel good. And Dean, from down at the bottom said, “George, don’t grab the rope, keep your hands and your feet out in front of you if you fall, because that’s what happens”. And I looked down and I said, “Now you tell me? I mean I would have loved it if you would have told me this before hand.” But it’s crazy isn’t it? Something so instinctive, grabbing the rope. I mean don’t you think that’s what you’re supposed to do? And yet the instinctive natural thing was not the thing to do.

Further, letting go of the rope was the right thing to do. It’s ironic. There is a parable here. And it speaks to the text that we just read. It speaks to what Paul is saying to Roman Christians. In the whole book of Romans, especially in verse 8, especially in this text, Paul is talking about two ways to live. And that Christians and non-believers have a choice of living in these two ways, so to speak. There are only two ways. There is no gray on this one. It is black and white. You know, the spirit of the world is the spirit of relativism. You think what you want, I’ll think what I want. It’s okay. Let’s just be tolerant. That’s okay if you are in Baskin & Robbin’s, but it’s not okay according to Paul’s thinking here. Paul says there are just two ways to live. You can live by the Spirit of God who will indwell you when you trust the Lord, or you can live according to your sinful propensity. Your sinful nature. This is not original with Paul. Paul is taking a thought from Deuteronomy. I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord; the curse if you disobey. The marvelous thing about Romans, however, is it’s not up to us alone whether we obey or not, it’s the help of the Spirit that allows us to obey; and so Paul says you have choice. You can live by the Spirit or you can live by your sinful nature. You can live by the flesh, you can live by your own control or you can live by the Spirit and God’s control. You can grab at life due to fear, which will end up harming you in the long run; or you can responsibly let go and trust God with your life and with all that you are. When you do that, there is an awareness that you are locked in to the harness of God’s Spirit.

And so Paul’s argument in this text is to show that the sinful nature is marked by two prominent negative characteristics. Then he takes these two negative characteristics and he shows how the Spirit addresses each one so that we can live life in its fullest sense.

Let’s look at a few verses to discover these negative characteristics that are mentioned about a life that’s unhooked from God’s Spirit. Verse 13a, “. . . if you live according to the sinful nature,” that’s the one choice, that old nature, that sinful flesh as the King James calls it, that wants to keep going its own independent way, doesn’t want to have anything to do with God. If you want to keep living by the sinful nature, you will die. Now the fact of the matter is a person that never comes to know Jesus Christ, if they live according to the sinful nature, they are never hooked up to God, they will die. They will die without hope. But even a Christian, if you live according to the old nature, even though you have Christ living in you, and you choose to live according to that old nature, you will die spiritually. You will die a little every day. You will not be growing in conformity to the image of Christ. You will be growing less like that. You still may be saved, but you will not enjoy life in the fullest sense. And so Paul says, “If you live by the sinful nature you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” So the question becomes how do you know if you are living according to the sinful nature?

Well, if you look at verse 13 it says, “If by the spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body,” there is a connection between sinful nature and misdeeds of the body. The word misdeed in Greek is praxis, practices. It was used in Greek literature to speak of political intrigues, scheming, treacheries. We are in an election year. In politics you think there is any manipulation of the truth? Do you think there is any spin in order to gain power? We know it is a rhetorical question, right? The first negative characteristic of the sinful nature is control. We just want things our way. We want to be in control so that we have the power. Some are aggressive about assuming control and gaining control; and some are very subtle. Original sin, is it not the need to be in control? To not live by what God says? To not live by faith? Not only grasping for the fruit forbidden, but then by justifying our behavior. You know what the sign of control freaks are? (And there is a control freak part to me and there is a control freak part to you,) but when the control freak part is really in control, you know what the main sign is? Excuses and blame. He did it. She did it. The snake did it. That’s the way we are if we are living according to the sinful nature primarily. We grasp the rope. We grasp for control. We don’t do it all the time because we purposely want to be evil, but that’s the sign that our sinful nature is in control.

Acts 19:18, is an interesting text cross reference. It says, “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their praxis,” their evils deeds. What were their evil deeds? “A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publically.” The practice of sorcery, the practice of magical arts, the practice of things like Voodoo is so that you can control and manipulate other people so that you will have the power. Paul says you can live according to the sinful nature, the first indicator of which is control. You know in the 21st Century the greatest of all addictions is not alcohol, it’s not pornography, it’s not work. The greatest addiction in the 21st Century is the need to feel in control and that leads to every other addiction that you can name. And those addictions can be presenting themselves in us in very harmful and under- responsible ways or in very over-responsible ways. An alcoholic seeks control irresponsibly. It won’t admit to the fact that life is out of control. In fact, the right thing to do is to admit that you need help and seek it. Religious addiction is an over responsible way of grabbing for control. Some people grab for the bottle, I grabbed for the rope. Some people grab for the bottle, some people grab for the Bible. Hear carefully what I am saying. We need to grab the Bible. We need to read the Bible. We need to memorize the Bible. But religious addiction can be seen in trying to control the spiritual life to such a degree that there are no surprises. Everything is ordered. Controlling it all. Let’s make worship and fellowship mapped out. Let’s not risk anything. Lynn Wise, history professor and author, says this, “We live in an era when rapid change brings fear and fear too often congeals us into a rigidity which we mistake for stability.” Sometimes what we take for stable is really rigid.

Paul says this is the evidence of a sinful nature; but now, listen how the Spirit helps us. The Spirit in verse 12 look, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation,” we have a debt, “but it is not to the sinful nature.” We don’t have to keep living like this. It is like if you have a car that you have to keep paying on and you can’t get ahead of it and the interest payments are bigger than the car payment and you keep getting into a hole and I come along and I say, “Here, I will pay the car off for you,” and then you keep making payments after I pay the car off for you. This is what Paul is saying. Hey, you don’t have to keep living like this. Jesus paid the debt. The sinful nature is taken care of on the cross. If you will stay close to him and take his Spirit inside of you and live according to the fullness of his Spirit, you don’t have to worry. Stop paying it. We don’t have an obligation to live according to the sinful nature. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die, but by the Spirit, you can put to death the misdeeds of the body and you will live. The Spirit is our salvation. You can put to death this way of living.

How do you do it? It says in verse 14, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” The word “led” means controlled. Those who are controlled by the Spirit of God can get away from living according to the debt that the sinful nature keeps extracting from us. You know you will recognize this idea if you have anything to do with Campus Crusade, and I was on the staff of Campus Crusade for two years. If you have had any interaction with the people in Campus Crusade, or if you maybe were on staff, you will smile at this point. Because one of the things that I learned very quickly in Campus Crusade was this whole idea of trying, not even trying, trusting, so that you could live according to the Spirit’s control. Neil mentioned an Olympic athlete earlier in the time of confession. Where I thought he was going with that was, yeah, you can do that if that guy could come and live inside of you. Then you could do that horse thing and all the other. If that person was inside of you, and could tell you how to do it, and give you the power to do it, that’s what the Spirit does. In Campus Crusade, they called it spiritual breathing. Whenever you become aware of an area of your life where you have taken control: you know you have lashed out at your spouse or your children; you have been manipulative; you have done something wrong. When you become aware, the Spirit of God convicts you, you simply exhale the bad. You just say, “Lord I confess.” I say the same thing as you. This is wrong. You don’t have to do penance, you don’t have to do anything. You just say, “Lord this is wrong.” And then you inhale the pure. You just breath in. You say, “Lord I know that you want your Spirit to take control of me. Your spirit lives inside of me. I bumped the Spirit off the throne. Please come and take the throne again.” You may have to do this 10-20 times per day. But if you do it honestly, you will find that you do it less and less, and you will experience the control of the Spirit. The trouble is when we don’t confess, pride takes over and we think we can run our own Christian life. So the flesh wants to control, the Spirit says, “No, give me control.” And when we do, we can rise above that obligation to the sin nature.

But there is the second characteristic. That’s the reason for the control. It is in verse 15, “But you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.” Why did I grab the rope? Why do I shift blame? Why do we claw and scratch and manipulate? Fear. We grasp for control because we are afraid; and we are afraid that if we don’t control things, it will all fall apart. That we won’t achieve. That we won’t be accepted. That we will lose status. The sin nature Paul says, and here is a sign of it, makes you fearful; makes you feel like a slave in an ancient family. And a constant fear of a slave in a family back in that time is that they would be booted out of the family. That they wouldn’t last. At any time, their master could say, “I am done with you.” And one of the signs of the sin nature is this constant sense of fear. That’s why we have to grab. But Paul says the Spirit saves us again. You don’t have to be a slave again to fear. You have received the Spirit, which is a spirit of sonship or daughtership. And then he makes it even more clear by saying, “By him, we cry Abba father.” You have heard before Abba is a real familiar form of father, daddy, dada. And then he goes on even more, he says the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Like my daughter, both my daughters do this sometimes, especially when we were living in Pittsburgh. We would get on the phone and we haven’t talked in a while and our youngest Mandy would go “Hi Daddy”. My other daughter, Andrea goes, “Hi Dada”. And sometimes Mandy would say “Hi Daddy, can I have a car?”. And I would say, “No honey, but you’re still my daughter. You will always be my daughter. You will never not be my daughter.”

Paul says, “You call God, ‘Father’ from your heart.” By him we cry. This word cry is not a loud shout, it is a heart that looks to a father. It is a spirit that looks to the Father saying, “Lord, I know I belong to you. I am so glad that I belong to you. And so since I belong to you, I don’t have to be afraid because I know that you have me in your hands.” When our kids were little, I’m sure you can relate to this, we use to put them in the tub and wash their hair. And even though we would try to get them to look up, they just didn’t do it at first. So they put their head down and you know what happens. The shampoo gets in the eyes, “Wahhhh!!!” And I would say, “honey, look up at me. If you would just keep looking up, I will put the water on your head and it will flow to the back. Okay? Okay,” and it would happen. Before long, they would get afraid and they would try to do whatever they think they could do to make them feel more in control and they would put their head down. “Wahhhh!” Just look up! It is like us and God. The psalmist says unto the hills I lift my eyes from whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord.

When you are trying to grab for control, think about that shampoo thing. Think about that I need to look up to God, not try to grab, not be afraid. I will give you an adult illustration. Ever been to a doctor and you really didn’t want to be there? I was in Pittsburgh a couple of months ago. Sometimes I struggle with my vocal cords as you probably noticed. And I was getting checked by one of the world’s most renown vocal surgeons. And the first time I went in there, I don’t know if you’ve ever had this done, ever had your vocal cords checked? If you are a gager, I would not recommend it. They stick this pole down there and the first time, I was dying. I am a total gager. It was the most awful thing. I was breaking out in a cold sweat. The second time I went in a couple of months later he said, “You know what, we are not going to use that method with you. We are going to use the nose method.” I said, “What’s the nose method?” “Well, we will just take this little tube and we will run just run it up your nose and we have a camera on the end of it, and we can look at it.” Honestly, I felt like I was five years old waiting for the needle to come around from the back of the doctor. I felt like running out of there. I just sat there though, and this intern comes in. And he says, “We are going to have our intern do this.” I am telling you, I was scared to death. I said, “I have never had anything put down my nose like this while I was awake.” He takes this goop and he puts it on this little thin thing and he runs it and it is going in and the doc says to the intern, “You know you are the best intern we have ever had do this procedure,” and all of a sudden I started to relax. I said, “Thank you God.” And there is a monitor, but I can’t even look at it because it is showing my vocal cords, but they are looking at it and talking and here this thing is down my nose and it wasn’t as bad as the other method and I was just sitting there, okay, I can handle this. Pretty soon, it is like are you guys done yet? Um, please get this thing out of me right? It is the same kind of thing as the shampoo. The doc has to be smooth for your fear to be eased. Trust calms trauma. What is true of doctors offices in everyday life, is true of God. Living in fear of whatever, trying to control brings stress and trauma and worry. How do you get rid of it? How do you live panic-free? The same way that you go to the doctors office. You commit yourself to one who is trustworthy and you stay in a chair and you say, “Lord, I trust you. I know you know what you are doing.” That is why the Psalmist said in Psalm 56, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in thee.”

God is totally trustworthy. He is smooth, reliable. You don’t have to grab. You don’t have to be afraid. You are in the family. You will never be booted out. Choose life in the Spirit, secure in the knowledge that you are God’s child. Don’t be afraid. In Jesus Christ, God is dada.

Let us pray. Lord we thank you that you are indeed God our Father. Forgive us for those times that we grab. Forgive us Lord for succumbing to fear that causes us to grab. Help us to know that you will never, ever leave us or forsake us. I pray especially for anybody who is feeling out of control today; that your Spirit will come upon them, even in the remaining moments of this service, and give them a deep sense that they are your child. And we pray it in Jesus’s name, Amen.