The past three weeks we have been working our way through Romans 8. We have been examining Paul’s words in this chapter as he discusses Spirituality and what it means to be a Christian. We have talked about grace. And what having the right mindset in our faith means. But with that grace and right mindset comes a need to continue to grow.
Now if you haven’t noticed yet there is a trend that Paul continually is bringing up. A trend that runs throughout Romans 8. It is something that we see Paul talking of over and over again. It is “the Spirit.” He references the Spirit of life, Spirit of Christ, Spirit of God. Paul is talking about the Spirit that we receive when we live our lives with Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit.
Now Romans 8 is far from an introduction to the Holy Spirit for the Romans and even for some of us for that matter. More importantly though, it is a reminder. A reminder of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. An encouraging pep talk about who we carry with us all the time.
Paul’s main point is that we are covered by the Holy Spirit. We are not only given new life through the Spirit, but we continue to experience new life through our strengthening in our journey towards what God is calling us for. The Spirit has brought us into a relationship with God and is continuing to work through us to make that relationship stronger.
As we closed last week we saw that if we set our minds on the Spirit we are granted new life. But what does this new life entail? Well if we look in our passage Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (v.14) This is the gift that has been given out of God’s love for us. We all know that Jesus is the one true Son of God, but here Paul is telling us that we are all God’s children. Paul continues into verse 15 saying, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back in fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption.”
Such a quaint little phrase that Paul writes. This spirit of adoption that brings us into the presence of God. Paul is continuing to reiterate how the Spirit brings us into relationship with God. We are adopted into God’s family by way of the Holy Spirit.
Adoption is such a beautiful thing. I have known many families who have reached out and have welcomed children into their house from other families. And with all of these families I have seen one thing in common with all of them. It is the love which is given to these children. A love that is equal to that of their own biological children. In the same way God loves us wholly and fully as we are his own children. This Spirit that we allow into our lives through Christ, that we allow to take charge of our mindset, and that we allow to bring us into continual communion with God.
Paul talks about all who are blanketed by the Spirit as children of God (v. 14). We hear a lot throughout biblical teachings, both Old and New Testament, of this parent and child relationship between ourselves and God. Paul is trying to show the importance of the Spirit and the role the Spirit plays in our relationship with God. Verse 16 lays it out that it is by the Spirit that Paul has been referencing, by that very Spirit bearing witness with our own human spirit that we are children of God.
Ok so I have now rambled on about the Holy Spirit, and I am sure you are all wondering… “Ok what is the practicality in all of this. I know the Spirit lives in me and thank you for reminding us of the Spirit’s role in my life. But seriously what is the practical point of this sermon?”
Well for that we must look at the work that the Spirit is doing in our lives. Now I am sure this is probably the most mention of the Holy Spirit we have heard outside of Pentecost Sunday, and when you hear Holy Spirit you probably prepare yourselves to hear a discussion on spiritual healing or speaking in tongues or any other kind of Christian super powers people often associate with the works of the Holy Spirit. But what if, instead of solely attaching the Spirit to these isolated events, we attach it to the whole of our journey’s with God. We know that God does not always work on a major or grandiose scale. What if we considered the work of the Spirit to be constant in our lives? The Spirit continually strengthens our relationship with God through the acts that we perform under the guidance of the same Spirit.
As we begin to understand that strengthening we can think again about grace. Now we know that grace is the unmerited and undeserved love that we receive from God. No strings attached. Simply God loves us John Wesley who founded Methodism talked of grace quite often and came up with many different ways to describe it. One of the things we have taken from Wesley is the understanding of the three ways in which we are said to experience God’s one true grace.
First we believe God’s grace is working in all of us before we even acknowledge it and it is working towards revealing that grace to us. This is Prevenient Grace or the grace that comes before. Second is justifying grace which we understand as the conversion or being born again. This is our experience when our eyes become opened to God’s grace and we allow ourselves to be clothed in the Spirit. Lastly is Sanctifying Grace which is the grace that leads us to what Wesley called “Christian Perfection.” God continually is working on us and we continue to learn and be strengthened by the Spirit.
Now we see the Spirit in work in all of these, but I want to focus on how we see the Spirit working as we experience this idea of sanctifying grace. As the Spirit works in our lives we are strengthened, we grow closer to God. Sanctifying grace is about sustaining ourselves as we are on this journey.
Paul’s words of assurance comforts us and reminds us of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. As we have been going through the past few weeks we must accept the Spirit in and allow our minds to stay focused, but we must also continue to allow ourselves be strengthened by the Spirit as well. We can do this by learning and working through the Spirit. One of the best ways ways we can grow and strengthen with God is through the Spiritual Disciplines, both privately and corporately.
2 years ago I had the esteemed pleasure to attend Jurisdictional Conference for the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. This is the conference where we spend our time electing Bishop who will serve the conferences in the Jurisdiction. Our own Bishop Young Jin Cho was a candidate for the Episcopacy. In his initial address he talked about the lack of spiritual discipline among clergy and among most Christians today. He noted that if elected Bishop he would urge his clergy to take an hour a day to attend to Spiritual Disciplines.
Out of this came an opportunity for the members of the Virginia Conference attending the Jurisdictional Conference to begin this work. We covenanted right there on the first night to take up this charge from our own episcopal candidate, and in that we set out to pray not only for Bishop Cho, but also for the direction of our own conference.
I can tell you that adding this time in my life has allowed me to keep my mind focused on God’s plan for me and has allowed me to continue to grow spiritually. It has allowed me to live and grow in my faith journey. It has also allowed me to listen to God and understand the importance of such an act to hear what I need to hear.
We are a part of a faith where it is difficult to stay stagnant and not grow. Paul calls us God’s children. Now I don’t have any children, but I was a child not too long ago and the one thing I learned was that I needed to grow up. I needed to become more mature and live in to where my life was going. In the same way as children of God we must grow and mature as well. That is what is at the heart of the idea behind sanctifying or sustaining grace. At its heart is our continued growth.
Our Bishop has laid forth an opportunity for us to continue our growth as children of God. The Bishop has sent out a covenant which calls us to grow and to mature. In this covenant the Bishop calls both laity and clergy to act. He is encouraging us to become a praying congregation. A congregation that is committed to this continued growth that John Wesley called his followers to hundreds of years ago.
In this we commit as a church:
- Having at least one weekly prayer group. This prayer group prays for renewal and revitalization in the church.
- Offer at least one class on prayer annually.
- Participating in Conference or District prayer equipping events
- Moving toward at least 10% of laity practicing a “one hour daily” spiritual discipline.
As we consider this covenant I urge you to remain in prayer over these points. Over whether we want to make this commitment, and if so what you think that will look like. I pray that out of your prayers would come conversation with each other and with me on how we can work on this covenant to grow spiritually and commit ourselves to this growth.
We are all God’s children and adopted into God’s family through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit strengthens us and allows us to grow in our relationship with God. I encourage you all to consider this way our Bishop is calling us to grow spiritually. Paul is reminding us that the Spirit is always at play in our lives. So let the Spirit work and strengthen.