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Children of an Awesome God

We Have a Divine Calling

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 5, 2008

Selected highlights from this sermon

All of us were born “in Adam”—we’ve inherited sin and its consequences. But if you are a believer, you’ve been born again “in Christ.” And as Paul says in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Believers have been pardoned for all crimes done against God. We’ve been forgiven. The righteousness of Christ is now ours and will take us all the way to heaven.

But if you are still “in Adam,” you cannot please God.

I begin today with this question: What does it mean to be a child of God? In the midst of an economy that is in trouble, and in the midst of a time when you may not be able to pay your bills, or when you discover, as one woman did this past week, that your husband is cheating on you, what does it really mean to be called a child of God?

For many years I have wanted to preach a series of messages on the eighth chapter of the book of Romans, and we begin that series today. It’s entitled, “Children of an Awesome God,” and the subtitle is, “What He’s Done to Call You His Own.” These messages are not going to focus so much on us as they are on God. So often when I preach, as other preachers do, I tell the congregation what to do. You do this and you do that. These messages are going to be geared to what you should believe, and if you believe them, you will begin to do. It’s going to be a series of messages, God willing, that will be absolutely transforming. For those of you who struggle, for example, with self-hatred, I hope that after these messages all that is gone because we’re going to discover that God supremely loves us even though at times we feel rotten to the core. These are, above all, messages of hope and transformation.

Someone has said that if the Bible were a ring, the book of Romans would probably be the stone, and the eighth chapter would be the top or the tip of the jewel. As a matter of fact, this is so important that it is critical that you look at the text. I’m going to be showing you statements that are in the Bible and in this passage that I believe no human being could have ever made. Obviously it was inspired by God. Its accuracy will absolutely overwhelm you.

The book of Romans is a very great ocean of Christian doctrine. The Apostle Paul begins in the first chapters by saying that the pagans are sinners, and he describes them in vivid detail. Then he goes on to say that the self-righteous religious people are sinners too, as are all self-righteous ones, and he ends that passage in the third chapter where he says that the whole world is guilty before God, and not only that, that God is going to judge the world, and then Paul says, “And we are all without excuse.” What a commentary on what we know to be true intuitively and by reading the newspaper. When you get to chapters four, five and six, Paul begins to give an explanation as to what God is doing about it, and because some of that is summarized in the eighth chapter, we’ll be getting to it.

Chapter seven is very interesting. Paul is talking about any person who is going to live just according to rules. That’s all that you have is rules. You live according to law. I need to read just a few verses to let you know how accurate the Apostle Paul is.

He says in Romans 7:15-19, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

A man attended a Bible study and when he walked into the room this passage was being read, and he sat there with cold chills. He didn’t know that it was from the Bible. He thought that the leader of the study knew him and had written this just for him.

The Apostle Paul ends verse 24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” He’s saying, “Who will deliver me from myself? I mean well, but I keep falling into this same pit again and again and again.”

Now with that background you would think chapter eight would open with these words. “Condemnation is now guaranteed to everyone, even to those who claim to be Christians because they are sinners too.” But we’re shocked. That’s not what it says. It begins by saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul obviously is summarizing the argument not only of chapter 7—our need for grace—but also chapters four, five and six, and he’s giving, in effect, a new part of his writing and saying that now we are looking at the Christian as being in Christ, and everything changes.

Very briefly let me give you three characteristics. The first is that we are as believers in Christ. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” a phrase used more than one hundred times in the New Testament to describe born-again Christians – in Christ.

Now what does that mean to be in Christ? Well remember in Romans we learned that we are born in Adam, and because Adam was our great grandfather we inherit sin. We inherit the consequences of sin, and we are on a journey in the wrong direction all the way to eternal death. That is what the Bible teaches about being in Adam, but now there’s a whole different race. We are in Christ, and to be in Christ means that Adam isn’t our grandfather anymore. Now Jesus is the head of this new race, and because we are in Christ (which would be a separate series of messages) from there all kinds of blessings flow.

Let me very quickly just give you a few of them that are here right in the text. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” Do you know what that means? God has said that we are pardoned for all crimes that have been done against Him. No condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. Now, the question you are asking is, “Does this mean forgiveness?” and the answer is, “Yes, of course it means forgiveness,” but it means so much more than forgiveness.

Now in this series of messages we all have to concentrate and we have to think, and in the process I promise you will be transformed, but think with me. If it only meant forgiveness, that would mean that I confess my sins and then I sin again and I’d be going from the sphere of condemnation to no condemnation. I’d be going back and forth. What kind of a life would that be? Would I have assurance of eternal life? Of course not, because I don’t know what state I would be in when I died. It would be a life of uncertainty. It would not be good news at all. No, when God says, “No condemnation,” it means not only are you forgiven but it means something else. It means you are credited with the righteousness of Jesus Christ and that righteousness is credited to you twenty-four hours a day and will take you all the way to heaven because you are in Christ.

A good illustration is the ark. You know when Noah built the ark God said, “Take and line it with pitch in and out.” Now pitch was like thick tar, and God said this so that it would be waterproof. Would you be surprised if I were to tell you that the word atonement in the Old Testament and the word pitch are essentially the same thing? You say, “Well what’s the connection?” Well the idea is this that the pitch that was used to cover the ark insulated the ark from God’s judgment, namely the flood, and atonement means that we are insulated from God’s judgment. That’s what atonement means, and the ark is a wonderful representation of what it means to be in Christ. There you are. The judgment is outside. The wrath of God is falling. God is judging the world but you are exempt.

If you were to read this in the Greek text as I did yesterday, you discover that the word no (oudeis) is the very first word of the chapter. Paul is emphasizing that. He begins this chapter by saying “no condemnation to those who are in Christ” – none.

Let me give you some news. If you are in Christ that means that your sin nature is no longer condemned by God because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. What it means is that your past sins no longer condemn you because God has acquitted you of all crimes and you are covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That means that you’ve also received legal acquittal from the future sins that you haven’t committed yet because you are in Christ and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, that’s unbelievable.” Let me ask you a question. How many of your sins were future when Christ died? Well the answer of course is all of them. All of them were future when he died. He died two thousand years ago. When Jesus died, the Bible says in the book of Hebrews, “By one offering he put away sin forever.” There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You’re out of range of the wrath and the anger of God because you are in Christ Jesus.

Now some of you say, “Pastor Lutzer, don’t preach that because that’s dangerous.” There’s going to be somebody who’s going to say, “Well isn’t that nice? You get in Christ and then you can live however you like.” If you’re thinking that I have two responses. First, thank you for thinking that because that means I’ve actually preached the gospel and I’ve preached grace. That’s proof. The natural mind always says, “Oh, you’re teaching that you can just believe on Jesus and then live however you like,” and I say, “Praise God. He has understood the Gospel because the natural mind always goes there. The first thing I want to say is, “Thank you. I hope you were thinking that.” The second thing I’d like to say is that if you are looking for an out for yourself, saying that you can live however you like, very probably you are not in Christ, but you are still in Adam, because people who are in Christ don’t think that way.

Visualize, for example, a young woman who is engaged to a man who has promised her that he would marry her no matter what she’d do. Does she say, “Hey, he gave me a ring and I know that he’s a person of integrity and he promised me that he would marry me no matter what I did, so now that gives me permission to sleep around?” I suppose that has happened but that’s not the normal response. God does not save us in order that we might please ourselves. He gives us a nature that desires now to please him.

So, you see, the Apostle Paul here is saying there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Could I say also that he is saying, “There is no obligation to those who are in Christ”? I’m in verse 2. He says in verse 2, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus, from the law of sin and death,” and in the process Paul is going to contrast in the next verses those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ. That’s what’s going to follow, but what he’s saying is that the law of sin and death keeps dragging you down. If you are in Adam you are subject to the law of sin and death. That means that no matter how physically alive you are, you are disconnected from God. There is no personal relationship with God, and furthermore there is within you a certain kind of emptiness and death, and you will love yourself always more than you love God. That’s true of everybody who is in Adam. Paul is going to say, “And if you are in Adam you cannot please God.”

Paul says there is another law and here he’s talking about a principle. “There is another law,” he says, “and that is the law of the spirit of life in Jesus that frees me from the law of sin and death.” Gravity we know always drags things down. If I were to drop my Bible gravity would make sure that it falls, but there is another law, and that is the law of my hand and my arm that is right now stronger than the law of gravity as it relates to this Bible. Tuesday, God willing, I will be flying to Dallas, Texas, and the law of the plane is going to supersede the law of gravity. I hope that that will be true all the way to Dallas.

You see, what God is saying is that when you are in Christ there is a new love that delivers you from all of the things that the folks who are in Adam have to do. You do not have to give in to the devil. You do not have to fall into the same temptation over and over again. There are resources that have been given to you.

Now, it is true that when we are Christians God disciplines us and deals with us. You know, when the sons of Noah were there in the ark, did that mean that they were perfect? No. Did that mean that they always got along? No. They probably had to ask for forgiveness for themselves and perhaps in relationship to their father. It could well be that even God was disciplining them in the ark, but they were saved from the wrath of God. They were saved so far as God’s anger was concerned. We could say that in that ark there was no condemnation because they were there by God’s good hand.

And so the Apostle Paul says that there is now another principle that enables us to live differently, but we’re all living within the ark. There is no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus. We have a brand new identity. The implications are overwhelming.

We are going to learn in this series of messages that because you are in Christ you are going to inherit everything that Jesus has. It is going to boggle your mind. You’re going to say, “This is too good to be true.”

Notice also that we have a new focus. Actually Romans 8:3 and 4 explain, by the way, why we are free from the law of sin and death because God did through Christ what the law couldn’t do. That’s basically what verses 3 and 4 say, but notice in verse 5 he says, “Those who live according to the flesh…” and the flesh now isn’t the body. There’s nothing wrong with the body. The body is neutral. I can take this pen out of my pocket and I can write a check and help somebody, or I can write a very awful letter and destroy somebody. The pen is neutral. The body is neutral. The flesh has a reference to that old nature, the principle, and the propensity that you and I have to satisfy all of our lusts and desires outside of the purity and the holiness of God and his will. So what he’s saying is that all those who are in Adam are in the flesh. He says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” This is striking. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Wow. What he is saying is, “As long as you are in Adam and you’ve never received Christ as savior so that you are in Christ, you absolutely can’t please God even though you may do many good things, because good things done by human beings are tainted still with sin and wrong motives. Those who are in Adam in the flesh cannot please God.

Well, how do you begin to set your mind on the spiritual things? You can’t do that unless God creates a new nature within you to give you the desire to do it. We are all basically desire driven. There’s no question about that. We do ultimately what we think is best for us, and that may be true of Christians and non-Christians. That’s a separate topic actually except to say that the people who are in Adam will always choose for themselves. They may use God but they will never really love God because God has to create that love within our hearts. We do not have it naturally.

Do you see, by the way, how utterly foolish it is for someone to think that they are a Christian simply because they go to church? You talk to somebody and you say, “Now are you a Christian?” and they’ll say, “Oh, yes, I attend such and such a church and we go there.” Well, wow, that’s interesting. So that makes you a Christian? How does going to church change your desires so that you are no longer focused on the flesh but focused on the things of the Spirit? It can’t do it. Now, we go to church so that we might learn how to be in Christ and to grow in Christ, but simply going to church doesn’t do it.

It would be like a tiger that wakes up some morning and says, “From now on I’m not going to love meat anymore. I am going to decide that I am going to love hay,” and so he wakes up saying, “Why can’t I love hay?” His nature won’t let him love it. The only way a tiger can love hay is if you changed his very nature as a tiger and turned him into a calf. Now he can love hay. You cannot set your mind on the things of the Spirit if you are still in the flesh. What does Paul say? It cannot be done. It just can’t be, and going to church in itself doesn’t do it.

There was an evangelist back in the 1920s whose name was Billy Sunday. He played for the Chicago White Sox at one time and he became an evangelist and he loved to hop around. I have in my study a letter sent to me by a woman who was here shortly after the church was dedicated when Billy Sunday preached and apparently he hopped from this platform to the other platform by not using the stairs. He was very active in his preaching, and his funeral was here, by the way, but he used to say, “Going to church will no more make you a Christian than pushing a wheelbarrow into a garage will make it into a car.” That’s right. You don’t change the nature of a wheelbarrow because it’s in a garage. Something has to happen within you. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation,” the Apostle Paul said.

So we have a brand new identity. We are in Christ, and we are going to study what that means in the rest of this wonderful transforming chapter. We have a brand new focus. We begin now to focus on the things of the Spirit, and not just the things of the flesh, but we also have a new companion. The Apostle Paul, I think, uses the word Holy Spirit or Spirit about fifteen or twenty times in this chapter, but let’s be introduced to him this morning very, very briefly. You’ll notice he says in verse 9, “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.” The Spirit of Christ, of course, is the Holy Spirit. “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is alive because of righteousness.” You’ll notice he doesn’t say flesh. Remember I told you that when you read this chapter you are overwhelmed by its accuracy? Paul says the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life. Here’s the thing. When you receive Christ as Savior your spirit is renewed. That’s why it can go to heaven even though your body goes to the grave, but the body is not renewed. You die of cancer, of old age, or a hundred different ways. The body is not renewed, but the spirit is renewed. But the Holy Spirit who renews your spirit is the same Holy Spirit who will someday quicken or raise your body from the dead. “The Spirit is life because of righteousness,” and verse 11 says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies,” you see. He’s talking about the fact that Jesus was raised and your body will be raised, because even after you accept Christ your body still is full of disease and old age and all those other things that lead you to the grave. But your spirit within is renewed. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation.”

Well, as I told you last week, I always find so much more to say than time to say it, but I would like to give you some summary statements that will make us invigorated and give us hope. Very quickly, first, being in Christ means that we are in a world or sphere of safety and security, and there is no condemnation from God. Wow. Remember this. The Bible says God closed the door when Noah went into the ark. Why did God close the door? Why didn’t he just say, “Hey, Noah, look, when you’ve got the whole thing built, turn out the lights and close the door behind you?” God did it. God says, “This is a door that is locked from the outside. This is a door that you can’t get out of. This is a door that is secure and with all those who are in the ark there is no final judgment and no condemnation, and I will close the door.”

Some of you are believers but you are struggling with the whole issue of assurance. That will be dealt with also in future messages, but it’s also going to mean this business of being in Christ is going to boggle our minds. We’re going to discover that all the wealth that Jesus has is ours, and not only that, the Father loves us with the same love that he has for the Son because we are in Christ. That safety, security, and certainty will carry you all the way to heaven.

Second, to be in Christ is the answer to guilt. You see, there is therefore now no condemnation. Now we condemn ourselves. As I mentioned, as Christians we sometimes have to deeply repent but we do so within the ark, so to speak. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. God has legally acquitted us of all of the crimes that we have committed against Him, and much of the condemnation is brought on by ourselves. Satan loves to use our memories. He says, “Abraham, remember the lie that you told,” and he says, “David, remember Bathsheba?” and he says, “Peter, do you remember the rooster?” And he says to Paul, “Do you remember you were consenting to the death of Stephen?” And he says to a young mother today, “Remember that abortion?” and to a man, “Remember the marriage you wrecked?”

My friend, after we have done all that we can to ask forgiveness of those that we have wronged, and after we have done all that we can and admitted our own sins specifically in God’s presence within the ark, there comes a time when we simply have to say, “God’s grace is greater than our sins and there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” Wow.

Finally, would you remember that the Gospel is really God’s ability to take something evil and in return give us something good? What is the Gospel? The Gospel is simply to say as Luther did, “Jesus, I am thy sin but thou art my righteousness.” That’s the Gospel. I today am Jesus Christ’s sin, but He is my righteousness.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how do we get into Christ? You described “in Adam” and “in Christ.” How do we do it?” Well, in the newspaper a couple of years ago there was an article by a man by the name of Bill who was 67 years old. He has given more than one hundred pints of blood in his lifetime. I am sure he has saved the lives of many, many people because of his generosity. Somebody asked him why he did it and he said these words and I’ll quote him directly, “When that final whistle blows and God asks, ‘What did you do?’ I’ll say, ‘Well, I gave one hundred pints of blood,’ and then he said with a bit of a laugh, “That ought to get me in.” Tragic. He’s trusting the wrong blood.

This morning I could hardly hold back the tears as I read Romans 5 and reminded myself of these words: “Having been justified by his blood we are saved from wrath through him.” We are justified by the blood of Christ, symbolizing, of course, His death for us and the sacrifice He made. We are justified by that blood.

You know, sometimes when soloists and musicians write songs they are inspired—maybe not like the Bible is, but what inspiration came upon Charles Wesley when he wrote these amazing words: “And can it be that I should gain an interest in my Savior’s blood? Died he for me who caused his pain, for me who him to death pursued. Amazing love, how can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me.” And then the last stanza is, “No condemnation now I dread. Jesus and all in him is mine. Alive in him my living head, and clothed in righteousness divine.”

Two categories of people are going to be singing this hymn in just a moment. Those of you who have trusted Christ, I pray that you will sing it with a sense of worship, enthusiasm and joy, the likes of which maybe you’ve not had in a long while. Those of you who have never trusted Christ as Savior, why don’t you sing it as your prayer and say, “I receive the Christ about whom I sing. I trust him. I trust his sacrifice that I might be in Christ where there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ.”

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