Living in the Spirit: Romans 8:1-11

July 12, 2020

Year A, Pentecost 6                                           

Romans 8:1-1                                                                                                             

            There has probably never been a time when people have not attempted to shame one another.  But in the age where almost every cell phone has the capability to take pictures and video, I fear that our shame culture has gotten a little out of control.  To be honest, I am conflicted.  There are many times when posting a video of an incident can get a lot of attention and hold people accountable who wouldn’t otherwise be held accountable.  A good example of this is the murder of George Floyd.  However lately, it seems that people are posting every horrible thing that people say and virtually demanding shame.  While some of the things I have seen and heard have been truly horrible, the reactions have been equally if not more horrible.  It is not unusual for these people who are called out on the internet to get death threats, to lose their job, to be kicked out of their home.  Many of these people are condemned before they can defend themselves. 

And what does that accomplish?  Do we think that people will have a change of heart once publicly shamed?  Many of these people apologize, but those apologies are perceived as insincere, which they probably are.  Because shame doesn’t typically lead to a change of heart. Sometimes it leads to a change in action, but rarely a change of heart.  The problem with this shame culture is people who are well intentioned are wary of saying anything that might be criticized.  That also makes it difficult for people to have honest conversations, which is what we need if we really want to change hearts.

Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra

When Paul said, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” he wasn’t just talking about social shaming. He was talking about something much deeper.  He was talking about being condemned by sin—which means you are punished for your sin.  Your sin, your guilt never leaves you.   When Paul says, “There is no condemnation…” —it doesn’t mean that you are incapable of sin, or even guilt.  It means that you are free from the punishment that comes as a result of that sin. 

For a long time, God’s people believed that the only remedy for sin was the law of the Hebrew Scriptures. The law didn’t prevent sin, it controlled it.   While that was effective in some ways, according to Paul, it never freed people from the bondage of sin.  It was Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that provided that freedom.  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  He goes on to say, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”  There is a new law and it isn’t really a law, it’s the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

            Paul believed that there were two realities, two worlds to which humanity can belong.  There was what he called “the flesh.”  In this passage flesh didn’t refer to the body.  It referred to the world of sin and death.  Then there is the Spirit, that is the world of life, life in Christ.[1]Now, it seems like an easy choice. Why would anyone choose sin and death when you can have life with Christ?  Why?  Because if we were living in Christ, then we could not shame people on the internet. We would not be able to buy loads and loads of toilet paper without considering others who might need it.  We would not be able to see injustice without acting.  Freedom in Christ doesn’t just mean freedom from sin and death.  It means freedom from self-interest, self-loathing and smug judgment of others.  Sometimes it seems easier just to be shackled to sin.

            Imagine for a moment what it would be like to live without fear of condemnation.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t sin.  It means that when you sin, you repent and you move on.  Now that still means you have to confess the sin and repent, but then you move on.  Nothing that you have done or said keeps you up at night.  Nothing that someone else does or says keeps you up at night because you are free from human condemnation.  You live in Christ Jesus.  While that might not be an easy place to live, it’s a place where you never doubt your worthiness.  You never doubt that you are loved.  And when it comes right down to it, isn’t that what we all need the most, to know we are loved and to know we are worthy of that love? 

            Often, the reason people shame others…the reason we find ourselves gawking at that shameful behavior is because it makes us feel better about ourselves.  I mean, hey I have said some stupid things, but I never said that.  Yet if we know that we are worthy and that we are loved—that unlike the internet where every wrong doing is cataloged and remains forever—that our sins are forgiven—then maybe we would not have to judge and shame others.

            If you look at the front of our service leaflet, you will see that our mission statement is to live in the Spirit of Christ.  I have often looked at that and tried to discern what that actually means for the people of St. John’s.  Paul would tell us that it means that sin is no longer our master, we live without fear of condemnation.  Our unofficial motto at St. John’s is “Fighten sin since 1610.”   Someone told me that they had shared that with an acquaintance and the response was, “Well you’re not doing a very good job.” The person was not attacking St. John’s, just pointing out that sin is still prevalent in our world.  And let’s face it, Christians have not done a great job fighting sin.  Christians used the Bible to support the crusades, the inquisition, the slave trade, Nazi Germany…just to name a few.  Not only have we not always fought sin, we have been the sinners.   

While I like the way, “Fighten sin” sounds, I think we have to admit it’s a losing battle.  However, that doesn’t mean we are defeated, not if we live in the Spirit of Christ.  If we live in the Spirit of Christ, even when we sin, we are still free.  We are not condemned by our sin or the sins of those who went before us.  We are not condemned by the fact that we have not effectively fought sin.  As Christians, I am not sure our job is to fight sin as much it is to resist it and then forgive it.  Jesus already fought sin and won.  Now it is our job to live in the Spirit of Christ.  That doesn’t mean we deny the sin that we as Christians have committed, but it also means we are not defined by it.  While I will still proudly wear my fighten sin baseball hat on my head, in my heart, I will be living in the Spirit of Christ—where there is no condemnation. There is love, truth, and forgiveness.