For over two months now, my life has been abnormal. I have been living a wife-less existence, and this has meant some changes. I open a kitchen cupboard and look at all the jars in complete ignorance. I have no idea what’s in most of them. The floors don’t get swept the way they did. But the biggest divergence from normal is meals. I’ve been cooking for myself.
And I don’t cook the way my wife does. She’s a good cook. I’m not. Here is how I cook potatoes and carrots. I wash off the dirt and slice them. I never peel. I pop them into a pot of cold salted water and turn on the heat. When the water starts boiling, I turn the gas off.
Do you know what happens?
I don’t know anyone else who cooks like this. It probably isn’t taught in cooking school. But it makes sense to me.
So, this is what happens. After some period of time has passed, during which I’ve been busy doing something else without having to worry about pots boiling over, I come back. If I have got the timing right, the carrots and potatoes are cooked. If not, I turn the gas on for a minute or two to finish the job. Delicious vegetables for lunch with minimum effort and fuss.
You surely know the science behind this. The heat energy is stored in the water and so the cooking process continues when the gas is turned off. The source of heat was removed, but the environment remains the same.
All of us are like my carrots and potatoes. We are Christian. We are children of the light. The flames of wickedness have been put out. That’s great. We have new life, but we remain in the world. Our environment is unchanged, and it continues to affect us even after the flames have been extinguished. The energy of sin has not been dealt with.
Here’s what it looks like in our lives. We are reborn, filled with the Holy Spirit, praying and things keep going wrong in our lives. We are following Jesus as well as we can, so why is life such a dramatic mess? Why is everything messed up?
The questioning starts, and the doubts begin. Is God really real? Was it a dream? Am I a hopeless sinner? Have I been rejected by God because I’m such a useless disciple? And so on and on.
Paul has something to say about this. In fact he has a lot to say about this. He has so much to say that he wrote the longest letter in all of antiquity. Paul’s letter to the Romans includes his thoughts about being stuck in the hot water and still cooking.
Paul explains his own struggles first. He tells his readers in Rome how he fails continually.
“The power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions,” he tells them at the end of chapter 7.
I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Paul says that something has gone wrong deep within him and gets the better of him every time.
We are not greater than Paul. We should not be surprised if we have the same struggles as Paul. It doesn’t mean God has left us or stopped loving us. It doesn’t mean we are evil.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment Paul decides to do good, sin is there to trip him up. Parts of him covertly rebel, and just when he least expects it, they take charge.
Paul says, “I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?”
That’s a good question, and Paul has the answer. The answer is Jesus. The solution to the contradictions in our life is Jesus, and thus we come to Romans 8.
When we are pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different than we want, we can turn to these verses. Maybe we need to turn to them every day.
To start with, God does not condemn you. God knows it is not you that sin. God knows it is the hot water in which you still sit. And so God says that for all those who belong to his son Jesus Christ there is hope.
“… the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 8:2)
You can see from Paul’s words that sin has power. Sin isn’t what you do, this verse says. Sin is what makes you do things, even things you don’t want to do. Everyone is born with the power of sin at work in their lives. There is not in fact any such thing as an innocent baby, except for Jesus.
Freedom to choose is a gift God gave us when he made us. He also made us to bear the consequences of our choices. We know that as a consequence of one of the choices made by the first people, sin gained power over us. We were born in hot water, so to say. We have no freedom to choose our circumstances. We only have freedom in how we deal with them. The heat of the water is not a choice. There is sin. And sin does have power.
And that would be the end of matters except for Jesus. There is another power. If you want to stop your potatoes cooking, you have to remove the heat energy. Either poor in cold water or remove them from the hot water to a cool place.
The power that comes against the power of sin is “the life-giving Spirit”, Paul says. When Paul talks about spirit here, he doesn’t mean our spirit. Many Greek philosophers taught that flesh was evil and spirit was good. There are many people today who also have that belief.
Paul is not talking about a battle between your spirit and your flesh. The spirit that Paul is talking about is God’s Spirit. Because of Jesus, the power of God can come into your life and remove the power of sin. Sin then has no strength.
Our part in this battle is told in verse 4. Paul states that we are required to “no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.” This is the freedom we have. We have the freedom to choose whether the power that influences everything in our lives is the power of Satan or the power of God.
There is no other choice. We cannot choose to operate under our own power. All of the people who like to think they do it their way, are secretly under the power of sin. They are likely to be doing it Satan’s way. Until we try to go God’s way, we don’t realise the power of sin at work in our lives. Paul discovered how great it was. If we are trying to walk in God’s way, we will see how strong sin is in our lives.
What kinds of things do you think about? When you are relaxed and thoughts come, what kind of thoughts are they? “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5)
As long as sin has power in our lives, we can never please God. Paul outlines this clearly, but he doesn’t leave us cooking in hot water.
The solution for Paul is to choose to let the Spirit control our lives. You will find that “letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.” It is a conscious choice, and because sin has power the decision has to be made consciously and repeatedly every day. The result of this choice is peace of mind. Do you have peace of mind? Walking with God is the way of peace of mind.
“You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)”
You don’t have to do what the power of sin urges you to do. Resist the devil and he will flee.
If you live by the dictates of your sinful nature, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. Sin has power. We are under sin’s power unless a greater power takes its place.
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14)
Who do you want as your leader in 2018? The Spirit of God, right? Let’s choose God right now and reject sin’s power. Jesus has given us the choice. We have been set free. We are slaves to sin when we take control. We are free indeed when we give control to God’s spirit.