June 15, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 8)

Submitted by Joe S. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

–          What one sets our minds on and the consequences it bears

Setting your mind on the things of the flesh leads to death.  It’s very natural that this would be the case since all flesh eventually dies.  There are so many examples of how setting your mind on the flesh leads to death.  People who set their minds on comfort and ease, become lazy, indulging in excessive sleep and food while avoiding exercise and hard work.  What results is that their minds and health deteriorate.  People who focus on their own selfish desires end up alienating themselves from others and destroying relationships as people get fed up with their selfishness and no longer want to deal with them.  People who focus on entertainment and distraction through video games, movies, or the internet end up being more and more isolated from others and withdrawing from real life into a fake world of pixels and fictional characters.  People who set their minds on their physical appearance often end up doing things that are unhealthy for their bodies, such as eating disorders or cosmetic surgery.

In contrast, setting your mind on the Spirit leads to life and peace.  The Spirit leads people to fight against their natural inclinations and desires and do things to love God and people.  When we follow the Spirit’s leading to talk to someone new, invite them to church, or share the gospel with them.  Often times it leads to a person eventually coming to know God.  When we set our minds on the Spirit’s leading, it not only leads to life for others, but for ourselves as well.  For example, we may need to fight against our awkwardness, insecurities, and fears to share the gospel with someone and it leads to an increase in our courage and confidence.  We also may attempt things that we would not normally do, such as putting on GLive, or New Student Welcome Night, or even leading a weekend outing to the Sierras.  By setting our minds on the Spirit, our lives end up flourishing and becoming richer.

–          Implications of being God’s children

Being a child of God is contrasted here with being a slave to fear.  A slave and a child are opposites.  A slave has no value apart from what work he can do or produce.  A slave is always afraid because everything depends on how things are going presently, whether he is producing or achieving now.  Past accomplishments and history mean little.  In contrast, a child is valued by the parent, regardless of what the child can or cannot do.  If the child does not accomplish or perform, he is still the beloved child of the parents.  If a child becomes injured or disabled, his parents love him just the same.  A child’s status is unchanging and a child experiences a peace and rest that can never be known by a slave.  Because of the cross, we are forgiven and have the status of being God’s children.  We are freed from the never-ending struggle of having to prove our worth before God and trying to earn his favor and blessing.  We don’t have to worry that if we sin or mess up, that God will condemn us and do away with us.

–          Our view of hardships, sorrows, and death

Because we are God’s children and are promised an eternity in heaven, there is nothing this world can throw at us that can swallow up our eternity with God in heaven.  The deepest pains and sorrows in this world cannot compare to an eternity in heaven with God.  As a result, we do not have to despair at difficulties we go through now.  Rather, we can have courage to continue pushing ahead.  We can have confidence and courage knowing that the worst pains and sorrows will all pass away and be replaced by the incomparable joys that await us in heaven.

Personal Application

As I think about my own life, I’m so grateful for how committing my life to God and setting my mind on the Spirit has led me to experience so much greater richness than I otherwise would have experienced.  My thoughts are not focused merely on the tiny world of my career and family.  Instead, my thoughts have been expanded to include many other people and how I can love them or help them to grow in their faith.  Instead of coming home and watching TV all night as I did growing up, now my evenings are filled with different people in fellowship, planning for Bible studies and other events, and praying for people’s needs.

With respect to having an identity as God’s child, this is something that I have to frequently remind myself of, as I often feel my own sense of self-worth vary based upon what I accomplish for God, or how people I am ministering to are doing, or whether I have sinned.  But the unchanging truth is that God has called me as his child.  I do not have to do something to prove my worth to God, but can freely serve God out of joy and appreciation for how God has adopted me as His son.  Additionally, I do not have to fear failing and can attempt things beyond what I feel comfortable with or capable of because I know that, regardless of the outcome, my status before God does not change.  It’s only because of this truth that I have been able to attempt things that I felt were way beyond me, like leading the SF ministry this past year.  I also think about the many people who have taken the steps of faith to pick up and move to other cities in order to start church plants.  And it’s because of our unchanging status as God’s children that I can continue to attempt new and frightening things in the future.

Submitted by Franklin P. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

To be honest, this week has been one of a lot of struggling of the sort found in Romans 7.  Why do I do what I do not want to do?  I only do what I really don’t want to do and I end up reaping the consequences of shame and guilt.  What can I learn from Romans 8?  Paul contrasts the person who sets his mind on the flesh versus the person who sets his mind on the Spirit.  That’s the key difference when approaching spiritual struggle.  The man whose mind is set on the flesh is basically the person who does whatever his body feels like doing.  He does what feels natural to him.  I think for most people and often for myself, this feels like the right thing to do.  In the moment of sin, it feels like the right thing to do, or at least I can justify it away as being okay.  But as Jeremiah writes, the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?  I can really attest to the fact that to simply allow my natural feelings guide my life leads to dire consequences.  As much as I think that I am in control, the real driver is my flesh…whether it be pride or lust or greed or anger or self-preservation.  The result is a death of some sort—of my innocence, of relational strength with a friend, of relational closeness with God, of the joy and peace that comes from knowing that I am following the Lord.  And ultimately, this sin leads to separation from God and eventual spiritual death.  The scary thing is that from Romans 7, it sounds like this kind of living is inevitable—Paul talks about have a body of death.  What then can I do?  I would need to stop trusting in myself in trying to fulfill the law because it can’t be done.  I know that I have such a propensity to achieve right-standing by doing what is good.  But such a strategy repeatedly fails me because I end up failing and then I am overcome with guilt.  What does it mean for me to set my mind on the things of the Spirit?  Paul introduces a new law in chapter 8: the law of the Spirit.  It is the law that says that I am justified before God not because of my performance in being a good person, but because Christ shed his blood on the cross so that I could have his righteousness.  This new law removes the framework of works-based affirmation which I am so prone to fall back on.  It tells me that in my struggles, I need to draw strength not from my own will power, but by meditating on what God has done for me despite my failures.  He died for me.  He loved me.  He came to remove the whole system that left me in a mess of condemnation and guilt, and he replaced it with the assurance that by faith, I have become righteous before the Lord.  In approaching my sins and the times when I fall, the Lord has provided a way to remove my guilt and to replace it with an overwhelming sense of thanksgiving.  For me to be focused on the Spirit is to stand in wonder of what God has done for me.  Then, there is strength against temptations.  Then, my heart actually wants to pursue what is good and I can share in Christ’s victory over sin.

Paul talks about the spirit of slavery which is marked by fear of condemnation.  This is the kind of fear that I am familiar with.  Growing up, my life was all about performance in pursuit of the American Dream which threw me in restless comparison and competition.  My plan was to invest my worth in the idols of money and career success.  What drove me was primarily the fear of not “making the cut.”  How could I make sure to save face before my friends and family?  As a result, I worked hard and strove to be that self-made person.  (I probably would’ve been one of the most ungrateful people who couldn’t attribute my success to anyone outside myself.)  My life would’ve been enslaved by the fear of needing to maintain a respectable resume.  I remember feeling depressed in college when I learned of so many ways in which I was far from perfect.  In fact, I began to see that my life was primarily driven by selfishness, pride, and worldly lusts.  What could I do?  Probably one of my greatest fears is to have my character flaws exposed before people.  (How strongly even now I often try to maintain a righteous image!)  But what could I do in that moment of realization?  That’s when passages like these speak to me.  No, my standing has nothing to do with my performance—or else I would have answer to the great mess of my life.  I have been rescued from such enslavement and given a new identity in Christ.  He has granted me sonship and a place to call home—a place of full acceptance and love, where I have no lack, and where I can finally rest.  Instead of being that proud, self-made man who labored for his lot in life, in Christ, I have been graciously called “child” and given a grand inheritance that I did not build nor deserve.  That is the freedom that I have found in Christ.  Who can condemn me if God himself has declared me righteous before the heavenly hosts?  He has accepted me just as I am.  In the times I feel right before God and in the times that I am still painfully aware of my soiled heart, it matters not.  Christ in my solid foundation and my sure righteousness.

Submitted by Edwin H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

–        What one sets our minds on and the consequences it bears

When we set our minds on our natural desires then that leads to becoming a slave to fear.  This is so evident in how we operate in a world without God.  When I give into our selfish desires, we can no longer trust others because I see people through the lens of selfishness and perceive others being as selfish as I am.  So I need to protect myself against them.  In a world that is all about me and my desires, everyone becomes a competitor and a threat to what I would want.  Selfishness, fear, and insecurity colors everything I see and so I can never let my guard down and I need to build walls of protection against others.  There is no peace or rest in this because I live in a world where there nothing truly secure.  So my life becomes driven by fear and these fear only grow larger as I give into them.  The fears that I am not measuring up to some unstated standard, fears that I am falling behind, fears that I won’t have enough for myself, fears that I will not amount to anything significant, or any number of fears that plague each season of my life.  When I cage myself in these fears I can’t move forward in my relationships with others because they have become threats to my person, possessions, and desires.  As I get older, I find that there is no end to desires and the fears that they feed.  There is the desire to be a good husband for my wife and someone that she can be proud of, there is the desire to be a good father with our first child on its way, and there is the desire to never let my family experience need because I am providing for them.  So my sinful nature calls out to me to set my mind on fulfilling these desires, which are really fears that have been dressed up.  Life for me has not become more secure and settled as I get older because there are greater demands placed on me and the little ways that I have given into my flesh have kept me from experiencing the maturity, peace and rest that is promised to those who set their minds on the Spirit.  The result for me has been a life filled with a lot of growing fears and an inability to face the demands of life.  When I give into my fleshly desire to be admired by others and recognized for my competence even in the church, I find myself imprisoned by the fear of being discovered that I’m not that admirable and that I need to try so hard to keep up that image of being competent and having life held together.

On the other hand is letting our minds be controlled by the Spirit and what the Spirit desires, which leads to life and peace.  But letting our minds be controlled by the Spirit is not easy or natural.  I know for myself as I involve myself in ministry that my fleshly desires weigh in on all my decisions.  At the end of a long and frustrating day at work I just want to go home and veg out or escape into some movies or the internet and then call it a night.  But there are the demands of people who need to be cared for, my wife who is pregnant who needs help around the house and my conscience wages this kind of war against my lazy flesh.  It is like dying when I decide against my natural desires and choose to deny my desires.  When I stop living for my selfish desires and set my mind on the desires of the Spirit, my first thought is that I am losing out on something or my life would be poorer for giving myself away.  But the more I live by the Spirit and what the Spirit desires, the more I experience life.  How this plays out in my life is how my life has not become empty as I had feared when I give my time over to serving others and driving over the bay bridge for the nth time to meet with students.  When I deny myself and choose to share my time and resources with others I find my life becoming rich with relationships.  I’m a homebody at heart and don’t actually like to go out on trips but if I gave into this fleshly desire to be lazy at home then I would never experience anything beyond my comfortable home and the internet.  But in living according to the Spirit and offering my body, van, and money to be used to serve others, I get to experience places like Yosemite or the our most recent trip to the Sierras and the incredible beauty of God’s creation and the joy of being with others who love God.  I never would have experienced any of this if I gave into my lazy and selfish nature.  I have experienced rest from a lot of my fears when my life is no longer about my desires and fears but about serving others and loving God and seeking to please God.  I begin to lose myself in the joy of serving students at SFSU along with other like-minded friends and there is nothing like it.  The life I get to experience being part of this church has led me to places I never dreamed of and there is the rest that comes from knowing my life is secured in Christ.  I experience the peace of knowing that what I am doing is making an eternal difference in the lives of others and that my life does matter to people and is used by God.  Whenever I am in need, I experience the wonder of being provided for by others who have decided to not live according to their selfish desires but according to the Spirit and have been generous with their lives.  So I experience God answering all my fears of not having enough or being significant through actually denying my selfish desires and living according to God’s ways.  The consequence of living according to the Spirit is not a poorer life or an emptying of myself but a life that is so full of people, purpose, and peace.

–        Our view of hardships, sorrows, and death

Our view of hardships, sorrows and death should be one that looks beyond the present sufferings because there is the promise of glory and freedom that will come one day.  This passage really redeems hardships and sufferings and elevates it in ways that nothing else in this world can.  The bible does not deny the reality of suffering or the pain of sorrow and death but gives us the strength to push through these things with the hope of glory beyond the pain.  If there was nothing to look forward to and no glory at the end of this life then there would be no point in taking on hardships, bearing with sorrow, and boldly facing death.  The purpose of life ought to be one that minimizes sorrow and hardship if there was nothing promised at the end of this.  If it were not for the reality of Christ and the redemption that is promised us then we ought to take the existentialist view of life and live selfishly because it won’t matter in the end.  But this passage gives meaning and purpose to hardships and sorrows so that we can live unselfishly for others.  The promise given to us is that these sufferings will be light and momentary when compared to the glory that is to come.  If there is nothing at the end of suffering then my life ought to be about avoiding suffering at all cost and increase my comfort level as much as possible before I die.  But the biblical view of hardships and death provides the means to elevate my life so that I live passionately and meaningfully rather than aimlessly trying to avoid suffering.

This is the promise that I need to be reminded of when I go through my own present sufferings and that there is redemption at the end and my hardships, sorrows and even death will lead somewhere.  It is this truth that will allow me to embrace suffering and the pain of others and not shy away from hardships.  I think about how ministry is all about taking on the pain and suffering of others and this is the reason why it is hard.  Ministry calls for me to embrace suffering and take on hardships that I would otherwise avoid.  When someone is struggling with sin or is asking for someone to talk to and I can expect to spend hours hearing them out, praying with them, and all this while setting aside my own agenda for the night is all extra hardships that I could easily avoid.  Then there is the suffering that I need to bear with my own sins and the hardship of being held accountable and having my life restructured to battle these stubborn strongholds in my life.  So often, I wonder what is the point of this hardship because I just won’t change or how much easier it would be to not have to deal with my sin.  This is when I need to be reminded that it is not just to be free of vice or to live a clean and pure life but it is so much more.  It is for the promise of glory and redemption that is to come that gives me the encouragement and motivation to keep struggling with my sin.  It is for the fact that these troubles and struggles will seem light and momentary when compared to eternal glory that I can persevere.  This is the end goal for me and that is not just to suffer for some shallow and ascetic reasons but for the purpose of gaining that eternal glory that is promised to us in Christ.  This life is short and the problems and struggles will only last this lifetime so why not go all out for the eternal glory that is to come?  Why not give up the comforts that I have and the things that I have tried to secure for myself in this life for the promise of glory that far outweighs the suffering I would receive in this lifetime?  There are no hardships that I can embrace now that would ever be greater than the glory that God has promised to those who hold on.

Apostle Paul also mentions that the present suffering is not even worth comparing to the glory that is to come and I can only imagine what that glory will be that the sufferings of this age cannot even compare.  It is not as though I suffer immensely for my faith and in fact I live in the wealthiest nation on this planet and my little sufferings are nothing compared to my Christian brothers and sisters around the world.  So many Christians are persecuted and suffer for their faith in Cambodia to the point of being kicked out of their family and rejected by their village or the people who are serving in orphanages in difficult countries and how they experience daily setbacks and are the ones who truly suffer.  And yet, Apostle Paul says that such suffering cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed.  At the same time we are called to patiently wait for this glory to be revealed in us and that is something I find myself having a hard time doing.  When I am in the midst of suffering, I often want to get out of it and not take on any more suffering than I have to.  So rather than patiently enduring through trials, I try and grab at the glory for myself in really foolish ways.  When I am suffering, I try to make it known to my friends around me so they can give me the recognition I desire or I grasp at my own glory through my work and try to achieve something to brag about and boast to others.  Patiently waiting is not something a hyperactive person like me finds very appealing, especially when it comes with suffering.  But here is the perspective that Apostle Paul gives us and that is the glory we will receive from God is so much greater than anything we could ever achieve for ourselves that the suffering will not seem like suffering at all.  So it is my commitment to put my anxious heart at rest in the knowledge that my present sufferings are earning for myself glory that nothing else can compare to it.  It is for glory that I can endure the hardships that come with being a minister of Christ to the point of even facing death one day.

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