Lombard CRC

Union With Christ Part 2 Belonging Not Bookkeeping

Last week we introduced a central truth

and experience of Christian faith:

union with Christ.

Union with Christ helps us understand a phrase

used over and over in the gospel of John

and especially in the epistles of Paul

in the New Testament:

in Christ.

Like in our text today:

‘there is now no condemnation

for those who are in Christ Jesus . . .’

What does it mean to be ‘in Christ’

or for Christ to be ‘in us’?

One thing it means, we said last week,

is relationship, not religion,

when it comes to your life with God.

We confessed how easy it is to turn following Jesus

into a program,

and forget the person.

Approaching salvation

like we approach our health

or our career or a hobby

and make a list of rules

and once we check off the boxes we are satisfied.

But then we wonder why we doubt so much

or find worship boring

or drift away from the church.

It’s because we miss the person of Jesus

in just going through the motions.

But Christianity isn’t a program;

it’s being united with Christ,

a relationship with a person.


God loves you.

The power of the cross

blesses believers with God’s love

so that complete forgiveness

and a justified, right relationship with God

is freely given.

God gave you life,

Jesus redeems your life,

the Lord’s desire is to be with you:

I have called you friends, says Jesus,

God is our Father,

we are children of God, says 1 John.

All this and more speaks of relationship.


The relationship is the treasure,

to listen to God in his Word and in creation,

to talk with God in prayer,

to choose to sacrifice

and even suffer for and with Jesus,

to give thanks to God by our trust and obedience,

to exercise the gifts the Spirit gives us to serve.


So what are you doing to enjoy the relationship

and make your relationship with Jesus

as personal and as healthy as you can?


That’s a good question for almost anyone.

Many today say, I don’t need the church,

or to exercise faith in any real way,

because if God loves me that’s all that matters

and I can live however I like.

If I’m saved by grace I don’t owe God anything.

Since salvation is by grace alone

you don’t owe God a thing, that’s true,

You don’t earn salvation,

you don’t pay Jesus back for his forgiveness.

But you do owe God a relationship.

When you are purely loved

you owe the lover the relationship

and all you can do to make it healthy.

That’s what you owe God.

You are made for relationship

and you diminish your self

and the lives of those you care about

when your relationship with God

is not active alive and healthy.

This ‘no condemnation,’

is a justified, right relationship with God.

And it leads into our second experience

in union with Christ:

Faith not flesh.

vs 3 - For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh . . .


Faith, not flesh.

What is the term ‘flesh’ talking about?

‘Flesh’ can be used in the Bible

to mean physical flesh.

But that’s not how it’s being used here.

Bible translators have had a hard time

trying to get this right for us

so that we have an accurate translation

as well as a meaningful one.

If you have an older NIV version verse 3

reads like this:

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man . . .

Each of those underlined phrases is the word ‘flesh.’

But we lose the connection in favor of understanding.

The new version reads this way:

vs 3 - For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh . . .


So what does this word mean?

It’s talking instead about our human condition.

 ‘Flesh’ is that part of us

that doesn’t want to be told what to do.

It is living out the creed we declared as toddlers:

I can do it myself.

I can flourish as a human being my way,

my strength, my understanding.


Why is this important?

Because of the pressure to live this way today.

Charles Taylor describes it as living

to prove our authenticity:

“There is a certain way of being human

that is my way.

I am called upon to live my life in this way,

and not in imitation of anyone else's life.

This notion gives a new importance

to being true to myself.

If I am not, I miss the point of my life;

I miss what being human is for me.”


Every day we live in this pressure

to be true to one’s self.

It is important to live out one’s own life

over against any imposed meaning or authority

over your life.

That includes one’s parents, culture, church leaders,

teachers, even one’s God.

Kids grow up hearing this in most every

Disney or Pixar movie,

teens hear it in most every song

from Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga.

Now I see that if I were truly to be myself

I would break my family’s heart. – Mulan

Ferdinand: It seems like

from the moment you're born,

people think they got you all figured out

based on how you look, how you talk,

where you're from but it's not that simple,

Elsa: Don’t let them in. Don’t let them see.

Be the good girl you always have to be.

Don't you ever let a soul in the world tell you that you can't be exactly who you are. Lady Gaga

Just be yourself, there is no one better. Taylor Swift

It’s in most every advertisement like Diet Coke:

Whatever you’re into keep being into!


We can’t escape the pressure.

This is the air we breathe.

It’s the Black Panther

It’s the Shape of Water.

And it’s the flesh.


So do we get it a little?

Flesh is about making it on my own.

Even when it comes to God.

Being able to say I’m good enough

or faithful enough.

I say so.


You can see where this leads:

to all kinds of measuring up,



blind spots,

excusing yourself,


fear of doing the wrong thing

or not enough right things,

lots of condemnation.


But the passage starts off ‘no condemnation’:

Jesus himself took on this flesh.

In order to defeat its desire by the cross.

Because the flesh is crucified

this pressure to perform is put to death.

It has no place in Christ’s church or God’s kingdom.

There is no condemnation

for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Jesus replaces flesh with faith.

And by faith we enjoy being united in Christ,

enjoy his person,

his closeness,

his inner guidance and strength

his assurance and love.

New life.


What’s the difference between faith and flesh?

Here’s the blessing to you that only Jesus gives:

vs 2 says - the law of the Spirit who gives life

has set you free from the law of sin and death


All around us is the law of sin and death:

law here pointing to the consequences

of doing life on our own

by our own strength and understanding.

This is how it rules over us:

In the law of sin and death

I live in fear –

fear like missing out in what I want

when things go wrong.

I worked hard my whole life

and now I want to enjoy retirement

but I’ve got this illness.

So what good is my life now?

I’m missing out.

Fear of not making it –

I’m stuck in a job I don’t like

I’m stuck in a marriage that’s hard

I don’t make a lot of money

I’m not making it,

and there’s no joy, no hope, no peace, no gratitude.

Fear that makes me live self-centered:

all this is the pressure of the flesh on you

in your marriage,

in your neighborhood,

on your team,

as soon as you get up in the morning –

it is letting death have its way,

it is sin when I put me first.


So what does flesh decide to do?

We try harder.

We add on more.

We judge and divide and separate.

We put our own safety and security first.

But there are consequences to living this way.

The law of Sin and death, says Romans.

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God;

it is death;

it cannot please God –

it seeks only to please the self.

The result is to miss all the goodness and delight

and treasure that is God in Christ.


But verse two gives us good news:

the law of the Spirit who gives life

has set you free from the law of sin and death

Set free.

Jesus didn’t live this way.

He lived free of the law of sin and death

and then crucified it,

nailing its power to the cross.

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

See? God’s way, not my way.

John 5:30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

John 6:63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.

He showed us he is worthy of faith.

He crucified the flesh.

And the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, blesses us with that same love and power

because by faith we are united with Christ:

his life is our life,

I no longer live but Christ lives in me,

we said last week.


So a different law is at work:

the law of the Spirit,

that is, being ruled into life.

So by the Holy Spirit different consequences:

freedom from the threat and power of sin and death.

The law of the Spirit of life

is the guidance of the Holy Spirit

as He gives us the desire to live a holy life,

working new life in Christ in God’s people


We don’t get to God by being good enough

or getting better

or doing more.

But by faith –

joining Jesus in trust

that accepts the cross

and joins with him

in the brokenness and suffering around us

to bring blessing where ever blessing is needed.

Vs 10-11 point to this:

10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Experiences like sacrifice,

putting others ahead of yourself,

facing a deep loss,

choosing repentance,

all these and more can feel like death,

but the Spirit gives life

through these experiences of faith.

As Frederick Buechner says,

Christ’s resurrection means that

“The worst isn’t the last thing about the world.

It’s the next to the last thing.

The last thing is the best.

It’s the power from on high

that comes down into the world,

that wells up

from the rock-bottom worst of the world

like a hidden spring.

Can you believe it?”

Faith believes that,

and doesn’t curse God when bad things happen,

or isolate one’s self from trouble,

or use God to find a soothing and secure life,

but takes up one’s cross and follows.


So what changes can I make to live this way

and enjoy the treasure that is living with Jesus,

experiencing he is with me,

and his love is at work in and thru me,

so I may rest even in my deepest troubles

because he shares them with me

and will lead me through them?

Verse 5 guides us -

vs 5 - Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.


Living by faith not flesh

means cultivating holy desires.

I think this is important.

First, because many of us have a misunderstanding that goes something like this:

desires are bad.

Christians get rid of desires.

And I think many of us would say this

because we were taught rightly

that sin has corrupted our thoughts and desires

and Satan can use these to lead us away from Jesus and from the goodness of God’s kingdom.


But second,

the Bible doesn’t teach that desires are wrong;

it teaches that there are wrong desires.

But there are holy desires, too.

And in many ways union with Christ begins

with a willingness to name our desire

in Jesus’ presence.

Your desire for God

is the deepest reality of who the Lord

has made you to be.

And we will be restless as long as we seek to fulfill that desire with lesser passions.

One of the most powerful things Jesus

is recorded as saying in the gospels

is his question:

What do you want me to do for you?

It is a question of holy desire.

It gets to the heart of who you are and are to be.

And I think that to live in union with Christ,

by faith not flesh,

is to do the hard and necessary work

of being able to answer that question truthfully.

Suppose Jesus is asking you right now,

in this season of life,

what do you want me to do for you?

Could you answer him?

Truthfully, fully?


So to live by faith not flesh

is to develop spiritual desires

so that you journey in that invitation

to desire what the Spirit desires.

What is that longing deep down inside you,

underneath the pain,

the fear,

underneath the boredom and the numbness,

underneath the craving, and busyness,

and anger and judgment . . .

the Spirit stirs a desire in you that only God fulfills.

Can you make this your prayer

and commit to listening for God

until you can answer Jesus?

The freedom for this

comes from knowing that being united with Christ means a life of belonging, not bookkeeping.


vs 14 - For those who are led by the Spirit of God

are the children of God.

We belong to our Heavenly Father.

We’ll find our holy desires by giving energy

to that belonging,

rather than all the energy we give to bookkeeping.


Most of us keep score without even knowing we do.

Our pencils are pretty sharp.

Son, it’s your turn to help with the dishes,

but I did it last night,

it’s sister’s turn!

How come I never get my way?

Pastor, everyone I’ve talked to is against this!

Or, everyone is for this!

Right, we know how to keep score.


But faith is about belonging instead.

How many square feet in your bedroom?

Doesn’t matter right, the belonging does.

Having a home does.

Let me ask you, how important is the score, after all?

The last time the Bulls won the NBA championship, what was the final score of the deciding game?

Doesn’t matter, they won.

Scores don’t matter, victories do.

The victory we have in Christ’s cross.

1 John 5:4 - This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.


So how about we respond

to the invitation of union with Christ

by enjoying our belonging to God.

Let’s start at the Lord’s table.

I am a child of God, a brother or sister of Christ.

My identity is in the sacrifice

and sovereign presence of Jesus.

I am not my job,

My grade point average,

My illness,

My doubts,

My failures,

My successes,

My habits,

My temptations,

My limits,

My regrets,

My happiness,

Or anything like that.

Nor am I to find my purpose

in experiences or orientations such as these.

I am not my own,

but belong – body and soul, in life and in death –

to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

At the table I rest in God’s covenant promise

that I belong to the Lord

and nothing can separate me from his love.

I am held in the family and fellowship of God:

I am a child of God.


And as you receive the supper

commit to helping someone else

experience they belong to Christ and his church.

What helpful word,

what welcoming act,

what attitude of mercy,

what understanding or acceptance

will you offer

that witnesses to such union with Christ,

belonging and not bookkeeping,

faith not flesh?



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