You Are Led by the Spirit

Romans 8:12-25

 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to [the flesh]. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.   And by him we cry,   “Abba  Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,  if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

The Congregational Church of Easton, July 23, 2023

Jesus says, “The last will be first.”   I’d like to give you the last part of today’s sermon first.   I’ll ask you to join me in a simple exercise, very similar to meditating. The purpose is for you to take something that’s bothering you and let it go, so that you can go back to being connected to God’s spirit. Here goes:

Please close your eyes.  First, be aware of the peace you have felt so far in this worship service.  Can you feel a sense of calm?  Now, add to the calm by taking a deep, spirit filled breath. Allow yourself to experience the peace of God.

Now,  shift gears and think of something that has been bothering you recently.                            Can you feel a little anxiety rising up in you?  That’s to be expected.

Finally, be aware that you’re anxious.    Then, take a deep breath, lean back, and push away the thought that made you anxious. You don’t have to solve that problem right now.  You can decide to return to the peace of this worship service.   Later, you may come up with some ideas for dealing with whatever was bothering you.

Again, take a deep spirit-filled breath.      Are you back to feeling peaceful?      If so, you’ve proven to yourself that you can choose not to be a slave to anxiety.  You, together with God’s Spirit, are more powerful than your worries.

That’s the end of my sermon about being in the Spirit this morning.    Now, here’s the beginning:

I’d like you to consider two different images of God that have everything to do with how we manage our anxieties. One is an image of an angry God, a concept of God that stirs up anxiety and guilt.  The other image is of a God of infinite love and forgiveness.

I’m going to read you a portion of a sermon by a preacher who has an angry image of God, and then I’ll read you the first part of today’s reading from Paul, who imagines God very differently.

The sermon is titled, “In the hands of an angry God,” by Jonathan Edwards. I read you part of it last week.   It’s from a sermon Edwards preached to his congregation in Northampton, MA in 1741. He’s talking about people who reject Christ, people who haven’t been converted.

O sinner!  Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath,  that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell.    

  You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.

Do you feel a little anxious when you hear this?  If you do, you are feeling what Edwards and other preachers of his day wanted you to feel. During the Great Awakening of the 1730s and ‘40s preachers tried to scare their listeners into repenting their sins and having an emotional conversion. They wanted people to feel anxious.

But Jesus tells us over and over not to be anxious.   In the gospels he tells us not to be afraid more often than he tells us to love.

Something is wrong here. Jonathan Edwards wasn’t reading the same Bible that we do.

Let me contrast Edward’s sermon with today’s passage by Paul. Since the middle of June, the lectionary has offered preachers the opportunity to focus on Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In chapter one of that letter, Paul also talks about the wrath of God, just like Edwards does.[1]  He gives examples of the sinfulness of the prevailing culture of Rome, and he talks about God’s judgment.  He says none of us can manage to make ourselves right with God through our own actions.   Jonathan Edwards would agree.

Where Paul parts company with Edwards is in their images of God. Edwards’ God is angry at humanity for its imperfections and idolatry. 

Paul has an image of God as a loving father, who has given us the gift of Jesus ‘s life, death, and resurrection.  That gift restores us to right relationship with God if we trust it.   

Like Abraham, we are made right with God by our trust in God’s faithfulness.     These are two different images of God — one of wrath and retribution and one of love and mercy.

There’s a second way that Edwards’ and Paul’s images of God differ. Edwards imagines a God out there, separate from humans over here.  The
God out there observes and judges and either punishes or saves.

Paul’s image of God is less dualistic.  He talks about Christ in us — our unity with Christ.  In today’s passage he talks about God’s Spirit living in us.  let me read verses 8 through 10 once again.

People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God. But you aren’t self-centered. Instead, you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone doesn’t have the spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him.  If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness….

The Spirit of Christ is not out there, separate from us. Christ is IN us. Trust this.  If you and I open ourselves to God’s Spirit living in US — if we allow it in like we did during that little exercise I asked you to do – if if we breathe in God’s spirit, then we are not self-centered.

Self-centeredness is at the root of how we separate ourselves from God    and cut ourselves off from God’s peace.  Paul goes on to say…

So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die.   But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live.

I heard a wonderful story about selfishness and death. A fellow had a room at the bottom deck of an ocean liner and decided to drill a hole in the floor. Alarms went off when the hull was breached.  When members of the crew rushed in and saw water spurting out, they shouted, “Stop that!  What are you doing?!”  The man replied, “This is my room.  I can do whatever I want with it.”

How’s that for selfishness?    And, as Paul says in verse 13, “If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die.”  You’ll go down with the ship.

Next, Paul says in verse 14:

All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters.  You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children.  With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba  Father.”   The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.  But if we are children, we are also heirs.  We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him, so that we can also be glorified with him. 

Such a loving image of God! The Spirit brings us into God’s loving family.

Notice that Paul talks about fear, but he does so in a very different way than Jonathan Edwards does.  Paul describes the spirit of slavery that leads us back into fear.  Then he contrasts the spirit of slavery leading to fear with the Spirit of God that shows us we are part of God’s family.

It’s either one or the other.  In Paul’s language we are either a fearful slave or a fellow heir with Christ as a member of Abba Father’s family.

The question I’d like you to consider is this one:  once we know the difference between those moments during the day when we’re a slave and those moments when we’re an heir – once we know the difference, my question is how can we shift from fear and anxiety back to the confidence and peace of being embraced by God?

The last two lines of this morning’s Psalm give us a clue. The Psalmist says,

Examine me, God!  Look at my heart!

   Put me to the test!  Know my anxious thoughts!

Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me,

   then lead me on the eternal path!

“Know my anxious thoughts!”  And, “Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me.”

We open ourselves to anxiety and the spirit of slavery when. as the Psalmist says, we pursue an “idolatrous way.”  The idolatrous way is all the things we worry about:  security for our family or for our retirement, success for our children and grandchildren, looking good in the eyes of others, living up to whatever standards we have for ourselves or standards we have absorbed from our culture.   These are normal worries, right?   

There is no way we can prevent them from rising up in our consciousness.    However, when we let those worries and concerns absorb us — that’s what Paul calls selfishness.

When we become preoccupied with the worries our culture stirs up in us, we separate ourselves from the love of God.  We live in the spirit of the times rather than in God’s Spirit, the Spirit who invites us into God’s love, God’s family.

Every day  you and I move in and out of the peace and love of God that Jesus calls the Kingdom of God. When we’re anxious we’re out of the flow of the Kingdom. When we experience what Paul and Philippians calls “the peace that passes all understanding,” we’re back in the flow.

Oprah Winfrey interviewed a wise man by the name of Michael Singer.   Singer talks about letting go of anxiety and fear.  He says, when fear comes into your heart, that’s natural.   And, you have the right to relax. It’s possible to let fear pass right through you.[2]

He goes on to describe the exercise that I had you do at the beginning of this sermon — become aware of your anxiety, take a deep breath, lean back and push away the thought that made you anxious.

Here’s what he says in an article he wrote for the Huffington Post:[3]

The more you get drawn into [thinking about whatever is bothering you and what to do about it], the less Spirit you feel.  The more you don’t participate in your personal energies, the more Spirit you feel.  You now have a direct relationship with the spiritual energy, and you will find yourself constantly longing to experience it.

This is the greatest miracle: You’ve surrendered, and your entire life is about Spirit, yet people, places, and things continue to interact with you. The difference is that these interactions require none of your energy.  They happen naturally, by themselves, leaving you at peace and absorbed in Spirit.

My friend, the Rev. Carolyn Young says, “Spirit is everything….  What is physical and tangible will not last. Spirit lasts.”   You can choose.  Choose wisely.

Let us pray.  Thank you, God, for giving us the freedom to choose whether to get caught up in the worries of this world or whether to receive your peace.  Thank you for the spirit of Christ that was in Jesus for giving us the energy and peace of mind to do whatever we can to make this a better world. Amen

[1] Anger, for Paul, is about behavior, not about persons.

[2] http://www.

[3] http://www.