People want to belong. They don’t want to be completely isolated. They want to be part of a larger whole, because that larger group of people provides us a sense of identity and security.
And so we identify ourselves as members of different groups. The largest group is that of our nation. We are Americans, citizens of the United States. If you go to some other nation, you take along a passport to demonstrate the legitimacy of this claim. Because of this status we assume that if something were to happen to us overseas the government of the United States, and if need be its military, will do everything it can to assist us.
We identify ourselves on the basis of where we live – or where we have lived in the past. It’s been more than twenty years since I have had an Indiana mailing address, but at heart I still think of myself as a Hoosier. I spent three years living in Texas, and let me tell you, those people identify themselves on the basis of their state first and foremost. We think of our status on the basis of the town in which we live – thus Marion or Carterville or Herrin helps to provide some of our identity. We are part of the shared experience of living in the town and the things that go on there like the building of new schools, festivals and homecoming parades.
And of course, we identify ourselves on the basis of sports teams. For many, the fact that a person is a Cardinals fan helps to define who they are. It joins them together with “Cardinals’ nation” – it provides belonging and a bond with people they meet who are otherwise perfect strangers.
Tonight is Pentecost Eve. We are here because this evening is the beginning of a major feast in the life of the Church. It is the beginning of our celebration of Pentecost – the event in which the risen and ascended Lord poured forth the Holy Spirit upon the Church and announced the arrival of the Last Days. In Paul’s words from Romans we hear about the work of the Spirit. We find that the presence of the Spirit within us has given us a status – an identity. And because the Spirit is present in us, we find that we are called to live in ways that are true to our status even as we look forward the Spirit’s work on the Last Day in raising our bodies from the dead.
In our text this evening Paul writes: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
The Feast of Pentecost announces that the Holy Spirit – whom in this chapter Paul refers to as both the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ” – is now uniquely at work in the Church. Pentecost is a watershed moment. Something new and different has happened and in this event God has announced that the Last Days are here.
The unique presence and work of the Spirit is tied to the unique presence and work of the Son of God that has occurred in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Paul says at the beginning of this chapter, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”
God condemned sin – your sin – in the flesh of Jesus Christ on the cross. And then on the third day through the work of the Spirit he raised Christ from the dead. Because of this, you now have no condemnation before God.
But the meaning of all of this for you goes far beyond the fact that you no longer face condemnation from God. Instead, you who were enemies of God have now become his children in Christ. Paul tells us that Spirit of Christ poured out on Pentecost is the “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The Spirit bears witness that you have the status – the identity of the children of God. The Spirit is the One who enables you to live out this status by calling to God in faith, “Abba! Father”
This is good news – the Good News of the Gospel. We live life as people who are in Christ; as people are the in the Spirit and so are children of God. But we also still live as people who are in the flesh. We are people who still have the presence of the old man within us.
We are called to recognize this daily. We are called to confess those places in our life where sin guides our life instead of the Spirit. And we are called to struggle against those sins by the work of the Spirit. In our text Paul says, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Paul expresses himself here using a present tense: “you are putting to death the deeds of the body.” The Christian life through the work of the Spirit is one of an ongoing struggle against sin in our life. The Spirit calls us to this struggle and makes the struggle possible. But it is a struggle that we must also see a being part of our life – as something that we take up as our own.
It is a struggle that will only end when we die or Christ returns. But because the Spirit dwells in you, that end is one that you know will be victory. In the verse just before our text, Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Spirit who dwells in you; the Spirit who enables you to be putting to death the sin in your life is the Spirit who was at work in raising Jesus Christ from the dead. And because the same Spirit dwells in you, you know that he will also give life to your bodies on the Last Day. The life giving work of the Sprit now that enables the struggle against sin, will bring about the final victory when he raises and transforms our bodies to be like Christ. He will bring about the final transformation by which sin and death will never trouble us again.
Tonight we begin to celebrate Pentecost. We rejoice that Christ poured forth his Spirit upon the Church. Because he has done this, the Spirit is powerfully at work within us. It is the Spirit who has worked regeneration and faith by which we have received adoption – by which we have come the children of God and cry out “Abba! Father.” It is the Spirit who enable us to take up the daily struggle against sin as we are putting to death the sin within us. And it is the Spirit who will bring about the final victory when he raises our mortal body and gives us as share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.