GET A LIFE!
- A life that lasts forever
- A life worth living now
Based on Romans 8:11-13
“Get a life!” The older sister tells her little brother to “Get a life!” when she wants him to stop barging into her room, to quit spying on what she’s doing, and to cease and desist disrupting her with his random questions. One high school classmate tells the another to “Get a life!” when the second seems all worked up and bent out of shape over something the teacher said in class and something else that someone else was rumored to say, and just won’t let it go.
“Get a life!” usually means something negative. But in today’s Second Reading, St. Paul encourages us to “Get a life!” in a very different—and very positive—sense. Today’s readings emphasize our Lord’s power over death and his power to give life. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones depicted the truth that God can give life in the face of stone cold death. Jesus brought that vision to reality in the Gospel by raising his friend Lazarus from physical death back to life. And in today’s sermon, we are going to explore a few verses from the start of our Second Reading to see exactly what it means to “Get a life!” with God. Thanks to Jesus, God gives us a life that lasts forever, and a life worth living now.
The Bible reading we’re looking at this morning comes from Romans chapter eight. Some have called this the greatest chapter of the Bible. It is certainly a very rich and full chapter of the Bible, so much so that our Wednesday morning Bible class, which is currently studying Romans, is going to spend at least four weeks studying everything that’s in this chapter.
A little context from the verses leading up to today’s section will be helpful. Paul has explained to his Roman readers that they are not condemned in God’s eyes because they are believers in Jesus. Now that they have come to faith in Jesus, sin is no longer the controlling force in their lives; rather, the Holy Spirit and their new Christian spiritual nature is what guides them. Of course, even as Christians, they (and we) continue to struggle against sin and often lose those struggles. And of course, the consequence for succumbing to sin is death. But that’s hardly the end of the story. And that’s where Paul picks up in the verses we are looking at this morning: “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 through his Spirit, who lives in you.”
Is anyone going to Opening Day at Miller Park tomorrow? Let’s say that you are the world’s biggest Brewers fan, and out of the blue someone comes up to you today and says, “I have an extra ticket for Opening Day. Would you like to come?” And you respond, “Well, if I’m a fan, I’ll be there.” When you say that, are you really making an uncertain statement about if you are a fan, and if you will be there? Of course not! In a somewhat humorous way, you are really saying: “I want to be there and I’m going to be there!”
When Paul says to the Christians in Rome, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you,” he is not making an uncertain statement. Rather, he’s speaking in the same way we do. There is no question the Holy Spirit dwells lives inside the heart of every believer in Jesus, whether first-century Rome or twenty-first century Richfield.
Notice what Paul calls the Holy Spirit who lives in them: not just the “Holy Spirit,” but “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead.” In that little phrase we have a compact and complete reference to the Holy Trinity—the Father, who raised the Son from the dead, has given Christian believers the Holy Spirit to make a home in their hearts. And the reality that the Father has brought Christians to faith in the Son through the Spirit’s work means the following: “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” We are mortal. Every ache and pain and sore muscle and stiff joint point to an eventual funeral. But if that were the end of the story, there would be no reason to call this the “greatest chapter of the Bible.” Paul tells us that the bodies that return to dust will later return to life when God the Father, who raised his Son, sends his risen Son to raise us also.
We live in a culture that tries its best to defy and deny death. We value youth! We do as much as possible to look as young as possible for as long as possible. And when serious illness comes, we do everything medically possible to sustain life. And none of that is necessarily bad. After all, life is a gift of God, and apart from sin’s satanic intrusion into this world, our earthly lives would have lasted forever.
But here’s the reality that will get us all eventually: “The wages of sin is death.” Paul wrote those words earlier in Romans. But you also know that there’s another statement that immediately follows. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). And you know what Paul says in today’s reading: “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” These Bible verses are not merely references for Catechism students to memorize. They confess the reason you and I live our lives and lay down our heads at night with no fear of what lies after this life. These words are the reason that when we lose a loved one in death, we may cry just like Jesus did at Lazarus’ grave—sad for what death does—but at the same time we are confident in what Jesus has done on Easter Day and what he will do for us on the Last Day. You and I can have confidence that God has given us a life—a life that lasts forever!
What you and I put our faith in is no fairy tale. What you and I have put our faith in is the miraculous and historical facts that the Son of God became one of us, that Jesus became sin for us on the cross, and that he became the first born from the dead on the third day. What you and I can put our hope in is that the same Jesus who said, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43) will call us from the dust of death to a resurrected and perfected life that lasts forever. The Holy Spirit who lives in your heart is the ticket that God has given you to assure you that you already have a life—eternal life!
One of the challenging aspects of this “greatest chapter of the Bible” is that Paul talks about very similar thoughts in the same section or even the same sentence. If you read the first half of this chapter, you’ll see how Paul talks about the Holy Spirit and our new, spiritual, Christian nature at the same time—and he refers to both with the same word, “spirit,” to the degree that sometimes it’s hard to understand which one he’s talking about.
We have a similar challenge in these verses. Paul talks about two kinds of “life” in the same section. Right after Paul explains the future eternal life that God gives us, he immediately shifts to a discussion about the new, godly, Christian life. This is the other kind of life God not only wants us to get, but that he gives us and empowers within us. In view of the gift of eternal life, Paul now says this: “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
This little segment begins with an interesting expression: “We have an obligation.” We “owe it” to God to do something. Before Paul says what we ought to do, he tells us what we ought not to do—to live according to our old sinful nature. There is a real struggle to appease and appeal to the wants and lusts and cravings of the sinful flesh inside us. But the problem with that is that we are “paying off” something, only to have it slowly snuff out faith and trust in God and replace eternal life with eternal death. That’s a bad deal if there ever was one!
Here is our real obligation: “If by the [s]pirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Our obligation is not to live for sin but to fight against sin. The Christian’s new spiritual nature in us wants to fight off those life-killing, faith-destroying tendencies of our sinful nature. The spiritual nature in us wants to honor God. And notice that even though Paul talks about this obligation to live in a God-pleasing way, he never says that it is the reason God blesses us with his forgiveness or eternal life. He is simply stating the importance of our spiritual nature, placed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which wants to fight the good fight against sin’s evil influences.
Let’s go back to the Brewers’ Opening Day tomorrow. Imagine that some benevolent person gives you tickets for the game. Someone else hears about your good fortune, and they ask you, “So, are you going to the game?” You respond, “I have to go! I have an obligation to go!” What does that statement mean in that context? You are not saying you have some sort of moral duty to attend a baseball game, or that you have been forced and coerced into attending! If anything, your unique statement about an “obligation” shows your eager willingness, as if to say, “I wouldn’t have it any other way! I’ve got to do this! And I’m glad that I get to do this!”
The season of Lent puts before us all Christ did for us leading up through his crucifixion, suffering, death, and burial. Aren’t those events, and all that they accomplished for us, more than enough inspiration to live for the one who died for us? That’s why we don’t say, “I have to love my family,” but “I love to love my spouse and my kids!” And we don’t say, “I have to support my congregation,” but “I’m honored that God uses my gifts to make the ministry of this congregation happen!” And we don’t say, “I have to study the Bible,” but “I love to dig deeper and expand my knowledge and strengthen my faith in all that the cross of Jesus means for my life.” And we don’t say, “I have to confess my faith,” but “I’m thrilled that God would use my words and my God-inspired love for others and my invitations to others to bring someone else the same spiritual peace and confidence that God has given me because of Jesus.” All of these examples show us that because of Christ’s resurrection to life, we have a life that’s worth living right now!
I doubt that Mary and Martha had any sense that Jesus was going to raise their dead brother Lazarus back to life when he arrived in their village. It had been four days. Lazarus’ body was rotting. It was too late. But it’s never too late for God. It’s never too late for God to bring us into his family of faith and give us the gift of life forever in heaven. It’s never too late for God to bring us into his family of faith and inspire us to live a life that puts all sin and regrets and mistakes and shame at the foot of the cross, and walks away with joy and gladness because we can live a life that’s worth living right now. So get a life—with Jesus! Amen.