Born to Be Free
Summary of Romans Chapters 1 to 8
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Summary of Romans 1-8
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
If you watch “Chico and the Man” (an American sitcom on television) you probably know who Freddy Prince is and perhaps most of us saw the irony of one of our foremost comics committing suicide because of despair and despondency. And you remember, that he kept on asking his manager “Is this all it is? Even my friends depend on my ratings and change as my ratings change. Is this all that life is?” And he kept on asking questions like, “What is it really for? Why am I really here at all and what’s the point of life?” And it was to answer that kind of question loved ones, that we really began the study of Romans about 10 years ago on campus when probably our society was in as much chaos as it had been for several decades. And I felt that in discussing what reality was together, it was very important that we didn’t discuss reality as you who were Baptist maybe thought of it, or we didn’t discuss reality as you who were Catholic thought about it, or we didn’t discuss reality as I as a Methodist thought of it, but that we did have some objective account that we could study and that’s why we chose the book of Romans which really is the best statement of the reason behind Jesus coming to earth that we have in the Bible.
It’s regarded as being as near to a theological treatise as the Bible contains. And you remember that every great movement of God’s Spirit here in our world has begun with a new discovery of the meaning of Romans and so that’s why we began to study Romans. And that’s the purpose of it loved ones, to find out what reality is, why we’re all here. And what we have been discovering of course is that we’re here so that we can treat God as our loving Father and so that we can bring his world under his control. And we’ve come now to the end of Chapter 8 of Romans and I think many of you have perhaps just joined us over the past year, or maybe the past two or three years and that it would be good for you to see the panorama of what Roman’s says about reality just very briefly.
So my wife always groans when I’m going to do these summaries, but I promise that I will really make it short and hope it will be sweet and clear. Loved ones, Romans 1, if you have your Bible, Romans 1 really makes that statement there. Really the whole purpose of Romans 1 is to say that obviously God exists. And you get that in Romans 1:19-20, obviously, God exists. And you see it there in Verse 19, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” So really what God says to us in Romans is, you who say, ‘Oh I don’t know whether there’s a God or not.” You’re really not being very fair to the evidence. It’s very difficult to give as reasonable explanation of the order and design in our universe unless you believe there’s an intelligent mind behind it. And that’s the first point that Romans make in regard to reality.
Then the second step in Romans 2 is that all of us know how we’re meant to treat him. We really do. It’s there, even those who have no law or no Old or New Testament. Romans 2:14-15, “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them.” And God says, “Really, all of you know how you should treat me. You really do. Even if you don’t have a law to refer to your conscience inside you keeps telling you, ‘You should do this,’ or, ‘You shouldn’t do that.’” And so you really do know how you should treat God.
And then Romans 3:9-11 says that none of us in fact treat him that way. None of us do treat God the
way we’re meant to treat him. And that’s in Verse 9, “What then? Are we Jews,” who have a law you see as opposed to Gentiles who haven’t, ‘Are we Jews any better off?” Are we Americans who know these things as opposed perhaps to the Buddhist, or the Hindus, “Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.’” And so God, through Romans, says, “Obviously, I exist. All of you know how you’re meant to treat me, yet none of you do treat me that way.”
And then Romans 4 states the way we’re meant to treat God. Romans 4:19-22, you remember, it takes an example like having one of our relatives in the cancer ward, or having one of our relatives about to die, that was the same kind of situation. Abraham was told by God he would have a child and of course his wife was very, very old and he was faced with is he going to believe this or not? Verse 19, “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.’” And that’s really the way we’re meant to live with God loved ones. We really are.
I mean, I know it seems strange to say that because we have developed such an independent life ourselves and this is so abnormal but we are meant to treat our Creator as our dear Father and to obey him and to trust him as our dear Father and that’s God’s plan and that’s what faith is. Faith is walking through the world with absolute peace and calmness of heart whether you get cancer one day or whether your child dies the next day, or whether you lost your job the next day, walking in absolute peace and confidence because you know the Father who made you sees it all and has it all organized and has prepared a way of escape for you. And that’s really what faith is.
Chapter 5 says that only Jesus’ death can change the independent personalities we’ve inherited and that’s 5:1-2, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” In other words, probably all of you know you should treat God like that but you find that you have a personality that has been trained for years to depend on everybody else and to depend most of all on yourself, and you’ve had a personality that worries and frets just at the drop of a hat. And the only way to change that personality is in Jesus’ death. That’s the only way to change it. It’s only in Jesus’ death that your personality that has been trained to depend on people, and things, and experiences instead of on God as your loving Father, the only way to change that personality is in Jesus’ death.
I’d like to come back to that at the end after we’ve got to the end of Romans 8, and that’s what God says in Romans 9. And then in Romans 6, in Jesus our perverted world dominated personalities were destroyed. And that’s Romans 6:6-7, those verses that we know so well. We know that our old self, that’s that old self that loses temper, that gets worried, that frets, that gets anxious, that depends on the praise of our peers, the approval of our professors, that is cast down when somebody criticizes, that personality that has been used to receiving from outside. “Our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body,” a sinful body is one that is independent of God, “Might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin,” sin is just independence of God, “For he who has died is freed from sin.”
And then in Romans 7 loved ones, only by identification with Jesus in his death and resurrection can
we obey and depend on God as our Father. Only by identification with Jesus in his death, in his death to what people think, in his death to what people can provide in the way of material possessions, and in his resurrection can we obey and depend on God as our Father. And it’s Romans 7:15, that famous verse you remember, that is the cry of so many of our hearts, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want,” and many of us have listened here on Sunday mornings have gone to practice it during the week and we say, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” And then in verse 24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” This body that is so dominated by other people, and other events, and outside circumstances, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind.” In other words, of myself, on my own independence I end up serving, “The law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” So I have to be delivered from that so that with both my flesh and my mind I can serve God. And that’s Romans 7 loved ones.
And then Romans 8 is the last chapter that we’ve just finished. When we do identify ourselves with Jesus in his death and resurrection our Father’s Holy Spirit gives us the nature of his children and it’s Romans 8:12, “So then, brethren, 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 put to death the deeds of the body you will live. 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 sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Now loved ones, what I’d really like to share specifically this morning and then ask you if you have any questions is this, many of you I think, come here on Sundays and are part of the very cerebral group that we probably form. Really, you probably would be surprised at how many – I think there are others of us who aren’t attorneys, and doctors, and teachers, and college students, but you’d be surprised how many of those there are among us and we are a miserably cerebral kind of group. And there’s always the great temptation for people like ourselves to come here Sunday after Sunday and to grasp the obviously attractive truth that we are meant to live outward. We’re meant to love. We’re not meant to be demanding love all the time, we’re meant to love other people. And many of us I think grasp the truth that we’re meant to receive our security, and our significance, and our happiness from God our Father so that we as a result, can give security, and significance, and happiness to other people. And I think many of us come Sunday after Sunday and we say, “Yeah that is good. I can see that. Even the psychology books back up that kind of life.” And I think there’s a great danger of many of you thinking, “I’m going to try it.”
Now do you see you miss the whole point of it if you think you can try it by your own effort and by your own will power because the center of the truth is that your personality has become so twisted and so perverted that it cannot live like that and that’s why God destroyed it in Jesus. And only when you believe that it has been destroyed in Jesus and involve yourself in an intimate loving embrace with him as your Savior, only then will your personality be transformed and changed, and only then will you be able to receive the Holy Spirit of God which brings you all of the love and joy and peace of your own Creator.
But loved ones, you can’t do it yourselves. In other words, in this world there are broadly speaking two kinds of life. There’s natural life such as animals have and there is spiritual life. Now, my happy little dog has natural life and he lives every moment of his day concerned with food. Food is a big moment in his life and he really enjoys food. If I change the little bed that we have in the garage he gets all upset until he gets used to it. Shelter, that’s another big thing, he’s
all concerned with shelter. He’s a little Yorkshire so he feels the cold so he needs a coat when he goes out in the cold. So he’s all concerned with food, and shelter, and clothing. That’s him. Now happiness to him is getting more food, getting more food, getting more shelter, really. I’ve tried him with Beethoven he just does not dig Beethoven at all. He understands more food, more shelter and clothing that brings happiness. If I pat him a lot, make a whole fuss of him, then he feels he’s significant. But that’s animal life.
Now loved ones, I can maybe teach him to walk on his hind legs so that he might vaguely resemble a man or a human being but he is still a miserable little animal because that’s the only kind of life he has coming through him. Now do you see that when you try to be an outgoing child of God by your own efforts, you’re like the little dog walking on its hind legs, you see that? You’re trying to imitate with your little animal independent personality that has been enslaved to people’s opinions for years, that has been enslaved to the emotionally satisfying experiences that you have through the week, that has been enslaved to other people giving you their attention and their recognition. You’re trying to use that miserable animal like personality and you’re trying to produce the outgoing life that Jesus alone can provide. And so loved ones, it’s vital not to come here Sunday-by-Sunday and listen and say, “I’m going to try that this week,” because you’ll drive yourself crazy. Or, you might become an approximation to the kind of person that God wants you to be but always deep down there’ll be that sense that you’re a self-made man or a self-made woman. And most of all, you will utterly lack the Holy Spirit.
Now being a child of God is experiencing the life of God’s Spirit in you. It’s a life loved ones, it is not a legal obligation. It is a burdensome thing when it becomes a series of legal obligations. That is not what Christianity is about, it’s not what being a child of God is about. Being a child of God is allowing the old human carnal animal self to be destroyed in Jesus, embracing him because he’s the only one that can bring that about through the cosmic miracle that God did in Calvary, and then reaching out for the gift of the Holy Spirit and receiving that Holy Spirit as a real person whom you obey and submit to day-by-day.
In other words loved ones, it is vital to see that the center of everything is fine. Only Jesus’ death can change the independent personalities we’ve inherited. You know every dear husband and every dear wife here, every dear roommate knows that that’s so. You’ve tried to love her day-by-day-by-day, you’ve tried to be patient with him day-by-day-by-day, you’ve tried to want his happiness more than your own, you know that. You know as a roommate you’ve tried to keep it up. You keep it up for a few days and then you fall because the independent personality has not been changed, you’re still a little dog trying to walk on its hind legs, trying to imitate the life of a spiritual man or woman. But loved ones, you can’t.
The thing to do is to identify yourself with Jesus, “Lord Jesus, I must admit that I have been depending on what my bosses think of me for my sense of importance. I’ve been depending on what my wife says about me when I come home at night. I’ve been depending on what my peers think of me for my sense of success. Lord Jesus, I want to die with you to that. I want to identify myself with you in your death and I want to be willing to endure what you endured. To have everybody insult me, everybody treat me as a criminal, everybody look upon me as nothing. Lord Jesus, I am willing for that and for anything else that you show me I need to be willing to accept. And then Lord Jesus, I ask you to give me your Holy Spirit.”
In other words loved ones, if Jesus is not your Savior you will never live as God meant you to live, you see. And I’m just a little afraid that some of you might listen on Sundays and see him as your
example, and try to follow him so that anyone who reads any kind of decent psychology, they’re trying to live an outgoing life. But what none of us will accept is that we are radically perverted and twisted ourselves. That we will not accept. We will not accept that we’re sinners. We’re willing to be anything, maybe unenlightened, or maybe unsophisticated, or maybe uneducated, but we’re not willing to be sinners. And loved ones, that’s what God says we are.
Sinners are people who have lived so independent of God and so dependent on society that their personalities have become radically twisted, perverted, and put out of joint and the only way for those to be healed is for them to be destroyed in Jesus and recreated as new creatures completely through the power of his Holy Spirit. So do you see that there’s a miracle at the heart of all we’re talking about? And that’s what it means to be a child of God.
Now loved ones, it’s just exactly Noon so are there any questions that anyone would like to ask preferably concerning this. I’m not too good on calculus or analytical geometry.
Question from the audience:
Do you say that being part of God is not being of the body of God?
Reply from Pastor O’Neill:
No, I would say the opposite, that being part of God is being part of the body of Christ.
Question from the audience:
What is the difference between trying to imitate and trying to identify?
Reply from Pastor O’Neill:
Trying to imitate loved ones is a self-directed operation. You choose what you’re going to imitate in Jesus so you are still really god of your own life. It’s just that now you’re directing your own reformation. But identifying yourself with Jesus is looking to the Holy Spirit and asking him in what way he wants you to identify with Jesus. In other words, it’s giving the Holy Spirit the initiative and the right to direct. So many of us here have all kinds of shortcomings and the Holy Spirit knows which one God wants you to deal with today. And if you resist that you’re resisting his will and in that sense you’re a sinner and an independent person and you’re remaining so.
Now if the Holy Spirit points to that one thing but you are involved in imitation, so you’re working on some other area of your life that is a little more convenient for you to work on and just a little less hard on your ego, then you’ll be concentrating on imitating whereas the Holy Spirit is trying to bring you into identification. And I suppose that’s the whole difference between becoming a child of God and being a good man. A good man is trying to do what the serpent said to Eve, “You shall be like God.” A good man is trying to be like God not only by his own efforts but by his own judging of priorities and so in fact, you can work on many areas of your life that don’t touch the heart of your resistance to God at all.
I think I would like to learn how to play Handel’s Largo. Now I’m going to improve myself. It’s going to take a little bit of practice on the piano but it’s not really going to deal with the ego problem at all so you can carry on through 70, 80 years of your life improving yourself and never
dealing with the central issue that God is putting his finger on that expresses your rebellion against him. So loved ones, it is a good question and very important to see that imitating Christ is a self-directed and therefore still a self-made treat yourself as God kind of attitude whereas identification is saying, “Holy Spirit in what way am I not identified with Jesus in his death to self? Show me that and I will enter in.”
Question from the audience:
In the eastern religions there’s a tendency for instance, maybe in Buddhism, to say, “Negate the self,” and they also mean negate the whole personality and so in what sense is the personality destroyed in Jesus and in what sense is it not?
Reply from Pastor O’Neill:
I think it’s very important to see that in no sense is the personality destroyed. I think any of us who meet people who seem to be freed by the Holy Spirit are very aware that they are as unlike the negative passive Buddha as you could possibly get therefore, very free. They seem to have come into a new richness of personality. So in no sense is the personality destroyed but the independent personality, the self-directed personality, it’s that selfish will that is destroyed in Jesus and that whole in turned direction of the personality is completely destroyed and replaced by an outgoing one.
So you might say it’s the whole direction of the personality that is destroyed. But now at last the personality comes into fullness. And certainly loved ones, that’s why I always try to emphasize it’s our independent personalities not our personalities. God gave us our personalities, he gave smiles, and laughter, and jokes, and he gave little idiosyncrasies of all kinds but it’s when those are directed by the Spirit of Jesus they are beautiful. When they are directed by ourselves they are ugly and tend to put other people down and build ourselves up.
Question from the audience:
How do you separate serving God with your mind and with your flesh as Romans 7 talks about?
Reply from Pastor O’Neill:
So Jack is pointing to Romans 7 where he says towards the end, “Wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from this body of death,” and then he says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” and then he continues you remember and the first two Greek words, those of you who know Greek will know that the sentence goes on, “Of myself. I end up serving the law of God with my mind and with my flesh the law of sin if I’m left to myself.” But his whole emphasis in Romans 6 is that the old self is done away with and therefore when he acts not out of himself but out of Jesus he is able to serve the law of God both with his mind and both with his flesh. And Jack, what happened I believe, is that he came to the place here he was willing to be crucified with Christ. He was willing to die to himself and to die to people’s approval of him, or people’s rejection of him. He was willing to die to what his peers thought of him. He was willing to die to his particular judgment of how much shelter, food and clothing he would have and willing to commit that all to God. He was willing to stop demanding from his wife, his friends, happiness. He was willing to die to his right to being happy, happy, happy, all the time and willing to die to the right to have experiences that would make him enjoy himself. He was willing in every way to die to everything but
I’d encourage those of you who are still hesitating, don’t torture your loved ones anymore because that’s what you’re doing. Don’t torture your loved ones, and your colleagues, and yourself, but most of all stop torturing God because that’s really what you’re doing. As long as you keep setting yourself up as a little god. That’s really what we’re doing when we’re living for ourselves to get our own way and insist on our own lives.
So I’d encourage you if you haven’t ever taken seriously the need to enter into Jesus, into his death, will you even tonight, when you go home tonight at the end of the day will you kneel down and pray and say, “God, I don’t know really exactly what Pastor means by saying that but would you begin to show me what it means for my life?” And loved ones, that’s the first little step you know. So those of you who are sitting there thinking, “Well, I’ll think my way into it.” You’ll never, you’ll never think your way into it. You won’t. Only if you go before God yourself and declare to him, “I can’t come into this myself, will you show me the way in?”
Loved ones, that’s the first sign to God that you really can’t make it on your own and it’s the first sign that enables him to begin to give you the Holy Spirit, really. So I’d encourage you, especially all you old cerebral types that think you’re going to think your way into it. You won’t, you’ll think yourself into the little dog standing up on his hind legs but you won’t think your way into God’s family. That comes only by new birth. Only by new birth through the Holy Spirit and to be born anew, you have to have the old destroyed and that’s as old Hamlet says, “There’s the rub.” There’s the rub, the destruction of the old creation that’s what we’re all fighting. And we’re all fighting, “Yeah but maybe I’ll get it destroyed and will there be something new?” Well somewhere or other you have to start trusting the dear one who keeps this globe flying through space with no visible means of support. So someday you have to trust that that same mighty and faithful Father will keep you in the same way. Let us pray.