|Preacher||Rev. Ronald MacKenzie, Glenelg|
|Sermon Title||The Need for a Divine Change|
|Text||Romans ch.8 v.8 |
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"So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8, 8).
Multitudes are without God, without Christ, without hope in the world. That is the way Paul speaks of them. That distinction is there throughout the Bible - not just here - but here the Holy Spirit directs the apostle to focus on this distinction. So we come to this conclusion in verse eight from what has followed. He is speaking there, you remember, of the difference between those who are in the flesh: that is who are unregenerate, who are not born of God, who are not in Christ. These terms mean the same thing - that they are without the Saviour and that they are not united to Him. It is a stage of all individuals - of all men, women and children universally as born in sin - as having come into this world destitute of the life of God in them. Those who by grace - the undeserved favour of God - are brought to Him, into fellowship with this God from whom they have been estranged, they are in the Spirit: they are spiritually minded: that is their minds are changed. Their minds are under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit. They have a savour and a love for the things of God, of the Spirit of God.
The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God. The given reason for that is because they are spiritually discerned. In other words, this person, this unconverted person, must undergo a great and fundamental change. It is compared to a birth - he or she must be born of God. The Holy Spirit must come into that person and must make a change within them, a saving change, because it ends in salvation. It puts a person right with God. In the unconverted state, we weren't right with Him. The natural, unconverted person is, as Paul writing to the church at Ephesus said, dead in trespasses and sins. It seems a very strong, some might even think a harsh expression but it is true, it is a fact, it is a reality. We must receive the life of God into the soul before we can have any knowledge of, or communion or fellowship with Him.
We come first of all to this description: "They that are in the flesh" (text). I want to explain this. The word 'flesh' as you know is used in different ways. It can mean 'the body'. You read of our Lord that in the days of His flesh He offered up cries and prayers with tears. That simply speaks of the time He was here among us on earth - He was in the flesh. There was no sin in that flesh. In other cases, this flesh is contrasted with being in the Spirit and that means the sinfulness of our nature. It means the soul without God in it; the soul destitute of the life of God; the soul acting in a natural way - in the way of sin and opposition to God - in the way of enmity to Him. That is being in the flesh; it simply means being unrenewed - it is a condition in which we are found as sinners in the sight of God. It is how we came in to this world - unless, in the extraordinary case of a person being regenerate from the womb. That is a great exception and is not how we are to look at things. The exception only proves the rule that we are born in sin and shapen in iniquity. We are in that condition and that condition is fearful. I want to emphasis that in the light of this passage.
In the flesh means that we are going our own way and that we have a mind opposed to God and to the things of God; it is a mind that has no love to God, a mind that has no real interest in Him or concern to honour Him and to serve Him in this world. In other words, it is ungodly; it is very unlike Him. It is totally in opposition to Him. The law of God is disliked and, even more, it is hated by the natural heart. The unconverted person, whatever religion or religious appearance or action, in spiritual matters he has this carnal mind: he is in the flesh, unconverted. The carnal person must undergo a great change and he can and will be changed by the grace of God. I notice the carnal mind cannot itself be changed. That is an important point. You cannot improve the carnal mind. You cannot make it better. The carnal mind must be destroyed and a new mind created. The mind must be renewed.
Why this emphasis on the mind? - It is because this is what controls all our activity. It is in the mind the thoughts are formed. The thoughts, which cannot be seen by others and are imperfectly seen by ourselves, these thoughts lie behind all the actual sin that is found in the world. Unless the mind undergoes this great change, it will continue obstinately in opposition to the will of God. God commands and this carnal mind says, "No!" God invites and the carnal mind refuses. God pleads in His grace and the carnal mind spurns the divine plea. In every respect, the carnal mind is opposed to the Most High God: to the holiness of God, the justice of God, the truth of God and even the very goodness of God. Why? Because the goodness of God should lead men to repentance and the fact that it does not demonstrates, all too clearly, that this mind is in a fearful state of opposition to God.
We are to think of our own minds. What is the direction that our thoughts take? How are we in the presence of God? Are we comfortable with the omniscience - the all seeing eye of God - upon us? Are we comfortable at the thought that He is everywhere present? We cannot hide ourselves from Him. Are we comfortable with the thought that we are answerable to Him, not just for the deeds and actions in the body but the very thoughts and intents of the heart? For these things, we are accountable to Him.
Now what is the problem? They who are in the flesh are without faith. They can have a certain trust or confidence - a kind of faith in individuals - and, of course, that is understood. In the world of commerce, in the world of business you need a certain measure of trust in order to carry out transactions. You need to trust your neighbour, your friends and so on. Saving faith, however - the faith that saves a sinner from his sins and will bring a sinner to heaven at last - that faith, the natural heart cannot generate in itself. He cannot make himself to believe, to receive the Gospel heartily. The very doctrines, the very truths of the Gospel are unpalatable to the unconverted sinner.
Why should we seek this change - the necessity of this change? Why cannot the man please God? Because he is without faith. He does not trust his Maker. He is not beholden or thankful to God for what he receives. I am not saying there is no expression of thanksgiving. You can say many things with the lips but I am speaking about the heart. Are we truly thankful to God? Are we affected by the goodness of God? Does this goodness of God constrain us to turn away from our sin, to repudiate all the wickedness in our hearts, to confess our sin and to turn from it to God? Is that what the goodness of God does? Does it make us desire to walk with God and to reject all that is contrary to Him? That's a question. We are to please God; it is our reasonable service as creatures. We are indebted to Him for everything: life, breath, all that we possess, all that we are, all the comforts of this life, the health we have of body and mind, the comfort of friends. What ever we have, we owe to our Maker, our Preserver, our Benefactor. Yet, we continue not honouring Him.
We are without the fear of God - by nature - in the heart and that is what is so necessary. That is what distinguishes a true believer from all others. "I will put my fear into their heart," says the Lord. He is speaking there of the new covenant of grace that is the provision made in the Gospel. It is what the Holy Spirit will do - "I will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from me" (Jeremiah 32, 40).
You can see the perseverance of the people of God amidst all the sin and the temptation to sin in this world. They are kept by this divine power: the fear of God in the heart. That fear is inseparable from the indwelling of the Spirit of God in them. You will notice the work of grace - "I will put my fear in their hearts." Nobody can love God without that holy fear in Christ. It is then that we have the Spirit and this mind of the Spirit; the new mind of a new creature: the new creation. "If any man be in Christ," said the apostle, "he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5, 17): the work of God in regenerating the sinner.
How is it that we can please God? You will note before that - "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (text). In other words, whatever they do, whatever religious activities they engage in, yes, my dear friend if you are unconverted today your attempts at seeking God naturally - praying, giving to the poor and to charities, works - all of that is vain. You can see that right down through the church. In the mediaeval times up to the present you have in Romanism this practice of ascetic living: fastings, prayers, religious activities, or going into a monastery or nunnery. They seem to keep out the world or get away from the world seeking to get nearer to God but you see they bring the world in. They bring the carnal mind in with them. It is an attempt to improve the carnal mind.
Even in the Protestant church, for example, you remember the case of John Wesley and even Whitefield for a short time when these were young men in Oxford they formed what was called the Holy Club. They were serious and sincere according to the life that they had and they were concerned to become holy men. They wanted to be real Christians. They fasted, prayed, had conferences, went out to prisons and to the poor, and yet they were at that moment destitute of the spiritual mind. They were attempting to do spiritual things with a carnal mind, as that is what they had. It was only when Wesley had his heart warmed by the Spirit of God - when he heard Luther's commentary on the Epistle to the Romans being read - that the change came. There and then, he got this spiritual mind - the mind of the Spirit of God, the mind that comes from the Spirit of God entering the soul, bringing Christ into the soul. That is how Christ dwells in His people: He dwells by His Spirit in them. They learn of Him. From that moment, they are enabled to walk with Him and they are enabled to serve Him aright. Therefore, you have here the necessity of dependence upon the Holy Spirit Who spiritually generates and enables the believer to walk with the Lord in fellowship with Him.
That brings us to this question: "How can I please God?" It is the most important thing. We all know what it is to please men - and generally and up to a point - that is a wise and good thing. It is natural political wisdom that we should do nothing to give offence unnecessarily to our fellow men. We should seek to please men insofar as it does not displease God. Remember, for example, the case of Rehoboam the son of Solomon. When he came to the throne, he was looking for advice in answer to a petition from the oppressed northern tribes. He asked for an alleviation of the oppression that they incurred during the time of Solomon.
The old men who had been the counsellors of his father advised him to be gentle and gracious and to please these people - after all what they were asking for was quite reasonable. In other words, if you please them they will then be your devoted subjects. However, he turned away from the wise old men and to the young men of his own age group who were also his counsellors. They took a much harder line. They said, "Oh no, you stress your authority as king. Deal firmly with them and refuse to accede to their demands." You remember the consequence. Listening to the advice of the young men who were of his own age group, he acted in that foolish way that led to the break-up of the kingdom. Of course, all that was in the divine purpose and for God's glory and the ultimate good of His church. We know that. The point is that pleasing men is generally a good thing except when it comes into conflict with pleasing God. We are to obey God rather than men. After all, pleasing men is only for this little life we have for a short time.
If we don't please God, we have to account for that forever. Our souls have an immortal existence beyond this present life. We have to go to Him. God will require the soul and that soul must give its account. It must be a dreadful account at the end if we have not pleased God. We will be found enemies to Him. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8, 7) - very strong but true. We resist His will - what is that but an act of war with God? God "commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17, 30). They don't do it, thus lifting up a banner of revolt against God. The revolt is, of course, there already in the heart of the sinner with all the activity of the sinner; it is one of constant rebellion against the authority and claims of the Most High God and of Jesus Christ - the only King that He has set over His church and Who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
We read of some who were enabled to please God and it is on that hopeful note that I want to close. We read of one man long ago in the early history of the human race - the seventh descendent from Adam: Enoch. Enoch was a married man with a family. He had his carnal duties in this world and yet he was an eminent witness for the truth of God in his day. He is spoken of as a prophet. What matters to us here, at this moment, is that Enoch, by faith, walked with God. Then we are told in that connection in the record to the Hebrews - "Without faith it is impossible to please him (God)" (Hebrews 11, 6).
That brings us to this: faith in Whom? Faith in what? Faith in the Person of Christ. Faith or trust in His work: the merit that He has merited for us, that which He has done in the place of sinners for those who are carnal, for by nature they were. The Saviour died. He took upon Him the guilt of all His people from the beginning to the end of time: He was made sin. In His flesh, sin received its sentence. Personify sin as someone condemned and it was condemned through the crucifixion of the Lord of glory on Calvary.
We have to have faith in Him. That faith is a gift of God. That faith is a work of God the Spirit in the soul. It is Christ by His Spirit that enables us to trust in Himself. He enables - He gives us strength and gives His Spirit. It is the Spirit of God Who works this grace of faith in the heart of the sinner. We must trust the Lord with all our heart and lean not to our own understanding: our own wisdom, our own heart (Proverbs 3, 5 + 7).
Dear friends, this is the way, and the only way that you and I can please this great and glorious Being, this good God from Whom we have our being, this God to Whom we are answerable as rational creatures. It is by faith, by trusting ourselves and all that we have - in all our need, in all our helplessness, and in all our condition as sinners - into His merciful hands. Yes, these hands of mercy are extended to us in and through the Person and work of His Son. You ask how. Well, it is in His own gracious invitation. "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11, 28). None but the God-man could say that: none but One Who was eternal God, Who is the refuge of His people in all generations, a dwelling place and Who invites sinners of mankind to come to Him and find a rest in Him. It is the rest of faith and that, Enoch had. He had communion with His God, he had fellowship with Him and he talked with Him.
God talked with Enoch just the same as Abraham later on. God speaks of him, "Abraham, my friend". What does it speak of but reconciliation with God. The carnal mind being destroyed and the new creature, the new mind that is given to the sinner in Christ. It is all in Him: all found in Him, all grace in Him. My dear friend at last, all our glory will be in Him. That is the consummation of the Christian mind. What is a Christian to do? He has to war against the flesh, he has to subdue sin, not by his own power but through the same Spirit of God. This is our duty. It is necessary for our perseverance on the way to heaven. How are we to do that? We must have Christ in us - Christ in us by His Spirit and the use of His Word - the Word of God, the promises of God, confidence in the promises and in the Promiser.
"They that are in the flesh cannot please God" (text). If you are unconverted today, get out of the state. Hear the alarm to run from it and to go to Christ. Yes, in Him and by His almighty grace you will be free from the condemnation that this state of being in the flesh brings. Be in Him and there will be "no condemnation" (Romans 8, 1) for you then.
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