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Sep 20, 2020

Choosing Life or Death

Passage: Romans 8:1-17

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Romans

Keywords: death, flesh, new nature, holy spirit life


We're wired for life. Yet we so often make choices in life that short-circuit real life in Christ and lead us to a form of death. In this passage in Romans 8, Paul begins to tell us how to choose life more than death, the Spirit more than the flesh.


Choosing Life Over Death

Romans 8:12-17

September 20, 2020

This past week, Sandy received a text from a friend of ours who is recovering from cancer surgery.  She was sharing about the incredible blanket of peace God had spread over her in the process.  She also shared how that peace of God has allowed her to face the reality of life-threatening cancer. 

“…Now it's really hit me: I HAD CANCER! I never really said it out loud, but now I say...I had CANCER!!! It's more real now than ever before and every morning when I wake up, I thank the Lord Jesus above for saving me as He did.

I wish everyone who has been given a cancer diagnosis from their doctor… could go through the same amazing process I [have], almost seamless, as only God could do.”  She talks about “remembering always that exact moment in time when the world stopped spinning for just a second, hearing [the word ‘cancer’] as…your heart…paused.”

We human beings are designed by God for life, not death.  Probably the strongest human drive in every one of us is the drive for survival, for self-preservation and for life.  Only when we train our minds to desire something more than life (like freedom from pain/depression/self-hatred that results in suicide or protection of a loved one that results in us giving our lives to protect them)…only then does something trump the God-given desire for life. 

            Most of us are not just content to exist in this life either.  We all also have a deep yearning to experience the best of life, not the worst.  We all prefer being loved to being hated, being at peace to living at war with others, enjoying pleasure rather than having pain inflicted on us.  That’s what we were made for. 

            So it is no wonder that Paul, in the chapter we are in today in Romans 8, talks a lot about LIFE.  And it is no wonder that when he does, it is always linked to how we relate to God. 


Romans 8 is my favorite chapter of the Bible.  Many theologians through the centuries have called it the Mt. Everest chapter of the Bible, the pinnacle of the most majestic mountain range of biblical truth.

  • It begins with “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.
  • It ends with ‘there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.’

Of all the chapters of the N.T., this one has more references to the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person of the Trinity, than any other…18 to be exact. 

When you struggle with guilt or shame, with sin or trials, when you have trouble praying or question whether you’re even saved, when Satan assails you with doubts and you wonder about God’s love for you…this is the chapter you should turn to.  This is the chapter that will help us find life in the midst of death, victory in the midst of battle and hope in the midst of despair.


  • Recap Andrew’s message from Romans 7 about the “old man/flesh/unspiritual nature” and “new man/new nature/spiritual man” battle…with bungie cords.
  • Paul ends chapter 7 with this statement in 7:24—“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

At this point, Paul is going to unpack HOW it is that we get ‘rescued’ from ‘this body of death’.  While he will sometimes be referring to our ultimate rescue through the resurrection that will be ours when Jesus returns, most of his focus in this chapter is going to be on HOW Jesus has designed us to be rescued from our old nature/old man/flesh in this life as we learn to live life now in the Holy Spirit. 

            Just a reminder:  if you’ve ever needed rescuing or ever been rescued, who’s the ‘active agent’ in a rescue?  The victim or the rescuers?  (Rescuers)  Paul is making it crystal clear that when you need to be rescued is when you are helpless or unable to solve your problem by yourself. 

  • They send in the rescue helicopter when you can’t get out of a situation on your own.
  • They send in the hostage rescue team when you’re unable to get away from the kidnappers on your own.
  • They send out the Search & Rescue teams when you’ve lost your way, missed your return time and are in danger of dying in the great outdoors from exposure.

ILL:  In college I was trained as a lifeguard.  You know what one of the things is they teach you about saving someone drowning?  Don’t be too eager/quick to try to save someone before they really know they need it.  Why?  If they still have the strength to keep fighting, chances are they will use that strength to grab onto you any way they can and probably take you down with them unless you maintain control over the rescue of them.  Rescues only work when the victim knows they need help and stops fighting the rescuers. 

            Jesus’ rescue of us as sinners is exactly the same.  Until you know that you are going to perish unless He comes to your rescue, you’re not ready to be rescued.  Until you know your best efforts at getting right with God won’t work and you need God to make you right with Him, you’re not ready to be rescued by Jesus.  Until you grapple with the reality that your sin will cause you to be forever separated from all and any of the greatness and beauty of God himself, you’re not ready for Jesus to ‘save’ you.

            Until you are ready to entrust your life and soul into the arms of Jesus, you’re not ready for His rescue. 

            But the amazing truth in the first verse of chapter 8 is that once you do, “there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  The critical question is, “Are you IN Christ Jesus?”

[Explain how you come into life in Jesus.]

            Back to this truth of “no condemnation” in Jesus.  The original Greek is what we call emphatic—“not any” condemnation; “not one” bit of condemnation.  In the original language, this is a legal or court term.  It’s used to talk about both the sentence a judge hands down for a crime as well as the execution/carrying out/penalty of that sentence. 

ILL:  Story of David Keith, son of a former law partner of my father who kidnapped a 13-year old boy in MT at gunpoint when a robbery he was involved with went bad, later exchanged him for a 64 year old pilot and plane, was shot in the arm and chest by a sheriff and in turn shot the pilot dead.  Was sentence to death by injection in MT.  My father and I visited him four years after that incident in the Montana State Prison at Deer Lodge, MT.  He walked with a limp and was partially blind due to being shot a second time when he exited the plane. 

            Imagine you’re David and you’re sitting on death row.  It’s the night before your execution and you’re having your last meal.  In walks the Governor and the family of the man you murdered.  They introduce themselves.  The Governor tells you he’s signed your pardon and you are free to go.  Your record will be expunged and you won’t have even 1 of the 6 felonies you were convicted of on your background check.  The widow and children of the man you killed look you in the eye and tell you that they forgive you.  And then they hand you a suitcase with a whole new set of clothes, a credit card with $10,000 on the account, keys to a car and tell you they are available to help you put your life back together in any way they can. 

            Would you want to remain in prison overnight and face the executioner the next day…or take the pardon, the forgiveness and the undeserved blessings?  Kind of a no-brainer.

            But what will life on the outside be like?  You’d still walk with a limp.  You’d still be partially blind.  And you’d still have the possibility of messing up your freedom and remaining life…or of making something really good out of it and giving back to the community like never before. 

            The “sentence” and “judgment” hanging over us for our sin is truly far worse than even this scenario.  It is an eternal sentence.  We’re already guilty of breaking so many laws of God that we’d never be able to escape an eternity of condemnation and God continue to be the just God of the universe.  But then came God, the Supreme Judge/Governor.  Then came Jesus the family member that took our place on death row.  Then came the Holy Spirit like the deceased man’s family with forgiveness and blessings completely undeserved.  NO CONDEMNATION…not the least bit…ever!  That’s what Paul is declaring to be our reality here…beyond a measure we’re even able to appreciate at present.

            What I want to look mostly at today is what the first 17 verses of this chapter have to say about HOW we go about weakening the power of the flesh/old nature over us and how we go about strengthening the power of the new nature/new life in Christ/life of the Spirit that God has put within us now that we belong to Him. 

            To do that, let’s start with vs. 5. 

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.    

            First of all, Paul is probably drawing a contrast here between people without Christ (and thus without the Holy Spirit) and people who submit to Christ and ‘live according to the Spirit.’  This paragraph is best understood as that rather than the internal struggle Paul was talking about in chapter 7 between the old and new man in a believer. 

            But this passage tells us something important about that battle that we as believers still wrestle with between our old and new natures:  the battlefield is the MIND and the WILL. 

            Every moment of every day we are making choices about where we will “set our mind” in terms of attention, focus, mental energy and attitudes. 

Extreme examples of this:

  • If you spend your days thinking about tattoos, you may end up like this!