I want to do something a little different this morning. I want to begin by asking you a question: what do you look like? In fact, I want to get a few volunteers up here to give a brief physical description of their appearance.
How accurate do you think people were? I’ve found a general principle in my life. I’ve found that most of us tend to have a different mental picture of our appearance than reality. For instance, let me show you the mental picture I have of what I look like. Now you know why I’m so disappointed every time I see a picture of myself!
HOW WE MEASURE OURSELVES
Let me ask you a second question this morning. What do you look like spiritually? I’ve found that just as most of us have this mental image of what we look like physically, we all likewise have a mental image of how we’re doing spiritually. It’s how we see ourselves spiritually.
Our spiritual self-image is shaped by a number of factors. This week, I thought of three factors that usually end up determining how we feel we’re doing spiritually. These are at least true of me.
OUR PERFORMANCE – Probably the most important factor in determining how I feel spiritually is my performance. I feel like a spiritual heavyweight when I’m performing. Have you ever had a week in which you’ve done your devotions every day, you’ve spent tons of time in prayer, you’ve generally performed pretty well? You didn’t lose your cool too much. You treated others according to the Golden Rule. Whatever standard you have in your head, you’ve met that standard. You’re doing okay.
Then there are the other kinds of weeks. Has anybody here ever had one of those weeks that they haven’t performed well spiritually at all? I mean, one of those weeks that we do pretty well everything wrong? We miss our devotions. We miss church. We yell at the kids. We kick the dog.
A lot of us base our spiritual self-image on how well we think we’re doing spiritually. We base our identity on our performance. Some of us have even been taught to do this in church. If you are doing this, then today’s message is for you, because the Bible says that this is a very inaccurate way to see yourself spiritually.
OUR FEELINGS – There’s a second factor that shapes how we see ourselves spiritually. It’s our feelings. I mean, there are times that I just feel spiritual. Once in a while, we sing that song, “If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.” Sometimes when I sing that song, I feel it. I feel like I’ve never been more in love with Jesus than I am at that particular moment. Then there are the times that I feel about as spiritual as a fig.
Some of you came in today feeling very spiritual. In fact, I think that some of us get hit with this spiritual feeling about once a week, and then it passes. Some of us spend a lot of time down on ourselves because we don’t feel a certain way, and we think we should.
But once again, your feelings are a very inaccurate way to measure or shape your spiritual identity. I’ve learned many times that feelings can be very inaccurate. The reason is that feelings or emotions are always based on beliefs, and beliefs can sometimes, or often, be wrong. You’re on very dangerous ground if you base your spiritual identity on how you feel.
OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS – I’ve found one other factor in determining how we think we’re doing spiritually. You may think of others. It’s the opinion of other people, especially people who are significant in our lives. We shape our spiritual self-image based on how others see us.
The result of basing our spiritual self-image on these three factors – on our performance, on our feelings, and on the opinions of other people – is that we end up with a very inaccurate spiritual self-image. We end up feeling guilty and discouraged a lot of the time, and the other times, we end up taking too much credit for how good we’re doing. We end up with a very volatile and insecure relationship with God.
That’s not at all how God wants you to live. God doesn’t want you to have a relationship with him that’s based on your performance, your feelings, or the opinions of other people. I want to look at how we can measure ourselves spiritually – how we can see ourselves through God’s eyes.
HOW GOD SEES US
If you’re a parent, you know that there are times you look at your kids, maybe at a time they’re struggling, and you say, “If only you could see what I see.” They’re unsure about themselves, and struggling. But we can look beyond the problems and see them for who they really are. We can see things in them that they can’t see themselves.
I’m sure that there have been times in all of our lives that people have seen things in us that we couldn’t see ourselves. There have probably been times that you and I have been ready to give up, until somebody looked at us and saw things that we didn’t see. They gave us the strength to go on.
It’s like God is saying, “If only you could see yourself the way that I see you. If only you would stop measuring yourself by your performance and feelings, or even worse, what other people think. If only you could see what I see when I look at you.”
We’re going to look at Romans 8 today. If you have a Bible with you, I invite you to pull it out. If you don’t have a Bible, you can use a pew Bible (page 1274) or you can follow on the screen. For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at the book of Romans. A purpose of much of the book of Romans is to explain to us who we are before God. The first few chapters of Romans establishes how God sees everyone – good people and bad, religious or not. It says, “No one is good – not even one” (Romans 3:10). That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. We looked a few weeks ago at the fact that we’re natural born sinners – that we’re not good people who occasionally do bad things; we’re bad people who occasionally do good things. Our sinful nature has led to death, and it’s led to God’s anger against us. Paul’s even established that God wouldn’t be a just God if he didn’t react to evil the way he does. Something in us realizes this when we react with a sense of justice to the wrong we see around us.
We couldn’t do what was needed to have a relationship with God, so God did it for us. Romans 3:25 says, “God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.” We’ve been looking at the past few weeks at what happens when we take this step – when we believe that Jesus shed his blood for us, sacrificing his life for us. The Bible says that we become new creatures. I’m a new me. Jesus died to save us from both the penalty and the power of sin. He’s delivered us from having to relate to him based on how well we’re doing keeping a set of rules. It’s all about what Jesus has done, and we can’t take any credit for it.
Today, we’re coming to one of the most encouraging passages in the Bible about how God sees us in Christ. What we’re about to read is true of every individual who’s a Christian, who’s entered into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It’s true the very moment that you believe. It has nothing to do with how well you’re doing or about how you feel. In fact, we can’t take any credit for it. It’s all what Jesus has done. But because Jesus has done it, we don’t have to worry about messing it up either. If you’re a Christian, God sees you on the basis of what Jesus has done, and not what you’ve done.
What I also love about this passage is that it’s set in a context that lets us know that God is not blind to our faults. Paul has just explained his struggles. He’s said, “It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong” (Romans 7:21). And it’s in this context that God tells us how he sees us, and how you’ve changed.
How God sees us now as believers is based on two facts that will never change. It’s based on two realities t hat are true of any believer – an hour-old believer in Jesus Christ, or a mature, fifty-year veteran Christian. It’s not based on how well you’re performing or how you feel or what others think. It’s based on two facts: what Jesus Christ has done for you, and on the Holy Spirit who now lives in you. How does God see me?
1. I’M ACCEPTED
Romans 8:1 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” This is incredible. Paul’s just finished saying how much he struggles in doing what he doesn’t want to do, and in not doing what he wants to do. He’s just related how even though he’s been set free from the power of sin, he still feels this pull to do wrong. But then Paul reaches back to what he’s taught already and reminds us that there’s no condemnation to those who belong to Christ Jesus. You may be struggling, but you’re accepted.
One of the greatest truths in Scripture is called justification. Justification teaches that even though we are all guilty before God, God has declared us not guilty because of what Jesus has done for us. But there’s more. Not only has God declared believers not guilty, but when God sees us, he sees us as being righteous. All the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been credited to our account. Romans 8:3-4 says, “God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.” The requirements of the law have been fully accomplished for you – not by you but for you. You’re forgiven. You’re accepted. “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”
I’m sure that there are times in your life that you mess up and you don’t feel that you’re accepted. It doesn’t matter. You are. I’m sure that there are times that you feel guilty. Satan’s called the accuser. There are times that we sin, and Satan accuses us – almost like he’s the chief prosecutor. We say, “I can’t argue. I did sin.” And then we wallow in guilt. God comes along and says, “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Why? Because of the law of double jeopardy. We can’t be tried for the same crime twice. Even though he was innocent, Jesus has already taken the guilty verdict for us and paid for our sins. We’re accepted because of what he’s already done. We’re forgiven.
Read with me Romans 8:33-34:
Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us.
God says, “I wish you could see yourself the way that I see you.” How long should you feel guilty after you’ve sinned? About three seconds. That’s how long it will take you to remember, “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” That doesn’t mean that you won’t take sin seriously. It does mean that even at your worst, God sees you with all the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
God accepts you. God has granted you a right standing with himself. Jesus – the one who died for you and was raised to life – represents your case. He’s interceding for your needs, no matter what they may be. Our position in Christ is impregnable. I’m accepted by God.
Paul continues with a second fact – a second way that God sees us in Christ:
2. I’M FREE
This is probably the hardest one to believe. We all have beliefs that determine our behavior. If we believe we can’t do something, then there’s a pretty good chance that we won’t do it. If we think we’re no good at math, for instance, then there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll do very little math.
Most of us look at our lives and see that we’re pretty helpless when it comes to sin. Paul talked about this in Romans 7. All of us have habits or tendencies that keep on coming up. Our conclusion – if we think about it at all – is that we may be Christians, we may be accepted, but we still are pretty well trapped to continue sinning in the same areas you’ve always been sinning. If you always blow your temper, you’re glad that you have forgiveness, but you don’t really expect to change. Whatever sin you’ve struggled with most of your life, you expect that you’ll continue to struggle with that sin.
I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you may always have the temptation. You may get rid of it, and over time it may become less powerful through the practice of spiritual disciplines. I’ve found in my own life that I’ve tremendously improved in certain areas of struggle over the past ten years. I still have a long way to go, but God has been constantly bringing things into my life to build our characters. I tell my wife that I’m God’s gift to her, because I’ve definitely been used to build her character. Romans 5:4 says, “Endurance develops strength of character in us.”
The bad news is that even though our old natures were crucified with Christ, they haven’t yet been completely eradicated. They will be; they just haven’t been yet. The verse we’re about to look at admits that our old natures will still urge us to take courses of action that aren’t honoring to God. God’s given us a new nature, but the old nature still tries to make itself heard.
Here’s the good news. “So, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.” A year ago, we got our income tax refund back and it turned out to be the same amount as we owed on our car. So I went running to the bank and handed over a check and said, “I don’t want to hear from you anymore.” I didn’t say it quite like that, but I did, in effect, want them to stop bugging my bank account. But she told me that even though my car loan was paid in full, even though I was under no obligation to pay the bank another cent, it was too late to stop the next loan payment that was about a week away. She suggested that I would have to put a stop payment on that payment, which I did.
God puts it this way. It’s not like your sinful nature won’t still try to get you to go down the wrong road. But you are not under obligation to do what it urges you to do. You don’t owe your sinful nature one cent. You don’t have to listen to it anymore. You can still hear it, but you now have the power to ignore it. It’s almost like you’ve got to make practical in your life what God says is true. It’s like putting a stop payment to your old nature.
The minute you become a Christian, you’re set free from the obligation of obeying your sinful nature. You’re set free from having to obey what it urges you to do. Now, God will spend a lifetime developing your character. But you don’t have to wait to be free. You are free the minute you become a Christian.
The minute you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit moves into your life to give you new power. You don’t have to struggle on your own strength anymore. Romans 8:9 says, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all.)” Has anybody ever been controlled by anger here? You are now controlled by the Spirit. Has anybody been controlled by lust? You can be controlled by the Spirit.
If this doesn’t seem real to you, God says, “I wish you could see yourself the way that I do. I wish you could see that your bondage and debt to sin and your sinful nature has been broken. I wish you could experience the freedom that I’ve already given you.” There are two things that you can do to begin to see yourself as God sees you in this area. One is to memorize Romans 8:12: “So, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.” I heard someone say that not only did he memorize this vers e, but he literally rehearses it in his mind dozens of times a day, because that’s how often he’s tempted to sin. Changing behavior always begins with changing your mind. Understand that you’re under no obligation to your sinful nature.
Another helpful step is to yield to the Holy Spirit, who lives within you. This is an ongoing action that we all need to take. Everyday, when we wake up, to give ourselves – or even part of our body that gets us into trouble – to yield it over to God. Sin will try to railroad you; the Spirit will try to persuade you. The Spirit won’t force you; you need to yield to the Spirit. He won’t bully you like sin does. When we’re tempted, to pray to God for help; to yield again to the Spirit who lives within us.
If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you’re accepted. You’re free. Two more ways that God sees you, in the time that we have left:
3. I’M SIGNIFICANT
Romans 8:14-17 says:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family-calling him ‘Father, dear Father.’ For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we will share his treasures-for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
If you’ve ever seen a parent’s tender and strong love for children, you’ve seen a glimpse of God’s love for you. When we become believers, we’re adopted into God’s family. Adoption confers upon us the right to enter into a tender relationship with God – to be able to call him one of the most tender terms, a term that would have been sacrilegious to most religious people of that day – Abba, which means something like papa. It also confers upon us all the legal benefits of being a member of that family – of sharing in all of God’s treasures.
I had a moment of insignificance this week. I went to a concert. There were four thousand people there, which really isn’t a big number. I’ve been to much bigger events. But I became a face in the crowd. I stopped being distinguishable from anyone else around me.
You’re never a face in the crowd with God. You never have to approach God fearfully. You are significant to God. You’re his child. He wants to hear from you. And he has also promised that you will share in his treasures.
Finally, one more:
4. I’M SECURE
Nothing can change your position before God. Let’s read Romans 8:31-32 together:
What can we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?
If God went to all the trouble of giving up his Son for you, he won’t ever give up on you now. If God loved you when you were at your worst so much that he sacrificed his own Son, he won’t change his mind now when you’re a new creature, his prized child. Romans 8:38-39 says:
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You don’t have to live your life based on your performance. You don’t have to measure your worth to God based on your feelings. God looks at you, and he sees you in the light of what Jesus Christ has done for you. You’re accepted. You’re free. You’re significant. You’re secure. Nothing can ever keep God’s love away from your life.
If you’re a believer, that’s who you are. If only you could see yourself as God sees you. If you’re not yet a believer, that’s who you can become – not by anything you do. It’s all about what Jesus has already done for you. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
As we close today, I’d like to do something a little bit different. If you’re not yet a believer, I’d like to just pause for a minute to give you the opportunity to pray silently to enter into this relationship with God. Cry out to him. You can pray something like this, “Father, I admit that I’m a sinner who only deserves your punishment. But I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and rose again to give me new life. Today I accept what he did for me, and I ask him to become the leader and forgiver of my life. Give me what I’ve heard about today – not based on what I’ve done, but based on what Jesus did.” You can put it into your own words. I’ll give you a moment to pray silently. [Pause]
Please stand with me:
You are God’s precious child. God doesn’t measure you by how well you perform. God’s love and acceptance of you is unconditional and unchanging. God accepts you. He’s freed you. He will never let you go.
I am merciful and gracious;
I am slow to get angry and full of unfailing love.
I will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
I have not punished us for all our sins,
nor have I dealt with us as we deserve.
For my unfailing love toward you
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
I have removed your rebellious acts
as far away from us as the east is from the west.
I am like a father to my children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear me.
For I understands how weak we are;
I know you are only dust.
Your days on earth are like grass;
like wildflowers, you bloom and die.
The wind blows, and you are gone-
as though you had never been here.
But my love remains forever
with those who fear me.
My salvation extends to the children’s children
of those who are faithful to my covenant,
of those who obey my commandments!
(paraphrase of Psalm 103:8-18)