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Power when you’re powerless

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Romans 8:9-11

When I enrolled in college as a freshman, music was my second major. I was told that I needed to take a voice class. You may have heard about the farmer who got his pig singing lessons–all they did was cost the farmer money and made the pig mad. Well, I was that pig.

They put me in a tenor class. I have no tenor range whatsoever. They made me learn Italian arias. I worked as hard as I’ve ever worked at anything. I learned the Italian songs so well that I remember their words still today: “La cha te me morire . . .; Danza, danza, fanchula . . .” I never missed a class or lesson. I prepared for my vocal jury for weeks. I made an F in the class. All A’s my first semester, and an F. The scars are still with me today.

Have you ever felt powerless? Do you know what it is to fight a battle you can’t win, to face a problem you cannot solve?

Some of you are struggling with a problem at work which your supervisors won’t admit or solve. Or you’re watching the housing market fall and wondering what it’s doing to your house’s value. Or you’ve seen the stock market gyrations and wonder about your retirement. McDonald’s reported that December was its worst financial month in five years; you’re worried about a possible recession but don’t know what you can do about it. Or you’re struggling with problems in your health or family, with no end in sight.

The most debilitating kind of stress is the stress which comes from feeling powerless, from fighting a battle you don’t think you can win. We’ve all been there; we’ll all be there; and some of us are there today.

So far in Romans 8 we’ve learned that we are not condemned by God but “free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2). We can live according to the Spirit (vs. 3-4) when we give our mind to God (vs. 5-8). Now we learn that when we live according to the Spirit, we are empowered by the God of the universe. Where do you feel powerless and need the power of God? Let’s learn how to find his help wherever you need it most.

Do you have the Spirit?

One of my favorite illustrations about the power of God’s Spirit has to do with a father and his two small girls. He came home from work one day, and they ran from the house to greet him. The five-year-old got there first, just as he was standing on the sidewalk between two hedges, threw her arms around his legs and hugged him.

Her three-year-old little sister arrived, but couldn’t get to her father. Her sister was in front, hedges on either side. Tears welled up in her eyes as her sister taunted her, “I’ve got all of Daddy there is.” Her wise father, seeing the situation, reached down and picked up his little girl and held her in his arms. She looked down at her sister and said, “Daddy’s got all of me there is.”

Do you have all of God there is? Does he have all of you there is?

Take the questions in order. First: do you have the Spirit? You must be possessed by the Spirit of God to be a Christian. Believing in God is not enough. Going to church is not enough. You must ask Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and failures, and turn your life over to his Lordship. You must ask him to come and dwell in your life by faith. When you do, his Holy Spirit takes up residence in your life and makes you the child of God.

God’s word is clear on this reality. Our text begins: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (v. 9).

Paul asked the Corinthian Christians, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

We sometimes say that we “ask Jesus to come into our heart,” but it’s actually the Holy Spirit who moves into us and transforms us. If we don’t have the Spirit, we don’t have God. When we have the Spirit, we have God.

There is no proof that this happens–it is an experience we receive and trust by faith.

Speaking in tongues is not necessary. Miracles and signs are not necessary or necessarily proof. Nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to become a Christian, to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It takes just as much faith to believe that the Spirit lives in your life as it did to invite him to come in. Faith in a relationship; like all relationships, it cannot be proven, only experienced.

Do you remember the time you asked Jesus to forgive your mistakes and become your Lord? That was when you received the Spirit. If you haven’t made that decision, your next step is to do so today. If you have, you have the Spirit. If you haven’t, you don’t.

Does the Spirit have you?

Now we come to our second question: does the Spirit have you? The Bible says that you can be controlled by the Holy Spirit. You can decide to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), to yield control of every part of your life to him. You can begin the day by submitting it to his leadership. You can give every temptation and worry to him. You can ask him to direct your steps and guide your life. You can be controlled by the Spirit. Why should you? For three reasons.

First, when you are controlled by the Spirit, you have his power over sin.

You “are not controlled by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (v. 9). You can choose to sin, but you don’t have to sin. You are not controlled by the sinful nature. There is no sin you must commit. And when the Spirit is controlling you, there is no sin you will commit.

The Bible says that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was tempted in every way you and I are tempted today. In fact, his temptations were worse than ours. The longer you hold out against Satan, the harder he tries to defeat you. The more subtle his temptations become. If I can get you to sell your car for $5,000, I won’t offer you $10,000.

Jesus faced every kind of temptation Satan could devise, without ever yielding once. The difference was the Spirit. The Bible says that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). We cannot defeat spiritual enemies with human tools.

The good news is that we don’t have to. When we are controlled by the Spirit, we have the power of God over sin. Is this the place where you need his power today? Are you struggling with a repetitive temptation and sin in your life? Do you feel powerless over an area of weakness? Give it to God’s Spirit, and do what he says. If he directs you to a Christian counselor, go. If he directs you to tell and trust a friend, do so. Give it to him and submit to his leadership. By his strength you will be set free. By his power you will have victory.

This will be a process. Satan will not leave you alone. The Bible says that when Jesus defeated him in the wilderness he left the Lord “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). This will be a battle, but you are more than a conqueror through him who loves you. You have the power of God, when the Spirit has you.

Second, when you are controlled by the Spirit, you have his power to be godly. Paul says, “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (v. 10).

The Greek means that “your spirit is alive because God has made you righteous” or “as a consequence of the righteousness God has imputed to you.” God has made you righteous, holy, justified in his sight. By the power of his Spirit, you can be a man or woman of God because of the power of the Spirit of God in your life today.

Now the “fruit of the Spirit” can be manifest in your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Is this where you need the power of God in your life this morning? Are you struggling to love someone who is unlovely right now? To have joy in your circumstances? To have peace in challenging times? To have patience when you’re tested, or kindness toward those who have hurt you? Do you need goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in the face of temptation?

Don’t try harder to have these things. Submit to the Spirit and he will produce them in your life. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When you are controlled by the Spirit, you have the power to be godly, no matter how hard and harsh your circumstances might be.

Third, when you are controlled by the Spirit, you have his power to face the future: “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 the Spirit, who lives in you” (v. 11).

Your body is dying this very moment. You are one hour closer to death than you were when this worship service began. But the fact of Jesus’ resurrection proves your own. The Holy Spirit raised him from the grave, and will do the same for you. Jesus promised that “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). When you close your eyes here, you open them there. When you take your last breath here, you take your first breath there. You step from death to life, from this fallen world into his glorious paradise. You are immortal.

What about the future worries you in the present? Is this the place where you need the power of God today? Do you feel powerless over your fears and worries about tomorrow? Give them to the Spirit of God. If he redeems death, he can redeem anything he permits. The Bible says that your present sufferings cannot compare to the glory to be revealed (Romans 8:18). Your God is working through all things for your good (v. 28).

You are more than a conqueror through him who loves you. When you are controlled by the Spirit, you have his power to face the future, whatever it may bring.

Conclusion

So, do you have the Spirit? Have you asked Jesus to forgive your sin and be your Lord and give you his Spirit? Does the Spirit have you? When was the last time you submitted and surrendered yourself to him? Do you give him your temptations and ask for his power over sin? Do you give him your challenges and ask for his power to be godly? Do you give him your fears and ask for his power and victory?

I read the strangest story this week: red tape is keeping a man in Poland from returning from the dead. Piotr Kucy is a 38-year-old living in southwest Poland. He was wrongfully identified by authorities last August as a drowned man, only to show up a few days after his own funeral. He has pointed out the fact that he is alive to government officials, but still remains dead in official records. He cannot work, but he also cannot pay taxes. I’m not sure either is a bad deal.

Did you know that his story is your story?

When the Spirit of God entered your life, the person you were before Christ died and the person you are now was raised from the dead. You don’t have to live in the old ways. You can start over. You have a new life. You don’t have to be powerless any more. You are more than a conqueror through him who loves you.

Or you can go back to the person you were. You can fight your problems in your ability. You can agree with the cultural lie that any problem can be solved if you try hard enough. You can opt for the self-reliance which is spiritual suicide. You can refuse the power of the Spirit who made the universe, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave, the Spirit who now lives in you. It’s your choice.

Do you have the Spirit? Does the Spirit have you?