How do we find freedom from our worries? One of my favorite answers to this question is from the apostle Paul in Romans 8:13–15. There he writes this: “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 adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” We battle sin to be freed from worry. And in the battle, we demonstrate our faith in Jesus Christ and his work for us. Here’s Pastor John, preaching on this text back in 2002.
Ask yourself this question: Why didn’t the Bible just teach me to defeat sin by asking the Holy Spirit to do it? Why isn’t prayer the be-all and end-all of this battle? So here comes a temptation to either feel discouraged about finances, or to feel fearful because you’re sick, or to feel proud because you did something right. Why, at that moment, isn’t the way of killing that to simply say, “Holy Spirit, I ask you to come now and defeat the sin in my life. Amen”? And it’s done. Ask, and you will receive, right? Wrong. Why? Jesus gets no glory if you do it that way.
Foreground the Foundation
The reason it says in Galatians 3:5 that the Holy Spirit is supplied and becomes miracle-working in power “by hearing with faith” is that if you left out the hearing dimension — namely, hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ and the promises that he bought for you by his blood — and if Jesus doesn’t get the credit for those promises that you’re laying hold of, then he won’t get any glory. He’s just out of the equation.
“How can I count on the promises of God being fulfilled in my life? One thing: Christ died for me.”
And you might now and then think, “Well, theologically, I guess he’s the foundation of everything.” Well, you know what? Foundations in your house get no attention. You don’t go through the day saying, “I’m so thankful that I have a twelve-course basement. I love those cement blocks; they’re so pretty.” You don’t even think about the foundation in your house. So, to say every now and then, “Jesus is the foundation of everything” — so what? He gets no glory if you never talk about it, you never sing about it, you never bank on his blood to buy for you the promises.
Do you remember what 2 Corinthians 1:20 says? “All the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus].” What that means is this: When you live your Christian life by picking a promise, banking on it, plugging in, so that faith goes into the word of God, do you know who bought that for you? Jesus. We’re sinners; I’m a sinner. I don’t deserve any promise of God fulfilled in my life. How can I count on the promises of God being fulfilled in my life? One thing: Christ died for me. Christ bought every promise for John Piper. This is the new covenant. Christ shed his blood so that I can pick anywhere in the Bible and say, “I’ll take that promise for today.”
- “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
- “The Lord will fight for you” (Exodus 14:14).
- “God will supply every need of yours” (Philippians 4:19).
I can pick that promise. Why? Because I’m deserving? No way. Because Jesus is deserving, and I trust Jesus, and he gives it to me.
Cling to God’s Truth
And let me close now with a couple of illustrations. We’ve got three missionary families that have gone out from this church who are walking through the darkest waters of eviction from Tanzania, this very moment, that we’ve ever had. And put yourself in their shoes right now. They’ve been given a thirty-day notice: “Get out of here with all your families and all your belongings.” It’s the only home their children have ever known. Denise wrote to us last Easter. She wrote the email the night before Easter. And this is what she said. She’s picturing the disciples between Good Friday and Easter.
They are sitting quietly and numbly at someone’s house . . . and they don’t know about the resurrection that is to come. That’s what this time feels like to us in many ways: darkness and an unknown future. Out of the blue, we’re packing up and leaving the country, our home for the last seven years, the only home our children have known.
“It’s failing to hear specific, Christ-spoken promises through the day that lets us sink so badly.”
Now ask yourself, what are the sins threatening here? Here are the ones I thought of: anger, despair, self-pity, fear, impatience, irritability. Those are a few sins that would threaten to rise up in these missionaries right now. Now listen to one of these warriors — Denise — in her email, as an embodiment of this sermon. She begins by saying, “We are clinging to these truths.” Do you hear it? “We are clinging to truth.” No vague notion of a God out there. We are clinging to particular truths.
We are clinging to these truths: God is good; he is in control; he loves us more than we can comprehend; and he has plans to give us a hope and a future, plans to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11). Our spirits are understandably low. We are emotionally and physically exhausted. But “because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22–23).
And thus, she puts to death the deeds of the body.
How Faith Speaks to Fear
One more illustration: Rich and Tricia were here for several years until they left last year to go to Africa with three small children. They worked with refugees in the community, learning language and so on. They’re going to a country that is so fragile, so hostile, that they can’t name it. And imagine three small children and a young couple going to a destitute land with no infrastructure. The religion is hostile to Christianity. What kinds of things would arise in your mind as you make such an obedient plan? Let me quote from his letter. This is the February newsletter that I got. It’s one of the most powerful applications of this message in a missionary letter — and I’ve read many. All our missionaries get this, I think, and they weave it into their letters, but this one was remarkable:
Whereas the constitution of this country may state one thing, the word of God says, “he who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Where fear says, “What if blank happens?” faith says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). When worry surfaces, faith responds, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). When doubt and frustration scoff, saying, “They’ll never change; this is a waste of time!” Jesus looks us in the eye and responds, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Specific, Christ-Spoken Promises
We need to become the kind of people who, when we’re walking across a bridge or walking between offices or walking into a classroom — young people, maybe you’re nervous about some test or something, or you’re walking down the hall, and you wonder, “Yikes, did I wear the wrong color today?” or whatever — “Am I going to be viewed funny?” If you believe God’s right here — “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and he says, “All things are possible with me. Trust me. I love you. I will take care of you. I’ll supply all your needs. I like you. I died for you. I have counted you righteous” — would you not become a free person? It’s failing to hear specific, Christ-spoken promises moment by moment through the day that lets us sink so badly.
Learn from our missionaries. Learn from the apostle Paul. Put to death the deeds of the body, put to death the flesh, put to death sin by the Spirit — that is, by setting your mind on the things of the Spirit, on the word of God (“hearing with faith”), and trust them. And in this way, peace will come, the Holy Spirit will flow, power will be given, sins will be slain, Satan will be pushed back, and Jesus Christ, who bought all those promises, will be magnified.