Monday, April 8, 2024

A Fish Out of Water

My wife Chelsey and I went for dinner for my birthday last night, and the restaurant was super noisy. I was already feeling a bit sensitive on my birthday as many of us do, and it got stressful for me. Many of the people were drinking, and carrying on, having a good time, or so it seemed.

And I overheard some of the conversations. They were talking about worldly stuff, parties, drinking, there was some swearing going on, bragging about conquests, drunken stories, and hysterical laughter.

I’m not against anyone having a good time, but I remember when I used to be like that. Rudderless, I didn’t know what life was really about. I basically just lived to have fun and make a living. If I got drunk and crashed down a flight of stairs I laughed about it. If I stole something I bragged about it. If I chased a girl I told everyone about it.

I was a fish out of water, uncertain what to do, or how to live. Today I’d like to talk to you about fish. We human beings exist in a nitrogen, oxygen, argon environment. That is the environment which we thrive in. For fish it’s different, they thrive in an environment made up of water.

A fish can survive out of water, but not for very long. Similarly, a human can survive under water for a certain period, but eventually they’ll need oxygen again.

So we’re going to compare a fish to the life of a human being on planet Earth.

We all start out as the gray fish. The gray fish represents the sinful human being in the world.

Every human being lives life as a fish out of water. We see this fish and he’s not in water, he’s on land and that’s not good. He goes his own way, he doesn’t know where he’s going or why.

We are like this fish as humans without God. We are lost, we need God, but we don’t have God.

So we slowly become more and more spiritually sick. We get worse and worse over time.

We try to be a moral person. We try to act good and be good. But it never quite worked out.

We didn’t have the power needed to live in an ethical way. Instead the scriptures say that we bore fruit for death.

It says in Romans 7:5, “For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.”

We knew the ten commandments, God’s law, and we tried at times to follow those laws, but being a fish out of water, being disconnected from God, we were unable to follow those commands.

Knowing the law, the commandments didn’t seem to help, in fact it even seemed to make it worse, it aroused our passions and we bore fruit for death.

And more and more we lived, but actually inside we were dead. But this produced an opportunity. Because as we found ourselves dead inside, lost in sin, utterly miserable and hopeless, we began to search for something more.

We began to long for something greater.

Then one day we heard about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We learned that humanity was sinful and lost, but that God had opened up a pathway, a road to himself and away from sin through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We learned that our sins could be forgiven not by trying to be better through the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

And something miraculous happened. We called out to Jesus Christ and asked Him to save us and forgive us, and make us new. And at that same moment, we died. Our old selves died. We repented, turned away from our past sins, and began moving in an entirely new direction.

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” -Romans 7:6

We find ourselves new creatures. We’ve repented. We’re no longer headed toward destruction, we’re now headed toward eternal life.

Instead of being in the open air, slowly dying, like a fish out of water, desperately trying to follow the ten commandments and always failing, we find ourselves in a new reality, a new system, the system of the leading of the Holy Spirit.

All of humanity finds itself caught up under God’s judgment due to the sinful ways of humanity, under the law, the ten commandments, and condemned to death due to their failure to obey God’s law.

It’s scary stuff.

But does that mean that God’s law is bad?

It says in Romans 7:7, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”"

I wouldn’t have even known right and wrong if it wasn’t for God’s law. The law is not bad then, it is good. But my sinful self could not follow God’s law. But this put me into a situation that was actually helpful to me.

I found myself pressured by God’s law to realize my own sinfulness, and also realize my need for a savior. God’s law pushes me toward the realization that of myself I’m not enough. I really do need God in my life, and more, at the center of my life.

I can’t do life without God. God’s law taught me that. God’s law forced me to realize that I need Jesus or I’m doomed.

Remember, God’s law made all this possible by pointing me to my hopeless situation and my need for Jesus. God’s law is holy and good and true.

The Apostle Paul gives a classic explanation of what it felt like for a Jew to live under the law, and fall short of it. The Apostle Paul before becoming a Christian was a Pharisees, a Jew who devoutly followed the old testament law. But he couldn’t.

Paul explains this in verses 14-20, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

A fish out of water can’t swim. And I worry sometimes we as Christians fall into this trap.

We are in the water, we’re Spirit led, we’re learning to love God and others. But pretty soon we jump back out of the water and start trying to use the flesh to obey God. But we can’t obey God by the flesh, or by the law, instead we have to walk in step with the Holy Spirit, and let Him lead us out of sin and toward righteousness.

Don’t jump out of the water and start pushing out with your flesh. That won’t work. Only the Holy Spirit can lead us into pure love and righteousness.

Let the Holy Spirit lead you by praying before you take action. Let the Holy Spirit lead you by digging deep into God’s word, instead of pushing out in your willpower. Let God’s Spirit lead you by acting in repentance, not in self-driven efforts that always fall short.

We often try to strike out to defeat some sin in our lives. And we fail and slip back, don’t we? Instead, begin your battle by admitting defeat. Make your first step surrender. Surrender the issue to God, admit you can’t do it without Him, and begin to believe God can remove the issue. Then after surrendering it to God, let the Holy Spirit lead you in actions of repentance, seeking counseling, reading a Christian book, meeting with your pastor, abstaining from the sin, but surrender it t God first.

Only Jesus can change us. Only Jesus can set us free this cycle of wanting to do good, but falling short. Only Jesus can do it!

Paul concludes his explanation of the sinful nature this way, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 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!” -Romans 7:21-25

So in the end what we have is a state of deliverance by God, who sent Jesus Christ to be our Lord. The King comes in, and rescues us. He saves us from this hopeless situation of knowing sin is bad, but being stuck living in sin. He does this by giving us the Holy Spirit, so that we no longer have to surrender to the flesh, we can surrender it to God.

Do you see that Paul when he talks about not doing what he wants to do is talking about life before Christ? So, when we’re empowered by the Spirit of Christ, we now can have victory in that scenario.

When Paul used to say, “I do not do what I want to do” now in the Spirit he is able to say I now am able to overcome sin in Christ. Victory is found in that battle with the flesh.

That’s why in Romans 8 it says, “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And 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 because of his Spirit who lives in you.” –Romans 8:9-11

So today, we are not in the realm of the flesh anymore. We are fish in good water, the water is the water of life, the living water of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit he lives within us and leads our lives.

If we don’t have the Holy Spirit within us, we are not Christians. I’ve met people who have the Spirit, I’ve met people who don’t. You can usually tell a Christian by the Spirit flowing out of them. You can also tell when someone is operating entirely out of the flesh, and the Spirit is not there.

So we are led by the Spirit, but, we are still subject to human death due to the penalty for the fall. But since we have the Spirit of God living within us, and we know that the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead, then we can know that God will raise us from the dead as well, after we die.

Lastly, I think Romans 8:12-13 will help us tie this all together. It says…

Romans 8:12-13, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”

Some teach that once we have Jesus Christ as savior we really have no obligations at all, we can just do whatever we want. But that isn’t biblical. We’re to be led by the Spirit, it says we do have an obligation, but not to the flesh, but instead our obligation is to, by the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.

Notice it says “by the Spirit” not by the flesh. Can you put to death the misdeeds of the body by the fleshly nature? Of course not. But in cooperation with the Holy Spirit we can put to death the misdeeds of the flesh. And that is called sanctification, the process by which God makes us more and more like Jesus, conformed to His image is what the Bible calls it.

So as a Christian, we are born again, by Jesus, led by the Spirit of Jesus, to do the will of Jesus, which is continuing to live in victory over the flesh, by the Spirit. And as we live by the Spirit, we head toward eternal life after death. However, the flesh is always with us until after we die. And the flesh will try to pull us back toward the sinful nature. So we learn to live by the Spirit, and then the flesh is kept in check, until we arrive in paradise, when we’ll be transformed, and we’ll no longer have a sin nature. And we won’t want to sin, or have to sin ever again. Praise the Lord! I look forward to that day.

Review of Main Points:

1. Living life without Christ as Lord is like being a fish out of water

2. The Law of God helps us to realize our sinfulness & need for Jesus

3. When we heard the gospel we repented and asked Jesus to save us

4. Our old self died, and a new self was born (of the Spirit of God)

5. A fish out of water can’t swim (we cant defeat sin through the flesh)

6. Jesus delivers us from a cycle of sin, to being able to have victory

7. Though Jesus has changed us, our flesh will still die (the body)

8. The Spirit that raised Jesus will also raise our bodies after we die

9. By the Spirit, we can put to death the misdeeds of the flesh

10. The flesh attempts to pull us back but by the Spirit we have victory