This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on April 2, 2017.
Romans chapter 8 is the highpoint section in Paul’s most remarkable letter. Romans 8:6-11, along with the previous five verses (8:1-5) and subsequent six verses (8:12-17), conveys a series of dichotomies: flesh vs. the Spirit; death vs. life; the law of the Spirit of life vs. the law of sin and of death; death and resurrection; Spirit of God and children of God; spirit of slavery vs. Spirit of adoption. Verses 6-11 form a small part of a broader exposition Paul provides the contrast between flesh and Spirit. It is crucial for the preacher to understand Paul’s perception concerning these two forces and to avoid misrepresenting the metaphorical concepts he uses to convey his message.
Do we understand what Paul means by “flesh”? How should preachers interpret Paul today, particularly, in a world where we idolize attractive celebrities, vigorous athletes, carnal desires, while we are embarrassed by grotesqueness, physical atrophy, and the ailments of senility?
Is the Apostle’s understanding of “flesh” as trivial as that diffused by today’s secularized culture? Is Paul simply offering us the pitfalls of network television? Is he describing practical Christianity with the unreserved dismissal of the luxuries of a consumer-driven society? Perhaps this is what countless of faithful believers assume.
There are other manners of perceiving Paul’s view of “flesh.” What about the craving to reside in luxurious neighborhoods, drive the latest model cars, or wear the top clothing brands? Aren’t these also hints of setting the mind on the flesh? Aren’t these examples of our unrestrained indulgence in dissolute pleasures?
Where else could we turn in our quest to grasp the “flesh” if we become as inviting as Paul seems to be? What about unconcern for suffering humanity? What about the thousands of dollars being spent to store surplus food while thousands of God’s children suffer from food insecurity? What sort of mindset allows people to value goods and money more than human beings? Reflecting on what “flesh” connotes, aren’t such attitudes equally vexing as sexual immorality, selfish ambition, factions, and drunkenness (Galatians 5: 20-21)?
So, where exactly does Paul locate the struggle with the “flesh”? He appears to locate it in mind, in our basic manner of thinking. “Mind,” as used in this passage carries the meaning of “mindset” (vv.5-6). It conveys the underlying inclinations of a person’s desire, but also comprises the person’s attitude. If it is an attitude problem, surely it has real effects; it goes to the core of what it means to be human. Isn’t it true that as we grow older, we become increasingly aware of our own impending demise? Don’t we know that soon our flesh will fail us? Perhaps it is heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer, a progressing sight lost, etc. What will it take for believers to live their physical being knowing true well that they will soon vanish, and yet live out their lives in faith in the hope of resurrection? According to Paul, the indwelling of God’s Spirit frees believers from those human fears. If Christ is in you, the forces that will finally accomplish your physical demise are irrelevant, since one is also set free to cease living subjected to the “flesh” but rather to be “controlled by the Spirit” (v.6).
Now, concerning the Spirit, what does it mean that the Spirit of God lives in you? Is Paul asserting that the Christian’s life becomes the dwelling place of God’s Spirit? If so, what are the implications? Paul suggests that when the Holy Spirit moves into your heart and life, Christ moves in. As a result, marvelous things ensue. When God’s Spirit moves in, he brings about transformation. The indication of being a child of God, the fact that moves one from religion to a steadfast communion with Christ, is the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Though a large part of us is struggling and dying, the Spirit of God and of Christ living in our heart and mind makes us fully alive by his power and presence.
For those who find themselves in their darkest moments and feel that all hope for a renewed life has vanished, Paul has good news. He emphasizes that, if the Spirit of Christ dwells in you, it has the power to change your mindset to one that nurtures life and peace. The same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave will do the same for those who allow him to reside in them. Preachers of this text must read it as a metaphor for the act of transformation and salvation that only the Triune God is able to accomplish.
Romans 8:6-11 should be preached as a text that affirms the changed status and mindset of the believer because of God’s action through the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Even our “mortal bodies” can share in that mighty power of which Christ’s resurrection is both the pattern and the proof. Paul provides a word of assurance, a promise that the very thing we are incapable of doing, restore life unto ourselves, is that which God’s Spirit has already done. How has he done it? By raising us from the grave of our fleshly cravings, setting us free for a new way of living led by the Spirit.
The sermon should help believers discern that to live according to the Spirit is God’s gift of faith. This gift is given to those who submit under the control of the Spirit by opening their will to God. The preacher needs to emphasize that what transpired on early Easter morning made it plain that there is no limit to the life-giving power of the Triune God.
Tags: flesh, Spirit, death, life, peace, mind, resurrection, transformation, salvation