Romans 8:1-11

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on July 16, 2017.

The chapter designations in the Bible make it easier to find texts when we are studying Scripture, but too often they break up a free-flowing thought from one chapter to the next. Such is the case from Romans chapter 7 to chapter 8. Paul concludes the final verses of chapter 7 with two agonizing cries from the heart: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul has described the problem of human bondage to sin and the deeply personal struggle that ensues from it in Romans 7 (marked by the first person singular pronoun used more than 30 times), and now in Romans chapter 8 he offers an explication of the answer (marked by the recurrent use of the word Spirit throughout these verses).

Paul begins chapter 8 with a contrast between the bondage of sin and death with the freedom that comes from knowing Christ and experiencing the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” In Jesus, God has done what the law could not do. God has created a path to righteousness through the gift of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which offers forgiveness to all believers. In verse 3 he describes the incarnation of Jesus as the “sending of his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh” so that Jesus might “condemn sin in the flesh so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” In other words, Jesus, as God’s incarnate Son, does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Through the incarnation of Jesus, God becomes flesh in the form of a human being, condemns sin through his salvific suffering and dying, and sets us free from slavery to sin and death through his resurrection – freedom from a life lived in servitude to our own selfish desires. God’s justice has been fulfilled in Jesus who sets us free through the Spirit of God that dwells within us. So that those who “walk according to the Spirit,” not according to the flesh, might have forgiveness and new life in Christ. Faith in Jesus does what trust in the law cannot do.

Is there a more beautiful theology of salvation in Christ than this? But it gets better! Paul goes on in these verses to remind us of two more affirmations: that because of the gift of Jesus Christ the Spirit of God dwells in us AND that if the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us (as he has just promised), then the one who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies also! In these verses, we are promised bodily resurrection from the dead in the life to come. How many funeral sermons have been preached on this passage!

Some of the most hope-filled words that many Christians recite each Sunday are the words that conclude the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting. Amen.” This is our hope beyond this life, but Paul would not want us to stay focused there. For him, the primary focus is on how we walk in THIS life. Is our focus on walking “according to the flesh” (our own selfish desires) or is our focus on “walking according to the Spirit?”

Several years ago some students in the congregation I was pastoring ordered black t-shirts and on the front of them were printed five bright white letters – L-O-S-E-R. On the back of the t-shirts was a quote from Jesus in Matthew’s gospel: “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Wow, I thought. These kids are willing to take a risk and wear these t-shirts not only at church but also at school. I was impressed, so I asked them about it. “We’re fine to be losers,” one of them said. “We don’t buy into what the world is saying: the materialism, the drugs, and the hookup culture of a lot of our peers. We feel ok letting people know we want to live differently. If they want to make fun of us, let them go ahead. We’re kinda proud of being losers.” This was their way of “walking according to the Spirit,” and I was kinda proud of them, too! They had taken on a new type of “bondage” – not bondage to selfish desires, but a new bondage to the Creator, which acknowledges a new lordship in obedience to Jesus Christ. The power of that new lordship breaks the enslaving power of sin and allegiance only to self and sets the believer free through forgiveness in Christ. This new allegiance makes us not only righteous before God but also adopted children of God. It puts us in a new relationship with God where we are invited to cry out to God, “Abba, Father,” as intimate an address as “Dad.” Through this gift of adoption, we are transformed from rebels under the law into sons and daughters through faith in Jesus.

In the verses that follow Paul describes what it means for us to be “brothers and sisters” in the faith and adopted children of our Heavenly Father: “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.” Not surprisingly, though, the path of following Jesus takes some unexpected twists and turns…

 

Rev. Susan Pendleton Jones
Sr. Fellow, Institute for Faith and Learning
Baylor University
susan_jones@baylor.edu

 

 

 

Tags: losers, heirs, surprise, spirit

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