For 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. (Romans 8:13)
Romans chapter 8 begins with a grand summary statement of what it means to be a baptized believer in Christ – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” That is a Scripture worth learning by heart. It will have daily application in your life. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. An umbrella of grace and forgiveness covers you; you are clothed with Christ, shielded from the law, sin and its stain cannot harm you as you are in Christ.
Not only is there no condemnation, there is also freedom. The law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Though you are still a sinner, you are no longer captive to sin. Christ has freed you. Though you are still mortal and will one day die of something, you are no longer captive to death. Christ has freed you. He freed you by taking up your mortality in His own flesh, the flesh He took on when He was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary. And in that human flesh of His, He took up humanity’s sin, and particularly your sin. He became Sin for us, and in His death He became the ultimate sin offering for us.
In the flesh of Christ, the demands of God’s law are met. The sinner deserves to die. Christ became the Sinner and died our death, fulfilling ever aspect of the Law, every little mark and tick of the commandment. Not only is there no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus, but the just requirements of the Law, the perfect obedience that the Law demands are fulfilled in Christ and given to you as His gift so that also in you, a sinner from birth, the just demands of the Law are met. No longer do we live according to the flesh, that is, our sinful nature inherited from Adam, but now we live according to the Spirit, that is, our new nature given to us by Christ.
This requires an adjustment of thinking on our parts. Our minds are accustomed to focus on the flesh, on our sinful nature. Let your minds wander, and they will inevitably go there. You’ve probably noticed this in church or while praying or reading the Scriptures. We can be easily enthralled and absorbed by a movie or a sporting event for endless hours, but we all suddenly develop a case of spiritual ADD when it comes to the Word of God. Our minds do not naturally gravitate toward God. In fact, by nature they are hostile toward God and want nothing to do with His Word.
The mind captive to the flesh wants nothing to do with God. It’s like that hard pavement in the parable of the seed in the soil that Jesus told in our Gospel reading. The Word just pings off of it like hard tack. The mind held captive by the flesh is hostile to God. Have you ever met someone who was hostile to God? I don’t mean simply irked at Christians, which is often justifiable. I don’t even mean upset with the Church, which is often just as justifiable. I’m talking about outright hostility to toward God. Hatred toward the holy. Hostility toward what is pure and just and true. The mind held captive to the sinful nature cannot, will not, submit to God’s law, because it wants to be God. It says, “I’m all the god I need, and the only god I bow down and worship is myself.”
Those who are captive to the sinful nature cannot please God, Paul says. Jesus said the same thing. “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” He is the Vine, we are the branches. Joined to Him, abiding in Him in baptismal faith, we are fruitful in His life. Cut off from Him, apart from Him, we are as fruitless as the seed that soils on the hard pavement.
“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature, the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” And the Spirit does dwell in you, because you are baptized. You have a new identity – child of God. The Spirit testifies to you, and His testimony is given in your Baptism. Child of God. That’s who you are. That’s the core of your identity. You may be many things in this life – father, mother, son, daughter, employer, employee, citizen, governor, pastor, parishioner. And you certainly remain in this life a sinner as long as you are alive. That doesn’t change. But what has changed is your identity, the core of your being. You are no longer identified with the flesh of Adam, but with the Spirit of Christ. A new you. A new creation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
In your flesh, you are dead because of sin. But your spirit is alive because of righteousness, that is, the righteousness that Jesus Christ has given you as His baptismal gift to you.
This calls for a change of mind, in the Greek a metanoia, what we commonly translate as “repentance.” Repentance is a shift in the orientation of the mind away from the sinful nature and to our new nature in Christ, away from sin and death to righteousness and life, away from the old you and toward the new you. Imagine having an extreme makeover. Now I’m not advocating such things, but imagine going from an ugly duckling to magazine-cover gorgeous in some miraculous transformation. Now, are you going to sit around and dwell on pictures of your ugly duckling past? Are you going to go around as though you looked that way? Are you going to think of yourself as an ugly duckling? No, of course not. There is a new you. It may take a little adjustment in thinking and some getting used to, but the reality is that you are not the same as you once were.
Let’s move from the superficial exterior to the deeper places of the soul. You and I are born sinners damned to die as fallen children of Adam. And through no doing of our own, God in His mercy rescues us from the junk heap and makes us His own. He covers our sins with the clothing of Jesus, He washes away the stain of our guilt with the blood of Jesus sacrifice, He rescues us from this body of death and gives us life overflowing in abundance. So now where do you want to fix your mind? On that sinful nature that leads to death and hell? Or on that new nature, that new you in Christ that overflows with His life and Spirit and leads to eternal life? When you put it that way, there isn’t much to think about, is there? Of course not.
And that’s why Paul doesn’t tell us what to do, as if doing made us children of God, but he reminds us of who we are in Christ. He directs our attention, our minds, to Christ where we find our true identity, and everything outside of Christ suddenly becomes worthless and empty.
“Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to it” (the flesh messed up with sin brought us nothing but pain and misery and death). That’s what got us in trouble in the first place. Our debt is to live according to the Spirit of Christ, to put to death the deeds of the body, to drown the old sinful nature with all its lusts and actions in our Baptism, to daily repent and turn our minds away from our sinfulness and again to Christ who has rescued us.
You are sons of God. Imprint that in your minds. You belong to God in Christ as His free children. You’ve received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life that frees your mind and breathes life into your body. There is no condemnation for you as you are in Christ Jesus. And that means “no fear.” Yes, we are to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” but that fear is the right honor, respect, and awe that God deserves for having yanked us from the jaws of sin and death. It’s not the fear of punishment, wrath, and hell; it’s the not fear that would drive us from God, rather it’s the fear that swallows up all fear. If you fear God, what is there left to fear?
The Spirit causes us to pray as a little child – Abba, Father. Perhaps Paul had the Our Father in mind here. What a strange way to approach God! How dare we address the Creator and Lord of the universe in this way, on such familiar terms! Yet that is how we are given to pray, as a dear child coming to his or her dear Father in heaven and saying, Pappa. Daddy. Abba. No trying to butter up God or bribe Him or flatter Him. Just a little one saying Abba, Father. And the Father turns His ear, and says, “Did you hear that? Those are my children.”
Notice that Paul calls us all “sons” even when speaking of the girls, and there’s a reason for that. Son are heirs, and you are heirs in Christ, whether male or female. In Christ there is neither male nor female when it comes to inheritance of the kingdom. Heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Jesus, the only-begotten Son who receives all things from the Father, shares all things with His brothers and sisters, that is, with you.
“Heirs” is a grace-full word. To inherit you don’t do anything; you receive and benefit from the death of another. The death of Jesus has made the kingdom of heaven yours. Forgiveness is yours. Eternal life yours. That’s what life in the Spirit is all about. That’s what having your mind fixed on the Spirit means. Yes, we are called to suffer now, but that suffering is with Jesus, not on our own, in order that we may be glorified with Jesus on the day He appears to raise us.
Children of God; heirs of heaven – all thanks to Jesus.
In the name of Jesus,