So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:12-17)
Paul’s fors and so thens are worth noting. They reveal his habit of using cognitive energy to connect the dots. For the Romans, and us, Paul has taken reason from his tool kit and is using it to connect the ideas of living and being led.
Granted, Paul is a smart guy, but it’s not just his intellect that attracts me. He wasn’t just a repository of Bible facts. He also had encounters with Jesus in his data storage, which required zero mental initiative. Paul knew God spoke to men even when the scrolls were unopened. He learned to honor both the Holy Spirit and the written Word. Paul was a great example of one whom God had found who would worship Him in Spirit and Truth. Paul was a mystic with an agile mind. This attracts me to him.
We need to understand what the flesh is if we are to glean much from Paul. Here is my understanding: the flesh is simply that part of us which lives by its wits, independent of God. Too often flesh conjures visions of mere debauchery. While the flesh will wallow in sensual indulgence, it will also participate in brilliant reasoning, persuasive speech and socially beneficial deeds. My point (and I believe Paul’s) is that flesh can be just as happy in a church as it is in brothel—just as long as it gets its way and has its needs for attention met. Having a definition of flesh that transcends immoral behavior expands the meaning of our passage:
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if, by the Spirit, you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.
Paul, is helping us to renew our minds by reconnecting the dots…
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
If you have read much in MwM, you know I managed to disconnect my own dots through works-based religion. My flesh and I had a pretty good deal worked out. In our arrangement, there was an abundance of man’s approval, but, in the long haul, it obscured the Spirit’s witness that I was a son of God (independent of my doings). I discovered first hand that the approval of men is the bread of death to insecure hearts.
In the drift of my Abba-orientation, I clung to the scriptures as my sole source of revelation. I shunned the notion that light could survive any prolonged exposure to reason or intuition. I just knew that pure revelation could be destroyed by either the cognitive or the subjective. After all, with the presence of the Bible and the absence of the gifts, why would the Holy Spirit involve Himself in things so childish as thinking or prophecy? (Sarcasm intended).
To shore up my eternal security, it was easier to posture myself before a Holy God as one defiled in my flesh—a penitent, casting himself continually on God’s mercy. While this might sound right, it excludes the notion that a son can stand in his Father’s presence without fear.
The scriptures are central and essential revelation. However, living, moving and having my being in God (who is love) has liberated me to trust He can also speak to me through the Spirit. “Living” and “being led” by the Spirit has evolved into a collaboration. My ongoing conversation with God includes Bible study, meditation, and prayer. It may include reasoning and experimentation or a prophetic word. He may speak directly to me or indirectly. In light of our orientation and proximity to Him, is He really limited to sola scriptura? Hearing God’s voice has even come to include listening to my own heart, which I had previously written off as a mirror image of my flesh.
I once related to God as a servant who might hear his Master’s voice, if he studied and complied. I endeavored to build my life on the principles I harvested from Bible study labors. Applying the principles was the essence of my obedience and the proof of my love for God. In retrospect (aka: wisdom), I see I was not just loving God in my study and application; I was also fashioning a life that worked out pretty nicely for me.
However, as a son, I am invited into a place with much greater freedom—a place where I may know His heart and hear His voice. His words are not just static principles to which I must conform. His Word (expressed in myriad arenas) is transforming me by way of a dynamic relational process from within. It’s an inside job. That’s why we must diligently watch over our hearts.
Father, Help us to see our obligation to Your Holy Spirit. May your Spirit prevail over our flesh however productive and influential it may be. We declare our desire to live and be led by You. May our Abba-orientation give us enough boldness to see ourselves as fellow-heirs with Christ. Strengthen us to accept any plowing that may be necessary. Help us to persevere until we see the harvest.
Now to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling, and to make us stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Question for reflection: In the telling of our story (which is what children of light do), can we identify occasions, where, by the Spirit, we have put to death the deeds of the flesh? This is a big question because “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”