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Monday, February 10, 2014

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:1–17
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — 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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (NRSV)

A superficial reading of Paul’s polemics against the Law leads many Christians to simply dismiss the Law—and often, by extension, the entire Old Testament—as irrelevant. To be sure, Paul argues that freedom in Christ is superior to submission to the Law, but his overall take on the Law is much more nuanced than most Christians realize.

In the first part of Romans 8, continuing an argument from chapter 7, Paul suggests that it is not the Law itself that is flawed; rather, it is our ability to follow it that falls woefully short. According to verse 3, the Law is weak only because of our own selfishness. In verse 7 we read that it is the attitude that comes from selfishness that prevents us from submitting to the Law.

I often wonder how much of Paul’s problem with the Law has to do with his individualistic approach to it, much like the individualism that characterizes many contemporary (North American) Christians. In contrast, Moses, in Deuteronomy 31, encourages a communal approach. At appointed times, the entire community—all ages, all genders, citizens and immigrants alike—is to gather together to hear the Law read out loud. Instead of individuals trying—and failing—to follow the Law, the image here is a community gathering together to be shaped by God’s instruction and to support each other as they try their best to live it out.

Our lives involve both individual and communal elements. A challenge for us, if we desire holistic spiritual lives, is to strike a balance between the two. As we work on such balance, we are wise to listen to both Moses and Paul.

God, my desire is to please you. I am grateful for my community and for my freedom—may both help me draw closer to you. Amen.

Written by John W. Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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