Romans (Part 26) - The Spirit in Us
Paul goes on to explain this salvation in light of his discussion. We need to remember that over the past several chapters, he has not only been discussing the gospel in terms of how Christ provided his death for ours and justification through faith but all this against the insufficiency of the covenant of the Law to provide the same kind of salvation. That idea is all drawn up into 8:3’s declaration that the Law could not do it, but God did!
So Paul continues in verses 5 through 11 to expand this salvific work, pulling in aspects already discussed. In verse 5, he begins with a contrast that really highlights the whole of what was and is at stake. Life and death—relationship with God and separation from God—all depend on the same life covenant distinction that has been around since adam. With his first image bearers, God began disclosing his truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB). However, Adam and Eve sinned. The contrast was dependence on God (his essence) as source of TGB versus dependence on self (human essence) for TGB. Adam and Eve chose to depend on themselves and the world was turned upside down. The struggle since then has always centered and settled on that difference: whose essence would be the seat of our trust for TGB? Of course, being housed in these bodies of corruption, influencing us toward selfish intent, humanity could not break from that selfish trust to turn to God. But through Christ, we could be set free from slavery and the Law’s judgment to embrace the Spirit’s TGB.
But that contrast is still there, made even more poignant by our awakened spirits. Paul contrasts the flesh and the Spirit in verse 5, speaking of people living according to one or the other. He goes on in verse 6, still contrasting the two with their result—death (separation from God) for living according to the flesh or life (relationship with God) and peace for those living according to the Spirit (specifically, the Spirit’s TGB). He goes further in verses 7 to 9 to show that the engagement is either hostility to God (for those living according to the flesh) or Spirit-filled (for those living according to the Spirit).
Paul concludes this contrast with the promise to those who live according to the Spirit. For the sake of our assurance, he explains the similarity of our condition to Christ—in effect, explaining why we call Christ “the firstfruits” (I Cor 15:23). Paul begins this comparison by defining our condition: if Christ is in us, our bodies (our flesh—our physical essence) are dead (because we died in Christ; his death was given to us for the sins of our flesh). Paul goes on to say that our spirits (note verse 10 mention of spirit should be lowercase s, speaking of us and not the Holy Spirit) are life, relationship with God, because of the now accomplished righteousness (faithfulness to the covenant) through Christ. So there is the definition of our condition: dead (corrupted) bodies with righteous spirits. Remember in verse 3, Paul has already pointed out this exact same condition in Jesus: he is son, which means image-bearing perfection, or righteous spirit, and Jesus is in corrupted flesh. So then in verse 11, Paul notes just as Jesus (who was righteous spirit in corrupt flesh) was raised from the dead, God will also raise us (who are righteous in spirit but in corrupt flesh) to life. Our “mortal bodies” (this corrupt flesh) will be given life (immortality; incorruption) and thus perfect relationship with God.
Paul concludes, then, in verse 12 that we are not obligated to live in the flesh. In other words, we are not duty bound to follow these influences of our corrupted, dead bodies. Instead we may follow (or live according to) the Spirit and the Spirit’s influence in TGB. In fact, Paul says, those who live according to the flesh will die (be separated from God). Those who live according to the Spirit are God’s sons (like God). And that sound logical and good, but every believer hearing this knows in heart and mind that sometimes he or she sins. We sometimes allow the still present influence of the flesh to turn us selfishly to sin. What then? Does this destroy our relationship with God? Must we still live in fear of the Law of Sin and Death? Paul realizes this may be the thought, and so he clarifies. His expression, “live according to sin,” does not mean merely committing a sin. (And here’s where our understanding of Kinship Theology helps.) Through God’s revelation, the Christian who has in faith accepted God and his TGB as basis for relationship with him (all through Christ’s sacrificial work, God’s forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit’s effective call) has turned allegiance or embrace of TGB from our own essence of flesh to God. And it is in the distinction that we should regard Paul’s expression of “live according to.” The person who “lives according to,” or embraces, the flesh—self as TGB source—will die. The person who “lives according to,” or embraces, God’s Spirit are true image bearers—sons of God.
Sure we sin. Sure we fail at times. But that is not living according to the flesh. Paul knows this and follows his statement with the understanding that we still sin. He says in verses 15 and 16 that we don’t live in fear as we would under the Law that God would kick us out for our failures now. Rather, since our embrace is of him—the Spirit and his TGB—we may turn to God as a child would turn to his or her father and cry out in anguish of spirit for the wrong done. And we find in verse 16 that God—our father—responds through the Spirit, testifying to our spirits that, yes, we belong to him—we are his children and he cares for us.
The idea of being children of God takes hold in Paul’s mind, and he goes on to say in verse 17 that as children we become heirs—just as Jesus, the son of God, was heir. We suffer now, just as Jesus suffers. Keep the context here: he is talking about the suffering of righteous spirit within still corrupted flesh, which is how Jesus suffered on earth and how we suffer now. But though we suffer now in this state, God promises that just like Jesus was glorified, “we may also be glorified with Him” (8:17b). And that means, of course, that this corrupted flesh will be redeemed, reclaimed, refined, restored. So both body and spirit will be God’s perfect image-bearing child in everlasting love relationship with him.
In thinking of that glorification, Paul is so overwhelmed that he continues in verse 18 by saying that glory will be worth it all. All the suffering we realize now will not compare to that glory of perfect relationship with our God. But we wait. All creation waits for it. Verse 19 says as much: creation eagerly awaits this time when we—God’s sons—will be complete. Because in the redemptive refining of our essence, all creation will be set at right. The perfect image bearers will once again perfectly hold dominion over physical creation as ordered from the beginning. No longer will it be corrupt creation influencing us to sin, but rather our spirits in mastery will live according to the TGB of God.
Paul explains further that the creation was subjected to futility because of the sin of the image bearers. That word futility (in the Greek) means devoid of truth and appropriateness; it is perverseness, depravity, frailty, and corruption. And that is indeed what this creation had experienced in the fall. (And that point, by the way, is a difficulty that Christian evolution theories must face and attempt to explain. If the fall affected creation to turn it to futility, how [or why] should there be insistence on “natural world” processes having continued from creation? How does an evolutionary view describe the abruptness of change in natural processes of physical creation due to sin with the corresponding expectation for reversal to perfection described by Paul [and later by John].) But creation awaits to be set free from its corrupted state that will occur along with the “glorious freedom of God’s children” (21).
Paul describes the waiting as groaning, indicating lament at current corrupted conditions. Creation’s groaning is the burden of its corruption. Our spirits’ groaning is because of our corrupted essence. But Paul insists that the hope that has always been there from the onset of redemption’s plan is for physical creation to be refined, redeemed, and restored. It hasn’t happened yet, and that is why Paul insists it is still a hope while we exist in this mixed condition of corrupted flesh and righteous spirits. But we “eagerly wait for it with patience” (25).