Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Romans 8:1-17

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” With these words, the Apostle Paul brings us into the climactic chapter of Romans up until this point. He here begins tying together various threads started in earlier chapters into the beautiful, rapturous good news that we have received in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul takes what he has argued about sin, the Law, the promises of God, and Jesus Christ, and brings it together into a vision of a new people, participating in the life of the Holy Spirit, and representative of the final restoration of all creation that God promised in Jesus Christ.

Since it begins with “therefore,” we should briefly review what was said in chapter 7, which this serves to wrap up among other things. Chapter 7 discussed the life of one under the Law, without Christ. The Law, while good itself, given to sinful people simply led to more sin. It revealed what sin was, but did nothing to prevent it. The sickness of sin runs deep, like a cancer in the bones, preventing anyone from fulfilling the Law, even though they know good..

But remember: one of the last verses of that chapter was: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And then we receive this word: no condemnation, and that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” In each of us, each human in the world bound by our common status as image bearers of God, is animated by an indwelling power. It is either the power of sin, that deep-as-bones sickness, or it is the power of the Holy Spirit, the very life of God. For us who believe in Jesus Christ, we are free from sin and therefore death, not because of the Law, not by the power of our own moral will, but because God, “by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 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.”

Not we who are condemned, but sin. Not we who fulfill the Law, but Christ. Not the flesh (a code word for our sinful selves), but the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, so that we may walk according to the Spirit. And this is because God, in the superabundance of divine love, desires all people to be reunited to himself, and so out of the overflowing love of God, we have been adopted, and because of that, receive the Spirit. We are given life in the Holy Spirit through our adoption in Christ.

Human motivation, which generates the will to act, is so complex in its motivations; hunger, pleasure, comfort, and a feeling of security are prime. Fear and love are the most powerful, of course. But naturally, sin, woven deep into the fiber of our spiritual beings twists it all. If we think of it as two trajectories, we have a trajectory where all of our lesser motivations are directed towards our own selfish needs and desires. What the Holy Spirit does is sets us free from that trajectory, pulling us off that path, taking an off-ramp onto the path of living in the Spirit. Now, when we will and when we act, we are able to do so without reference just towards ourselves, but towards God. Note, I am not saying the nonChristian does not do good; but rather, as St. Augustine puts it, all good is to be directed towards God to be truly, purely good, and any lesser aim is by definition an inadequate end. We, filled with God’s Spirit, now perceive and by faith participate in the ultimate good, God. 

As Paul puts it, “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, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 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.”

Life is the core word in this first half of the chapter, and at the end, capped by the concept of adoption. We have the life of Christ because we are in him and he in us, and that is because we are filled with the Spirit who is both the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, and so that Spirit binds us into Christ. This action of the Spirit is summed up in vs. 14 as adoption. We are children, like (but not entirely like of course) the Son by nature, Jesus Christ. And as adoptees, we receive the same inheritance. Adoption is not a lesser status in the ancient world, but a full reception of the benefits and name of the one who has adopted us.

We are adopted children, who can cry the familial, intimate name to our Father: “Abba!” As children, we have the inheritance, but also the identity of members of the family: “But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 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.” 

But what about how hard it is? What about our temptations and failures? Sin still has some hold, yes, but by faith we can continue on the correct trajectory, even if we are sidetracked or get flat tires along the way. And our participation in the life of the Spirit is not inactive or passive, but truly an act of faith. We live in the Spirit when and because we are able to say, believe, and act as that God has and will keep his promises. Faith says, “I do not need to cheat others, because God has promised me riches untold in Christ”; faith says, “I need not take the way of violence, because Christ has defeated my real enemies, and I will be vindicated in him”; faith says, “It is unworthy to lash out at my friend who has hurt me, because I am forgiven for so much, and so can in turn forgive”; faith says, “I am truly alive, because Christ lives in me, and I in him, by the Spirit” 

Despite it all, the struggles, worries, and uncertainties of life, We are given life in the Holy Spirit through our adoption in Christ. And in that is our faith and our hope, and our love.

“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.”

We need not live in fear, but in confidence in the victory of God. We are not abandoned, lost, alone, but are adopted by the only parent anyone needs: God. We are not slaves to sin anymore, but free, free to live in the Spirit, because and only because of what Christ has done, that we by the power of the Spirit believe. We are no longer condemned, therefore, let us walk as those who are not condemned. Amen.

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