Summary: We want to make real changes in our lives, but many of us are looking for a magic pill to solve all of our problems. We have to open ourselves to the wonderful and unpredictable Spirit that is flowing so freely and so full of life all around us.
The first seven chapters of the Book of Romans have focused on the power of sin in our lives, and they have set the stage for chapter 8 by discussing Paul’s ideas about sin. Our reading today from Romans 8:1-11 is an entrance into friendly territory. It talks about the Holy Spirit, which was not mentioned in the previous seven chapters. In chapter 8 alone there are 21 specific references to the Holy Spirit because this chapter is practical in showing us how important the Holy Spirit is in our daily lives.
Paul contrasts life in the flesh with life in the Spirit, and Romans 8:1-11 focuses on setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. Paul works with the idea that God’s Spirit raised Jesus’ dead body and that same Spirit lives in each and every one of us. The Holy Spirit gives life to our bodies and personalities. We are like God because we are made out of the same stuff and substance as God. God’s Spirit sets off our spirits inside of us.
The power of evil is not dumb. It always attacks us when we are the most vulnerable and the weakest. Paul identifies our four weakest areas as sex, anger, drunkenness and orgies and pride. In other words, we are at our weakest when we are in our sin-filled nature. Romans 8:1-11 crucifies and kills our sinful nature and lets the Spirit gush out with great power.
Life in the flesh means a life of sin, selfishness and worldliness. In contrast, life in the Spirit is a life of holiness, giving and Christ-centeredness. Life in the flesh leads to a body that is dead in sin, but a life in the Spirit leads to a life in Christ. When the Spirit lives in us, we are brought to life and we are redeemed from the grave just like Jesus was brought back to life and redeemed from the grave after his crucifixion.
When Paul talks about the sins of the flesh, he talks about all the sinful behaviour that exists in our world, and that is in contrast to the peace, joy and love that exists in the Spirit. We have been created as embodied persons, claimed by the promise of baptism and focused on the Spirit who redeems us to all that is good and true. Concern for worldly pleasures is bad, concern for spiritual life is better. This is often difficult for us to do, especially if we have to work on Sundays or when we are tempted by the sinful world. If we have the Holy Spirit, God will give us the strength to resist temptation.
The Old Testament law was weak because humans could not keep it, so God sent Jesus. Jesus met the demands of the law that were rightly made against the people. The Holy Spirit living in us allows us to obey God’s laws. It helps us reject our old earthly ways. It is also the hope of every believer. It regenerates our human spirit when we accept Christ as our Saviour.
By sending Jesus, God fulfilled the law for us and condemned sin. We are freed by the Holy Spirit. The law of the Spirit is in contrast to the law of sin and death. The Spirit gives us a new focus and a new freedom. We do not need to fear death or God’s wrath. Death is not the end. It is the beginning of unending, complete redemption.