Good morning! I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, and continue to find opportunities for gratitude. I’m thankful for you, this whole community of seekers and readers who reveal new insights in our exploration of texts “morning by morning”.
As we continue today in Paul’s letter to the Romans, take a moment to recognize how far we’ve come from an impassioned, liberating Jewish teacher in Palestine, the Jesus described in the first three gospels. Paul’s emphasis here (perhaps necessary because he’s writing rather than physically present) is on moral philosophy and theology, rather than the liberating, transforming actions of Christ’s direct presence or of the early church described in Acts. Paul’s rhetoric here intends to serve the same purpose of liberating encouragement to those who suffer, but it’s a step removed from direct healing. The proof that here wins allegiance to Christ is not so much in lives made well as it is in superior argument. That said, some of the most stirring and encouraging lines of the New Testament—at least for Christians—are found in today’s passage (Romans 7-8).
In Romans 7, Paul characterizes “the law” as good and given by God, yet used by sin to condemn humanity. To grasp Paul’s argument, imagine a tug-of-war. On one side are the forces of sin, flesh, and the body, while on the other side are the righteous will, the self and mind. (Splitting flesh and body from spirit and soul was familiar in Greek and Roman times, but one damaging consequence of this paradigm through centuries of Western civilization since has been disregard for what is associated with “flesh”, especially women and the environment.) In the tug-of-war metaphor, one side of the line is righteousness and the other sinfulness. The rope between the two is the law. Sin used the law to pull one towards unrighteousness, though the law was first intended as a guide toward righteousness. This tug-of-war happens inwardly all the time, and Paul suggests that sin gets the upper hand most often. However, in Christian baptism, the rope is cut and law no longer tugs one into the realm of death.
The law takes on a new form in the believer’s life after baptism in what Paul calls the “life of the spirit”, described in Romans 8. Here, imagine that the law is a tow-rope, always pulling one in the direction of Christ and righteousness. Set free from death and fear in baptism, Paul suggests that believers have eternal confidence and assurance of salvation through Christ. This “life of the Spirit” still has suffering though—at least for the time being. Paul must explain how the good life he envisions still involves martyrdom, persecution and the daily indignities that Christians suffer in his time. These are the “labor pains” of an entire world being born anew because of Christ, the world anticipated by Christians despite its opposite which is present as suffering now. The Spirit of God helps believers through such suffering, making the most of “all things”.
The final section of Romans 8 breaks into rhapsodic praise of God’s love in Christ. Such love (contrary to “God’s wrath” described earlier) is empowering, sheltering, and unassailable, guaranteed to be triumphant. In the face of martyrdom, the “law” that prevails is God’s advocacy for believers through Christ, not the former sinfulness. Nothing can separate Christians from God’s love in Jesus. That’s the reality for believers, Paul says, and living according to the Spirit of God helps us to know and trust that. Though we’re removed from the first-century context of martyrdom, Paul’s exhortation continues to effect powerful encouragement in the lives of Christians to this day. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Romans 9-11. Thanks for reading!