In my last post, I began a series on Romans, Chapter 8, a chapter about our redemption in Christ, full of rich messages that, in Christ, we are not condemned:
"Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death. For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit."
-Romans 8: 1-4It's interesting that Paul says, "so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us." This sounds like an echo of Christ's own words, "Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill." This is an important parallel. So many people, especially among our separated brethren, misread Paul's passages on mercy to suggest exactly the opposite of Christ's words: That Jesus did come to do away with the Law. Some even go so far as to suggest that this means Christians, once "saved," can never be "unsaved" no matter what they do, nor how far they may seem to have turned away from God afterward. Not so, neither according to Jesus nor to Paul. Instead, Jesus fulfills the Law. And since Christ lives in us, that means that, as Paul says, the Law is fulfilled in us.
But how is it, then, that we witness our own sins, and the sins of other Christians, everyday? If the Law has not been abolished, how can we be called righteous when we clearly violate that Law? Much less how can we say that it is fulfilled in us?! Let's read more of what Paul has to say:
"For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace For the concern of the flesh is hostility toward God; it does not submit to the law of God, nor can it; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the One Who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one Who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit that dwells in you. Consequently, brothers, we are not debtors 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."
-Romans 8: 5-13It seems that Paul's answer to the conundrum is that we live, in some sense, a dual existence. We live in the flesh, which though made by God (and thus, as the Church teaches, not inherently evil) is tainted by Original Sin and, even after that sin has been washed away, scarred by its effects, something known to Catholics as "concupiscence," the tendency to sin and to find it easier to commit sin than to resist it. Yet once we enter into Christ, our living in this flesh becomes, as it were, circumstantial. We still occupy these flawed and tarnished bodies, but our primary existence is in "the Spirit," that is the Spirit of God, of Christ. And I would argue that once we are in Christ even our bodies, although they bear the marks and tendencies of sin, find their truest identities in the anticipation of what they will one day become: Transformed, glorified by this same Spirit in which we live, as Christ's body was glorified after His Resurrection ("the one Who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also").
That is why we now live without condemnation; now this new state of being does require that we "put to death the deeds of the body." And how do we do that? One, by being concerned "with the things of the spirit," by striving to walk in God's ways, and by that "righteous decree of the law" mentioned earlier. Two, by repentance--including, when required by the Church, sacramental confession--when we sin, by which time and again we "put to death," by the Spirit, the deeds which we have done in the body. When we confess to God and, when our sins are mortal, in the presence of His priests, God's Spirit literally puts our sins to death, and so they have no hold on us. If we lived only on our own power, in our own flesh, it would be impossible to please God, especially once we had violated His Law in even the smallest way. But because we live in Christ, and by His Spirit, then when we sin we are only one true repentance away and, at worst, even if we have committed the most heinous of sins, one sacramental confession away from being restored to that righteousness which is in Christ, so that the Law is fulfilled in us despite our faults. Penance, purgatory, and all the rest is, as they say, "details:" Important details, but none of which stand between us and life in the Spirit; when we live repentant in Christ, we are already there.
"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are sons of God, and if sons, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him."
- Romans 8: 14-17We are not slaves, that we should live in constant fear that, because of our unworthiness, we are only ever a hair's breadth from the wrath of our Master. Instead, just as Christ called the Apostles, and us by extension, no longer slaves but His friends, so too does God call us no longer slaves but His sons--a word that, in scriptural theology, applies to both male and female equally, for it implies not our biological gender but our rightful heirship--and sons walk in the security and righteousness of their Father. In our case, if we are willing to embrace the suffering that comes with "putting to death the deeds of the body," we are heirs of that same righteousness and peace which are the inheritance of Christ. Let us walk in that peace with great consolation.
Note: That's not all! Before this series is over, we will have covered the entire chapter. So stay tuned for future posts in the series!