Wednesday, December 3, 2014

No Condemnation in Christ, Part 2: Life in the Spirit

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: 1-4  
It'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: 5-13
It 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: 14-17
We 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!

Monday, December 1, 2014

No Condemnation In Christ, Part 1: Introduction

As a person who struggles with same-sex attraction, and who has had my share of faults related to that struggle, guilt comes easily to me.  I don't mean contrition, the good sort of sorrow over one's sins.  No, I mean a deep sense of shame, of feeling as though I am somehow the lowest of the low.  I have stumbled across those, for example, who actually believe that homosexual sins should be punishable by death, while "conveniently" insisting that other sins--namely, the sort of sins "normal" people (read:  People like themselves) might commit--are somehow different, and are God's alone to deal with.

Recently, I watched a video by a guy who quoted 1 Timothy 1:8-11, which does indeed mention homosexual sin in the same context as murderers and kidnappers.  The guy used this to justify punishing homosexual faults with the same severity, by law, as one would punish those others.  In fact, as I read his Facebook page, I saw indications that he wasn't opposed to the death penalty for homosexuality.  He actually used the inclusion of kidnappers and murderers in these same verses to insist that the verses don't simply condemn all sin equally, because after all we don't let kidnappers and murderers go without severe temporal punishment; so why, he asked, should those who commit homosexual acts "get a pass?"  He conveniently glossed over the fact that this same passage mentions those who are "sinful" in general terms, and mentions those who are guilty of "whatever else is opposed to sound teaching," which would pretty much include all sin.  So the irony is that the very passage he used to say that homosexual sins are more deserving of human punishment--apparently up to and including the death penalty--than other sins, also mentions sin in general.  So if the inclusion of homosexual sins in this passage, alongside murder and kidnappers, is proof that homosexual sins should be dealt with just as harshly as those by man's laws, then so must anything sinful, anything which is "opposed to sound teaching."

There's a saying about this somewhere...

The tendency of Pharisaical types to single out my sins as being somehow so much "worse" than their own wreaks several orders of havoc on me, especially when some go so far as to suggest that people who commit my sins ought to be killed, in contrast to other sinners who do indeed evidently "get a pass" on such a grim fate.  It causes me to feel that, because I'm unlucky enough to struggle with a more "taboo" sin, God condemns me more harshly than He condemns others.  Yet I admit it:  I do deserve death for my sins.  My sins are a stench to God's nose, a deep affront to Him.  In a society where there was perfect justice, not tempered by mercy, I would and should be put to a painful and horrible death for the misdeeds I've committed.  Not only my sexual sins; my lies, my gluttony, my selfishness, my lashing out in anger.  From the least to the greatest, these are all atrocities.

After all, even the slightest sin of mine, or anyone else, contributes to the pain and suffering of Christ as He was tormented and killed, so in a way every sin is an act of sadistic violence against God the Son, and therefore on level with (and beyond!) the despicable deeds of someone who kidnapped and tortured someone before killing them.  Because that's what all sin in the past, present, and future has actually done to Jesus .  That's precisely why no one who has ever sinned has the right to look down on any other sinner, no matter how "vile" the other sinner's deeds may seem.  So some part of me, when I encounter Pharisaic rhetoric, thinks I should simply admit that they're right.  The fact that they don't recognize the depravity of their own sins is their own tragedy, their own blindness, but their condemnation of me, at least, is perfectly justified.  And where it relates to my same sex attraction and related failures, that fills me time and again with a deep sense of shame that I can barely contain.  And actually--although this is the topic for a different post--I don't necessarily oppose the idea of a government where my sins would be criminalized, if this criminalization was tempered by mercy and compassion (which, as you might have guessed, certainly rules out Mr. Pharisee's longing for putting us to death!), for I know within me, at least intellectually, that the way I have sinned against God, nature, and the dignity of masculinity is nothing short of criminal.

That's why I thank God, though, that in Christ I am not the sum total of my sins.  In Christ I am redeemed, so that "if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."  Repentance is necessary, yes.  Penance is necessary, yes.  And it might even be just for my fellow man to punish me for my sins, if it's for the good of society.  I would even give my very life to return to a Christian society, so maybe accepting some law against my own behavior would be a way for me to put my money where my mouth is.  But even if it came to that, I am not irredeemably corrupted when I sin, because in Jesus Christ there is no sin that puts me beyond redemption, so long as I do not give up the good fight.  Some sins may rightly put me on the path to punishment at the hands of men, but they do not rob me of the ability, in Christ, to be redeemed.

The eighth chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Romans has many beautiful reflections on this reality.  So consider this post an introduction to a series of posts that are going to reflect on that chapter, in sections.  I'm actually not alone in this project:  Both I and my friend and fellow blogger Daniel, at the blog Mercy Street, have conspired to tackle this series together.  You can read his own first post on the series here.  For now, suffice to say that, as the first verse of the chapter says, "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  While that doesn't mean that we can "sin it up" without repenting, it does mean that we are delivered from being irrecoverably broken by our sins.  And that's pretty good reason to feel worth something, not because of my own worthiness, but because of the worth Christ has given me.  By His Grace, I am not so rotten or despicable after all, even though without His Grace I would most certainly be.

I hope you'll join me, dear reader, as I plunge further into this beautiful chapter in future posts.