One of the most talked about topics in Christian circles today is whether or not anyone will actually end up in an eternal state of damnation. Rob Bell’s recent book is but one example of the growing conversation concerning this subject. Today’s reflection begins with an important passage in that discussion, Romans 8:1-11:
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although 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 Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
The opening words of the passage are probably as hard to assimilate as any in scripture. At least, that’s the conclusion I come to when assessing the mindset of many of Christ’s representatives today. Perhaps lip service is given to the concept of forgiveness; but actions and attitudes seem to indicate that we have yet to fully appreciate that there really is no condemnation. At least for those who are “in Christ.” And that is where some of the questions concerning the writings of Rob Bell and others are centered. Who is included in this group? (My review of Bell’s book will begin 4/8/11)
But back to the point at hand. If we are freed from the law of sin and death, there remain no grounds for condemnation. That law of sin and death should be read not as a reference to a specific law, but to the most elemental law that sin brings death. Those who are in Christ are not subject to that law any longer because by identification with him, the death required by sin has already been experienced–by Jesus. We are free to live “by the Spirit” rather than being limited by things prohibited by law, either the law of God, which no one other than Jesus could fulfill, or of conscience–which no one fulfilled (see previous post).
We are free to live in the way creatures made in the image of the trinitarian God should live–in loving, self-giving relationships and harmonious fellowship such as that which is present among the persons of the Godhead (see John 17). Walking in that way will not allow us to focus on the things “of the flesh” such as self-seeking, envy, pride, lust, etc. Great. The fact of the matter, however, is that there are very few people who are entirely on one side or the other, always living by the flesh or always living by the Spirit; old habits, as Paul alluded to in the previous chapter, die hard and continue to draw us.
I’m interested in how any readers see this tension of flesh and spirit–and more so in how the pronouncement of “no condemnation” plays into it. Is it something we can take for granted and stop even worrying about failures? Or does it say something else to you? Additionally, just who is it that is “in Christ” where this pronouncement is in effect?