Thursday, July 22, 2010

not worrying, when we are being killed all day long

What can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or peril, or nakedness, or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

and Jesus says to His disciples

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven

and later, still in the sermon on the mount, he says,

“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

I want to understand the way Jesus wants me to trust Him. I listen to the last passage a lot, and quote it myself, in times of uncertainty. And I usually interpret it to mean: stop worrying about whether to give that money or not; the cattle on a thousand hills belong to the God who loves you and he will take care of your needs. But Romans 8 specifically mentions famine and nakedness, as things which will not be able to separate us from the love of Christ (and therefore that love does not always protect them from). My sense (from having prayed with, say, chronically unemployed people) is that a lot of us feel obliged to make excuses for Jesus when we pray and our (perceived) needs aren't really being met. Ie, he CAN, of course, but he just chooses not to right now, probably to make me stronger or trust Him more.

One thing that stands out in the first two passages is that the unpleasantness seems to happen for the sake of Christ. I guess this can be taken in a couple of ways. To one who lives for Christ completely, most things you do or go through can be said to be done or endured for his sake. That is, even if the famine comes to everybody in the area, the one whose life is Christ's may have the attitude that he must live cheerfully and generously even in his hunger, and will thank God for building his strength and faith. Maybe. His next door neighbor might have the same famine, but not for Christ's sake. In this way, all the Christian's suffering is redemptive inasmuch as it is regarded by him as being undergone for the sake of Christ. Another way one could take it is that when suffering comes as the result of our own stupidity or carelessness and not for Jesus' sake, no particular good will come out of it. This last sounds silly, and not really like grace.

So, does the first case make sense with the passage about not worrying? I think so; my new motto of "When you become a person to whom becoming like Jesus is the greatest good, all things work together for that good" seems to apply... that is, if you are seeking first God's kingdom and righteousness, everything you need to do that (and since you are seeking it first, that's enough) will be given to you. Therefore, you don't need to worry, because even famine or persecution or nakedness won't be able to separate you from the love of God.

Again, this feels a little bit glib... I wonder if I would say the same thing if I knew chronic hunger. I'm sure Christians have died of starvation before. And, all the disciples, for that matter, ended up dying of persecution. But they probably all died praising God, because He had given them all they needed up to the end, and even at their deaths was using them to glorify himself and build his kingdom. So, it would have been silly of them to worry.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why are Christ's loved ones killed all day long?

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or peril, or nakedness, or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor powers, nor principalities, not things present nor things to come, nor heighth nor depth nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So much is here. Two things stick out to me; first that nothing will be able to separate us from Christ's love, and second that that love won't necessarily keep us from .. pretty much any worldly problem. I guess I want to figure out what it means to know oneself loved even in the middle of famine and nakedness and distress, and to count oneself more than a conqueror because of that love.

So, when you depend so much on Jesus that anything else is only secondary, I suppose that those other things take their value not from themselves but from how they affect your relationship to Jesus. And if things that were meant to hurt you, by God's grace and love, only end up being part of the "all things" that work together to bring you closer to Jesus, then you win entirely. Everything meant for your harm ends up for your good, because when you are Jesus' your good consists of being loved by him, and nothing can take that away.

There's a part of me that rebels at this a bit as being a little glib, the part that reads Russian novels. Is all suffering really redemptive? Does, to steal Dostoyevsky's image, the unheard suffering of a child chronically abused by her parents really work to that child's good and bring her closer to Jesus? And if it is redeemed, Ivan would say, if God builds the agony of brutally tortured toddlers into the structure of his redemptive plan, is that a God we want to be following and is that a price we can accept?

Where that view is wrong, I think, is the implicit assumption that God needs us to suffer in order to redeem us. I think I mostly think this myself. The reality is probably more like, because we live in the devil's kingdom we are going to probably suffer, but if our eyes are fixed on Jesus there isn't any suffering that isn't small beside the enormous fact of his love for us, and suffering can even help us to know that love more fully.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

what shall we say to these things?

What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all,how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or peril, or nakedness, or sword? As it is written: “ For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I love this passage... it reminds me of that part of Psalm 139 which the Jerusalem translation has as "close behind and close in front you fence me around, shielding me with your hand." I think this, and the rest of the chapter, is sort of a summary of all that has gone before, nailing down again the point that as long as we put our trust in God nothing can take us away from him and we will be changed to become like Jesus.

Here is the fence Paul describes, which keeps us safe.

Our all-powerful God is on our side. No-one can beat him.

So, say we sin. Who is going to charge us with it and say we deserve death?

God is the judge, and he already not only pardoned but adopted us.

That sounds like favoritism, not justice. A sin not punished is unjust, and God by definition is just.

But wait! How could someone condemn--that is, say that this sin is deserving of death? Someone already died for it!

Well, he probably died for his own sin, and deserved it. you should still get yours.

no! it was Jesus himself, who had no sin!

Yeah, but he was innocent, and is probably mad about it.

No! in fact, he is the one who is asking God to forgive us. So, justice is satisfied and mercy given, through Christ's love.

Ha! But you are a hopeless case, and besides look at all the bad stuff happening to you. Doesn't that mean that Christ doesn't love you any more?

Well in fact, no.

What does this mean and what does it not mean? It means that when we are on God's side we don't need to be at all afraid of the flesh or the devil... that is, there isn't any sin that we can't bring to God and be delivered from and forgiven for. It also means that even when horrible things happen to us, we don't need to be afraid that it's a sign that God is really mad at us and decided to throw us away.

I think it doesn't mean that:

1. Nothing we can do can lose us our salvation. It seems like all the things mentioned that can't separate us from the love of Christ are external things. Can our own heart inclination separate us from the love of Christ? We are in the category of "any other created thing", so I guess not even that will separate us from his love. But I think we can put ourselves outside the protective fence, if we choose to reject Christ's sacrifice. The fence won't break, but we're free to jump it if we really want to.

2. Because of God's love, nothing really bad will happen to us. It's easy to know this isn't true until something bad happens and then you just think, why did God do this to me? But the passage clearly suggests that famine and nakedness and the sword might very well come to people that Christ loves. They can't separate you from his love, but his love doesn't stop them coming.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Another metaphor

For those whom God foreknew, these he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, whom he predestined, these He also called, whom He called, these he also justified, and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Still trying to come with a way where this doesn't mean that God chooses some of his creation to be saved and some to be damned and there's nothing either can do about it.

Here's another metaphor for the will of God that I would like to see if it works. I think I read something similar somewhere a long time ago.

So, a tiny country has been ruled by a very evil dictator of the Hitler-Stalin-Pol Pot mode for a very long time, so long and oppressively that all his ways of thinking of acting which make him murder and enslave his people have entered into the fabric of the culture and society and become part of it. The neighboring king, who is much more powerful than he is and is also a good, just and compassionate person, decides that he can't in conscience allow this to go on. But there's a conundrum. He wishes to free, not kill, the people enslaved in this horrible country, but he also wishes that the the evil culture be entirely destroyed so as not to perpetuate itself in any future society that they might form.

What is his will?

1. He wants everyone who wants to to be able to live a just, free and happy life
2. He wants to destroy entirely everyone who is allied with or agreed with the murderer.

In order to accomplish both of those goals, he forms a plan to, instead of sweeping in with his army and killing the dictator and his servants (which would be everyone), secretly contact and subvert everyone in the tiny country. They will be told that a much more powerful king is going to come in and kill everyone with allegiance to the dictatorship, and that they have a choice to defect to his side right now and start training to be in his army. They will be told (which is true) that he is a master strategist, and if they trust him and follow his orders exactly, no harm will come to them.

This strategy allows him to achieve both goals, because of course their response and willingness to obey his orders shows exactly the extent to which they are on his side, and also if they do obey his orders it starts to train their evil culture out of them. So when he invades, he can be sure that 1. none of his army will die (because if they follow his orders they won't, and if they don't follow his orders, they're not part of his army) and 2. all the enemy will be entirely destroyed.

How does this help me with my Romans 8 problem? I was thinking it sounds like Paul assures God’s people that they were chosen, and, having been chosen, will be saved no matter what. Thus, everyone who isn’t saved wasn’t chosen, and was created to be sent to hell, essentially.

I think the metaphor can help me understand it differently. What Paul is doing is assuring people that if they decide to be on the invading general’s side and obey his orders, they will be free and safe. God’s plan is very good and if they stick to him, they don’t need to worry. (“Who he foreknew, he predestined, who he predestined, he called,” etc). But it is their choice to obey the orders or not. So God’s will can still be that everyone is saved (all are given a choice, and He wants them all to say yes), God can still completely protect His people (if they do what He says, they will be saved), and yet some can still be lost (not everyone will do what He says, if they still have allegiance to the evil dictator).

As a picture of the gospel, this is pretty legalistic and leaves out a lot. Also, I'm not sure how it addresses the "foreknew" and "predestined" parts of the verse... as if the wise general knows beforehand which citizens he can and can't subvert and doesn't even try to contact the other ones.

So I guess I am back where I started again; does God give everyone the choice to follow Him?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Is there anything you can do to lose your salvation?

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, these he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, whom he predestined, these he also called, whom he called, these he also justified, and whom he justified, these he also glorified.

The way that I have been reading this, it seems like there is no human choice involved. God chose and called some people, and all things work together to make them more like Christ. I suppose the words justified and glorified could mean, "made every effort to justify and glorify" but that seems like a stretch, given the grammar and also the character of God.

I guess this is what Calvinists say, and I don't know how to deal with it. It seems like if you are called, no matter what you do you will be conformed to the image of Christ. And if you're not, no choice of yours will do any good in bringing you closer to God. Therefor, I don't quite see how the idea that "all are chosen, but not everyone responds" could be accurate. But if God is not willing that anyone should die, and has compassion on all he has made, why would he not call everyone?

I came up with a metaphor, about a stupid person who walks into a street and almost gets hit by a car, and gets really angry that there are places, public places where anyone can go, where these large machines that can kill you in a second are also allowed to go around. He finds it intolerable that he can't get straight from point A to point B without being in danger of his life, and questions either the wisdom or the good intentions of the city founders and administrators. Of course, he is motivated by selfishness and a complete lack of understanding of how the city works. That's the only answer I've been able to come up with... I don't understand yet why God doesn't call everyone he has made, or if he does why he doesn't take care to justify and glorify them all, but to get mad at God about it is to show myself a fool (I think this is actually how "fool" is defined in the Bible, as someone who doubts God) and my ignorance of how the City works. So the appropriate thing to do is not to be angry, but to use this fact to try and figure out something about the City and about God. Of course, I think it's important for any attempts to be informed first by love and trust of God rather than love of the world or myself. Otherwise I'd be like the guy who doesn't like streets, trying to figure out their purpose and thinking, maybe it's good for me somehow to almost get hit, and that's why they're there? Maybe they make it so I have to walk the long way around so I can get more exercise?

So, in interpreting the text taking the love and wisdom of God as the only givens... interestingly, I'm helped a bit by Calvin's commentary. He argues that the phrase "the called according to his purpose" doesn't refer to election, but just serves to clarify that people don't earn all things working together for their good by loving God, but rather God does the initiating. So this could support the "all are called, some respond" view... ie, all are "the called according to God's purpose", which is to love and redeem and restore people to relationship with Himself I think, but not all respond by loving God. If I understand Calvin's commentary, he thinks that this passage is not really talking about election at all, but is only directed at those who right now are loving and following God, explaining how their suffering and sin are not going to condemn them and don't mean that God is not in control. That is, the focus is, "God's people suffer, but he is still taking care of them and won't let them go" rather than "some are chosen and taken care of, but others aren't and have no hope at all."

I'm not making much progress. More next time.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

All things work together for good

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, whom he predestined, these he also called, whom he called, these he also justified, and whom he justified, these he also glorified.

I like very much how the New King James Version includes this without a break right after the last part, where it is talking about how the Spirit helps us in our weakness. So the line of thought, to me, seems to be... In Christ, the body is dead because of sin, and our new life is him, since we are now God's children. This being so, we start to really hate our sin and groan against it. We do this because the Spirit is working in us, and we're only helping in the birth effort that all creation is going through. And even when we don't know what to pray for cause we don't know what's wrong or what's going on, the Spirit knows and so God knows. So even when we feel we are failing and falling, we know that all things are actually working together for our good. God is responsible for our salvation..if he decides to call us he does so, and if he calls us he justifies us, and if he justifies us he glorifies us. There's not one part where he says, ok, now it's up to you and I'm going to stand back and watch and see how you do.

I think that the verse about all things working together for good to those who love God is misquoted a lot, because I think "good" is defined as "becoming like Christ" and not, "circumstances working out in the way I want them to". And I guess that's a good indication of where you are, if becoming like Christ is really more appealing to you than circumstances working out. I want to tell this to people all the time, so I hope it's true...even your struggles with your sin that are making you so miserable and hate yourself are working to make you more like Christ, even if it feels like the opposite.

One thing I don't really understand and need to think about more in this passage, is the whole Calvinist thing... the way I am interpreting this, it sounds like pretty clear proof that God chooses some people, and there's nothing they can do to make themselves unsaved. Does this mean some people aren't chosen? How does a loving God create something beautiful and destine it for unending pain and torture? I was talking with a friend about this the other day, and she said something on the order of, "Everyone is chosen but not everyone responds," and I think that my church says something of the same sort. Does Romans 8 agree with that?

I'll think about this more next time.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Spirit helps us in our weakness

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. And He who reads the heart knows the mind of the Spirit, because He makes intercession for the saints in accordance with the will of God.

So, I think that the rest of the Romans 8 is just showing us why, as long as we are trying, we don't need to be afraid that we will somehow screw stuff up through being dumb or inadequate. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all working together to keep us safe.

The word "Likewise" is really interesting here. In the previous verses, the earth was groaning with the birth pangs of the new creation, and in the same way humanity was groaning for their full adoption and redemption. You could take this to just be pain or frustration, of the aaaaaah! why is it coming so slowly?? kind. But here Paul says that the Spirit is also groaning, and that His is productive. Our own distress or longing might be futile or misdirected, but the Spirit is in us, and He knows what we need and expresses it even when it's beyond our own expression.

So even though our own hearts don't know what we need, the mind of the Spirit does and so through Him our Jesus, who loves and intercedes for us, knows exactly what we need. But, and I love this, there's no opposition or argument in the intercession... Jesus is appealing to God for us because God wants Him to; that's the only way Jesus can. And so ... so strange... there's this intimate and beautifully balanced arrangement of divine family love and cooperation, that I am a part of now, when I pray! And it doesn't really matter if I pray right, because the Spirit is praying for me all the things that I don't even know about. I feel like our position is like people in surgery under the best surgeon in the world.. it's painful (and still maybe kind of risky), but the appropriate thing to do is to relax and not worry, knowing that the one who's working on us knows what he's doing.

Of course it's easy to write about all this now, when I'm not praying for anything desperately and feeling like it's not being answered or heard. But I need to remember this when that does happen, because I know it's not any less true then.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not only that, but even we, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in that hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope at all, for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverence.

I love this. Martin Luther, as I think I quoted before, calls Romans 8 the great chapter of consolation and comfort to the Christian following God but still struggling with the flesh, and to me this verse is close to the heart of that consolation. Here is my understanding of it, which I'm not sure is correct.

The first thing to notice is that our groaning is directly parallel to the groaning of creation. Why is creation groaning? With birth pangs; in giving birth to the new and redeemed creation. It was subjected to futility and corruption, but in hope... that is, if the previous interpretation is correct, the hope that God's beloved children would return to him and enter into his glorious liberty.

And we are groaning in the same way and for the same reason. And I'm pretty sure it's implied that it's because we have the Spirit--the first little bit of the Spirit, not the whole thing yet--that this is happening. It's the Spirit within us, groaning for our own futility to end, hating the sin and selfishness and stupidity that still make us miserable and prevent us from being like Jesus. So far, I guess I am not making this sound very consoling.

But I talk to so many people who are in so much distress because they can't shake off their sin, and it makes them so sad, and fearful that they aren't really saved or that Jesus is not really powerful in their lives. And my understanding of this verse is that it says that your distress at your sin is actually a sign that you have the first-fruits of the Spirit, and that it is working in you and redeeming you. Your anger at your sin (though not sadness and fearfulness, which are wrong) is or can be the holy anger of the Spirit, with which you are agreeing. And, my hippie-self says, your unhappiness at your sin joins you with the concerted efforts of the creation, to get rid of it, to be made new and reconciled with both God and creation.

And this is the hope we were saved in. I love that Paul puts in the next part; I think it's directly for people who are so anxious and sad because they can't seem to stop sinning. We are HOPING and WAITING to become like Jesus, to be fully adopted and redeemed. Don't worry too much, I think he's saying, if you keep falling down. Why would we still be hoping and waiting, if we were already there? Going back to what we were saying about creation, and the fall actually being mercy on us because it makes us seek God... I think that maybe that's why God takes so long sometimes to free us from the things we hate about ourselves. Because, for example, if he completely freed me from my carelessness and sloppiness today and I didn't have to fight them any more, my pride, which maybe I don't notice and don't hate, might grow more and keep me from recognizing my need to Jesus, and so from seeking him and loving him. In this way, I sort of think...and it might be wrong... that we, like creation, are subjected to futility in hope, because God doesn't want otherwise perfect people that don't love him.

So the correct response to our own continued sin, I think he's saying, is not to hate ourselves or doubt God's power to change us, or to say it's ok that we don't change, but to try hard to set our minds on the things of the Spirit and to walk accordingly, while trusting that we are in God's loving and powerful hands and that he is working to change us even if we can't see it ... that is, to eagerly wait with perseverance.

I think the rest of Romans 8 is about why we don't need worry; that there really aren't any holes we can accidentally fall through.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Subjected to futility in hope; Pastor Min's view

For the creation itself was subjected to futility, not willingly, but by him who subjected it in hope. For the creation itself also will be delivered from its bondage to corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but even we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies

I want to go into this deeply, because I love it and I'm inclined to just take Pastor Min's word on it.

Here is Pastor Min's view, as I remember it:

So Adam and Eve fell and God, being God, loved them and wanted them to come back to Him. He knew the plan He had to save them and their descendants, through Jesus. Also, being God, He knew that if things were always easy for them and they continued to live in His perfect creation, they would not really have any incentive to seek Him or return to Him, now that they had chosen their own way and to be separate from Him. The devil would have things his own way and all people would be condemned to separation from God forever. So God, in His mercy, wisdom and love, cursed His perfect creation so that people would realize their own need and deficiency and be able to come back to Him and be saved. That is, creation would be subjected to futility, in the hope that people would come back to God. When all people do leave the slavery of their separation from Him and come back to the liberty of being united with Him, the purpose of the broken creation will have been fulfilled and it can be restored to being in harmony with His will and design. This is why it is eagerly waiting for the sons of God to be revealed, assuming that that is a euphemism for people becoming like Jesus, and why its current state of violence and pain in just birth pangs... it is giving birth to a new humanity.

I don't think Pastor Min talked much about what futility meant (and what a great word that is!) but I am assuming it means the violence, the brokenness, the cruelty and inefficiency-- sort of the opposite of Isaiah 11, where

"They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea

Looking at this, it seems that the principles of the strong preying on the weak, of things having to eat and hurt each other to survive, are especially things that Christ's rule will change. I'm not sure whether this actually refers to animals or whether it is a metaphor for what happens with people, but I am inclined to think that it is both, because it says that THE EARTH would be full of the knowledge of the Lord. Looking back to the words of the curse itself, it's interesting that the idea of the strong preying on the weak is kind of seen in the relationship between Adam and Eve "your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you," and a little bit the idea of competition... what the ground had given freely before would now have to be fought for.

Is there evidence elsewhere in the bible for this? And what does it mean that we, just like creation, are groaning? Next post!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why does creation eagerly wait?

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation itself was subjected to futility; not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope. For the creation itself also will be delivered from its bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.

I love this so much. Why does Paul bring in the creation? I sort of have the idea, I think from CS Lewis, that we don't tend to be told stuff that's not our business. Why is the futility and liberty of creation our business? Or probably a better question, what place does it have in the gospel?

Paul brings it up to show us why the sufferings of this present time are not that big of a deal. As written about before, he doesn't explain the sufferings or specifically make them redemptive (well, maybe he does, but not overtly..more about that later); instead he says, they're "not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed in us" So the glory is used to put the suffering in its proper perspective, but the word "revealed" says that we aren't the objects of that glory; I mean, that the glory isn't solely for our contemplation. Instead, the audience to that glory is the rest of creation. I mean, Paul could have said, suffering now pales in comparison to the glory we'll experience later, in which we will be redeemed from all futility. That would have been enough. That would have been our gospel.

But he brings in the creation, and the strange, strange metaphor (or description) of the whole creation eagerly waiting around us, holding its breath in anticipation of our flesh being stripped away and the glory of God shining out of us. The richness and abundance of God's mercy is shown, in that God will let nothing continue in bondage to decay; he will glorify and redeem everything. Our suffering is not that important because creation is terribly important, and God in his mercy and love has chosen us not merely to be redeemed but to be his instruments of redemption.

I don't know how this works, and I fear I'm getting carried away. Are there other explanations for the fact that "the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God"? There's one... if the creation can't be redeemed until humanity is, then of course it will "eagerly wait" for it. It doesn't necessarily mean that humanity's redemption itself frees creation from its bondage to corruption, it could just mean that the freedom of both hinges on the same event. I think that this view leads most naturally to Pastor Min's explanation of the following verse...he says that God laid the Curse as a mercy and not as a punishment. That is, he screwed up his own creation after we sinned, in order that through hardship and tragedy and such we would need to seek and call out to Him, and so could be saved. Hence, "the creation was subjected to futility by Him who subjected it in hope". I agree with this, and can't think of another explanation for that verse. So it would make sense that once humanity is redeemed, creation can go back to being non-screwed up. That's why it's waiting for us to be redeemed, and also sort of explains the "birth pangs" metaphor-- its decay and degradation are painful but productive, in that they help to bring forth new life.

There's some parts that this view doesn't explain (why use that phrase "revealed in us"? Why does it say that the creation, upon being freed, will be brought into "the glorious liberty of the children of God"?) I'm still inclined to think that the truth has some of both ideas in it... sort of like how the Fall was caused by humanity's action, even though we didn't physically go out and plant all the thorns, the redemption of creation will also somehow come "through" humanity.

Anyhow, more later.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Not worthy to be compared

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God

I just spent like three posts on suffering, but Paul here only spends half a sentence on it before he dismisses it as not that important. This is so fascinating! I think it was Andrew in a comment was talking about how Paul is guiding his readers sort of step-by-step through the process of salvation from beginning to end, and each step gently prepares his readers for the next one. And it is gentle... he spends a lot of time elaborately establishing why we can't live according to the flesh, what the alternative, the exact role of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Father in relation to Jesus in relation to us, how exactly flesh and spirit will both be redeemed and the nature of the new life that they are redeemed into. You'd think that would have to be the last step, but no! it gets even better, better than that! to such an extent that human suffering, which most likely to his readers is one of the more important facts of their present lives, gets only an oblique mention (here, at least) as a means on the way to it.

The reason, of course, is that his sufferings are not worthy to be compared with, and I love this phrase, "the glory which will be revealed in us." A couple things here... it's not our glory and it doesn't originate with us, but it's not the glory we will experience externally, either. It will be revealed, to the creation, in us. From being the means by which creation is cursed, we will become the vessels for the glory which will be revealed to it.

This is too exciting a topic to finish off at the end of a post!

Monday, May 3, 2010

What do we do while we're waiting to suffer?

To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

WH Auden, end of the Christmas Oratorio

Not like WH Auden has any right to be my spiritual authority, but I like this poem a lot and thought I might take a digression and figure out if its view is biblical. According to this, as I understand, we see Jesus by glimpses and briefly experience his order of things, where he and no longer we are the center and everything takes on significance in relation to Him. But we go back to our lives and the mundane world comes with us, and in day-to-day life everything loses its significance, including ourselves, and our joy at seeing Jesus becomes guilt that we weren't able to sustain that life we were invited into and that the promised joy was not really able to redeem our lives. Hence, the reason to seek suffering to inhibit our self-reflection. But this comes from "craving the sensation but ignoring the Cause." But in bringing people who are His into boring and non-significant everyday life, to praise Him and trust Him in its small productive activities, he 'redeems from insignificance' broken machines and irregular verbs themselves. Hence, God does not even cheat the World of its triumph.

I think the reason I like this so much is that if we're trying to follow Jesus we think about life at the extremes a lot. Our theology tells us how to live for Jesus if, say, someone offers to kill us if we don't deny Him, but not terribly much about how to live for him while doing statistics homework. A logical implication to this is, stop spending so much time doing statistics homework and start to get into situations where people offer to kill you. I'm thinking about when I first read Bonhoeffer's chapter "The Call to Discipleship" about how every disciple of Jesus needs to radically leave behind all their safety and livelihood so he can be the only thing that they follow or trust in. My instinct said, 1. Is that Biblical? 2. If everyone left their nets, who would catch fish to feed people? and 3. We only can leave behind our lives and follow Jesus when he calls us, and he doesn't actually call us right away or all the time. What do we do while we're waiting to suffer?

And so I guess I'm back to where I was at the end of the last post, but now I know WH Auden agrees with me :) We bring Jesus into our pointless sufferings now, our 'spirit practices his scales of rejoicing'. The greater sufferings will come, but in Jesus, not only the great sufferings will be redeemed and glorified and merged with his (because not even our greatest sufferings ever could possibly compare or even have anything to do with his; really, compared with his suffering, could even martyrdom be more redemptive than a stubbed toe, apart from his mercy which declares that it shall be?) but the little sufferings of the boring day-to-day world, because they are part of our redemption, will also be redeemed. As the poem says a bit later,

"He is the Life
Love Him in the World of the Flesh
And at your marriage, all its occasions will dance for joy"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Suffering with Jesus

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed in us.

What does it mean that we are joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him? I had this conversation with a few people over the past couple days. What is the function of that suffering? Is it something we seek out, in order that we can be like Christ and become closer to him? If we live pretty easy lives without a lot of suffering, in which self-denial also doesn't play that big a part, does this mean that we won't be glorified with him and aren't joint heirs? And what does it mean to "suffer with Christ"? Is it to undergo the same sort of suffering he went through (ie, being despised and rejected while loving the world) for his sake? If we want to be glorified with him, is this passage a mandate to seek out that kind of suffering? Or, is it bringing him into the fairly pointless sufferings that we have already? If I stub my toe but praise Jesus anyhow and ask him to help me bear the pain, am I suffering with Jesus?

I feel like both are true. One thing that I'm pretty sure of (mostly because Bonhoeffer says so, but I think it's warranted by the text) is that the suffering itself isn't of any intrinsic value. Paul says that "our current sufferings aren't worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed in us." I don't think he would have phrased it like this if it was; I think he would have said, "our present sufferings are actually very precious because they make us more like Jesus" or something like that. The phrasing indicates that they have value and weight but it's all on the negative side. Also, say Paul was talking about his own suffering. That was done all for the sake of Jesus and was undertaken willingly. But he didn't undertake or try to suffer, he undertook to follow Jesus' great commission and to bring Gentiles into the kingdom. Suffering happened along the way.

So, I think that the important thing here is Jesus. We are mandated to follow him, and this probably automatically means that we won't have terribly easy lives. (Does it? In America right now?) If we follow him, it means following him into suffering, and the more that we rely on him, the more that he is our only hope and all we have, the more we identify ourselves in him and can die to our old selves and be glorified with Jesus. My personal opinion, which I'm not sure is in the Bible anywhere, is trusting in and loving Jesus through our own pointless suffering is redemptive in that it is good practice in clinging to Jesus and following him into suffering for his sake.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Heirs of God.. another view

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who has a completely different idea about what 'heirs of God' means, so I thought I should come back to it. In his view,"heirs of God" means, "heirs of the promise," as in, the covenant that God made with Abraham, that they would be his people and he would be their God. The fact that for an heir to come into his inheritance someone has to die is no issue here, because in fact we came into our inheritance (the possibility of eternal life and relationship with God)when Christ died on the cross.

I like this, but I like my first idea too, and I can't figure out which makes more sense. If Christ died, and so we came into our inheritance, how are we joint heirs with him? Because he rose again and in him we are raised, and so became the first born of many brothers. That actually makes a lot of sense. Such an interesting thing that God, wishing to adopt his creations as children, took the form of one of them to participate in their lives, so that they could, by following him, participate in his life. Something pleases me very much about the idea that he is both the ...uhhh...testator?... and the heir, and that he died so that the inheritance might be given, and raised to life so he might inherit it and that through identifying themselves with him, everyone else can inherit it! I love that in every way the story is hemmed in by love and goodness; nothing bad is accepted. The inheritance is given and received, death isn't permanent, the family is together and even more family is brought in.

This leads nicely to the "if indeed we suffer with him, that we might also be glorified together." I connect this completely to the idea of following Jesus. He died to bring us into our inheritance and was raised to life to show us how to receive it. Not sure how this makes sense with the rest of Romans 8, but I'll follow through on the idea. We want to be glorified together, to become joint heirs with him. There's a lot of stuff that has to go on, that we don't really know about, can't effect and can't understand. But that's all right because he knows and we just need to follow him. This following involves suffering, and we need to follow him into it-- ie, we need to be with him, even when to do so involves suffering.

This isn't, of course, the only way that that could be read. One thing that I don't understand very well... is it suffering that Jesus is undergoing or underwent (ie, semi-homeless, despised, rejected, death on the cross, heart breaks for the lost etc) that we should seek out and embrace and try to share, in order to be more like him? Do we seek out suffering for the sake of Jesus? Or is it our own suffering, that we will undergo regardless because of our own sin and a fallen world,that we need to invite him into. Ie, when I suffer, I will suffer with Jesus rather than without him.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Heirs of God

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him that we may also be glorified together.

I keep coming back to this idea of, what does it mean that we are children of God? Paul goes into three parts of it. First, anyone who is led by the spirit of God is called a son of God (so strange to write that; it's easier to think of us being co-heirs with Jesus than to think of us sharing his title!) But, being led by the Spirit suggests a little bit both of obedience (compliance to external motivation) and maybe inward likeness (response to internal motivation). Second, we feel to God not fear, but trust and love, like a son for a father. Our relationship is defined now in terms of being as well as doing.

But this third part is strange. After having established that we are children of God and what that means, he brings in two legal forms-- there are two witnesses that know that we are children, and if we are children, we are heirs. What does it mean-- in the order of the universe, I guess, for what other law could he be appealing to?-- that we are children? Children inherit their fathers' property. If the father is God, what does this even mean? My understanding of "inherit" is that after a father dies, his property rightfully belongs to his children (or whomever his heirs are). I guess the implication is, someone to take care of the father's property, in whom the life of the father is somehow present. This makes more sense-- because why would you use the word "heir" in connection with God, who cannot die? And that is pretty incredible... the idea that as God's children we will be taking care of his property jointly with Jesus, the one who created and sustains everything (!)

One thing occurs to me now though. How is this different from the situation now? God gave his creation to people to take care of; people who were "made in his own image." It sounds like from the beginning, God intended everyone to be his children in the sense I've been talking about. But later on, especially in Jesus' parables, the role of people to creation is more of servants taking care of the master's property while he is away on a long trip but will come back. There's no question at all of ownership. Even in the parable of the talents, when he gives the servant ten more talents at the end, the servant's still a servant and the ten talents are still "given" to the servant as capital, the master's property and intended to make more money for the master. But the whole point of being an heir is to become an owner.

We, along with Jesus, will become the legitimate authority! As servants and stewards, we could protect and take care of. As heirs and owners, we can, perhaps, design and create and order. Perhaps it is this that the long, painful process of glorification is preparing us for... to become like Jesus, and to become good owners, to direct and design and order things well. That is why we need to become like God in wisdom, character and perfect goodness, so that we can create good things.

But then, joining in the suffering of Jesus is also necessary....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spirit of Adoption

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption, by which we cry out "Abba, Father!" The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together

So our relationship with God has been defined as the intimate, loving and friendly one of a parent and a young child. And I tend to think of it in a bit of a physical way too-- as his Spirit lives in us and it is his life we are participating in, then we're also children in the sense of sharing something of the same life, and in resembling. But how on earth does this translate into our real, experiential life?

From what Paul is saying, and I think that experience bears it out, it's something that just happens. We don't have to and can't convince ourselves that we are God's children and should love Him; rather, the Spirit that we receive is the spirit of adoption, and the more he works in our minds and hearts the more naturally we turn to God crying out "abba!" Even though from this passage right here it sounds like sort of an all-or-nothing one-time thing, I think that it is a process. I think that its opposite, the spirit of bondage again to fear, is a sort of new legalism. Having introduced us to the idea of new life in Christ (by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body and be resurrected into Christ's life) it's necessary for him to describe that life a little bit. No, this new life isn't like the old where there's a set of rules you need to be afraid of breaking-- that's just more slavery. No, when you are in the new life, it is like a parent-child relationship. And the more the Spirit works in you and changes you, the more you will know God as a child knows his father (rather than like a slave knows his master). But I think that it takes a lot of time and learning and the Spirit working in us for us to really believe that.

And the interesting thing is how it says, the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. Because I tend to think of the Spirit and our spirits sort of being at war, and that the process of glorification or whatever it's called is our spirit slowly being squashed. But that is not true. Anyhow, more on that later.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sons of God, not slaves of fear

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the Spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry out Abba, Father! The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.

I like the very elaborate phrasing of the first sentence, which isn’t it all translations (some say “as many,” but some say “all”). Anyhow, the point is clear; it is referring to every single person, to every individual who is led by the Spirit of God. And what does it mean to be led by the Spirit? I’m assuming it refers to all his readers, all who are referred to when he says, “but you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit,” and again at the beginning with “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” This seems like kind of an obvious point; why does Paul go to the trouble to say, no more, no less, but as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God?

I’m extrapolating a little here, but I think it’s justified by the next sentence… because it’s rather a staggering thing to be called “sons of God,” and probably most of Paul’s readers, like us, don’t feel like we resemble him much. We know that we fail every day to be like Him, we know our flesh is really strong. It doesn’t seem very likely that we are children of God, and unless Paul made sure it was clear that the passage really did apply to all believers I don’t think we would apply it to ourselves. But if we’ve followed him so far, we know that if we are in Christ and if the Spirit of God dwells in us, yes, this does really mean US. Some implications…each person, myself included, who has the Spirit also doesn’t owe anything to the flesh, is empowered by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body, and is being brought to complete and perfect life by the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead giving life to our mortal bodies.

At first, I was thinking that the whole “sons of God” thing is actually just a natural progression from the previous couple verses; “father” referring to your source of life, and so naturally, since the Spirit is now our source of life because our flesh has been displaced and is being put to death, we are children of God because our source of life proceeds from Him, we resemble Him because our, uh, spiritual genetic makeup is His… similar to saying branches on the plum tree are sort of like children of the plum tree, not that you would. But I think the next sentence deepens it a lot beyond that.

Paul says that you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship, by whom we cry out, Abba! Father! This goes way beyond describing physical relationship, which would be incredible enough, into describing interpersonal relationship. I love that he mentions fear. It seems such a random thing—where does fear come into things? Who was even talking about fear? Why does Paul suddenly need to mention that we’re not in bondage to fear anymore? I think for the exact same reason that he also said “as many as are led ….are sons”; because we know we fail all the time. The new life could be a horrible thing, way worse than the old law. With the old law there was a book of rules to follow, but at least it was a book and you knew what the rules were. But with the new life… the rules aren’t clear, somehow you should just know them, and when you fail now, you betray God, defy his Spirit who is working in you and Christ who died to bring you into the new life, and also yourself, if you are indeed some sort of new creation. The law of the Spirit of Life, as a law to be followed, is a really terrifying thing when I think about it. Which is why Paul has to explicitly define the nature of our new relationship to God. Fine, we aren’t living according to the flesh anymore. But, if we are living in a certain way because we have to; because if we don’t God will beat us up and our main business in life is to not step off the path so as not to incur wrath, then fear is our guiding force, not the Spirit, and we are its slaves. But our guiding force is a relationship, and its nature is perfectly expressed by the first word of a baby for its father.

Much more about this later.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Debtors to the Spirit

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not 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!

What does the “therefore” here indicate? Because our mortal bodies, which would otherwise be dead, are given life by the Spirit, we owe them to him. Our lives were saved and redeemed by God’s grace, and now they are his. This idea of being a “debtor to the flesh” is so interesting, because I feel instinctively that there is a big reason why Paul had to say we’re actually not debtors to the flesh. What would that mean, in the sense he’s talking about here?

I’m thinking in terms of rightful ownership and legitimate authority, in how something is supposed to be used. Do we feel like we “owe it to our flesh” to act in a certain way? I’m picturing Agatha-Christie era Britain, where people would talk about sex in terms of it being a healthy activity, that the body needed, and as if it was to be engaged in because that’s just how we were wired and it was somewhat immoral to deny it. I suppose we still do talk a bit like that... if there was something in your character that is “natural” or “you were born with”, it can become a legitimate authority. “I’m just an aggressive person, I always have been,” could conceivably be used as an excuse for pushing someone out of the way, but it’s not likely it would be universally accepted. On the other hand, I think it’s a way more powerful excuse when we use it on ourselves. I’m just a shy person, I couldn’t speak up... I just need my sleep, I couldn’t help her...etc. It definitely can be used as a trump card. And in society at large, it’s the big trump card in the homosexuality question... if that’s how you are naturally, you owe it to yourself to act accordingly. It is kind of a moral question... you should be true to yourself; to deny yourself is bad.

But if we’re in the Spirit, we actually don’t owe the flesh anything. Instead, we owe him everything, because he is killing the old life inside us and giving us real, eternal life. So we don’t have to act according to our nature any more. But I think it’s a slow process. First Paul says, if Christ is in you the body is dead because of sin but the Spirit/spirit? is life because of righteousness. But this says, if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. I think that that’s the process by which the Spirit is life because of righteousness...he fights with us, enabling us to put to death the deeds of the body.

Monday, March 15, 2010

So what does it mean to be dead?

Still, if anyone asked me what it meant for a Christian to be dead because of sin, while the Spirit is life because of righteousness, I'm not sure I'd know. It does sound like a very definite thing that happens to everyone (if Christ is in you, the body IS dead), and also passive (though, a couple verses down it clarifies...if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body....)My best guess is that it has to do with motivations again, and also perhaps that it is a slow process. That's the only way it makes sense to me.

That is, your body being dead because of sin means that when you have Christ, when you know what true righteousness is, you can no longer trust and follow your motivations apart from him, because you now know that every single one of them is tainted and corrupted. So maybe you were always dying, but Christ being in you made you realize it. And then dying to sin, dying to the law... I like the example Paul uses elsewhere about dying to the law like a husband's death frees a woman to marry again.

Here's another passage, also by Paul, from 2 Corinthians 4:

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

In this case the death of the body clearly means joining the suffering of Jesus... in the verses before, he was talking about the sufferings that they were undergoing to tell people about Jesus. This is such a lovely picture of the kingdom, and I think a good parallel with Romans 8. There's the same idea of a continual death of the body (through continually denying it comfort, fellowship, etc, for the sake of doing what Jesus wants them to do), and because the death is for the sake of Jesus, the life that we live, even in our mortal bodies full of sin, is Jesus' life... that is, it is revealed in us. And so the life of Jesus overflows from our bodies full of death to other people. So, as Romans 8 says, if we do have Christ the body is dead because of sin (because we deny the body's demands, since we follow Christ now, so by the Spirit we put to death the body's demands). And so the life we do live is Christ's.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life to our mortal bodies!

BUT! If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you

I love this verse. I picture Paul writing it in hushed awe, as around him he can hear echoes of angels singing, trying to take in and to express all at once the goodness, the kindness, the mercy, the cleverness, the complete power and absolute victory of God. That said, I'm not really sure what it means. The thing that immediately strikes me is that God gets everything and Satan gets nothing.

I love how this translation starts the verse with "but", which I shouldn't make too big a deal of since most others say "and". Anyhow, at the end of the last verse, our bodies were dead because of sin, but the Spirit was life because of righteousness. Though actually, in the last post I never went into what the life part meant. I'm inclined to think that it means what's said here... He is the Spirit of Life, we are under His law now, and so are free from sin and death. Why say it again, what he already said in the first verse and again, sort of, in the verse directly previous? I think because it is very important for us to know specifically that resurrection and regeneration extends even to our bodies.

I love what this says about God. In Him is Life, he is the Life; to be in contact with Him is to be made alive. The power that was able to conquer death and raise Jesus from the dead lives in us.. making us part of it...and so even our mortal bodies become so infused with Life as He lives in us that they are alive even though they are dead because of sin. I have more instinctual understanding of this than actual understanding. One thing that I don't know is, does this refer to the resurrection, after we die? Or is this something that is happening now? My instinct is that since the Spirit dwelling in us is a continuous thing, it means that every part that is in contact with him is being made alive, so that when we are completely filled with him our whole body will be resurrected.

I'm a little confused about whether mortal bodies is referring to our actual flesh..the Life is living in us and so even the processes of decay will reverse. If this is the case, then the "life to our mortal bodies" is certainly not a continuous thing, because Christians get sick and die like everyone else. I guess what I am thinking is that as the fleshly mind becomes renewed and brought to life by continuously dying to itself and being made alive by the Spirit, when at last our mortal bodies die and, seeing Christ and being made like him, we fully at last are filled with the Spirit of Life, we will find that there is nothing about us that death can get any hold on, that it has anything to do with. We'll have been completely made into inappropriate material for death.

One last thing that I love about this... WH Auden says, "He is the Life/ Love Him in World of the Flesh/ and at your marriage, all its occasions shall dance for joy." Even our flesh will be redeemed and restored, even our flesh, that we thought weighed us down, will become... one of the occasions of our marriage. Even our broken and ugly flesh, weighing us down and embarrassing us, will become uniquely precious, and so can be loved and taken joy in now, for the sake of Christ!!!!!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

There are two translations of this; one capitalizes Spirit (as in, he is alive, in you) and one doesn’t (ie, your spirit itself is alive). This is a difficult and beautiful verse. It first assumes that Christ is in you. We know from the previous verse that that is because his Spirit is in us. Is the body dead because of sin because Christ is in us, (ie, Christ in us makes our bodies dead because of sin) or in spite of that fact (ie, even though the body is dead because of sin, because Christ is in you the spirit is life). I think it could go both ways. I guess the first thing to think about is, what is meant by death?

I feel like there are a lot of verses which talk about how we actually die because we are joined with Christ… say, Galations 2:19-20 (For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me) and Galations 5:24 (Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.) Is this the same kind of death that Romans talks about? And what does it mean?

Here are some things that I think it can’t mean. It doesn’t mean that we died to sin… that is, us and sin are no longer in the same world and breathe the same air. Death means no movement, no interaction, and is very final, but we get up and fight sin in ourselves every day. Also, it can’t mean literally that our bodies are dead because they aren’t, or at least not what we call dead. It doesn’t mean that if Christ is in us, sinful nature is completely dead in us. Maybe go back a bit and say what we mean by “the body”. If we’re taking these verses to be parallel, “I” and “the body” could both mean “the sinful nature with its passions and desires”. This sounds reasonable. But if we fight with our sinful nature every day, how can we say we have crucified it? And, my old question… is it something passive that just happens when we accept Jesus, or is it something active and ongoing?

My instinct is that it’s both. Let’s see if it makes sense in light of grafting. So a branch on its own does what is its nature to do… it slowly dies. Its cells keep performing their functions, but since it’s not connected to a plant, they can’t get water and nutrients. By the nature of what plants are (ie, the law) it is dying. If it’s an apricot branch, it’s a dying apricot branch. But, say it’s grafted onto a plum tree. In order to not be condemned to death by the law of nature, it needs to become part of the plum tree--it needs to die to its apricot self. This is a silly metaphor. But that death is actually accomplished by the sap, the life of the plum tree entering into it and interacting with it. It’s attachment to the living plum tree means that it is both going to have to die to what it was before, and that because of the living sap moving in it can now be alive in a way it never was. Jesus, the Spirit of Christ, enters into our current death and helps us to die every day to our old nature.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

We have Christ, Christ has us

9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

So, when the Spirit of God dwells in us we are not "in" the flesh any more, because he is now "in" us. The next part of the relationship is with Christ. I wonder why they call the Spirit "of God" in the first sentence and then "of Christ" in the second, and why they talk about it negatively, as in the ones who don't have it, rather than positively. I think that it is necessary to talking about how our relationship with God is mediated by Christ, as is explained in the next verse.

I want to make the idea of "having" very complicated and contrasted with "being" in the flesh, but I don't think that it is. I think the reason why Paul used "have" instead is to make the point more strong that if you don't have Christ, he doesn't have you. But otherwise it's parallel...if you have Christ, Christ is in you, in the person of his Spirit. It's still interesting to me that we are portrayed as the larger entity. It never says that we are in Christ or in the Spirit, but that they are in us. My idea of this goes back to my plant metaphor; it is important that the sap is in the branch, but you couldn't really say that the branch is in the sap. And if it's very important that you define how the plant as a whole relates to the branch, you could say that the branch belongs to the plant (and vice versa) because the plant's sap is in the branch.

One reason that occurs to me, why it avoids saying here that we are in Christ or in the Spirit, is that like I talked about before Paul really wants to make clear here that our relationship with the Spirit and the change that results from it are internal, and we are changed from the inside out. If he said that we were in the Spirit (which for all I know he does say, elsewhere) we could think that it was something that we could immerse ourselves in and he would infuse into us from the outside, through osmosis. But in this context it's important that the Spirit is in us, and the change is generated from the inside.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Spirit of God dwelling in you

Back to this idea of relationship. This passage seems to call out the individual, and put each Christian into direct relationship with the Trinity. And how is that relationship described?

1. God has a Spirit. This Spirit dwells in you.
2. Christ has the same Spirit. If we “have” this Spirit, Christ “has” us.
3. By this Spirit, Christ is in us.
4. So, the love of the Father for the Son extends to us and his power is able to work in us.

First of all, the Spirit of God is dwelling in you. What does this mean? The word “dwell” suggests a long-term, intimate relationship. But he doesn’t just dwell with you, he dwells in you. The same word (I’m assuming it’s the same word) is used for our relationship with our flesh… we are “in the flesh”. Before, Paul talked about walking according to the spirit or flesh or Spirit, but this seems much more personal. I feel like the transition verse was where he says that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, and those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit”. I can’t really tell the cause and effect, but how life is externally lived is a reflection (or a cause) of one’s interior life. Here it gets complicated, because to “set one’s mind on the things of the Spirit” has, as discussed before, the implication that it’s something that we do on purpose, while “the Spirit of God dwelling in you” has a much more passive, there’s nothing that I’m doing sound to it. I guess it could be both.. if I’m thinking that it’s parallel to walking according to the flesh, setting your mind on the things of the flesh and “being in the flesh”… you do what the flesh tells you to, because in your mind are fleshly things—they probably feed off of each other…you choose how you live based on how your mind works, and your mind is influenced by how you are living. And to be “in the flesh” is to inhabit this state… a mind at enmity with God, and actions that can’t please Him.

But we’re not in the flesh anymore… instead, the Spirit is in us. I keep thinking in terms of a country… to be in a country, we’re subject to its laws and organizational workings. Everywhere you move around and no matter what you do you’re still in that country. It’s interesting that it doesn’t say (here, at any rate) that we are “in the Spirit”… instead, the Spirit is “in us”. So He enters into our country, into the government and infrastructure of our bodies and minds that we had even before he came, and lives there. And by his living there, we are not part of The Flesh anymore… in us, He revolts and sets up an autonomous country, and we aren’t subject to The Flesh’s laws and we can tear up its roads and put in new schools or whatnot. And we can now live according to God’s law, because we’re not subject to the laws of the old country anymore. I realize I made a mistake when I said in the Spirit we’re an autonomous country. Of course we’re not. We’re now like a colony or outpost of God’s country.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

And suddenly, it's about ME

But you are not in the flesh, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

This is a very complicated and beautiful passage. So much seems to depend on exact words that I want to get a few other translations in here.

9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (NIV)

9You, 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. 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of(T) 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(U) through his Spirit who dwells in you. (ESV)

9And ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God doth dwell in you; and if any one hath not the Spirit of Christ -- this one is not His; 10and if Christ [is] in you, the body, indeed, [is] dead because of sin, and the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness, 11and if the Spirit of Him who did raise up Jesus out of the dead doth dwell in you, He who did raise up the Christ out of the dead shall quicken also your dying bodies, through His Spirit dwelling in you. (YLT)

The first thing that I notice is that it is all about relationship; what we are in regards to God, the flesh, Jesus and the Spirit; Jesus to God, God to the Spirit, the Spirit to Jesus and all to us, included in their relationship.

The super interesting thing first off, that I guess has been happening all through Romans but I just noticed, is that he really seems to be talking to individuals. For a lot of things, it seems like he could be talking to churches or families or some kind of group, and up until now it has talked a bit more distantly; “those who walk”, etc… But now it switches to the personal. Here, it specifically says, this is about one person, you, and how you relate to Christ.

I wonder why Paul does this? I think if, as Luther says, Romans 8 is meant to give comfort to those who are engaged in warfare against the flesh to say that they are not condemned, it’s necessary for a couple reasons. First, if he said, “those who have the Spirit in them are not in the flesh”, it would not be assurance but condemnation. It would seem impossible to people who are struggling against the flesh that this could really apply to them. Maybe it could apply to Paul, or some people who are extra holy, but not to me. He needs to tell people, his readers, that it really does mean them themselves. Also, as to it being individual, I think as he goes in to talking about relationship, he needs to take a lot of care to define his terms. Who is meant by “you” and where does the Spirit dwell? Is it humanity? Is it your family? Is it your church? Even for us and probably even more so for a less individualistic society, we identify with a lot of different entities, and it’s important to define which one he means. And along with that, I see it a little bit as a challenge, especially the words, “If indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” If it was more general, the readers wouldn’t have any need to examine themselves. They could assume, if they wanted, that the Spirit dwelt in an abstract way in another entity that they were a part of, and that this might automatically..uhh… cover them too. This seems important in combating the idea that, “I belong to a church, and the church is friends with God, so I am friends with God too.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Can one be in the Spirit but live according to the flesh?

I feel like that is maybe what Paul is assuring us of.. we are not in the flesh, if the Spirit is in us. But in that case, I think it must be possible to live according to the flesh, even while not being in the flesh. Because it is a battle every day for me to not have my mind set on the things of the flesh. I’m thinking that that’s a battle which is only possible at all through the Spirit dwelling in me; otherwise I wouldn’t even be able to fight the flesh. But this passage does sound very much like it’s the one or the other… either you are in the flesh or in the Spirit, and whichever one you are in, you live like it. But we know from Romans 7 (I think) as well as from everyday experience that we totally can be in the Spirit but still battle against the flesh. I guess my question, born of judgment of other Christians, which I shouldn’t do, is… is it possible to be in the Spirit but NOT battle against the flesh? The reason I ask this is because so often you see people or societies unchanged or unaffected by their purported Christianity, and it worries me. But I think I need to not judge. I don’t know what God is doing on their insides; I don’t know what they might have done if the Spirit were not working in them and transforming them.

And if I see people living with sin in their lives but content with it? What does this passage have to say about that? I guess there are two interpretations. One is; if I look at myself and my own history, I know that God has been working sequentially in different areas of my life, convicting me of sin and healing me. He needed to heal me of hating and fearing people before he could heal me from jealousy, and he needed to heal me of jealousy before he could heal me of judgment and condescension. So judgment and condescension were there even when I feared people; they were sin that I was living with, basically content and unaware, for many, many years. All the while He was not doing nothing in me; he was working on different areas. So, I was still, in those areas, walking according to the flesh and setting (part of) my mind on the things of the flesh, but that doesn’t mean that the Spirit wasn’t in me working. That might be a bit of revisionist history, but I think it’s mostly right.

The other interpretation is that: there are lots of people who will cry out, “Lord, Lord,” but Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” And why? Because they saw him hungry, naked, in prison, etc and didn’t feed, clothe or visit him… that is, their faith was never translated into actions. They thought they had the Spirit, but they did not. If they had, the Spirit in them would have cried out to them to cloth the naked and feed the hungry, and they would have done it. As the next verse says, “Now, if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ in him, he is not his.” This is frightening, because it makes me wonder if there are people who think that they belong to Christ, but they don’t… he doesn’t even know them. There are, it says there are. What then do we do when we see a Christian not living rightly? Do we judge them or not? Are they in the first or second category?

Of course, pray! If the Spirit is in me, as well, it is the same Spirit that is in them and wants the same thing. I think—I know!—that the Spirit uses other Christians, uses the body of Christ to do His work in us. If the Spirit is working in us, telling us how the other person can be corrected, it is just a part of His healing work in that person’s life. The same Spirit is working in me as in other people, so when another person tells me where I am living in the flesh and not pleasing God, the Spirit in me responds and resonates, making me aware of the part of my life he wants to heal and restore. I know this is true. But if a person does not have the Spirit at all, and Christ doesn’t know them…how can we know that? Only God knows the heart. I guess the answer is the same: pray for wisdom. He wants them to be saved and to really know Him.

That’s a whole other question—how do you recognize and deal with sin but not judge it, since only God can judge? But that’s sort of outside of the scope of this passage.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not topiary, but grafts!

"For the carnal mind is emnity against God. It is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

A couple things here. First, to go back to what flesh is. Since he's talking to people who are still alive and telling them that they aren't in the flesh, flesh doesn't mean, "those who are made out of meat cannot please God." I think that earlier I defined it as pretty much "those whose minds are controlled by what they want and not what God wants" (which is everyone unless they have been grafted to the vine of Christ). So it's basically saying minds don't do that what God wants are not pleasing to him, by definition.

I think this might be where Dan gets his idea that the passage is saying, if you think for yourself you'll go to hell, but if you go along with what other people say is "the Spirit", you're safe. This makes total sense if you don't believe that the Spirit has a real and independent existence. The effect would be, "What I want to think is bad. I will stop thinking that. The Church says that THIS is what is good to think, so I will think this instead." That's why the last idea is so important. You're not in the flesh if the Spirit of God dwells in you. Rather than being an external force twisting the plant into a certain shape, like in topiary, the Spirit is an internal force transforming the very nature of the plant, like a tree grafted onto a rootstock. This is very, very important, because I think it's easy for people to mistake the two, to actually try to be topiary, outwardly twisting themselves into crazy shapes to try to please God or be good, and not really growing in God or transforming their natures.

Of course, here we run into another issue, which I think I'll save for next time. This talks about being "in the flesh" and "in the Spirit". Can one be both? Can people, grafted onto the rootstock of Christ through the mercy of God, live in such a way that their minds are not transformed and are still set on the things of the flesh?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Last tangent... Response to Dan's comment... What is the flesh, and how do we know God?

Sorry for taking so long to reply... life suddenly got VERY busy... I just want to address a couple basic assumptions that I think we're diverging on.

One is in how “flesh” is defined. I don’t think its talking about your body, or about the natural world. Other translations say “sinful nature”, by which they mean the natural human tendency to not live well, which means various things.... not minding living enriching ourselves regardless of the effect on other people, enjoying things which are destructive, lust for power and control, etc etc... I think what most Christians believe is caused by arrogating to ourselves the place of God. It’s our nature, it isn’t God’s. I think that that’s what it’s talking about as “the flesh” vs “the Spirit”... two different ways of being, our natural one and God’s, that God’s mercy is letting us participate in and grow into. If you read the first couple posts, they’re all about that.

The second place we diverge is that rather than “having a direct line to the Spirit” Christians know about Him through reading about Him and through accepted church doctrine. Christianity actually teaches, so far as I know at least, that it’s horribly dangerous to not have a personal relationship with God, and just learn through doctrine, for exactly the reasons you talk about... people are fallible, power corrupts, etc. On the other hand, doctrine is necessary too. I came up with a metaphor, which probably breaks down quickly but I like it. Say you move to a completely foreign country...let’s say Azerbaijan. How do you learn about it? Do you stay in your hotel room and read all the books you can by very educated people? Do you go out into the market and respectfully and open-mindedly talk to people, who might not have any education but who do live there? Do you just wander around the countryside, observing and taking notes, then making judgments based on your personal experience? I think you do a balance of all three. The scholars aren’t enough... they are probably all biased in different ways, they are fallible, and they probably disagree with each other anyhow. But they have spent a long time studying the place, and they know things that you don’t. Your interpretation of your experience of the country will be much, much poorer if you decide in your arrogance you don’t want to use anyone’s ideas or conclusions but your own. So you read what you can, you find out about the people that are writing, and you see what resonates most with your own experience and what you hear from other people. Same with talking to the market people... their ideas of history and science might be laughable to you, and their views seem narrow and ignorant, but there are things that one can only know by living in and experiencing a place rather than looking at it from above. Whatever you do, you have to use your own mind and heart to make your decisions and figure out how to live and think about things, but all the while be aware that the way your mind and heart interpret things is not pure, unclouded and just, but influenced by many other things, from your past or personality or what have you. The longer you live there, the more trustworthy your own impressions probably are going to be. So for me, to know about the things of God has been like that a bit. It’s a place, it’s an economy, it’s an order of things, in all of which are expressed the personality and intent of God. You don’t actually need theology, or to talk to (and listen to!) other Christians, to live there, but it’s really helpful if you want to live well, participate, understand what is going on and have your experience make sense. But nothing can substitute for living there and interacting with the place yourself.

There’s a lot more that could be said, because my metaphor really doesn’t do justice at all to the fact that “living according to the Spirit” is actually a relationship with a PERSON (which is the whole point of everything, happiness is all good but it’s just a byproduct) but I just wanted to talk about how reason can’t be pure and needs to interact with other people, in understanding God just like in understanding anything else.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What are "you" defined by?

Here is an interesting idea from my friend Dan, that I want to think about, which brings up the idea, if I’m understanding him right, of where “you” are in all of this.

“I think it means that if you think for yourself you go to hell, and if you follow what other people tell you is "The Spirit" you go to heaven. I don't buy in to the mind body split. There is no difference between your body and your mind.
If I am kind I could say that this passage is admonishing against pursuing simple desires. But if we apply ... See Morereason to desire we see that the pursuit of temporary pleasures yields less than the pursuit of actual happiness.
You are a verb, not a noun. You are defined by interactions, not states of being. Engender your interactions to be of happiness and you will be happy. Focus on yourself as anything other than a dynamic and ever changing process and you will, as this passage is using the term, "die."”

The first thing to talk about is the mind-body split. Is there one implied here? There is definitely a divide between the “flesh” and the “Spirit”. But I don’t think that we understand this in terms of mind and body, in that I think it’s very possible for the mind to be “living according to the flesh” and conversely, as it says later on in verse 11, for our mortal bodies to be given the life of the Spirit.

So, say that “you” are made up of a mind and a body. I think the dominant philosophy of the time (Plato’s school, I think, but I could be wrong on this) said that your spirit was good and your body bad, that your simple desires were fruits of your corrupted body, and the less you were defined by that (the more you acted according to intellect and the less you acted just selfishly based on what your body wanted) the higher of a being you were. I think that this passage is maybe borrowing some of this school’s vocabulary, but isn’t really talking about that at all.

The key is in, as says, “you are defined by interactions, not states of being.” This sheds good light on the idea of “walking according to the flesh/ Spirit”. Like I talked about in the last section, walking is a set of discrete thoughts and actions, but its greater principle/ purpose has to do with its direction and motivation. Walking is your interaction with the path you are on… it is an active thing, with a direction to it. You interact with your surroundings, all of them, but with a particular direction and intent. Yes, this passage calls us to be verbs.

But I think the fundamental point on which Dan and I disagree is the direction.
For my idea of direction, I have to go back to my plant metaphor. So we’re branches, cut off from the source of life and, by the nature of things, dying. We’re grafted onto the plant (justification) and then begin the long process of changing every part of our physiology, mind and body, which is in opposition to the life trying to infuse us (glorification). The direction, as I understand, is to be fully part of life as it was created to be… some of the characteristics of that life are that it is loving, meaningful, active, not isolated, cooperative and fruitful… but those are side effects, they aren’t what you aim for… you aim to love God more and know him more, to have the sap of his nature flowing more fully through you, transforming your mind and your body. This is why I can’t agree with the idea that “if you think for yourself you go to hell, and if you follow what other people tell you is "The Spirit" you go to heaven” , because it’s the most deeply personal process you can think of. If all you know about the Spirit is what other people tell you, you are very far away from heaven.

More later. Thanks Dan for the interesting comment!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"What are the things of the Spirit", continued

Matthew Henry’s interpretation worries me, because I don’t know that my thoughts move most often with pleasure to the welfare of my soul and the concerns of eternity. When I was in high school and liked very much to read plays, it was really a terrible difficulty to me, the thought that to really give my heart and mind entirely to Christ I would need to give up thinking about and liking Tom Stoppard, because I would just need to think about God all the time. When I am at work with a lot of manual labor to do in which my mind is left to its own devices for a couple hours, I could pray or listen to sermons or sing worship, but to be honest I don’t usually want to do any of those things, and would rather listen to novels. Does this mean that I am not setting my mind on the things of the Spirit? Is it evidence that my flesh is not being conformed to the life of God, that the graft is not taking?

It might, but I think that here we run back into question 2, about whether “walking according to the Spirit” consisted of discrete thoughts and actions. And I concluded that it does but it doesn’t… the actions and thoughts are the outward signs of the inward life..essentially, the only importance of a thought or action is in its motivation, from or against God. And so, if I read Tom Stoppard because I love God and want to further appreciate the depth of His creation and the beauty of His order, I am still setting my mind on the things of the Spirit. As Matthew Henry says, “Which way go our plans and contrivances?” It’s the direction of the action that matters, not the action itself.

But this doesn’t bring us any closer to answering the question of “what are the things of the Spirit?” I don’t know if it can be answered, because the Spirit is a Person. I think I can only know what they are by knowing Him and asking Him all the time. This makes sense with the interesting phrase, “walk according to the Spirit,” and with the beautiful image in Psalm 119 of the law as a path. When you walk “according to a path” you “set your mind on the things of the path” in that you don’t just start at the beginning, have in your head an idea of the end, and think about it. You pay attention to where the path is going during the whole journey. To “set your mind on the things of the Spirit” is to know the Spirit, and ask Him, where do I go and what do I do?

But this is kind of simplistic, because we all know that we can’t usually just ask him, Spirit, what’s the direction, and we hear a voice in our ears saying, go left. And it’s way better than that too! Because I really do believe that as he works in us, we are transformed. I think if I study and obey the word, and as I ask him where we should go and do it, by his mercy I really am a little bit changed into the sort of person whose will is in line with his and who wants what he wants… that is, my mind becomes a little more set on “the things of the Spirit.”

So here we are again, just like on question 2! I started out with works, but ended up with grace! Yes, to set our minds on the things of the Spirit is something that we do and needs conscious action and intention on our part, but its source and direction is this abstract and incomprehensible gift, the gift of life through the Spirit.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Question #3: What are the "things of the Spirit"?

Those who are in the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are in the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.

This is stated like a natural law, almost. But what are those "things of the Spirit" to which we should (or, if you read it like that, DO) set our minds? Here's what Matthew Henry has to say about it, in his commentary on Romans 8:

"The favour of God, the welfare of the soul, the concerns of eternity, are the things of the Spirit, which those that are after the Spirit do mind. Which way do our thoughts move with most pleasure? Which way go our plans and contrivances? Are we most wise for the world, or for our souls?"

More on this later.

Question #2: How are we different from the world?

#2 is a hard one. My initial thought was that the difference between walking according to the flesh vs Spirit was, “do I live to satisfy myself and nourish myself, or do I live for another object, such that self is secondary?” But, there are many people who don’t know God who live very unselfish lives for some cause or other—say, the environmental movement. This presents a difficulty for me, because if, as I think, to “live according to the Spirit and set your mind on the things of the Spirit” is a deliberate and conscious thing, it is made up of conscious thoughts and actions. But one’s thoughts and actions can be turned from “the flesh” (if you define things of the flesh as being things which please and benefit oneself) by other things than God. To take the environmental example… is a person who takes the bus instead of driving, or eats less, poorer and more expensive food because they want to use less of the world’s resources, “living according to the flesh”?

Now, here’s an interesting thing… sometimes, a Christian and a non-Christian are both driven to perform the exact same conscious action. Taking the environmental example… the environmentalist wants to use less of the world’s resources because he feels it to be more just to the powerless in other countries, while the Christian does so for the exact same reason, and ultimately because he knows that the poor and powerless are loved by God, and he is moved by the Spirit inside him to love them as God loves them. And yet, I think the Bible says that one is living according to the flesh and setting his mind on the things of the flesh, while one is living according the Spirit and setting his mind there.

The solution that immediately presents itself is that “God cares more us than what we do.” He loves the action of the Christian not so much because it takes care of the powerless (He can do that Himself, though that’s another can of worms I don’t want to open), but because it brings the Christian closer to Him and in line with the law of the new life He is preparing him for—ie, in my favorite metaphor, it means the graft is taking. I don’t know how He feels about the action of the environmentalist. I think He loves it in so far as it brings the actor closer to loving Him and knowing Him, and hates it in so far as it distances him from Him.