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!