So then, brothers and sisters, 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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:12-17 (NRSV)
Everything about our culture is predicated upon the avoidance of pain, suffering and discomfort. Consequently, the Church’s greatest temptation is a logic of cheap grace which suggests we can reap the benefits of resurrection without having to endure the persecution of co-crucifixion. Here Paul explicitly debunks this fallacy by explaining the role and work of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is active within believing communities, working to affect a kind of death experience, both within the Church and within us as individuals. The Spirit is the power of God dwelling within us, acting to conquer, nullify, and replace the power of “the flesh,” which is dictated by sin (Rom 7: 17 & 20). Life in the flesh can easily, swiftly, and unconsciously become life according to the flesh. This leads to re-enslavement to our fleshly nature, which ultimately breeds self-centeredness, sin and death. However, through the two “if” statements (verses 13 and 17), we see how the Spirit links us to the cross of Christ, and thus his suffering and ethic of self-giving love for others.
Theologian Michael J. Gorman says it this way, “the cross and resurrection both motivate and shape daily life. The appropriate life ‘for’ or ‘toward’ Christ is the cruciform life. Life ‘for’ Christ, is simultaneously life ‘for’ others…because the cross and resurrection were for others.” Therefore, we must understand that Lent and Holy Week are more than seasonal invitations to reflect on the salvific work of Jesus. These two periods are also a reminder of the cost of discipleship. They are times where we are called to pause and evaluate how we are bearing witness to the Kingdom amid the U.S. Empire today. The liturgical calendar is a gift of accountability, one which reorients the Church by reminding us of our mission in the world.
Lord, may your Spirit crucify our fleshly nature and cultivate life within us, and our communities.