In the last post on this topic, I mentioned a “gospel of true humanity.” It’s not something we talk about much, but it’s important — nearly central. It is, after all, what the Spirit is all about. And the baptism and the gospel passages frequently speak of the Holy Spirit.
In the last post, we considered the paradox of being “freed” to become a slave of righteousness. This theme begins at the beginning of chapter 6, where Paul explains that our baptism frees us from slavery to sin (6:6).
Sin, rather than being our true nature and our true desire, is pictured as someone who has captured us and sold us on the slave market. We are captive to sin.
But paradoxically, Paul says that Jesus frees us from slavery to sin in order for us to be slaves of obedience —
(Rom 6:16) Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
Indeed, Paul says that in baptism we died to sin, because by dying in baptism — joined with Christ in his resurrection — we were ourselves resurrected free from sin.
This sets up a conflict within each of us, as we aren’t yet fully resurrected. We still have bodies of flesh and blood and still struggle with sin.
(Rom 7:22-25) For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. … 24 … So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
It’s been commonly noted that God’s grace frees us from sin by forgiving us of our sin, but that’s not all of Paul’s point. You see, his point is that, even though we’ve been baptized, we still want to sin.
(Rom 8:5-9) Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
You see, Christianity is not just about being forgiven, it’s about being changed — not just our legal status before God, but our desires … how our minds work.
6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
To escape the enslavement of sin, we have to have our very natures changed.
9 You, 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.
You see, the indwelling Spirit changes our hearts and minds so that what we no longer want to sin.
(Rom 8:14) because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Now, at this point in the analysis something remarkable happens. Paul is no longer speaking of being slaves to obedience. Rather, he speaks of our natures being changed so that we willingly follow the Spirit’s lead.
Two other key passages are —
(Phil 2:12-13) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Plainly, we have to work with God (“work out your salvation”) but God works in us (through the Spirit) so that we “will” (desire) and “act” according to God’s purpose.
The result is that we actually want to be the person God wants us to be. Our desires change, and so our actions change.
(Heb 8:10) This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
Again, the promise in the new covenant is that God himself will change our hearts and minds so that our desires are his desires.
The result is that we become truly human — for the first time. Rather than being humans in slavery to disobedience, we become humans who enjoy doing the most natural thing possible: serving God.
[to be continued]