Connections 04.02.17: No Foolin’

Romans 8:1-11

The day before April 2 is April 1, and that’s April Fools’ Day.

I don’t like April Fools’ Day.

I don’t like it because it legitimizes lying and cruelty, which I have enough trouble with on the 364 (365 if it’s a leap year) days they’re supposedly considered illegitimate. When I say I have trouble with them, I mean I have trouble with other people telling lies and being cruel. I also mean that I have trouble with me telling lies and being cruel.

We don’t need encouragement. And we don’t need practice.

Maybe I’m way off base here. Maybe it’s fun to try to make fools of your friends. Maybe it’s a blast to pretend that wrong things aren’t wrong. Maybe I’m a stick in the mud, an old fuddy-duddy, and a party pooper. I just know I don’t like making a fool of someone. And I don’t like it when someone makes a fool of me.

But I have to admit that I’m pretty good at fooling myself. I think a lot of other Christians are, too.

I think we’re pretty good at fooling ourselves into believing we can’t live a full Christian life right here and right now.

I furthermore think that Scripture passages like this week’s lesson text can contribute to our fooling ourselves. That’s not their intention, but we misapply them that way. Let me try to explain.

Paul says we should “live according to the Spirit” and not “according to the flesh” (v. 5). He also says we should set our minds “on the Spirit” rather than “on the flesh” (vv. 6-8).

Spoiler alert! He comes down on the side of the Spirit.

We read passages like this one and say, “Well, that leaves me out, because if there’s one thing I know about me, it’s that I’m fleshy.” And to prove it, we go eat some ice cream. Butter pecan, in my case.

Here’s the problem: we hear Paul saying we must be something other than what we know good and well we are. We hear him saying we have to be more than human to be Christian. We know we can’t be more than human, so we figure we’re doomed to perpetual frustration.

But that’s not what Paul is saying. He doesn’t mean that being spiritual means giving up being physical. He knew good and well that, so long as we’re here on Mother Earth, we have to live as physical human beings. What he is talking about is what the main focus and purpose of our lives is going to be. He’s talking about whether our lives are oriented toward God or toward self.

Paul is talking about the reality that Christ lives in us while we live in our bodies. In one of the most encouraging lines ever written, he says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (v. 11).

It’s not about our being more than human. It’s about our being human beings in whom the Spirit of the God who raised Jesus from the dead lives and to whom the God of the resurrection gives life.

It’s about God being God. It’s about Jesus being resurrected. It’s about the Holy Spirit being in us.

Being Christian means being human beings who live in light of those incredible realities. It means being the most complete human beings we can be, because we live in full and free relationship with God.

If we can do that, we’d be pretty foolish not to.

No foolin’….

Discussion

1. What does “therefore” in verse 1 refer to? What has Paul already said that he bases his argument on?
2. What practices can we adopt to help us learn how to set our minds on the Spirit? What habits can we develop to help us live in light of our relationship with God?
3. What has God done for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves?
4. How does the resurrection of Jesus give us confidence that we can live fully here and now, as well as in heaven?
5. How can we know we have the Spirit of Christ in us?

Reference Shelf

Paul also sees the presence of the Spirit to human freedom as intimate and interior. It is not a force that is manifested only in external “signs and wonders.” Rather, it “indwells” the human person and community of believers. The closest parallel to this language in the New Testament is once more the Letter of Jas 4:5, which speaks of “the Spirit God made to dwell” in humans. The Spirit also makes possible an identification between the believer and Christ. If they have the Spirit of Christ, they “are his,” or “belong to him.” Paul goes on, “but if Christ is in you” (the language could hardly be more intimate), “even though the body is dead on account of sin, the Spirit is life on account of righteousness.” I have provided a very literal translation. The RSV translation of the last phrase, “your spirits are alive,” might give the impression of a body/soul dualism that is not present in the Greek. Paul is not stating the superiority of the human spirit to the human body. Rather, he recognizes that whereas human life is mortal and continues within a world where sin and death are realities, the Spirit of God represents “life” and “righteousness.”

Such righteousness, as 8:11 now shows, finds its future in a life shared with God: “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,” [again, notice the inwardness of this reality!], “the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life also to your mortal bodies, through the indwelling Spirit that is within you.” Paul’s point, I think, is both simple and powerful. The transforming Spirit that God has given to humans is the pledge and portent of future life in the resurrection (see 2 Cor 4:16–5:5). The resurrection, as Paul argued in 1 Cor 15:35-44, is not to be of the soul only but of “physical bodies,” that is, the human body in which, as he states it in 2 Cor 5:4, “what is mortal may be swallowed up in life.” The present passage brings home once again the extraordinarily close connection Paul draws between the resurrection of Jesus, the gift of the Spirit, the transformation of the human spirit, and the resurrection of humans to eternal life, all of this being “the gift of God in Christ Jesus.”

Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 131.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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