12So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for 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. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For 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!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and 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.
St Paul says, “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.”
Language is a tricky thing. A single word has more than one meaning, language changes, words and phrases take on new meaning, and context is important.
I have a Bible app on my phone in the New Revised Standard Version we use in worship. I don’t usually use it in worship, though just recently I have. This Bible app contains all the biblical books but the table of contents may surprise you. The table of contents proceeds in the same order as our print bibles but it groups books together into sub groups, like Pentateuch, history, poetry, prophecy, etc.
Since the enlightenment people have been inclined to read the Bible more literally than previous generations did, assuming that the telling the Bible did was more or less one-dimensional and everything was more or less fact, forgetting that fact and truth are not necessarily the same thing. We see facts on the evening news but we know Jesus to be the way, the truth, and the life.
Reading the Bible one-dimensionally created problems because the primary purpose of the Bible is to tell of the relationship between God and humanity and to inspire faith. The Bible tells about this relationship through poetry, story, history, prophecy. And so when people realized that some of the explanations the Bible offered did not line up with scientific explanations they thought the Bible not to be true.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this god as the god of the gaps, useful to explain things we did not understand but constantly retreating as science was advancing. Bonhoeffer’s simple answer to this problem is that God is the God of all, of the things we do not understand as well as of the things we do.
Science may explain the beginning of the Cosmos, the Bible attributes it to a God who is love, and who seeks relationship with God’s creatures. The two do not contradict each other, at least not when told in this way. The biblical telling adds something important to the story of science: It imbues our world with meaning.
When Paul talks about flesh, Paul is not talking about our bodies. And when Paul talks about Spirit, he is not talking about a transcendent and otherworldly reality far removed from us.
What Paul talks about is our life in God, it is a lot like when Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being born anew or from above.
A little while later Paul says that all of creation waits for redemption with eager longing. So creation is important. And just before our reading begins, he says, “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” So our bodies are important and the world is important.
Flesh is Paul’s shorthand for human independence, and Spirit is Paul’s shorthand for relying on God. And relying on God may be inspired by the way Jesus lived, in service unto others. We can do good with our bodies then. We can praise God with our lives today and need not wait until we die.
Come, Holy Spirit come.