The word of the day is “free.” Yesterday’s comment left Paul in a spiritual impasse. In our reading, St. Paul described two contending inclinations. These seemed to cancel each other out. Indeed, for those who strive to be “accounted righteous” by their own powers, they do nullify each other. In this state of spiritual paralysis between these two impulses, Paul cried out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death” (OSB Romans 7:24), this state of the natural inclination to sin?
Today, in our reading of Romans 8:2-13, we hear the answer of grace. The apostle writes, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death” (OSB vs. 2). In our study, we will learn how Christ has freed us to live according to the law of the Spirit.
The Answer to Paul’s Dilemma and Ours
The answer to Paul’s dilemma centers in the Word of grace: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (OSB Romans 8:1). How is it that despite our sinful affront to the righteousness of God, there is no guilty verdict? Because of the weakness of our fleshly nature, the divine law did not have the power of making anyone righteous. It only had the power of condemning the unrighteous. But the core of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ put on human nature. By His death and resurrection, the Lord “condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). That is, in his bodily existence, He suffered the righteous judgment of God for our sin. Thus, He fulfilled the l divine law for us.
Now those who are “in Christ” are freed from the law that would otherwise have convicted us. Paul teaches that as the result of Christ’s Passion, we should consider ourselves “dead to the law” (Romans 7:4). Paul compares our new state to that of a widow. By the death of her husband, the widow is now free from her obligations in marriage (Romans 7:21).
Christ Has Fulfilled the Law for Us: Now He Fulfills God’s Will In Us
But what then? How should we live in the new status in which we remain “in the body” but are free in the Spirit? The Crucified One fulfilled the requirements of the law for us. Now He fulfills the will of God in us. That is, the Lord works righteous in us if we live according to the “law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” and not according to the “law of death” (OSB Romans 8:2).
Thanks to the work of Christ for our salvation, we are no longer captives of corruption who must live “according to the flesh.” But by the Spirit dwelling in us, we can “put to death the deeds of the body,” the actions that result from our natural, base passions. We can “set our minds” on the “things of the Spirit” (OSB vs. 5), the “things of life and peace” (OSB vs. 6).
What then becomes of the spiritual struggle we studied yesterday, the conflicting inclinations to good and evil within our hearts? We can now wage that spiritual warfare on a new basis. This is the foundation that Paul calls the “law of the Spirit,” that is, the rule of the Spirit dwelling in us.
St. Prophryios: Water the Flowers and Not the Weeds
St. Prophryrios puts it in simpler terms. He writes, “Without Christ, it is impossible to correct ourselves. We will not be able to detach ourselves from our passions. On our own, we cannot become good… There is one thing we must do and that is turn to Him and love Him with all our soul. Love for Christ, this is the best and sole remedy for the passions” (Porphyrios 2005, 134).
For the saint, considering ourselves “dead to sin” is a matter of our focus. Prophryios states that our souls are like a garden with flowers and weeds. He advises that we should water the flowers and not the weeds. That means that we should not bother with the weeds. But we should “channel the strength of our soul to the flowers.” “Ignore evil,” he says, “Look toward Christ, and He will save you” (Porphyrios 2005, 134-35).
In summary, by how we direct our attention, we live free of condemnation. We set our minds on the leading of the Spirit and not on the desires of the flesh, and so we live in the New Life of freedom from the law.
Porphyrios, St. 2005. Wounded by Love: the Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Translated by John Raffan. Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, Publisher.