Meditations in Romans : 32: The Obligation
Rom 8:12-14 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Oh look, there’s a ‘therefore’ which means that what follows, flows on from the logic of what has just been said, so let’s pick out the positive bits of what Paul has just said: “You, however, are controlled … by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And …. your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And ….he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” So, the Spirit lives in us because of what Jesus has done and the way we responded to him, and He will bring life to us in a new way.
But we need to remember that the Christian life is a combination of what God has done for us and is doing for us AND what we do. We cannot save ourselves but we do contribute to who and what we are and how we end up. So there are some Christians who simply totter into the kingdom and hardly move on. Yes, they are saved but there is little more. But then there are others who get saved and go on and mature and become glorious servants of God who achieve great things and the world is changed by God through them.
This is why Paul now starts this next paragraph, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation….” When you have an obligation or duty, it is to DO something, to take part in something, to be a player. He is saying, because God has put His Holy Spirit in our lives, He looks for our co-operation because He did not take away our free will when we came to Him. Yes, He wants us to submit it to Him but He still wants us to choose and He still wants us to act of our own volition (as led and guided as it may be by Him).
So what is he saying we are to do? Well first he takes the negative, what we are NOT to do. “it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.” It is still there, lurking in the background but it has been overcome by the power and presence of God and we could, if we wanted, still live according to it (and some do) but actually when we came to Christ we rejected the old life and the old ways and died to them, so they neither have the power to break through again, nor the inclination to do so. We gave it up for something infinitely better so why ever would we go back to it? Some do but you wonder whether they ever truly came right through will full conviction, full repentance and full understanding.
Some do fall away undoubtedly but that is a choice, and act of the will and Paul warns against that. Indeed he takes his warning a step further: “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” If you go back to that old life with its old ways, you will die, not physically maybe, but certainly spiritually. God does not relate to that old nature and, indeed, cannot, because it is self-centred and godless. It’s like we turned our back on Him and do not, therefore, relate to Him. If we do not relate to Him and He does not relate to us, His life will not flow to us and in us and spiritual death will prevail. It is no wonder that some unbelievers say, ‘well I never have any sense of God; if He does exists He must be a million miles away.’ Of course that is how it seems for they are spiritually dead because they have never come alive by the Holy Spirit.
So, Paul continues, “but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” The Holy Spirit is in us as new Christians, we said, and He is working within us to bring God’s will into being in and through us. But, we also said, it is a partnership and we have a part to play, to use our will to conform to what the Holy Spirit is prompting. So Satan and the world – and the old nature – will say, ‘Stand up for yourself, don’t let them treat you like that, you tell them what you think,’ but the Holy Spirit prompts and says, “No, you respond with grace. Be Jesus to them, surprise them.” At that point we have a choice to make: will we stand up for self or will we put to death the misdeeds of the body?
Then, just to really encourage us, Paul reminds us of what has happened and who we really are now, these people who have the Spirit within and are led by Him: “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Do you remember John declared, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13) We are children of God because of the work of the Spirit within us, sons of God as Paul describes us.
Sons have a particularly special place in the Old Testament because they carried on the father’s business, they inherited and carried on the father’s business and thus all of us who are Christians, male or female, are called sons of God by Paul because we have inherited a new life from the Father and He wants to lead us in His business – the business of saving people, changing people and transforming the world. How amazing! How wonderful! Hallelujah!