Life of the Flesh, Life of the Spirit
We reflected last week on the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came down on all those who believed. The Spirit is with us and within us. We are not alone. The Spirit helps us in our everyday living.
Paul talks about LIFE OF THE FLESH and LIFE OF THE SPIRIT in today’s passage.
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. (Romans 8:13)
“Live according to the flesh” – What did he mean by that? Here, the flesh does not simply mean the body. The flesh is our self that is controlled by sin. Our greed, false ambition, misguided blindness, overly confident self-centredness. This creates anger, anxiety, rudeness, and fear. This affects the quality of our life. It affects not only ourselves but it also affects others and our relationship with others. We become unhappy. There is A NEGATIVE FORCE within us that enslaves us. It makes us become people we don’t want to be. It diminishes us. It makes us be less than ourselves. THIS NEGATIVE FORCE IS SIN.
Sin does not leave us alone. It SHAPES US. But it shapes us not in the way we want. It shapes us to be a person we don’t want to be. We don’t want to live always worrying about life. We don’t want to live constantly angry and frustrated. We don’t want to live in fear.
We want to trust. We want to forgive. We want to be happy. But the negative force within us does not allow us to be the person we want to be.
In that way, it enslaves us. We are unhappy because we are bound, not free. Not many people live in total freedom, doing what they want to do, who they want to be. There is something, some power that takes us to where we don’t want to go. Living according to the flesh means letting this negative force control us. It is giving in.
Listen to St. Paul. He described the power of this negative force working within him.
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. (Romans 7:15-18)
Paul discovered that his will power was limited. His will power did not give him the freedom he wanted. The negative force within us is stronger than our will power. We shouldn’t be naïve about the power of our self-autonomy. We want to make our own choices, but we can’t. We want to live as we really want to live, but we can’t. When sin controls us, when this negative force controls us, we can’t.
Enslavement of Sin
St. Paul recognized this ENSLAVEMENT of sin very well.
“I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.” (Romans 7:14)
Then what do I do? St. Paul cried out,
Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Roman 7:24)
He was very realistic about what was going on within himself. Paul’s dilemma is our dilemma, and the dilemma of human beings. We want to do good. We want to live a good life. But sin within us takes us somewhere else. We want to live our life, loving others, helping them, and doing good to them. But more often than not, we get angry with them, we criticize them, and we hurt them. We want to understand their problems but their problems make us frustrated and angry. We don’t really want to understand them. We rather want them to stay away from us.
The more we try, the more we face the power of this negative force. The more we try to be GOOD, the more we will see how difficult it is to be good. The more we want to be HAPPY, the more we realize how difficult it is to be happy. The more we try to UNDERSTAND people with compassion, the more we realize how hard it is to do that.
When we try to live a good life, we hit the WALL and that wall is the reality of sin that has power over us.
Long time ago, I took our young people to a FASTING RETREAT. For 3 days, we had a retreat, fasting. You know what! At the retreat, all they talked about was food. They didn’t pray. They all looked so sad and powerless. All they could think about was food. Sitting around, they talked about what they planned to eat when they would go home.
An Alternative Lifestyle
When we want to be good, we face the negative force and we realize that it is pretty powerful. We cannot handle it on our own. We need help. That’s why JESUS CAME. TO HELP US.
That’s why St. Paul, right after saying,
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
THANKS BE TO GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD! (Romans 7:24, 25)
Then he begins chapter 8 with this:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
He is telling us that we can have an alternative lifestyle. We don’t need to live our life enslaved by the negative force within us. Jesus made it possible. Seeing our helplessness, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus did NOT CONDEMN US but he CONDEMNED THE SIN that controls us. Sin has lost its power to control us and deceive us.
God gave us the Spirit. The Spirit binds the power of sin. The power of the Spirit is more powerful than our will power and the negative force within us.
You cannot get rid of your sin. You can’t. Trying to do that is a futile effort. But this is what the Spirit does. It does not allow sin grow into its full power that completely controls us. Sin will be there but it has lost its deadly power. The Spirit gives us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These positive things drive away the negative force.
Finally, we can live our life THE WAY WE REALLY WANT TO. The Spirit gives us that freedom by EMPOWERING us. Now we can CHOOSE to live a good life. With the Spirit, we can truly be who we want to be. The Spirit makes us HAPPY. The Spirit makes us SMILE. The Spirit makes us STRONG. We don’t need to feel LONELY anymore. We don’t have to be ANGRY all the time. We don’t need to WORRY. Our visions and dreams can be fulfilled. We can live our lives, doing what is right and just. We can live with others in peace and harmony. Animosity doesn’t control our relationships anymore. We can embrace others.
But we have to do our part too. We should not encourage sin to flourish within us. Yes, sometimes we may fail and give in to the power of sin. But we should immediately come out of it by acknowledging our failure. You can be angry sometimes and that’s ok. We all do. But don’t let the anger live within you, thrive within you, and grow within you and take control over you. The Spirit will help you.
We are not a slave anymore. We are children of God.
For 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!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:15, 16)
The Spirit affirms that we are God’s children. No one can take us away from God. When God accepts us as God’s children, he accepts our whole being, including sin within us. Instead of condemning us, God helps us overcome our sin.
We are children of God. God will never give up on us. God will never let us go. God will help us. What you need is to come to God and ask for God’s help. God will give us what we need.
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Luke 11:11-13)
Ask the Holy Spirit. God will give us the Holy Spirit. Let us live by the Spirit. Don’t let the negative force take hold of you. When the Spirit is with us, these negative thoughts, negative power lose their power. Now you can live as children of God.