Sunday, June 5, 2011

Commentary on Scripture: Romans 8

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:2 ~~ "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets you free from the law of sin and of death."

Romans 8:3-9 ~~ The following passage is an extended contrast between "spirit" and "flesh." It should be noted that this is not the same as a Manichean or Gnostic dichotomy between "spirit" and "matter." Even while "flesh" is treated with contempt in this particular passage, it is necessary to remember that "the Word became flesh." The mere fact of the Incarnation dignifies and glorifies "flesh" in the sense of matter, even as it condemns and destroys "flesh" in the sense of sin.

Romans 8:3 ~~ This verse contrasts Law (of weakness and of flesh) with God's power through the Incarnation.

Romans 8:4 ~~ The Son was sent, that sin might be condemned in the flesh, that the requirements of Law fulfilled in us. By walking according to the Spirit, we are justified by fulfilling the requirements of the Law, through Christ's work.

Romans 8:5-8 ~~ Paul engages in a series of arguments. If "of the flesh" or "of the spirit," then "set their minds on things of the flesh" or "of the spirit." As the mind is set on flesh or spirit, so it is death or life, because "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God." It is not subject to God -- indeed, it cannot subject itself to God -- and therefore cannot please God.

Romans 8:9 ~~ If "in Spirit," then the Spirit does dwell in you. Likewise the contrapositive: if you do not have the Spirit of Christ, you do not belong to Him.

Romans 8:10 ~~"The body is dead because of sin." Physical death and suffering are temporal punishments allotted to sin; that is, the natural consequences of our self-inflicted detachment from God's presence and grace. This temporal or natural consequence is distinct from the eternal or spiritual consequence of damnation, which is affected and ameliorated by the sanctifying grace of God.

Romans 8:10-11 ~~ The spirit is alive because of righteousness: the Resurrection of Christ is imparted to us (cf. Romans 6:4-5).

Romans 8:12-13 ~~ "We are under obligation" (faith and worship of God are both duties we owe to our Creator) to die to self.

Romans 8:14-17 ~~ "We are children of God... heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." This verse is as explicit a confirmation of the doctrine of divine filiation as we could possibly expect.

Romans 8:17 ~~ As we are heirs with Christ, so we suffer with Him "so that" we will be glorified with Him.

Romans 8:17-18 ~~ Paul transitions from soteriology (teachings on salvation) to theodicy (teachings on suffering).

Romans 8:19 ~~ Nature eagerly awaits "the revealing of the sons of God," which heralds its restoration to the "New Heaven and New Earth" prophesied in Revelations.

Romans 8:20-22 ~~ Nature is subject to the Curse because of the Fall, and will be restored to glory by the Atonement. The whole of Creation is vicariously represented to its Creator through Man, and the salvation of humankind through the work of Christ has ramifications for every level of nature.

Romans 8:23 ~~ Our conversion -- our initial adoption as sons of God -- is merely the "first fruits of the Spirit." Salvation is far more extensive than merely justification, in the narrow (and quintessentially Protestant) sense of an initial and juridical imputation of God's grace and Christ's merit.

Romans 8:24-25 ~~ These verses on hope point to the much deeper and more involved relationship between faith and reason, and more pointedly the connection between knowledge and salvation.

Romans 8:26-27 ~~ Paul transitions from the uncertainty of hope, to the aid of the spirit in Praying.

Romans 8:28 ~~ This is a pretty clear statement on Divine Providence: "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God." This is not a promise of riches or material blessings, for that is a far too narrow definition of "good." But even suffering and pain can benefit the souls of those who truly love and seek God, who is the Author of all truth and beauty and goodness. It should be noted that the idea of Providence is somewhat problematic in a strictly logical sense: for the normal mode of Nature consists of randomness and regularity. If the operations of Nature are interposed by divine or supernatural agency, we call it a miracle. So what is the distinction between a "miracle" (direct intervention in the laws of nature) and Providence, in the sense of a subtle guidance or influence for God's own ends?  Lewis has some good content on this point in his book "Miracles," but I'm not sure what to make of it.

Romans 8:29-30 ~~ This is a fantastic passage. God's foreknowledge of our persons and natures precedes His predestining our conformity to His son. This predestination is accompanied by His "call" (election, or possibly vocation), followed by justification, succeeded by glorification. One possible interpolation and gloss: by observing our desire for God, God predestines (arranges in advance) our ability and our opportunities to conform to His Son, moves our hearts to seek Him more than we might by nature and conscience, accepts our faith in God, and glorifies us with His Own Son Christ.

Romans 8:31-39 ~~ Paul launches an extended meditation on our security in hope, taking refuge in the shelter of Divine Providence. Several beautiful (and eminently quotable) verses in this section, but all recapitulate the same simple theme.

This chapter in Paul's epistle to the Romans treats a wide variety of themes. Paul treats the distinction between "flesh" and the "spirit" (though, as mentioned before, we must be careful to avoid the Manichean heresy, which denies the Incarnational nature of our faith). Paul also distinguishes between the temporal and eternal consequences of sin (a central point in Catholic teachings on sin and purgatory), and asserts the path to salvation (notably emphasizing our life as fellow heirs of Christ). Paul also treats, briefly, the question of how Nature is alternatedly damned and glorified vicariously through Man's relation to God. Finally, with a brief detour to theodicy, Paul lands on the core teaching of hope, particularly in reference to predestination and Providence.

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