This week we continue to explore the great themes of Romans 8.
Monday, January 14
Read: Romans 8:5-8
Consider: This simple passage isn’t always so simple. Sometimes our reading of scripture gets complicated, not by what we get out of it, but by what we read into it. So, this particular passage, in which Paul uses language we’re not accustomed to, is challenging. Challenging that is, until we return to the simplicity of what Paul was teaching us.
We speak about spiritual issues with images, and with language that can only approximate those images. Some words are diminished if we insist on literal, precise definitions and interpretations. For example, try putting concepts like love, faith, death, sorrow and joy into words. You can’t define or describe them with precise language, so you look to something higher. You look for images.
In today’s reading, and elsewhere in Paul’s letters, we see him building a contrast between two “natures.” In some translations the words “spirit” and “flesh” are used to describe these two natures. Over the centuries some Christians have been too literal with the concept of the “flesh” being sinful. They began to see our human bodies as cages, rather than gifts. This even gave rise to beliefs that sex was something filthy rather than an expression of God-given love and passion. But Paul was not speaking about skin and bones in this instance.
So, what is this thing that in some translations Paul calls “flesh,” and in other versions is translated “the sinful nature”? Let’s go one step further. Do we believe that there is literally a “nature” in us that is wicked and another one that is good? Or would that be missing the image and missing the point?
Christianity is relational. We must understand every belief that is presented to us in terms of a relational God who created you in his image for relationship with him. So, how do we relationally understand Paul’s words about “those who live according to the flesh” and “those who live in accordance with the Spirit” (8:5)?
My best understanding of it comes from another letter of Paul’s in which he told the Galatians to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
“Keep in step”—another image, another metaphor. But it is one I can grasp. Today you and I are on a journey with God. It’s a journey of intimacy. Intimacy requires effort on both sides of the relationship. So, what are the perspectives I can adopt and what are the actions I can do to “keep in step” with God and go where he is leading me?
Pray: As you pray today, visualize your life as a journey. Don’t think of following Christ as walking behind him and trying to figure out which way he went. But view the journey as one in which the way is made clear because you’re walking side-by-side with God. See if this image may reduce fear and increase your sense of God’s presence in your life.
Tuesday, January 15
Read: Matthew 11:28-30
Consider: Yesterday we considered Paul’s encouragement to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). This image pointed us to a shared journey with God. We’re not looking through the binoculars trying to see where Christ went. We’re not looking for footprints as if Jesus needed to be tracked. We’re walking with him. Beside him. His arm is around our shoulders as he explains and shows us the way. We’re not alone.
Perhaps no physical image can emphasize this side-by-side journey better than a yoke. The yoke of Jesus’ day was a curved wooden beam that laid across the shoulders of a team of oxen. It bonded them together. One could not go north while the other went south. They had to coordinate their steps. If they were taking a left turn, the ox on the right would have to take several steps, while the ox on the left simply pivoted. It truly meant walking and working in interdependence.
It’s interesting that Jesus used an image of working animals to say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (11:28). But that’s not even the most puzzling part of this passage. What really baffles us is Jesus’ statement, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (11:30).
We’ve heard Jesus say that we must take up our crosses to follow him. We’ve walked through treacherous valleys in which the darkness was palpable. We’ve suffered and shared the agony of people we love. So how is that an “easy” yoke or a “light” burden?
Like we said yesterday, don’t lose the image while trying to figure out the individual words. The image shows me that my yoke is carried jointly, and my burden is shared.
Have you ever tried to move a piece of furniture by yourself and found it nearly impossible to get it through the door or down the stairs? You couldn’t get your arms around it. You couldn’t get a firm hold on it. And you knew that even if you could lift it, you’d never go far. So, what did you do? You simply asked someone to carry it with you. Did it still demand effort? Yes! But, in comparison to the solo effort, you found that it was possible, and the way it could be accomplished became clearer to you. It didn’t simply cut your workload in half, it made the impossible a reality.
Is his yoke “easy”? Well, it is shared. Is his burden “light”? It’s not yours to bear alone. So, “keep in step with the Spirit” is not a command. It’s a beautiful invitation.
Pray: “Lord, your invitation to come to you for rest resonates in my soul. Teach me how to respond to that call. Show me how to walk beside you through the challenges, the pain and the opportunities in our path.”
Wednesday, January 16
Read: Romans 8:12-14
Consider: The New Testament—through narratives, parables and letters—teaches us who Jesus is. It teaches us that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnation of the Christ. In explaining the nature of Christ, it teaches us that…
— He “was God…through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)
— “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)
— “Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
— Christ is in you and you are in Christ. (John 14:20)
— You have been “clothed” with Christ (Galatians 3:26)
— “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
I’ve come to believe that in order to walk with Jesus and to be led by his Spirit, the first thing I must do is simply open my physical and spiritual eyes. Christ is with me. Christ is in me. I am in Christ. I am clothed with Christ. And yet, so many times I live as though I’ve got to do something to find Christ.
Paul said that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14). Does that mean that I must start doing something in order to earn my sonship? In other words, is this spiritual awareness a condition placed upon me in order to be accepted as God’s child?
I don’t think so. Waking up, seeing Christ in all things, and being led by his Spirit are not the conditions for becoming a child of God. They are what is necessary for me to realize that I am a child of God.
Every week I have multiple opportunities to pray with and minister to people—usually elderly people—who are in their last days, weeks or months of life. It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable group of people. Their physical strength is gone and usually their mental power has left them as well. But Jesus taught us that he could be found in the most vulnerable people on earth. So, before every encounter I ask the Lord to help me see Jesus in that person and to help that child of his to see Jesus in me. I’m convinced that, for many of these helpless people, they are realizing in their spirits—perhaps for the first time—that they are daughters and sons of God. Though we can’t see it, their spiritual eyes are opening.
Pray: “Lord, open my eyes to empower me to walk with an awareness that I am not alone on this journey. Help me to see you everywhere, every day, in every circumstance. With open eyes, show me how to be led by your Spirit.”
Thursday, January 17
Read: Romans 8:15-17
Consider: As we saw yesterday, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (8:16). Imagine that. Paul was not simply stating that we are God’s children, he was telling us to listen. Do you hear it? The Spirit of God is telling us over and over, affirming again and again, that we are God’s children.
It’s easy to take that for granted. It’s easy to use the term, “child of God,” as some sort of generic title for humankind. But Paul had much more in mind. He was attempting to describe the love of our Heavenly Father—love, not only for humankind, but for individual human beings. And so, he told us that we do not approach God as a slave would approach a master. No, we call out to our “Abba, Father” (8:15).
Paul was writing in Greek, so he used the Greek word for father—Patér. But he also included the Aramaic word for Father—Abba. Because Jesus probably used the Aramaic language, perhaps Paul was doing this to remind his readers of how Jesus spoke about God. Some people think that Abba was a more intimate word than Patér, so maybe Paul was trying to conjure images of a child being embraced. Whatever the exact reason for Paul’s word choice, it is clear that Paul’s emphasis on the fatherhood of God was intended to place us in a position of trust, confidence, acceptance, peace and love.
I love the way that The Letter to the Ephesians explains our sonship and daughtership. It tells us that we were “chosen” (1:11), that we were “adopted” (1:5) and that we were “included” (1:13). You have a loving Father, which means you have a family, which means you are never alone. If you listen, you’ll hear the Spirit telling you that…again.
Pray: “Lord, your Spirit ‘testifies’ with my spirit that I’m your child. Open my spiritual senses so that I may grasp—in my spirit—the depth of my Father’s love. Help me today to hear, to see and to know that I’m your child.”
Friday, January 18
Read: Hebrews 12:5-11
Consider: What does it mean to be “disciplined” by God? That’s an important question that raises other questions. It causes me to ask which hardships in life are the results of my actions, what trials are simply the reality of life, and what experiences are teaching me—disciplining me and discipling me—by God’s own hand?
But before we try to figure out the “how” of God’s discipline, we must remind ourselves of the “why.” It is the love and affection our Heavenly Father has for us, and the delight and joy he finds in us. It exceeds anything we can imagine from even the greatest dad on earth. As we read today, the writer to the Hebrews said that even wonderful fathers can have mixed motives. Every father knows that there have been times when he disciplined his children because he loved them, but also because he was angry and frustrated. Yet, “God disciplines us for our good” (Hebrews 12:10). Imagine your “good” being defined by love alone—for “God is love” (1John 4:16).
So, be very discerning when it comes to God’s discipline. Don’t blame God for the tragedies in life as if he brought them to teach you something. I don’t believe the agonies of life are doled out from the hand of God.
Yet, there have been times when God has disciplined me. There have been occasions that, while reading scripture, my sins have jumped from the pages and presented themselves to me in ways I couldn’t deny. My pride was skewered, my defenses destroyed, and I felt the pain of sorrow. But it was what we call “godly sorrow”—the kind of correction that calls us to God for his grace and his embrace.
So, when you’re trying to discern God’s discipline, don’t look to the circumstances and try to figure them out. Look at the love of God and try to listen to his correction.
“…the Lord disciplines the one he loves…God is treating you as his children.” (Hebrews 12:6-7)
Pray: Meditate on the times that God has corrected you. How did he do it? What did he show you? How did you see his love as he straightened your path?
Saturday, January 19
Read: Hebrews 12:8-11
Consider: Perhaps this goes without saying. Maybe I’m repeating the obvious. But sometimes we lose sight of the obvious, so I’m going to say it. Discipline is not the same thing as punishment. God disciplines his children, but because of their skewed God-concepts, people often believe that God is punishing them.
I once read the account of a boy who was out in the backyard playing football with his friends. His parents were gone and when the sitter called him in for dinner, he repeatedly ignored her and kept playing. And then it happened. A football injury. A broken arm.
In the emergency room his mother said one of those crazy things that come out of parents’ mouths. She said, “See. God was punishing you. If you had obeyed the sitter this wouldn’t have happened.” The kid had moxie. He looked at his mom and said, “I don’t think God goes around breaking kids’ arms.”
I agree with the theological insight of that child. God doesn’t go around breaking kids’ arms. He is not a punishing God, but a Father who loves us so much that he will correct us. To confuse punishment and discipline is harmful to our souls.
The writer to the Hebrews said…
“God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” (12:7)
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (12:11)
God’s correction is another way that “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16).
Pray: “Lord, make your paths my paths. And when I get off course, correct me and bring me back to the road you want me to take. I know your discipline is evidence that I am your child and that I am loved by you. Thank you for being my Father.”