Reflection on Rom 8:4Post date: 2019-10-25
Reflection on Rom 8:4
“...that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Verse 4 of the Epistle to the Romans says that the condition for the righteousness of the law to be fulfilled in us is that we should not live according to the flesh, i.e. according to the law of sin which is in us but according to the Spirit of God. This chapter eight often repeats the Greek word “sarkos”, which is translated as ‘flesh’. In this sense, it means the lower physical aspect of the human being. It is exposed to a very strong influence of the law of sin and negative lusts that enslave man. The Greek word “soma” is used for ‘body’, which also includes the mental aspect. On the other hand, the related verses speak about the Spirit, meaning the Holy Spirit. Verse 16 says that deep within us, in our soul, is our human spirit, and it is written: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Taking note of the previous three verses, verse 1 emphasizes that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Again, it is emphasized that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the law of sin and death. The law of sin and death works in the flesh – Greek “sarx”. In another place, the Apostle Paul distinguishes between carnal or fleshly – “sarkikos”, mental – “psychikos” and spiritual – “pneumatikos” people. Mental seems to be something higher than just carnal; nevertheless, neither human carnality nor human mentality serves as a model in the Word of God. God’s Word shows that unless we are “pneumatikos”, i.e. penetrated by the Spirit of God so that He may heal us, we lack harmony. This is caused by the source of evil, original sin or the devil’s seed, which was planted into our nature. It must be paralysed; otherwise the law of sin works through it. It is a big secret how to gain a victory, but the Word of God reveals it to us to some extent, according to our spiritual experience on the way of purification. We obtain this experience partly by fulfilling Christ’s demand, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me,” and partly by entering into Christ’s death. In everyday life, this means that we solve problems not only rationally but we bring them to God’s light and seek the will of God with a sincere heart. If you are further on your way, even if you are given a promise from God, just as Abraham was given Isaac, you are willing to sacrifice your Isaac. You are able to do so, you have already learned it. It means: something becomes clear to you or you obtain a grace which makes you happy – and sometimes, not always, God wants you to give this light from Him or something else He has given you as an offering to Him. But we do not want to give it to Him; we keep it as our own. We were like floating on water before, and now we suddenly feel certain and do not want to lose our certainty. But God now wants us to sacrifice this certainty and again to put our trust in Him alone, to be truly crucified, powerless. He wants us to be united to Him through our powerlessness and pain, and to give this pain to Him. It is then Christ Himself who suffers and is sacrificed in us. This powerlessness is often worth more than the gift or light which God gave us and which we offered to Him. To grow in this experience means to walk in the Spirit. There is no university or instructions for this; it is an art without any exact rules. We have to learn to walk, step by step, or in other words to be led by the Holy Spirit. And this is what the whole chapter eight speaks about – that we should be led by the Holy Spirit and not by the flesh, i.e. by our nature only. It does not mean that we should reject rational thinking, logic or feelings; it is good to use them but they need to be guided by the light of the saving faith, to have the vertical connection to God. God then gives special deep knowledge, a real vision, on this path. There can be a vision through the senses, when an angel of the Lord or the Blessed Virgin or the Lord Jesus may appear to you; however, there is a big danger that this vision is not true. Then there is a deep spiritual vision which God gives in a few seconds when you clearly perceive, as if touched by a ray of light, for example the great love of God for us men, or human misery and you feel compassion for all people. You are aware that you are the greatest sinner because you received more grace than others, but despite that you are not in despair. You feel deep peace and abide in union with Jesus because you have given Him everything, even your misery, and you know that Jesus died for sinners who repent.
One might think that not walking according to the flesh involves such strict fasting that you finally ruin your health and you consider it holiness and the following of Christ. This would be a false belief. Nothing against fasting, nothing against the struggle with gluttony or gourmandism; it is right but, as St Basil says, everyone should eat according to their need. Those who work hard need more substantial food. The purpose is not to damage your health, in other words to maintain a healthy way of life. Unfortunately, modern people lead an unhealthy rather than healthy way of life, so often when they see a doctor and he finds out the cause of their illness, he first of all prescribes a healthy lifestyle and many times a strict diet. People often cause their illness by their irrational and wrong way of life. How? Either they indulge bodily appetites to excess or vice versa – they pursue a false career and suffer from neurosis or they believe in the so-called usefulness of veganism and are nothing but skin and bone. They spend all their money on special food and make food an idol – this is another extreme. The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, and neither is holiness. Holiness consists in the first place in our relationship to God. We must be truthful before God above all in prayer, and then also in our life, and then we will be able to accept even humiliation, ridicule or failures in relation to people. We should give this pain to Jesus and not give in to feelings of depression, hatred, vengeance or even rebellion, making God our servant, even to our detriment. We forget that He loves us more than we love ourselves.
Now let us go back to the verse we are going to recite for two weeks. We are unable to fulfil the righteousness of the law of God which is truly righteous. That is why it is explained in the previous chapter that the law of God is weak through the flesh. Therefore God sent His own Son in the flesh. Jesus assumed our human nature in the likeness of the flesh, yet without sin. He experienced suffering and pain like any man. Through the suffering which He endured for our sake in the flesh, not only when He prayed all night but mainly in the mental struggle in Gethsemane, when He was scourged, crowned with thorns and dying in pain on the cross at Calvary, taking on Himself all our sins as well as the root of sin and crying out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, He finished our salvation and then committed His spirit into the hands of the Father. In His flesh, to satisfy the righteousness of God, He paid for our original sin and for all sins by His suffering. As true man and at the same time true God, He condemned sin in His flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us. But the condition on our part is to receive the gift of salvation by faith and to live according to the Spirit and no longer according to the flesh.
This profound truth is further explained in the following verses which once more highlight it and deepen it. So the question is: How should we live according to the Spirit? Holy Scripture speaks about the baptism with the Holy Spirit and about speaking in tongues. It is a gift of prayer, when the Spirit of God prays and makes intercession in us with groanings which cannot be uttered, as we read in verse 26 of this chapter. This is the sign of having received the Holy Spirit or the baptism with the Holy Spirit, in other words the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Something else is walking in the Holy Spirit. It means that we accept God’s law and God’s commandments and try to fulfil them although we are not yet strong in spirit. We stumble and fall but then we rise again, learn with humility and ask God’s Spirit again to help us. In prayer, we call on the Heavenly Father for strength and wisdom and humbly allow the Holy Spirit to lead us again – that means, to convict us of our faults so that we may see them, admit them and bear them. We thus obtain a special gift of “cardiodiagnosis”, or in other words the ability to know the human heart and mind of other people too. But we first need to have our own experience. Many saints – as evidenced by numerous examples – then knew beforehand who was coming to them and what his thoughts or intentions were. An example can also be found in the Old Testament. When the son of King Jeroboam became sick, “Jeroboam said to his wife, ‘Arise, and disguise yourself, that they may not recognize you as the wife of Jeroboam, and go to Shiloh. Indeed, Ahijah the prophet is there.’ Now the Lord had said to Ahijah, ‘Here is the wife of Jeroboam, coming to ask you something about her son, for he is sick. Thus and thus you shall say to her; for it will be, when she comes in, that she will pretend to be another woman.’ And so it was, when Ahijah heard the sound of her footsteps as she came through the door, he said, ‘Come in, wife of Jeroboam. Why do you pretend to be another person? For I have been sent to you with bad news...’”
So God speaks to man if he speaks to God and sincerely tries to follow the paths of God’s commandments and to find time for talking with God. The Holy Spirit gives divine inspiration at different levels to every sincere Christian who is faithful. God then gradually gives him an ever deeper spiritual knowledge and experience as well as true wisdom. True wisdom is mindful of death and eternity, and sensitively perceives what is most necessary – not to have gifts or experience and eventually to exchange the Giver for gifts, but to abandon everything in order to have a union of love with the One who is the Giver. And this is what Jesus speaks about in the first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And next: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Such people can already see Him in subtle rays even in this life. But one can hardly express it in words, and it is followed by a period of darkness again when we have to walk by faith alone and to abide by God’s law.
Another explanation as to walking in the Spirit: If we are concerned with our self and our own, especially material benefits, career, self-realization, and finally our spiritual good, which is least visible, if we thirst for glory and always want to dominate others, we can read hundreds of spiritual books or be eloquent preachers but we do not walk according to the Spirit. In other words – unless we have lost our soul for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, unless we lose it again and again in specific situations, we do not walk in the Spirit of God. In short: if the goal of my endeavour is me or something mine – my honour and glory, my advantage, my career, simply “me, myself and I”, and I want other people to like me and to regard me as deeply religious, I do not walk in the Spirit of God. However, if God is my ultimate goal and I am willing even to lose my “Isaac”, i.e. spiritual or material good, for His sake, I walk in the Spirit of God and not in the flesh. If God Himself is really my ultimate goal, I am ready and desire to lose even good things, even if it should look like a defeat in people’s eyes. I know that I receive much more from Him – His Spirit!
So if my heart is truly set on God, and not on myself, I take steps in the Spirit rather than in the flesh.
Walking in the Spirit of God, however, does not mean that we will be free from temptation or struggle. Again and again, we need to get out of our egoism through repentance, because we automatically lose our focus on God. We need to draw strength in prayer every day. We are heading for eternity; here we are on the battlefield, fighting sometimes great, sometimes small battles. The wisdom of life, which is actually a path of selfless humility, is expressed in an old fairy tale: Proud Ivan was punished by having his head changed into the head of a bear. He could not get rid of it because the condition was to do a good deed. But he did good deeds only for himself. When for the first time he did a good deed for another person, the bear’s head disappeared.
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