Monday, March 17, 2014

What Is the Spirit of Christ?

I have been fascinated by Romans 8:9 for 45 years, so I chose this as my text for March 16, 2014. I had written a paper in seminary (long gone) on “spirit” in the Christian canon. I focused then on Romans 8, because it seemed to me that we used “Holy Spirit” in the same way we speak of the human spirit when we speak of the spirit of God or of Christ. This was no doubt my basic humanistic nature at work. All of this was before the charismatic movement and the great adoption of “spirituality” into the American churches.

I decided I liked the Jesus Seminar’s Scholar’s version, but not entirely (it is a bit clunky), so I translated parts of it my way, with thanks to the textual analysis of The Authentic Letters of Paul, by Dewey, Hoover, McGaughy, and Schmidt. I thought of using the LOLCatBible, but it is too hard to read aloud and understand. Great truths lie within, however.

Paul is also very difficult to understand. He is both an ancient writer and perhaps the first modern one. I see him essentially creating Christianity by spinning out one idea after another in order to explain his own spiritual experiences of “the Christ,” and to find meaning in his life. He didn’t always mean what we think he meant. His referents were other than ours. The deeper problem perhaps is that Protestants today can barely read Paul except through the lens of Luther’s reading and projection of it into all the churches of the Reformation. This has sent us down many rabbit trails. Here we go:

1 Those who are in solidarity with the anointed Jesus are no longer under a sentence of death.
2 For the rule of the spirit of life that was in the Anointed Jesus has liberated you from being ruled by the seductive values of this world and death.
3 God did what the law of Moses – weakened by the conflicted character of earthly existence – was incapable of doing: God sent Someone with God’s own character, but who was a participant like us in an earthly life with all its seductive corrupt values.
God sent such a One to condemn that corrupting power, and those corrupting values of our worldly life.
4 This fulfilled in us the just requirement of the Mosaic law so that we
live not according to the ambitions of a self-serving earthly life, but according to the purposes and power of God’s Spirit.

8 It is not possible for those who are pre-occupied with worldly self-advancement to please God.
9 You are not pre-occupied with worldly self-advancement but with God’s spirit of power and purpose.
Anyone who does not have the Spirit that was in the Anointed One does not belong to him....
14 All who are led by the spirit of God are the children of God.

You will notice that “flesh” here is not about our bodies, or sexuality, or personal failures. Flesh is about our human nature that drives us to get a leg up on our neighbors and make profits from them. It is the root of all that consumerism, warfare, inequality, and other nasty things that are common to this worldly life. Sin is our failure to live up to God’s values, or even our own ideals.

[Sermon to follow; to be continued]

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