If Christ is in you - Dr Katherine Abetz
Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Reflection on Romans 8:6-11
Dr Katherine Abetz
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God …But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness …
I once attended a commissioning service at which a UCA leader was the key speaker. This speaker gave a list of the set lectionary readings, including Romans 8 which she wouldn’t touch ‘with a barge-pole’! So she chose to speak on another reading. This was a service to commission someone else for a leadership role but Romans 8 was pointedly left out. Why? Isn’t Romans 8 an exposition of the heart of the Gospel?
I hope we’re not like that, keeping our distance from Romans 8. This section of the chapter may seem like typically chewy Pauline stuff. But it is not really so difficult. I recently had the privilege of trying to explain what Paul is talking about here to a group which included children and a professed atheist (though I admit the atheist left half-way through, possibly because he is deaf and couldn’t hear the children).
How did I do that? Some of you may have heard of a book called The Tao of Pooh. (Tao is pronounced Dow.) The author, Benjamin Hoff, tries to explain the Tao or the Way in terms of A. A. Milne’s books on Winnie-the-Pooh. He says this is the way people are supposed to live and that Pooh exemplifies it. It’s the way of openness to the universe, to the Creator as we would say. Of course Pooh is a Bear of Very Little Brain but that is actually an advantage. Brain (and its misuse) tends to get in the way, as, for example, in the case of Owl who thinks he’s wise and Rabbit who wants to organize everyone else. While Benjamin Hoff wants people to understand Taoism, C. S. Lewis says that the Tao or Way is behind all the ancient religions, including the Old Testament. (In my exercise with the children, we did some mix and match between characters from Winnie-the-Pooh and the Book of Proverbs)
Moving to the New Testament, Thomas says to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way”. Jesus replies, “I am the Way”. Paul says, ‘For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.’ Only those who are open to God and the Way (or Law) of God can please him. Owl and Rabbit could have a problem with this and the bits of us that are taken up with ourselves and our own cleverness or whatever (Paul calls this ‘the flesh’) will have a problem too.
This is where Benjamin Hoff is most helpful and has really done most of our work for us. He wrote The Tao of Pooh in the eighties. People liked his explanation but (guess what?) they didn’t follow the Tao. So ten years later he wrote another book (called The Te of Piglet) and said what people needed was Transformation and that Piglet was the one character in Winnie-the-Pooh who did actually change (from being timid to being brave). But Taoism doesn’t seem to tell you how to change. That’s of course where Christianity comes in. We need Christ’s help to bring us back to the Way.
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” says Jesus. “No one comes to the Father, but by me”. Paul puts it this way: ‘But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you’. Amen.