February 2-3. Romans 8:12. Flesh or Spirit, Obligation, and Groundhog Day.

Romans 8:12. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.

Let’s take a minute and review LIFE shall we?

  • At creation God made mankind (adam) from dust. He gave us flesh and blood. He gave us a physical body.
  • Then God breathed into our bodies the “breath of life.” The Spirit of God gave us a spirit (see Job 33:4; Isaiah 42:5) housed within the body.
  • This body, having received a spirit, now “became a living soul.” The soul is the place where body and spirit meet. Where the desires are formed. Where decisions are made and carried out. Thoughts are had. Emotions are felt.
  • Our body-soul-spirit union was invited by God to partake of his divine life in the Garden (the Tree of Life). We forsook that offer and, instead, ate from the Tree of Knowledge. We rejected grace and ate law.
  • Suddenly and forever more mankind was ruled by the flesh rather than the spirit. Even his good deeds were done apart from grace, even in rejection of grace. Because of this we are in debt to the flesh.

The flesh is a cruel taskmaster. It always leaves us chasing. Searching for more and more. Whether by immorality or morality, it always leaves us with more to do. The target keeps moving. The harder you try, the more, the next day, you owe to the effort.

We can see this in the great American classic film Groundhog Day (too much?). The main character, Phil Connors, spends what has to be years and years reliving the same day over and over, February 2, Groundhog Day.

The story serves as a picture of life without Christ, without meaning, living indebted to the flesh. Phil moves from licentious freedom, to depression, to self-improvement, but then finally to some level of unconditional love. He actually appears to learn Romans 8:13:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

The problem is that Groundhog Day has way too high of an anthropology (is there even a Christ figure?). The “Spirit” of grace is not actually involved in Phil’s redemption. Phil learns to fix himself. He self improves. His knowledge of good and evil leads to his redemption. Not grace. When his behavior finally changes, people love him. Sadly, this is still the law. And it’s still the flesh.

The real truth is that only by God’s grace, found in Christ Jesus by the Spirit, will we be free from our indebtedness and obligation to the flesh and to sin. We must have a whole new master in order to be freed from the old master.

We are debtors.

“Debtors” (indebted or under obligation to) is our position. We are all indebted to something or someone. We’re under an obligation to one master or the other – flesh or Spirit. Romans 8:12 tells us that we are no longer indebted to the flesh, but we are still debtors. To who? The Spirit. The Spirit has set us free from our indebtedness to the flesh.

Let’s clarify for a second. We are not debtors to God or to Christ in that we have to spend our lives paying back what God has done for us through Christ on the cross. Our salvation is not a system of paying off a debt or appeasing God. That would be, by definition, the opposite of grace. And it would belittle the cross.

We need to read Romans 8:12 in light of the entire conversation here in Romans 8. We are no longer under the control of sin (Romans 6), the law (Romans 7), or the flesh (Romans 8). But this does not leave us free from any controlling force. Our new master, our new law, our new obligation is Christ. His life. His law of love. His Spirit. It’s a return to the Garden, where we were always meant to live under obligation to God and his image. It’s “to live is Christ.” We must hear in these words an obligation. A glorious, freedom bringing, heart filling, purpose giving, love producing obligation. Much like the one Phil Connors experienced on February 3. An obligation to his new inner reality. A delightful duty. But unlike Phil, an obligation empowered by grace not law.

Are you aware of your position in Christ as a debtor to the Spirit and to grace? How might today be different if you believed this more (look at Romans 8:13).

This is my favorite Rivers and Robots song. Enjoy.

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