Steward in the Square
August 24, 2008
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit* of life in Christ Jesus has set you* free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin,* he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.* 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit* set their minds on the things of the Spirit.* 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit* is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,* since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit* is life because of righteousness. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ* from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through* his Spirit that dwells in you.
If you ever get to Venice, one of the places to see is Saint Mark’s Square, the spot Napoleon called “the drawing room of Europe,” but if you go there, make sure your belly is covered up, because there is a dress code. Venice had 20 million visitors last year, so at any given time, thousands of people are in this famous square, which is surrounded by great architecture and sites of historic importance. However, some people just do not get it, and they are not above wandering around the square bare-chested or with their midriff exposed. Some carelessly drop litter, and others try to set out picnic lunches on the square. Still others treat the nearby Grand Canal as if it were a beach.
The city leaders view these behaviors as disrespectful of the place. City council member Augusto Salvadori, who is in charge of tourism and the city’s image, explains, “Venice is a city of art and a city that belongs to the world. Guests are welcome — but Venice has to be respected.” The city leaders have no interest in keeping tourists away, but they do want the niceties to be observed. So recently, in addition to posting signs naming the prohibitions, they have started employing a squad of women as stewards of the square to make sure tourists behave.
These stewards patrol the square and are ready to intervene at the first sign of unacceptable behavior. They wear special T-shirts to identify their role, and they try to do their work in a friendly way. For example, if a family starts to lay out a picnic, a steward will direct them to a location where such activity is permitted. Most visitors who are corrected by a steward respond positively. However, when tourists turn belligerent, the women can call in police who hand out tickets.
Actually, the stewards are not there to stop people from enjoying themselves, but to remind them of the importance of conducting themselves in a way that recognizes the specialness of the place, and most people agree with the idea of stewards in the square. They appreciate that some standards are being enforced.
Actually, Venice is not alone in its efforts to hold the line. You cannot go into St. Peter’s in Rome in shorts or sleeveless blouses, and several other significant tourist spots have certain standards.
What’s more, most of us can think of some places where some standards stewards might be useful. We have been at funerals, for example, where someone has shown up in cut-off jeans and flip-flops, which strikes us as disrespectful to the grieving family.
My reason for discussing all this is not to bemoan the state our dress or manners, but to illustrate the idea that sometimes we need a steward to direct us as to how to act properly. In American society, we hear much about individualism and freedom. We do not want to hear about rules. But sometimes we need authorities that can say, these are the rules.
All of which brings us to our reading from Romans, where the apostle Paul contrasts what he calls life in the flesh with life in the Spirit.
In chapter 7, Paul has emphasized the total depravity of human nature. In 7:19, he writes, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” I have good intentions, I intend to serve God, but because of my ego, because of my selfishness, because of the weakness of the flesh, I do not serve God, at least not always. Paul underlines and highlights our sinful nature, and consequently our total inability to have any relationship with holy God. We are sinners, we are condemned sinners. So Paul cries out in despair in v24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Then, in the last verse of chapter 7, (25), he gives us an answer that serves as an introduction to chapter 8, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Chapter 8 begins with “therefore,” which shows us that it is a continuation of chapter 7, but there seems to be a world of difference between the two chapters. As I have noted, chapter 7 delineates the pervasiveness of Sin’s power. For Paul, Sin is not a decision or a choice. It is a real power that corrupts our very nature. Satan is sin personified, and everyone who looks honestly at themselves knows where Satan is, Satan is in our own minds and hearts and souls.
Yet look at the first verse of chapter 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This statement seems to contradict everything Paul has just said. In chapter 7, he has said that there is plenty of condemnation to go around for everybody. We wonder if Paul read his own chapter, but that is not the problem. The problem is that Paul is dealing with what we might call the paradox of salvation.
First of all, Paul was aware of the dark side of human nature. This is the negative insight a believer receives from the HS. Every Christian has the HS and by having the Spirit, we receive what we might call negative knowledge. We know that in our sinfulness, we stand in a state of condemnation and despair, and we say with Paul, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”
But we also have positive knowledge from the HS. We have hope. 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Those who are “in Christ Jesus” have the HS. We already have the power of the Spirit that grants us freedom from Sin’s captivity, but this freedom has not yet come to fruition. Again we come back to the paradox of salvation. We are made righteous through Christ, but we are still sinners.
In these verses, Paul uses what we might call “law language.” In verse 2, Paul opposes the law of the Spirit of life against the law of Sin and Death. Some commentators say that the law of sin and death is the old mosaic law, but that misses Paul’s point. The Law of the OT was not evil or bad, it was just ineffective in the struggle to conquer Sin. We need the Law, the Torah, because the law shows us what sin is, but the law does not empower us to overcome sin. Paul sees this war going on, and for those who follow “The law of Sin and Death,” it is a lost war. They know the law but they do not have the power to keep it, so they lose. Paul refers to this war in the last verses of chapter 7: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (7:21-23).
The law of sin and death then is a failed solution to the problem of sin. So our next question is what is “the law of the Spirit of life”? Paul explains a little in 8:3b-4: “He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Again, we need to ask some questions of these verses. What is the “righteous requirement of the law?” We fulfill that requirement when we walk according to the Spirit. In other words, the righteous requirement of the law is marked by the state of being in Christ Jesus. Verse 3 effectively shifts the focus away from the weakness of the written law toward the power of what God has done through his Son. If the written law is ineffective to combat the power of Sin and Death, then it would follow that the written law is not capable of bringing life, but the Spirit of God is. The law of the Spirit of life is the defining mark of those who are “in Christ.” If the law of Sin and Death refers to the indwelling domination of Sin over the Flesh, then the law of the Spirit refers to the indwelling force of the HS (8:9).
Those who are in Christ, therefore, are living examples of the Spirit’s power. So what Paul is saying is that there are only two kinds of people in the world--those who walk in the Flesh and those who walk in the Spirit. Those who are in the Flesh have surrendered to the power of Sin, those who are in Christ have the power of the Spirit and can battle the domination of Sin.
Verse 11 reads, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” The same Spirit who resurrected Jesus dwells in those who are “in Christ” and will also rescue us from Sin and Death.
What Paul is saying is there are two ways of being in the world. One is guided by our human nature and the other is guided by the Spirit of God. Paul describes the first by using the phrase “walking according to the flesh,” but he is not referring to the physical body; Rather, he means our humanness with all of its vulnerability to sin. Left to its own devices, our human nature moves in the direction of lowering standards. Our human nature wears sweatpants and a tank top to the formal banquet of life, and sees no problem with that.
When we operate solely out of our human nature, we need a steward of some sort just to stay out of trouble; mere laws, guidelines, prohibitions, rules for admission and the like are not enough. That’s because our inner nature is a self-centered rebel. Or as Paul put it here in Romans 8, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law — indeed it cannot ...” (v. 7). No, we need someone telling us when we’re straying and maybe even calling for backup to get us to behave.
Paul calls the other way of being as “walking according to the Spirit.” He is of course referring to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling power of God. when we walk in the Spirit the overriding motivation and guidance we receive is not from our human nature but from God. The steward in the square in this case is the Spirit of God within us. Thus, walking in the Spirit, we can live in a way that is pleasing to God and life-giving to ourselves. As Paul wrote, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life ...” (v. 6). Amen.
Source: Gumuchian, Marie-Louise. “Visiting Venice? Mind your manners.” ShanghaiDaily.com, September 1, 2007, shanghaidaily.com/article/print.asp?id=329468.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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