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Romans 8:1-11

In our little neck of the woods in SE Idaho, it was a long hard winter. Long. Hard. Winter. I had not seen that much snow since my childhood Christmases spent in Northern Minnesota. In the past, I would have savored every flake, every cold and blustery night, snuggled up in front of a fire. And then I had kids.

With a 1 year old and 4 year old, being cooped up in the house for several long, dark, cold months produces a rare form of suffering. You do all the craft projects, all the cocoa making, all the brief jaunts into the snow to make a misshapen little snowperson with tiny hands helping you, but it’s not enough. The house shrinks each day and the only thing in the world that can cure the insanity is spring. Glorious spring. But this year, spring seemed to miss its cue, and for a moment, I felt like Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, trapped in an endless winter where it’s never Christmas.

So when that first tulip peeked out from the long-still soil, my heart leapt in my chest. Spring! It’s here! This winter will not end in death! What a magnificent relief.

It is with this sense of relief and joy, of emancipation and freedom, that we receive the opening words of Romans 8. Paul begins with the almighty “therefore,” forcing our eyes to look back before looking forward. Paul says, “Therefore, in light what of we’ve established in this letter thus far, particularly in chapter 7, there is now no condemnation!” In chapter 7, Paul has just declared that nothing in this world, not even God’s good law, can break the chains of Sin and Death. He paints a very grim picture of our prospects: incapable of escape, powerless to conquer the sins that entangle us, slaves to Sin, that Reign that represents all resistance to God and God’s good purposes. For us, trapped by the powers of Sin and Death, it is always winter and never Christmas.

But then, chapter 8! Therefore, now there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus! Why? Because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and of death. God did what the law was never capable of doing in the first place, namely freeing us from the rule of Sin, by sending his Son in the flesh to deal with sin.

Deal with sin. What a heavily laden phrase. How many countless theories have been bandied about, how many books written on this simple phrase. What does it actually mean, that in Jesus, God dealt with sin, and not just our sins, our individual rebellions and acts of disobedience, but also Sin, the powers of darkness and death unleashed in the world?

Different theories of what Christ accomplished and how he accomplished it abound. The Gospels themselves use drastically different metaphors and symbols to explain the atonement. In John, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb, replacing the sacrifices in the Temple. In Mark, Jesus is the ransom paid out for the many. But, Paul goes in entirely different direction by referencing the concept of representative combat: the ancient practice in which each warring party chooses their best fighter to represent the entire army. The representatives do battle and the outcome of the battle between the two individuals acts as a microcosm of the entire war, meaning the winner of the duel gains victory for the entire army and nation he represents. The most famous example of representative combat takes place in 1 Samuel, between David the Israelite and Goliath the Philistine.

Having already made clear that we are in no position to represent and do battle for ourselves, Paul requisitions the concept of representative combat and declares that God sent Jesus in the likeness of sinful flesh to do that very thing: represent us in the battle against Sin and Death. In the likeness of sinful flesh is key. Apart from the incarnation, the taking on of human flesh and frailty, Jesus could not have represented humankind in the battle against the powers and principalities. Jesus was already the embodiment of God’s very self, but when he took on flesh, he also became the representative for all of humankind and thus dealt with Sin by condemning it in the flesh. Now, because of Jesus’ victory as our representative, the just requirement of the law has been fulfilled in us. Spring has sprung! We are free.

But Paul doesn’t end there. This representative victory of Jesus over the powers of Sin and Death has implications for living. It comes with a call to now walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Only then can we be pleasing to God. For a moment, our hearts flutter and our minds race back to chapter 7. But I can’t! We can’t! I can’t walk in newness of life! Didn’t Paul make that perfectly clear? All is lost.

But then, vs. 9. Beloved, remember, you are not flesh; you are not slaves to your desires and appetites anymore. Why? Because the Spirit of God dwells in you, the very same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead! This empowering Spirit will enable you to walk in newness of life, to live in righteousness, in faithfulness to God. God has made a way, not only for our victory over Sin and Death, but God has also made a way for every day thereafter: daily victorious living.

Spring has truly sprung. We no longer dwell in the endless, Christmas-less winterland of Sin and Death. Paul has spoken the Truth over us, that we are the chosen, beloved children of God, free from the wintery chains of Sin and Death, free to walk into the Spring of God’s good purposes for us as we live empowered by the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.