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Romans 8:12-17

When Paul’s letter to the Romans finds its way into the Lectionary, I am often torn on using it as my primary preaching text. On one hand, I know the reward of engaging with any Romans passage. But, on the other hand, I also know how difficult this letter can be to “get right”. If you choose to utilize this Romans passage this week in your sermon creation, Godspeed to you, fellow pastor. Take your prayerful time with the text. I hope my commentary offering provides help along the way.

I wish to highlight a few short phrases from these verses. With that in mind, this short commentary will be far from exhaustive. Let us begin with “Not by the flesh.” This statement by Paul begs the question: “What does Paul mean by the flesh?” The Greek word here is sarx (σαρξ). This word could be used to describe our literal flesh, the “stuff” that connects our bones. If that is what he wanted to convey, Paul might have been better off using the word sōma (σῶμά), which means “body”. When Paul employs sarx in his letters, he is often contrasting the “flesh” with the “spiritual”. Sarx here seems to be referencing the sinful nature and the power it can produce. Paul seems to be saying that this sarx, this flesh, is merely temporary. Furthermore, he presents a juxtaposition between this temporary flesh and the very eternal Spirit that resides within the children of God.

“You will live.” For Paul, this is a life-and-death situation. Doing what Paul does best, fully utilizing prose discourse, we see him “connecting the dots” here. If you live by the flesh (the temporary), you will die, but if you live by the Spirit (the eternal), you will live (ultimately). Then, if you do live by the Spirit, you are no longer slaves. And if no longer slaves, you are now children of God. Every implication begets another implication.

One would be remiss to not mention Paul’s line “But you received a spirit of adoption.” Let us step back here and consider the general context and rationale for the writing of this letter. The church in Rome is divided. Addressing divisions within churches is what Paul does best. The conflict in the Roman church seems to be between Jewish and Gentile believers. In 49 CE, the Roman Emperor Claudius expelled all the Jewish communities from Rome, and these Jewish Christians would have been among the Jews forced to leave the city. The only remaining Christian community in Rome would have been the remnant of Gentile God-fearers who had been attracted to the Jewish Messiah Jesus, who had previously worshiped with the Jewish Christians. With the death of Claudius in 52, many Jewish Christians legally returned to Rome over the next several years. However, the church they returned to was very different than the one they had left. Gentiles had a more prominent role than previously, therefore, there was bound to be some friction in blending the congregations back together again. The Jews would have understood themselves to provide the primary leadership with the church, as they had from the very beginning.[1] Largely to address this internal conflict, Paul writes this letter. So, back to the portio