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Romans 8:6-11

We were about to walk out of the door and head off to school one morning. I, an elementary student at the time, was in a particularly rotten mood, and my mom took notice.

She said, “Cara, you can choose what attitude you want to have today.”

I proceeded to respond with the grumpiest of voices I could muster and said, “then I choose a bad attitude for today!”

My mom replied, “that’s not a good choice, but it is your choice.”

I cannot recall if the day was good or bad, but I can recall that this thought process has held true throughout my life. My attitude choice can impact how the day unfolds.

I did not like it when my mom would say such motherly things to me and would often roll my eyes. However, I now have three children of my own and see the deep wisdom of her words from my childhood.

I find myself saying the same things to my kids. “Kenzie, did you know you can choose your attitude today?” I have said it so much that my kids know what is coming before I even finish the sentence! I love the exasperated look on their faces when they exhale deeply and say, “yes, Mom, we know we can choose our attitudes today.”

The Apostle Paul writing to the church in Rome reminds them of the choice they made to follow after Jesus and the implications of what it means to live in the Spirit.

The letter to the Romans is Paul’s fullest explanation of the Gospel. There was a time when the church in Rome was full of Gentile believers and Jewish beliefs, but the emperor expelled all Jews from the city. Five years passed, and the Jewish believers returned, resulting in some differences in what it meant to follow Jesus. Paul’s desire was to establish unity in the church and hopefully launch out from Rome to minister in Spain.

Chapter 8 falls into a section of the letter where Paul writes about how the Gospel created a new humanity. This new humanity was only possible because Jesus lived, died, and rose again. Jesus was the only way to this new humanity. This new humanity, governed by the Spirit, was totally contrary to a life governed by the flesh.

The ways of life governed by the flesh lead to death. Now, this does not mean immediate death. This means living apart from God. Humans were made to be in a deep and loving relationship with God.

Like my mom told me, I had a choice about what attitude to have that day; God gives every human a choice to be in a relationship with him or not. This choice is given out of love.

Humans can choose to be in a relationship with God, and the result of that choice is life and peace. Life in the Spirit. In another letter, Paul writes to the church in Galatia and talks about the Fruit of the Spirit. There is often a misunderstanding about this passage. Nowhere in the passage does Paul say they had to work harder on each Fruit of the Spirit. The only direction given was: “be guided by the Spirit, and you won’t carry out your selfish desires.”[1] The Fruit of the Spirit flows out of a relationship with God when his followers are guided by the Spirit and not the flesh.

Paul emphasizes over and over that the church in Rome is to be a people who do not live for the gratification of the flesh. Part of their witness is to deny the gratification of the flesh.

Paul often used the imagery of slavery in his letters. If we are governed by the flesh, we are slaves to those desires. Some, especially in our modern era, would call that freedom. This freedom is praised by many in the world and summarized in phrases like, “You do you.” and “Live your truth.” In the very first line of the letter to the Romans, Paul refers to himself as a “slave of Jesus Christ.” Meaning that Paul follows after the leading of Jesus and not himself. Also, Paul follows Jesus, who is “the way, the truth and the life” (emphasis added).[2] True freedom is following after Jesus. After all, we will be slaves to something; no matter how much the world says, we can be free and do whatever we want. Then we are slaves to our desires, ultimately leading to death.

Paul originally wrote this letter to the Romans, but it is to all who can read it and receive the message. It is for us today in the 21st century as well. It is a reminder that we have chosen to follow Jesus, setting our minds on the Spirit. We are no longer slaves to the flesh. We are truly free to follow Jesus.

May we be found faithful and reminded that we have chosen to follow Jesus. It is that choice that makes all the difference.

[1] Galatians 5:16 CEB

[2] John 14:6 NRSV