If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:11).
I grappled with several related verses of the Holy Spirit breaking through to our spirit before settling in on Paul’s astounding epiphany in Romans 8:11. If Paul’s journey is any indication of ours we experience considerable struggle in fully coming to an appreciation of the audacious claims of this amazing verse. As Paul testifies and perhaps so do we, the undeniable reality of the persisting power of our first Adam identity in old life is all too alive and present in our own circumstances and self-perception in which “I do not do the good that I want” (Rom 7:16). Despite the best of intentions, at least for me, the old man of despair, skepticism, fear, and sense of inability to change in any profound sustainable way keeps on breaking into my life in thought, attitude and action. That is, the first Adam is present, despite the profusion of promises of the gospel hope of new resurrection in this life as well as in the life to come to which I cling with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul in the seemingly more perceptive moments of my life.
In Romans 7 Paul goes on to say that, “it is no longer I” who embodies this first Adam identity, “but sin that dwells within me” (Rom 7:17). For me, the very struggle for this “I” is a core component of my faith walk in which daily dying to self is the essential precondition “to putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” in which the real “I” begins to surface. The new creation reality to which Christ calls us is the central focus of Romans 8.
By contrast, the old man within me seeks a settled world where nothing substantially new breaks in. It is comfortable in a sense, but it does not lead to new life which requires a going beyond oneself, whether or not of a distinctively religious context. For me the most recent breakthrough of this type is the open door my wife and I took which led us last year from Connecticut to San Diego. However bold the move may have been, the self-reinvention remains limited in that I am holding back on old CT identity in the “safety” of my more isolated moments even as I have stepped out into new CA identity in small steps. The holding back takes many subtle and not so subtle forms; simply put, do I, in faith, take risks of new, but costly ventures, or not—costly in terms of time, in terms of risk of rejection or failure, in terms of fear of closing old doors, however little they are open in any event? Unlike Abraham in moving from the land to which he was called to the Promised Land, I have far from fully let go of my homeland of Ur.
When Paul talks about the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, he is referring to the totality of life in which the hoped for resurrection entails a cross in matters large and small. It is with this totality of the struggle in mind that I draw upon in working through the first 11 verses of Ch 8 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and from that pivot point, through the entirety of this central chapter toward the final crescendo in verse 38 in which “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As we prepare ourselves through this Lenten season to deepen our walk with God, let us take every opportunity, large or small, to strive to make “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Let us dare to put the first Adam to the test of our faith of God reconciling the world in Christ to himself. Let us be willing to lay low the First Adam through the small still voice of the Holy Spirit and embrace new creation through the same power given to us that God, through the Spirit, bestowed upon Christ in raising him from the dead. Christ, who sticks to us closer than a brother, knows us better than we know ourselves. On that Friday he took on the risk of death and utter abandonment by his Father to be our pioneer, leading us to new life in God. He knows our pain. He knows our weaknesses. He empathizes with our struggles. In suffering with us he knows how to support us throughout the many moments of life, large and small, through thick and thin.
We know that the work of your Spirit is ongoing in which you are ever calling us from mortality to immortality in this life as well as in the next. Your Son’s life, teaching, sacrificial death, and resurrection have opened the door to us to you. In our perpetual journey from Old Adam to New Adam let us come to an ever fuller realization of the power and utter gift of that same Spirit which raised your Son from the dead has been given to us to embrace new life in you to the fullest. In this season, Lord, help us rise up to the level of faithful and glorious living to come into the full realization that the very Spirit that raised your Son from the dead is in us too; that same Spirit, calling us to new life in your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.