When discussing the COVID-19, someone commented, “All we can do is trust in God.” I originally thought of that statement as simply a cliché. But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with that statement, and I believe the Apostle Paul would substantiate it.
This is what Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (8:1-2). We can trust God to set us free from condemnation and judgment. Paul then ends Romans 8 with this statement: “For I am convinced that neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). What good news!
Paul is offering a logical description of living in the Spirit of God. He’s making an argument for life in the Spirit of God and against life in the flesh. And just to note, Paul is using the word flesh, arguing against “life in the flesh,” or the mindset of the flesh. Unfortunately, his words have been used for a long time to denigrate the body, to deny the physicality, to shun our God-given bodied senses and sensuality.
But Paul isn’t talking about the physicality of our bodies being in opposition to the Holy Spirit abiding in each of us. What Paul is talking about is a particular mindset. He is talking about a way of thinking that is bound by the limits of our physical brain; a way of thinking that is bound by the limits of what we experience in our bodies, and in our culture.
You know the voices that criticize – shaming and guilting and judging and condemning. We know the fear generated by the voice that says I’m not good enough. We know the pain associated with the voice that says I’m insignificant and unworthy. These voices can be generated from within us or voices we have heard from our culture.
There are other voices associated with the voice of hopelessness and despair. This voice whispers that the things I care about are too big and nothing I do can possibly make a difference. After all, how can I possibly alter the trajectory of the COVID in our lives? How can I make a difference in the racism that is built into the foundation of our country?
The mindset of the flesh is the mindset that approaches life as a game, a game that we don’t even know we’re playing. It has the same mindset that follows the rules of most games, playing as though life is about winning and losing. That in life there are people on top and people on the bottom.
In this mindset, ending racism means ending supremacy and ending privileges. This increases the fear that there may not be enough freedom and equality to go around. This mindset keeps us complacent in the face of injustice, choosing to stand our ground to protect ourselves and our stuff rather than risk losing what is ours, what we’ve “earned” in this hard-fought game of life.
In contrast to the mindset of the flesh, is the mindset of life in the Spirit of God. In the mindset of the Spirit, life isn’t a game of winning and losing, life is for living! The mindset of the Spirit of God is eternal life and peace beginning now!
Life in the Spirit of God isn’t easy. Paul isn’t describing a “life happily ever after.” Life in the Spirit doesn’t magically end oppression or racism or violence. But the beauty of the mindset of the Spirit is that when we’re stumbling blindly in our work, not seeing any results, the Spirit is working right beside us. When we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit with wordless groaning, with overwhelming groaning, is bringing our petitions to God. Who knows how to pray for the end of racism or the end of the COVID-19? The groanings of the Spirit are real breaths of real pain and real labor.
The point is rather clear: It is one of the greatest promises in the whole Bible. God can take bad things and turn them into good things. God can turn our despair into hope. God can turn our problems into opportunities.
Rev. Tom Cici is the pastor at First Christian Church of Hoopeston (502 E. Main St.). Please go to www.fcchoopeston.org for inspirational sermons and much more.