S (Scripture): Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
O (Observation): Paul is finally getting to the crux of salvation – and it’s not found in the law of the flesh. The law had been manipulated over time to favor the “in” crowd (The Jewish people) to the exclusion of everyone else.
Paul never faults the Jewish people for sensing that they have a special place in God’s eyes…he’s just letting them know that the law of the flesh leads to bondage and sin…and that the law of the Spirit leads to freedom and new life.
How do we become righteous? Not by our heritage or lineage. Not by our laws or customs. Instead, our righteousness comes about through the law of the Spirit…the “law of the Spirit” being the fact that the Spirit connects us to God and salvation, as opposed to the “law of the flesh,” in which we rely on our own adherence to loyalty and customs.
A (Application): How loyal can we be? And to what are we loyal? So many struggles in churches are based on misguided loyalties: type of music, who the pastor is, who the musicians are, printed or projected words, “who do we serve?”, “who do we allow to join?”, and on and on.
Churches are full of both pioneers and settlers. Some folks (settlers) are great at locking in the tradition, and some are great at forging into new territory (pioneers). Quite often, these two sets of folks lock horns. Typically, we think that the only way to settle this battle is for one side to win. Or if one side sneaks in a win, the other side needs to fight back or sneak in their own “win.”
This duality rarely allows us to enter a possible third way… This duality fails to recognize that God himself is a three-way relationship that defies duality. With our three-fold God, we have an example of living beyond dualistic thinking.
We can find a third way…a way that brings honor to God, and to the opposing forces in our congregations.
(One caveat: sometimes people are just antagonistic and evil…or they feel like they will never be open to a third way. For these people, all we can hope for is for God to help them settle into a new place of worship.)
As for those who wish to know of a new way forward, we go back to the Romans text. We live according to the law of the life-giving Spirit. The Spirit brings creativity and life into a situation that seems bleak. Let us allow our loyalties to reside in our God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Instead of opposing forces, let us consider how pioneers and settlers can work together! As pioneers in the faith forge new territory, they will have to be okay with not settling every territory if it is not bearing fruit. Pioneers are needed to come along and settle into areas that seem to bear fruit. And, as this new territory is established, the pioneers are to move along to even newer territory. If settlers never settle an area, then the work of the pioneers is mostly for naught. And if pioneers never explore new territory, the settlers will become ever complacent and eventually become completely closed off…and eventually die off…or just re-populate within themselves, which completely ignores the Great Comission.
We need this third way. And we receive this third way according to the law of the Spirit.
Where do you see pioneers in your faith community? Where do you see settlers? Do you despise one or the other? Why is that? Is your loyalty to pioneers? Settlers? Christ himself?
Do you see the third way being possible in your midst? Is the third way already happening?
P (Prayer): Lord, your Spirit is life-giving and creative. Help us to embrace our life in you. Amen.