Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year B, Trinity Sunday, New Testament Lesson

Romans 8:12-17

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Reflections on Romans 8:12-17 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Some of the malaise in Christians’ relationship to the environment may arise from misunderstanding of the “Flesh-Spirit” contrast in Pauline theology. Flesh is not what I pinch on my arm. Flesh is a whole lifestyle oriented away from God.

Flesh, in Pauline thought, is not confined to material reality, for it is self-centered existence (whether me-first or America-first) that misuses both relationships (I-Thou and I-It, to use Martin Buber’s expressions) and the material objects in the creation. “Flesh” is a realm of behavior that is “hostile to God” (8:7) and that “cannot please God” (8:8). “Flesh” is something that we “are not in” (8:9), and so it is a realm or field of being that conflicts with the God of creation and redemption.

“Spirit,” on the other hand, is that other realm that we “are in” (8:9) to the extent that we allow, and indeed invite, the Spirit of God to be housed in us. That two-way expression is intentional: we are in the new world of the Spirit, and the Spirit of that new world indwells us and claims us for life in the Spirit.

Trinitarian thought had not, in the apostle Paul’s theology, reached the complexities that it did in another 2 and 3 centuries. The interpenetration of Father, Son, and Spirit are evident in Paul’s thought, without the distinctions and other complexities that the Church added later.

An example of this fluidity of interactions within the Trinity is provided by this text. The Spirit is both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. Accordingly, creation and redemption are not in conflict. They are complementary. Within the cosmic totality we, who live within the Spirit, feel at home, for the Spirit within us is the same Spirit that brought into existence all that is. To look up at the stars is, even in deepest night, to reach out in ecstatic delight toward “Abba! Father!”

Copyright Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament Exodus 3:1-6
no reflection available
Psalm Psalm 93
no reflection available or
Canticle 2
no reflection available or
Canticle 13
no reflection available
New Testament Romans 8:12-17
this page
Gospel John 3:1-16

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the website.


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