Is morality important for the Christian? Is it important for humanity in general? Across the planet, people measure morality by different standards and accept different actions as morally right or wrong. For instance, I have spoken to Californians and New Yorkers who see the ownership of firearms as morally questionable while in states like Oklahoma people who do not have their 30-30 hanging over the front door of their farmhouse are almost outcasts. It was James that declared, in writing, that “faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.”[1] Even so, Jesus, while insisting that He was the fulfillment of the law and not wanting to abolish it,[2] criticized the Pharisees for their religious and considerable moral standards. Isaiah also writes that even our good works are filthy rags to God.[3] While all other major world religions establish morality as the driving force behind their different versions of holiness, Christian scriptures seem to tell an entirely different story regarding human morality.

 

“So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs — heirs of God and co- heirs with Christ — seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”[4]

 

To live according to the flesh (v. 12)

            The Kingdom of God is like a kingdom that was built on the highest mountain for a people that God Himself had chosen. The king looked down and saw all of the nations of the world, every race, tribe and language and saw that they were in bondage and under the ruthless authority of the world. This king sent his chosen people as an army beyond the gates so that they might tell the people of a free kingdom and invite them in. When many of these people accepted the invitation and came into the king’s land, they chose still to live under the authority of a world to which they no longer belonged. The king still loved them.

Paul writes to the believers in Rome that they are not obligated to live according to the flesh. What exactly does it mean that any human being should live according to the flesh? Throughout this entire passage, Paul describes a dichotomy between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh will die, but those who live according to the Spirit will live. In verse 15, he describes life in the Spirit as a life of sonship to God. The basic precept of the Christian faith is not that we do well, but that we belong to God as His subjects and as His sons (and daughters).

What, specifically, does this mean for morality? Is morality important? The obvious answer is yes, but we must remember that morality in itself is not the goal of the Christian. After all, without a defining measure morality cannot be qualified or quantified. If the standard for morality is morality itself, or the human notion of morality, then morality cannot exist absolutely because it has a definition relative to a person or persons and lends its not so definite qualities to the opinion and reason of that person or those persons. This means simply, when God’s people submit themselves solely to a notion of morality rather than sonship under God, then this morality is under the authority of the flesh and not accepted by God. The authority of the flesh is this: that we would rely on human flesh or on something under the feet of human flesh instead of on the only being who actually has authority over humanity, and that is God.[5]

If indeed humanity is only to be ruled over by God, who is also a loving father, then there are several realizations that we should make in our own lives. The first, we should never seek to have directive authority[6] over others. Secondly, we should recognize that authority and power are direct reflections of God’s character since God has all authority and all power. This is why we submit to authority, because in submitting to authority we respect part of God’s image in humanity. This is also why we do not hoard the authority that God has given to us, because we want to honor the image of God that He has given to us. Thirdly, to serve morality above God is a godless act. We must remember that we are sons and daughters of God and allow that to be the driving force behind our actions. We do well in school because it honors our Father. We respect our bosses because it honors our Father. We obey our parents because it honors our Father. We feed the hungry because it honors our Father.

 

To put the deeds of the body to death (v. 13-14)

            Considering this, how is it that the misdeeds of the body (or the flesh) can be put to death? The answer is simple. Instead of striving and working for our own morality or working to be righteous or pious or good, we live in a relationship with God our father. This is the only way to live and outweighs any religious effort by humanity. We are led not by a code of morality or by our own good deeds or by the moral instruction of others. We are lead by the Spirit of God because we are sons of God. It is the Spirit who convicts us and leads us in a good direction. It is the Spirit who judges and directs our actions our thoughts and our beliefs. It is the Spirit who guides our love and gives us freedom. When we come face to face with claims of morality, it is the Spirit, who is higher than we, who leads us to act in the righteousness that we have already received from God through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ in our place.[7] The Christian life, or life in general, is much more fluid than we would often like to believe and not dependant on man’s formal institutions. We are children of God! We receive direction from God as we live! This is the foundation of our moral action. The struggle, then, is not striving to do what is right. It is learning how to follow the direction of God’s Holy Spirit. This is accomplished through prayer, fasting, diligent study of the scriptures, through seeking wise counsel from Godly men and women in the faith and by rejecting the things that do not honor our Father. Spiritual practices are important for the thriving of all of life because spiritual practices help us to know our Father more.

 

To be heirs with Christ (v. 15-17)

Because of these things, we do not fear. We do not have a spirit of fear but of sonship. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit and declares that we are sons and daughters of a true and holy God. I do not know if I can communicate how great it is that we do not declare sonship on our own, but that the Spirit of God actually declares along with us on our behalf! There is no mediator. God does not need a mediator to relate to His people. There is only an all powerful and all loving God who wishes to have us and to embrace us. Through the sacrifice of Christ, we have been made heirs in His kingdom. God is the good king. He has build His kingdom on the highest mountain and through His people offers a place for all men! When we die to the flesh, and so share in Christ’s sufferings, we share in Christ’s never ending glory!

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[1] James 2:17 (HCSB)

[2] Matthew 5:17

[3] Isaiah 64:6

[4] Romans 8:12-17 (HCSB)

[5] An argument might be made that angels are of higher authority than mankind, created to do God’s bidding. While men do not have the authority to command angels in scripture, it is interesting to note that Paul mentions that “we will judge angels” (1 Corinthians 6:3). Furthermore it is interesting to note that when angels bring commands to humanity, those commands always come straight from God. It is also noteworthy that God gave authority of the earth to humanity (Genesis 1:28-29) yet men cannot command any part of the universe. It seems, men were created to be mastered by God and by God alone. This should be comforting to us.

[6] Directive authority is a term which describes the type of authority people seek in order to have ill maintained power over other individuals. The authority God gives is intended for the use of building up God’s people and not for personal gain. Even Adam and Eve maintained God’s garden when they were given authority over it.

[7] “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 HCSB).

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