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ONCE JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, NOT BY ANY KIND OF WORK, A CHRISTIAN WILL WALK ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT, NOT ACCORDING TO THE FLESH
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, 30th Week of the Year, October 30, 2017
Romans 8:12-17, Psalm 67, Luke 13:10-17


Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

"So then, brethren, 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" (Romans 8:12-13).


This is the new life in the Spirit that St. Paul now describes. Our situation as Christians is very different from that of the Jews before Christ. Before Christ, the Jews had the Mosaic Law (containing both the moral and ceremonial law), but they discovered that they were not able to keep it well enough to justify themselves before God. They rather always felt unworthy before him, always guilty of not keeping his law well enough. They always fell short, "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).


What changed everything was the death of Christ on the cross for our sins. St. Paul tells us this in Romans 8:3-4:


"For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin [as a sin offering, a sacrifice for sins], he condemned [and punished our] sin in the flesh [of Christ on the cross], in order that the just requirement of the law [that we ungodly sinners should die for our sins] might be fulfilled in us, who [now] walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4).


These are two key verses that describe the whole mystery of salvation, namely how God saves us through Christ's death on the cross, when we put our faith in him. St. Paul says that God now does something that the law was unable to do, because of the weakness of our flesh, namely he justifies and saves us. The law failed to do this for us because, due to the weakness of our flesh, we were always sinning and were never able to perfectly keep God's law and become righteous by properly keeping it.


So what did God do to save us? He fully punished all our sins of not keeping the law. How did he do that? He sent us his own Son as a man and put our sins on him as our substitute and then justly condemned and punished them in his flesh on the cross. Hence God considered that our sins were all justly punished in his flesh. So the requirement of the law that we die for our sins has been fulfilled for us by Christ substituting for us and being punished and killed instead of us on the cross.


What is the result of God's punishing our sins in Christ's flesh on the cross? The result is that God considers our sins now fully punished and paid for, and so we can now be justly acquitted of them and set free as righteous people. This takes place in me personally when I put my faith in Christ and genuinely repent of my sins. God then reckons my faith to me as righteousness and declares me, an ungodly sinner, to now be righteous, right with God, with God's own righteousness shining in me.


I therefore now have a new life and I live in a new way as a "new man" in Christ with a new power to live in a new God-pleasing way, walking "not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:4).


So this is the great mystery of salvation in Christ that Romans 8:3-4 is revealing to us. Let us hear it again:


"For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin [as a sin offering, a sacrifice for our sins], he condemned [and punished our] sin in the flesh [of Christ on the cross], in order that the just requirement of the law [that we sinners should die for our sins] might be fulfilled in us, who [now] walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4).


So our debt is paid to God, the debt we owed him, namely the suffering we owed him in punishment for our sins. Now, since our debt has been justly paid for us by Christ's sacrifice on the cross, our alienation from God is overcome, and we are reconciled with him. God's righteous wrath against us for our sins has been propitiated for us by Christ fulfilling the law's requirement of us that we die for our sins. And we note that God the Father took the initiative in sending Christ to propitiate his own wrath (Romans 8:32).


Christ died in punishment for our sins as our substitute and thereby made substitutionary satisfaction for our sins for us. And when I put my faith in Christ and genuinely repent of my sins with the intention of abandoning them, then God credits what Christ did on the cross to my personal account and declares me acquitted and righteous, free to go as a "new man," a new creation, to live a new life in Christ. This new life will consist in no longer walking "according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:4). I am now justified and considered righteous by God, and if it is God who considers me righteous, then I am righteous indeed.


So now we come to the flesh/Spirit contrast of Romans eight. To walk according to the flesh is to follow the disordered desires of the flesh and worldly values in general. To walk according to the Spirit is to follow the leading of God's Spirit to live a law-abiding, God-pleasing life of righteousness, the new life of the "new man." This is the new way that we will now live in order to remain reconciled with God and not become alienated from him again. God, through Christ's sacrifice, put us in this new life by our faith, without any work of our own; but to stay in it we have to live a good life of good works, we have to walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.


Once again I repeat the key declaration of St. Paul that we all are justified by faith, not by our good works of any kind, whether they be according to the moral or the Jewish ceremonial law. Only faith - no works of any kind - justifies us, because our faith is what connects us with Christ's atoning, reparation-making work for us on the cross that justifies us. Christ's death on the cross justifies us, because it pays to God the punishment we owed him for our sins. That punishment is eternal death. Christ's death, since he is the divine Son of God, counts before God as the eternal death of all of us for all our sins, and so when I put my faith in him, God credits Christ's death to my account, as though it were me dying for my sins, and considers my debt fully paid, and so acquits me of all my sins and declares me now to be righteous.


What then follows this is a new life of sanctification. St. Paul describes this new life of sanctification in Romans eight as walking according to the Spirit and no longer according to the disordered and sinful desires of the flesh; and God's justification of me enables me to live in this new way.


What will this new life of walking according to the Spirit and no longer according to the flesh be like? It will be a life that no longer follows the sinful desires of the flesh but seeks to remain righteous and reconciled with God, with God's own righteousness shining in us. To remain in this new state that God freely put us in by our faith, because of the atoning death of Christ on the cross, we will now follow the guidance of God's Spirit to live in a wholly new way. We will avoid unseemly and inappropriate places and activities, and rather spend our time in wholesome places and in God's service, work, and ministry. We will be moved to preach to others this good news about what Christ has done for us. We will therefore spend our lives preaching the gospel, sharing it with others, writing about it, etc. We will try to work toward the conversion of the world to Christ.

 

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