A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 8:9-15. The indwelling of the Spirit (continued).
We come now to the second consequence of the indwelling in us of God or Christ through the Spirit. The first was life; the second is a debt or obligation. *Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation* (12), or literally ‘we are debtors’ (AV, RSV). What is this debt? It is not now to share the gospel with the world (as in 1:14), but to live a righteous life. We have no obligation *to the sinful nature (sarx) to live according to it* (12). It has no claim on us. We owe it nothing. Our obligation is rather (this is inferred, since Paul does not complete the expected antithesis) to the Spirit, to live according to his desires and dictates.
Paul’s argument seems to be this: if the indwelling Spirit has given us life, which he has (*your spirit is alive*, 10), we cannot possibly live according to the flesh, since that way lies death. How can we possess life and court death simultaneously? Such an inconsistency between who we are and how we behave is unthinkable, even ludicrous. No, we are in debt to the indwelling Spirit of life to live out our God-given life and to put to death everything which threatens it or is incompatible with it.
Verse 13 sets the option before us as a solemn life-and-death alternative (cf. Dt. 30:15ff.; Je:21:8ff.), which is made the more impressive by Paul’s renewed resort to direct address. *For if you live according to the sinful nature* (Which he has just declared in verse 12 not to be a Christian obligation), *you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live* (13). That is, there is a kind of life which leads to death, and there is a kind of death which leads to life. Verse 13 thus becomes a very significant verse on the neglected topic of ‘mortification’ (the process of putting to death the body’s misdeeds). It clarifies at least three truths about it.
First, what is mortification? Mortification is neither masochism (taking pleasure in self-afflicted pain), nor asceticism (resenting and rejecting that fact that we have bodies and natural bodily appetites). It is rather a clear-sighted recognition of evil as evil, leading to such a decisive and radical repudiation of it that no imagery can do it justice except ‘putting to death’. In fact, the verb Paul uses normally means to ‘kill someone, hand someone over to be killed, especially of the death sentence and its execution’ (BAGD) on *thanatoo*) (E.g. Lk. 21:16). Elsewhere the apostle has called it a crucifixion of our fallen nature, with all its passions and desires (Gal.5:24). And this teaching is Paul’s elaboration of Jesus’ own summons: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ (Mk. 8:34). Since the Romans compelled a condemned criminal to carry his cross to the site of crucifixion, to carry our cross is symbolic of following Jesus to the place of execution. And what we are to *put to death* there, Paul explains, is *the misdeeds of the body*, that is, every use of our body (our eyes, ears, mouth, hands or feet) which serves ourselves instead of God and other people. Some scholars, doubtless anxious to avoid the dualism which regards the body itself as evil, suggest that by *soma* (the body) Paul really means *sarx* (the flesh, or sinful nature), and one or two manuscripts do contain this word. Thus Charles Cranfield renders the phrase ‘the activities and schemings of the sinful flesh, of human self-centredness and self-assertion’. But it seems better to retain *soma* , to bear in mind that the word for *misdeeds* is actually neutral (*praxeis*, deeds or actions), and to allow the context to determine whether they are good or (as here) evil.
Tomorrow: Romans 8:9-15. The indwelling of the Spirit (continued).