“If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many are led by the Spirit of God, these are ‘children’ of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:13-16)
Whenever St. Paul is writing about life and death – and he does it quite a bit – it’s not so much the vital signs measured by physicians and nurses, such as oxygen levels, blood and brain functions, but rather the state of one’s soul measured by sinfulness and purity. Clinically, our death is out of our hands, unless of course we commit suicide. But our spiritual vitality is a matter of will. It would be cruel and insensitive to demand that we “put to death the deeds of the body” if indeed we could do nothing about such deeds. The precious gift of freedom is entrusted to our care. We either enhance our relations with our Lord and Creator by acting like God’s children, or we do otherwise.
At your baptism you were plunged into the blessed water to drown the inheritance of sin, and you were brought out pure, cleansed and radiant with newness of a spiritual life. Then you were marked with precious myrrh on all parts of your body: Sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that nothing evil or demonic might enter your mind, heart or body without your acceptance. That gift, or grace, is given to you as a child adopted by the Lord Almighty to be a family member of divinity with the privilege of inheriting the Kingdom of God. All this has come about by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What has been given to you by the love of God must be affirmed by your decision to welcome and receive that awesome and most precious present again and again throughout your lifetime on earth. God respects your freedom of choice. He never imposes on you, not even when the decision that you make is not in your own best interests. He even sends the Holy Spirit to guide you in all ways of goodness, truth and justice when you call on the Spirit in prayer.
What St. Paul terms deeds of the body is what our contemporary society may call natural and even healthy responses. Sexual activities, once the exclusive province of married couples, specifically one man and one woman, are now treated as the right of all persons in or out of marriage, heterosexual or otherwise. The children of God live by other standards. So too are acts of rage, hatred, revenge, depression and all other emotions contrary to the spiritual gifts the same apostle lists in Galatians 5:22.
Even the freedom offered as a gift is not license to act arbitrarily without direction or goal, but rather to make every decision with the thought of God in mind. To be led by the Spirit is an extension of what our Lord Jesus meant: Take My yoke upon you. The yoke is our personal cross, for without a cross there is no entry into the Father’s Kingdom. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the wisdom to do what is proper and required in each decision, the energy to carry it out, the spiritual vision to sort out right from wrong, the whisper of clarity through the cacophony of senseless noise, the feeling that comes with realizing what we are doing is right, good and pleasing to God, and the peace that brings with it a rest in the presence of the Lord God Almighty whom Christ taught us to call our own Abba, Father.