Paul’s rivals were adamant that human sin should be met with dramatic and harsh punishment, and that our greatest temptations are lures of the flesh. To them, Christian living was a daily (hourly, minute-by-minute?) battle between the flesh and the spirit. Paul saw it differently. Paul saw the spirit as a gift to the flesh. For Paul, the gift of God’s Holy Spirit was freedom, not bondage. Because of the Spirit people are free to live as heirs of God, and as heirs, we are loved and forgiven for the failings of the flesh.
Having once been nearly 300 pounds (now under 200 and still falling), I am acutely aware of the temptations of the flesh. As a food addict, every meal, every snack, and every non-eating moment can be a struggle. Food soothes the soul. It calms the nerves. It satisfies the rebelliousness. But it also causes a great many physical and mental challenges. In active food addiction, the pull toward food is bondage. The inability to stop eating is bondage. The inability to choose healthy over junk is bondage. “Dieting” is no longer in my vocabulary, because dieting is bondage.
Freedom is living in recovery. Freedom is realizing I don’t “have to” eat healthy – I “get to” eat healthy. Freedom is turning to things of the spirit for comfort, calm, and satisfaction – meditation, exercise, yoga, prayer, mindfulness. These practices ground me to my spirit and free me from bondage to the flesh. Freedom is God’s gift to God’s heirs, and it is ours.
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.