Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. — Romans 8:12-14
What obligations do you have in our life? If you were to list them, they would probably be pretty standard: we’re obligated to pay our taxes, show up to work on time, stop when the light turns red, and open the door so the little old lady can go in first. We may not always carry out these obligations, but we at least know we should.
We don’t often think of our faith having obligations. If we are believers, we know we have received the gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and although that gift is free, we know it carries with it a call to at least try to actually live like the Bible says we should. But we also are quick to make exceptions to that rule. I promise to live a Christ-like life…except on New Year’s Eve and most Friday nights and when my spouse isn’t looking.
But Paul names this call an obligation, which Dictionary.com defines as “a binding promise.” That phrase carries with it a bit more weight than simply a “suggestion” or “recommended behaviors.” It conveys a sense of duty and responsibility, and implies consequences if not carried out, much like foregoing the obligation of stopping at red light can have consequences.
The obligation Paul lifts up is to “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” or else suffer the penalty of living according to the sinful nature. Is Paul implying that once we make our confession of faith we should no longer sin? Of course not! Through Christ, we are not freed from sinning, but from the penalty of sin. That doesn’t, however, give us carte blanche to live how we want. We have made a binding promise to God, and Paul implies a life of faith should give evidence of progress in becoming less like the world and more like Christ.
This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we are called to make small steps every day. If we’re not sure where to put our foot next, we have a guide to help us: the Holy Spirit. As we open ourselves to be led by the Spirit, we will find that we are moving away from the seductive voice of sin and moving toward the familiar tone of our Father’s voice, calling us home like the once-heartbroken father calling to the prodigal son. With the Spirit’s help, we can honor the promise that binds us to God as we put to death the sin that once controlled us.
Loving God, even though I have fallen short of Your glory, you still reach out to me and adopt me as Your child. Give me the strength to resist the temptation of sin and turn toward the love You have shown me through Jesus. Help me be open to the leading of Your spirit, so that I may witness to the glory of your promise through the way I live my life. Amen.