In view of that, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, but not to our flesh and blood, to live by their power; for if you live by their power you will die, but if by the Spirit you kill the habits of the body, you will live.Everyone who is guided by the Spirit is a child of God.You did not receive a slavish spirit once again encouraging fear, but an Adopting Spirit in which we cry out to God, “Abba, dear Father!” God’s Spirit gives evidence along with our spirits that we are God’s children- and if children, we are also heirs, God’s heirs and joint-heirs with Messiah, so that if we have a share in his pain, we shall also have a a share in his splendour.
This passage provides a summary of Paul’s doctrine of inter-being. To be “under obligation”, represents the inevitability of inter-being which can also be depicted as slavery, either to Sin or, as earlier in this letter, to Messiah Jesus and God. But here, although the decision to share your life with Sin enslaves you to flesh and blood, and ultimately death, the decision to share your life with God’s Spirit is not another slavery, but being guided into a new relationship as God’s children characterised by trust and love. Without explanation Paul introduces the Aramaic word Abba which means dear father, and is reported by the Gospels as Jesus’ word in prayer. Paul is clear that your adoption as a child of God means sharing Jesus’ messainic intimacy with God. He is the One who has proved himself faithful and will inherit all that was promised to Abraham, but if you share his suffering here and now, you will share his splendid life in the world to come.
If we take Paul’s language of interbeing as simply metaphorical we can see how it represents recognisable aspects of human life, especially what I have called the “addiction” of human beings to behaviours that are destructive of the self and others. By allegiance to worldly powers the compulsions of destructive behaviour, which Paul describes as the law of Sin and Death, are inscribed in the mindset and somatic systems of people.
The “shared life of the Spirit” is perhaps less familiar, but some people at least will know that behaviours which are fruitful for the self and others, issue from trust in something or someone good, and although they may involve suffering, do not thereby cease to be fruitful.Often too, the fruitfulness, while demanding effort, is also experienced as a gift.
This should be enough to convince us that Paul’s pycho-social thinking is perceptive. But of course, for Paul, these were not simply metaphors, because he thought that the worldly powers, the creator God and his Messiah, and the interbeing of humanity, were “real”, as real, that is, as the Roman Imperium, the Jewish Law, the philosophy of the Greeks, the division of society into slave and free, man and woman. Indeed in the case of God, he was more real than any of these, because they were mortal while God’s love was eternal.
This leads into a discussion of Paul’s fundamental theology which I will postpone for the moment.