By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Romans 7:1-12
1 Do you not know, brothers and sisters — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.
4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
In societies governed through liberal democracy, it is customary to take the basic political orientation to be the autonomy of a person and the rights that protect this autonomy. We possess ourselves, we are free to act on our own desires, we have control over our bodies, and while objects procured through our industry might belong to us, in no sense can we belong to anyone else or anyone else belong to us. It’s in our political DNA that “belonging” is not a category appropriate between persons.
How striking it is then to read Romans 7:4 in our contemporary context! St. Paul is developing his theme that we who unite ourselves with Christ are put to death with him. The consequence of dying with Christ is that we now belong “to him who was raised from the dead.” The idea may be so familiar to us that we don’t notice how coarse this claim is against our contemporary notions of individuality. We belong to Christ as much as our own bodies belong to ourselves! In fact, St. Paul claims that before we united our lives with Christ in death, we were “dying to what once bound us,” that is sin. So we either belong to sin or we belong to Christ.
But in a real sense, the choice here is between servile subjection and freedom. For to belong to sin is to be enslaved by our baser passions, whereas belonging to Christ is the freedom to do what is worth doing, bearing fruit for God, living the way of the Spirit! The most important thing about your identity then is not your autonomy, not the attributes that describe you, not your status or gender or ethnicity or culture, but a relational reality. The most important thing in each of us is who we belong to. May we thank Christ in our prayers today that he died for our sakes so that we might belong to him.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Awerial (Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan)
Episcopal Church in Minnesota