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November 2023

Romans 8 and the Language of our Walk, Part 3

Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians


The Reason for the Side Trip to 1 Corinthians
Brothers, I must admit that I had not planned an excursion to 1 Corinthians when I began writing on Romans 8. However, when we recognize the black-and-white presentation of the characteristics of the lost and saved in Romans, we must consider what Paul says in about those whom he calls “people of the flesh” and “infants in Christ” in 1 Corinthians 3. To many, the chapter appears to present a third fundamental spiritual category, a man who exercises genuine faith in Christ but who has become so compromised in his behavior that he shows no visible difference from those who do not know Christ at all. The tern that has carried over from King James terminology is “carnal Christian.” Should we add this third category to the two identities that Paul describes in Romans 7 and 8? My goal with this excursion is not to generate controversy but to explain the Scripture clearly.

The Issue at the Heart of 1 Corinthians 1 – 4
Every story, novel, or nonfiction book we read is an invitation to follow the author into another world. The same is true when we watch the nightly news, a podcast, or a movie. The setting may be historical, contemporary, or alien. It may involve a new perspective on the world in which we live. Every form of written or oral communication involves two parties—an author and his audience. The author sets out to share something that is significant to him with the intent to communicate his understanding or opinions about it. When he does, he furnishes his audience with contextual cues to help them orient themselves. If we misinterpret the cues, we miss the point of the communication. Let me give you an example. My wife Patty and I are big fans of the CBS TV series, Bluebloods. In it, Tom Sellick plays the central character, New York Police Commissioner Frank Reagan. His character is an extroverted and opinionated Irish Catholic, deeply rooted in his four-generation family. The human drama is fast paced, and Sellick plays the part perfectly. However, when Bluebloods first aired, Sellick was finishing a series of made-for-TV movies called Jesse Stone, based on the character in Robert B. Parker’s detective novels. The movie series portrays him as an introverted, self-doubting divorcee who has lost his job as an LAPD detective because of his drinking. He moves from Los Angeles to become the police chief in a small town in Massachusetts. The drama is slow paced and intimate, a complete contrast to his character in Bluebloods. When Bluebloods aired, I tried to project Jesse Stone into Tom Sellick’s Bluebloods character. Of course, my interpretation refused to fit. The disconnection in my mind was so great that I almost gave up on Bluebloods. The problem? I tried to interpret Bluebloods by the wrong guidelines.

Collecting the Cues in 1 Corinthians
Though written by the same author, Romans and 1 Corinthians tell different stories. Romans is a book that teaches. Because of that, we can study Romans 8 as an accurate description of the character differences between the lost and the saved.
1 Corinthians, on the other hand, is a corrective manual. Paul spends his time addressing conflicts and errors among the Corinthian believers. The first four chapters focus on the church’s obsession with personalities. After a brief greeting in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Paul begins his message begins in verse 10:

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.
12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

--1 Corinthians 1:10-12

Something about name recognition draws crowds, and the Corinthian church boasted a stellar cast. Paul, the church founder, was the premier theologian of his day, wielding an intellect that spanned Jewish and Gentile cultures. For many, he was their man. Some found the apostle stuffy, however. In Paul’s words, “They say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’” (2 Corinthians 10:10). Many in this group preferred Apollos, an orator who was revered for his eloquence. The story continues beyond these two intellectual heavyweights. The church also held a fair share of blue-collar workers, who craved something lighter than the high-octane teaching. This group leaned toward Cephas, whom we know as Peter. He learned from Jesus directly and taught simply. Finally, the church harbored a corner group who claimed, “I am of Christ.” Technically, they were right. All who walk in the truth belong to Christ. However, Apparently, they were spiritual elitists, because Paul includes them among the personality seekers who competed for the top rung.

Interpreting Paul’s “Voice” in 1 Corinthians 1 – 4
We can get a sense of Paul’s voice in the 1 Corinthians 1 – 2 watching where he puts his emphasis. As we see from the examples below, the book he focuses on a worldly wisdom/spiritual foolishness theme:

  • “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power,” (1 Corinthians 1:17)
  • “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
  • “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20)
  • “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

His point? In his own words, “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards” (1 Corinthians 1:20).

Paul’s Single Point of Doctrine
At the close of chapter 2, Paul closes with a brief doctrinal statement. It forms a mirror image of the truth that he discusses in Romans 8. The Romans 8 passage discusses the moral reality regarding what he calls “the mind set on the flesh.”

The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

--Romans 8:7-8, emphasis added

In this passage, Paul’s emphasizes the unsaved man’s personal orientation—how he thinks and acts toward God. He lives in a state of perpetual hostility toward God.
When we approach the close of 1 Corinthians 2, Paul refers to unsaved man as the “natural person.”

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they [the things of the Spirit] are spiritually discerned.

--1 Corinthians 2:14

This passage expresses the same truth as Romans 8, but in practical terms. Here, he shows how the unsaved man reacts to God’s truth. He “does not accept” the things of the Spirit because he is “unable to understand them.” Romans 8 shows that the unsaved man is actively hostile toward God. 1 Corinthians 2 describes how he is passively unresponsive to him. Both are simultaneously true. This dual reality will help us to understand Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 3, where he addresses the jealousy and strife that runs rampant among the church. We will discuss that in the next segment.


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