Freedom vs. Grave-Tending

9TzrLLjTEStrange title?  Maybe…  or maybe not!

I was reading in a small men’s (men of all sizes actually) S.O.A.P bible study this morning Romans 8: 1-17.  I recently purchased this amazing parallel bible that gives me the NIV on the left hand and the message paraphrase on the right of the same verses.

I have always loved this passage because of the freedom in the spirit of Christ that it reveals.  However, some new words and thoughts occurred to me this morning as we read it together.

The first part is a great contrast between choosing to “live in” the Spirit or “live in” the desires of the flesh.  It then quickly sets us free that we are not “controlled by” by the flesh if we have the Spirit within us.  However verses 12 – 15 jumped out at me today as I looked at both the NIV version and the Message paraphrase.

NIV “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For 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, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

MESSAGE-“So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.”

We could debate the legalism that comes from a word like “obligation,” but I would rather focus on the freedom this passage screams at us that we CAN live in the Spirit and this life is not reduced to grave tending of our “old man — flesh” and making sure the zombie doesn’t rise up.

The passage is speaking to the root of our understanding of the gospel.  Do we really believe that we are not controlled by the desires of our flesh?  Do we understand that we have the freedom and power to live in His Spirit and that this life is ABUNDANT, and full of joy and adventure with our heavenly Father?  Or, maybe we were told somewhere along the way that our Christian life was changing our behaviors and trying not to sin anymore — “putting to death our old flesh” and living out our lives as grave tenders.  We are to continually put our sinful desires to death, but this is way beyond behavior modification.

By no means is this the only thing this passage talks about — but it is the portion that jumped out at me today and is causing me to face this week with an expectant childlike faith that longs to live in His Spirit and live in His freedom.

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4 thoughts on “Freedom vs. Grave-Tending

  1. I was reading that very passage recently. Thank you for The Message translation. It shines a great light on the meaning of verses 12-15, which frankly had me baffled.

    I get what you mean about not tending the grave: God doesn’t want us to walk in fear. He wants us to take him as our banner and walk bravely forward to the next mission with His higher purposes, using His strength, experiencing His joy. The Message does a much better job of relating that message than my beloved NIV.

    BUT… In my history, both before and after I asked Christ to take over my life, I committed some horrible sins. The results of those sins continue to poke their heads above the surface and take bites at my life and relationships. In particular, I have wounded people in my past who are still in my life.

    Certainly I can take responsibility for my sins by admitting I was at fault, asking God’s (and men’s) help to repent and curing the root causes of those behaviors and thus, changing the behaviors. But there are still the ill-feelings from those I hurt, the broken relationships, the suspicion from others that I might go back to those detestable ways, their horror of “how could you have done that” and a cornucopia of other consequences of those actions.

    Taken to an extreme example, how can you say to someone “Yes, I murdered your daughter, but I’ve learned the error of those ways, repented from that sin and am forgiven by God?” It buys you out of your own guilt, but you’ve laid a burden on someone that you can’t expect them to just forget. In fact, to relieve myself of the guilt while they continue to mourn seems disrespectful, uncaring.

    I don’t want to tend the grave of my old sins. I want to leave them behind. But the results of my old sins carry into my present life. And I find that there are still remnants of those old sins that I didn’t realize I was still carrying. And so I let them continue to poison my life.

    My struggles are: How does a person escape the repercussions of having lived in the sinful nature? And how do I learn not to tend the grave, but still be introspective enough to see the negative things remaining in my character that need correction?

    Thanks dude, God bless ya.

  2. Great thoughts and questions John Q.

    I think its common for all of us to struggle with the consequences of our sin. However, we not only struggle with the consequences of our own sin and past – we live in a broken world and everyone’s sin and decisions in some way affect us. This actually raises another form of questions about being free from the guilt of sin.

    My first thought is Peter. Peter is in a long line of Christ followers with epic failures. I can only imagine from just the one we remember most (his denial of Christ at the 3rd rooster crow) – how did that not haunt him forever. I mean, was he reminded of it every time from that day forward when he heard a rooster crow?? Probably.

    But Christ speaking freedom to Peter with no condemnation and Peter receiving that wonderful grace from his friend, Savior, Creator… is all the freedom he needed to live a life that did not define him by his sin and epic failures.

    Paul is another example. To claim that he was the “chief of all sinners” and yet he is the one that challenges us not to be grave tenders.

    Here are my thoughts on us not getting past our past. We sometimes don’t really believe that we are forgiven. This is an issue of trusting in the grace that not only forgives, but also forgets (holds no record, does not condemn). This results in us experiencing false guilt over confessed sin and we therefore forfeit future opportunities in our freedom.

    Sorry my response seems spastic. I’m writing this late at night. I would love to chat more about it – but I hope these additional thoughts are helpful.

    Please email me at to discuss if further. Thanks again.

  3. Your example of Paul is the one that interests me the most because, like mine, his sins were against men. I’ve spent some time thinking about Saul’s oppression of Christians and then, as Paul, his preaching to them.

    To the casual observer of the time that probably seemed hypocritical. Yet Paul simply did what God sent him to do – to present the gospel and organize the churches. People didn’t travel far in those days, so on his missions he probably saw people he had persecuted or even family members of those he murdered. It was probably very uncomfortable (!), but I assume he just kept doing the work God had sent for him, trusting it would all come out however God planned it.

    I translate that to my situation this way: I believe that The Lord has forgiven me my sins and loves me. My problem is that I want forgiveness from men too. But I, a mere mortal, can’t force that from someone else. As the AA people say, all I can do is clean up my own side of the street. So like Paul, I need to figure out God’s mission for me and simply continue on His work regardless of my personal regrets or discomfort.

    I can reconcile this by hoping that the people I hurt are still in my life will benefit from God’s work through me and through others. And if that’s true then I can pray that God will give them the gift of being able to forgive. And that won’t be just for my benefit. The bigger gift will be to them, because they’ll be able to lay down their own burden of grief and anger and get some peace in their lives – which is something He wants for all of us, right?

    So I understand that there might not be a resolution to my broken relationships with people right at hand. I’ll have to rely on the One Most Important Relationship and trust that God will sort out the rest according to His best plan.

    It’s a rocky road ahead, but then God never said he’d make our lives easy, did he?

    Thanks again for your insights, dude. I appreciate your help with this.