When some people think about holiness, an image of a church out in the country, where people live life as it is still the 1950s, with women wearing dresses down to the ankles and men dressed in a tie. Or you may think of a “holy roller,” who is lost in some weird actions during worship. Holiness may come with connotations of being stuck in the past or being irrational. The last idea that probably would come to your mind when you think of holiness is deliberate thinking and consideration. However, this is precisely the image of holiness that Paul conveys in his letters to the Romans.
In Romans 6, Paul establishes the freedom from the power of sin and death by the believer’s union with Christ. As a consequence of this freedom, Paul encourages them to live free from sin and to present their “members” as slaves to righteousness for the goal or result1 of sanctification. However, throughout all of Paul’s discourse in Romans 6, nowhere does Paul specifically establish the power that makes this union with Christ and directing our lives for righteousness possible. If you are familiar with 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, you will notice that it is the Holy Spirit that baptizes people into (the body of) Christ, whereas Paul leaves the role of the Spirit absent in Romans 6. Why is this the case? I would suggest because he waits to present the role of the Spirit in our union with Christ and avoiding sin and pursuing righteousness in Romans 8.2 In 8:5-8, Paul transitions to talking about the cognitive thought patterns of the flesh and of the Spirit, which is then combined with the resurrecting power of the Spirit in 9-11 to lead to the exhortation that people should put to death the deeds of the flesh and live by the Spirit in vs. 12-13. In other words, the realization of Romans 6, both the resurrection of the body and the moral sanctification of the person, is realized through the work of the Spirit in the believer. To summarize Romans 6-8:17 in a more abstract manner is to suggest that there is a redemption in Christ of both the body and of the mind by the personal presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
This same pattern of body and mind repeats itself in Romans 12:1-2, in calling people to consider their bodies as sacrifices and to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. Romans 12 onward highlights the personal implications of this power of redemption that Paul outlined in 1-11, so we don’t see the language of Spirit being explicitly evoked here, but it is implicit from Paul’s previous argument. What is highlighted here, however, is the cognitive responsibility people have to experience a “renewal of mind;” implicitly, the thinking that comes from the Spirit as mentioned in Romans 8 is to impact the thinking of believers. This renewal of the mind is the basis upon which they can/will experience transformation, which like sanctification in Romans 6 echoes the concept of change towards a specific pattern.
Taking these observations of larger structure and pattern of Pau;’s discourse, if I were to summarize the relationship of the Spirit, thinking, holiness, and behavior for Paul in Romans 6-12, it would be as follows: through the Holy Spirit, the believer is influenced to think in such a way that will direct their behaviors so that they will be sanctified/transformed. Put more analytically, 1) the Spirit causes/presents a set of cognitions in the believers, that 2) the believers are influenced by in the choice of actions they take that fulfill specific purposes, which 3) through being enacted forms habits that can be alternatively described as holiness and transformation.
Therefore, for Paul, the way we think is a critical part of our journey towards sanctification. Being holy isn’t about being
Furthermore, when Paul refers to this as a renewal in 12:2, he is characterizing as something that models a new birth. Given that people’s thinking and habits have been determined by the flesh, people must “unlearn” what they have learned. Renewal entails more of a starting over of our knowing and thinking. Of course, the language of renewal/rebirth throughout the New Testament is a metaphor and therefore, as it applies to
An important distinction here to make, however, is that renewal is not the substitution of one pattern of thinking for another, as often times “critical thinking” is treated as substituting one supposedly
For the Jewish Christians who felt persecuted by and were antagonistic to Rome, it would have them rethinking the narratives they told themselves, distancing themselves from the narrative of judgment as presented in Romans 1:18-32 and reading and understanding the story of the cross and Pentecost afresh to lead them into a narrative of God’s faithfulness as in Romans 8:31-39. Similarly, for the Gentiles Christians, it would challenge their thoughts of superiority to Jews and to recognize they are being grafted into Israel as Paul mentions in 11:13-24. Both transitions in thinking should then encourage them into a critical awareness about the nature and purpose of their actions and how it impacts their community of Christ and their relationship to the larger society, which summarizes Paul’s ethical exhortations in Romans 12-15.
Put simply, for Paul, thinking is an essential tool for sanctification. Just as you can not build a house without a hammer, you can not become sanctified without proper thinking. Granted, a hammer is not all you need to build a house, nor does Paul present thinking as some panacea for human sin. Nevertheless, if one wishes to pursue holiness because one is in Christ, it will entail unlearning that allows for an openness to the Spirit that can lead us into a critical awareness of our actions.
- The preposition εἰς can be understood as either the consequence or the purpose of one’s actions.
- The reason I think Paul waits to mention the role of the Spirit till Romans 8 is because he transitioning from the global work of Christ in Romans 5 to the power of the Spirit in Romans 8, and it is baptism that would naturally and implicitly connect Christ with the Holy Spirit, hearkening back to Jesus’ own baptism following by the descent of the Holy Spirit. This would entail that Paul has knowledge of this baptismal tradition, which I think there is sufficient grounds to consider him having, but it is not necessary for my point that this be true. My argument only necessitates that Paul intentionally leaves out the means of sanctification by the Holy Spirit in Romans 6 and brings it to the forefront in Romans 8.