The Word in the Wings
"Life to your mortal bodies:" Romans 8 and our freedom to dance
By: KAYA PRASAD
This summer, The Word in the Wings will feature stories of how the work of Glorify Performing Arts addresses problems with the ways our culture often views the human body. In 21st-century America, even at times within the church, it is common to discount, abuse, or idolize the body. But in GPA’s work of creating professional, empowering, Spirit-inspired dance productions, we aim to value the body’s God-given capacities for meaning-making and beauty. We aim to protect the body from exploitation by the art and industry of dance, and we orient the body’s efforts toward the glory of God.
As part of this series, I am sharing a meditation on Romans 8:1-11 and a brief reflection on how our redemption in Christ’s Spirit empowers dancers, as artists who work in an embodied medium, to reflect the gospel in their art.
In Romans 7, Paul identifies several “laws,” or patterns that human behavior adheres to. In one sense, the law is torah, or instruction for God’s people that brings abundant life (see Romans 7:9-10). This law is good (Romans 7:12, 16, 22). But in another sense, the law is a certain pattern of behavior that persists: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21). Paul calls this “the law of sin,” which is in tension with “the law of God” within an individual person (Romans 7:25).
In Romans 8, Paul describes how this conflict is resolved.
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
A person is subject to the law of God–the commandments to do good–and to the law of sin–the tendency to do wrong in spite of God’s commandments. Both laws are binding, but the first is also liberating. Paul’s understanding of the liberating power of God’s law is linked to the gospel of Jesus Christ: the Spirit of Christ has demonstrated its power over death through Christ’s resurrection.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
When God’s law interacts with human existence, the law of sin and death often prevails. As Paul testifies, “…I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin…I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:14-15). “The flesh” is a synecdoche referring to finite human nature (NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, p. 1980); by virtue of our creatureliness, humans are limited, and our limited perspective makes us susceptible to act according to values other than those set forth in God’s commandments.
Human limitedness, or weakness, is the reason sin so often prevails in us; but by the same token, when God becomes human in Jesus, God is not limited and subject to sin. Rather, the Spirit of Jesus is the Spirit of God. God’s infinite nature dwells in Jesus so that he is able “to deal with sin.”
Yet Jesus is human, so sin is condemned “in the flesh.” As a result, the rest of humanity shares in what Jesus accomplishes, insofar as we share also in Jesus’s manner of living “according to the Spirit.”
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
Paul uses contrasts to characterize life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. The limitation of human life, naturally, is its subjection to death. A person can live within the limited framework of human mortality, or they take the perspective of the Spirit and see God’s demonstrated power over death.
7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed, it cannot,
8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Referring back to the idea in Romans 7:14-15, Paul says that a person who limits themselves to a finite perspective allows the law of sin to prevail and acts in a manner contrary to the values of life and peace expressed in God’s commandments.
9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
10 But if Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
But Paul speaks to his readers in faith that they are in a relationship with the life-giving Spirit of God; they are not limited by human weakness but are filled with the same Spirit that “raised Jesus from the dead.” Just as this Spirit wields power over death in the body of Christ, it also wields power over death in the bodies of those who set their minds beyond the finitude of human existence.
This means that even though the law of sin and death binds us–even though we are subject to human finitude and tempted by ways that lead to corruption–the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus liberates us. Even in our present state, we do not have to act in accordance with sin but are able, empowered by Christ’s Spirit, to act in accordance with God’s commandments.
When it comes to making art, artists at Glorify Performing Arts embrace this freedom to act in accord with God’s law–the law of life and peace. We use our mortal bodies to create beautiful works that reflect God’s goodness and love because we are inspired, filled with the Spirit who has power over death. We don’t have to reject our bodies as sin-bound prisons for our souls; nor are our bodieslimited only to uses that reflect brokenness and death. Rather, our bodies are redeemed by the life-giving Spirit of Christ, and we use them as instruments for God’s praise.
Biblical quotations in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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