Romans 8 Meets J.R.R. Tolkien

OneRingForgive me while I “nerd out” for a moment.

The first book I finished in 2013 was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I didn’t “review” it because all I could say is: I loved it. Read it. Since reading the book and seeing the newest Hobbit film in theaters, my husband and I have been watching all the old Lord of the Rings trilogy at home – me with a new appreciation for the background. Needless to say, I’ve had Middle Earth on the mind.

Yesterday our pastor preached a sermon titled “Making War on Sin” out of Romans 8:12-17 where he passionately expounded the importance and benefits of what the Puritans referred to as “mortification of sin,” that is, putting sin to death.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:12-13

We are not debtors to the flesh because Christ paid the debt of our sin by his death and resurrection, which we receive by faith and repentance. Paul is saying that my sin is “cancelled,” and the power of “cancelled sin” is broken; therefore, live like that’s true! We confirm our deadness to the flesh and confirm our life in the Spirit by walking according to the Spirit.

“Putting sin to death” may sound extreme and unnecessary especially to unregenerate persons, but even to some Christians. Can’t we just manage sin? Put it in a box? Compartmentalize? Our pastor asked the rhetorical question and I imagined it in the voice of the Joker: “Why so serious?”

And here’s where my mind went wild. The answer is: “Because sin wants to reach its full potential, which is spiritual and physical death.” It’s almost like sin has a mind of it’s own. In fact, it’s very much like a certain ring of power. As he is sending Frodo out on his first adventure to meet him in Bree, the wizard Gandalf gives this solemn warning:

“Always remember, Frodo, the ring is trying to get back to its master. It wants to be found.”

It wants to be found! Our founding pastor used to say this about sin: “It always takes you further than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay, and charges more than you wanted to pay.” It’s not that sin is sovereign over anything, but that the deception of sin is so “tricksy” it convinces you that you’d be better off following the path of death and destruction.

So many characters in The Lord of the Rings are tempted to use the ring “for good” or to exalt themselves. Gollum, Bilbo, Gandalf, Boromir, Galandriel, Faramir – each one walks themselves through a scenario where they could use the one ring to create a better world for themselves. But it’s all lies. The truth is that the ring is entirely and indestructibly connected to the evil lord Sauron.

This is why the ring must go to Mordor. Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29) Just as the only solution for the ring was to cast into the fires of Mordor, the only solution for sin is to utterly destroy it by the Spirit.

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9 thoughts on “Romans 8 Meets J.R.R. Tolkien

  1. Ms. Tricia – this is a very articulate and compelling essay. I must say how proud I am of you, your analysis, and your ability to capture the essence of our fallen nature and our absolute need for Christ. Like the characters of LOTR’s we think we can do so much in our own strength. The truth is we need the only one who can reconcile us to God the Father, His perfect son Jesus Christ.

    Thank you for a thoughtfuly piece!

    GLP

  2. Great job connecting Tolkien and Paul, Tricia!

    Of the various LotR characters, I’d have to say Faramir was the furthest from temptation when in the presence of the One Ring. (That’s the book Faramir. Movie Faramir was almost unrecognizable to me.) It makes me think not that he is above temptation but that his temptations lay elsewhere. That keeps me mindful that even when someone is struggling with something that doesn’t tempt me in the least, there’s probably another sin just waiting to tempt me. It’s like what Peter says: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8.)

    • Thanks Tim. I admit I haven’t read the rest of the trilogy, so movie Faramir is all I know! That is an excellent point about different temptations for different folks. Reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.

      • Please please please read the trilogy! They’ll blow your mind, plus you’ll probably end up with a ton of reflections and we can benefit from what you end up writing about. Not that I’m only thinking of myself of course.

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