Monday, June 2, 2014

Romans 8: Flesh versus Spirit


Rom 8:1-17 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 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 for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 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. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 

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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

I mentioned in my earlier posts that the conflict from Romans 1-6 was between sin and grace. But from Romans 7, the word sin and grace disappear. The conflict is now between flesh and Spirit. It is triggered by Paul's assertion in Romans 8:1-2 that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." 

Using the OS analogy again, Paul is saying that those who are "in Christ Jesus" are free from condemnation present in the Law-OS. So the conflict in the new  Spirit-OS is no longer between law and grace but between flesh and Spirit. In fact, the word "flesh" (as sinful nature) is found 4 times in Romans 7 and 13 times in Romans 8, out of a total of 18 times in the whole book of Romans. So, clearly for believers living are "under grace," we no longer need to bother ourselves with the conflict between law and sin. Instead, we should concern ourselves with choosing daily between walking by the flesh and walking by the Spirit:

  • Rom 8:5-8 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. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Therein lies the danger of many who hold to "grace only" instead of "grace and truth." They are guilty of ignoring this dualism between flesh and Spirit and focus all their attention on fighting over the non-issue of grace versus Law of Moses. The old Law-OS is gone and its power to condemn has been neutralized by the Cross. Now under the new Spirit-OS, the focus should be between between flesh and Spirit, for as Paul asserts, "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law". In other words, having gone past Romans 8:1 ("there is therefore no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus"), we believers now face a choice between Spirit and flesh. If we set our mind on the flesh, the result is death. But if we set our mind on the Spirit, the result is life and peace.

But what is "flesh"? According Paul's letter to the believers at Galatia, he lists out what he considers are evidence of the flesh:
  • Gal. 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 
Note that this letter was written to the church, not to non-believers. And he mentions that the sin-principle is at work in our "flesh". We could group the list of works of the flesh under 4 categories:

(1) Physical Dimension
  • "sexual immorality": any kind of sexual activity outside the normal husband-wife relationship. This includes pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, plus all kinds of sexual deviations from God's intent.
  • "impurity": any kind of distortion of what is good like unclean thoughts, perverse language, and acts that are evil
  • "sensuality": any kind of pleasure-seeking indulgences to gratify the physical senses, leading to physical addiction e.g. alcohol, nicotine, rich food, drugs, etc.
  • "drunkenness, orgies": Wild and promiscuous parties with binge-drinking
(2) Spiritual Dimension
  • "idolatry": any kind of worship of deities and demons (maybe even money and humans) that is reserved for God. 
  • "sorcery": any kind of engagement with occult powers, e.g. Feng shui, tarot cards, medium, etc.
(3) Emotional Dimension
  • "enmity": any kind of negative feeling against anyone, ranging from dislike to resentment to bitterness and unforgiveness
  • "strife": any kind of active conflicts with anyone, whether Christian or non-Christian
  • "jealousy, envy": any kind of envy against others who have done better than us
  • "fits of anger": any kind of uncontrolled outburt
(4) Social Dimension:
  • "rivalries": any kind of competition, trying to outdo others
  • "dissensions, divisions": any activity that causes conflict and quarrels in relationships
As Christians, we know that all the above are still present within our flesh nature. Under the new Spirit-OS, we have a choice: we can select these options again, or we can reject them and choose the Spirit-inspired way: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." (Gal 5:16-17). 

How do we know if we are walking by the Spirit? The fruit will show: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-25). 

In other words, when Christ was crucified, our flesh was crucified with it. It has been deactivated. But we still have a choice to re-activate the flesh menu. But if we do, we better take seriously Paul's warning: "I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:21). Our theology will not save us if we indulge in the flesh--only our obedience to the Spirit will impart life, rather than death.

Father, thank You that our flesh with its passions and desires has been crucified with Christ. Help us walk by the Spirit and no longer after the flesh. Amen.

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