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Flesh and Spirit

Recently, I overheard a friend describing his conflict with another friend as simply a result of his own “being too much in the flesh” and it made me start thinking. For so long, again handed down from the Gnostics, I understood flesh and Spirit to be at odds, incompatible, and mutually exclusive. The flesh, my humanity, is presumed to be bad, bad, bad. And the Spirit, all that is of God and the Heavenly realms, is more real, more true, more God. (Neo-Platonism and the great chain of being.) It is this thinking that so influences my notion of “doing” Christianity without Jesus.

My assumption is that today I will try to “walk in the Spirit” as opposed to yesterday when I was just so “in the flesh.” What I think I mean in that sense is that my humanity is always in opposition to my spirituality, my Spirit man needing to be chosen out over the Fleshy man. This sounds right and good, after all, didn’t Paul speak in similar terms? But the problem is that what I am really believing (as opposed to what Paul was saying) is 1) that God’s work can be effectively opposed, 2) that He only deals in certain realms and that 3) redemption is something ethereal and not related to my “flesh” or really any aspect of the tangible creation.

#1 is more deeply held by the majority of Christians than we realize, and certainly lurks in the background of my own fears and anxieties. But for today, #2 and #3 are most on my mind. The first problem with this notion of Flesh bad vs. Spirit good is that we (humanity) were made in God’s image in flesh, flesh which God called “very good.” My nude body, and bloody, boney insides, aren’t the corrupting influence. It is my heart, spiritually speaking, that houses sin and from which all corruption flows.

The second problem with this Christian world view is that Jesus came in flesh, flesh that was not corrupted by sin through which to redeem all facets of the creation. Redemption isn’t just ethereal, or for the mind, or for the future. It is total, just as corruption was total. It means that escaping my body or my circumstances isn’t my hope for purity and total renewal, but within this very body God is making “all things new.” Sin made the first man Adam and all who followed “perishable”. The second Adam clothes the perishable with the imperishable, the sin-corrupted body with the righteous image of God body. (1 Corinth. 15)

So what is the Good News that I need to hear in all this academic sounding writing? It is that I don’t have to keep ping ponging from failure to new attempts at success, assuming my failure was a wandering off onto the wrong team (Flesh) and if I keep better focus, I can stay on the right team (Spirit) a little longer tomorrow. Thanks be to God in Jesus who rescues me from this body of death, by which I increasingly feel my need for His regenerating work and through which I will experience it!

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Phil. 1:19-21

The person and work of Jesus frees me from having to be a split personality as He is redeeming all of me. Out of the overflow of my heart, my mouth speaks and my body acts. When I speak and act in ways contrary to His character, I simply reveal more of the redemption needed to be worked out in me. They don’t contradict His presence and work; they prove my ongoing need for it!

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— Colossians 1:15-22

There are not parallel universes, one within God’s domain and another outside of it. Everything was made by Him and for Him. This is why my “fleshy” days are not outside of His redemptive work, a miss-step or in any other way distinct from the Spirit-filled life. The Spirit-filled life just gets to see sin more clearly and more often, not because it has in fact increased but because I just didn’t recognize it before. That sight of my “flesh”, then, is a gift from the Spirit and a necessary part of His work, as it points me to Jesus and His reconciliation efforts rather than my own.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For 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, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For 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.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:9-17

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