Summary: March 17, 2002 -- FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 With the LORD there is mercy and plenteous redemption. (Ps. 130:6-7) Romans 8:6-11 John 11:1-45 Color: Purple Title: “The difference Christ makes between “flesh,” and “spirit.” Rom
March 17, 2002 -- FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT
With the LORD there is mercy and plenteous redemption. (Ps. 130:6-7)
Title: “The difference Christ makes between “flesh,” and “spirit.”
This text is in the middle of chapter eight, which is in the middle of the doctrinal section of this most doctrinal of Pauline letters. Paul is reflecting on the difference Christ makes between “flesh,” and “spirit.” These important words have an earthly meaning and a heavenly meaning, a literal and a metaphorical meaning. “Flesh,” means just that- body, meat, food, even sex. Paul, however, uses the term here in a metaphorical or extended sense. By “flesh” Paul means living life or, more correctly, futilely trying to, on one’s own powers, by one’s own lights, on one’s own terms, without God. The “without God,” part can be either conscious or unconscious. It matters not to Paul, since the results are the same: death. Now, “death,” surely can mean physical death, the cessation of physical life. Paul means it in a metaphorical sense, as the absence of life or deprivation of life or negation of life, life as empty of meaning, purpose, point, and certainly absent God. Thus, life lived according to the principles of “flesh,” not only leads to death, but is “death,” itself. The “principles,” of deadly flesh find expression in all societies. They are the operating ABC’s of a society and the individuals in that society. Jews are no exception. They have their operating principles, their do’s and do nots to live by, basic assumptions and prescriptions about life. However, their “laws,” of and for living are inspired by God, and so have a different character from those of other societies. They do reveal the divine mind. Unfortunately, even those “laws,” do not convey the power to keep them, power Paul calls “grace”. Thus, a Jew is frustrated in that he or she might know how to live but does not have the power, because of “flesh,” to do so, to overcome the hold “flesh,” has over humans. Some other force, power, “spirit,” is needed, a power outside of humans and the human condition. Some new ingredient must be added to the human recipe if humans are to become what they can become. Paul identifies that “ingredient,” as spirit. This is not the human spirit, the earthly meaning of the word, for that has been co-opted by flesh, law, sin, death or whatever other name one might prefer. This is the divine Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Indwell Resident Holy Spirit, who enables Christ to live in the Christian and among Christians in the Church. The Spirit makes all the difference in the world - in a Christian’s life while still in the world, while still in the flesh, though no longer a prisoner of the flesh. This Spirit also impels the Christian into the wider world of God’s presence, right up to the last day, the day of general resurrection, the “end of the world.” The Spirit affects one’s attitude, which changes one’s behavior and connects the two, the internal, attitude, and the external, behavior, in a unity of life, Christ, which makes both attitude and behavior transcend law, principles, customs, presuppositions, prescriptions, death, sin, in a word, all that is included in Paul’s term “flesh.”
In verse six, the mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. The verse explains the results of the sinful nature as well as the result of the life controlled by the Spirit.
In verse seven, the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Again this verse explains the result of the sinful nature and the result of no relationship with the Spirit.
In verse eight, those who are in the flesh cannot please God: To be “in the flesh” is to be operating on one’s own and that, by definition, is opposed to God. The two cannot mix, cannot be reconciled, because they are opposites. Living “in the flesh,” has for its purpose and goal pleasing the self. “Flesh” and “obedient to God” are contradictory terms.
In verse nine, you are in the spirit: Christians are people whose lives are directed from a source outside themselves, here characterized as “spirit,” small “s” because Paul wants the contrast to be neat.
If only the Spirit of God dwells in you: Now Paul makes clear that the contrast is not with just any spiritual reality or realm, but with God. There can be no relationship with Christ apart from this Spirit. There can be no such thing as a Christian Pharisee, that is, one who operates on his own unaided moral effort in order to present himself or herself to God as a self-made human, pleasing to him by virtue of deeds.