Romans 8:1–17; Ephesians 2:11–22
No condemnation. Those are powerful words. We just don’t live them out well. We condemn ourselves for our faults. We condemn others for theirs.
What does it mean to be set free? This is not a small question. We often immediately say, free from sin. While that is correct, it is also utterly weak, thin, and a completely insufficient understanding.
Sin is “merely” an aspect of who we are. It is a big one. It is still only an aspect.
When we read Paul’s flesh versus spirit, we stick to these 2 concepts as if they are what Paul is talking about. We take Classical (or “Greek”) thought of spirit (good) and flesh (evil), setting aside that God created the flesh. Is it corrupt? Yes. Is it evil? No.
Flesh, in and of itself, is not evil. In fact, were we to take that perspective, the rest of Paul’s writings would be pointless. When Paul speaks of flesh, he speaks of the “way of the flesh”. The “way of the flesh” and flesh (our bodies) are not inherently the same. Confusing these two continue to be an issue in the church.
The opposite of the “way of the flesh” is the “way of the Spirit”. That’s readily apparent from Paul’s words, yet still, the concept of the flesh being tied to our body rather than the sinful ways of the world creates its own issues.
There are many body image issues out there. Some of them are weight. Some of them are premature balding. There a myriad of issues. Now we have the rise of gender dysphoria. It would be easy to condemn this as the “way of the flesh”, while it is in truth a cry of the soul.
There was a time where people damaged their bodies (sometimes call flagellants) for the “mortification” of the flesh. This is not a healthy view of the body. Some have taken it (tongue-in-cheek) to the point of saying, “the body is evil; kill it with alcohol.” Even the “world of the flesh” took this view to some degree.
The true danger of this view is that it actually lessens the apparent danger of the “way of the flesh”. If it is “just” our bodies, then our new “spirit” bodies will be fine, the ones we get after we die. This still puts Paul’s words into a place he didn’t intend. What happens after is more a matter of faith and speculation. Paul is referring to the now.
The “way of the flesh” is summed up in not submitting to God’s law. The “way of the spirit” is to submit. This also was the danger of circumcision. This was a different mortification of the flesh, yet it provided the same illusion.
The reality is, as implied in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the way of the spirit is a journey, not a destination. The way of the spirit goes the opposite direction of the way of the flesh. One goes toward God (and submission to God). The other goes away from God (and leads to rebellion to God).
Jesus, you took on the flesh of Creation and into a new stage of relationship with us. Help us honor your gift, and live lives that bring you honor and glory. Amen.
1) What do you think of when you hear the word “flesh”? What is the difference when you hear “the way of the flesh”?
2) Why might confusing “flesh” and “way of the flesh” an issue? How might it affect our Christian walk?