Two Realms: Flesh and Spirit II
This is the second article on Flesh and Spirit. The first is in the Principles section where we discussed how flesh and Spirit is another counterpart with flesh being physical and Spirit spiritual. This counterpart fits right in with the general duality makeup of the universe.
There seems to be confusion, however, over just what the flesh in this counterpart is, especially in Paul’s writings. So, what I going to do in this article is try to clear up the confusion.
The dictionary definition of flesh is:
(noun) the soft substance consisting of muscle and fat that is found between the skin and bones of an animal or a human.
Flesh is the muscle and fat part of the body. The phrase all flesh is a reference to all human and animal life, that is, beings with fleshly bodies. Flesh can also be used as a verb, i.e., he fleshed out the situation and determined the mission would succeed. Our concern is with the noun form.
The word body is defined as:
(noun) the physical structure of a person or an animal, including the bones, flesh, and organs.
A person’s body can be the whole of the person our just the trunk excluding the head. Body can also mean a group of people or a substantial quality, such as the flavor of wine.
In the gospels, the words body and flesh are most often used to refer to the same thing, a physical body. A search in Bible Gateway indicates that the gospels (New American Standard Version) contain fifty-five verses which include the words body or flesh. Body always refers to a physical body, as does the word flesh in the twenty verses where it appears.
The book of Acts has three verses containing the word body, and two flesh. Again they refer to the physical body.
None of this is confusing as long as the meaning of flesh is the same as the meaning of body, and they are both physical rather than spiritual. Confusion comes in when we get to Paul’s writing (not that Paul created the confusion), and there is a tendency, for some reason, to give the word flesh a spiritual rather than a physical in nature. A turn of the page from Acts to Romans and flesh takes on a whole new character. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says that the flesh is almost exclusively a doctrine of Paul. We’re asked to believe that Paul used the word flesh to develop a doctrine, one where the flesh takes on a new spiritual makeup. I’ve heard it said that the flesh, as Paul uses the term, is not a body, but a person’s sin nature, putting it into the spiritual category. It’s as though human beings have a physical flesh as well as a spiritual one.
I don’t have a problem with looking for and recognizing metaphors and figures of speech in the Bible, as you will see when we get around to discussing parables. Examine the following passage from Romans, and ask yourself if Paul has begun to use flesh as a metaphor, or is he speaking of mankind’s fleshly bodies.
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
[Let me break in here to make a comment on verse three: the flesh that Jesus took on was a human body, and it was in the likeness of sinful flesh, not actual sinful flesh. No part of Jesus was sinful, including his body. Also, the flesh that Jesus took on could not be referring to a sin nature, because Jesus did not have a sin nature. Hence, Paul is talking about a physical body.]
4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh [in the physical] but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh [their minds are always focused on satisfying the body by providing it with food, passions and lusts of every kind], but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit [their minds are focused on the things of God rather than on themselves].
6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,
8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit [your spirit not the Holy Spirit] is alive because of righteousness. [In this verse, Paul substitutes the word body for flesh, which is not surprising since they both mean the same thing.] (Romans 8:3-10)
Paul concludes the argument with these words:
12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh —
13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [Here again, Paul uses flesh and body interchangeably.] (Romans 8:12-13)
Even though Paul actually uses the words flesh and body interchangeably, many still believe that Paul refers to the flesh as being a new, spiritual nature. If this is so, the flesh becomes a fourth part of the human makeup … body, soul, spirit and the flesh. Of course, that idea is not supported anywhere in Scripture.
The point I’m making is this: We can keep it simple and believe that the flesh is our physical body, or we can complicate and confuse the issue and change the flesh from a physical to a spiritual entity. However, doing that violates the duality principle. If flesh and Spirit are no longer physical and spiritual, but spiritual and spiritual, they are not counterparts.
Let’s look at one more passage where the word flesh refers to a physical entity.
7 Nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s [physical] descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.”
8 That is, it is not the children of the [physical] flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise [spiritual children] are regarded as descendants. (Romans 9:7-8)
Here in this passage, Paul uses flesh to mean the physical, flesh and blood descendants of Abraham.
Ephesians 2:3 says, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” This verse tells us that the flesh, that is our body, has certain qualities … lusts and desires. But, characteristics don’t change the makeup of a person or thing. If a person loves chocolate, we don’t think of them as having a strange chocolate nature. Their desire for chocolate, and their frequent indulgence of it, just means they like and desire chocolate. Our bodies, according to Paul, desire about every kind of lust, and before a person is born again, he or she indulges in as many of them as possible. Still, that doesn’t alter the nature of the flesh.
It is our physical body, with its passions and desires, that demands to be indulged. Feeding our bodies the foods of the world, whether they be gourmet delights or sexual lusts, is the primary activity of unregenerate human beings. After a person is born again, and their spiritual side (the soul and spirit) is reborn, the flesh continues to demand regular feedings. Denying the flesh its customary diet of unhealthy food, whether actual or spiritual, becomes the lifetime occupation of every believer.
That’s my Viewpoint, what’s yours? Whether the same or different, I would like to hear from you. It’s all right for us to have differing viewpoints. Having dissimilar points of view hasn’t been a problem for the body of Christ. Resolving differences has. Most conflicts over doctrine, practices or beliefs usually end in arguing and division. It should not be that way. It need not be that way. Only we can make the necessary changes. I believe this sitation can and will be better when we change the way differences are resolved in the body of Christ.
Your viewpoint is welcome and encouraged. You can post you views in the comment box below. If there is no Comment Box, please click on Leave a comment at the bottom of the article.
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