Against the Flesh: Part 2
Yesterday, we looked at a list of the negative treatment of “the flesh” in the New Testament.
The Flesh = The Sinful Nature
When the gospel writers and Paul write about “the flesh,” they are not making general statements condemning our physical bodies. Fleshly, earthly, and human are all descriptors used in reference to the sinful nature. For example, you’ll notice I used the NIV for the Galatians 5:16-18 link yesterday because it uses the translation “flesh” rather than the updated TNIV translation “sinful nature.” The scholars working on the TNIV decided to update the translation to help illuminate the point Paul is trying to make.
It is the desires of our sinful nature that are against the Spirit, not the desires of our physical bodies. Our bodies’ need for basics like food, sleep, and sex are not evil or filthy desires in and of themselves. God created us with these desires and designed our bodies to function this way. Paul’s point is that the sinful nature corrupts these desires.
But the list I shared yesterday is not the full story. That list was only the “not yet” of Paul’s argument: that we are still battling the sinful nature and must fight to follow the Spirit and bear fruit. The battle is ongoing and will not be fully realized until we die or Jesus returns.
There is another part of the story, the “already” of Paul’s argument. The battle has already been won. We can experience the fullness of redemption right now and forever. There is nothing to struggle against anymore because Jesus came to live among us, was crucified as the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, and was raised from the dead in final victory.
Here are some “already” verses for you:
- Jhn 1:14
- Acts 2:26-27
- Rom 8:8-10
- Rom 9:8
- 2Cor 10:2-4
- Gal 2:20
- Eph 2:14-16
- Eph 5:29-30
- Eph 6:12
- Col 1:19-23
- Heb 2:13-15
- Heb 10:19-22
We Christians are really good at living in the “not yet” part of the kingdom of God. We struggle and try and work out our salvation with sweat and tears. We put the burden on ourselves to do the work of capturing every thought, renewing our minds, and beating our flesh into submission. We are still being saved.
What we can’t seem to learn is how to live life in the “already.” This part of the kingdom of God is just as real, just as available to us as the “not yet.” This is where we have already been saved. The battle is won, and we are now heirs with Christ Jesus. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence. We are clothed with righteousness. There is no condemnation for us because we are under Christ Jesus. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ. We have taken off the old and have put on the new.
Old Testament Sacrifice and Jesus
In the Old Testament, the blood sacrifice of a pure, unblemished animal was necessary to purify the sinful flesh of the people of God. Every time a person sinned, another blood sacrifice was necessary to make the person clean and pure again.
When Jesus died on the cross, our pure, spotless lamb, his blood purified the sinful flesh of the people of God forever. No longer are we bound to the need to sacrifice an animal for each of our sins. Our sins have already been paid for. Jesus’ blood has already purified us. We are called righteous because of what Christ has already done.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the implications of this “already” theology for holistic body theology.