Thursday, 1 August 2013

‘Flesh’ Beats ‘Sinful Nature’ for Clarity

Last night our PCC did some Bible study. The aim was to clarify our goals as a congregation, and the subject was the ‘two kinds of people’ identified in Romans 8:5-11 as those who live ‘according to the Spirit’ and those who (in the NIV) live ‘according to the sinful nature’.
The only problem was, one of our PCC wasn’t getting it. Her brow furrowed up as she insisted there must be other kinds of people. After all, there are those who, whilst they admittedly aren’t Christians, can hardly be accused of living ‘according to the sinful nature’.
As she was speaking, I had a sudden thought.
“The word Paul uses here,” I said, “is actually ‘flesh’. Now how long does flesh last?”
After a bit of thought, she replied, “Til you die.”
“And how long does spirit last?”
Again a bit of thought produced the answer, “Forever — for eternity.”
“So,” I said, “Those who live ‘according to the flesh’ are thinking on what timescale — this life, or eternity?”
“This life,” she replied.
“And those who live ‘according to the Spirit’ — are they thinking about just this life, or eternity?”
“Eternity,” she replied.
“And where do most people focus their attention — on this life, or eternity?”
“This life,” she replied.
“So they’re living ‘according to the flesh’, aren’t they?” I went on. “Their goals are all about this life, their interests are material things, they don’t think in terms of eternity. They certainly don’t think about facing judgement like we say in the Creeds, do they?”
The penny dropped. Indeed, when we went on to look at v7, ‘the sinful mind is hostile to God’, she got it straight away and a smile broke out when I asked what happened when we tried to talk to most ordinary people about the things of God.
Altogether, a good meeting!
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  1. Well done!
    We always start a PCC with a 20 min bible study. We are going through the Pastorals.

    Ro Mody, Bournemouth


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  2. Thanks John. Very helpful.

  3. Thanks John. Very helpful.

  4. You haven't been reading your NIV carefully, or at least recently. In their latest (2011) revision they changed back to "flesh" (with explanatory footnotes). Thank you for giving the best reason I have seen in defence of that controversial change.

  5. This was very helpful to me in presenting the meaning of the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12) this morning.
    Thank you for posting it.

  6. What is curious is that until the martyrdoms of the Maccabees, there was no real notion of the Jewish religion being about ‘eternity’ – the idea of an afterlife seems to have infected Jewish thought via the Greeks (and other societies in the Middle East). Again and again the Law of Moses sets out sanctions and blessings and each has a MATERIAL reward – a reward of the flesh – for obeying the commandments of Yahweh – to paraphrase Dr Spock, it was a religion of ‘Do as I say and you will ‘Live Long and Prosper’’...

    Perhaps the fact that initially the Nazarene sect appealed to slaves and low born – or those with the arrogance to think that surely they are so important God died for them and they are not subject to something as mundane as death – that there needed to be a change of emphasis and dualism polluted Jewish thought – as well as a good dash of Roman Law and Grecian philosophy (and perhaps even a dash of Egyptian folklore). Who can say? But surely if Old and New Testament truly do ‘dovetail’ into one another, you’d think there would be more said in the Torah about shunning riches, possessions, physical pleasure etc. and a good deal more about eschewing these things. But when has anyone ever been interested in consistency between the new and the old covenant?

    Alas, we find our Evangelical brethren pawing their way through this or that passage of the Bible trying to find this or that scrap of Scripture which chimes in with their own hang-ups and reactionary conservative politics. I sometimes think (nay, indeed I know) that many a parish is held to ransom by the insecurities and preoccupations of its minister (usually related to matters below the waist in some shape or form...)).

    Oh for just washing feet, bearing one an others burdens and being the servants of all instead of thinking a certain flavour of Right Wing, reactionary conservative Christian has the right to lead and always knows best.

    In the above post, do we read of a minster carefully steering his flock in right paths or just point scoring and waxing in a means of justifying his own little foibles, obsessions and hang-ups...? The jury is out on that one...

    1. Anonymous,
      what do you do with Job 19:26, which in the LXX doesn't translate Bashar as sarkz & is probably the oldest book in the canon. Or Daniel 12:2-3? Or the texts you talk about "live long and prosper" are in exaggerated terms. We will have a "flesh" of sorts, but redeemed.

      Nobody done relationship between covenants? 17th C, Ball, Phetto, Owen, later Edwards, French & Swiss Reformers, modern times, Kline, Murray, Palmer...

      & a very important inaccuracy... it isn't Dr Spock, but Mr Spock... Dr Spock was the guy with controversial child raising ideas.

      Darren Moore

  7. Why are conservatives always so concentrating on 'the Flesh'? Do they have some sort of a hang-up, I wonder? I guess God quite liked it when God first created it - so much so that God sent God's Only-Begotten Son - in the flesh - to redeem us all; through it!

  8. Kiwianglo, the important thing when commenting is to read the article first.

  9. Kiwianglo,

    Most (all?) conservatives would not only agree with what you've just said but extend it. Jesus HAD to taken on his humanity to redeem humanity, he remains fully human (& divine)with a body (Hebrews) and our redemption is physical, so in the renewed creation we will have renewed bodies. "Union with Christ" is a key doctrine for Reformed types, from which other big ideas flow (atonement etc.)

    That isn't the point Paul is making in that bit of Romans that John was drawing attention to. This "conservatives have a hang up about flesh" - have people who said that been to a "conservative" church? Yes they answer people's questions/respond to what others have said, but your average "conservative" service... well isn't as others like to portray.

    Darren Moore

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  11. Paul taught that the human body was sinful:

    Rom 7:23 but I see in my body a different principle waging war with the Law in my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin that exists in my body.
    Rom 7:24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is infected by death?
    Rom 7:25 Thank God through Jesus the Messiah, our Lord, because with my mind I myself can serve the Law of God, even while with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

    He says the problem is that God made man out of dirt and so he is intrinsically dirty:

    1Co 15:47 The first man is of the dirt, dirty: the second man is the Lord from the sky.

    Man, in scripture, is composed of two elements:

    * dirt
    * breath

    To get around the offensiveness of this teaching people resort to creating two bogus terms:

    * sinful nature
    * spirit

    For Paul your problem is that God made you and all of us of a faulty material.

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