Of Flesh and Spirit

Life Notes—July 7, 2011

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God…”  Romans 8:5-7a

One of my perpetual “issues” with the writings of the apostle Paul has been the sharp division he draws between flesh and spirit, right and wrong, godly and ungodly.  I know such clear-cut distinctions can be helpful and are welcomed by many within the Christian family, but in my experience life is often not that, well, simple.  Where one person sees black or white, I may see gray.  When someone asks me if it’s wrong to steal, I say “Of course it’s wrong to steal!”  Then they ask, “What if your children are starving and you do not have the means to purchase food, is it wrong to take food for your children without permission or payment?”  Some will still say it is always wrong to steal.  After all, that is one of the Ten Commandments.  But I would say, “Hmmm, maybe there are varying degrees of wrongness…” 

So, it should be little wonder that I wrestle with Paul when he says the mind set on the flesh is death and is hostile to God.  While I understand he is illustrating his point by drawing such a sharp distinction between flesh and spirit, I have difficulty when he makes it sound like flesh is somehow inherently evil. God created us in the flesh, so it cannot be completely ungodly.  We are Spirit-creatures having a physical experience.  Our earthly bodies will die and remain on earth, but the Spirit-portion will live on, along with whatever has imprinted onto our individual souls from this bodily manifestation.  Focusing our attention on only part of our total being cannot be a healthy focus. 

I believe Paul is simply reminding us of the importance of our thoughts in seeing beyond the obvious.  God created our minds to think and ponder and focus our energies. We give life to that which we give attention.  If we focus on the spirit and exclude the flesh, we starve and die.  If we focus on the flesh and exclude the spirit we fall prey to a number of equally unhealthy circumstances including strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, envy, drunkenness and the like (see Galatians 5).  So, what we really need is a healthy mental balance between focus on the flesh, or the here and now, and focus on the spirit, or focus on the here and hereafter.  Somehow, in the ‘grey’ matter of my mind, I think Paul and I would agree on that point. 

This Sunday Tom will be preaching downtown.  His sermon will be based on Romans 8:1-11.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch’s west campus sermon is “Good Brothers and Bad Brothers,” based on Genesis 25:19-34.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come in the flesh and feed your spirit!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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