1-2 Flesh And Spirit
In the above section, I've put the negative side first. There is
so much that is gloriously positive about baptism and the whole
long road of the new life in Christ. At baptism, we experience a
new birth. " If any man (become) in Christ, he is a new creation"
(2 Cor. 5:17). We are born " out of " (Jn. 3:5 Gk.) the
water as we emerge from the river, swimming pool or bath. Something
was created at baptism in the sense that something was born. "
Christ is [created in] all [who believe] and in all [places of the
world]" (Col. 3:11 Bullinger). It is the common experience
of this new creation which binds us together as one body and spiritual
nation world-wide. That thing which was created and born at baptism,
the Bible calls " Christ" , or " the Spirit"
. If we are in Christ, He must be in us; it's a mutual relationship.
We are not in the flesh now, but in the Spirit (Rom. 7:5), in the
sense that the new Spirit-man has been created in us, even though
we are still " in the flesh" . We are familiar with the
idea of " the devil" being a personification for the evil
man of the flesh which is within us. Yet there is an even larger
personification to be found in the pages of the New Testament; that
of the man of the Spirit, " the man Christ Jesus" which
is within us. It is this figurative " man" which was born
at baptism. At baptism, we are saved in prospect, just as Israel
were when they crossed the Red Sea (Jude 5). We are saved in prospect
in the sense that God now looks upon us as if we are Christ. He
looks at that new man Christ Jesus within us, and relates to that,
instead of to our man of the flesh. These two 'men' within us will
naturally become locked in mortal conflict. Ultimately, the 'devil'
man will only be destroyed by death (Rom. 6:23). Yet 'he' can overpower
and destroy the spiritual man within us, unless we feed and cultivate
the man Christ Jesus within us. This had clearly happened to some
in the Galatian ecclesias. Thus Paul speaks of travailing in birth
again " until Christ be formed (again) in you" (Gal. 4:19).
His converts had to " learn Christ" (Eph. 4:20); thus
he speaks of " Christ" as meaning the Christ-like attitude
of mind which is personified as Christ.
The Old Testament frequently speaks of man as having two "
sides" to his character; one that wished to serve God, and
the other which was rebellious. Ecc. 10:2 shows how that the spiritual
man is not only aware of this, but he consciously acts to control
these two sides: " A wise man's heart is at his right hand;
but a fool's heart at his left" . This kind of self-knowledge
is sadly lacking in most human beings. Proverbs 7,8 likewise has
the picture of two women, personifying the flesh and spirit (7:12
cp. 8:2,3). Against this Old Testament background, there developed
a strong Jewish tradition that the right hand side of a man was
his spiritual side, and the left hand side was the equivalent of
the New Testament 'devil'. The Lord Jesus referred to this understanding
when He warned: " Let not thy left hand know what thy right
hand doeth" (Mt. 6:3)- implying that the good deeds of the
spiritual man would be misused by the 'devil', e.g. in using them
as grounds for spiritual pride.
Let's consider some more illustrations of there being two opposing
'people' within the believer:
- " Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is
renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). We will later comment
upon how our real spiritual man is not outwardly apparent. Despite
the entropy of our lives, in every sphere of our ambitions as
well as in our physical health, we can rejoice that our real spiritual
self is growing, in newness of life, daily.
- The soul and spirit are both personified as people. This may
be explicable in terms of the 'soul' sometimes referring to the
man of the flesh, and the 'spirit' to the man Christ Jesus within
us. We are told to deny ourselves (Lk. 9:23). We cannot destroy
the man of the flesh, but our real spiritual self can deny that
we know him, can shun him and disown him.
- We must " put off the old man" (Eph. 4:22); and yet
" ye have put off the old man" (Col. 3:9). Have we,
or haven't we? In God's eyes we have, in that the new man has
been created, and the old man died in the waters of baptism. But
of course we are still in the flesh; and the old man must yet
be put off. What happened at our baptism must be an ongoing process;
of laying the old man to rest in death, and rising again in the
newness of life. The Gospel 'instructs us to the intent that,
having once and for all put away ungodliness (i.e. in baptism)
and worldly lusts, we should live in a holy manner' (Tit. 2:12
Gk.). Having put these things off in baptism, we must live a life
of putting them off.
- We know that we sadly oscillate between the flesh and the spirit.
And yet Scripture abounds with examples of where God sees us as
in a permanent state of either sin or righteousness. We are fountains
that bring forth good water, and therefore by that very definition
cannot occasionally bring forth bitter water; we are good fruit
trees or bad ones. We arenít a little of both, in Godís sight.
This is surely because He sees us on the basis of the fact that
we are in Christ, clothed with His righteousness, rather than
as individuals who sometimes act righteously and sometimes not
during the course of a day. Thus God saw Samson as a lifelong
Nazarite (Jud. 13:7), although we know there were times when he
broke the Nazarite vow by, e.g., touching dead bodies and having
his hair cut. The challenging thing is to behold our brethren
as having the ďin ChristĒ status (for we canít impute anything
else to them, lest we condemn them), and not to see them from
the point of view of people who sometimes act righteously and
- 1 Cor. 2:14,15 speaks of the natural man not being able to
understand spiritual things, in contrast to the spiritual man,
who can easily comprehend them. Against this background we must
read 1 Cor. 2:11: " What man knoweth the things of a (natural)
man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things
of God knoweth no (spiritual) man, but the spirit of God"
. These 'men' within us are here associated with a spirit- of
either man or God. Paul is saying that within each of us, there
are two 'spirits' or attitudes of mind, each personified by a
'man'. There is no common ground between these two attitudes of
mind; they do not know each other. This perfectly explains the
frustration our spiritual side feels with the natural side or
'man' within us. 'I just don't understand myself. How could I
have done such a horrible thing!', we have all lamented at times.
And Paul likewise: " That (sin) which I do, I allow (Gk.
understand, s.w. to be aware of) not" (Rom. 7:15). Because
of this lack of understanding between flesh and spirit, Paul says
that the fact his conscience is clear does not necessarily justify
him (1 Cor. 4:4 R.S.V.); the spiritual man cannot accurately report
to us about the state of the natural man. The very existence of
this lack of understanding between flesh and spirit is sure encouragement
to us that we do have a spiritual man; and therefore we are heading
in the right direction. Schism between brethren is a work of the
flesh because it means that somehow, the spiritual man within
a brother is not seeing or understanding the spiritual man within
the other. One (or both) of them are seeing the fleshly man in
the other; and the spirit and flesh are opposed to each other.
Likewise, there should be an instant opposition between us and
those in the world, who have no spiritual man at all, seeing they
have not experienced the spiritual birth of baptism. Notice that
Paul styles the spiritual man " he himself" (1 Cor.
2:15); as if the real, fundamental self of the true believer is
the spiritual man, notwithstanding the existence of the man of
the flesh within him. Likewise Paul calls his spiritual man "
I myself" in Rom. 7:25. He now felt that when he sinned,
it was no longer " I" , his real, personal self, who
was doing so (Rom. 7:17).
- Jude 19 has the same 'two person' idea in mind: " These
be they who separate themselves, sensual (same word as "
natural" ), having not the Spirit" (i.e. the spiritual
man). We are all sensual, having the natural man, but if we are
in Christ, we will also have the man of the Spirit within us.
- This enables us to understand better why the temptations of
Jesus are recorded as they are. We know that Jesus had our sinful
nature, the devil, the man of the flesh, within him. Yet we know
that He supremely separated himself from it. The only way to describe
the presence of that 'devil' within Jesus is to personify it as
a being outside him, which was totally contrary to the real Jesus.
We submit that only by understanding the personification of flesh
and spirit as two separate beings can we understand how Christ's
temptations were internal, and yet spoken of figuratively as occurring
externally. Gal. 5:18 speaks of flesh and spirit as being directly
opposed to each other. The occurrence of the devil and spirit
in the context of Christ's temptations must be significant. He
was led of the spirit to be tempted of the flesh/devil (Mt. 4:1).
I would suggest that " the spirit" here may refer to
his spiritual mind. It has been suggested that " the spirit"
which led Jesus was an Angel. Whilst there is not enough evidence
to totally discount this, it must be pointed out that " a
spirit" would be more appropriate. Mt. 4:1 describes the
devil leading Christ into the wilderness, whilst Mk. 1:12 says
that it drove Him there; this is hard to apply to one personal
being like an Angel. The ideas of temptation, flesh/devil and
spirit occur again in Mt. 26:41: " Watch and pray, that ye
enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the
flesh is weak" . Surely the Lord is warning the twelve that
they were now in a position similar to his during the wilderness
temptations. In their case, the spirit clearly refers to their
spirituality rather than to an Angel.
- It is perhaps for this reason that Ps. 22:17 speaks of Jesus
as if He is somehow out of his body, looking on at his suffering
body: " I may tell all my bones; they look and stare upon
me" . This is understandable, seeing that on the cross, our
Lord totally separated himself from the mind of the flesh, the
natural man and sinful flesh of his body.
- Understanding the existence of these two 'people' within us
helps to explain the paradoxes of our own nature. For example,
we cannot be righteous, we seem unable to do the things we would
like to (Gal. 5:17); yet in Christ, we cannot sin (1 Jn. 3:9).
This must mean that if our real self is identified with Christ,
God will count us as if we are Christ, and He did no sin. Our
natural man, the devil, is a personification of sin. He cannot
be reformed; he can only be destroyed by death. " The wages
of the sin: death" (Rom. 6:23 Diaglott) seems to suggest
that Rom. 6:23 is not saying that we die for each specific sin
we commit (you can only die for one sin anyway, because we only
have one life); rather is it saying that the end of the natural
man, " sin" , the devil within us, is death. Therefore
we must associate ourselves with the man Christ Jesus, both in
baptism and in our way of life, so that the personification of
Christ within us will be clothed with a glorious bodily form at
his return. This should in no way be read as countenancing the
existence of an 'immortal soul' which survives death. Such a monstrosity
is well outside the pages of Scripture.
These two men within us are spoken of in Rom. 6 as slave owners.
Christ becomes our new master, having bought us from the service
of sin, 'the devil'. At our baptism, sin no longer has dominion
over us. The Greek for " dominion" is kurios, normally
translated " lord" . At baptism we declare Jesus is our
Lord, our kurios, He has dominion over us, not the devil. Confessing
Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:10-13) therefore does not just refer to saying
'I believe in Jesus'. It means that we really commit ourselves to
renouncing the old lord of sin, and accepting the Lord Jesus as
the Lord of our real, inner self. " Sin hath reigned unto death"
(Rom. 5:21) implies that " death" was the state we were
in before baptism. Now we are under Christ, the state we are in
is " eternal life" , as opposed to eternal death, which
was the wages of the sin man which once dominated us. We were receiving
the wages of sin, i.e. death, in an ongoing sense; " sin...working
death in me" (Rom. 7:13). Now, under our new master, we are
receiving eternal life in an ongoing sense too. In the same way
as we had not physically received the wages of death when we were
under sin, so now we have not physically received eternal life,
the result of following Christ. But our present experience of living
" in Christ" is a sure proof that we are on the road towards
it. It is impossible to serve two masters (Lk. 16:30). Therefore
we must accept that at any moment in time, we are either in Christ,
or in the devil. We ought to know whether we are in Christ, whether
we are real Christadelphians in God's eyes, or else we declare ourselves
to be reprobates (2 Cor. 13: 5).
Paul: Working Model
Paul is in many ways a working model of how we should be aware
of the two people within us. In writing to Corinth, he was highly
sensitive to the danger of sinning by justifying himself as he needed
to. To overcome this problem, he speaks (through the Spirit) as
if he is two quite different people; the fleshly man, and the spiritual
man. 2 Cor.11 is full of statements concerning himself, which he
makes " as a fool" . His frequent usage of this word "
fool" points us back to the Proverbs, where a " fool"
is the man of the flesh. Ecc. 10:2 says that a fool has a 'left
handed' mind, which we saw earlier was a reference to the "
man of the flesh" of the N.T. There are a number of apparent
contradictions between passages in 2 Cor. 11,12 which are explicable
once it is appreciated that Paul is speaking firstly " in the
flesh" , and then concerning his spiritual man. Thus he insists
that he is not a fool (11:16; 12:6), whilst saying that he is a
fool (12:11). He says he will not boast about himself, but then
he does just that. He claims to be among the greatest apostles,
and in the same breath says he is nothing (12:11). His boasting
was " not after the Lord" , i.e. the man Christ Jesus
within Him was not speaking, but the fool, the man of the flesh,
was speaking (11:17). The supreme example of this separation of
flesh and spirit in Paul's thinking is shown by 12:2: " I knew
a man in Christ (who heard great revelations)...of such an one will
I glory, but of myself will I not glory" . But 12:7 clearly
defines this " man" as Paul: " lest I should be exalted...through
the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn
in the flesh" . The " man in Christ" of whom Paul
spoke was his own spiritual man, who was " in Christ"
. It is interesting that here Paul defines " myself" as
his natural man, whereas in Rom. 7:25 he speaks of " myself"
as his spiritual man. The point is made that at different times
we identify ourselves either with the man of the flesh, or with
the spiritual man within us. In 2 Cor. 11,12, Paul consciously chose
to identify himself with the natural man, in order to boast to the
Corinthians. It is worth noting that " fourteen years ago"
takes us back to the Council at Jerusalem. The revelations given
to Paul then were probably confirmation that the Gospel should indeed
be preached to the Gentiles. This was the " third Heaven"
dispensation. The wonder that Paul would be used to spread the Gospel
world-wide so mentally exalted Paul that he needed a thorn in the
flesh to bring Him down to earth. Yet, for the most part, we seem
to shrug our shoulders at the wonder of our preaching commission.