... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

PENTECOST Message July 10th, 2011

Two Ways of Life: In The Flesh or In The Spirit

Text: Romans 8:1-11

Over the past four weeks my sermons have dwelt primarily on Paul’s letter to the Romans, of which Chapter 8 forms part of the culmination concerning his argument about faith and salvation. Having laid out the foundations of law and grace, sin and righteousness and old covenant and new, Paul comes to the pivotal point climax in Chapter 8 as to what it all means for humans who live in Christ Jesus. The answer is freedom. Before God sent Jesus to deal with sin, the only relationship humanity had with God was from the Law which exposed what sin was as well as showing us our inadequacy to know it or deal with it. However in Christ Jesus God comes to us in a very personal way, makes a new relationship covenant and guides us along different paths.

Unfortunately Paul’s language and argumentative style makes for difficult reading let alone understanding in 21st Century Western culture. Paul’s use of the word ‘flesh’ leaves many with a sense of unifocal connotations of sexual lust. Yet that is not what his understanding of flesh was. The term “sarx” literally means flesh as in skin and muscle, bone and sinew. However, Paul also used the word as meaning “a human point of view”. He, for instance, states in one letter that Abraham is our forefather ‘kata sarx’. That is from a human point of view. He also uses the term as a collective for evil. In this sense flesh is not the physical element of the body nor the human point of view, but the enslaved state caused by the cosmic force of evil. Thus he states that those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

As we therefore read and listen to Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans we must imagine the two spheres of his setting – the one walking in the flesh as the arena of enslavement to sin; the other being the walking in the spirit, or God’s Holy Spirit, as being in the arena of righteousness. For Paul the two arenas were mutually exclusive.

Perhaps today we could say that it would be like living in two rooms of the house on Super Bowl Sunday. The room with the TV, the company, the popcorn chips and drinks where fun and frivolity exist, could be compared to the arena of the ‘flesh’, while the kitchen, with its chores needing to be done, food prepared, dishes set out and clean-up accomplished, might be compared to the arena of righteousness. The choice is there, both playing on the individual – You cannot truly be in both spheres. Sure someone is going to say – you could move the TV into the kitchen or you might have a kitchen and living room in an open design. But really! If you’re into the game and company, your mind will not be in the food preparation or the clean up. Usually the scenario plays out that the guys head to the TV room to watch the game and party while the hostess is left in the kitchen calling out for a little help. Paul would argue that the guy who is in a proper relationship with his wife would understand what was being called of him, would forego the arena of the TV room and do the chores necessary for the meal or the clean up. It is the relationship between the spouses which leads the one into the right decision. It is the relationship between God and believer in and through Christ Jesus that allows the Christian to be free of the wiles of the evil one.

While this analogy goes only so far, it does highlight the importance of relationship in leading the proper life. Life without God is a life of the flesh; of yielding to the focus of evil, self indulgence and egocentric gratifications. Now don’t get me wrong! It could be a very moral life – a life lived where the Law governs every aspect of one’s being. It could be ethical and it could be one filled with concerns for others. What is missing from these life-styles is the freedom to be filled with the joy and ecstasy of a relationship with God. When we live life in Christ Jesus, Paul argues that this life is spirit filled, allowing for the overcoming of actions derived from guilt or fear, from egocentrism or greed, or from evil pressures or evil intentions.

The actions of God in Christ Jesus have for believers the difference between a life dominated by sin and its impact on human behaviour, and a life dominated by the Spirit of God. The life apart from God is the one where focus is on self, and governed by its own desires. Such a life could be passion orientated, lust-controlled, pride filled or ambition seeking, depending on various circumstances and individuals. The commonality is that such a life centers on the things which are not of God. On the other hand the life dominated by the Spirit of God is one in which all actions and all desires are derived from the divine-human relationship and strive to answer God’s call to be the stewards of creation. Such a lifestyle brings us closer to understanding our Creator, understanding the purpose of Creation and our purpose for being here.

Despite this evidence there are those who would agrue that it all boils down to an ethical lifestyle and no matter what else we all die. To those cynical points of view life becomes an endless depressing keeping of laws and regulations. Where in such a life is joy, peace, harmony tranquility or hope? Where in life does an understanding of a benevolent force greater than ourselves transcending the human condition fit in? Simply, it doesn’t! For those death is an end to this mortal life with all its vicissitudes and turmoils. The honour of one’s name and life lived is all that remains if at all!

Paul tells us that this is not the case. In Christ Jesus God offers humanity the realization of what this life is about, and how we are to live it. We are the stewards of Creation and in nurturing it and worshipping God we given a freedom to enjoy life and to live in the present without fears of the unknown yet with a certainty that even when our bodies die we continue to live in the spirit with our Creator. That as God raised Jesus despite the physical body having died, so too will we be raised. Thus this earthly life is but one phase to be passed through on the way to eternal life. The divine human relationship established in Christ by God opens for us the freedom in this new life – a freedom to live here and now to God’s glory and the welfare of all Creation.

May God’s Holy Spirit so dwell in us to allow for the living every day in the Spirit doing what God calls us to do and to be!