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 aren’t a little of both, in God’s 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 “in Christ” status (for we can’t 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 sometimes don’t.
- 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.