Sometimes I feel I have written about “flesh vs. spirit” too much, but I want to share what is on my heart, and I still don’t think I understand or have expressed clearly the nature and importance of this issue. All of us, to some extent, still have “darkness” that needs to be removed in our minds and hearts in order to walk in the Kingdom of God more fully.
I want to look at a passage in Galatians, which I think summarizes the main emphasis Paul taught pretty well:
Galatians 5:13-26 WEB (R): “For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another (true love creates no “gain” for the self-preserving flesh). For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, be careful that you don’t consume one another (“biting and devouring” are the opposite of edification/building up, and are not the way of love). But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh (such as biting and devouring others, including brothers and sisters). For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire (mixture of natures causes impotence and prevents fruit-bearing). But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (only flesh is under law, but in Christ we have “leveled up” to a new way of being, that of Life in the Spirit. That’s all that matters now). Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God (in listing these “works of the flesh” Paul isn’t merely listing things we “shouldn’t do,” but things we WILL do if led by the flesh. Practicing these things doesn’t condemn us to “hell,” but they are a sign we are abiding in the flesh, outside of the Kingdom of God. If you truly love and want to honor the Father and Son, then living contrary to their way/nature is as bad as the typical understanding of “hell”). But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law (the law only applies to flesh – to expose its weakness and sinfulness. The spirit exists on a higher plane, above law). Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts (it’s not that we “need to” crucify the flesh. “In Christ, it’s been done already.” -That simple statement is the death of religion and law. If we would/could truly understand and embrace it, then so much time and energy wasted on religion could be saved, along with inexpressible amounts of needless guilt, fear, psychosis, confusion, on and on. We could then be free to “seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” rather than propping up the institutions of men and our own image/reputation. In fact, because the flesh has been “crucified,” we are “obligated” in a sense to walk in the spirit, as Paul says next). If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit. Let’s not become conceited, provoking one another, and envying one another.”
There is a lot to this passage. Notice at the very end, Paul says that if we live by the Spirit we should walk by the spirit, and immediately says we should not “provoke” or “envy” each-other, things he just mentioned as “works of the flesh.” If/since we have been baptized with Christ into newness of life, as Paul discusses in Romans 6, then we have spiritual Life within, a nature of servanthood, love and forgiveness; a nature which desires Truth and the honor of God. Not only that, but a nature which despises the hypocrisy of religion, despises the corruption of the powerful and the oppression of the weak, and embraces hardship to walk a contrary path when necessary. A nature which is in no way self-serving.
The issue then becomes recognizing that Life and letting it become our driving force, which is much of what Paul meant by “walking by the Spirit.” Simply “having the spirit” isn’t enough, we must let it reign in our hearts and lives, replacing the darkness and fear that we have clung to. What good is potential or access if the valued thing is never taken out or expressed? It’s actually better not to have access to something great than to have access and fail to use it. Again, condemnation has no place, and isn’t helpful. The flesh has been condemned already, that’s the point, and is largely why Christ died as he did. The point is to really embrace that fact. We can’t live honestly until we get past the “obligations” of religion, which then become our “god,” receiving our devotion.