Monday, October 31, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (6) Justified

Those who translate "dikaio" as "justify" assume that the problem that needs to be put right is our guilt toward God. They assume that our sin has offended God, so he needs to be appeased before he can relate to us. This makes justification a legal issue. They claim that when we put our trust in Jesus, we are justified from sin because God is satisfied with Jesus' death in our place. We are made "not guilty".

The problem with this view is a distorted view of God. It assumes that God is angry with our sin and needs to be appeased. If this were true, being justified would be a benefit. The truth is that God loves us and has forgiven us. We don't need to appease him, and we do not need to be justified or declared "Not guilty" before we can be his friend.

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them (Rom 4:7-8).
This is the blessing that those who have chosen to love and serve Jesus live under.

I have no desire to be justified because I know that most of my sinning was not justified; it was just bad. I don't want to be declared "not guilty" by God because I know I am guilty. I am not interested in God making a false declaration to make me feel better about my life.

I don't want to be declared "not guilty" because that would make me over-confident and blasé going forward. I wonder if the reason that many big-name preachers fall into the same sins that they committed in the past is that they have come to believe that they were not guilty and have let their guard down against temptation.

Some commentators claim that being justified means "just as if I'd never sinned". However, I do not want to be treated like that. I do not want God to forget my sins. I want him to remember my weakness and lead me accordingly. I pray to God: "Do not lead me into temptation". He can only do that if he knows my sins and understands how I could be tempted. I want God to remember my failings and consider them as he leads me.

Some teachers claim that God totally forgets all our sins when we put our trust in Jesus. I do not think that is true. I want him to remember my sins and my frailty and lead me gently as he leads me through life.

I was going to say that I do not want my sins to be taken into account, but that is not quite right. I do want God to take my sins into account so that he can lead me into an area of service where I will not fall into the same sin, or at least provide support that will enable me to overcome it.

Guilt and Shame
One of the problems that I do need rectified is my guilt and shame, as they make it hard for me to relate to God. What I really need is for God to declare that he has forgiven me and that I can make a fresh start without my sins being an unnecessary drag on my future.

Shame and guilt have disrupted my relationship with God. I know he loves me and has forgiven my human failings. They don't surprise him. By sending the Holy Spirit to fill me when I sought forgiveness and decided to live according to his will, he confirmed that I am OK. The presence of his Spirit (The Comforter) deals with the problem of my guilt and shame.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (5) Dikaio

The Greek word "dikaio" is usually translated as "justify" or "make righteous" in English versions of the New Testament. The way that we translate this word has a significant impact on our understanding of the good news. According to one lectionary, the word can mean "rectify", "set right", "correct", "indicate", or "justify". The core meaning is "to rectify" or "put right".

An important issue for understanding Paul's message is that how things are "rectified" or "put right" depends on what was not right.

  • If a child is lost after wandering into a forest, being rectified means being found and taken home to their family.

  • If my foot is caught in a bear trap while out tramping, my leg would need to be freed and healed for my situation to be rectified.

  • If I have lost my wallet while out walking, someone can rectify the solution by finding it and returning it unharmed to me.

The meaning of "rectify" or "put right" depends on what is actually wrong. We cannot just assume that we know what "dikaio" means in a particular context. We must not presume it means "justify" or "make righteous" because that would only be correct if that meaning reflected the nature of what is wrong with us. To understand the solution, we need to know what the original problem was. To understand the meaning of "dikaio", we must get a clear understanding of our core problem.

Translating "dikaio" as "make righteous" implies that our problem is unrighteousness. However, lack of righteousness is not our problem. Righteousness is a characteristic of God, like perfection, that is not attainable by finite humans. I do not understand why anyone would want to be declared righteous, as it would not be true. None of us is righteous. I know that I have done things wrong that I am ashamed of. Anyone wanting to be righteous is seeking to be like God, or perhaps to be their own God.

It is good that I know that I have failed to be perfect, and that I feel ashamed of the really bad things I have done. That is honest humility, which equips me to serve God better and love his people without pretending that I am something that I am not.

  • My sharing of the gospel will be more real if I am still aware of my sins. Paul's testimony had real integrity because he was open about the evil he had done before he encountered Jesus. The gospel of people who believe they are righteous will often fall flat.

  • I will be more effective in shepherding new Christians if I am honest about my own sins and my own weakness. I do not need to be righteous to care for others.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (4) Human Need

Paul talks about righteousness a great deal in his letter to the Romans. He begins the letter by declaring that the righteousness of God has been revealed through Jesus (Rom 1:17). His is the only true righteousness.

Paul explains that the only righteousness that humans can have is "righteousness" that has been credited to them through faith. We cannot get this righteousness by doing what is right. It is given to us as a free gift if we trust in Jesus.

I presume that some of the Roman Christians to whom Paul was writing had been pursuing their own righteousness, as he had done, and needed correction. The Jewish Judger seems to have been very self-righteous because he looked down on the people of the world (Rom 1:18-32). Paul's response in Romans 2:3 pokes a hole in that self-righteousness. He blows the Judger's self-righteousness apart by pointing out that the Judger had committed many of the same sins that he condemned in others (Rom 2:21-24).

Paul goes on to explain that no human is righteous, not one (Rom 3:10). Given that we cannot be righteous, it is pointless for humans to set righteousness as their goal. A better goal would be a good relationship with God. We should aim to do the things that he has created us to do.

Most commentators on Romans still assume that the human problem is our need to attain righteousness. They assume Paul is teaching the Romans how to achieve true righteousness. I believe this assumption gives us a false understanding of Paul's message. It feels like they have not escaped the tangle of the Pharisees.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (3) Failed Righteousness

Paul believed that he was personally righteous according to the standards of the Torah. When talking about his confidence in the flesh, he claimed,

Circumcised on the eighth day...
in regard to the law, a Pharisee...
as for righteousness based on the law, faultless (Phil 3:5-6).
Paul thought that he had attained his goal, but this was a mistake because Jesus had specifically warned his followers that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not up to scratch.
I say to you that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20).
Compliance with the best standards of the Pharisees could never be sufficient to make a person righteous. This was a serious warning to people who want to be righteous.

Paul came to understand this problem after his encounter with Jesus. He explains that what he had achieved was,

my own righteousness which is from the law" (Phil 3:9).
He had assumed that he was seeking God's righteousness because he was studying the Torah, but he had actually only found his own standard of righteousness, which is actually self-righteousness, and of no value to God or man.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that this was a problem for the Jews too. They thought they were following after righteousness, but,

Being ignorant of God's righteousness
and seeking their own righteousness (Rom 10:3).
They were seeking their own righteousness, rather than trusting in God's righteousness. This was a futile exercise because when you seek your own righteousness, it turns into self-righteousness. They should have been seeking God's righteousness, which is the only true and real righteousness.
In contrast with the Jews, The Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith (Rom 9:30).
The Gentiles had not pursued righteousness. That was wise because Paul explains righteousness cannot be achieved by pursuing personal righteousness; it must be received as a gift from God through faith. This was true in the Old Testament, as it was true in the New Testament. The Old Testament sacrifices did not make people righteous. This was never their purpose because that will always be impossible. Instead, the sacrifices provided spiritual protection for those who had trusted in God.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (2) Wrong Use

The Pharisees focussed on personal righteousness. They studied the Torah intently to identify its standards for personal righteousness. They strived to adhere to these standards as much as they could in their personal lives. Unfortunately, this limited their focus, as much of the Torah is guidance for community life, whereas they had to concentrate on the standards that an individual could apply to their own situation.

Using a manual for the wrong purpose is a risky practice. If I look in a limousine manual for instructions about how to operate my kitchen refrigerator, I might get a few hints about how it works, but I will miss most of what I need to know about the operation of my refrigerator. The manual explains how the limousine should be operated. It might have a little bit of information about the limousine's drinks refrigerator, but it will not be a good source of information about household refrigerators.

The problem is not with that manual, but with using the manual in a way that it was not developed for. This was the mistake that Paul and the Pharisees made when they tried to use the Torah as a manual for personal righteousness.

The problem with seeking personal righteousness through the law is that the Torah provides guidance to people in a community/society that allows them to live together in peace without needing to be perfect. The Torah does not define personal righteousness; it is specifically designed to allow unrighteous people to live together in relative harmony.

The Torah does not provide a standard for personal righteousness. If you look for it seriously, you will not find it. I explain this in an article called works righteousness. Most of the virtues taught in the New Testament are not even mentioned in the law. Providing a standard for personal righteousness was not the purpose of the Torah. Until the Holy Spirit was poured out, it would be pointless because it would be setting people up to fail.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Righteousness in Romans (1)

God is righteous. The scriptures are clear that this is true. But what does it mean?

  • God's character is good.
  • His motives are always good.
  • His actions are always right.
God is fully and completely righteous.

No human is fully righteous (although we were created good).

  • We have all done things that are not right.
  • Sometimes our motive for doing things has been wrong, even when our actions are good.
There is no point in humans trying to be righteous. It is an impossible goal.

Accordingly, when I studied the gospels, I was not surprised to find that Jesus did not talk much about righteousness. He promised that the Holy Spirit would convict the world about righteousness (John 16:8). He promised that those who were desperate for things to be right would be satisfied (Matt 5:6). But that was about it.

In contrast, before he met Jesus, Paul seemed to have been obsessed with righteousness. To understand his letters, we have to think about the reason for this fixation.

Paul's obsession with righteousness seems to be something that he picked up as a young man while training as a Pharisee. They were concerned about the restoration of Israel. Although the Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon to their land, they were still controlled by the Roman Empire, one of the ugly beasts of Daniel's vision. They yearned for the time when a messiah would come to overthrow the Romans and set Israel free.

The Pharisees believed that the obstacle holding the Messiah back was the unrighteousness of the people. To remove this hindrance, they tried to live as righteously as possible and trained as many people as possible to do the same. (They hated Christians because they perceived them to be unrighteous and therefore holding back the restoration of Israel).

Saturday, October 22, 2022


Debt is always the problem.

  • Rich people use debt to further enrich themselves.
  • Poor people are impoverished by debt.
The rich claim to believe in free enterprise, but they always expect the state to enforce debt contracts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

No Chattel Slavery

The Old Testament does not support the widespread practice of chattel slavery, where slaves are treated as the property of the slave owner. This practice is anathema to God, who created all people free.

Exodus 21:21 was often used in the past by Christians who owned slaves to argue that the Old Testament did support chattel slavery. A literal translation of the Hebrew is,

He is his silver (Ex 21:21b).
Some translations say,
He is his owner’s property.
But this goes beyond the meaning of the Hebrew text.

Reading this half-verse in isolation makes it seem like the law supports slavery, but that takes it out of context.

The context is that in Moses’ time, there were no state-funded social welfare benefits or unemployment insurance. So, if a person got into financial difficulties, lost their land, or took on debts they could not repay, they had to rely on members of their wider family to rescue them.

If no one in their family could afford a rescue, the only alternative was to bond themselves to a wealthy person, who would pay their debts in return for their commitment to work for them for a number of years. The bondservant was paid in advance for work they would do in the future. The bondholder was required to provide them with free food and shelter until the agreed term was complete. The bondholder gained the income produced by the bondservant in excess of the cost of food, clothing and shelter for him and his family.

The bondservant lost their freedom, but the practice was not always a good deal for the bondholder because most of what the bondservant produced would go to his food, closing and shelter. However, the law required wealthy people to undertake this role as part of being a good neighbour.

The law of Moses put tight restrictions on the practice. The poor person had to be released after seven years, no matter how much they owed. The bondholder was expected to send them out with sufficient goods to live on until they got back on their feet. If they were mistreated, the bondservant was free to leave immediately. This practice is the background to the text under consideration here.

Exodus 21:18-21 deals with situations where a person gets agitated during an argument and strikes the person that they were arguing with. The previous passage (Ex 21:12-14) had dealt with situations where one person deliberately assaulted another. In the case where an angry argument turns into a fight, the law says that if the person struck recovers quickly, the violent person is not guilty. The reason is that the person they struck is partly culpable because they helped stir up an angry argument. However, the person who was violent must compensate the other for any income lost while they were in bed. If the assault causes permanent damage, the law specifies that sufficient compensation must be paid to compensate for the harm.

The case of the person who has bound himself as a bondservant is different. If the wealthy person strikes the servant and does physical harm, they are to be set free, and their debt is to be cancelled (Exodus 21:26-27). If the servant dies from the assault, the wealthy person is guilty of murder (Exodus 21:20).

The situation is tricky if the assaulted servant recovers after two or three days. If they were a free person, they would be entitled to financial compensation for the income they lost while they were laid up. This is not necessary for the bondservant because the wealthy person has already paid them for their labour when they settled their debt (Exodus 21:21). They are already committed to providing food and shelter for the bondservant, so they have to continue providing it while their servant is unwell.

The wealthy person is the one who loses income while his bondservant is in bed recovering, because servant produces nothing for him, but still needs to be fed. That is why Exodus 21:21 says that it is “his own silver (money)”. It is not saying that the bondservant was his property, because God does not allow people to be bought and sold. Rather, if he did provide financial compensation to the injured bondservant, it would come back to him because he was already entitled to what the bondservant produced. The person who harmed his bondservant is doing economic harm to himself.

Exodus 21:21 does not justify chattel slavery.

Thursday, October 13, 2022


A clever trick of the spiritual powers of evil is persuading Christians to assume that their enemy is Satan or the Devil, because one spiritual being does not seem that dangerous. One enemy up against the entire human race would seem to be well out-numbered.

I usually refer to the spiritual powers of evil (as Paul did in Eph 6:12) as a reminder that we are up against a vast host of evil beings, who often work together in various ways. We need to be alert to all their activities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Flesh (6) Conclusion

The word flesh (sarx) is used in a variety of different ways in the New Testament.

  • All humans/people on earth.
  • Physical presence
  • Physical life
  • Physical body
  • Sexual connection
  • Circumcision
  • Immature
  • Ethnic origin/inheritance
  • Bad Spiritual Inheritance
Many of these uses are different expressions of the physical aspects of life.

Paul used the word flesh (en sarx) frequently when describing his family line and his ethnicity. He had believed that his birth gave him special privileges. After his revelation of Jesus, he realised that his ethnic inheritance (flesh) was a huge problem, because it empowered the spiritual powers of evil to intervene in his life. Paul had struggled to please God because the spiritual powers of evil had influence in his life through his spiritual inheritance to prevent him from doing what is good.

Some modern translators use the expression “sinful nature” to translate the word “flesh”, eg New Living Translation. However, this is misleading because it reads meaning into the Greek word “sarx” that is not are not there. Translating this way makes it seem that humans have a sinful nature that dominates their behaviour. It implies that we have a corrupted nature that prevents us from doing good. This is not true.

The reality is that humans were made in the image of God. We are not born with a corrupt nature. The New Testament uses the word flesh to describe our spiritual inheritance from our parents. We are born under the authority of the spiritual powers of evil, so they attack us from an early age to pervert our lives. The struggles of our early lives leave our souls wounded and weak, meaning that we often choose to do the wrong thing. We have been beaten around spiritually, but the scriptures do not teach that we are born with a sinful nature that controls us.

Just like Paul, we inherit this weakness from our parents. Our parents were partly enslaved by the spiritual powers of evil, so we were enslaved in the same way when we were born under their authority. This problem with our birth (called the flesh) makes us slaves of Sin and Death. Paul had used the term “flesh” in this sense of being born under the control of the spiritual powers of evil and opposed to the working of the Holy Spirit. We need to be set free from their power by being born again of the Spirit.

Jesus’ death on the cross destroyed the power of the spiritual powers of evil over those who have put their trust in him. The power that these spiritual powers gained through our birth into slavery to sin was destroyed by the cross. Once we are born again by the Holy Spirit, our situation at birth (the flesh) no longer controls us.

This full series can be read at The Flesh.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

The Flesh (5) Galatians

Paul uses similar language in Galatians 5, where he writes about the struggle between the flesh and the spirit. He begins by warning that believers who give a higher place to their ethnic status will fail Jesus’ command to love one another if there are Jews and Gentiles in their church.

Do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love (Gal 5:13).
Loving one another, no matter who belongs to the body of Jesus, is more important than ethnic heritage, even Jewish heritage. Paul challenged the Galatians to walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. The life of the Spirit is opposite to the life of the flesh.
Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposing each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want (Gal 5:16-17).
The flesh opposes the Spirit. If we do what is contrary to the Spirit’s leading, we are doing what we want, which is the same as gratifying the flesh. Paul gives some examples of the works of the flesh.
The works of the flesh are obvious: adultery, sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Gal 5:19-21).
A few of these examples are sexual, but most of them are attitudinal, like jealousy, ambition, envy, factions, etc. The works of the flesh are the natural outworking in people of what they choose, without regard to the Holy Spirit. The antidote to the works of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).

Paul concludes his discussion about this topic by declaring that the flesh is dead (our situation at birth no logner applies).

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24).
If we have died with Jesus, we have put our flesh to death. The state in which we were born has no hold over us. Our old spiritual legacy is dead, so it has lost its hold over us. If we have died and risen with Jesus, the power of the spiritual powers of evil over lives is broken. We are no longer in their captivity, so they cannot manipulate and control us. Our spiritual legacy of slavery to sin has been cancelled. We are children of God, inheriting the life that he has chosen for us.

This full series can be read at The Flesh.

Friday, October 07, 2022

The Flesh (4) Romans 7,8

In the second half of chapter seven and the first half of chapter eight of his letter to the Romans, Paul pushes his use of “the flesh” in the sense of the spiritual legacy that he inherited through his ethnic legacy a step further. He uses the word sixteen times in twenty-five verses. Paul explains how sin took us into captivity.

I am fleshly, sold into bondage under sin (Rom 7:14).
Our forefathers were trapped in bondage to sin, so we were born into the same captivity. Paul explains that in his mind, he wants to serve God’s law, but “in the flesh”, he is a “slave to the law of sin” (Rom 7:25). A slave can make some choices, but they have very little freedom. Paul finds that his fleshly status prevents him from doing good (Rom 7:18).

Jesus sent his son “in the flesh” to set us free from Sin and Death (Rom 8:3).

He condemned sin in the flesh (Rom 8:3).
His death on the cross destroyed the power of the spiritual powers of evil over those who have put their trust in him. The power that these spiritual powers gained through our birth into slavery to sin was destroyed by the cross. The presence of the Holy Spirit is proof that they are set free.
You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you (Rom 8:9).
Once we are born again by the Holy Spirit, our situation at birth (the flesh) no longer controls us. Paul describes the difference to his Roman readers. Many English versions use the word “mind” several times when translating Romans 8. However, Paul uses the Greek verb “phroneo”, which means “to have understanding”. It can also mean “to think in a certain way”. So referring to the mind is a bit strong. Paul is not saying that sin comes from the mind. I have used the word “inclination/inclined” to better reflect the meaning of phroneo in the table below.
Romans Before After
8:4 Live according to the flesh Live according to the Spirit.
8:5 Those who are in accord with the flesh
are inclined to the things of the flesh.
Those who are in accord with the Spirit
seek the things of the Spirit
8:6 The inclination of the flesh is death, The inclination of the Spirit is life and peace.
8:7 The inclination of the flesh is hostile to God.  
8:8 Those who are in the flesh are not able to please God.  
8;9 In the flesh In the Spirit.
8:12 Debtors to the flesh,
living according to the flesh.
8:13 Living according to the flesh,
about to die
Putting to the death the deeds of the body
by the Spirit, you will live.
8:14   Those led by the Spirit
are children of God
The contrast is stark Those controlled by the flesh (their spiritual inheritance) struggle to serve the Holy Spirit. They are hostile to God and are not able to please him because the spiritual powers of evil still have access to their lives to manipulate them into sinning. Those who are born again of the spirit are reborn as children of God, not as slaves to sin. They seek the things of the spirit because they are led by the Spirit.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

The Flesh (3) Bad Spiritual Inheritance

After his encounter with Jesus, Paul’s view of his ethnic inheritance changed. He realised that he had been born into a human family that had been enslaved by the spiritual powers of evil. Although he knew the requirements of the law because he was a Jew, he found he did not have the ability to do the good he wanted to do, because he was born as a slave of sin (Rom 6:7,17).

According to the flesh, Paul was also a descendant of Adam and Eve. When they rejected God and submitted to the tempter, they placed themselves under his authority. They unwittingly enslaved themselves to Sin and Death. The children of slaves are born as slaves. So, Paul was not just a descendant of Abraham with the privilege of being part of the chosen people, in the flesh, he was also a descendant of Adam born in slavery to Sin and Death. Fortunately, he had been born again and was set free from slavery to sin.

“The flesh” describes our situation at birth. Like Paul, we are born into slavery to Sin and Death. Like Paul, we struggle to please God because the spiritual powers of evil who have influence in our lives prevent us from doing what is good.

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh... you were slaves of sin (Rom 6:19-20).
We are slaves to sin because of the weakness in our flesh. Just like Paul, we inherit this weakness from our parents. Our parents were partly enslaved by the spiritual powers of evil, so we were enslaved in the same way when we were born under their authority. This problem with our birth (called the flesh) makes us slaves of sin and death.

John explained,

That which has been born of the flesh is flesh (John 3:6).
He confirms that the life that we are born into through our parents is "the flesh".

Pauls declares that we need to be set free from the power of flesh and death.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Rom 6:22).
Paul had used the term “flesh” in this sense of being born under the control of the spiritual powers of evil and opposed to the working of the Holy Spirit.
  • Spiritual Inheritance
    walking in the flesh 1 Cor 10:2-3
    in the flesh Gal 3:3; 6:8
    in the flesh = the spiritual situation we were born into Rom 7:5
    opportunity for the flesh = resisting love one another Gal 5:13
    works of the flesh Gal 5:19
    lust of the flesh – opposing the Spirit Gal 3:16-17; Eph 2:3
    mind of the flesh Col 2:18
    indulging the flesh – not seeking things above Col 2:23

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

The Flesh (2) Inherited Ethnic Status

Paul increases his use of the word “flesh” in his letter to the Romans. He clarified an important aspect of his meaning at the beginning of the letter, where he writes about Jesus,

who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh (Rom 1:3).
The expression “according to the flesh (kata sarx) refers to Jesus’ family line. He was a descendant of David. Paul says something similar about himself in his letter to the Philippians when he has reasons for confidence in the flesh.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil 3:3-5).
When he said that he had confidence in the flesh (en sarx), he was referring to his family line and his ethnicity. He was born as a Hebrew in the tribe of Benjamin. His confidence in the flesh was confidence in the family situation into which he had been born.

Paul had believed that he was part of God’s chosen people because he was born as an Israelite into the tribe of Benjamin. He had believed that his birth gave him special privileges. The flesh that he was born into was what gave him special privilege. He saw his flesh, his birth into the right family and tribe, as the source of his privilege.

The word flesh is used in this sense in several places in the New Testament.

  • Ethnic origin/inheritance
    Jesus was David’s seed - according to flesh – descendent Rom 1:3
    Abraham was Paul’s forefather - according to flesh Rom 4:1
    Jews are Paul’s relatives - according told flesh Rom 9:3
    Jesus was Jewish - according to the flesh Rom 9:5
    Ishmael is Abraham’s child – of the flesh Rom 9:8
    my flesh = all of the Jews Rom 11:14
    Israel according to the flesh = ethnic Israel 1 Cor 10:18
    boasting according to flesh = ethnic pride 2 Cor 11:18; Gal 6:12
    confidence in the flesh ethnic/religious confidence Phil 3:3-4
    Ishmael was begotten with Hagar according to flesh Gal 4:23
    Brother in the flesh – relative Phmn 1:16

The flesh refers to physical relatives and ancestors. Paul realised after his conversion that he had misunderstood the value of his ethnic inheritance. It did not gain him as much as he had believed.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Flesh (1) Various Meanings

In his various letters, Paul often uses the word flesh, but he does not really define what he means by it. He sees the flesh as an obstacle to the Christian life. Paul writes about the problems of the flesh, so people who have chosen to follow Jesus need to understand what it is.

We should avoid the Greek view that the soul is good and the body is bad. Paul was not going down that path. The reality is that most sin begins with a thought in our minds and happens when we make a choice with our will to do the thing that we are tempted to do. The spiritual powers of evil mostly work on our minds to persuade or deceive us into sinning.

Given that “the flesh” is not the body, we need a clear understanding of what Paul meant when he used that expression. The Greek word is “sarx”. A detailed analysis of some New Testament examples shows that Paul uses the word in a variety of different ways, but they are all related.

  • All humans/people on earth
    all flesh = all people 1 Cor 1:28, 15:39; Gal 2:16
    lords according to flesh = human masters Eph 6:3; Col 3:22
    according to flesh = human standards 1 Cor 1:26; 2 Cor 1:17.

  • Physical presence
    “in the flesh” = present in person Col 2:1; Col 2:5 Philemon 1:16.

  • Physical life
    flesh and blood 1 Cor 15:30; Eph 6:12; Gal 1:7
    our mortal flesh 2 Cor 4:11
    Jesus came in the flesh 2 Cor 5:16; Eph 2:15; Col 1:22,24; Heb 5:7; 10:20; 1 Tim 3:16
    staying in the flesh = continue living Phil 1:22, 24
    living in the flesh = alive Gal 2:20
    sickness of flesh = physically ill Gal 4:13,14
    flesh had no rest = physically tired 2 Cor 7:5
    flesh and spirit = whole person 1 Cor 7:1
    Flesh can refer to all aspects of physical life.

  • Physical body
    nurture his flesh = care for his body Eph 5:29
    flesh of animals, birds, fish 1 Cor 15:39
    thorn in the flesh – metaphor for harassment 2 Cor 12:7

  • Physical connection
    Two becomes one flesh Eph 5:31; 1 Cor 6:16
    lust of the flesh Rom 13:14: Eph 2:3
    lust of flesh = adultery, liaison with prostitutes Gal 5:17,19
    destruction of flesh for a man committing incest 1 Cor 5:5
    those not marrying will have affliction in the flesh (1 Cor 7:28)

  • Circumcision
    Cutting the flesh Col 2:11,13; Gal 6:12-13; Eph 2:11; Rom 2:28

  • Immature
    Fleshly 1 Cor 3:3-4; 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12

The various meaning of the expression “the flesh” outlined above are all linked. They are different expressions of the physical aspects of life. Some, like circumcision, are specifically physical. Others are more loosely linked. From these examples, we can see that the flesh is not a segment of the human soul. It is not another word for our physical bodies because although we can sin with our bodies. It is not our physical body that causes us to sin.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Condemnation and Guilt

A gospel message of condemnation and guilt will not work anymore. It still worked when I was young, but society was much more controlled by the religious establishment back then. My parents were really worried about doing the right thing. “What will people think?” was a powerful social motivator. There was huge societal pressure on people to comply with the accepted social standards. Because most humans couldn’t comply, most carried considerable guilt, so a message that guilt could be lifted was good news.

The sixties generation threw off social constraints. Later generations were freed to do their own thing. In this new world where no one has the right to tell other people what to do, social control was undermined. The consequence of this shift is that a message of condemnation no longer resounds with the current generations. An evangelist attempting to re-create that guilt makes people feel like they are trying to reestablish the social control that has been shaken off (especially if they go hard for salvation by law for the big four social sins).

Modern people do not feel guilty in the way that my parent’s generation did. That does not mean that everything in their lives is fine. The opposite is true. Most modern people know that their lives are a mess.

They don’t feel guilty about the mess, because much of the mess is the result of bad things that other people did to them. They realize that they have made many mistakes, but believe that most were unavoidable given the pressure that they were under. When they look back, they can’t see how they could have done things differently, given their circumstances.

So putting all the blame on them for the mess, by telling them that they are guilty of sin just does not resonate. On the other hand, explaining that they live in a spiritual world (most already know that) and that the spiritual powers of evil have messed them around will make sense to them. A gospel that Jesus defeated the spiritual powers of evil and sent the Holy Spirit to rescue us will resonate, but only if the church can demonstrate that it is true.