bible blog 2004


There is now no death-sentence on those who share the life of Messiah Jesus, for the Law of the Spirit of life has freed you,- in Messiah Jesus- from the law of Sin and Death. What the Law could not do because it was enfeebled by flesh and blood, God has done by sending his son in the likeness of sinful flesh and blood to deal with sin: he has passed sentence on sin in flesh and blood humanity, so that the justice of the Law could be fulfilled in us,  who live no more by the power of flesh and blood, but by the power of the Spirit.

Yes, people who live by the power of flesh and blood set their minds on flesh and blood matters; but people who live by the power of the Spirit set their minds on spiritual matters. The flesh and blood mindset is death, but the spiritual  mindset is life and peace. The flesh and blood mindset is at enmity with God, because it does not subordinate itself to God’s Law; in fact, it cannot do so. 

People who live by the power of flesh and blood cannot please God.

You however do not live by flesh-and – blood power but by the power of the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit makes its home in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Messiah is not his. But if Messiah is in you, even though the body is dead through sinful actions, the Spirit is life through just actions. And if the Spirit of the One Who Raised Messiah From the Dead makes its home in you, that same One will give life to your mortal bodies, by his Spirit dwelling in you.(Translated M Mair 2016)

I have wrestled with the tranlsation of Paul’s use of the Greek word sarka, literally flesh. Clearly for Paul to live “in” the flesh or “according to” the flesh are negative conditions of humanity in opposition to God and the Spirit. Some translate it as “human nature” others, “lower instincts”, others simply as “flesh”. I prefer the last, but it can and has been mistaken for a negative judgement on “sins of the flesh”. Paul does not see flesh itself as a negative dimension of human life, but simply as insufficient in itself and open to control by the powers of evil. I have decided to keep to a literal rendering by using a common English phrase “flesh and blood.”

He explains that the Jewish Law was made feeble by its flesh and blood adherents and could not achieve its aim of making them just and active in  God’s plan to bless all people. God has now passed judgement on flesh and blood sin, by the Messiah, who lived as flesh and blood without sin, proving that flesh and blood need not be enslaved by Sin if it enters into partnership with the Spirit. Jesus Messiah defeated sin, in Paul’s view, not so much by the goodness of his life and teaching as by his complete faithfulness to God’s way of blessing his creatures, especially in his willingness to suffer an accursed death for it. The sentence passed on “sin” is just this death which exposes its utter destructiveness, and at the same time offers the faithfulness of Jesus’ love for his brothers and sisters, and for his father.

Those who accept this sentence on their flesh and blood selves, recognise that as such they are mortal and  in partnership with death, and turn away from arrogance towards the humility that Jesus offers in his dying and new life he offers in his resurrection.

Paul calls this the Spirit, but almost immediately identifies it with Messiah Jesus himself as the one who makes his home in the believer. Paul understands human being as shared being. Being is always inter-being. People may choose the powers who share their lives, but they cannot choose not to share. “Trust” is a fundamental decision about the power that will share your life. To trust the creator is to open yourself to life amd goodness; to trust other spiritual powers is to open yourself to sin and death. Here Paul,is more concerned with the  contrast between those two kinds of trust with their corresponding forms off shared life, than with the means by which human beings are persuaded to make the right choice.

At times Paul comes perilously close to identifying the human body with sin. That is because he envisages the body as including all the material sytems of the person, including desires and affections, which can be enslaved by the power of Sin. But he keeps a balance by as above defining this slavery as a “mindset”; body and mind are equally culpable. Here Paul describes the body as “dead through sinful actions”, that is, complicit with the power of death in its addiction to wrongdoing,  and doomed to physical death. The spirit/ Messiah who makes his home in the person, through trust, enlivens the bodily person into freedom and just behaviour, by the power of the creator God who is named as The One Who Raised Messiah From The Dead.

In these closely argued descriptions Paul manages to hold onto human agency while revealing how it is open to the influence of other agencies or powers; and to hold on to the agency of God without attributing to it the capacity to compel human obedience.








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