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There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.


You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (ESV)


Cutting the Flesh

Wednesday of Easter 5

6 May 2015

There is flesh and then there is flesh. The Bible uses the term "flesh" in a number of different ways. It uses it positively; for example when it describes the incarnation of our Lord, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14). The apostle Paul can use it negatively as referring to the flesh as the vehicle and locus of the fallen nature and its proclivity toward wickedness, as he does when he says, 'Those who are in the flesh cannot please God' (Rm 8:8). Flesh then becomes the marker or sign of the diseased fallen nature. Flesh taken by itself is a good creation of God, and that in and of itself is not the problem. After God had created Adam and Eve he looked upon them, together with all of creation, and pronounced them to be "very good" (Gn 1:31).


The tangibility of our flesh and our psychic familiarity with it, makes it impossible for us to distinguish for ourselves the flesh from our perversity. It is a distinction open only to theology, not to experience. Because of the Pauline usage, the "flesh" almost always smacks of wicked and often sexually perverse behavior. We are to hate the sins of the flesh and avoid them. But we must be careful that we do not reject the flesh as a good and precious gift of God along with that hatred. That hatred must not be turned on the flesh as God's creation.


Unfortunately, it seems a very short step from the hatred of the sins of the flesh to hatred of the flesh itself. I wonder if young people who have been sheltered from the mercy of Christ and the preaching of the gospel turn on themselves in self loathing, because they don't know that the Word has become the flesh to redeem the flesh in its fallenness. (Could we learn to hate our flesh, if we have always hated God? He is its Creator.) We feel the burden of the flesh, but we don't free ourselves from that burden by self-mutilation. When critic Meghan Cox Gurdon recently criticized the increasingly dark and violent content of books written for adolescents and teens in the "Young Adult" genre, she was roundly criticized, as though she had suggested that public libraries should be torched with all the books they hold. In a Wall Street Journal article defending her position she diagnosed the problem with many Young Adult books, "It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and "cutting" (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence" (WSJ 28 June 2011).


But what is the solution to this "dark" view of life magnified by much of this genre of literature? Fewer books of this kind? Perhaps. But that may not be getting down to causes. Why have popular authors taken up these subjects with such gusto? Why have young people taken to slicing themselves and reveling in the infliction of pain? Why have they been attracted to this literature? While psychological answers may be close at hand, it seems to me that the problem is in part that young people do not know that Christ has taken their flesh, and made it something new by redeeming it from the fallen way of life into which every human has been born. We are far better off seeing our flesh as Christ's, rather than loathing so that a slow suicide becomes our solution. Christ offered our flesh up to death in His own person on the tree of the cross to return it to us as a holy instrument for His good purposes. The nails cut through His skin and sinews that ours might not be.


John Chrysostom


"If 'those who are in the flesh cannot please God' (Rm 8:8), what then? Some might ask, are we to cut our bodies in pieces to please God, and to make our escape from the flesh? Should we be suicidal, and in this way be virtuous? You see what inconsistencies are created by taking the words literally. For by 'the flesh' in this passage, Paul does not mean the body, or the essence of the body, but that life which is fleshly and worldly, and uses self-indulgence and extravagance to the full, so making the entire man flesh. For as they that have the wings of the Spirit, make the body also spiritual, so do they who bound off from this, and are the slaves of the belly, and of pleasure, make the soul also flesh, not that they change the essence of it, but that they mar its noble birth. And this mode of speaking is to be met with in many parts of the Old Testament also, to signify by flesh the gross and earthly life, which is entangled in pleasures that are not beneficial. For to Noah He says, 'My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh' (Gn 6:3). And yet Noah was himself also compassed about with flesh. But this is not the complaint, the being compassed about with the flesh, for this is so by nature, but the having chosen a fleshly life. Therefore Paul also said, "those who are in the flesh cannot please God' (Rm 8:8). 

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 13

Lord Jesus, You have shown passionate concern for us, by taking our flesh and cleansing it of death and sin. Send Your Spirit that we might live in the power of Your incarnation for us. Free us from self-loathing and help us to confess the goodness of Your creation. Amen.


For Pastor Sagar Pilli of Memorial Lutheran Church, that the Holy Spirit would grant him continued success in the proclamation of Christ as the Redeemer of the world


For all those who are traveling, that they would be kept safe by the holy angels watching over them


For Dale Meyer of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, that the Lord Jesus would keep him steadfast in the true faith

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Resurrection (1515)

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