Flesh Cleansed
Thursday in Pentecost 7
27 July 2017
The Bible uses the word "flesh" in many different ways. First, it can refer quite neutrally to God's creation of man in such a way that flesh is not evil. Since flesh is a creation of God which was pronounced very good by God (Gn 1:31), it is not by creation an evil thing. So Christ can bear that flesh as the apostle John tells us in those sublime words, "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14). In that flesh cleansed by Christ we shall see God.
Yet, sin infected the flesh at the fall. That infection is so closely identified with its place of residence that in biblical language it came to be referred to as "flesh." This is a simple case of synecdoche, that is, a reference to a thing by its container. It is a common figure of speech that we use daily, such as when we refer to consuming a canned beverage, "I drank the whole can." Of course, we did not drink the can, but we drank what is contained in the can. Flesh has been filled and suffused by the sickness of sin unto death. We speak of the container, "flesh" for the sin that sickens it (Rm 8:3-7).
When the Bible speaks of sins of the flesh, it is referring not exclusively to those works which we think of as crass breaches of morality, such as adultery, fornication, or other sexual sins, but to the whole web of desire that leads not only to those gross outbursts of sin but also to the deeply hidden sins that entangle the soul. In this sense, humans are fleshly across the whole of human nature. There is no part of human nature that is not infected with the sickness unto death. Augustine of Hippo points out that the sins listed by the apostle Paul in Gal 5:19-21 are partly the crass outbursts of sin, and partly the hidden sins that affect the soul. In fact, the Bible generally takes soul and body as an indivisible whole, so that what affects one affects the other. There is no atom cracker that can split what has been so inextricably bound together as body and soul, except its Creator. Martin Luther followed the Bishop of Hippo in this. For Luther we Christians remain at the same time righteous and sinner, "simul justus et peccator." In so far as we are sinners, we are sinful through and through so that there is nothing untouched by the sickness unto death. There is no secret place of perfect holiness and piety hidden in our pristine souls.
While Luther and Augustine seem quite pessimistic on sin's devilish power to seep into every aspect of human life, we acquit them of pessimism because of their confession of the Word who became flesh. Total depravity is met with total grace in Christ. In that clash grace is champion. We who are flesh have had our flesh taken by the Son of God and He will return it to us in its pristine condition at the resurrection of all flesh. We can gladly, and even joyfully, confess our sickness unto death because Christ has promised us that if we die with Him we will also rise with Him with flesh cleansed by Him.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Scripture uses the word flesh in many ways, which there is not sufficient time to collect and investigate. If we are to ascertain what it is to live after the flesh (which is certainly evil, though the nature of flesh is not itself evil), we must carefully examine that passage of the epistle which the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, in which he says, 'Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God' (Gal 5:19-21). This whole passage of the apostolic epistle being considered, so far as it bears on the matter at hand, will be sufficient to answer the question, what it is to live after the flesh.
"For among the works of the flesh which he said were manifest, and which he cited for condemnation, we find not only those which concern the pleasure of the flesh, such as fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, drunkenness, revelings, but also those which, though they be remote from fleshly pleasure, reveal the vices of the soul. For who does not see that idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy are vices rather of the soul than of the flesh? For it is quite possible for a man to abstain from fleshly pleasures for the sake of idolatry or some heretical error; and yet, even when he does so, he is proved by this apostolic authority to be living after the flesh; and in abstaining from fleshly pleasure, he is proved to be practicing damnable works of the flesh.
"Who has hatred who does not have it in his soul, or who would say to his enemy, or to the man he thinks is his enemy, 'You have a bad flesh towards me,' and not rather, 'You have a bad spirit toward me?' In summary, if any one heard of what I may call 'carnalities,' he would not fail to attribute them to the carnal part of man. So no one doubts that 'animosities' belong to the soul of man. Why then does the doctor of the Gentiles in faith and truth call all these, and similar things, "works of the flesh," unless because, by that mode of speech whereby the part is used for the whole, he means us to understand by the word flesh the man himself?" 

Augustine, The City of God, 14.2
Mark 10:35-45
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (ESV)
Lord Christ, You took our flesh that the works of the flesh might be forgiven. Help us to live in the faith that sees all our works cleansed by Your incarnation. Amen.
For Susan Narr, who is undergoing therapy for cancer that the Lord would be with her granting her His strength and healing

For the family of Reinhard H. Wuensche, Jr. whom the Lord Jesus called to His heavenly kingdom, that they would be encouraged in the faith of Christ who is the life of all the living
For President Dale Meyer of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, that the Lord Jesus would be with him
For seasonable weather, that the fruits of the earth might be given to us
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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