The Spirit vs The Flesh

Jesus in Gethsemane

 Theme TextThe mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life. - Romans 8:6.

1) “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6. What does this Flesh vs Spirit mean?
Many think that a mind governed by the flesh refers to sin. But Paul doesn't say 'sin' here. He uses the word 'flesh'. Are acts of the flesh just sin alone? No, everything we do is an act of the flesh.
Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8:35. Yes, people striving to live even an upright life in this world will certainly die.
            ‘Whoever wants to save their life will lose it’ = ‘The mind governed by the flesh is death’

  • If we live like the people of the world, with a mind governed by matters of this present worldly life (career, marriage, family etc.) it would lead us only to death.
  • John warns, ‘Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.’ 1John 2:15. Anyone pursuing worldly (even lawful) pursuits cannot please God.
  • In this fallen world, even a worldly life that's good and upright in our own eyes, is essentially a life that's not pleasing to God. Paul says – ‘The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God… nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.’ Rom 8:7-8.

2) If a worldly (fleshly) life leads to death, what should we do according to Paul’s advice?
“So I say, 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 in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Gal 5:16-18.
Again the word used here isn’t ‘sin’, but 'flesh'. Paul continues, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, factions and envy and the like.” Gal 5:19-21.
Paul's point is this - If we try to live (even an upright life) according to the flesh, we will surely end up in these unprofitable acts - unprofitable for our gospel race.
Instead, we should walk by the Spirit. As we studied before, the Spirit was given to empower the Church to proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8, 4:31). So walking by the Spirit essentially means serving the gospel.
   “Brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Rom 8:12-13.
Here NIV mistranslates the Greek word for 'deeds' as 'misdeeds'. NASB has it right - deeds i.e. all the deeds of the flesh. What Paul says here matches exactly with Jesus’ statement in Mark 8:35.
   “Whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” = “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”
This is our baptism covenant– We deem our lives dead to the world, and alive for Christ’s gospel.

3) How does one get the fruits of the Spirit?  
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Gal 5:22-25.
Yes, at our baptism, we crucify not just our sin, but all things of the flesh (everything). Baptism is dying to the world. Dead men have no earthly ambitions!
So when we focus our entire life on gospel work (not just doing it as a hobby), we essentially walk by the Spirit exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit - We love the world & give them real goodness, by preaching them the gospel with gentleness, show patience & self-control when they persecute us, and experience joy in doing God’s work.

4) What are some of the fleshly things that could distract us from our spiritual baptismal covenant?

  • Marriage - In the Old Testament period, marriage was considered a blessing. But for the Church, it's not. “It is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.
    For this world in its present form is passing away. I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1Cor 7:26-35.
    So yes, marrying a fellow believer isn't forbidden. But those who can avoid it should do so. Even the married should live as if they weren’t!
    All these are in order to serve God with undivided devotion.
  • Career/Wealth - Paul was a great scholar, but he chose to become a tentmaker as that suited his gospel travels. We too should choose a job/career that suits our gospel work and not the other way around.
    Wealth also is a distraction for the Church. Jesus warns, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matt 19:24.
  • Family – Jesus is unambiguous, “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother… a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Matt 10:35-36. If our family is not in the truth, they would try to stop us whenever we want to sacrifice something for the gospel. Their focus would be just our earthly well-being.
    Pressure from a loving family is never easy to handle. But if we succumb, that will hurt our race. That’s why Jesus calls them our enemies.

In a sense, we are like soldiers. Do soldiers get entangled in civilian affairs when there’s a battle to fight? Paul says, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer [Jesus Christ].” 2Tim 2:2-4.
And Jesus Christ asks us not to worry about our earthly civilian needs, but rather seek the Kingdom of God i.e. serve the gospel of the Kingdom - “So do not worry, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matt 6:31-34.

5) How can we endure all the sacrifices/trials/persecutions for the gospel?
We should have Paul’s attitude – ‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ 2Cor 4:17-18.
This is what kept even Jesus going - ‘For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ Heb 12:2.
We see that during his suffering - The high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. Mark 14:61-62.
He doesn’t just answer ‘Yes’, but goes on to talk about his future glory as that’s where his mind was. That joy helped him endure the suffering.
Same should be our case - “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Rom 8:18. What are the joys set before us?

  • Family - When we follow Christ, we might be hated by our earthly family, but we are adopted into God's own family, with the Creator of the Universe Himself as our loving Father - To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12.
    We also gain a spiritual family of brothers and sisters in Christ, with Jesus himself as our Elder Brother. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30.
  • Heaven - Jesus promises us, “My Father’s house has many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me.” John 14:2-3. Yes, we are to get a place in Heaven!
  • Immortality & Eternal life - Yes, we are to become immortals (1Cor 15:53)! We might suffer for 70-80 years in present life, but our blessings would last billions and billions of years. Would we even remember our present sufferings after the first million years?
  • Kingship – We shall be rulers of mankind with Christ (Rev 2:26-27). What a glorious & powerful post! Also a key reason for us to be tested in present life. How many rounds of interviews are conducted even for mere worldly jobs! Can heavenly posts be given without proper testing?

Read Next: Things We Achieve When We Run the Gospel Race

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