Archive for December 26th, 2010

The Spirit and the flesh

… even though the term “flesh” originated as an anthropological term, in Paul these two phrases have become primarily and essentially eschatological. They describe two kinds of existence: one that belongs to and is conditioned by the present age that is passing away; the other describing our new eschatological existence set in motion by Christ and the Spirit.

Basic to Paul’s view of things is that, as with Torah observance, the time of the flesh is over. Living according to the flesh belongs to our existence before and outside of Christ; it is totally incompatible with life "according to the Spirit."

… Through the work of Christ and the Spirit, God has ushered in the coming, messianic age. Since for Paul the main evidence of that reality is the gift of the eschatological Spirit, it was easy for him to describe present eschatological existence as "in keeping with/according to the Spirit." The natural contrast to this way of describing present existence was to refer to life in the old age as "in keeping with the flesh." But “flesh” now denotes not simply humanity in its creatureliness vis-à-vis God, but humanity in its fallen creatureliness as utterly hostile to God in every imaginable way. Thus, what began as a purely anthropological term in the physical sense, evolved into an anthropological term in a more theological sense (“creatureliness,” thus human frailty), and finally into Paul’s unique usage in a thoroughly eschatological sense. For this reason also, the translation “sinful nature” fails to convey Paul’s meaning, since that tends to make it an anthropological term without adequately recognizing that for Paul it functions principally in an eschatological way. …

Our interest lies strictly with this latter sense (i.e. morally pejorative), which has completely lost its relationship to the physical and has become strictly eschatological—and pejorative—describing existence from the perspective of those who do not know Christ, who thus live as God’s enemies. …

… As far as the believer is concerned, Christ’s death and resurrection have pronounced a death sentence on the “flesh.” As with the “old age” to which it belongs, the “flesh” is on its way out; it has been rendered ineffective through death, which is the meaning of Rom 7:4-6. Through the death of Christ and the gift of the Spirit, “the flesh has been decisively crippled—”killed,” in Paul’s language. … Thus believers live “between the times.” The already crippled flesh will be finally brought to ruin at the coming of Christ. The Spirit, already a present possession, will be fully realized at the same coming. To the degree that the old aeon has not yet passed away, we still must learn ‘to walk by the Spirit,” to behave “in keeping with the Spirit,” and to “sow to the Spirit.” But we do so precisely because the Spirit is sufficient, not because we live simultaneously “according to the flesh” and “according to the Spirit.” In Paul’s view, we live “in the flesh,” meaning in the body and subject to the realities of the present age; but we do not walk “according to the flesh.” Such a way of life belongs to the past, and those who so live “shall not inherit the [final, eschatological kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).

Source: Gordon D. Fee, ‘The Spirit against the Flesh’ God’s Empowering Presence The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. (Baker Academic, 2009), 816-822. 




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Temptation and Joy

Temptation gets its power is by persuading me to believe that I will be happier if I follow it. The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier. …

… when Paul says. "Kill sin by the Spirit." I take that to mean, Depend on the Spirit, especially his sword.

What is the sword of the Spirit? It’s the Word of God … The Word of God cuts through the fog of Satan’s lies and shows me where true and lasting happiness is to be found. And so the Word helps me stop trusting in the potential of sin to make me happy.

The fight of faith against lusts is the fight to stay satisfied with God. … Faith is not content with "fleeting pleasures." It is ravenous for joy. …

Piper highlights how the Word of God gives us a true understanding of the conflict and encourages us to see that maximum joy and pleasure are to be found in the promises of God. In doing so our hearts are weaned away from the deceptive tastes of lusts.

Source: John Piper, Future Grace pp. 334-337.

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God’s Empowering Presence

Fee argues that to understand ‘the Spirit’ in Paul one must appreciate the now/not yet eschatological framework. For Paul the Spirit is both certain evidence that the new age had dawned and the absolute guarantee of its final consummation.

Paul uses three metaphors to describe this:

down payment

first fruits


Pauline soteriological metaphors describing the transformation brought about by the Spirit:




Propitiation responds to our being under God’s wrath; redemption to our being enslaved to sin; justification to our guilt before God’s law; reconciliation to our being God’s enemies; sanctification to our being unholy; washing to our being unclean.

Source: Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. (Baker Academic, 2009). 

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How to Grow in Grace

Would you be freed from the bondage to corruption? Would you grow in grace in general and grow in grace in particular? If you would, your way is plain.

Ask of God more faith. Beg of him morning, and noon and night, while you walk by the way, while you sit in the house, when you lie down and when you rise up; beg of him simply to impress divine things more deeply on your heart, to give you more and more of the substance of things hoped for and of the evidence of things not seen.

Source: The Necessity of Prayer, E. M. Bounds quotes this advice, giving credit only to "an eminent old divine"

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