XXV. FLESH AND SPIRIT
`And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ.' -- 1 Cor. 3:1
`I am carnal, sold under sin: to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death. Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.' -- Rom. 7:14,18; 8:2,9
`Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh? If ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk.' -- Gal. 3:3; 5:18,25
It is of great importance for the young Christian to understand that there are in him two natures, which strive against one another. (Gal. 5:17,24,25; 6:8; Eph. 4:22,24; Col. 3:9,10; 1 Pet. 4:2) If we weigh the texts noted above, we shall see that the word of God teaches us the following truths on this point.
Sin comes from the flesh: the reason why the Christian still does sin is that he yields to the flesh and does not walk by the Spirit. Every Christian has the Spirit and lives by the Spirit, but every Christian does not walk by the Spirit. If he walks by the Spirit, he will not fulfil the desires of the flesh. (Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 3:1,3; Gal. 5:16,25)
So long as there are still in the Christian strife and envy, the word of God calls him carnal. He would indeed do good, but he cannot: he does what he would not, because he still strives in his own strength and not in the power of the Spirit. (Rom. 7:18; 1 Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:15,26)
The flesh remains under the law, and seeks to obey the law. But through the flesh the law is powerless, and the endeavour to do good is vain. Its language is: `I am carnal, sold under sin: to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not.' (Rom. 6:14;15; 7:4,6; 8:3,8; Gal. 5:18; 6:12,13; Heb. 7:18; 8:9,13)
This is not the condition in which God would have his child remain. The word says: `It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to work.' * The Christian must not only live by the Spirit, but also walk by the Spirit. He must be a spiritual man, and abide entirely under the leading of the Spirit. (Rom. 8:14; 1 Cor. 2:15; 3:1; Gal. 6:1) If he thus walks, he will no longer do what he would not. He will no longer remain in the condition of Romans 7, as a new-born babe, still seeking to fulfil the law, but in Romans 8, a one who through the Spirit is made free from the law with its commandment, `do this,' which gives no power, but brings death, and who walks, not in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the Spirit. (Rom. 7:6; 8:2,13)
There are Christians that begin with the Spirit, but end with the flesh. They are converted, born again through the Spirit, but fall unconsciously into a life in which they endeavour to overcome sin and be holy through their own exertion, through doing their best. They ask God to help them in these their endeavours, and think that this is faith. They do not understand what it is to say: `In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing,' and that therefore they are to cease from their own endeavours, in order to do God's will, wholly and only through the Spirit. (Rom. 7:18; Gal. 3:3; 4:9; 5:4,7)
Child of God, pray, learn what it is to say of yourself, just as you are, even after the new birth: `I am carnal, sold under sin.' Endeavour no longer to be doing your best, and to be praying to God, and to be trusting Him to help you. No: learn to say: `The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.' Let your work every day be to have the Spirit work in you, to walk by the Spirit, and you shall be redeemed from the life of complaining, `the good that I would I do not,' into a life of faith, in which it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.
Lord God, teach me to acknowledge with all my heart that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth nothing good. Teach me also to cease from every thought, as if I could with my own endeavours serve or please Thee. Teach me to understand that the Spirit is the Comforter, who frees me from all anxiety and fear about my own powerlessness, in order that He may work the strength of Christ in me. Amen.
1. In order to understand the conflict betwixt flesh and Spirit, we must especially seek to have a clear insight into the connection between Rom. 7 and 8. In Rom. 7:6 Paul had spoken of the twofold way of serving God, the one in the oldness of the letter, the other in the newness of the Spirit. In Rom. 7:14.16 he describes the first, in Rom. 8:1-16 the second. This appears clearly when we observe that in ch. 7 he mentions the Spirit but once, the law more than twenty times; in Rom. 8:1-16, the Spirit sixteen times. In Rom. 7 we see the regenerate soul, just as he is in himself with his new nature, desirous, but powerless, to fulfil the law, mourning as one who `is captive under the law of sin.' In Rom. 8 we hear him say, `the law of the Spirit of life in Christ made me free from the law of sin.' Rom. 7 describes the ever-abiding condition of the Christian, contemplated as renewed, but not experiencing by faith the power of the Holy Spirit: Rom. 8 his life in the freedom which the Spirit of God really gives from the power of sin.
2. It is of very great importance to understand that the conflict between grace and works, between faith and one's own power, between the Holy Spirit and confidence in ourselves and the flesh, always continues to go on, not only in connection with conversion and the reception of the righteousness of God, but even further, into a walk in this righteousness. On this account the Christian has to watch very carefully against the deep inclination of his heart still to work in his own behalf, when he sees in himself anything wrong or when he would follow after holiness, instead of always and only trusting in Jesus Christ, and so serving God in the Spirit.
3. In order to make clear the opposition between the two methods of serving God, let me adduce consecutively in their entirety the passages in which they are expressed with special distinctness. Compare them with care. Pray God for the Spirit in order to make you understand them. Take deeply to heart the lesson as to how you are to serve God well, and how not.
The circumcision of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter. (Rom. 2:29)
To him that worketh not but believeth, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. (Rom. 4:5)
Ye are not under the law but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)
We have been discharged from the law, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (Rom. 7:6)
We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. (Rom. 7:14)
The ordinance of the law is fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. (Rom. 8:4)
Ye received not the Spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye received the Spirit of adoption. (Rom. 8:15)
The righteousness which is of the law is: `The man that doeth these things shall live by them? But the righteousness which is of faith saith thus, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend? Who shall descend? But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart. (Rom. 5:5-8)
If it is by grace, it is no more of works. (Rom. 11:6)
I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. (1 Cor. 3:7)
I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me. (Gal. 2:20)
The righteous shall live by faith; yet the law is not of faith: but the man that doeth these things shall live by them. (Gal. 3:11,12)
If the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise. (Gal. 3:19)
So that thou art no longer a bondservant, but a son. (Gal. 4:7)
Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free-woman. (Gal. 4:31)
Walk by the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16)
If ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. (Gal. 5:18)
Who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3:3)
Another priest, who hath been made not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. (Heb. 8:16)
4. Beloved Christian, you have received the Holy Spirit from the Lord Jesus to reveal Him and His life in you, and to mortify the working of the body of sin. Pray much to be filled with the Spirit. Live in the joyful faith that the Spirit is in you, as your Comforter and Teacher, and that through Him all will come right. Learn by heart this text, and let it live in your heart and on your lips: `We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.'
* The Dutch version has -- `and to accomplish.' -- Translator