But We Still Need It


Early on I made the brash statement that our flesh isn’t bad. I was hoping to pique your interest. So why isn’t it bad?

Because God made us as empty vessels that need to be filled with Him, by Him and for Him. To give us time and opportunity to find that out, He gave us a temporary mechanism for operating independently . . . without Him. (Of course, that’s the purpose of our flesh.)

He has carefully placed us in this world with just the right surroundings and just the right people so that we can experience the results of that independence . . . realizing our fears, our ineptness, our failures, our emptiness. We had to become frustrated with ourselves while we were immersed in decay and death.

Without those experiences we wouldn’t have needed God. There would be no praise for His mercy, His protection, His provision, His strength, His compassion. We would still be competing as little gods trying to prove our worth for the short time we’re here.

Surely the flesh isn’t good . . . not with good meaning that it’s valuable to God and that He will keep it forever. And yes, the flesh is evil . . . with evil meaning that He will abandon it to oblivion. But is it bad? On the contrary, our flesh shows us every day that we aren’t God . . . and that only He is.

During this journey of faith, God steadily changes the way we think; He renews our minds so that we increasingly grow in an intimate understanding and knowledge of Him. (That’s from the first part of Romans chapter 12 and First Corinthians chapter two). As we grow in this knowledge, we (as His ambassadors for Christ) tell others about the One who gave us new life.

The flesh is neither good nor bad: neither pleasing nor displeasing. God designed it to motivate us when His Spirit isn’t. As such, the deeds motivated by the flesh cannot please Him . . . only those deeds motivated by the Spirit can (from Romans chapter eight).

These Aren’t Bad?

When the question is asked “What does God hate?” the response is usually “Sin!” And it’s frequently accompanied by an excerpt from one of a few New Testament passages (Romans, First Corinthians or Galatians), or from Malachi. But without applying their intended context, those excerpts are meaningless . . . or even contrary to the overall message.

As a worldly example, if you came across a child who wasn’t breathing, what sense would it make to administer CPR before observing his surroundings? Obvious things to correct first would be removing an electrical wire that’s touching him . . . or pulling him out of a pool of water . . . or lifting a heavy object off of him . . . or clearing his airway of an obstruction. Until those are done, CPR is useless. In the same way, knowing the context of Scripture is essential to understanding its meaning.

Romans . . .

Chapter one does indeed list despicable violations of the Ten Commandments, and some of its derivatives. However, let’s put them into their context to see the wholeness of this letter’s message.

First, Paul announced the grandeur and evidence of God and His gospel, then he clearly stated that anyone who wants to be righteous (to be on God’s good side, instead of receiving His wrath) must attain it exclusively by faith in Jesus.

Then there’s the list.

And right after it, in chapter two, is the part that’s typically skipped over, or treated lightly, or mused as a separate topic. It begins with Paul’s denouncement of people who piously condemn others (those whose behaviors are listed). Whether they’re Jews using the Law of Moses to do it, or non-Jews using what’s written within, they don’t admit their own guilt . . . but their behaviors are on that list too.

That judging is a continuation of what Eve did first: it’s stealing God’s role as the Judge of what’s good and what’s evil. Here’s Paul’s scathing accusation . . .

But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:3-4)

Repentance is changing a person’s source of salvation from a system of keeping rules . . . to living by faith in Christ. What leads a person to repentance? According to this passage, it doesn’t come from obeying some form of the Law, it’s from knowing God’s kindness . . . His mercy.

To press the issue, earlier I asked “Who’s over you?” adding that the word over has the sexual connotation of someone being on top of the woman (she represents us, mankind). The choices consistently offered have been the Law (both Moses’ and our own end in death) . . . or Christ (the One who gives life). Paul continued that sexual theme a bit later.

In Romans 7:1-4, he brought out the human legalities for marriage. He clarified that it’s permissible for a woman to marry another after her husband dies; but if he isn’t dead, such a marriage would be adulterous. Then he explained that we were all initially married to “that which once bound us” (the Law) . . . that’s the nature of our flesh. In order for us to be free to marry Christ, the Law must be dead to us. (Notice that he laid it out from the woman’s, mankind’s, perspective.)

Just as there is fruit from a natural marriage (children that are born), there is fruit from our marriage to the Law . . . it’s called “fruit for death.” There’s also fruit from our marriage to Christ . . . it’s “fruit for God” . . . it’s us being born-again, becoming a new creation.

The comparison isn’t over quite yet. Paul labeled those who know Jesus and then go back to the Law . . . they’re adulterers. They have left Him and crawled back under the Law. Thankfully, he had already answered the question of “Who’s over you?” by saying “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

If there’s a conclusion to be drawn from Romans about “What does God hate?” it would be us following in Eve’s footsteps . . . trying to be God.

First Corinthians . . .

This letter contains two lists. Chapter six begins with Paul shaming those Corinthians. They we’re members of the body of Christ . . . but attempting to resolve differences within their community by filing lawsuits and taking each other to worldly courts. Essentially he asked them, “Since God has determined that you will be judges over angels in the life to come, why do you go to the lost for answers . . . acting as though you’re still unbelievers? Wouldn’t it be better to be wronged?”

Then he listed the behaviors of the lost . . . those who only have their flesh for motivation. They are the unrighteous. They don’t have the Spirit. They aren’t united with Christ. And they aren’t heirs of the kingdom of life.

He went on to differentiate between

Chapter Ten continues about adultery, putting someone besides God over them / us.

Galatians . . .

Malachi . . .

How do you know that it’s the flesh doing things? Well, you could compare behaviors to the last part of Romans chapter one. It lists many of the deplorable m and concludes that we all have been shown enough of God’s character to know that He exists

Greatest Commandment

When Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment?” He responded with “You shall love Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (from Matthew 22:34-40).

The terms I used in defining the word bone from Adam’s description of his mate were “body, soul and spirit” . . . with the soul consisting of the mind, will and emotions. I also noted that the heart is where the flesh’s law is kept (those core values and beliefs).

It would be reasonable for you to ask “How do those terms reconcile with Jesus’ words about loving God and our neighbors?”

The context of that Matthew passage is essential. The question “What is the greatest commandment?” didn’t come from an inquisitive, faithful follower. It came from one of the Pharisees’ legal experts who was trying to trick Him into contradicting Moses’ Law.

Once again . . . That Law has two purposes: To prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, who was promised centuries in advance of His coming. It also proves that no one else is Him . . . only He can save us.

Here’s how His response might have been stated if He had chosen to elaborate using those earlier terms . . .

  • In your heart, change the basis for all that you do . . . eliminate every natural response to the world that you’ve developed during your lifetime and adopt God’s ways in place of your own.
  • In your soul (your mind, will and emotions), change all of your decision-making and planning, change the object of your focus and change your feelings such that every part of your life is lived only for God.
  • In your mind, train all of your thoughts on Him . . . not any on yourself. (He put extra attention on the mind since it’s the thinking part of the soul.)

That might seem possible for someone to do but the word love in this passage comes from the Greek word agápê –it’s the endless, selfless love that only God possesses and is capable of giving.

That’s the “love God” part. The next part was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Following that commandment might translate to . . .

  • When you’re hungry and eat a meal, make sure you also invite those who are hungry in your community and feed them too.
  • When you’re tired or when the weather conditions are uncomfortable and you retreat inside, take the homeless in there with you.
  • When you bathe and put clean clothes on, bring in the needy and do the same for them.

The same word for love is used in both places –agápê. And the only One who has ever demonstrated love like that was Jesus Himself.

Those words, “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” sound admirable; but they weren’t, and still aren’t, a motto for believers to live by. It was a demand meant to crush and humble the self-righteous Pharisees.

Undoubtedly we should care for those around us . . . as He leads us to. The point is that only He is truly capable of loving so selflessly.