spirit vs. flesh

Posted: September 21st, 2011 | Filed under: God, life | 5 Comments »

This is the third in a series of word studies that I am doing to try to reveal the best explanation of a specific scripture.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. – Hebrews 6:4-6

What is “sharing in the Holy Spirit” like?

This can be understood better by examining the contrast between Spirit and flesh.

The Holy Spirit marks you with the seal labeled “perfect” because of the grace of Jesus. Alternately, the flesh looks to better itself by its own works. (Vines)

Galatians 4 uses Abraham’s illegitimate son, Ishmael, and his legitimate son, Isaac, as examples of the contriving of the ‘flesh’ versus the gift of the ‘Spirit.’ The reason why these two are good examples is because Ishmael was conceived out of a ‘works’ or ‘flesh’ based faith and Isaac was conceived as a God-promised gift to a woman who could never conceive on her own.

But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit so also it is now. –Galatians 4:29 (this scripture references Ishmael laughing at Isaac in Gen 21:9)

“Persecuted” can mean a lot of things, but in this example in scripture it means that the one who is more about ‘works’ mocks the one who is more about ‘grace’.

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. –Galatians 5:17-18

This scripture can be explained by Paul’s flesh vs. spirit dilemma in Romans 7. Paul wanted to do good, but had nothing good in him, so he was unable. He didn’t want to make bad choices, but he still did. His ‘flesh’ kept him from “doing the things [he] want[ed] to do”. The relief from the tug-of-war is found in the last sentence: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

In the same way a ‘do not touch’ sign on a table makes you want to touch the table, the law makes you more rebellious than you would be without it.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. –Romans 7:7-8

If you have freedom to touch the table, you probably wouldn’t even think about touching it. Freedom brings out your ‘Spirit’ nature the same way the law brings out your ‘flesh’ nature.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. –Romans 8:2

The minute you start focusing on all the things you should not do, they become more enticing and you build your life in a way to avoid them. It looks noble, no doubt, but those who do this fail to notice that sin is their ‘true north’ and they build their lives according to it. When you try to avoid sin, it is sin that is guiding you.

Think of it like a predator that you do not want near your home. You find out where the predator lives and you build your home far away from it. If the predator moves, you move. It’s a life of fear that keeps its eyes on the enemy as a way of self-preservation.

If your eye is on the predator and his moves dictate your moves, then he is controlling you. Living in the spirit means that you do not have to live in fear, you can live where you want or where you’re lead, because the predator is no longer a threat. You are not ‘led’ by avoidance. More often than not, the Holy Spirit will lead you to a place where you cannot, without it, survive.

In trying to do right, you become wrong because your focus is on the sin, not on God. You’re relying on your ability, not the Spirit. It’s very backward and hard to grasp, but it’s the truth. This is a ‘narrow path’… remember? It’s not ‘narrow’ in they way it is typically understood. It’s narrow because you have to rely on faith (spirit) and not yourself (flesh).

A man is told that, in order to walk in the Spirit, he must walk across a tightrope to get to the other side of a huge ravine. He surveys the task and finds it to be impossible. So, he gathers some equipment to secure him to the rope in case he falls. He’s strong, he’s smart, and he’s resourceful. He puts on gloves to protect his hands, he makes sure his equipment is working properly, and he begins his journey along the rope. Once he’s on the other side, he is blindsided by what he learned. It’s not about the rope, it’s not about crossing the rope, and it’s not about the destination. It’s about who his faith was in. He relied on himself to make it, and though he traveled the path, he failed.

You can argue that God gave him the equipment to do it himself, but that’s not how walking in the Spirit works. Ishmael was born because Abraham had the ability to conceive him, but that was flesh. Peter walked on water without the use of anything but faith. As soon as he realized what he was doing, he started to sink.

You are not righteous because you are moral. As soon as you become aware of your morality, you start to sink.

Anything that you can take credit for is all you. You can say that you give credit to God, but that’s the argument of Sarah. God promised Abraham that his offspring would be a nation, but Sarah couldn’t have children, so she took it into her own hands and had Abraham sleep with her servant, Hagar. Why Abraham took the chance to sleep with another woman and didn’t argue with her is between him and God and that is exactly what Sarah said to him. “May the Lord judge between you and me!” (Gen17:5) Sarah was desperate to fulfill God’s purpose for her family, but her ‘flesh’ trumped her faith and she immediately regretted it.

“Sharing in the Holy Spirit” is when you know, without question, that you were a part of something that had nothing to do with your ability.


hagar, abraham, ... and sarah.

Below are some suggestions for discussions:

  • What are some other examples of the spirit vs. flesh? (Mary and Martha?…)
  • Sarah was looked upon in “contempt” by Hagar. (Gen16:5) The Bible uses this as an example of flesh vs. spirit. (Gal4:29) Have you every been treated as ‘less than’ because of your view of grace? How would you encourage someone who has?


5 Comments on “spirit vs. flesh”

  1. 1 Kathy Schwanke said at 11:27 am on September 21st, 2011:

    Serena, I love the photo! 🙂
    Digging into this topic and living in the Spirit {understanding the "how"} has been an ongoing discovery for me too. Satan used this passage against me "after the fall I took" and I was terrified, literally. God rescued me from my unbelief ~Praise Him, Praise Him!!

    Have you ever read Max Lacado's "In the Grip of Grace"? I love that book. In it he highlights four types of people based on (if I remember right, Romans)~I found out I was prone to be one who piles stones in the river… I understood grace for others, but I had a stronghold from my childhood that Satan used to get me to the place of being caged. BUT, God wins and I am free in the spacious place of His love and rest!

    I will have to look at your other posts…

  2. 2 serenawoods said at 7:37 pm on September 21st, 2011:

    I read that book several years ago, but can't remember much of it.

    Childhood issues are a huge part of what trips us up in the faith department. When our childlike innocence is damaged, it's hard to believe that it can be restored.

  3. 3 Heather said at 10:26 pm on September 21st, 2011:

    I think of David, who struggle between flesh and spirit and was often at the extremes.

    A key word for me in your post is "focus". We must focus our eyes, heart, mind, on Jesus, who is grace. If we look around at other Christians, the church, our friends, family, even great advice, we will fall short. I have experienced this first hand. I have tried to speed up God's timing or take what I thought was His will and timing and work it out.

    God's promise and will always involves His timing too. My only part is to be available.

  4. 4 @4gilbert said at 8:06 am on September 22nd, 2011:

    Yes, yes, yes!!! I've certainly been treated "less than" because of my view of grace. And you know what? It made me dig deeper. It made me beg God for clarification…to make sure I didn't have a distorted, messed-up view of grace. And what He did was amazing: He sunk the truths deep into my heart and mind. I can't deny this undoing He's put within me. Love this post!

  5. 5 serenawoods said at 8:39 am on September 22nd, 2011:

    Rebecca!! 🙂 That is exactly what He did for me, too. Once I saw it, it made every other scripture/Bible story make sense. There is so much to be seen and discovered now that I have the 'key' to the 'map'. I think you're going to like the new post "strange love story'.

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