3 : 10 October 2004

Harold Brokke

Flesh or spirit?
Is flesh evil?
What does it mean to have ...
Jesus Living in Our Flesh?


A STRANGE CONTRADICTION exists in the mind of many believers who desperately desire to live righteous lives, but think that to claim victory over sin is heresy.

What would happen if a believer testified, "I have found freedom in Jesus from the power of sin. I have walked in victory today. Jesus took charge and I had victory over all my temptations?"

Many Christians would object, "That sounds like a spiritual pride and self-deception. No one can live in victory over sin - even for a day. The Bible says, 'In my flesh, dwells no good thing.' As long as we are in the flesh, we sin daily in thought, word, and deed!"


Why would this happen? A misbelief has been planted in the mind of Christians that affirms our need of holiness, but denies the possibility of living in holiness while we are in the flesh.

Is that so? If sin is synonymous with life in the flesh, a fatal heart attack would deliver us from sin more quickly than the grace of God does. If sin is part of our physical nature, it cannot be dealt with fully until a minister conducts a funeral service and an undertaker buries our sin with our dead body.


CONSIDER TWO SCENARIOS concerning the word "flesh." First, the way it is used in Gal. 5:17, "The flesh lusts against the Spirit." Here Paul uses the word flesh as man going his own way. If we try to live our lives as autonomous self-willed persons, we remain bound by lusts and weaknesses. We remain captives of "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience" (Eph. 2:1-3).

In this condition the works of the flesh appear: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Gal. 5:19-21).

THE SECOND SCENARIO is found in the Gospel of John where the word "sarx" is used in reference to Jesus' incarnation. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (1:14).


The Greek word "sarx" is often translated as flesh in Scripture. A modern conterpart is the word "humanity." Flesh and spirit are created by God. Jesus by His incarnation came in the "sarx." He shared our humanity. He lived His life in the flesh, and He alone remained entirely free from sin.

I think the best and easiest to understand translation of the word "sarx" is the one used in the New King James Version, the Revised Standard Version and the Moffat Translation - flesh.

When "sarx" is translated "sinful nature" as it is in some modern translations, one suspects that a theological bias has entered in. In reality, the words "sin" and "flesh" are not synonymous or even intrinsically related.

These translations infer that sin is not just dwelling in the flesh but that sin is the flesh itself. They imply that "sarx" is sinful - a serious inference and surely not the message of the New Testament.


When Paul speaks of "sin in the flesh" and cries "O wretched man that I am!" (Rom. 7:24), his words echo in the hearts of all who desire righteousness but fail to live righteously. Yet, we sometimes fail to understand what kind of problem he is describing. We could compare his dilemma to a sick person who cries, "I'm so miserable, this sickness is killing me."

Imagine a muscular young man, six feet five, and "strong as an ox." He becomes infected with a virus that saps his energy, and raises his temperature to 105. His doctor says, "You have a viral infection. You are a sick man."

We are right to say the young man has a virus. We would be wrong to say that the man is the virus and the virus is the man.

Paul does not say flesh and sin are one. Rather, he says sin dwells in the flesh and, by God's remedy, can be purged from the flesh as a virus can be purged from a body.

Paul is describing a moral dilemma that disturbs him deeply: Sin dwelt in his flesh and, despite his religious resolutions and self-righteous efforts, he could not get free.


To understand this passage we must understand the word "dwelling," a translation of the Greek word "oikeo." It means to occupy, to reside, to inhabit. Paul's flesh was the house that sin lived in. He called this evil tenant dwelling in his humanity, "no good thing."

The word "oikeo" is also used to indicate the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8:11 "…the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells (oikeo) in you…" Paul says that the Holy Spirit dwells in, or makes residence in us as His children. That doesn't mean the Holy Spirit has become us and that we have become the Holy Spirit.

When Paul struggled with sin dwelling in his flesh, he did not say that sin had become flesh or that flesh had become sin. Rather he saw the indwelling sin could be cleansed away by the power of Jesus Christ.

In Jesus' work on the cross and in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Paul sees the solution to our problem and says that Jesus "condemned sin in the flesh." We are made "free from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit of life" (Rom. 8:1-4).


When we repent of our sins and turn to Jesus as the One who forgives us and fills us with His Spirit, the "sarx" becomes God's place of redemptive triumph, not shameful defeat. His Holy Spirit takes up residence in us to sanctify our humanity. In that light think about the following verses:

John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory ... "
Luke 24:29, Jesus said, "Handle Me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see Me have."
1 John 4:2, "Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God."
1 Tim. 3:16, "Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh ... "
2 Cor. 4:11, " ... that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh."

The Christ who lived a holy life in His human flesh, wants to win this spiritual battle that takes place within our personalities. He wants His life to be "made manifest in our mortal flesh."


Harold Brokke