In the New Testament, the terms flesh (Greek, sarx) and spirit (Greek, pneuma) are used in a variety of ways. “Flesh” may refer to the body (Acts 2:26) or people (Matt. 24:22); “spirit,” to the superstition of “ghosts” (Luke 24:39), one’s spiritual commitment (Mark 14:38), or to evil spirits, but most often to the Holy Spirit and the lives of those influenced by Him.
But, with rare exception, whenever “the flesh” and “the Spirit” are used together in the same context, they refer to starkly opposite inclinations, mindsets, and lifestyles leading to diametrically opposite destinies. In these contexts, “the flesh” and “the Spirit” are mortal enemies at war with each other. While this holds true throughout the New Testament, the densest description of this conflict occurs in this lesson’s inSpect passage, Romans 8:4–14 (see this week’s chart).
Jesus’ statement in John 3:6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” refers to our natural birth in the spiritual pit we have alluded to in previous lessons, with no hope for the future beyond this life. His reference to “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” refers to the new birth and conversion which occurs when we respond to the gospel in faith and a desire to have His law written on our hearts, to have our character brought into alignment with His character of love, forgiveness, and grace.
The references in Romans 8:4–14 present “the flesh” as a life completely out of harmony with God, “not subject to God’s law,” mind fixated on whatever the flesh desires, jogging down the road to eternal death. By contrast, it presents “the Spirit” as a life at “peace” with God, mind set on what the Spirit desires, and destined for eternal life.
The references from Galatians 3:2–6 and 5:19–24 reveal the two primary ways that “the flesh” expresses itself: the one overtly irreligious (an anything-goes, no-one-is-going-to-tell-me-what-to-do attitude); the other, surprisingly, religious, at least outwardly (avoiding the overtly “bad” things), but with an unspiritual heart inwardly (does not hunger and thirst for more of God and His righteousness; is not alert to opportunities to encourage and bless those within their circle of influence). “The Spirit,” by contrast, represents a life of “faith” and “the fruit of the Spirit,” characteristics manifested in Jesus’ life and increasingly evident in the life of one who is being sanctified by the Holy Spirit as He writes God’s law on their hearts.
The biblical teaching on the covenant(s) cannot be rightly decoded until this war between “the flesh” and “the Spirit” is understood. We are both targets and players in this war, whether we choose to be or not.