1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c]And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.
12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
A clear-cut claim is made in these verses: all people are either living according to the Spirit OR they are living according to the flesh, that is, their “sinful desires.” This is the dichotomy. You are either A or you are B. There is no option C or an “all of the above” option.
Is the Apostle Paul’s claim true? And, if so, how are we to discern this? In order to show that a dichotomy is false all one needs to do is prove that there is some possible option C, or that it is possible to be both A and B simultaneously. I will address the possibility of there being an option C.
First of all, what does it mean to “live according to the flesh?” I think that it would be safe to say that in this context it means one whose primary concern is to make their “body” happy, that is, to be well-fed, well-clothed, comfortable, and able to indulge in sex, alcohol, etc. when one sees fit. This is in contrast to one who lives “according to the Spirit,” which seems to entail that they are living for something that is higher, and producing fruits such as ” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galations 5:22-23 ESV). [This is sounding very Platonic indeed, but I won’t elaborate on that, since that’s not what this is currently about.]
As for myself, being one of those who is, apparently, “living according to the flesh,” my main concern must be that I am well-fed, well-clothed, comfortable, and able to indulge in sex, alcohol, etc. when I see fit, right? Additionally, I should not be very concerned about things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control. It could be that these “fruits of the Spirit” have some significance to me but, according to these verses, my primary concern is the former. I live according to the flesh. That is the most important. Right?
When I chose not to be a Christian, it was because I sincerely felt that it was the “right” choice to not be one. I chose it because I felt that choosing to remain a Christian was to act in fear and pride. I remember many years ago, when I was a Christian, I thought to myself “I am NEVER going to leave the faith because of pride or feelings of insecurity (unworthiness).” It was true that most of the time when I would experience a doubt about Christianity (back then) I traced it back to a feeling of pride or insecurity (or unworthiness). There was something completely distinct when I made my final choice to leave. It was completely clear in my mind that my reason for leaving was neither pride, nor insecurity. It was genuine disbelief, and a feeling that Christianity was not the most “right” thing, that there was something better than it, which I had never thought possible.
What my decision was very pointedly NOT based on was a desire to do all those “sinful” things I couldn’t do before, like drinking or having sex or any of those other things. The decision was based PURELY on what I believed to be the right thing to do.
Of course, you don’t have to believe me. But that’s what I believe to be true about myself.
Does that disprove the dichotomy presented in Romans 8? Am I option C when the only options are A and B? Or did I misrepresent options A and B? Let me know what you think…
Next up: Religion, the scapegoat.
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