Saturday, June 16, 2007

Spirit and flesh redux

OK, let's try this again. Galatians 5:16f in the NRSV (not the NIV, because it translates sarx as "sinful nature" rather than "flesh"):
Live by the spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the spirit, and what the spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you want.

Does this speak to anyone's experience other than mine? Or we might go to Romans 7:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right but I cannot do it.
Here again we're talking about two different agendas at play. "I" (my spirit/soul that has been regenerated) want to do what's right, but this flesh that is also "me" seems to want other stuff that conflicts. Paul goes so far as to say that it is not "I" that do the bad stuff, but the sin dwelling in my flesh.

This is tough stuff to explain unless we have recourse to the actual, physical flesh that has become habituated in certain ways. Remembering that our brains are part of that, and that the neural pathways that have been formed govern (they don't dictate completely except in extreme situations) my thoughts, attitudes, emotions, etc. Here, then, is why spiritual formation must pay attention to our fleshly existence.

3 comments:

RCP said...

"The fundamental facts about human beings are two: first, we are made in the image of God; and second, that image has been stamped upon an animal nature. Between these two there is constant tension resulting in perpetual tragedy."
—William Temple, Christianity and Social Order

Kirk Kimble said...

Hey, I just preached a message (I'm not a "pastor", and I never played one on TV) laying out the concept that we are tripartite beings; spirit, soul, and body (1 Thess 5:23). This understanding of the regenerated human spirit (sensitized to the Spirit of God)and it's interaction with the soul (mind, will, and emotions) and the body helped me greatly to understand the struggle that Paul describes in Romans 7. When the soul is submitted to the spirit... which communes with the Holy Spirit, then God's will for our lives begins to bloom. But because the soul (mind, will, emotions) houses the will... the soul (mine anyway)loves to reassert it's self-will in rebellion to things of the Spirit and chase after selfish pig-like things (ask my wife). This tripartite perspective opens up all kinds of understanding about spiritual formation, sanctification, the fruit of the Spirit's presence or relative absence, the spiritually fruitful or spiritually "stuck" life.

So, if I identify myself with this perspective of the nature of man... am I placing myself outside of orthodoxy too far? I also have struggled with the spirit/soul (non-meat) part of the human as one combo unit, and applying scripture such as 2 cor. 5:17. If the old has gone... how come it keeps showing up???

J. B. Stump said...

Thanks for the comment. Did you read the other entries on flesh and habits? This is important stuff.
The tripartite view has a long orthodox history. I have opted away from it for philosophical/theological/scientific reasons.