From Flesh To Spirit

Later in Romans, Paul furthers the theme of gentile sexual depravity, this time by arguing from the hierarchical dualisms flesh (sarx) and spirit (pneuma), a theme he broaches more directly in his letter to the Gala-tians.91 In Romans, Paul states, "those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the spirit" (Rom 8:5). Paul puts it this way in Galatians: "what the flesh desires is against the spirit, and the spirit is against the flesh" (Gal 5:17). The flesh and its desires lead to death, just as slavery to sin was said to be death dealing to the idolaters of Romans 1 and 6 (Rom 8:6). The "works of the flesh" include: "porneia, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these" (Gal 5:19-21). According to this argument, those who are "in the flesh" cannot submit to or please God, for they are utterly opposed to God and the things of God (Rom 8:7-8). They are enslaved by their desires and their vices. Those "in the spirit," on the other hand, have put to death the deeds of the flesh and will live. Indeed, they received "the spirit of sonship" instead of a "spirit of slavery" (Rom 8:13-15).92 They are not only "slaves of God," they are God's children and heirs. In this passage the slaves of God have become sons of God who live according to the spirit and are free from the works of the flesh and the slavishness of desire.93

Arguing for the corruption of "the world" and describing the decisive transformation that occurs "in Christ," Paul offered the following representation of gentiles: Idolaters, they have been given up to lust, impurity, the dishonoring of their bodies, their dishonorable passions, and homo-erotic sex; they possess base minds, exhibit improper conduct, and are fornicators and slaves of sin. They deserve to and will die. Living according to the flesh, they are lawless, hostile, and cannot please God (Rom 1:18-32; 2:8-9, 21-24; 6:12-13, 19; 7:14-15; 8:5-8, 12-13; !2:2; 13:12-14). The brothers and sisters in Christ, by contrast, are represented quite differently: United with Christ, they have destroyed their sinful bodies and gained bodies that are instruments of righteousness. They are now slaves of God and sons of God, living according to the spirit whether they are slave or free. They have been sanctified, set free from sin, and they bear the fruits of the spirit, having "crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24).94 The distinction between these two groups could not be more plain. Those who were not "in Christ" were expected to engage in nopveia. By contrast, gentiles-in-Christ control their bodies and themselves. Paul staked his claim of purity and righteousness in Christ on sexual self-mastery. In the process, he called into question gentile assertions about their own self-mastery, a hostile rhetorical move in the first-century Mediterranean world. Writing a letter to Rome, the capital of the empire, did Paul dared to suggest that the empire and "her" emperor were illegitimate? Or was Paul willing to grant an exception for these gentile rulers, masters of the world, at least for the time being?

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