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The Flesh and the Spirit
(From the Epistle, Galatians v.16ff, Trinity XIV)

The Christian is the recipient of the most remarkable gift ever offered and ever received:

the living presence of God in The Person of His Holy Spirit, actually resident within the believer's very body.

This is the consummation of a remarkable promise made by God to the Jewish people, extended, because of Christ, to absolutely every believer, whether Jew or Gentile (read Jer. 31:31-34).

Jer 31:31 "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:"

Jer 31:32 "Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: "

Jer 31:33 "But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people."

Jer 31:34 "And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

The Law of God, which is holy and immutable, has been literally written in our hearts --not of course by some process of transferring the commandments directly into us by some sort of divine download-- but by the Spirit, who enters our hearts at conversion and continues to be reinforced there by our conscious choice to live a holy life, partake of the sacraments, and feed on God's Word. This same Spirit supplies us with both the desire and the power --the means-- to obey God's laws. As we yield to His presence continually, we can be assured that we are walking in fulfillment of God's laws in each and every situation life brings to us.

The Holy Spirit is a living Being: we are literally inhabited by another invisible Person who supplies us with the ability to live in a manner that pleases God. Not perfectly, mind you, as we'll see... but the power and the means, through the Spirit's presence, are always there.

The Flesh:

This is good news, very good news indeed. But it must be understood within a reality that also includes the presence of something that the Scripture calls “the flesh”. The flesh, however, is not a gift from God. It is not something we receive or acquire as something external to ourselves; we have no choice in whether we possess it or not; we all possess it, because it's an inherited property. “Flesh” as the Bible defines it is more than just our physical bodies: our skin, muscle, and bones. It is our nature, our disposition, an inclination that we all are born with, that which without the intervention of the Holy Spirit remains the dominating motivating factor in the life of every man, woman, and child alive. It is the fountainhead of all human activity that originates apart from God-- all human activity.

Let's explore that a bit: all activity, whether good, bad, or indifferent? Yes, it is so. This is not to say that man --made in God's image, an image that is good, righteous, and holy-- is incapable of doing anything good at all. Obviously if that were so the world would be continually in a state of uncontrolled chaos and disorder. No, the world is not completely absent good, of course.

But we have not the slightest inkling of what the world would be like were it without sin and rebellion against God, and disobedience to His commandments ...in other words, the world as He originally intended it to be, which He will some day inaugurate permanently. At its best the world as we know it is a mere shadow of the loveliness, marvel, and magnificence that will characterize God's Kingdom. There is simply no comparison.

The Spirit, this priceless gift we have received at salvation from God has absolutely no concord with the flesh, the inherited disposition we all possess. Men in the flesh may sculpt statues, paint pictures, write symphonies, compound philosophies, build cities, advance technologies, climb mountains, build hospitals, save lives, found colleges, and perform every act of altruism and charity. All of this is true because man reflects the image of the One who formed him and imbued him with the capacity for such accomplishment. We do not need to make a list of all the bad things men are capable of: a look into our own hearts will suffice, not to mention observing just one day in the life of a community, a nation, or the world. Man, though desirous of doing good, nevertheless cannot free himself from the consequence of sin which ultimately colors his every action, chains him to his base nature, continues to make futile his unaided efforts to find some way to permanently better himself, defies his ability to unite all men under one banner of virtue that would serve to bring every single heart to a place of concord and harmony. Such goals remain utterly elusive and completely impossible, because man is inseparably bound to his flesh, and his flesh is ruled by sin. There is no release from this universal bondage, but in Christ.

The believer, possessing the Spirit, nevertheless has not been separated from his mortal body, which is the seat of his flesh. Furthermore, because of his sin, whether past or present, he is still wounded and broken --under repair, perhaps, like some sort of project of renovation-- but but still very much alive in a world where sin is present and dominant, working upon us either from without or within.

In addition, the flesh colludes with its dear friends and fellow-travelers “the world and the devil”, to make this life a very alien place for the earnest believer in Christ.

Born again, he is now a foreigner, looking upon the terrain with new eyes. Alive in Christ, he recognizes that the enemy --that which would pull him away from God and faith-- lurks everywhere. In such a hostile setting he must be a skilled and well-armed soldier alert to all that is going on around him, conscious both of his enemy and of the resources the believer possesses against him. Can you see that life as a Christian can be no passive stroll through the park, leisurely plucking flowers along the way, acting as as if this world is our home, not heaven, and as if we embrace its values and priorities as our own.

It cannot be so, because that is the road to defeat and destruction.

No, we must "walk in the Spirit" (vs. 16), "be led by the Spirit" (vs. 18), and "live in the Spirit" (vs. 25, not included in today's Epistle).

The word "walk" here means a lot more than the physical act of moving from one place to another --far, far more. St. Paul's use of walk here means “live your entire life”, “exist”,“pass all of your moments in” the context of the Holy Spirit. All that we do, from this point in life onward, is not to be dictated by self, or by others, but by the Spirit.

Walking in the Spirit:

What does that mean in the practical sense? How can this be brought about? Let me say that walking in the Spirit develops by increasing our knowledge of this One called the Spirit: getting to know more with each passing day what it is that He desires and wishes, and calling upon Him continually for the power and help to fulfill those desires and wishes. It is merely a matter of getting to know Him. As with the formation of any acquaintance, this is not easy or instant. It is, in fact, the consequence of an entire life devoted to this purpose.

No doubt every believer possesses God's Spirit at the moment of conversion. But think of it like a person who has just acquired a large, new home, filled with rooms and unexplored spaces. When once we have admitted Christ into our lives we also await His gradual move into every room, until He has taken full possession of His newly purchased residence. We can either facilitate or obstruct that process by our own choices. If we keep these rooms full of baggage that has nothing to do with our new Landlord, we obstruct Him. This is the war between the flesh and Spirit alluded to in today 's reading. If the house is still cluttered with the works of the flesh, whether it be our little idols, our uncontrolled emotions, our self-indulgence, or any other listed works referred to... whether merely a few of them, some of them, all of them; even if vicariously, so to speak, in that we are addicted to entertainment where these things are always displayed; giving our consent to them, as it were, by not actively opposing them; relaxing our walk in the Spirit by passively giving in to all the multiplied sources of ungodliness that surround us ---all of this makes the new Owner's job of taking possession much, much harder. He must now step over piles of stuff; avoid areas from which exude some pretty foul odors; open carefully and cautiously some closely-guarded closets which seem to have “warning--do not enter” signs plastered all over them; carefully try not to get us too mad and resentful by suggesting we remove what He has identified to us are actually idols; in other words, put up with an awful lot of stuff that He might otherwise have not had to bother with if we were indeed exercising ourselves continually to walk in the Spirit, and not in the flesh.

Consider how simple is the list is of the fruits of the Spirit: there are only nine of these lovely fruits, versus seventeen works of the flesh, a list which ends with the phrase and such like, meaning there are many more of these grim characteristics, not even mentioned.

When once the house is cleared of the clutter the refurnishing is much simpler, and the replacement items are absolutely beautiful. For now the house, from basement to roof, is filled with the most wonderful things that all humanity aspires after in one form or another.

Take just one of these fruits, goodness (in Greek, “agatha”), as an example. The word is defined in this manner: “the beautiful, the attractive, the useful, the profitable, the desirable, the morally right...”; that which is “free from flaw, in full balance and harmony with the ideal”; “useful, salutary, excellent, distinguished, upright, honorable, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy, acceptable to God, suited to the course of human affairs”.

Where We All Live:

In closing, let me stress that giving control to the Spirit is a matter of yielding to Him, especially during occasions when we know we might easily yield to the flesh, instead:

-Suppose members of my family demand my attention, and try my patience in the most ingenious of ways, just at the point when I have the least tolerance for it?

-What if I've tried and failed for the tenth time to insert a bolt while installing a car part, hoping to save myself repair costs?

-Suppose someone insults my reputation?

-What if I'm totally ignored and forgotten when the credits are being liberally given out for some project in which I had a chief role?

-Suppose I'm tempted by circumstances to fear, worry, or desperation?

-What if a particular circumstance of sharing the deep hurt and pain of another requires of me a tenderness and depth of empathy that I know I don't possibly possess?

Where shall I go? What shall I do?

Let us pray:

“Lord, help us in these and a thousand other circumstances to yield to Thy control, by choosing to walk in the Spirit, so as not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh."

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Trinity Church, Waterville ME
Ed Kalish, Deacon

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