The "flesh" (or “self life”) arises from the fact that our bodies have not yet been redeemed and can be influenced negatively by the world-system (culture) —and by the spirit ruler of our planet, the devil, who "lures and entices,” thus causing the Christian to act on his own energy and strength rather than relying on the power and life of the indwelling Christ. "Self-effort" characterizes "the flesh." We usually distinguish the "good side" of the flesh as contrasted with the "bad side" but God sees human pride is both.
Andrew Farley writes, “The flesh is a way to think. The flesh is a way to walk. The flesh works against the Spirit. The flesh encourages self-effort. The flesh seeks identity and purpose. We choose to put confidence in the flesh.” (The Naked Gospel, Zondervan 2009)
“Christ is our life...” we have no other. “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.”
Satan is "the god of this present age," the ruler over the present world-order. He is a spirit being, ruling nations and cultures through fallen angels. This makes the culture and social order we live in "enemy-held territory." Acting on one’s own self-energy results in nothing of lasting value in the eternal scheme of things! We may instead be unwittingly serving our enemy!
Am I treading water but making no progress? Or attempting to row a small boat just upstream from Niagara Falls?
Adam was originally God's steward, manager, and overseer of the created order, but Adam abdicated this office and its authority when he disobeyed God in the garden back in Eden.
Hebrews Chapter 2, by the way, is about the divine program by which God is restoring Adam to his lost estate progeny through Jesus Christ, the one unique son of Adam who never sinned.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was tested physically, emotionally, and spiritually to the limit, as detailed in Matthew Chapter 4. His qualifications to save us from ourselves are unimpeachable. But we can not save ourselves! We have nothing to add to the equation.
The rule of creation, originally given to man was forfeited by Adam, (Genesis 3). Jesus, the “Second Adam” (also called the “Last Adam”) was sent into the mainstream of human life to buy back mankind, and to ultimately restore the ruined creation as well. This Jesus accomplished in full. We are yet see all aspects of His purchase, but it is all a done deal as far as eternity is concerned.
References on "The Flesh:"
1 Samuel: The Death of the Flesh
Then Flesh and the spirit
Unmasking the Flesh
Then Came Amalek
Brief History and Final Destiny of Edom
1 John 2:15-17 is a key reference:
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever."
The "world-system" involves a concern for external appearances more than inner content and quality. As used in the New Testament, the world does not refer to nature, but to the organized world-system, to society and human culture. The world system is outwardly religious, scientific, cultured and elegant. Inwardly it seethes with national and commercial rivalries. Music, art, literature and philosophy along with art, fashion wear, paint and perfume conceal disease, malnutrition, starvation, murder and death. The appearance of things covers the hidden reality that we are out of sync with God. “Man looks upon the outward appearance but God looks upon the heart.”
The general characteristics of "the world" (as the term is used in the Bible when referring to the fallen "world system") may be described roughly as follows. The world:* Produces conformity to cultural norms or traditions of men; stifles individuality.
The Enemy Around by Ray Stedman
A Fully Christian Society
“The New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take. It tells us that there are no passengers or parasites; if a man does no work, he ought not to eat. Everyone is to work with his own hands, and what is more, everyone's work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no 'swank' or 'side,' putting on airs. To that extent a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist. On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues, and the New Testament hates what it calls 'busybodies.'
If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we would come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and in that sense, 'advanced,' but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned - perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine . We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about everything that is totally Christian: everyone is attracted to bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Ch. 3).
Satan is the “god of this age,” the “god of this world (order).” He is a fallen angel and his turf is earth. (Our earth is called “the Silent Planet” in C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy).
A fascinating word occurs several in the Greek New Testament: It is stoicheion. From the context in which the word is used it can mean somewhat different things. The basic meaning is "the ordered arrangement of things." It can mean the ABCs, the line of soldiers marching in a row. It can mean the atomic elements—the building blocks of the physical universe. Stoicheion can mean "the first principles," the basic or elementary principles of life. It can also mean the unseen angelic forces and powers who control the cultures and social order of the world.
The New Testament uses of this word suggest, most of all, that the Christian has been set free from the control of the world system and all that is behind it in the unseen realm. This includes fallen angels and demons, "the elemental spirits." (More at the end of this page).
"And you (followers of Jesus) God made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Ray Stedman says the following about the dangers of the values and cultures of “the world” as an enemy of the Christian:
"In a final word on the subject of maintaining fellowship, the apostle deals with the supreme peril to fellowship, and, therefore, the greatest peril to Christian maturity. Here is a great enemy of the Christian, the siren voice that seeks to lure us aside, trap us, delude us and ultimately to defeat us, in our Christian experience.
‘Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.’ (1 John 2:15-17 RSV)
Surely this is a much abused passage. Each of us has heard it used to denounce everything from buttons to beer, from opera to operations, from the waltz to the Watusi. Anything that is currently the subject of Christian disfavor has been crammed into this passage, labeled "worldliness," and denounced. I am not interested in adding to that list. I am not interested in denouncing, but understanding. Surely there is something very clearly evident to us as we approach a passage like this and that is that the apostle desires to warn us that the world is dangerous. There is clearly something very dangerous about the world, otherwise he would not speak as strongly and as sharply as this: "Do not love the world or the things that are in the world."
Now what is it that is dangerous about the world? That is what we must discover. The first step in doing so will be to note that the apostle divides this enemy into two major divisions. "Love not the world," he says, "nor the things that are in the world." Now why does he make this distinction, and what difference does it make? Does it need to be said that the world which the apostle is talking about is not the physical world, the world of nature? There is nothing wrong with loving the physical world. God has given us the world of trees and mountains, of skies and seas There is nothing wrong with that world. Nor is this dangerous world the world of humanity, of people with their many different practices, customs and interests. We know it is not wrong to love that world because God himself loves it. That most famous of all Scripture texts says so, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ (John 3:16 KJV) That is the world of humanity, the world of people.
But nevertheless there is a world that we must not love and John evidently expects his readers to know what that world is. It is something he has evidently often talked over with them and described to them, and now he does not need to define it for he knows that they know what he means. This would suggest that the world which John has in view here is clearly defined for us in other parts of Scripture. We shall find it most clearly in John's previous writing, the Gospel of John. In the Upper Room Discourse John records our Lord's words, and he speaks in warning about the world:
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15:18 RSV)
Here is a world that hated Jesus Christ. What world is that? Obviously, the representatives of that world were the enemies of Jesus. Who were they? It is most striking to recall that the enemies of Jesus were basically religious men. This world which the Christian is not to love is, therefore basically, primarily a religious world. It is not exclusively so for there was a secular world which hated Jesus as well. The representatives of the secular world hated the Lord Jesus, not with the hate of outright enmity, but, which is worse, with the hate of callous indifference. Our Lord said that the world would hate us because it hated him, and John says this is the world we must not love. We must not love that which hates Christ.
The world hated him because he constantly challenged its basic philosophy. He was in continual protest against that to which the world was irrevocably committed. Our Lord put the whole matter plainly one day when he said, "You are those who seek, not the honor which comes from God, but that which comes from man," (cf, John 5:44). There is the philosophy of the world, the world that John says we must not love. It does not look beyond this life, it is concerned only with the honor which comes from men and unconcerned about the honor which comes from God. It is a philosophy which is bounded at one end by a cradle and at the other end by a casket. It is centered only in this life and this world. Jesus challenged that concept wherever he went and whenever he spoke. Because he thrust so decisively against this, he was hated and men banded together to put him to death. It was this philosophy which was ultimately responsible for nailing the Son of God to a bloody cross.
Think about that for a moment -- this philosophy that says the only important thing is this life -- think how widespread that is today. Are we not constantly exposed to this idea? Does it not subtly penetrate everything we touch today? We see it underlying all of life. It makes its appeal in every magazine. It is blazoned on every billboard. It is shouted abroad by radio and television, every time we turn a dial. It can be summed up in this precise way. "There is nothing better, there is nothing higher, there is nothing more precious than what this earth can give you: its money, its pleasures, its fame. You had best eat, drink, and be merry, for there is no nobler life than that."
Now, John says do not love that idea, do not love that philosophy, do not think it important. Be careful that you do not give yourself to that way of thinking. If you do, you will lose out on the fullness of Christian experience. You will be eaten by the devil. You will be trapped, deluded. You will become the victim of the Big Lie, and your very humanity will be wizened and withered by that philosophy.
"Well," you say, "how do you battle this? What can you do about this? If it pervades everything around us, where does the battle begin?" The answer is: with "the things that are in the world." There is where we must fight this battle. It is not enough to say, love not the world. It must be brought down to specifics. It must be reduced to that with which we actually come in contact. So John adds, "the things that are in the world," and he defines these. He gives a list of them and says, "these are not of the Father but are of the world." That is what is wrong. To reject a philosophy we must do so in certain specific actions.
These constitute three things which the apostle now defines, three categories:
There is first, he says, the lust of the flesh. And we have already seen many times, in the Scriptures this word, flesh, is usually something other than the body. It is more than that. It is the sinful nature, the sinful tendencies of humanity, the fallen condition of man, which is present in the body. It is in this sense that the apostle uses it here.
What is this lust of the flesh? There are certain things which our body desires that are perfectly proper, God-given. God has made us, as men, to have certain urges and hungers, and to satisfy these is not wrong. But the flesh, that sinful propensity within us, that fallen part of our nature, always seeks to add something, to go beyond the satisfying of God-given desires.
For instance, God has so made our bodies that they hunger for food, in order to maintain life. This is as it should be. But the flesh goes beyond and craves special foods, delicacies. It urges to gluttony, more than we need. It demands the best, the softest, the most flavorsome. This is what John is speaking of. God has made us to have need of shelter, as human beings. But the flesh demands that it be luxurious shelter. There is a constant craving after ease and luxury. This is the lust of the flesh. God gives us the wonderful function of sex, which produces the most enjoyable sensation the body can experience. But the flesh wants to indulge this in any direction at any given time. It urges to license. This is the lust of the flesh.
There is a second division John sets before us, the lust of the eyes. What is this? The eye symbolizes that which pleases the mind or inner life. The lust of the eyes, like that of the flesh goes beyond simple needs. Our minds, for instance, were made by God to search and inquire, to take the great facts which revelation or nature set before us and to explore them, analyze them and systematize them. But there are certain limits to these. There are limits within nature, and there are limits within revelation. There are certain areas of knowledge of which God has said, we, as fallen men, are not to enter into because they are dangerous, exceedingly dangerous. But the flesh takes this basic permission of God and pushes it beyond God's will to extremes we are forbidden to follow. We demand to know everything. We will not accept facts unless we can understand everything about them. We seek to probe into the world of the occult, and the world of the future. We even give ourselves to superstition and the dark powers in order to explore these areas. This is the flesh, the lust of the eyes.
God has given us the gift of acquisitiveness, i.e., the desire to own things, to possess things as our own. But the lust of the eyes pushes that into greed that is never satisfied. We want more, more, more! This results in the common phenomenon of "keeping up with the Joneses," the desire to have things we do not need, bought with money we do not have, in order to impress people we do not like! God has given us a love of beauty, but the lust of the eyes perverts this into vulgarisms, the love of the erotic, pornography and idolatry, that covetousness of another's body which the Scripture labels outright idolatry.
There is still a third division which is the pride of life. What is this? Basically, this is the desire to awaken envy or adulation in other people. The first two divisions had to do with satisfying ourselves, not as God intended us to be satisfied, but beyond that. But they were directed toward us, and only incidentally involved others. The pride of life, however, cannot exist except as it relates to others. It seeks to create a sense of envy, rivalry, and burning jealousy in the hearts of others and gives us pleasure in doing this to them. It is the desire to outshine or to out rank someone else.
Perhaps the chief symbol of it today is the automobile, with its shiny exterior, its luxurious cushions, its beautifully designed interior, and its tremendously powerful engine, these instant horses that can be released with a touch of the toe to send us flying down a highway. What a thrill it gives us! You only have to study the habits of a human with an automobile to see how it is far more than simply a means of transportation. It is a symbol, a symbol of pride. Why do we trade our cars in every two years? Well, of course, we have very carefully designed rationalizations that can show, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it is much cheaper to do it this way. But actually do we not do it because we want to be admired? We do not want to fall behind in the race. We want to have that which is new and excites admiration in others, even envy and jealousy. Now that is what John calls the pride of life. The automobile is not the only expression of this, but it is certainly one.
Now notice again the warning. What does John say about this? Notice he does not say, touch not, taste not, handle not. Writing to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul says, such an attitude is legalism, and it is this which has made this a verse so abused in the past. John does not say, "do not have anything to do with any of this." But what he does say, what he wants to bear home to our hearts in living, flaming language is this one phrase, do not love these things, do not set your hearts on them, do not think of them as important. Do not give yourselves to amassing things, do not love luxury and ease, and do not strive to outshine others. God help you, keep from that at all costs. Oh, the subtlety with which this whole philosophy makes its appeal to us! When the love of these things, the importance of them, occupies our major interest; when we find them using up most of our money; when we find them looming large in our thoughts so that we are constantly dreaming of that new "something" we hope to get, then we are in danger, terrible danger. This is what the apostle wants to make clear
Why must we not love the world and its things? John gives two very searching and important reasons:
First, because love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive. You cannot do both, it is one or the other. Man is so made that he is designed to love, and therefore serve, but one master. Remember how Jesus put it? "No man can serve two masters," (Matt 6:24 KJV). He is not stating a moral choice there. He is not saying, no man should serve two masters. It is an impossibility! It cannot be done. We only delude ourselves if we think we are doing it. No, we are made to be mastered by a greater power than ourselves. This is the underlying, elementary function of humanity. But that master is either the world, as the channel and activity of the evil one, or it is God. It is God or mammon. Therefore John says, "if any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him." You cannot do both.
If we give ourselves to loving the world, we are utilizing all the potential of our humanity to a false and grievous end. There are two powerful forces constantly making their appeal to us. Both of them offer to fulfill us, to satisfy us, to make life rich for us, but one is a lie and one is the truth. You must decide which is the lie and which is the truth for you cannot do both. This is where we fail so often. Many of us say, there must be a way of having the best of both worlds. But the entire testimony of Scripture and experience is, it is impossible. That is why the Apostle Paul writes that the mark of the last days is that men would be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. These are two absolutely antagonistic ideas.
This love of the world can get into the heart even of a dedicated Christian, and let us not forget it. Godly companionship is not enough to defend against it. Even the companionship of the Apostle Paul was not enough, for the Scriptures record that Paul himself had to write in sorrow these revealing words, "Demas has deserted me, having loved this present world," (cf, 2 Tim 4:10). That is how subtle, how deceitful this thing can be.
Now there is another reason we must not love this world. Not only does it exclude the love of God completely, but it is an utterly foolish choice, because the world, John says, is passing away, it is only a temporary thing, but he who does the will of God abides forever.
Martin Luther wrote, "I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But the things I have placed in God's hands I still possess."
How true that is! We all know the glory of this world is rapidly turning to dust. The power of it soon passes from our nerveless fingers into the hands of another. Nothing lasts very long, everything is changing. "Change and decay, in all around I see." That is the characteristic of the world.
Shall we give ourselves to that temporary, fleeting, ephemeral thing? Must the best issues of our life be built on that kind of a shaky foundation? No, John says, it is he who does the will of God who abides forever. One of these days the world and all that we see in it and all that history records of it, will have been forgotten, will have passed into the silent dust of the centuries. But according to the Scripture, one day the Lord shall stand with his own and view a universe where all things have been brought together and reconciled in Christ, made one in Jesus Christ. What a thrilling thing it will be to stand there and see that come to pass and say, "Thank God, I had a part in that, in the reconciling of all things in Christ."
Our Lord divided the issues of life into two words. He says there are two things, and only two things, you can do with your life. "He that is with me gathers, but he that is against me scatters,"(cf, Matt 12:30).
Now which are you doing? Are you gathering, or scattering? Are you uniting and reconciling, or are you dividing and breaking up and severing?
All the issues of life funnel down into those two things. This is also where John puts it. If you are living for the world, loving its glory, seeking its fame, counting important the things it can give, clinging to these desperately, letting your emotions get wrapped up in them, you are scattering, you are breaking up, you are dividing. But if you are walking with Christ, if the things that he loves are most important to you, if a cup of cold water given in his name is of far more value than another dollar in the bank, if time is spent in comforting or encouraging some lonely person is to you a far greater treasure than a killing in the stock market, then you are building, you are gathering, you are building that which will endure, which will last forever, you are laying up treasures in heaven.” The Enemy Around, by Ray C. Stedman. (Ray Stedman.org)
See also: Developing Christian Priorities in Life, http://ldolphin.org/priorities.html
Developing Christian Priorities in Life,
The majority of people living on earth want no part in God’s ownership of all things. We act indistinguishably on squatters rights as we run our own lives and pay neither rent nor board, not even earning our keep. Many of us become “religious,” though this fails to impress God either. Driven into a corner by the statements in the Bible, our own recourse should be to flee to Jesus for help. He is available. God is intensely personal and our living by proxy does not impress him. What an insult it is to ignore His offers to liberate us. In the end all honor will be given to the Son of God and to those who have obeyed Him faithfully. But He is gracious, kind and merciful!
“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
But fornication (porneia) and all uncleanness (akarthesia) or covetousness (pleonexia), let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:
“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:1-22)
Only Jesus Christ can live “the Christian life.” We constantly believe we can make it on our own! Or perhaps we deceive ourselves by supposing He is on our side and will empower us to succeed or manage life on our own. Not so! This is the great lie behind the facades and illusions of this present life. Jesus is the owner and heir of all things!
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
For to which of the angels did He ever say:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”? And again:
“I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son”?
But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
“Let all the angels of God worship Him.”
And of the angels He says:
“Who makes His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire.”
But to the Son He says:
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
“You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail.”
But to which of the angels has He ever said:
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”?
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1)
Notes: ELEMENT; ELEMENTAL [Gk. stoicheion, pl. ta stoicheia]. The Greek word occurs seven times in the NT: Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8, 20; He. 5:12; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12. The various translations given to the word by the AV, the RSV, and the NEB show the need for careful study to determine the precise meaning intended.
In Gal. 4:3 the AV has "the elements of the world" (mg. "rudiments"); RSV and NEB "the elemental spirits of the universe" (NEB mg. "elements of the natural world, or elementary ideas belonging to this world").
In Gal. 4:9 the AV has "the weak and beggarly elements"; RSV "the weak and beggarly elemental spirits"; NEB "the mean and beggarly spirits of the elements."
In Col. 2:8 the AV reads "the rudiments of the world" (mg. elements"); RSV "the elemental spirits of the universe"; NEB "the elemental spirits of the world" (mg. "rudimentary notions").
In He. 5:12 the AV has "the first principles of the oracles of God"; RSV "the first principles of God's word"; NEB "the ABC of God's oracles."
In 2 Pet. 3:10,12, the AV, RSV, and NEB all render the word stoicheia as "the elements."
I. Greek Literature: Outside the NT. The following six meanings show how diversified is the use of this word: (1) It designates the lengths of shadows. (2) As an ancient linguistic term it refers to a syllable or constituent part of a word. (3) It refers to cosmic or elemental substances. (4) It is a descriptive term for the elementary details of music instruction or the basic matters of mathematics. (5) It designates the stars or heavenly bodies. (6) It refers to spirit beings or elemental spirits of the stars. (For all of these meanings and related aspects see TDNT.)
II. Meanings and Theological Importance in the NT. In 2 Pet. 3:10-13 the word stoicheia occurs twice (vv. 10, 12). Here it means "the elemental substances of the universe." In the day of the Lord the heavens will pass away with a roar, and these elemental substances, being on fire, will break up into their component parts (v. 10), or melt (v. 12). Thus, says Peter, there is no permanence or stability in material things. Because Christians are expecting these catastrophic changes, they are to make every effort to be spotless and without blemish. They want to be found by Christ in peace (2 Pet. 3:14). Since all things will be in the process of being dissolved, Christians are to be persons of quality in a holy manner of life doing godly acts (3:11).
The use in Hebrews is in the context of the writer's concern about his readers. They had become sluggish in their hearing. They had not matured. They were not able to be teachers but needed someone to teach them the initial elements of God's oracles (He. 5:11). The NEB renders the term ta sloicheia as "the ABC of God's oracles." These initial elements are listed in He. 6: 1 f. The basic principles referred to here certainly parallel the basic principles of mathematics or the elemental principles of music.
Any agreement about how to translate ta stoicheia disappears when we consider the use of the term in Gal. 4:3, 9. The context in 4:1-11 must determine what meaning is given the word, At the close of ch. 3 those who are Christ's are Abraham's offspring and heirs according to God's promise. In the legal system of Judaism an heir was controlled closely by his father. He did not enter into the rights of manhood until the date set by his father (4:2). When the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son to redeem those who were under the law (4:4) and thus made it possible for all men to receive sonship (5:5).
In this context the idea that Paul is referring to "the elemental spirits of the universe" does not make good sense. The context surrounding Gal. 4:3 favors the idea that when the readers were children and when Paul was younger, they were all part of a Jewish or gentile religion. In their former states they were in bondage to a way of life that did not give them freedom. Judaism, the religious expression of Paul and his contemporaries, was not a pure interpretation of the OT. Legalism had replaced law. The Gentiles knew neither God nor the law of the OT in its right meaning. They were tied up with idolatries 51 (4:8). To return to any type of legalism would be to return to the weak and miserable religious expressions that preceded Christ and His freedom (v. 9). The "elements of this world" here are the constitutive elements of man's existence prior to God's sending His Son in the fulness of time. Christ's life and deeds made a radical change in how man's existence is to be constituted. Hence, as Delling has pointed out, "the elements of the world" is a Pauline term not that of the Galatian readers (TDNT, VII 684f.). For Paul, it summarized fife before the fulness of time, before Christ's coming.
The phrase ta stoicheia occurs twice in Col. 2 (vv. 8, 20). In v. 8 it is parallel to the phrase "the traditions of men." It is contrasted with "being according to Christ." Paul is concerned about the Colossians. Living in the world, they have become subject to rules and regulations (v. 19). In this context, the "elemental spirits of the universe" is too specific a translation. Rather, if we translate ta stoicheia as "the elements of the world" (vv. 8, 20), the passage would seem to teach that religious activities not centered in Christ are judged by God to be invalid. To die with Christ is to be set free from these elements of the world (v. 20). They come under Christ's judgment because they are only commandments and teachings of men (v. 22). Those Colossians who may have been involved with worship of angels (v. 18) needed to break with this as well as with any of the other elements in their existence. But there is never any explicit connection between the elements of the world and the worship of angels. In Colossians, "the elements of the world" is again a broad term for human existence apart from Christ.
III. Creativity of Paul. The expression "the elements of the world" in Galatians and Colossians is a vivid description by Paul of elements that characterize man in revolt. These elements show man's busy activities in which allegiance to God and Christ is absent. They denote a way of life that is not according to Christ. They designate the busy round of activities that discloses man's estrangement from God and from which man is set free when he genuinely identifies himself with Christ's death, Functioning in this way, the phrase "elements of the world" stands for all that is involved in bondage as contrasted with the freedom that comes in Christ. Bibliography: A. J. Bandstra, Law and the Elements of the World (1964); TDNT, VII, (Delling). (ISBE)
Reference: The Elements of the World System Part I and Part II.
September 30, 2018.
December 30, 2018
August 10, 2020
From our Archives 2001
My speaking topic for the week was intended to help my friends learn to identify, and reject, what the Bible calls "the flesh." The flesh--our ever-present enemy--asserts itself in our lives in a dozen subtle ways every day we live. The topic of "the flesh" deserves more discussion than a half-hour talk, so I handed out the following set of notes.
The Failure of King Saul
The Christian has three enemies: they are, the flesh, the world, and the devil. (People are never our real enemies). The most subtle of these opponents is called "the flesh."
Saul was the first king of Israel, anointed into office by the prophet Samuel. Saul was tall of stature, a fine military leader and a good family man. (He apparently had only one wife, four sons and two daughters). For the 400-year period of the Judges after Joshua died, the tribes of Israel had been scattered and disorganized. Saul did a great job putting together a central government, and a united army. His natural gifts would lead one to believe he could have been a great king. But in a very short time, Saul was disqualified as king and young teenage shepherd, David of Bethlehem, was chosen to replace him. Chapter 15 of First Samuel gives us the clues as to why Saul failed God's tests as king--why he was DQ'd (disqualified).
The Old Testament presents truth in story form, teaching by stories and by examples, (Romans 15:4). The truth stated in the New Testament is the same truth because God is unchanging. Each of us has a kingdom--a sphere of influence. We will rule successfully--or unsuccessfully--over our own kingdom depending on our understanding of what God expects of His king or His queen. Properly understand, Saul's failure has great relevance to our individual lives today.
God tests King Saul: (First Samuel 15) Samuel said to Saul, "The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore hearken to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, `I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'" So Saul summoned the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valley
Saul's response--incomplete obedience: "And Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.
God's critique of Saul: The word of the LORD came to Samuel: "I repent that I have made Saul king; for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments." And Samuel was angry; and he cried to the LORD all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning; and it was told Samuel, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned, and passed on, and went down to Gilgal." And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed be you to the LORD; I have performed the commandment of the LORD." And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed." Then Samuel said to Saul, "Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night." And he said to him, "Say on." And Samuel said, "Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, `Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.' Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?"
Saul's rationalizations: And Saul said to Samuel, "I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal."
Grave consequences: And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."
Saul's superficial repentance: And Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD." And Samuel said to Saul, "I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel." As Samuel turned to go away, Saul laid hold upon the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or repent; for he is not a man, that he should repent." Then he said, "I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD your God." So Samuel turned back after Saul; and Saul worshiped the LORD.
The end of Agag: Then Samuel said, "Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites." And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, "Surely the bitterness of death is past." And Samuel said, "As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women." And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal. Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel. (1 Samuel 15)
Saul's kingship briefly summarized: "Saul died for his unfaithfulness; he was unfaithful to the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance, and did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD slew him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse." (1 Chronicles 10:13-14)
Who is Amalek: Amalek was the grandson of Esau. Esau was the twin brother of Jacob, the sons of Isaac, who was himself the son of Abraham. Jacob wrestled with God and became the man named Israel, the head of the nation Israel. Esau is a type (or symbol) of the flesh. The flesh is the natural life of Adam in each of us. All that we were in Adam is worthless in the eyes of God. (Skeptics, please read Romans Chapters 1-3). Saul "and the people" made a value judgment of their own--deciding what was good and what was bad in Amalek. God had in fact declared all of Amalek to be worthless in His eyes. Saul's incomplete obedience caused him to be disqualified from being king. (This meant loss of rewards for Saul, not loss of salvation).
The treachery of Amalek against Israel: When the people of Israel left Egypt under Moses, nearly 500 years earlier, they were attacked from the rear by the people of Amalek. One account of this battle is given in Exodus, the second summary is in Deuteronomy:
"Then came Amalek and fought with Israel at Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, "Choose for us men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand." So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. And the LORD said to Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD is my banner, saying, "A hand upon the banner of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." (Exodus 17:8-16)
"Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and cut off at your rear all who lagged behind you; and he did not fear God. Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget." (Deuteronomy 24:17-19)
What is "the flesh?" The New Testament shows us that the Spirit of God in us is always at war against the flesh--as long as we live in this world--and until our present bodies are redeemed. This is equivalent to the statement "the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." Paul writes, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another." (Galatians 5:16-26)
The "good and the bad" aspects of the flesh: ALL of the flesh (our natural life) is worthless as far as God is concerned. We usually deal with the "bad" side of the flesh when we become believers. That is we generally begin to live "socially acceptable" Christian lives by giving up our drug dealing, fornication, our lying, cheating, stealing and getting drunk on weekends. We deal with the obviously "bad" side of the flesh, but we inevitably ignore the "best of the flesh. " After all, we have all sorts of wonderful personality traits, talents and resources developed by experience in the world--these we are happy to devote to God's service. The flesh loves to sing in the choir, to preach--in fact the flesh can be very religious! This means we all tend to try to please God by our self-effort, by our religious performance-oriented living, by "trying harder." God needs our help doesn't He? How did He get along before we came on the scene? Living the "American dream"--"you can be anyone you want to be in life"--is a great example of the lure of the flesh calling us to fame, ego gratification, and personal glory.
The fact is God does not need our help out all! But He is glad to use us when we meet Him on His terms
In broad terms the flesh may be defined as "self-effort"--attempting to live the Christian life by our own efforts. The flesh is always self-seeking and self-serving. The flesh, like Agag, is rooted in pride. Our problem is that we fail to see that ALL we were in Adam must die. In actual fact when Christ died on the cross--we also died with Him. This is the clear teaching of the letter of Romans. (Like all Biblical truth this reality is something we experience by faith).
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self [the flesh] was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." (Romans 6:3-14)
"Self-Effort" always leads to failure: By nature we are self-made men and women and by nature we tend to worship our "creator" (self). This means that the deceitful nature of the flesh easily escapes our attention. We think we can handle some areas of our lives on our own. We think we need God only for the crises and rough spots in the road. But the harder we try to live Christian lives on our own, the more we fail. Paul writes of is his own struggles in this department in 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. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which 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. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." (Romans 7:15-25)
Eternal loss or eternal gain: At the judgment seat of Christ, when we Christians die, all that we have done in the energy of the flesh will be lost, only those things the Spirit has done through us (by faith), will survive (http://www.ldolphin.org/Jseat.html). If we fail to agree with God about the flesh and our need to renounce it completely, we shall end up no better off than Saul.
The "Exchanged Life:" The missing secret becomes clear: the Christian life can only be lived by Jesus Christ Himself! That is why Jesus said,
"Come to me, all who labor [try too hard] and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28, 29)
Notice the subtle shifts in the pronoun "I" in Galatians 2:20 as Paul talks about his discovery that he is already dead to sin in Christ. The old life of Adam in him is null and void as far as God is concerned. Paul's new life is Christ living in and through him.
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose." (Galatians 2:20-21)
"Christ in you" is the real new you: Jesus said to all,
"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (Luke 9:23-26)
Paradoxes: Authentic Christian living involves a constant set of paradoxes: submit yourself to death and you will live, cling to your life and you will lose it, lose your life and you will save it, become a slave to Jesus and you will be truly a free truly person, die to self and you will find yourself. The world produces conformity, stifling individuality. Christ living in us does exactly the opposites. He unfolds and fills out all the gifts, talents and abilities He created in us in the first place. We become the whole (holy) men and women we were intended to be by His original design and plan.
"The cross is the symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. it struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more. That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel." (A.W. Tozer)
God is Love. God can not act selfishly. Love can only give itself away. Love can only seek the best interest of the beloved. Love can be offered to anyone but has no value until it is accepted. After we receive the love of God, we are to love as others as God has loved us. This is the key to our own wholeness and fulfillment as persons. God loves each of us deeply. He has already dealt with all our sins fully on the cross. But God can not fulfill us in life as long as we say "yes" to self and "no" to the cross.
Servant power and authority: The more we subject ourselves to Jesus Christ (King of kings) and His rule in our hearts, the greater will be our dominion (influence) in the kingdom of our own lives. If we yield dominion we will be given dominion. Kings in the lineage of Christ are to be servants not overlords. The disciples were slow to catch on to this!
Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." Peter began to say to him, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first." And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise." And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:24-45)
Complete in Christ. Nothing remains to be added to a Christian's life. All we need is already resident within. "As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you are complete in him, who is the head of all rule and authority." (Colossians 2:6-10)
Extra Reading: The Key to Everything, by Norman Grubb | Authentic Christianity by Ray C. Stedman
Highly Recommended from James Joseph Fire