concerning His Son, who was born of the seed of David, according to the flesh, Romans 1:3
Flesh – Is the flesh sinful? Most Christians, I’m afraid, have a tendency to think so. Maybe that’s why the NIV translates this Greek word (sarx) as “sinful nature” in most of its occurrences. But we hardly can claim that the Messiah was born with a sinful nature, so we invent things like the “immaculate conception” of Mary as an exception to the rule. If we don’t follow Catholicism in this direction, we have other explanations. But the real problem is much deeper. It’s a problem with our Greek conception of the world. When Paul uses the word sarx, he isn’t thinking Greek. If we just moved over to his point of view, we would have a much easier time. Let’s try.
First, we notice that Paul says the Messiah was born according to the flesh. From a Hebrew perspective, that’s the equivalent of saying that Yeshua was really human. He was embodied in basar (Hebrew for “flesh,” literally “meat”). That’s the way every human being comes into this world – as basar. That’s the way we engage the world – as embodied. Human beings are not ethereal spirits floating around in the another dimension. They are flesh and blood bodies.
Of course, from Greek philosophy, we are taught that the embodiment of humanity is a problem. It is the source of our passions, desires and confusions. If we could just become disembodied spirits, we would be just fine – released from the prison houses of this flesh and blood existence. In the Greek world, the flesh (body) is bad news. The spirit is the good stuff.
Christianity absolutely denies this form of Greek dualism! The world God created, and everything in it, is good. Sin is not the result of being embodied. It is the result of willful choice as embodied. Any suggestion that the body is essentially evil is not a Christian doctrine because it denies God’s good creation.
Second, we have to notice that in the Hebrew world, every human being is a personality embodied in flesh and blood. Hebrew speaks of an inner man and an outer image. The whole point of alignment with God is to get the inner person connected to God and integrated with the outer image. Transparency is the goal. I want to be intimately connected to God so that there is no difference between who I am on the inside and who I appear to be on the outside. So, Paul contrasts body and spirit, but he does not mean that the body is bad and the spirit is good. Both are God’s creation. The difference is that the body is limited and temporary. Some day its limited and temporary nature will give way to a greater reality. In the meanwhile, we are here in the flesh.
You’re probably thinking, “So, I already knew that.” Great! Then you won’t start thinking that somehow our flesh and blood existence is destined to sin. Sin isn’t transmitted in your DNA. Sin is choosing to disobey. Of course, there are lots and lots of inherited tendencies and preconditions, but just being human doesn’t make you evil. It just makes it very, very hard to resist what seems natural. When God says that it isn’t too difficult for you to keep His torah, He implies that you can! You can’t deal with your guilt before God, but you can keep His instructions. That’s why He gave them. And, of course, when you mess up, God offers reconciliation. Flesh is not bad news. It’s just the way things are while we wait for a greater reality to arrive. It’s the arena where we work out our salvation. So, enjoy the sunshine on your skin. Breathe the cool air. Rejoice in the joyfulness of being alive. It’s good to be flesh and blood in service to the King.
Topical Index: Embodiment