It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)
Our bodies of flesh are transient, but our soul is eternal. Therefore, it is the things of the spirit that matter and not those of the flesh, which is as grass that withers and dies (Isaiah 40:6-7), or like a vapour that appears for a moment and is gone (James 4:14).
When reading the Bible, the distinction between the flesh and the spirit is both apparent and important. We can see these two opposites in everything from birth to death, as well as in the life we live in between.
As born again believers, we must all learn to walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit (Romans 8:1), to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). In the Old Testament, many walked by faith — Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, the prophets, and so on — following wherever God led them and doing whatever he asked of them. In other words, they walked after the spirit. And in doing so, God moved in their lives, guiding them in all things that they might be both tried in their faith and given great gifts, such as children, promises, lands, the oracles of God, wealth and power, or wisdom, knowledge and understanding.
Hebrews 11 is known as the great “faith chapter” of the New Testament as it shows clearly that salvation — and by extension being part of God’s family — has always been by faith, or by walking in the spirit, for “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
And just as when Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10), our focus must be on that which is to come, which is not of the flesh but of the spirit. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Beyond walking in the spirit, generally, there are specific yet interconnected areas where there’s a clear and important distinction between the flesh and the spirit. Here are some of those.
This is the most important of all. While we are all born into this world, the first birth, the eternal life-giving birth happens only when we are born again (John 3:7). First we are born in the flesh, but the moment we are saved, when we confess Jesus as Lord and believe in our heart that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9), we are born of the spirit, born of God. No longer are we dead in our sins but we’ve been quickened by the spirit.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6)
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
Being born again means that we’ve overcome the world, for greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4)
Once we are born again, we become a child of God sealed by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 1:13) unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30), as long as we abide in the vine that is Jesus Christ (John 15:4-6). Praise the Lord for this unspeakable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Unlike being born first of the flesh and then of the spirit, we are baptized first by the spirit and then in the flesh, as evidenced when Peter preached the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to Cornelius and his companions.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? (Acts 10:44-47)
Sean’s recent sermon — Jesus “shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” — covers this subject more fully. The sermon was preached at Biblical Baptist Church in Bhagathsingnagar, in the south-central state of Telangana, India.
The water baptism that follows the baptism of the Holy Ghost is not that which saves as some would teach, rather, it’s a public confession of faith as well as a figure of the death of the old man and the birth of the new.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
The moment we believe and are baptized by the Holy Spirit we are also sealed.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
It is appointed unto each and every one of us to die once (Hebrews 9:27), the physical death, but if we’re not saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1) and condemned already (John 3:18) and, as such, spiritually dead. Thus, the spiritual death comes before the physical death and we will stay spiritually dead unless and until we repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).
When the LORD God put Adam into the garden of Eden he gave him just one commandment:
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:16-17)
When tempting Eve, Satan told her that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Satan knew that the death the LORD God was referring to was a spiritual death, but he deceived Eve by implication. From that moment, Adam and Eve died spiritually and, as a result, we have all inherited the propensity to sin which, without exception, will cause us to die spiritually. Jesus confirms that those who don’t believe are the living dead.
But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. (Matthew 8:22)
Beyond the spiritual death in this life and the physical death of the flesh at the end of this life, there is also the second death mentioned in the book of Revelation. Some say this is a spiritual death, however, the unsaved are already spiritually dead when they pass from this world. While still living, we can be released from our sin debt by God’s grace if we have faith and believe the gospel — and in that moment we are passed from death to life (John 5:24). The second death is the final judgement on the dead, those whose names have been blotted out of the book of life (Exodus 32:33) because they lived their lives dead in their sins without repenting from their unbelief and turning to Jesus Christ for their salvation.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12)
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14-15)
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
To be sure we’re not cast into the lake of fire, we must be born again, for, as we saw above, those who overcome the world through their faith are those who have been born of God (1 John 5:4).
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. (Revelation 2:11)
Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding
Many accumulate great wisdom, knowledge and understanding over the course of their lifetime, but unless we are born again it’s nothing more than worldly wisdom emanating from man and not from God. In other words, without God there is nothing but the “wisdom” of the flesh. As believers, when we grow in our understanding of God’s word it’s because these things have been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.
And as Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:10-16)
When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being born again, it’s clear that despite all of his learning Nicodemus was unable to truly understand the scriptures he had spent many years studying. This inability to understand the things of God was widespread amongst the Pharisees, Sadducees and learned men of Israel, which is the reason why they placed so much emphasis upon the “wisdom” or traditions of man that Jesus spoke against throughout his ministry.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? (John 3:10)
Further, when Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, Jesus confirmed that this knowledge came from the Father. In other words, the spirit of God or the Holy Spirit.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)
The People of God
The children of God — the chosen or elect — are those who are born again in the spirit, whether before or after Christ. This can be seen by looking at the clear juxtaposition of flesh versus spirit in the following key areas, all of which are intricately entwined.
As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. (Romans 9:25-26)
Abraham, the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4-5), is both the physical father of his descendants according to the flesh and the spiritual father of all who believe. When speaking to those Jews who insisted Abraham was their father, Jesus made it abundantly clear that being of the physical seed is not the same as being a child of Abraham:
I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:37-44)
Paul wrote about this in his epistle to the Romans, clarifying that Abraham is father to all those who believe and, further, that the seed (of believers) includes those of both the law and faith (emphasis mine):
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. (Romans 4:11-17)
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. (Romans 9:6-8)
Paul also made this same point in his epistle to the Galatians:
Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. (Galatians 3:7)
And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)
The Two Covenants: Circumcision and Jews
The first covenant — the covenant of circumcision (Acts 7:8) — which was made with Abraham was a covenant of the flesh for all physical descendants of Abraham, those who became known as Jews, through the line of Isaac and Jacob (Israel). The second covenant is a spiritual covenant pertaining to the circumcision of the heart, made without hands (Colossians 2:11), of all those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 8:6).
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Romans 2:28-29)
Thus, the spiritual seed of Abraham (those who are Christ’s) are the same as those who have received the circumcision of the heart and are Jews spiritually (inwardly). Revelation 2:9 and Revelation 3:9 confirm that calling oneself a Jew is not the same as being a Jew in the eyes of God.
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)
Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. (Revelation 3:9)
When we are born again we become the spiritual seed of Abraham and, therefore, spiritual Jews. We are circumcised in the heart and worship God in the spirit.
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. (John 4:23)
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)
The Two Covenants: Law vs. Grace
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
Roughly 1,500 years before the birth of Christ, God gave the law to Moses as a schoolmaster (Galatians 3:24) to teach the children of Israel how to live and obey God’s commands. Yet, while the law was given for the flesh, Paul tells us that by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in the eyes of God (Romans 3:20), which is why God sent Jesus Christ into this world to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). We are born again of the Spirit (John 3:6) by way of God bestowing his grace upon us at that moment when he gives us the gift of the Comforter which is the Holy Spirit, which amongst other names is also referred to as the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2, Matthew 3:16) and the Spirit of truth (John 14:7; 15:26).
Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Thus, while the law was for the flesh no flesh could be justified by it, but grace is for the spirit in that we are born again in the spirit as a new man and it’s the new man which is justified.
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: (Colossians 3:9-10)
The present-day city of Jerusalem (Galatians 4:25) is of the flesh as it still contains sin, but it will be replaced with the new Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12), the heavenly city (Hebrews 12:22), which will come down from heaven for those of the spirit to dwell in, those who have been redeemed and in whom there is no sin.
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. (Galatians 4:21-31)
And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, (Revelation 21:10)
Further, the spiritual state of present-day Jerusalem is made clear in Revelation 11:
And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. (Revelation 11:8)
Just as there’s a Jerusalem of the flesh and of the spirit, there’s also an Israel of the flesh and of the spirit, made abundantly clear in the following passages from Paul’s epistles to the Romans and the Corinthians:
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. (Romans 9:3-8)
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? (1 Corinthians 10:16-18)
Further, in his epistle to the Galatians, Paul connects those who are a new creature — that is, in the spirit — with the Israel of God.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:15-16)
The difference between Israel of the flesh and Israel of the spirit is not about replacing Israel (which equates to all physical Jews) with “the Church” since salvation has always been by faith (Hebrews 11); and the “all Israel” of Romans 11:26 refers to all who are justified by faith, whether before or after Christ, whether Jew or Greek.
Jesus the Bridge
Jesus as God (John 1:1) was manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) and was, therefore, both God and man when he walked this earth. In other words, he was both spirit and flesh. After being baptized by John, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil (Matthew 4:1), but being God he could not be overcome by temptation (James 1:13).
For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:16-18)
Because Jesus suffered and was tempted as we are, he is now our bridge between the flesh and the spirit, for not only can he help us (succour, above) when we are tempted, but also he wraps us in his righteousness (Galatians 3:27) so that we are acceptable unto God (Romans 15:16).
Walk Not after the Flesh, but after the Spirit
Thus, we come full circle. It’s not the things of the flesh that matter but those of the spirit. We must, therefore, separate ourselves from the world so that we are, truly, that holy nation, those peculiar people (1 Peter 2:9).
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of 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 passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)
Amen, and Amen.
Nicodemus and Abraham Photo Credits: Lumo Project