“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” Romans 8:12, 13a. Once again I wish to base my remarks on these words of the apostle Paul, so directly connected with our subject of Christian living. Before we proceed, will you read them once again, carefully and prayerfully? The Word of God itself is so much more powerful and effective than anything man may say about it. It always is. Remember this, covenant friends, and read your Bible much.
In our previous discussion, we touched on these elements: that we owe: why we owe: what we owe, namely, our entire lives: and, briefly, to whom we owe. We concluded by saying that we are debtors either to “the flesh” or to “the Spirit”. There are no other alternatives, no other choice. Ethically, there are no other masters, no other spiritual principles, than these two.
Notice, however, that even so we have no choice, for most emphatically and unequivocally the apostle eliminates the one, when he says, “We are debtors NOT to the flesh.” They felt the force of it. Originally, they, too, had known no other master, no other principle, no other standard than the flesh. Accordingly, they had lived in constant sin, revelry, lasciviousness, complete obedience to the lusts of the flesh. Now they were indeed saved, justified by faith, born again, sanctified unto a new and holy life, received into the covenant of God. Nevertheless, vestiges of that former servitude remained, leftovers from that previous life after the flesh. Therefore, Paul speaks as he does: “ye are debtors, not to the flesh”.
From all this it is not difficult to see just what is our calling as Christians. From the fact that “we are debtors, not to the flesh” follows inexorably that “we are debtors, not to live after the flesh”. Negatively, therefore, Christian living is a living NOT AFTER THE FLESH.
What this implies is readily seen. “The flesh”, the old sinful nature, the whole of man as he stands under the influence and dominion of sin. “After” means: according to, in harmony with, according to the rule of, after the pattern or standard of. Man’s “life” is man’s existence, within and without. It embraces all the activities of the heart and soul and mind and will, man’s thoughts and desires and motives and affections, his seeing and hearing and speaking and singing, the whole of his existence in the home and on the street, in church and in catechism, at work and in school, anywhere, everywhere, always.
“Living after the flesh” therefore, means that in this whole of our existence we make the sinful flesh, the old man, our pattern and standard. That sinful flesh is all we live and labor for. Nothing else matters. The only question in life is: how can we please the flesh, “the old man”. From morning until night we have nothing else in mind. Everything, all our thinking and willing, all our seeing and hearing and speaking and singing, all our likes and dislikes, our plans and aspirations, in fact, our entire lives, from every point of view, even our church and catechetical life, centers around the “old man”, yourself as you crave and serve sin and the world. The all-determining question is: what is the pleasure of the flesh? How can we get the most out of this life? “Living after the flesh” is quite the same as “minding the things of the flesh”, another phrase used in this same connection. The “things of the flesh” are those things that are conceived and produced by and for the flesh and that for that reason appeal to the flesh. They include, not only the things that are positively evil, but also the natural and earthly things in general, like riches, pleasures, sports, money, clothing luxuries, cars, houses, jobs, looks, etc. “To mind” these things implies, that we set our entire hearts on them, that all our time and attention is devoted to them, that we seek and cherish them and find it impossible to interest ourselves in anything else such as things spiritual and eternal.
That, my friends, is “living after the flesh”. That, says Paul, is precisely what your obligation is not.
And yet, that is exactly what we do by nature; still do, even as children of God. Yes, indeed, that is abundant reason for the apostle to speak to us in this manner. Also in the church there is altogether too much of this “living after the flesh”. That applies to our young people, too. In fact, not one of us should imagine that we should be excluded. Too often we live as though we owed our lives to sin and the flesh and as though we were in this world for no other reason than to have a good time and seek the satisfaction of the flesh. In our practical lives, we too often make the flesh the norm of our living. Oh, yes, if we have a little time or money left and if it does not interfere with our selfish, carnal interests, we may do something for the kingdom of God, too. We also go to catechism and to church once or twice each Sunday. But really, it’s the flesh that concerns us. Entirely too much of our time and effort is spent on the things of the flesh, thinking what the flesh wants us to think, going where the flesh wants us to go, singing what the flesh wants us to sing, seeking the things of the earth, sports, amusements, clothes, cars, houses, etc. If only we would seek the things of God as we seek those things. We arise in the morning with those things in mind and heart; all the live-long day we pursue them more or less: when we retire at night they are still with us. Now these things are not wrong in themselves. That is not the trouble. Amusements and sports as such are not necessarily evil. We may be mindful of our looks and wearing apparel. We may possess and enjoy our homes and cars. But, these are good only as means to an end. The moment we make of any of these things an end in itself, we sin. And that is precisely what we do a great share of the time.
And what about the spiritual things, the kingdom of God, the Word of God, reading, church, Christian conversation, prayer? Well, they are of secondary importance. We have no time for them, no desire, no money. We have no time to study our catechism lesson, no time to read edifying literature like the Standard Bearer and Beacon Lights. We need our time for other things. We can’t afford them either. We need our money for other things, cars, houses, clothes and we may add: sports, bowling, smokes, skating, basketball and football games, malted-milks, gas, oil, etc. Paul says: we may not live that way! We are debtors, NOT to live after the flesh.
The apostle adds a most earnest warning: “For if we live after the flesh, ye shall die.”
That is plain language. The reward of such living is death, eternal desolation. And remember, this is an inexorable law. It is not true that we can live after the flesh and be saved, rejoice in the hope of everlasting life, even though we are called covenant children. But, you say, a child of God cannot die. That’s true, but they that truly live after the flesh are not children of God. The latter are principally delivered from this bondage of corruption. Yet, even God’s children, in the measure they still make too much of this present world, will experience in their consciousness the truth of this inexorable law: they that live after the flesh SHALL DIE. Instead of joy and blessed assurance, doubt and confusion will be their spiritual experience.
In as far, therefore, as we still walk in this evil way and “live after the flesh”, let us repent and turn to the living God.