Should you be Fleshly?

By John Telgren

The Apostle Paul says: "for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealously and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (I Cor 3:3)" Paul also says, "For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin…I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not…Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom 7:14-24)"

It seems then, that "flesh" is not a very good thing. The word for "flesh" in Greek is "sarx", which can merely mean physical flesh. However, it has a deeper theological meaning as you can see from the sampling of scriptures above. It also refers to that inherent quality in humans to cause them to want to sin against God and others. The flesh, according to Romans 7, is at war with the spirit. The spirit wants to do one thing, the flesh wants to do the opposite. Hence you have this inner struggle going on. Indeed, Jesus himself said that "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Mat 26:41)"

In contrast to us, Jesus was not fleshly. Or was he? One of the most profound passages of the New Testament is John 1:1-14. "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him; … And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." With all the negative connotations behind the word "flesh", it is interesting that we are told that Jesus, who was God, became flesh!

The first reaction would be to say that this is merely talking about his physical flesh, not all the weaknesses inherent with flesh. In other words, Jesus was human, but not in the same way we are human. That is a typical reaction. It seems that we as humans are a bit more comfortable with the divinity of Jesus than with the humanity of Jesus.

However, Jesus was very, very human. He was born a human, dependent child, just like every other child. He had diapers, he cried, he was vulnerable. He lived in subjection to his parents. When Lazarus died, he wept. We he was nailed to the cross, he bled! He was most definitely human.

Hebrews 1:6-7 says of Jesus, "What is man, that you remember him? Or the son of man that you are concerned about him? You have made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and have appointed Him over the works of your hands;" What is interesting is that this passage is quoted from Psalm 8 which was originally talking about mankind. "Son of Man" was a Hebraic way of saying "human". The Psalmist was marveling at what God had done for man. The book of Hebrews takes this passage, which was talking about a "human", and applies it to Jesus. This is why the passage goes on to say of Jesus, "Since the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise also partook of the same, … He had to be made like his brethren in all things, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest…(Heb 2:14-17)"

What does it mean when it says that Jesus had to be made like us in all things? Does it just mean that he had a physical body? Or does it also mean he was beset with the same weaknesses that other humans have? Look at this passage: "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things which he suffered. And having been made perfect, he became to all those who obey him the source of eternal salvation (Heb 5:8-9)." Wait a minute! Jesus had to "learn" obedience? Jesus had to be "made" perfect? Wasn't he already perfect? This is what I mean when I say this is profound. Something very significant happened when the word became flesh. Jesus had to "become" perfect as a human by overcoming temptation.

What does a Jesus as a perfect "man" do for us? We could speak of the fact that Jesus was a "perfect" sacrifice, but Hebrews takes this "perfection" and applies it to Jesus' ministry as our intercessor. "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, … he can deal gently with the ignorant and the misguided, since he himself also is beset with weaknesses (Heb 4:14-5:2)." His humanity allowed him not to be just a High Priest, but a "merciful and faithful" High Priest. In other words, he walked in our shoes in a most marvelous and mysterious way, and can sympathize with us! (The major difference, which the book discusses in later chapters, is that Jesus, although tempted, did not succumb to temptation.)

There is an implication in all of this for ministry. According to Hebrews 1:1-2, Jesus himself is God's ultimate message to man. Notice how God did not choose to give his message. He didn't beam down radio waves. He didn't drop a bundle of tracts. He didn't send Bibles. Instead, "the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth". God's ultimate message was a MAN; a flesh and blood person who could be touched and seen: "we beheld his glory". Jesus walked with us, talked with us, ate with us, cried with us, laughed with us, and suffered with us. He was "with us". He was Immanuel (Mat 1:23). He left heaven to personally come and be with us, and as a result, we can be with God.

At the end of his time on earth, Jesus says, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you (John 20:21)." So we are to go as Jesus went. Not by sending tracts, not by radio programs, not by newspaper articles, but by being "with" others. This is exactly what Paul did (I Cor 9:19-23). As Jesus became "like us" so he could bring us to God, Paul says he became "like them" yet not of them, so that he might win them. Paul didn't retreat into a monastery or church building, but was "with them". The word continued to "become flesh" in his ministry. We should "go and do likewise". God's plan is still for his message to become "flesh" through us.