It is difficult to read a translated text and accurately understand the original nuances. This passage uses a juxtaposition of ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ to understand our lives a followers of Jesus. The Greek word for flesh (sarx σάρξ ) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit (pneuma πνεῦμα). When assisted by the original Greek, the verses above read as follows:
I say then: Walk in the pneuma, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the sarx. 17 For the sarx lusts against the pneuma, and the pneuma against the sarx; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the pneuma, you are not under the law.
This draws on a Greek philosophical concept that defines our lives as consisting of body and spirit. Paul uses this to encourage followers of Jesus not to be distracted by the “desires of the flesh”/sarx/σάρξ, but instead to be led by the promptings of the spirit/pneuma/πνεῦμα. This resonates with anyone who has struggled with the tension between the selfishness of our inner drives of lust, desire, and passion - and the knowledge that these cannot have unfettered reign over our thoughts actions.
As we submit our lives to the direction of the Spirit, the selfish passions of the flesh will be transformed, so that they produce “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”.
For ThoughtTake my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne
Frances R. Havergal, 1874
Third Sunday after Trinity33 Christian Maturity
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 207.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.