‘Those who are in the flesh cannot please God’ (8:8). In 2 Corinthians 5:9, we might think that Paul says the opposite. He says there that, whether in the body (on earth), or at home (in heaven), our aim should be to please God. However, Paul is not urging us to do something that is impossible in this life.
The explanation is in how Paul and the first Christians used the word ‘flesh’. Its simplest meaning is the soft parts of the human body. However, the first Christians used it as a word-picture for how weak people are without God. By nature, people care too much about the feelings of their bodies, whether pleasure or pain, personal ambition or fear. Often, people only think about their own benefit; so they do not think properly about God or about other people. That is what Paul means by people ‘in the flesh’. With that kind of attitudes, people cannot please God.
It is, however, possible for people to please God even in this life. That is possible for those people in whom God’s Spirit lives. As Paul explains, all of God’s people have received his Spirit (8:9). In other words, all people who have received Christ into their lives have also received his Spirit (John 1:12; Mark 1:8; John 14:16-17). However, they do not always allow his Holy Spirit to direct their lives (Galatians 5:16-17).
So, the human body is not itself evil. In fact it can be very holy, because God’s Spirit can live there (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Christ’s body was just like our bodies, but he pleased God (Mark 1:11). We too will please God if we allow his Holy Spirit to direct our lives (8:13-14).
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© 2018, Keith Simons.