The Ambiguity of Dead Flesh

In my continuing study of Scripture, I have become more comfortable holding apparently competing spiritual concepts in my head.  Whereas previously I wanted to track spiritual ideas down to a concrete and logical conclusion that fit neatly into a theological system, I have come to realize that much of God and His ways lie beyond easy compartmentalization.

For example, Paul writes of the Jews of his day, “But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.  But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (II Cor 3:14-16).

Think about the phrase, “their minds were hardened…and a veil lies over their heart.”  In this specific case, who hardened Israel’s heart?  Since we have a record of God hardening the heart of Pharaoh, could God be responsible for hardening Israel’s heart?

Or what if we look a few verses ahead to II Corinthians 4:3-4, “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.”  We recognize the “god of this world” as Satan and here he is identified as the mind-blinder of the lost.  Since lost would certainly apply to modern day Israel, is Satan responsible for hardening their hearts?

Or how about option three?  The Jews themselves are responsible.  After all, since “the veil is removed in Christ” and “whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away”, could it be that anyone who rejects Christ is responsible themselves for their spiritual blindness?

What I am getting at is this.  In the case of II Corinthians 3:14-16, we know Israel’s heart is hardened, but I don’t think the Scripture is clear as to the responsible party; God, Satan, or themselves.  It is a spiritual ambiguity.  Likewise, our flesh – pronounced dead at the crucifixion of Christ and subsequently replaced by a new nature by Christ’s resurrection power – still carries some influence in our lives.  And that influence can be awfully strong.  The tarnish on the silver can get pretty thick.  How is that possible?  How can a “dead nature” manipulate us so?  It is a spiritual ambiguity.

And because of this ambiguity, it is a difficult task to reconcile God’s “dead to sin” promise with my experience with sin.  So we are tempted to downplay the promise.  We are tempted to twist Scripture to fit our experience.  We are tempted to interpret God’s view about our war with the flesh solely based on our experience with sin.  But when I trust God with being bigger than the ambiguity, I can come to His Word without a preconceived notion of what God says about the believer’s relationship with sin.  Our goal is to let Scripture speak for itself regarding our war with the flesh.  A goal we will pursue next time.