[forthright] What is SARX (flesh)? Part 2

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From: "Forthright Magazine" <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Thu, 07 Jun 2007 11:33:28 -0300
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COLUMN: BASIC GREEK LANGUAGE STUDY

What is SARX (flesh)? Part 2
by Kevin Cauley

For Part 1 see this link:
http://www.forthright.net/basic_greek_language_study/what_is_sarx_flesh_part_1.html

The word SARX takes on more of a theological
meaning in Paul's epistles where the life of the
flesh is contrasted with the life of the Spirit.
In these passages, Paul's usage of the word SARX
signifies a lifestyle that makes decisions
ungoverned by the Spirit solely to gratify the
desires of SARX. 

In the Hellenistic world, SARX is seen as the nest
of emotions and more specifically, desire./1
Desire comes from SARX itself (specifically, from
the belly, KOILIA, see Romans 16:18 and esp.
Philippians 3:18-19) and if there is an
opportunity to satisfy SARX, the life of SARX
makes the choice to pursue SARX. In this sense,
the word SARX doesn't mean so much "flesh" in the
physical sense, but rather, a profligate lifestyle
unrestrained by authority where SARX acts as a
catalyst for decision-making.

Such a lifestyle is contrasted with the life of
the Spirit (see Romans 8:1-13 and Galatians 5:16-
26) which is a lifestyle based upon authority
where SARX is placed in appropriate subjection to
spirit and where SARX doesn't act as the catalyst
for decision-making.

Some translations have opted to translate SARX by
the expression "sinful nature" (the NIV, for
example), but this is an over-simplification in a
limited effort to communicate only one perception
of its significance. It is also misleading because
it conveys the idea that the concept of which Paul
is speaking is genetically innate, or natural,
within humanity. If such were the case, then Jesus
would have had to have experienced such a
condition as well since he was made like unto his
brethren (Hebrews 2:17) yet we know that His
nature was not sinful, hence, such an appellation
could never apply to him, though, He was created
SARX (John 1:14).

Using the definition also has the additional un-
pleasantry of granting to the Gnostics one of
their premises, namely, that SARX is inherently
sinful. Such need not be conceded at all. The word
SARX can be translated by the English word "flesh"
and still convey, in those contexts, the meaning
that Paul intended. 

What is that significance? The contexts in which
Paul uses the word SARX are metaphorical. That is,
it isn't the literal flesh of skin, sinew, muscle,
and blood concerning which Paul has reference, but
rather, an unrestrained and ungoverned lifestyle
dominated by satisfying the desires of SARX. This
is a much more complicated concept than "sinful
nature." One may certainly have a fleshly desire
yet not be dominated by a decision-making process
that comes only from SARX.

In other words, the satisfaction of a fleshly
desire isn't inherently sinful (which would have
to be the case if SARX were equivalent with
"sinful nature"), but solely when such desires are
acted upon outside of the guidance of the spirit.
Only without such restraint, i.e. in the absence
of the direction of the spirit, can such a
lifestyle along with its desires be categorized as
being directed by SARX. 

For example, in Galatians 5:19-21 the works of the
flesh include such things as sexual sin, false
worship, and division. It is clear, however, that
not all sex is sinful such as sex in a marriage
relationship (Hebrews 12:4), nor is all worship
sinful (John 4:24), nor is all division sinful
(consider Luke 12:51). When the spirit
appropriately directs such desires, SARX becomes
subservient to the spirit. It is the pursuit of
the desires of SARX outside the boundaries set by
the spirit that is sinful.

In other words, SARX seeks satisfaction by
fulfilling itself in ways unrestrained by
authority (2 Peter 2:10). The ultimate authority
is, of course, God. Hence, SARX does not seek to
live by the law of God, but in defiance of it
(Romans 7:25). That makes SARX not necessarily the
mere desires of SARX, but the desires of SARX
unfettered by God's Spirit.

Once the Spirit of God restrains SARX (by means of
His word and the individual's spirit), then SARX
no longer has dominion (Romans 7:5-6), but the
Spirit, and one no longer lives the life of SARX,
but the life of the Spirit (Romans 8:1). The
Christian is thus urged to walk according to the
Spirit and not according to SARX (Galatians 5:16).

SARX is without a doubt a complicated concept in
the New Testament. I hope that in the brief time
we've spent discussing it, we've been able to help
clarify its role both in its literal sense, its
physical yet non-literal senses and its
metaphorical senses as well.

Let's remember that SARX in and of itself is not
sinful, but rather, it is a lifestyle dominated by
decision-making based upon satisfying the desires
of SARX that is sinful. Our life for Christ is
certainly lived in the flesh (Galatians 2:20) but
it doesn't have to be lived for the flesh.
_______
1/ TDNT, vol. VII, pp. 101-102.

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