In Isaiah 40 in the bible, there is a voice crying in the wilderness, proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God. The voice declares that every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill brought low. But when the voice stops, the Spirit of the Lord commands it to cry out the more.
“What shall I cry?” the voice asks. God says: “I want you to tell my people that all flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers; the flower fades, because the breath of the Lord blows upon it. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades. But the word of our God stands forever.”
Many in the church have yet to hear this cry in the wilderness. Most have refused to heed it. And yet, the message is central and fundamental to the Christian faith.
If you are living in a rented house and the landlord gives you notice saying he is going to demolish the house very soon, what would be your attitude towards the house? You certainly would not spend a lot of money repainting and refurbishing it. That would be a waste of time and resources on a building slated for demolition. So it is with our flesh whose owner and landlord is God.
God pointedly refuses to redeem the flesh. Instead, he condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:3). Nevertheless, we remain tied in this life to a habitation in the flesh. But we need to recognise that all investments in the flesh are time-bound.
We are prone to plea-bargain with God: “Dear Holy Spirit, I owe my flesh some things I would like to redeem. I owe my body expensive clothes and shoes. I owe my pride exalted positions and properties. I owe my reputation a high status. In order to make these payments, I may have to engage in some sharp practices. Please bear with me. As soon as I finish paying these debts, I promise to live strictly according to your precepts.”
I can imagine the Holy Spirit asking: “How long do you think it is going to take for you to pay back all that debt?” “It should not take longer than five years at the most.” “No,” says the Holy Spirit, “it will take you a lifetime.”
Limits of the flesh
Indeed, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.” (Romans 8:12). Everything about the flesh is limited and temporal. Everything about the flesh dies. Everything about the flesh leads to death.
But then here is the rub. Everything that we see: in Nigeria; in America; in Switzerland; is the creation of the flesh. We sit in chairs made by the flesh. We spend our lives catering to the flesh. We wear clothes to adorn the flesh. We eat and drink to gratify the flesh. We drive cars to transport the flesh from A to B. We build houses to accommodate the flesh. We go to school to perfect the flesh. We go to hairdressers to improve the flesh.
How then can we, in such context, disregard the flesh? The carnal believer asks: “How can you tell me the flesh is grass when everything about my life is to the glory of the flesh? In order for me to listen to what you are saying, I have to use my ears. In order for me to look at you, I have to use my eyes. How can you tell me my flesh is grass when, in order for me to survive, I have to eat and drink?”
“Everything about me is flesh. If my flesh is useless, then I am useless. If the flesh is useless, then every human achievement is useless. If the flesh is useless, then scientific discovery is useless; technological innovation is useless; advancement in medicine is useless; development in the arts is useless. Indeed, it means all knowledge is useless for the simple reason that knowledge is only profitable for the sake of the flesh.”
The tragedy of this Christian logic lies in our claim to be born again even while we are still walking according to the flesh. The confused believer says: “I am born again; nevertheless, I remain the same. I am still eating. I am still hustling. I am still looking for a job. I am still studying Physics and Chemistry. I am still striving so that I can make ends meet, pay my rent, provide for my family, and acquire all kinds of things in the flesh. So how can you tell me all this is a waste of time?”
But while these pursuits may be profitable for now, they are ultimately a waste of time because they have no eternal consequence. For the man who is truly born of the Spirit, the things of the flesh lose their attraction and importance. It no longer matters whether he is a have or a have-not. It is no longer important whether he is tall or short, or dumb or smart. These are all distinctions of the perishable flesh. But in the case of the eternal Spirit, these distinctions are inconsequential.
Jesus says: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6). That is why, in the kingdom that God brings down from heaven to earth, every distinction of the flesh is scattered. The poor become rich and the rich became poor. The first become last and the last become first. The old become new and the new become old. The master becomes the slave and the slave becomes the master. The elder serves the younger.
Solomon says: “I returned and saw under the sun that– the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
Death: the leveler
Everything about life is unfair. You want to get into the university or military academy, they use the flesh as the yardstick, and the flesh discriminates. Some are smart and some are dumb. Some are tall and some are short. Some are rich and some are poor.
For this reason, the greatest weapon of the believer is not life but death. Death is a leveler. It equalizes everything. Life is unfair, but death is fair. Everybody dies. The rich die, and the poor die. The strong die: as well as the rich. You cannot buy your way out of death. There is nothing you can do to change or avoid it.
Indeed, the only way to prevail over life is to die. It is only death that can rule over life. Death was Jesus’ secret weapon. Jesus triumphed over life by laying down his life. Then, on the debris of the life he relinquished, he resurrected to a completely new and indestructible life. Jesus says: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:24).