For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.
1. We shall all agree, who have tried to do right and avoid wrong, that there goes on in us a strange struggle. We wish to do a right thing, and at the very same time long to do a wrong one, as if we were a better and a worse man struggling for the mastery. One may conquer, or the other. We may be like the drunkard who cannot help draining off his liquor, though he knows that it is going to kill him; or we may be like the man who conquers his love for drink, and puts the liquor away, because he knows that he ought not to take it. We know too well, many of us, how painful this inward struggle is. We all understand too well how Paul was ready at times to cry. "Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" We can understand too the parable of Plato, who says, that the soul of man is like a chariot, guided by a man's will, but drawn by two horses — the one horse white, beautiful and noble, well-broken and winged, always trying to rise and fly upward with the chariot toward heaven; but the other black, evil, and unmanageable, always trying to rush downward, and drag the chariot and the driver into hell.
2. In the text St. Paul explains this struggle. First, there is a flesh in us — that is, an animal nature. We come into the world as animals do-eat, drink, sleep as they do — have the same passions as they have — and our carnal bodies die exactly as they die. But are we nothing more? God forbid. We know that to be a man we must be something more than a mere brute — for when we call any one a brute, what do we mean? That he has given himself up to his animal nature till the man in him is dead, and only the brute remains. Our giving way to the same selfish, shameless passions, which we see in the lower animals, is letting the "brute" in us conquer. The shameless and profligate person — the man who beats his wife — or ill-treats his children — or in any wise tyrannises over those who are weaker than himself, gives way to the "brute" within him. He who grudges, envies, tries to aggrandise himself at his neighbour's expense — he too gives way to the "brute" within him, and puts on the likeness of the dog which snatches and snarls over his bone. He who spends his life in cunning plots and mean tricks, gives way to the "brute" in him, just as much as the fox or ferret. And those, let me say, who, without giving way to those grosset vices, let their minds be swallowed up with vanity, always longing to be seen and looked at, and wondering what folks will say of them, they too give way to the flesh, and lower themselves to the likeness of animals. As vain as a peacock, says the old proverb. And what shall we say of them who like the swine live only for eating and drinking and enjoyment? Or what of those who like the butterflies spend all their time in frivolous amusement? Do not all these in some way or other live after the flesh? And do they not fulfil St. Paul's words, "If ye live after the flesh ye shall die"?
3. But some one will say — "Of course we shall all die — good and bad alike." Then why does our Lord say, "He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die"? And why does St. Paul say, "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live"? Let us look at the text again. "If ye live after the flesh ye shall die." If you give way to those animal passions you shall die; not merely your bodies — they will die in any case — the animals do — for animals they are, and as animals die they must. But over and above that, you yourselves shall die — your character, your manhood or your womanhood, your immortal soul will die. There is a second death to which that first death of the body is a mere trivial and harmless accident, and that may begin in this life, and if it be not stopped and cured in time, may go on for ever.
4. This is the dark side of the matter. But there is also a bright side. "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." If you will be true to your better selves, if you will listen to and obey the Spirit of God, when He puts into your hearts good desires, and makes you long to be just and true, pure and sober, kind and useful. If you will cast away and trample under foot animal passions, low vices, you shall live. You shall live, your very soul and self for ever — all that is merciful, kind, pure, noble, useful — in one word, all in you that is like Christ, like God, that is spirit and not flesh, shall live for ever. So it must be, for "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Those who let the Spirit of God lead them upward instead of letting their own animal nature drag them downward, are the sons of God. And how can a son of God perish? How can he perish, who like Christ is full of the fruits of the Spirit? — of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance? The world did not give them to him, and the world cannot take them from him. They were not bestowed on him at his bodily birth — neither shall they be taken from him at his bodily death.
5. Choose, especially you who are young and entering into life. Remember the parable of the old heathen. Choose in time whether the better horse shall win or the worse. And let no one tell you, "We shall do a great many wrong things before we die. Every one does that; but we hope we shall be able to make our peace with God before we die." That kind of religion has done more harm than most kinds of irreligion. It tells you to take your chance of beginning at the end. Common sense tells you that the only way to get to the end is by beginning at the beginning, which is now. Do not talk about making your peace with God some day — like a naughty child playing truant till the last moment, and hoping that the schoolmaster may forget to punish it.
(Charles Kingsley, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.