What does it mean to “live after the flesh” (Rom. 8:13)?
All men who are alive live in the flesh, but no man should live after the flesh.
Before looking at his doctrine, it would be good to look at his preaching. A marked characteristic of Love’s preaching is the ability to write a good sentence. All writing and all preaching must be begin with the sentence (Stanley Fish has written a delightful book about reading and writing called, Who to Write a Sentence). Here Love manages to make his thought memorable and clear by developing a parallel construction:
All men but no man
Who are alive should live
In the flesh After the flesh
The halves of the sentence are neatly balance in idea and length. Yet, the halves also contain a contrast between what we are by nature and what should be by regeneration. The contrast works by means of equivocation on the words “live” and “flesh”. The difference is between two aspects of living: as a natural life and as a regenerated life (born again). The second equivocation is on the word “flesh”: Flesh refers to the natural life by means of creation: the creature qua creature. Thus, in the first instance it refers to natural life given at conception. The second use of the word “flesh” refers to the persistence of sin – even after regeneration.
Thus, Love’s sentence is not merely witty: it encapsulates a problem in understanding sin which lies at the heart of Paul’s argument in Romans. The sentence is the result of natural ability – but also of sustained work. I don’t mean merely that Love may have labored over the creation of this sentence ( I have no idea how hard it was for him to write this particular sentence). However, great labor preceded the creation of this sentence.
First, there was the labor necessary to write well: This entails study, reading, and much practice. Even world-class writers show development over the course of their career.
Second, there was the study which went into the theology set forth in the sentence. Love could not have encapsulated such theology into a single sentence if he had not worked at learning what Paul had to say.
After this sentence, Love works to develop the meaning of the phrase “live after the flesh”: “To live after the flesh denotes constancy, complacency, and industry in the ways of sin.” As he writes before this conclusion, “It is one thing for sin to follow after you, and another thing for you to follow after sin.”
Love’s analysis is an important thing for any minister or counselor to consider. When confronted by another professing believer, we cannot merely look to the presence of sin to determine regeneration. As Love also writes, “Sin was in as soon as we put on flesh, and will be in us as long as we live in the flesh.”
Thus, the distinguishing mark of a believer does not lie in the presence of sin. Rather, the distinguishing mark is the relationship to sin. Does the person love and seek the sin? Do they hate only the consequences of the sin – or the fact of the sin? When they are caught in a trespass, are they angry they have been thwarted from further sin or are repentant and relieved to be rid of it?
Finally, Love examines why Paul uses the word “flesh” to describe the seat of sin. It is not because sin exists only in the physical body, “sin is in the flesh as well as the spirit.” But, “sin is naturally as dear to a man as his own flesh.” Finally, sin is acted out in the flesh.