We cannot serve God and the flesh but only in spirit and truth; what does this mean?
Thanks for your questions. They are very thoughtful.
1. What happens if we have sinned after baptism in the flesh will we still be forgiven?
We cannot live a sinless life, if we could Jesus need not have died. We are still the same person after baptism as we were before. Baptism does not instantly and magically change our character. Baptism is a recognition that we are sinful and need to have our sins forgiven. It is a new beginning. We begin as ‘babes in Christ’ and must needs grow and mature. This will take a lifetime. We will still sin after baptism. This is why the ‘Lord’s’ prayer has the request:
Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors...
Jesus continues on to explain that if we forgive others, we ourselves will be forgiven.
Matthew 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
There is no limit to God’s forgiveness.
Matthew 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Jesus drives home the principle with the parable of the servant who was forgiven a great debt but went and pursued his fellow servant over a small debt.
Matthew 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
John explains to those in Christ:
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Those who claim that they have not sinned after baptism are deceiving themselves. Jesus Christ is our advocate at God’s right hand that we might be confident that our sins will be forgiven.
1 John 1:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
Christ was made like us so that as our high priest he can have compassion on us because he has experienced the inherent lusts of our nature.
Hebrews 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Paul explains that where sin abounds grace is more abundant to cover the sin.
Romans 5:20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
But we should not think that we can continue sinning freely on this basis.
Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? 3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
2. How does one continue to live in the spirit if the lust of the flesh is so great?
The answer is – with difficulty. Jesus describes it as taking up the cross daily.
Luke 9:23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
When we understand what God requires of us we experience internal wrestling with our conscience. Paul describes it thus:
Romans 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
To live in the spirit is to strive to subjugate our natural desires and live by the commandments of Christ. We are to work out our salvation in ‘fear and trembling’.
Philippians 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
After baptism we have to change the way that we live, we will also have to adjust our relationship with our friends and family. Christ must come first in our lives, taking precedence over all others.
Matthew 10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
This doesn’t mean that we stop loving them, but rather that we structure our lives with different priorities.
When we are baptised into Christ we become part of a new (to us) family.
Mark 10:29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
We live in the spirit by listening to our conscience which has been enlightened by the word of God.
Hebrews 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
1 Timothy 1:5 Now the end of the commandment is charity (love) out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
Romans 2:15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
David is an Old Testament example of forgiveness. God testifies of him that he was a man after God’s own heart. This was shown in David’s mercy upon Saul on the two occasions he could have slain him. David committed adultery and murder but God forgave his sin. In the new covenant in Christ we are promised the sure mercies of David.
Isaiah 55:3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
A New Testament example is the brother at Corinth who slept with his step-mother. He was put out of the church under Paul’s instructions (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). He subsequently repented and Paul exhorted the church to receive him back in.
2 Corinthians 2:6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. 8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. 9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. 10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;
In Christ we are freed from the law of sin and death, if, after baptism, we make a genuine effort to change the way that we live.
3. It also says somewhere that we cannot serve God in the flesh but in spirit what does this mean?
Romans 8:8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
To live in the flesh is to do the works of the flesh which Paul lists for us:
Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
After baptism we are to avoid all these things. To have the spirit of Christ is not some supernatural indwelling that the translators suggest by the unwarranted capitalisation of the ‘S’ on the word ‘Spirit’. Jesus rebuked James and John when they wanted to destroy the Samaritans, because they didn’t have the right spirit or way of thinking.
Luke 9:55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
To have the spirit of Christ means that we are to think as Christ thought.
Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
1 Corinthians 2:16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
The mind of Christ is written down in the scriptures for our learning. We are required to renew the spirit of our minds (the way that we think) by recourse to the scriptures.
Ephesians 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Caleb, (along with Joshua) thought differently from the other 10 spies:
Numbers 14:24 But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully...
Caleb ‘had another spirit’ meaning that he ‘thought differently’ because he was a man of faith; which is what we are called to be.
Paul explains the fruit of living in the spirit.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
He expected us to make mistakes and tells us to help each other.
Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. 3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. 4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For every man shall bear his own burden. 6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.
God knows our thoughts and is able discern the genuine from the hypocrite.
Galatians 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. 9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. 10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
Paul directs our minds to the things we should think on and do.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
Peter describes how we should endeavour to grow in Christ.
2 Peter 1:5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity (love). 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We begin with faith (belief) but that which is to be strived for is love. The word translated ‘charity’ (love) is the Greek ‘agape’ which is a love independent of fleshly impulse.
There is more that could be said but I will leave it there for now.
I hope this helps.
God bless you,