Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
“Be ye renewed in the spirit of your minds.” (Ephesians 4.23)
The world and the spirit occupy us today. Three relations between the two of them are set out. First, they are at war with one another. Just as “the desire of the flesh is against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh” so that they are “contrary” (Galatians 5.17), so also “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon,” because both are absolute masters and they are at war with one another. Mammon, the spirit of the world, and God are contrary, the one to the other. Second, this war between God and Mammon is ended by the cross: “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Third and finally, as a result of harmony between the Spirit and the world being re-established, there is a "new creation” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” The world and spirit are at war; the war comes to a climax on the cross where the world is defeated, and thereafter peaceful relations are re-established.
The key to understanding this is to grasp what the Bible means by concepts like the world and the flesh. The Bible never means by these any of the good things God created or even all of these as a whole, the cosmos, the universe. God’s good creation is not the world in the sense of what is opposed to God and to the true life of the Spirit. This is why another way of speaking of the world is as Mammon, with a capital M. Mammon is the world as a spiritual principle, a spiritual power, the power against which we are wrestling, when St. Paul represents the Christian struggle against “the wiles of the devil”:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6.12)
This is the world, not flesh and blood in the sense of what clothes my bones and yours, but a spiritual power. The world is man wrapped up in creation rather than in God. It is man, as placing the creature first rather than God; and conversely, it is the creation when it holds and imprisons man with a spiritual power. This is why at our Baptism we do not renounce the world and the flesh as such, but rather “the pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh” and promise that we will not “follow nor be led by them.” The things themselves are not evil. Evil consists in being attracted and held by the empty show of the world which promises more than it can ever give. The flesh and its lawful joys are not evil. Evil is the lust and desire of the flesh, developed and enflamed so as to overcome reason and do away with any desire for spiritual communion with God. Flesh and blood are not evil, nor even are money and power, but “emulations” —striving to get ahead so as to show up your neighbour — and “fornication” — sex outside the lawful bond of marriage —these are evil, these war against the soul. The love of the good is not evil, nor even is the ambition which makes us strive zealously to pursue the good, but the lust for dominion is death to the soul. And so it goes. The world and the flesh are evil in so far as they, rather than God, become first and dominate our lives.
The world and the flesh as spiritual powers must be defeated and brought back within the reign and Kingdom of God. This is the work of Christ on the cross. The world and the flesh through the wicked will of man nailed Christ to the cross. The world and the flesh, in the form of creation summed up in man, there rebelled against God and tried to establish its spiritual superiority. Jesus, the weakness of God, showed God’s weakness to be stronger than the strength of men. His wisdom and prudence defeated sin, showed all our worldly wisdom against God to be foolishness. Jesus conceded nothing to the world or the flesh. He allowed them to have their way against him but he himself did nothing but the will of God. He came only to do God’s will and, though the flesh cried out in fear against the spirit and tried to distract him from the work God had given him to do, Jesus committed himself only to the will of God. Thus he defeated the world and the flesh.
The cross of Jesus crucifies me to the world and the world to me. It crucifies me to the world because in order to follow Jesus crucified, to take up my cross and follow him, I must surrender all attachment to the world and the flesh that keeps me from the will of God. All attachment to the good creatures of God’s world which stands against God’s law, God’s goodness, and communion with him, must be crucified to death. The world as a power in me must be continually mortified, put to death.
The cross of Jesus crucifies the world unto me, because it shows that the world and the flesh have, in the end, no power against God and no power against the man who clings to God above all else, who desires to do God’s will and none other. The cross brings the triumph of the one who seeks to do God’s will and makes “no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13.14) For on the third day Jesus rose again.
The resurrection of Jesus, body and soul, from the dead, is the new creation. The resurrection of Jesus is the return of the world and the flesh, now not at war with God, but at peace and doing his will. With the flesh obeying the spirit, Jesus cannot be held down. Consequently, he appears and disappears at will. Because the flesh is glorious, it never again sickens, weakens or dies. The resurrection is the flesh all glorious in spirit; it is spirit clothed upon flesh. It is the apostles and their followers, you and me, sitting down to table with the Son of God.
Therefore be not anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?...for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania