Paul wants his readers to have spiritual comfort, which is a mark of an authentic pastor. The comfort that he mentions is one that is drawn from what God in Christ has done, is doing and will yet do for his people. In particular here, he wants his readers to think about aspects of comfort that come from the work of the indwelling Spirit, whom Jesus said in the Upper Room would function as the heavenly Comforter.
‘Where do you live is a question?’ that I answer several times a week. Or I may be asked about my national identity or similar questions. Paul reminds us here that there are only two locations in which we can live. One is what he calls the flesh and the other is what he calls ‘in the Spirit’. As we think of those two locations, there are some brief comments that we can make.
First, every human apart from Jesus is born in the land of the flesh and lives there for a while. When Adam and Eve were created, they did not belong to the land of the flesh, but they became part of it when they sinned in the garden of Eden by disobeying God.
Second, Jesus came into the world in order to take us out of the land of the flesh. The flesh from this point of view is the power that kept us captive in the chains of our sins. We were willing subjects and we needed a divine rescue, otherwise we would remain in this awful location forever.
Third, the removal from the land of the flesh to the place of the Spirit occurs at some stage in this life when we respond to the gospel and experience the Saviour’s delivering power. How this is done varies from person to person, but the outcome is the same for all of them. They find themselves taken to another place to live.
Fourthly, when we leave the land of the flesh, we take some of the flesh with us. This means that none of the people who move to live in the land of the Spirit are sinless and perfect. Instead they have with them relics of the sinful nature that once dominated them and at times they can follow the desires of those relics and live like those who live in the land of the flesh.
Fifthly, those who live in the land of the Spirit also have the Holy Spirit living inside each of them permanently. He has come to live within them for several reasons and we will think about some of them in future readings.