Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

Paul makes a stark contrast between "spiritual people" and "people of the flesh," infants in Christ and the spiritually mature. What is the nature of this spiritual maturity of which Paul speaks?

The evidence of carnality that Paul gives is jealously and quarreling--behaving according to human inclinations. In Galatians 5 Paul gives a more complete list of what “the flesh desires:” “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”

These “human inclinations” or “passions” or “the flesh” are apparently the opposite of being a spiritual person. A spiritual person is filled with the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit has had time to work in the dark for a while, eventually shoots will sprout, branches will grow, and there will be fruit: love, joy, peace, and all the rest.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” They are dispassionate. They are not controlled by licentiousness or strife or anger or envy. They are free in Christ. They are led by the Holy Spirit. They are spiritual.

This quality of having overcome carnal passions, of no longer being ruled by them, is what Paul calls Christian maturity or spirituality. But surely it is not all that is needed to be a mature Christian. There is also faith, putting your faith into practice, obedience, love. Rather, this spirituality is a prerequisite for the new birth. It’s the death that must occur before new life. It is the end of the “I, me, mine.” It’s the housecleaning needed before the arrival of the divine guest.

Paul says that we “crucify the flesh.” “Crucify” is an active verb. What does it mean, exactly? Are we to eat one meal a day and watch all night and guard our hearts and punish our failings? Do we meditate on our own coming death and judgment, or on Christ’s death? Do we say that “no one in this life is without sin” and do whatever we feel inclined to do and wait around for God to purify us when we die?

What steps do you take to “crucify the flesh”?

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and